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Old February 21st, 2018 (5:54 AM). Edited February 21st, 2018 by Delirious Absol.
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Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
Call me Del
     
    Join Date: May 2015
    Location: UK
    Age: 33
    Gender: Female
    Nature: Quirky
    Posts: 350
    A/N - Now caught up with everywhere else! Thus ends Arc 3! Updates will go back to Fridays only! However, please bare in mind that there may be a temporary hiatus if I feel I need to progress further on Arc 4 before beginning to post it.

    Chapter Thirty Eight

    Socket barged through the doors to Proxy Prison, sandwiched between two pidgeot. She wrenched the filter mask from her face and stuffed it into her handbag. A small yelp of protest came from deep within it, and in one fluid motion Tweak leapt from her bag and landed with a jingle on the clean, tiled floor.

    “I don’t know why you insisted on coming with me,” she grumbled.

    He smoothed out the stringy fur atop his head and looked up at her with a beaming smile reminiscent of a creepy doll.

    “I got curious,” he said. “Besides, all my crime dramas got canceled.”

    She shook her head and followed after the leading pidgeot guard. “Flying here has put my fur on end. A shower won’t be enough to get this grime off me. Nothing will be enough.”

    “You could shave?”

    Socket resisted the urge to trample the chingling into mosaic art and instead focused on following her body guards through the winding corridors. It felt like it would never end. But at least, being a government facility, the prison had some level of cleanliness compared to the outside streets. The air was clean, the floors were mopped daily. But everything was grey.

    The leading pidgeot paused beside a small, single door and stood aside for Socket.

    “This is his office, ma’am,” he said.

    “Really?” Socket took a deep breath and rapped on the door. “He’d better make this quick.”

    “Come in!” The voice was irritatingly cheerful.

    She shoved the door open, revealing a squat desk displaying a significant lack of organization. A stack of trays stood at one side, oddly empty save for one unopened envelope. Crumbs and sugar littered the paperwork while an empty donut container had found a second job as a pen holder (despite the plastic cup designed specifically for the job lying beneath a mound of newspapers.)

    A grumpig sat with his feet on the desk, licking sugar off his paws. He looked up at her and smiled broadly. A smile intended to be warm but instead it lit a fire in her stomach that radiated out of her eyes, melting the smile back off his face.

    “So sorry to drag you out here, Mayor Socket.” He lifted his feet off the desk and adjusted himself in a bid to appear more professional. “But it’s important you see all this first hand.”

    She waved a paw at his office. “I hope whatever it is can be found in your dump.”

    “Oh yes,” he said with a nervous laugh. “Some of what I want to show you is on the computer.”

    “Really? And you couldn’t just email it to me?”

    “Well… it’s kind of confidential, and given recent events…” The grumpig’s eyes wandered to the pidgeot then drifted down towards Tweak.

    Socket followed his gaze to the grinning chingling and tutted. “You’re all excused. Allow me to talk to this officer in peace.”

    The pidgeot guards retreated from the room, the last one holding the door open for Tweak. However, the tiny psychic type didn’t budge.

    “Tweak?” Socket’s voice was laced with ice.

    “Nah, I wanna stay,” said Tweak. “I’m taking notes.”

    Socket didn’t even want to ask where he pulled his notebook and pen from.

    She tutted and looked back up at the grumpig. “He’s fine. He won’t spill anything because he knows full well if he does he’ll be turned into an ornamental wind chime… A silent one.”

    Tweak chuckled and waved his pen at her.

    “You think I’m joking,” she said.

    “I actually don’t,” said Tweak. “That’s why it’s funny.”

    The grumpig shook his head and waved a paw. “If you trust him, Mayor, then I’ll take your word for it.”

    Socket nodded to the waiting pidgeot and they let the door close silently. She turned back to the grumpig and her expression turned steely.

    “So?” she asked. “What is it?”

    He cleared his throat and ushered her towards his desk. When she didn’t move, he turned the computer monitor towards her, knocking several documents onto the floor.

    “As you can see, we’ve been interviewing Troll.” He met her raised eyebrow and inclined his head on one side. “The croagunk? The one you had arrested for hacking?”

    “I know you mean the croagunk,” she said. “I’m the one who asked you to question him. Get on with it.”

    “Oh yes, well.” He turned back to the computer and scrolled through the masses of text. “He’s been pleading ‘not guilty’ since we got here. We’ve had an impromptu court case, but results have been less than reliable. So many have accused him of this crime but their reasons were… shaky at best.”

    “Shaky how?” she asked slowly.

    The grumpig stuttered and looked between her and the computer. Tweak bounced up and down, jingling euphorically.

    “Oh! I know, I know!” he said. “They’re scared of you, Mayor!”

    The grumpig paled and fixed one eye on the chingling. The hairs on the back of Socket’s neck stood on end, but she clasped her paws before her and forced a smile which only seemed to chill the officer even more.

    “Well,” she said. “At least we know where their loyalties lie. Do continue.”

    The officer shifted in his seat and continued scrolling through the text Socket was making every effort not to read.

    “Given… that… reasoning,” he said, “we decided to run more thorough lie detector examinations. They met the same results as the ones given prior to the court case. Each plea he makes that he didn’t hack, and that he doesn’t even know how to, were shown to be true.”

    “So he’s either a convincing liar or innocent,” said Socket.

    “I’d go with convincing liar,” said Tweak. “We traced his number right back from the hacked systems.”

    “Someone could have stolen his phone,” said the grumpig. “But it is very positive evidence. However, something else keeps coming up, which is partly why I’ve asked you to come here, Mayor.”

    Socket raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

    “He keeps mentioning a pokemon’s name,” he said. “Keeps saying he ‘should never have trusted Surge’.”

    Socket’s spine stiffened and she fixed the grumpig with a piercing glare. “Surge?”

    “I know you’ve hired her,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to tell you. Given she’s a mercenary and had been working for Tracer, word must have got back to this croagunk. I don’t know what he means. Maybe he thinks she’s falsely turned him in for revenge or something. I get the impression he either hired her himself, or worked for her. Or both. I dunno but gut feeling says she’s got something to do with him being here.”

    “Have you quizzed him on this?” she asked.

    “Yeh, we’ve tried,” said the officer. “But it’s hard to ask questions to such a hazy clue, Mayor. He said he’s worried she traced hacking back to him. She’s apparently a Jack of All Trades, but he doesn’t know if she’s a hacker or not. Apparently the work she did for him was… well… assassination.”

    “You’re saying she killed someone? I’ve hired some murderer?”

    “Well…” The grumpig reached under his desk and pulled out a fresh box of donuts. “I’m not… entirely-”

    “Are you seriously going to eat those in my presence?” Socket hissed.

    He froze, paw half inside the box. “I’m sorry, Mayor. When I’m stressed, I eat.”

    “Well wait! Now… do go on.”

    He gently closed the lid and sighed. “It’s difficult to say, Mayor. The lie detector test for this particular interview tells us he’s telling the truth, but covering something up. He wouldn’t give the name of the pokemon he had assassinated. All he would tell us was it was a pirate. So, given your current law, not exactly murder given the pirate was turned in and the price was split forty-sixty, with Troll getting the short end of the deal. Apparently he’d had a bit of a dispute with the pirate, but again wouldn’t go into details. So it depends if you consider a personal dispute against a pirate murder, or a genuine turn-in of the bounty.”

    She pursed her lips and tapped her claws along her arm. “That is something we can use against him to get to the bottom of this then… isn’t it?”

    “Blackmail?” the officer asked.

    Tweak looked up at her with a start, almost dropping his pen.

    “How much do you trust this Surge, Mayor?” the grumpig asked.

    “I trusted her when I hired her,” said Socket. “Although she did seem rather on edge. I could put that down to her merely being in my presence, but events have unfolded recently that have aroused my suspicion. There’s been a crisis in Binary City where a magnezone and his fleet were attacked by a heat laser, but I wasn’t sure if that was Hunter having obtained one, or if it were Surge since I gifted her one for the task of rounding up Wildcard Gamma. I was willing to push it aside until further evidence was obtained, but if Surge really isn’t to be trusted… if she actually did hack into government files… who was she working for then? Curiosity? Or has Hunter got her wrapped around his paw?”

    “So you think it might have been her?” the grumpig asked. “She’s somehow traced the hacking back to Troll to cover her tracks?”

    “There’s only one way to find out,” said Socket. “We have to trick the information out of him if he’s not willing to give every teeny tiny detail.”

    “He might not know the fine details,” said the grumpig. “If he’s been framed, he’s not going to know how, or when, or why. Is he?”

    “I say we find out if his plea that he can’t actually hack are really true, and leave that as our evidence,” said Socket. “Give him a task where the stakes are high. Something that drives the most motive to actually try to successfully hack into a government file. One that it doesn’t really matter if he sees.”

    “Like last year’s air cleanliness records?” Tweak suggested.

    “Exactly,” said Socket. “For Meta City.”

    “And how do we drive him to do it?” the officer asked. “Reward him if he actually can? A cash reward?”

    “No. That’s not driving enough,” said Socket. “He might merely shrug it off. A criminal can get his money another way, can’t he? No. I say we raise the stakes. If he can hack, he gets a reduced prison sentence. Ten years taken off, there and then. And if he fails, he dies.”

    The grumpig dropped his donut box onto the floor, scattering sugar and sprinkles everywhere. Socket eyed the mess with malevolence and dug her claws into the soft flesh of her arm.

    “But what if he actually can’t hack?” the officer gasped. “If he’s telling the truth, you’ll be sending an innocent pokemon to his death!”

    “The stakes are a lie,” she said. “They’re to drive him. And I’ll be the one to give him the stakes because I sincerely doubt you could do it with a straight face. He’d see right through you.”

    He trembled in his seat, the motion making his soft flesh jiggle. “Very well. Then… what are the real stakes?”

    “If he’s telling the truth, he’s excused. Any motive to have that unnamed space pirate assassinated will be written off and he’ll be sent free. No ifs or buts. However, if he’s lying and he truly is the hacker, he’s to be put to death.”

    The grumpig nodded slowly. “Okay, Mayor. We can arrange this. Let’s see, when can we run this test?”

    He reached for his desk calendar, but Socket’s voice froze him to the spot.

    “Now.”

    “Now?” He snapped his head around to face her. “But Mayor, the room isn’t even set up. The test isn’t ready-”

    “I said now,” she said. “I’m done wasting my time here. Get Troll and bring him to the exam room. I’ll have Tweak set up the files for hacking.” She rounded on the chingling. “Make it difficult. I don’t want any false results.”

    “Aye aye, Ma’am!” Tweak saluted and tossed his note book up to her.

    She caught it instinctively and stared down at the illegible scrawl. With a sigh, she stuffed it into her purse and followed the officer and chingling from the room.

    ...

    Several times Macro had almost dialed Surge. Several times he’d become too nervous and backed out. DL and Anchor sat watching in fascination while Matrix looked up from his game whenever Macro so much as twitched.

    “I doubt she’s going to dial you,” said the ribombee. “You really need to get a wiggle on.”

    Macro let out a flustered sigh and stuffed his computer back into his pouch. “Forget it. I’ll do it later. I’m too sore to put up with any of her tricks right now anyway.”

    “What tricks?” Matrix and Anchor asked in unison.

    Macro waved a paw. “Nothing you need concern yourself over.”

    Anchor and Matrix exchanged glances.

    “You thinking what I’m thinking?” Anchor asked.

    “Maybe.” Matrix looked back down at his computer. “I was picking up some vibes off her. Maybe I might be able to learn a thing or two.”

    “Seriously?” Anchor sat bolt upright. “Macro gets a girlfriend and you’re picking up flirting vibes?”

    Macro jolted in his seat and stared at the granbull slack-jawed. DL looked between each pokemon in turn.

    “Oh.” Matrix glanced up at Anchor. “Guess we weren’t thinking the same thing. I just assumed she was a prankster and it’s been a while since I last played a practical joke on one of you. I mean, you were both so easy it kinda got dull.”

    Macro groaned and ran a paw down his face. “She is not my girlfriend.”

    “Then what are you so nervous about?” Anchor asked.

    “You haven’t met her.” Macro stood up and paced over to the door, faltered, then turned and walked back to his chair. “Man, I’m getting cabin fever being cooped up in this place. I just wanna get back to my ship.”

    “That might be able to be arranged.” Jumper’s voice froze him before he reached his seat.

    They all turned to look at the door. The frogadier leant against the frame, a small smile playing at his lips.

    “I was worried I’d missed you,” he told Macro. “I went to your ward and when I saw you weren’t there I assumed you were off somewhere trying to find that disk.”

    “I’m kinda planning it out,” said Macro. “Just waitin’ on Matrix to download me a map of every government building in this city.”

    “And I’m totally not doing that right now,” said Matrix.

    Macro fired him a glare but Jumper silenced him with a raised paw.

    “You have no need for maps,” said Jumper. “I actually need to talk to you. All of you. You see…” His eyes drifted to DL then went back to Macro. “I’ve had some of my officers round up as many bugs as they can find in the orchard. It’s like watching the undead. There really is nothing left inside them, is there?”

    “Nope,” said Macro. “And I’m gonna hazard a guess that unlike DL their personalities aren’t stored on disks somewhere.”

    “I’m inclined to agree with you,” said Jumper. “But until we can get into Luma City and find out for certain how to rescue these poor pokemon, there’s not much we can do for them. A lot of research will be put into memory removal and installation, but until then, every bug will be collected and confined in cells for the foreseeable future.”

    “All right, so you’ve got the bugs sorted. But what of the grass army and the twins?” Macro folded his arms and inclined his head on one side. “Has anyone even found their bodies? Will there be another attack? As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got your work cut out for you here, Gov.”

    “He’s right.” Anchor sipped at a glass of water. “That army put up a fight. If it weren’t for Switch I don’t think we would have won that battle.”

    Jumper looked over at the unconscious human and sighed. “Yes, I agree with you there too. That fight could have escalated into an even bigger disaster. Really, Wildcard, I honestly can’t thank you enough.”

    Macro let out a small chuckle. “So. About them maps. You said I have no need for them, so what are you gonna do? Hand them to me as a thanks and let me run riot for a while? ‘Cos I’m all up for a bit of fun.”

    “Not quite.” Jumper fixed his eyes on his. “I might have to cut your fun short, Macro.”

    Macro kept his eyes on the frogadier’s paw as he reached into his belt pouch. Macro’s first thought was that he was reaching for a gun, but instead Jumper pulled out something tiny and black and held it out in his open paw.

    “I know you were all up for searching for it,” said Jumper. “But my guards aren’t up for playing with you right now. I might as well cut your search short.”

    Macro’s mouth went from a neat, stunned ‘o’ to a huge grin. He took the tiny disk in his claws and stared at it, half believing that at any moment he was going to wake up and it would just be a dream.

    “You’re just giving me this?” he asked.

    “Yes, but I still don’t think it’s thanks enough.” Jumper shrugged. “It feels more like I’m just doing the right thing. Seeing all those bug pokemon, while your friend DL here is on her way to recovery… who am I to stop her from making that recovery?”

    “So you believe me?” Macro looked up at him and narrowed his eyes. “For all you know, I could be filling you with lies to acquire government secrets.”

    “That thought did cross my mind,” said Jumper. “But I’ve met DL. While you were out, we had a little chat. She’s told me everything, and your stories match up. Well… what she can recall, anyway.”

    Macro smirked and placed the disk in his belt pouch. “I think you’re a little gullible, Gov.”

    “Perhaps. That makes my next offer a rather risky one.” Jumper fastened his paws behind his back. “Given all you have done for us, I want to personally offer you sanctuary in Cyan City.”

    Macro let out a yell and Anchor dropped his glass, spilling water all over his lap. The vaporeon in the bed next to him almost leapt out from beneath the sheets. He fixed wide eyes on the occupants of the room and flopped back down onto his pillow. Anchor folded the sodden sheet over itself in an attempt to stop water spilling onto the floor.

    “You serious?” he gasped.

    Macro pointed at the frogadier. “You’re gonna offer us space pirates sanctuary? In a government run city?”

    “I agree it’s a huge risk,” said Jumper. “But I’m hardly going to turn away pokemon who helped us avoid destruction, am I?”

    “And what’s Socket going to say?”

    “Socket doesn’t need to know.” Jumper’s expression turned steely. “Given what she’s done to DL, and what you are doing to help her, who do you think the good guys are in this situation?”

    “Pirates ain’t good guys,” said Macro.

    “That’s in the eye of the beholder.” Jumper fixed DL with a warm smile. “I think this one would be inclined to agree with me.”

    “So do I.” The vaporeon’s voice came out weak. “No pirate would have risked being turned in just to save one city. Especially not one they’d planned to invade.”

    Macro eyes flicked from Floppy back to Jumper. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Instead he fell back into his seat and looked over at Switch.

    Jumper smiled and shrugged. “See? I’m sure many others will agree, too. And don’t worry about your friend. My offer extends to him. He can safely recover here if you need to be on your way. I’ll contact you when he’s ready to be collected.”

    Macro let out a dry laugh and shook his head. “And you seriously don’t think this offer is enough of a thank you…”

    “I think you’re nuts,” said Anchor. “In a good way.”

    Jumper laughed and turned towards the door. “I’ll leave you be. If I don’t see you before you leave, have a safe journey. I’ll be in touch, and remember. Don’t be a stranger.”

    They watched the frogadier leave the room, then DL turned to Macro, her chocolate eyes sparkling.

    “Is it weird that I want to cry?” she asked.

    “Yes,” said Matrix.

    “Ignore him.” Macro hugged his arms around himself and looked at the wall. “It’s not weird at all.”

    “I don’t think you’re the only one.” Anchor wiped his eyes on his bed sheet then offered it to the pachirisu. “Here.”

    A croaking laugh came from Floppy’s bed. “You pirates are as soft as butter.”

    Macro snorted but didn’t look back at him. “Then be glad you’re not a bread roll.”

    “Ah, don’t take offense.” Floppy laughed again. “It’s a good thing. Believe me.”

    ...

    Annie stared up at the huge pyukumuku ship. It looked a lot bigger than its framework had made it look. It stood proud in the back garden, fully fleshed out with an impact resistant shell and sporting what Trojan had assured her was ‘state of the art weaponry’. Of course, she couldn’t see it. It was inside the ship, rather than marring the pyukumuku’s appearance with bulky, ugly turrets.

    Trojan pushed a button in the hull of the ship and an oblong door clattered open, falling towards the ground like a draw bridge. Annie’s eyes lit up, and a squeal of delight came from the fish bowl beside her.

    “It’s so awesome!” Zip cried as he skittered over to the drawbridge. “I can’t wait to see inside!”

    “Oi!” Trojan called at the goldeen’s tail. “Don’t you go splashing water everywhere now, you ‘ear me?”

    “Whoa!” Zip’s voice came from the shadows. “It’s so cool!”

    Web wiped a tea towel over her brow and turned her eyes onto Annie. “Are you seriously going to fly off in that thing?”

    “Of course.” Annie placed a hand on her hip and grinned. “It’s the perfect ship for a rebellion.”

    “I don’t know…” Web wound the towel in her paws. “It looks less like a ship and more like a shipwreck waiting to happen. I fear it’ll come down no sooner you get it into the sky. Where’s its wings?”

    “Pyukumuku don’t have wings,” said Trojan.

    Annie looked at Web and nodded towards Trojan.

    “Have you even test flown it yet?” Web asked.

    “Nope. That’s what we’re gonna do now.” Trojan turned to clamber into the ship.

    “Really?” Web’s brow knitted into a frown. “With a child on board?”

    “Hey, he climbed on first,” said Trojan.

    “I want him off that ship,” said Web. “I need to know it can actually stay in the air longer than five minutes before I allow him, or Annie, onto that thing.”

    “No can do,” said Trojan. “As soon as this thing is in the air, it’s stayin’ there. It’s not gonna be the easiest thing to land without a good mile to plan, at least.”

    Web’s jaw dropped and she looked away. “I really don’t like this.”

    Waveform strode from the house with a sack slung over his back. He gave Web’s shoulder a squeeze then strode past her towards the ship.

    “You too?” Web gasped.

    “Yup.” The decidueye paused by the drawbridge and tossed the sack inside to be swallowed up by the shadows. “I don’t plan on staying around here a day longer.”

    Web’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Why is this so important to you?”

    Waveform met her look head on and shrugged. “You come with us, you’ll find out.”

    Trojan watched the decidueye climb on board then looked back at Web, her questioning gaze now fixed on him.

    “Don’t look at me, I don’t know either,” he said. “I’m just glad there’s another sane ‘mon on board.”

    The scrafty mounted the drawbridge and vanished inside the pyukumuku. Annie looked back at Web and smiled.

    “Well, it’s been lovely,” she said. “But I’m gonna have to go head this rebellion now. Put the kettle on, we’ll be back by tea time.”

    “No we won’t,” said Trojan. “We’re headed to Pulse City. It’s a three day round trip, provided this thing can actually move faster than a real pyukumuku.”

    “Oh.” Annie scratched her chin and looked up at the night sky. “All right then. Three days. I’ll be needing that coffee.”

    Her heavy feet clattered over the hollow iron sheet that formed the drawbridge door. When she reached the inside, she looked around at the ship and let out a long whistle. The paneled wall had been given a brisk coat of paint, but graffiti still showed through in parts. That, coupled with the low lighting, gave it a somewhat grungy feel. Her entire body tingled with excitement. She gave one last look over her shoulder at the skuntank, still standing staring up at the ship.

    “You sure you don’t wanna see this?” Annie asked. “Last chance before we fly.”

    Waveform placed a wing on her shoulder and steered her away from the door.

    “Come on,” he said. “Web told me she won’t step paw in Pulse City. She left that side of her past behind years ago.”

    “But we’re not space pirates,” said Annie. “We’re rebels.”

    “They may as well be the same thing,” said Web. “Besides. You lot won’t survive five minutes in Pulse City. Especially not you, Waveform. You’re a bounty hunter, and a famous one at that! They’ll have your hide and turn your feathers into ink quills!”

    Waveform sighed and opened his beak to speak, but Trojan appeared beside him and pointed a claw at the skuntank.

    “Look!” he said. “You gonna come aboard this ship, or just stand there shoutin’ at us until we take off? ‘Cos if it’s the latter, you’re gonna wanna take several steps back. This thing uses thrusters to get into the air and I reckon it’s gonna make a jackin’ mess.”

    Web shook her head slowly and took three steps back. Annie caught a glare off her as the drawbridge rose, then she was hidden from view as the door clattered into place.

    “All righty then.” Trojan fell into a leather seat and struck something on the dashboard. “Let’s get this party started, shall we?”

    Lights flooded the ship and Annie raised a hand to her eyes with a squeal. As she blinked the dazzle spots away, she looked around at the spacious cockpit. It was like viewing it from a new angle. A brighter, yet still grungy, angle.

    “I’d find yourselves seats if I were you,” said Trojan.

    Annie took the one beside the scrafty. Another leather chair. The other seats were rickety. Two plastic foldaway chairs screwed to the tinny floor. Zip found his spot in a heartbeat. Little supports had been fastened to the floor and they clamped over his mechanical feet firmly.

    The engine flared to life, its roar filling the small space and shaking the entire ship so much the door rattled.

    “Hey!” Web’s voice cried over the din. “Hey! Open up, I want in!”

    Annie and Trojan exchanged looks and the human rose to her feet. The drawbridge door fell back abruptly, eliciting a squeak from the skuntank. She quickly regained her composure and fixed Annie with a glare.

    “Thank you,” she said, pushing past Annie. “Quick, close it up before I change my mind again.”

    Annie shrugged and pulled the door closed, then returned to her seat. Web took the only free chair beside Waveform.

    “What made you change your mind?” Trojan asked without looking up.

    “Oh, just the thought that all of you might be slaughtered in Pulse City,” she said. “You need someone with experience dealing with those sort of pokemon.”

    “You mean Space Pirates? I’ve been dealin’ with one of those for years.”

    Trojan pulled the steering stick back and the ship lurched into the air, silencing Web’s retort before it could leave her mouth.

    Annie was thrust back into her seat, then left it as the ship fell back down again. Her stomach shot into her throat and she let out a loud cheer and threw her arms into the air. Another thrust sent them soaring higher into the sky.

    “This is awesome!” she yelled over the engine. “Viva la rebellion!”

    Zip cheered as well, waving his tiny fins.

    The ship fell down again several feet before the thrusters blasted them back into the sky, higher and higher as the pyukumuku was raised over the rooftops.

    Annie’s laughter filled the cockpit, drawing a glare from Trojan and a worried glance from Web.

    “Anyway.” She stopped laughing as fast as she’d started and turned to address Web. “Glad to have you with us, Number Two.”

    “Number Two?” Web and Trojan asked at the same time, the latter with a snort.

    “Yeh,” said Annie. “Web’s always been my number two.”

    “Really?” Trojan grumbled. “I thought if Waveform were your Number One, then second in command would be me.”

    The ship leveled out in the air, slowly rising up towards the clouds. Heavy clouds, black against the deep blue sky.

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Annie. “You’re my engineering officer.”

    “Oh.” He shrugged. “All right then.”

    “Then what am I?” Zip asked. “His assistant?”

    “Oh no, no.” Annie twisted in her seat to face him. “You, little fish, are my Assistant in Rebellioness. I’m hoping I can count on you.”

    Zip cheered again. “You can count on me for anything!”

    Web groaned and ran a paw over her face.

    Waveform looked down at her. “Having second thoughts?”

    She shook her head and sighed. “No. I actually think I’ve done the right thing. Someone needs to keep all of you in check.”

    ...

    Macro had refused to go back to his room. Instead, he remained sat in his chair while the doctor checked him over. With a nod, the croconaw sat back and jabbed something into his computer screen that the mawile couldn’t see.

    “You’re all clear to go,” he said. “Just take it easy for a while. Don’t stress your leg too much.”

    Macro nodded and looked up at Anchor. The granbull sat on the edge of his bed, stretching his stiff limbs. More fur had been burned away than Macro had initially noticed. Bare patches mottled Anchor’s chest and right leg, but they didn’t look angry.

    ‘Rich city medicine.’

    Macro looked over at Switch, still lying unconscious. Was there really nothing they could do to bring him around before he went back to his ship?

    Jumper kicked back from the wall and smiled at the space pirate. “I guess if you’re ready to leave, then this is goodbye?”

    Macro snorted but a smile spread across his lips. “Can’t wait to get rid of me, eh Gov?”

    “That’s not what I’m saying at all,” said Jumper, meeting his smile. “I actually hope you’ll come back and visit. I’d love to see how young DL is getting along with her memories.”

    DL smiled and raised a paw to try and cover up the blush that dusted her cheeks.

    “Well, if Switch is stayin’ here then it’s highly likely.” Macro rose to his feet, ignoring the helping paw from the croconaw. “All right, crew. Let’s beat it back to Wildcard Gamma.”

    Anchor dropped to his feet, flinching with the impact. A look of concern crossed the doctor’s face, but it melted away when Anchor trudged past him to join Macro’s side.

    Matrix buzzed beside the mawile’s head while staring at his computer. “The ship is parked above the hospital. I can get the ladder down to the roof if you want to exit that way?”

    “Why?” Jumper inclined his head on one side. “You’re not escaping, you’re just leaving. You can use the street. No one’s going to stop you.”

    “This is mighty alien, Cap’n,” said Anchor quietly.

    “Embrace it,” said Macro. “Because I highly doubt this will happen again any time soon.” A light went on in his mind and he absently pawed at the empty holster on his belt. “What about our weapons? Those things ain’t cheap, yanno.”

    “I have that covered,” said Jumper. “You can collect them at reception on your way out. They don’t generally allow firearms in the wards.”

    Macro snorted and shrugged. “Ain’t like Pulse City hospital, that’s for certain.”

    Jumper ignored his remark and led them to the door. Macro paused beside it, his eyes drifting back to the unconscious human.

    “We’ll be back for you, Switch,” he said. “I promise you that. We’ll get you home. I never leave a job unfinished.”

    As the door closed, his mind drifted back to Lossy and his stomach tied itself in knots. No. He never left a job unfinished, but it wasn’t often he failed at one either.

    “Hey, Gov,” he said. “Give Lossy our condolences won’t you?”

    “Of course, Macro,” said Jumper.

    “And if we hear anything about the twins… well, I’ve got your number.”

    Jumper chuckled. “I understand. I’ll keep you updated.”

    A flood of relief spread through Macro’s body and he kept pace beside Jumper until they reached the reception. Before Macro could remind the Governor, he retrieved a bag from beside the azumarill, almost collapsing under its weight.

    “I think you’ll find everything is in here.” He dropped it at the space pirate’s feet.

    Anchor tugged it open and grinned, retrieving his gauntlets as though he’d not seen them in years. Once Macro’s guns were back in place he let out a small, satisfied sigh.

    “I don’t really understand you space pirates,” said Jumper. “But I trust you won’t say anything of us dodging a weapon ban?”

    “Nope,” said Macro. “Ran plenty of errands for those dodging the ban. You now know who to call if you need any parts or upgrades. Right?”

    Jumper chuckled, giving a shake of his head, and steered them towards the exit. Matrix was on the ball, drawing the neon ladder down above the hospital’s doors.

    Despite it being the crack of dawn, a small audience had gathered outside, their eyes on the sky as they stared at Wildcard Gamma in fascination. A group of children stood at the front, bouncing up and down as the ladder descended.

    When Macro stepped outside, the audience broke into a cheer, and not the kind of cheer one hears when a bounty had been obtained. This one was genuine, happy, grateful cheering.

    Macro stiffened and stared dumbfounded at the crowd.

    “Okay,” he said. “This is surreal. I’m going home.”

    He grabbed onto the ladder and climbed up a few rungs to allow Anchor and DL to join him. He gave one last look down at Jumper and smirked.

    “Thanks for everything, Gov,” he said.

    “No. Thank you, Macro.” Jumper returned his smile and saluted. The gesture almost sent the space pirate falling from the ladder. “See you again soon. I’ll keep you updated on Switch’s progress.”

    Macro let out a nervous laugh and turned his eyes onto the hulking wishiwashi. The ladder ascended and Matrix landed gracefully two rungs above him. Within no time flat, they were back on board Wildcard Gamma.

    The door closed behind them, but unlike the rest of his crew he didn’t look back down at the city. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he knew full well if he did he’d want to go back.

    With a sigh, he drew the disk from his belt. “Well, I guess we’d better get this installed in you, eh DL?”

    DL shifted uneasily and slumped into the cockpit. Before Macro could reach it, Cookie poked his head out of the kitchen door.

    “You’re back!” His jovial smile fell and he looked at Anchor aghast. “What on earth happened down there?!”

    “We’ll fill you in later,” said Macro. “It’s a long story.”

    “Oh good. We haven’t had a night time story in a while.” Cookie waved his ladle. “I’ll make extra helpings just for that!”

    Macro waved the slurpuff off and joined his crew in the cockpit. Anchor leant back in his chair with a sigh.

    “Oh, it’s like putting on a second skin,” he said. “Where too, Cap’n?”

    “I dunno yet,” said Macro. “I’m thinking Pulse City. Get some fuel, and maybe a burger at Moonlight Lounge.”

    He handed the disk to Matrix and sank into his seat, kicking his feet up on the dashboard.

    Soft, fluffy clouds drifted by, painted orange from the rising sun. It wouldn’t be long until Cyan City was far behind them.

    “Whoa, Cap’n!” Anchor’s cry drew Macro out of his reverie.

    He followed the granbull’s paw to something in the distance. Something squid-like flew away from them, its long tentacles pulsing back and forth behind it as it swam through the sky. It was nothing like Macro had ever seen.

    “Think it’s another of Socket’s little victims?” Macro asked. “Something else to toy with since we took DL and her human away?”

    “I dunno.” Anchor scratched his head. “What do you suggest we do?”

    Macro nibbled on a claw as he watched the creature drift further away from them. None of them knew what it was, yet none of them had ever seen a human before either. Of course, Switch had been disguised as a talonflame. What if this was another human trapped in the form of some unseen pokemon?

    “I say we catch it,” said Macro. “I ain’t letting Socket have the satisfaction of catching some other innocent creature.”

    “We don’t even know if she wants this thing,” said Anchor. “I mean… there’s no government fleet pursuing it.”

    “Catch it anyway.” Macro shrugged. “There’s every chance it wants to get back home like Switch does. Wherever home is. And what if she is trying to catch it? If we beat her again, then that’ll just add to the fun.”

    “All right.” Anchor pushed the steering stick forwards. “Let’s catch the jellyfish thing.”

    Matrix looked up from his computer. One paw held the jack lead, but DL had rose to her feet to join Macro’s side.

    “It’s so beautiful,” she said. “Almost translucent. Look how the sun reflects off its body.”

    “Anything in your data banks about this thing?” Macro asked her.

    She shook her head, but her eyes wouldn’t leave the creature.

    “Are you sure about this?” Matrix asked. “We don’t know what that thing even is.”

    “If this has anything to do with Socket opening time and space,” said Macro, “then it’s probably a pokemon from another world.”

    “But what if that world is hostile?”

    Macro ignored him, keeping his eyes on the strange pokemon. Wildcard Gamma gradually caught up with it, and the jaws of the ship opened wide to trap the creature. In seconds, the tentacled pokemon was safely in their cargo hold.

    “All right.” Macro slipped from his seat with DL in tow. “Let’s go see if we can talk to it. Find out where it’s come from.”

    Matrix watched him, winding his antenna around in his paw so tightly Macro worried he might pull it off.

    “You two ain’t goin’ alone, Cap’n,” said Anchor.

    “I wasn’t planning on it.”

    Macro paused by the door and looked back at the ribombee. His wings buzzed as he lifted himself off his seat.

    “Matrix, you stay here with DL,” said Macro. “I might need you in the cockpit.”

    Matrix shrugged and landed back in his seat with a plop. “Sure. I don’t even wanna know what that thing is. It looks like something from a horror game.”

    Macro tutted then followed Anchor down the corridor towards the loot room. DL’s soft footsteps followed after them and Macro looked back over his shoulder at her.

    “I told you to stay with Matrix,” he said.

    She shook her head and slipped past him, catching up with the granbull. Macro muttered under his breath and plodded behind them until they reached the door. One scan of the mawile’s paw opened it and he slipped in ahead of them. Before they could reach the next door, a loud crash came from beyond it and the entire ship shook. Macro’s heart lurched into his throat and he flashed the next door open. Had the creature hurt itself? He raced down the stairs towards it. Another crash sent him rolling head over heels down the remaining steps until he landed in a heap at the metal door.

    “Cap’n!”

    Anchor dived down the stairs after him, but it was DL who appeared at his side first. She placed a warm paw on his shoulder and he looked up, meeting her eyes.

    “I’m fine,” Macro muttered.

    She took his paw and pulled him to his feet. Anchor stared at the door, his paws balled into fists.

    “I dunno what to think of this,” he said. “Somethin’ don’t smell right.”

    Macro took a deep breath and reached for the door panel. “Well, I’m giving this thing the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably terrified, and if it understands us then-”

    The door slid open, revealing the vast cargo hold. The jellyfish creature swam in circles, but when it spotted them it froze in the air. Its tentacles drooped down beneath it, reminiscent of legs and arms.

    Macro folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “Not seen anythin’ like you before.”

    A tinkly cry came from the creature, and it waved its tentacles in a fluid motion. Had it understood him?

    “Are you a pokemon? Or a human?”

    DL slipped past him, her eyes locked on the creature.

    “Well, whatever you are,” said Macro, “Socket can’t hurt you here. So-”

    A red glow emanated from the creature, reflecting from the walls of the cargo hold. Then like a flash it lurched towards them. Macro whipped DL behind him and span to the side, slamming his paw over the door panel. The door shut just before the creature reached them. It bounced off the metal with an almighty clang, leaving a huge dent protruding from the surface. Anchor’s eyes widened and he looked from the damaged door to Macro.

    Clang after clang came from within the cargo hold. Macro clutched the pachirisu to his chest and shouted into his ear piece.

    “Matrix! It’s hostile! Let it out and fire! Fire!”

    The noise coming from the cargo hold was unbearable. His heart leapt with every crash and he screwed his eyes shut.

    It seemed to go on for an eternity. Then it ended. The silence was almost deafening.

    Macro looked up, his breath coming in heavy bursts.

    “Did you hit it?” he asked Matrix.

    The ribombee’s voice resonated in his ear, “Nah. I missed.”

    “You missed?” Macro hissed.

    “Hey, I might be able to use the controls in here, but I’m not a good shot.”

    “All them video games didn’t teach you anything?” Macro sighed. “What’s happened to the creature?”

    “It got away.”

    Macro leant his head back against the wall and ran a paw over his face. The darn thing got away… Little claws dug into his chest and he opened his eyes again, meeting DL’s frightened chocolate gaze. All his fear melted away to be replaced with a burning battle spirit.

    “Where is it going?” he asked Matrix.

    “Pulse City.”

    Macro’s heart sank. He exchanged glances with Anchor and the granbull nodded.

    “We’ll beat it there, Cap’n.” He trudged up the stairs, flinching slightly on his burned leg.

    Pulse City… Macro groaned and rubbed at his scar. What had he got himself into? He cracked an eye open, fixing it on DL’s terrified face. Her little nose twitched and she glanced away from him towards the damaged door.

    His blood froze in his veins. Everything suddenly seemed a lot darker.

    All this had started when he’d picked up that box. What would have happened if he’d left it? One thing was for certain. He’d be blissfully unaware.

    But it was too late now. He was already in too deep.

    She shifted again, feeling tiny under his paw. The scent of lavender wafted up from her fur, dusting away that dark cloud and stirring something else entirely deep inside his stomach. He couldn’t be doing with this. It frightened him. The wild emotions the pachirisu caused him were a cocktail of confusion.

    His muzzle creased and he shoved her aside, marching up the steps towards the cockpit. He only paused to let her out of the loot room so he could make sure it locked behind her.

    Once he reached the cockpit, he fell into his seat with a heavy sigh.

    “Sorry,” said Matrix flatly. “Don’t ask me to fire the guns again.”

    “Don’t worry, I won’t.” Macro turned his head to look at him. “Hurry up and get that disk installed on DL.”

    “But…” DL stuttered and faltered in the doorway. “But I told you I don’t want it.”

    “You’re having it!” he snapped. “The deal was we’d get your memories and in return you’d work for me. So you can stick to our deal and take them, and be flippin’ happy about it, all right?! Besides, the sooner you get them all back the sooner you’re done.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

    “Wasn’t it clear enough?” He turned away from her and leant back in his seat. “Once all this is over, I want you gone.”

    Macro could feel Anchor’s eyes burning into the side of his head.

    “Where’s this come from, Cap’n?”

    The granbull’s voice was quiet, but Macro was fairly certain the entire cockpit heard it. Nevertheless, he didn’t answer. He closed his eyes and tucked his paws behind his head.

    “Fine.” DL’s voice wavered. “I’ll take my memories and then I’ll leave, if that’s what you want.”

    Macro shrugged, but somehow her words stabbed him. It wasn’t her fault. None of this was her fault.

    He cracked one eye open and caught her reflection in the window as she sat at Matrix’s feet. The ribombee plugged the jack in place and Macro let his eyes close again. Why was it so hard to apologize?

    “This one looks rather big,” said Matrix. “It might take a while.”

    No… it wasn’t fair. She said she didn’t want it, so why was he forcing it on her?

    Macro licked his lips and ventured a glance back at them. But before he could say anything, DL’s entire body stiffened. The antenna behind her ear flashed erratically and her eyes turned lifeless. Then her mouth flapped open and closed at an alarming rate, throwing out a stream of nonsense.

    Matrix dropped his computer and buzzed into the air, hovering as he wound an antenna round in his paw. His eyes traced over the pachirisu then he looked back at Macro.

    Macro leapt over the back of his seat and dived to catch DL as she fell backwards onto the floor. Anchor rose to his feet, looking at each pokemon in turn.

    “What’s happening?” Macro barked at Matrix.

    Matrix looked from him to DL. “I… I don’t know.” He swooped from the air to snatch up his computer and his eyes widened. “It’s frozen.”

    Macro stared up at him, his mouth hanging open. DL’s incomprehensible babble filled the cockpit, driving his anxiety sky high. He wasn’t a computer whizz like Matrix, but there was one thing he knew about computers… if they froze, they needed a reboot.

    He grit his teeth together and reached behind DL’s head, flicking her switch into the off position. Her body went limp in his arms, but in the silence that followed he could hear his own heart beating. Racing at a mile a minute. He took a deep breath and switched her back on.

    But she just lay there. Lifeless.
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      #27    
    Old April 6th, 2018 (1:23 AM).
    Delirious Absol's Avatar
    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
    Call me Del
       
      Join Date: May 2015
      Location: UK
      Age: 33
      Gender: Female
      Nature: Quirky
      Posts: 350
      Sorry for the small hiatus. I'll be back to posting weekly now. Thanks for your patience =)

      Part 4 - Reign of the Ultra Beasts

      Chapter 39

      Troll's face twisted as he stared at the computer screen. A combination of fear and anger. Sweat radiated off him in a cloud of stench that Socket could smell from her view behind the one-way window. His paw trembled over the touch screen panel, occasionally brushing against it and bringing up random text on the holoscreen.

      The gothitelle's eyes wandered to the timer, not for the first time. Thirty seconds. The croagunk criminal had only thirty seconds left, and he was losing them rapidly. A small movement caught her eye and she watched a bead of sweat trickle down the back of his neck and over his hunched shoulders where it vanished into the modest chair cushion.

      "I don't think he's got this." The grumpig officer took a bite out of his donut. It was a good thing the croagunk couldn't hear a word they said. "Either that or he's willingly throwing his life away."

      Socket hmm'd and pursed her lips together. "Or he's on to me."

      "I doubt that," said the officer. "You were pretty convincing. I don't even think our lie detectors could have given you away."

      Socket hmm'd again then leant back in her seat. It creaked loudly and she leant forwards again, fearing the flimsy furniture would give way.

      "Always told you ya should've got a job in acting." Tweak hopped from the donut box and shook himself loudly, sending sprinkles all over the table. "That snack should last me until tea time."

      Socket recoiled and raised a paw to dust stray sticky strands from her velvet fur. "I brought you here understanding you were taking notes."

      Tweak didn't so much as flinch at her warning note. Instead he beamed and nodded to her bag.

      "I would, but you never returned my notebook," he said.

      Socket shot him a leer and looked back out of the window. The timer let out a loud ring, snatching her attention away from Troll's trembling body.

      The officer silenced it with a heavy paw then switched on his microphone.

      "Time's up," he said. "Step away from the display."

      Troll muttered something incoherent and pushed himself to his feet. He shuffled backwards from the computer and shot a leer at the one-way window.

      The three pokemon flowed from the soundproofed room and gathered around the croagunk. He gave them a venomous look but didn't move from his spot. The three psychic types were a gentle reminder that he didn't need cuffs to be restrained. His severe weakness alone was his restraint, and he was greatly outnumbered.

      The officer checked the display and nodded slowly.

      "Looks like you failed," he said.

      "Were a weird-ass test." Troll sneered at the mayor. "Those stakes spoke numbers that you want me dead. You know I ain't guilty, you just want to fry us poison types in your sick chair."

      "I take no pleasure in killing you," said Socket. "Your plight is in your own paws."

      "What you talkin' about?" Troll balled his paws into fists. "You know full well you could help us but you just don't wanna."

      "I'd watch what you're saying when your life is in my paws." Socket folded her arms and locked her icy gaze on his, putting out the fire behind it. "You failed the test. You were meant to succeed."

      Troll's lips curled into a sneer. "You're a real sicko, you know that?"

      The officer turned his back on the computer and leant against the desk. "Every single attempt was a fail. You weren't even close. It's as though you don't even know the basics."

      "And you do?" Troll rounded on the grumpig.

      The officer shrugged. "I know a little. I have to, given this is my job. I couldn't even begin to hack government files, however. Those fire walls and barriers... That's advanced stuff."

      "I feel like you three set me up." Troll clenched his teeth together and roared. "Right, fine! Take me back to the cell. Do me in. Do whatever you flippin' well want. Anythin's better than livin' in this toxic dump!"

      "No." Socket moved towards him, daring not to breathe as the toxic sweat from his body permeated the very air around him. "You failed that test. That means only one thing."

      "I'm a dead 'mon."

      "Not at all. It means you weren't the one who hacked into my systems."

      "Eh?" Troll's jaw went slack.

      "You don't have a clue, do you?" Socket tapped her claws along her arm as she examined the dumbfounded amphibian. "This was a test. Of course you'd hack if your life depended on it. I needed to give you those stakes to get answers."

      "So you tricked me?!"

      He span to face her fully and the officer leapt back from the desk to her aid. Socket raised a paw and the grumpig backed down, standing no more than two feet away from her and the criminal.

      "Yes, I tricked you," said Socket. "Your life is safe. But!" She froze his words before they left his mouth, leaving it hanging open like a victreebell's trap. "That doesn't mean you're off the hook. If you want a reduced sentence, you have to give me some answers."

      "What answers?" The croagunk folded his arms and met her icy stare head on. "What could a humble little dealer livin' in the outskirts have to offer System's Mayor?"

      "Oh, you could offer me many things," said Socket. "The location of every single wanted criminal living on System Ground, for example. The source off all your toxic sludge dens." A small smile spread across her lips and she stared at the croagunk until he cowered back from her. "But that's for another time. Right now I want you to tell me everything you know about Surge."

      His eyes widened and he looked back up at her with a start. "Surge? What do you wanna know about her?"

      "Given I've foolishly hired her," said Socket slowly, "I want to know everything."

      ...

      "I know I said I wanted you gone..." Macro's voice cracked. "But this isn't what I meant!"

      It wasn't the first time he'd said it. He'd lost track of how long he'd been sat beside DL's bed watching her. Waiting for any sign she might wake up.

      But there was none. The only thing that reassured him she was alive was her breathing. She looked just like she was sleeping, except there were no eye twitches. Nothing moved except her chest with every breath she took.

      It pained him. His mother often told him to be careful what he wished for. He'd spoken off the cuff... and look what had happened.

      He let his head fall into his paws and rubbed them over his face, trying to stem any tears. He wasn't even sure he had any left.

      The door whirred open and he snatched his paws from his eyes, looking up to meet Anchor's concerned face. The granbull strolled across the room and his eyes went from Macro to DL.

      "Not woken up yet?" It was a rather redundant question to ask.

      Macro sighed and shook his head. He leant back in his seat and let his paws flop into his lap.

      "I'm at a loss of what to do." He looked over at his computer lying on the bedside table.

      Matrix hadn't a clue how to 'fix' DL. If it was an issue with the database, then it was a computer issue. But one that was out of the ribombee's expertise. If it required hacking into her to examine, there was only one pokemon he knew could possibly help them. And she'd not been answering his calls. It had been well over an hour since he messaged her to call him urgently.

      "I think we're all at a loss," said Anchor. "If it's any consolation, Matrix has been tryin' to look for problems in the disks. But he says he can't see anything in the code that rings any warning bells. They all look alike. Nothing alien about them."

      "It could be hidden amongst it, camouflaged," said Macro. "Anyone could have jeopardised the disk to get back at me."

      "What makes you think they'd be getting back at you? It's DL's memories, not yours."

      "Because I'm the one who wants them!" Macro's violet glare locked on Anchor. "Not her! I'm forcing them on her!"

      "It ain't your fault, you got her best interests at heart. Right?" Anchor paused as he watched Macro sigh and look away. "You ain't seriously still thinkin' Jumper did this are you? Or someone else in Cyan City?"

      "Yes. I am. It's where we got the disk from, and that frogadier went from refusing to give me the disk to rewarding me with it." Macro rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I shouldn't have trusted them so easily."

      "Well I still don't think it were them," said Anchor. "What if they didn't even know there were something wrong with it? You said there were too many locations on that list to match the number of disks. What if this one were a fake one?"

      Macro jolted. "You mean this could be the red herring?"

      "Maybe. Or the right disk but coded wrong. Matrix thinks it could be something as simple as a typo in the data."

      "How can someone's brain have a typo?" Macro asked sourly.

      Anchor shrugged. "I dunno. We all so easily make them." When Macro said nothing, he went on. "Matrix described it like this. When you install a new operating system on your computer, if something goes wrong where it don't read right, it can cause the whole system to fail at start up."

      "This failed while it was downloading."

      Anchor scratched his head and sighed. "Look. He's tryin' to help. We all are. But we ain't gonna get answers without a thorough search. Have you found anyone who can help her?"

      "I might have. But she hasn't got back to me."

      "Ah. Well, let's hope she does soon." Anchor turned to the door, then paused to look back at Macro. Just A heads up, Cookie rang the lunch bell fifteen minutes ago. If you're quick, there might still be some left."

      "I'm not hungry."

      "All right." Anchor cleared his throat and tucked his paws behind his back. "But you also missed breakfast."

      Macro shrugged his shoulders.

      Anchor sighed and scratched his mohawk. "I know it ain't easy, but you have to eat something."

      "I'll eat when I'm ready."

      "Fair enough." Anchor slipped from the room, letting the door hiss shut behind him.

      Macro leant back in his chair and groaned, running his paws over his face. His stomach was in knots. He couldn't eat anything if he tried.

      Suddenly, the room filled with a jaunty jingle. He sat bolt upright and groped for his computer. He almost dropped it to the floor when he saw the name. 'Surge', perched above the dancing symbol of a ringing phone. He pressed it to his ear and answered as confidently as his worn out voice would allow.

      "Surge! Finally."

      "What do you want, Macro?" Her voice was so icy it sent chills through his entire body.

      "I don't know what's got your gogoat," he said, "but I've not been messaging you for a chat. I actually need your help."

      "Oh?" She paused and for a dreaded moment he thought she'd hung up. "It's gonna cost you."

      "You don't even know what it is yet," he said.

      "No, but I don't do favors."

      He grit his teeth together. "I got that much from my last request."

      "Anyway. What is it?"

      "Remember that living computer I told you about?" His eyes went to DL. "We've been trying to retrieve her memory disks and... well, something's gone wrong with the third one. She won't wake up."

      "You've killed her?" Surge didn't sound remotely surprised, and along with her choice of words, it stabbed at him.

      "No. I..." He paused and choked back a sob. "I don't know!"

      "How do you expect me to help? I'm not a medic."

      "No, but you're a hacker, right? You can get into that... computer thing... in her head and find out what's gone wrong. Right?"

      Surge sighed and he heard her scratch her ear. "I don't know. That kind of goes beyond my realms of expertise."

      "So you won't do it?" He let his disappointment hang in the air.

      "I didn't say that. But we're not talking about a computer here, we're talking about someone's brain. If anything goes wrong and I end up killing her, I'll be tried for murder."

      "It's not murder if you're trying to save her life. How many pokemon die in hospitals during surgery or resuscitation? It's the same stinkin' thing!"

      "No it's not. I'm not a doctor. It'll be malpractice."

      Macro clenched his jaw together. "Let's not get into the legalities behind this, considering what's been done to her is already illegal! I'm asking you to help her as best as anyone possibly can!"

      Surge was silent for a long while, and he heard the creak of a chair or bed as she moved on it.

      "Okay, Macro. I'll help her."

      His heart leapt into his throat with such force he almost left his seat. "You will? Oh man, you have no idea-"

      "But it's not free."

      His heart sank again and he slumped into the chair. "How much? Where do you want me to take you this time?"

      "We'll discuss that when you get here. I'm in Pulse City, staying at number twelve Neon House. It's opposite Moonlight Lounge."

      Before he could reply, she cut him off.

      His arm went limp over the arm of the chair, still clutching his computer. He looked up at DL, still 'sleeping'.

      He reached over and took her paw in both of his. Still warm. Still alive.

      So, Surge would help her.

      Somehow the idea filled him with both hope and dread.

      ...

      Surge stared at her computer, her claw still pressed over the spot the 'hang up' option had been. Macro's words still rang around her head.

      He wanted her help, and he'd sounded desperate.

      Everything she'd heard about Hunter, from long before her bounty hunting days, he'd never struck her as the kind of pokemon who'd genuinely care for another. And from the day he'd hired her, everything she thought she'd known had turned out to be a lie. Even his 'name'.

      She stuffed her computer into her pocket and let out a long sigh. Her head was a mess. Socket had hired her to turn in the space pirate, even if it meant taking his life. If she didn't... well, Socket wasn't exactly the kind of pokemon you wanted to make angry. The thought alone left a bitter taste in Surge's mouth. Someone's life would be taken, and it would be Macro's or her own.

      Yes, she'd help the pachirisu. But she'd be using her as bait for an elaborate trap.

      ...

      Tracer puffed on his cigar, his eyes fixed on the sky. Or what he could see of it through the yellow smog. He stood with his back against his office wall, the cool brick penetrating the heavy leather of his trench coat.

      He'd seen it take off, that strange pyukumuku-shaped ship. That meant the human had left System Ground, and going off the state of the house, so had the pokemon she'd befriended.

      She was up to something. Something he felt he needed to put an end to. But it hadn't felt right to catch her and turn her in.

      'That mayor said something about taking me to a lab. I spent years with four white walls around me. I ain't bein' locked in no lab. Capiche?'

      Her words had left him feeling cold inside. What was Socket planning to do? Was it really idle curiosity or something much more sinister? One thing was for certain. Something was going on in System, and his investigator instinct was itching to get to the bottom of it.

      The door was thrown wide open and Widget strolled outside, struggling to fasten his mask over his face. He fixed a perplexed eye on Tracer and snorted, shaking the mask to the floor.

      "I wanna call hypocrisy!" The eevee pointed an accusing paw. "You always tell me to wear a mask, and you aren't wearing one!"

      Tracer blew out a stream of smoke, keeping his eyes on the sky. "I'm thinking, Widget."

      "And the masks prevent that. Got it."

      "It's not that." The delphox flicked ash onto the floor. "There's a lot to go over, and I needed to calm my nerves."

      Widget sat down heavily and shook out his fur, briefly revealing the everstone embedded in his sternum.

      "It stinks rotten," he said. "What happened overnight?"

      "My guess is they dumped more waste in the back streets," said Tracer. "Even your mask wouldn't filter out the stench. Which you do still need to wear, by the way."

      "I'll put mine on when you put on yours," said Widget. "Hypocrite."

      Tracer glanced down at the eevee, receiving a playful grin. The delphox sighed and flicked more ash to the floor.

      "This is about that human, ain't it?" Widget asked.

      "Yes. I believe she's now in System Sky." Tracer looked back up at the yellow clouds. "How on earth we're meant to go after her now confounds me."

      Widget made a thoughtful noise. "Surge has a ship."

      "I know. But she's not been returning my calls."

      "Keep mithering."

      "That's not my style." Tracer took another drag of his cigar. "Nor is it hers to put up with constant badgering."

      Widget let out a whiny sigh and sat back on his haunches to lean against the wall. "Well I'm at a loss."

      "Join the club."

      "You thought about hiring?" Defrag's head appeared around the door. Her nose twitched at the stench then almost retreated back into her face. "Okay, I was baffled enough when you used the term to begin with, but this is your idea of 'fresh air'?!"

      "I needed to think," said Tracer. "And inside was too stuffy."

      "At least the air is filtered." Defrag flicked her long ears back and fixed pink eyes on his. "Anyway. Like I was saying. You could hire a ship?"

      "From who?" Tracer stubbed his cigar on the wall then pulled out another, prompting a raised eyebrow from the lopunny. "Ships are primarily a space pirate thing. Unless you're suggesting I ask Socket to lend me a government ship?"

      "Couldn't hurt," said Defrag. "She's asked you to track this human down. If she still wants you to catch her, she needs you to get into the sky."

      "Good point." Widget looked up at Tracer. "She does want this human, so I'm sure she'd be more than willing."

      Tracer took a long drag of his fresh cigar and looked back up at the sky. Hiring a government ship? It wasn't an unreasonable request, given the circumstances. Of course, he'd need to lie a little. There was no way he was going to rush the human girl to Socket, not without better knowledge of what might befall the poor creature.

      "Okay," he said. "It's a move I hadn't really considered. But I'm assuming Socket will lend me a ship given the human she's requested I catch for her has zipped off into the unknown."

      "And you don't have wings," said Widget.

      "Even bird pokemon can't fly all the way into System Sky, Widget."

      "Do you even know how to drive one?" Defrag asked.

      "As far as I know, air ships are pretty intuitive," said Tracer.

      "All right, so long as you don't suddenly crash and burn."

      Tracer shrugged and said nothing, fumbling in his deep pockets for his computer.

      Defrag frowned at the dingy streets. "Well I've said my piece. I'm going back inside before my lungs rot."

      "See ya later then!" The eevee watched the door slam shut then fixed Tracer with a grin. "So, we're hiring a ship, eh?"

      Tracer made a grunt of acknowledgment and pulled up Socket's name on his computer, bracing himself for the potential earful he was about to receive.

      "Ooh, this is so exciting!" Widget squealed and shifted his weight rapidly from paw to paw. "Can I drive?"

      Tracer's cigar almost fell from his mouth and he cleared his throat before hitting the dial button. The eevee's sparkling eyes fixed on the side of his head. This all felt like a set up for potential disaster.
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        #28    
      Old May 11th, 2018 (1:07 AM).
      Delirious Absol's Avatar
      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
      Call me Del
         
        Join Date: May 2015
        Location: UK
        Age: 33
        Gender: Female
        Nature: Quirky
        Posts: 350
        Chapter Forty Four

        Macro smoothed down his clean fur, feeling a lot better after a good, long shower. He’d worried nothing would have been enough to get that experience off him. The battle was eerie enough, but Surge’s attempt at his life and following perverse request had left him feeling rattled and filthy. He shook the memory from his mind then turned to the wash basin. His scarf lay in a pool of bubbles, still soaking to remove the remains of caterpie silk. A quick rinse and drain revealed his attempts - well… third attempt - had been successful in getting rid of it all.

        Now he just had to dry it.

        With a defeated sigh, he resigned himself to the idea of being scarfless for a little while. He flashed open the washroom door and slipped out into the hallway, turning towards his room. A movement to his left drew his eye and he spotted DL on her way from the kitchen. She paused to look at him and raised a paw to wipe a smear of chocolate from beside her nose. That suggested to him she’d probably eaten more than she’d been making. Where did she put it all?

        “You look smaller without that on,” she said, nodding to the soggy bundle in his arms.

        He shrugged and absently smoothed the sodden article over his arm. Ordinarily such a sugar coated insult would have angered him, but somehow the sheer fact she’d said anything at all was a blessing in and of itself.

        “It’ll be dry and back on in no time,” he said.

        She made a little noise that might have been ‘oh’ and leant against the door frame, turning her head to look back at the cockpit.

        The attempts at small talk pained him. He grimaced inwardly and made his way towards his room.

        “Supper will be in ten minutes,” she called after him.

        He paused mid-step, but didn’t look back. One nod, then he pressed on towards his room. Whether or not she saw it he didn’t know.

        Once his scarf was tossed over the foot of his bed frame, he turned to leave and faltered. The black scarf he’d left drying on the frame previously lay in a crumpled heap just beneath the bed amongst the dust. One colour… well. If you discounted the grey clinging to the black fabric. With a heavy sigh, he left it and marched back towards the cockpit.

        Anchor’s seat was still empty. Loud clanging noises came from outside as the granbull repaired the ship’s damage, hidden completely from view. Matrix, however, was situated in his navigator’s seat. His tiny paw flew across the keyboard as Macro entered, chatting on some online community, and he fired a quick greeting over his shoulder.

        “Don’t shirk work,” said Macro.

        “Well we aren’t going anywhere,” said Matrix.

        Macro fell into his seat and rubbed at his exposed neck. The draft from the open door was unbearable. Wow, he felt naked.

        “We’ll be going somewhere soon enough.” He pulled his computer out of his pocket and brought up the list of disk locations. “As soon as Anchor’s done with the repairs, we can bid goodbye to Pulse City.”

        “You make it sound final,” said Matrix.

        “It might be.”

        The ribombee span his seat around and fixed him with a look of utter confusion. His eyes were impossibly wide, making his already tiny face look even tinier.

        “We’re not coming back?” he asked, calmly. “What did you do?”

        Macro sneered and looked back at his computer. “I didn’t do anything.”

        “Did you cheese off Surge?”

        “Turns out she isn’t an ally,” said Macro. “Drop it.”

        Matrix’s seat made a small squeak as he turned it back to the navigation system. Macro thought he heard him load up one of his retro games again.

        Macro scanned over the locations. Botnet City and Meta City both left a bad taste in his mouth. As he looked down at The Cache, his heart froze. Had the list always had that sun-shaped emblem behind it? And if so, why have it right at the bottom of the page? The way it was written, The Cache was printed right over it. None of the other locations so much as touched it.

        His ears filled with ringing and he dropped his computer onto the dashboard. Twisting in his seat, he caught Matrix’s eye. The navigator raised an eyebrow.

        “Someone’s jumpy.” He fluttered from his seat, the dull drone of his wings joining the obnoxious bell. “Woo, supper time!”

        Macro sank back into his seat and rubbed at his temples. What had gotten into him? He retrieved his computer, stuffing it into his pouch as he headed towards the kitchen.

        Anchor passed him in the hallway, wiping his huge paws with an oily rag.

        “Suppose I’d better get freshened up,” he said. Then he looked Macro up and down, a small frown creasing his features. “You alright, Cap’n? You look a little spooked.”

        Macro waved him off. “I’m fine. How much longer until we fly?”

        “We’re about done. I just have to check the repairs don’t mess with the turrets. I’ll fire ‘em up after supper and if they spin, we can go.”

        Macro nodded and tried his best to shrug off the black cloud hovering over him.

        “Fantastic. Sure you can’t do that now?” he asked.

        “I am pretty hungry,” Anchor grumbled.

        “Okay.” Macro really couldn’t shake that black cloud. “Let’s just have supper.”

        He tried to mask his anxiety by rubbing at his face with both paws, slowly making his way into the kitchen. Anchor’s warm paw fell onto his bare shoulder, freezing him in his tracks. Macro craned his neck around to look up into Anchor’s face. The granbull’s brow was furrowed so much so his eyebrows almost met.

        “You sure you’re alright?” he asked.

        Macro stared back up at him, open-mouthed. What was he supposed to say? That he felt awful about DL? Betrayed by Surge? Tell him everything that went on, and that they’d be fleeing for their lives?

        Surely he should tell them the latter.

        He pushed Anchor’s paw away and turned into the kitchen, taking his usual seat opposite DL. The pachirisu met his gaze briefly before reaching for a bowl of soup.

        Soup?

        Macro took a bowl and sniffed it cautiously. Not Cookie’s usual sweet supper, that was for sure. Instead it smelled savoury. And… was that nutpea he could smell? His mouth filled with saliva and he grabbed a spoon, almost knocking Matrix off his seat.

        “Easy, Captain.” Cookie chuckled as he leant over the table, holding a plate of steaming buns. “We have bread to go with it, too.”

        Macro’s nose twitched. There was the sweet stuff he was familiar with. Yet not a single layer of frosting in sight. Regardless, he grabbed one, still warm in his paws.

        “I thought we’d try something different,” said DL. “Somehow, I already knew this recipe. I guess it came with the recent memory disk.”

        Macro was going to respond, but his mouth was full of bread. Instead, Anchor lowered his spoon and beat him to it.

        “How are you handling that, by the way?” he asked.

        “The memories?” DL shrugged. “I think I’m past the shock. I’ve actually been doing some thinking.”

        “Cooking’s pretty good for that.” Cookie fell into his own seat and began pouring sugar into his soup. “I do a lot of thinking in this kitchen.”

        DL smiled at him warmly, her paws twitching slightly as she watched the slurpuff’s soup fill with sugar. Macro feared for a moment she’d start wrestling the dispenser out of Cookie’s paws.

        “It does help, he’s not wrong.” She turned to the other space pirates. “But… I’ve decided I do actually want all my memories back. So retrieving those disks isn’t in vain anymore.”

        “It was never in vain,” said Macro. “It’s in your right to have them.”

        She shrugged. “To me it felt like that. But I actually want to know what happened that landed me in that orphanage. Was I always there? Or did something happen to my parents?”

        Macro looked down at his soup as he spooned some into his mouth. “Valid questions.”

        “Do you remember anything else?” Matrix asked. “Anything related to… well, Socket’s crazy idea?”

        DL snorted, a sound that didn’t suit her remotely. The look of disgust on her face lit a fire in Macro’s chest and he remembered exactly why they were doing all this. Any child could have ended up in DL’s situation. Taken into a warm home and then deceived. Turned into an experiment.

        “Like I said, I remember all of it,” she said. “And then some. I have access to the Download Database again, and amongst all that is the very reason Socket even adopted me.” DL leant her head on one paw and poked at her bread. “She never wanted a child. It was all planned from the start. Adopt the oldest child in the orphanage, lure them into a false sense of security and get everyone familiar with them as her adopted child. Oh, lovely Mayor! Adopts a child in need! Once that was all established, when the child turns eighteen, her plan gets thrown into action. No one suspects a thing.”

        “So it was an elaborate trap?” Macro scoffed.

        Matrix wound his antenna in his paw and leant on the table. “I prefer the term ‘ruse’.”

        “’Trap’ sums it up nicely,” said DL. “It certainly felt that way towards the end.”

        “Something doesn’t add up though,” said Anchor. “You said you were turned in at a lab in Meta City. But we picked you up from some strange distribution centre at the edge of System.”

        DL’s eyes went distant and she scratched her jaw. “That would be The Cache.”

        Macro dropped his spoon into his bowl, splashing hot soup down himself and eliciting a small squeak of surprise from Matrix.

        DL jolted in her seat and fixed him with wide, chocolate eyes. “What’s wrong?”

        “Nothing.” Macro grabbed a towel from Cookie and dabbed down his creamy fur, now sticky with berry soup. “I’ve just heard of that place. It’s one of the locations for your memory disks.”

        “Oh.” She rubbed her nose and looked away from him. “Well I’m guessing it’s not a distribution centre like you believe. I think Yobi must have done something prior to me going there. Because that’s listed as the location I was ‘made’.”

        “Maybe he changed your data chip,” said Matrix.

        “Maybe. Because what I remember of that chip you had removed, the information doesn’t match up. It was just lies.”

        “Yeh,” said Macro. “If it were your original one from birth, it would have said ‘Loop’ and not ‘Download Database’.”

        “Why change it?” Cookie asked. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to leave it, cover their tracks?”

        DL pointed at the slurpuff. “He has a valid point. But… that chip was more for tracking. And given I wasn’t ‘Loop’ anymore, they changed it. It’s not uncommon for pokemon to change their names. Is it?” She gave Macro a pointed stare.

        He sank slightly in his seat and absently stirred his soup.

        “Well, in that case,” said Anchor, “if The Cache is that secret government building, I guess our next stop is Botnet City? Save the dangerous zones for last.”

        The mere name of the city left a bad taste in Macro’s mouth. He bit his lip and stared into his soup. It was a logical suggestion. They had a higher chance for success. But sooner or later, they’d have to visit Meta City and The Cache. Did it really matter what order they did it in?

        Everyone’s voices blended together as Macro mulled over their options and DL’s story. It felt like things were both falling into place and becoming more confusing at the same time. He barely tasted his soup, eating it more out of habit than anything else. Once he’d scraped the bowl clean, he pushed it aside and slipped from his seat. It was only then he realised that Matrix and DL had both vanished, and Cookie was already cleaning the dishes.

        Anchor leant back in his seat as he tipped his bowl to drain the contents, slurping loudly. With a satisfied sigh, he brought the bowl back down to the table and wiped a paw across his mouth. His eyes flicked towards Macro and he grinned.

        “Not wanting seconds?” he asked.

        Macro shook his head and pointed towards the cockpit. “I’m gonna go fire up our next location. You wanna check the turrets? Sooner we leave, the better.”

        The granbull stood up, his chair scraping across the floor like claws on a chalkboard. “May as well.”

        He followed Macro into the cockpit then flopped into the driver’s seat. Macro hesitated beside his own chair. DL was already buckled in, fiddling with the dashboard’s controls.

        “What are you doing?” he asked her.

        “Learning.” She looked up at him briefly. “If I’m going to become a space pirate I need to know how these ships work.”

        “You’ve already had weapons training,” he said.

        She shrugged. “Maybe I want to know how to drive? Or be a captain?”

        Macro grit his teeth together, but not out of anger. It was much clearer to him now. She really was considering leaving.

        Anchor, however, hadn’t picked up on that at all. He roared with laughter, slamming his heavy paw on the dashboard.

        “Careful, Cap’n,” he said. “Sounds like she’s plannin’ a mutiny!”

        Macro shook his head and fell into the seat beside her. He didn’t even bother with the seatbelt. He tugged his computer from his pouch and brought up the locations again.

        “Alright, here we go!” said Anchor. “One turret test comin’ up!”

        “Make sure Pulse City know what you’re doing this time,” said Matrix.

        Anchor muttered something under his breath, then the familiar clunks and clangs of the turrets firing into position echoed throughout the cockpit.

        Macro scrolled through the locations with a claw, reading each of them. Three down. Two more disks to go. Three locations remaining. Meta City and Botnet City looked imposing even in text. As he reached The Cache, that yellow sun symbol was still there.

        Maybe Anchor was right. Maybe they should just get Botnet out of the way.

        The turrets whirred, the racket drowning out the voices in the small cockpit and Cookie’s jovial singing. Macro continued to stare at the list of names, a rising dread filling his chest and making his pulse race.

        His eyes unfocused, then something flashed. He didn’t know what it was, but his first thought was that another pirate had fired at them. But there was no impact. No angry shouts, no retaliation from Anchor.

        Macro’s computer slipped from his paws, landing with a clatter on the floor. His paw went to his head and he groaned, clenching his teeth together. He couldn’t see a thing. Everything was just noise. Turrets, voices, singing. More voices. He became increasingly aware that someone was shaking him.

        He shook his head, trying to clear his vision. It didn’t hurt, not remotely. If anything, his head felt like a cloud. The ship came back into focus, save for some random dazzle spots. Every time he turned his head, they followed, like he was looking at a map of the stars. And there was one. Much bigger than the other, shaped like a sun.

        He turned to look down at DL, her eyes wide and fearful. Her paws were wrapped around his arm tightly and her shoulders rose and fell as she tried to calm herself. Over her shoulder he spotted Anchor and Matrix, both of them staring at him in bewilderment. Anchor’s jaw was slightly open and he cleared his throat before speaking.

        “You alright, Cap’n?” he asked.

        “Yeh.” Macro rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the dazzle spots. “Yeh, I’m fine.”

        “You sure? ‘Cos you look like you need a lie down.”

        “I said I’m fine.”

        Macro bent in his seat to retrieve his computer. It had landed just underneath the dashboard. As he looked over it for any damage, he realised the page was still open. His eyes fell on The Cache, still emblazoned on its sun symbol.

        And beneath it were its co-ordinates. Had they always been there? As he looked over the other locations they were blank. No co-ordinates, just The Cache. Something felt odd about it. Why write them down? Why give this place special treatment?

        “Put these co-ordinates in, Matrix,” he said. “Two, four, six, three, five, seven.”

        Matrix twisted in his seat and raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”

        “What are you talking about?” Macro turned to face him. “They’re right here.”

        He held out his computer to the ribombee. Macro knew nothing about co-ordinates, but his suspicions were rising about The Cache. And with his suspicions came curiosity. He was adamant more than ever to find that place, even if it meant searching the far corners of System to track it down again.

        Matrix frowned at his computer, flicking his antenna around in his paw. “There’s nothing there.”

        “Yes there is!” Macro snapped. He leapt from his seat and pointed over Matrix’s shoulder right at the string of numbers. “It’s right there!”

        Matrix shook his head. “I don’t see anything.”

        “Right there! Written beneath ‘The Cache’ in black numbers! Right here, in this sun shaped symbol thing!” He traced a claw around the symbol.

        “Sun?” Matrix narrowed his eyes and looked up at Macro. “Are you having an episode?”

        Macro’s jaw went slack and he stared at Matrix, dumbfounded. He couldn’t see it? Macro looked back down at the screen. There it was, as clear as day. A yellow sun behind The Cache. The co-ordinates, or what he thought were co-ordinates.

        Anchor and DL stood behind him on either side, both staring at the computer.

        “There’s nothing there, Cap’n,” Anchor said softly.

        Macro shook his head slowly. “But I see it.” He turned to DL. “Do you?”

        The pachirisu shook her head and looked back down at the computer. Silent. Pawing at her left ear anxiously.

        Was he going crazy?

        Macro swallowed dryly. No. He wasn’t going crazy. He could see it. He knew he could see it.

        “Put in those numbers anyway,” he told Matrix.

        “But they won’t work,” said Matrix.

        “Just do it!”

        Matrix muttered under his breath and turned to his keyboard, punching in those numbers. Macro watched with bated breath. It had to work. He had to know he wasn’t going crazy.

        The navigation screen zoomed out, showing Wildcard Gamma as a blinking green dot. Another dot flickered on the screen, up in the far north-east corner.

        Matrix let out a stunned ‘uh’ then looked at Macro over his shoulder. “It found it.”

        “They work?” DL gasped.

        Macro felt his head spin and he staggered backwards into Anchor. A chuckle left his throat as it sank in. He wasn’t going crazy. Or if he was, he looked a little saner for a while.

        “Well, I don’t know what’s going on,” said Anchor. “But I was about to send you to bed due to overwork.” He steadied the mawile back on his feet and looked him over. “Although I’m still considering it.”

        Macro waved a paw, still chuckling. “Let’s get a move on.”

        “You can certainly get a move on,” said Anchor, turning him towards the door. “Right to bed. I don’t think you’ve slept since DL passed out.”

        The pachirisu looked up at Macro with a start. He cleared his throat, wanting to bite back at the granbull. But he found himself being steered down the corridor towards his room.

        “Fine, I’ll sleep,” he said. “But you promise me you won’t let Matrix change those co-ordinates.”

        “I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Anchor. “I reckon he’s as intrigued as you are that they’ve worked. But I’ll bop him one if he tries, okay?”

        Macro strutted towards his room with Anchor’s paw on his back. The granbull didn’t relinquish his grip until they reached the mawile’s door. There, he turned him to face him and his large muzzle was set in a concerned frown.

        “Did you really see all that?” he asked. “Or were you pullin’ our legs?”

        Macro scratched his scar and looked away from him. That sun… it looked every bit like those dazzle spots. He hadn’t realised it straight away. And that dazzle was still on his vision, although not as bright.

        “Where’d that flash come from?” he asked Anchor. “The one that blinded me in the cockpit?”

        “What flash?” Anchor asked.

        Macro felt his heart sink. So no one had seen the flash or the numbers and symbol? “It went off right when you were testing the turrets.”

        Anchor shook his head then sighed. “I really think you need some rest.”

        “This has been happening a lot lately, Anchor.” Macro spread his paws. “I fall asleep then something blinds me and I see this sun symbol. Now I’m seeing flashes while I’m awake and stuff no one else can see?”

        Anchor’s eyes widened. “How long has this been going on?”

        “I don’t know, a few days?”

        “I think you might need to see a doctor.”

        “I ain’t seeing a doctor. Not yet, anyway. Since those co-ordinates worked…”

        Anchor scratched his mohawk and looked away from him. “Gonna be honest, Cap’n. That might’ve been a glitch.”

        “I don’t know,” said Macro. “But if they actually work, I might get some answers.”

        Anchor fixed him out of the corner of his eye. “You really think they might work?”

        Macro shrugged. “No idea. Let’s find out. Staple Matrix’s arms to his sides if he tries to change them.”

        Anchor chuckled and gave a salute. “You got it, Cap’n. Now get some sleep.”

        ...

        The outskirts of System Sky were completely devoid of life. If it weren’t for the porygon-z fleet drifting back and forth, BackDoor would have found it peaceful. He floated in the air with his arms tucked behind his head, reclining backwards as he watched the fleet work.

        A small group of them stood aside, rotating their heads back and forth as they eyed the dimensional pocket to the ‘unknown world’. Getting close to them would be nigh impossible. They’d already thrown a tantrum upon his arrival, worse than he was familiar with. Something about them seemed very amiss.

        Their movements were more erratic. What passed off as ‘limbs’ rocked back and forth dramatically, the gravitational pull almost throwing them completely backwards when they came to a stop. Then throwing them forwards again when they started moving. The strange, dramatic rocking reminded him of one of those bobbing bird toys that tipped into a glass as though it were drinking. But unlike those birds, their heads span. Sometimes doing a complete three-sixty.

        BackDoor tutted. He needed to get closer to that dimensional pocket and tear it open, then he could get as far away from the fleet as possible. The only issue was that it might come at the expense of his own limbs.

        He sat up and gave TimeSkip a nudge. “You wanna go over there and lure them away?”

        The celebi looked around silently, not absorbing a word he said.

        BackDoor sighed and drifted higher into the air. “Fine. I’ll do it. But if they try to blow me up, I’m using you as a meat shield.”

        As he floated towards Zero Day, TimeSkip followed close behind him. BackDoor rolled his eyes but kept his attention on the fleet. One wrong movement (from their perspective at least) would see him reduced to scraps.

        “All right, back up, Zero Day,” he said. “Let me open that gate.”

        One of the passing porygon-z span its head around and its pupils retracted into pin pricks.

        ‘Thr34T d3T3cT3d! Thr34T d3T3cT3d!’

        Their already distorted voices seemed to have exaggerated as much as their movements.

        “Calm down!” BackDoor snapped.

        The rest of the porygon-z followed suit, their heads spinning freely above their bodies as their distorted voices joined in.

        The hoopa sighed and faltered slightly just outside the fleet. Then he threw himself through the air and warped beyond them. Twenty eyes snapped onto him, pupils like dots.

        ‘R3m0vInG Thr34T. C0mm3Nsssss3 CL34NuP.’

        Before BackDoor could retaliate, beams of tri-coloured light shot at him. He threw himself backwards into a warp and sent himself back to TimeSkip’s side. The hoopa’s face twisted with rage and he removed the ring from his right horn. With one swift flick of a paw, the ring expanded above Zero Day, warping them away several feet. They span on the spot before looking back at him and moving slowly away across System Sky.

        “Morons!” BackDoor spat.

        The sheer limit of his abilities ground in his gut. If he’d been given Hoopa’s alleged full capabilities, he could have sent them outside System’s galaxy. He let out a low growl and span towards TimeSkip, his lips curling into a snarl.

        He waved a paw, distorting time and space. Small, black voids appeared and vanished quickly around the android’s body, dragging its limbs through them and twisting them into knots. A flash of light exploded from cracks along its metal body, reducing it to scraps that rained down into the ocean below.

        “There.” BackDoor beat his paws together and looked back at the spot the fleet had previously occupied. “That feels much better.”

        He drifted over to the dimensional pocket and eyed it curiously. Another world. ‘World - Unknown’. Curiosity gnawed at him and he removed one of his golden rings. He just had to see what was inside. Not just because he’d been made merely to find a new System, but because of that creature. What if there were more?

        He span in a circle, tracing a perfect ring in the air. It glowed with a yellow light and spread out, filling the inside with an ultraviolet mist. A grin spread across his face and he waited, keeping himself a safe distance from the portal. Through the ultraviolet mist he could see it perfectly. A world filled with strange flora. Glowing mushrooms, rocks that leaked out eerie light. A permanently dark sky lit up by a vibrant moon. And something moving. No… not something. Things.

        They were growing closer. All tentacles and billowing heads. More of those beasts! And they were coming right at him.

        He clapped his paws together and laughed, performing a backwards somersault. Tinkling voices reached his ears and one by one the beasts were launched through the gate. The first one paused, spreading out its tentacles as it took in its new world. Its companions joined behind it, looking equally as dazed. Then the first one launched itself towards BackDoor.

        The hoopa span out of the way and raised his paws.

        “Oi! Don’t attack me, I’m your new master!”

        The beasts tinkled at him, turning what he guessed were their heads to seek him out. How? They had no eyes to speak of. Wow, these things were intriguing.

        More came through the gate, some big, some small. But one of them looked vastly different. It landed amid the others with much less grace. It seemed bouncy, and colourful. The same shaped head, but filled with what he could only describe as candy sprinkles.

        Its body was lanky and lacked tentacles. Instead it appeared to have limbs. More colourful splodges adorned its body. It was as though the ultra beasts had absorbed a Mr Mime, turning it into one of their own.

        BackDoor laughed hysterically. So the tentacled beasts weren’t the only anomalies the gates could reveal?

        The creatures gathered themselves and headed down towards System Ground, their tinkling voices reaching out to each other. Guiding each other as they worked their way through the world. The odd bouncy ultra beast didn’t follow after them. It turned to look at BackDoor, then took off like a dart over his head.

        “That’s right!” BackDoor laughed. “Enjoy this world! Do as you please! We won’t be staying here long anyway!”

        He clapped his paws and turned back to the gate. Leave it open? Or close it? The atmosphere inside was completely useless to Socket. An eternal night would drive pokemon to the brink of insanity.

        He inclined his head on one side and stroked his chin thoughtfully. Then, with a drawn out ‘naah’, he zipped it shut.
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        A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
        A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
        Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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          #29    
        Old May 25th, 2018 (3:04 AM).
        Delirious Absol's Avatar
        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
        Call me Del
           
          Join Date: May 2015
          Location: UK
          Age: 33
          Gender: Female
          Nature: Quirky
          Posts: 350
          Chapter Forty Six

          The blaring siren wailed through Wildcard Gamma, slicing through the silence like a machete. Macro scrambled over the controls on the dashboard, first turning off the ship’s headlights. But doing that meant they could no longer see the porygon z. Muttering under his breath, he flicked the lights back on and resigned himself to dimming them.

          When he looked back up at the robotic army, his heart almost stopped. They’d gathered themselves together, forming a formidable angry wall. All eyes were on the ship. Hundreds of eyes. Their legs rotated back and forth, causing them to rock, but their eyes never left Wildcard Gamma. If Macro didn’t know any better, he’d say they were looking right at him.

          “What’s with the racket?” Anchor’s voice startled Macro so much he squeaked. “Sorry, Cap’n.”

          The granbull fell into his seat and yawned, his jaw popping loudly. Usually it would have made Macro grimace, but right now he had bigger things to worry about.

          “We’ve run into some trouble,” he told Anchor. “Got a load of porygon z blocking our path.”

          “A load of what?” Anchor’s mouth was open but it was Matrix who’d spoken.

          Macro looked over his shoulder to see the ribombee at his desk, winding his antenna in one paw while the other scrolled over the navigation screen. He didn’t even bother to look up at Macro.

          “Porygon z,” Macro repeated. “At least that’s what they look like. We’re not all that close.”

          Anchor leant over the dashboard to squint at the mass of robots. They were a lot closer to the ship now than before Macro set off the alarm. Clearer, almost unmistakable if his memory served. But a second opinion might clear away any doubts he had.

          “Certainly look like them from photos I’ve seen,” said Anchor.

          Macro rolled his eyes and fell back into his seat with a groan. “Do you think this has anything to do with BackDoor?”

          “I dunno. Might just be a new government fleet design.” Anchor shrugged. “What do you suggest we do about it?”

          “Those co-ordinates are leading us right through it,” said Matrix. “We could always dodge them?”

          “Do that,” said Macro. “They’re giving me the creeps.”

          Anchor mumbled his acknowledgement and steered the ship sharply to the left. Macro watched the porygon z drift out of Wildcard Gamma’s field and a grin spread across his face. It was that easy. All they had to do was-

          One by one the porygon z shot through the sky, then slowed as they kept pace with the ship’s movements. All eyes still on them. Bodies rocking back and forth.

          Macro’s grin fell into a distressed frown. “You’re kidding me?”

          Anchor let his paw fall from the steering stick and turned to face his captain. “I can fire at them if you’d like?”

          “What if they fire back?” Matrix asked. “There are way more of them than there are of us.”

          Macro nibbled on a claw as he stared out at the imposing army. Fire… it was such a simple solution, but what if they could attack back?

          A white paw appeared on the arm of his chair and he looked down at DL as she stared out of the window. She wasn’t wearing her scarf or her belt.

          “That’s Zero Day,” she said.

          Macro dropped his paw into his lap. “What?”

          “Zero Day,” she said. “They’re part of the BackDoor network.”

          He looked from her to the porygon z. So they were part of BackDoor. They weren’t government ships. Somehow that made them even more terrifying.

          “Do you know what they do exactly?” Macro asked.

          DL’s eyes went distant as she searched her recently unlocked database. “They’re made to search for pockets in time and space. Their main goal is to find a suitable world where Socket can build a new System, but they’re not able to open them. That’s BackDoor’s job.”

          “And BackDoor is…?” Macro nodded to the fleet.

          DL shook her head. “BackDoor is one single entity, but its identity is unknown. They’ve kept it out of the database.” She looked back out at the porygon z and swallowed audibly. “Zero Day is meant to be spread out across System Sky, not grouped together like this. I’m not sure what’s going on.”

          If DL thought their behavior was strange then something was definitely amiss. Macro’s mouth turned dry and his claw found its way back to his mouth.

          “Can these things attack us?” he asked.

          “Yes,” said DL. “All androids are equipped with their own self defense mechanisms, except for TimeSkip. TimeSkip had only one job to fulfill, and was made with haste. But BackDoor and Zero Day are all able to attack.”

          “And what attack does Zero Day use?”

          “They’re equipped with the facilities to emulate ‘tri attack’.”

          Macro closed his eyes and sank even further into his seat. “We’re all gonna die.”

          “Don’t be a martyr, Cap’n!” Anchor rammed his paw into the dashboard, startling Macro out of his rain cloud. “We can get through this, we just need a plan!”

          A plan…

          Macro sat up straight again, keeping his claw fastened between his teeth. Zero Day was still ahead of them, spread out like a barrier. All eyes locked on Wildcard Gamma. If the ship got any closer, they’d inevitably attack. He needed to work out their range and stay out of it. Hopefully the schooling cannons could reach further than Zero Day’s tri attack.

          “Attack them,” said Macro. “Engage schooling.”

          “Roger,” said Anchor.

          The cannons whirred into place, the familiar sound settling Macro’s nerves. Bubbles spiralled out ahead of them towards the porygon z. Their heads snapped towards the bubbles, rotating back and forth as they tried to organize themselves. Then they fired. Bubbles exploded several feet from the porgyon z. Every single bubble, picked off by each individual android. When they got within range, they were detonated, the impact blowing the fleet back slightly. But no sooner had they been blown back, they sped back into formation and picked off the next threat. The cannons settled down, and once the last bubble had been dealt with, all lifeless eyes snapped back towards Wildcard Gamma.

          Macro silently gnawed on his claw as he stared back at Zero Day, his mind playing back their strategy.

          “Well, that was fairly pointless,” said Anchor.

          “No it wasn’t.” Macro lowered his paw. “They could only target the bombs that were close enough. I’d say they have a range of about sixteen feet.”

          Anchor turned his head to look at him. “That’s not much different than our range.”

          “No.” Macro returned to his gnawing. “We’re gonna have to be sly about this. Try to reel back after we’ve fired.”

          “Zero Day aren’t all that intelligent,” said DL, “but they are equipped with basic battle strategies. I wouldn’t underestimate them.”

          “Then what do you suggest we do?” Macro asked her.

          DL tapped her claws on his arm rest as her eyes went distant once more. Then she shook her head.

          “I have no idea,” she said. “You’ve got more experience with aerial combat than I have.”

          Macro scratched beneath his goggles and sighed. “My idea is get close enough, fire, then double back. Anyone have any better ideas?”

          Mumbles filled the cockpit and the rest of his crew shook their heads.

          “So… we’re goin’ with my idea?” Macro turned back to the window and sighed. “All right. Make sure our shields are up and advance.”

          Wildcard Gamma slowly drew closer to Zero Day. With each foot covered, the porygon z grew more and more agitated, their limbs flailing and eyes spinning. DL clambered up into Macro’s seat and he shuffled aside for her as she settled into place and fastened the seatbelt over them both. It was a good idea. With the imminent barrage of attacks they were about to receive, he was taking no chances.

          Zero Day grew larger and more imposing. Macro could see the fine details of their eyes. Tiny pupils contracted into pin pricks in an ocean of yellow and orange rings. Their heads bobbed back and forth, independent from their bodies. Even their limbs weren’t attached, spread out around their bodies and held in place by some invisible force.

          A small number of them broke away from the group and their eyes flashed, sending out a tri-coloured beam of light.

          “Fire!” Macro barked.

          The turrets whirred and clanked noisily, and another spiral beam of bubbles fired out at a rapid pace towards Zero Day. Two of the bombs met their attacks, but the remaining beams struck the ship with such force Macro fell sideways into DL.

          He mumbled an apology and pushed himself back up, catching her unconsciously smooth out her fur. A distressed look spread across her face and he followed her gaze back to the window.

          Zero Day had separated into three groups in a bid to dodge the exploding bubbles. The remaining bombs exploded, catching the stragglers and blowing them back. Several of the porygon z fell from the air, plummeting down towards the ocean.

          “Well, we took some of them out,” said Anchor.

          Macro barely processed his words as he watched the three groups Zero Day had formed zip away from each other. Two of them drifted around either side of the ship, their eyes locked on it, while the third group bobbed backwards through the darkness.

          “I think they’re taking evasive manoeuvres.” Matrix wound his antenna loosely around his paw as he watched the events unfold. “I’d brace ourselves for-”

          The ribombee flew from his seat as Wildcard Gamma shook violently. Zero Day launched a barrage of attacks at either side of the ship, chipping away at its precious shield.

          “Move it!” Macro roared, diving across the dashboard for the steering stick.

          Anchor swatted him away like a flea and the mawile crumpled to the floor.

          “Sorry, Cap’n,” Anchor said flatly. “But if you take over, we’re dead.”

          Macro rubbed his head, feeling a slight bump from his collision with the floor. Muttering under his breath, he returned to his seat. A look of pity washed over DL’s face and she watched him out of the corner of his eye as he tried to slide back under the seat belt.

          Anchor steered Wildcard Gamma up and away from Zero Day. Macro was forced back into his seat as the schooling wishiwashi rose higher into the sky, then it turned on a pivot to nose dive back towards Zero Day. Bubbles flew ahead of it, exploding as they struck the third porygon group. More of the deranged androids fell towards the ocean while the group split into two and went off in opposite directions. Something appeared before the ship. Black and uninviting.

          Macro’s stomach flipped nauseatingly. “Back away, Anchor! That’s one of them porthole things!”

          Anchor threw himself back into his seat, steering Wildcard Gamma back up and away from the porthole.

          “That’s not right!” DL gasped. “Zero Day aren’t meant to be able to open pockets like that!”

          Macro snapped his head around to face her. His mouth opened, but he couldn’t find words.

          “That’s BackDoor’s job,” said DL, answering his unasked question. “Zero Day are only meant to find them. How have they… when…?”

          Vibrations rocked the ship and Zero Day zipped ahead of them on either side, their tri-coloured lasers streaming from their faces reminiscent of a dazzling light display.

          Bubbles met lasers. Lasers met bubbles. It was a constant back and forth as Wildcard Gamma struggled to get through the onslaught.

          Porygon z after porygon z fell towards the ocean, but the ones they’d taken down were replaced just as quickly as more flew in from the separated groups. Tri-attacks hit the ship’s tail, spinning it almost ninety degrees. Bubbles flew around it, not firing out far enough and catching the ship in the blast’s aftermath.

          Macro grit his teeth together and dragged his claws down his face. “We’re gonna have to bail!”

          “We’re not gonna have to bail!” Anchor roared. “Just calm your mudbrays and let’s think of another plan!”

          “My ‘other plan’ is to bail!” Macro snapped. “We’re getting our tails whupped!”

          Anchor’s muzzle creased, revealing one of his canines, but he said nothing. Wildcard Gamma twisted out of the way of one of the porygon’s next attacks and found itself receiving another tri-attack right to the nose. Macro flinched back from it, the light dazzling his vision. When he opened his eyes, a fine crack had spread across the glass like a cobweb.

          For the first time in many years, Macro actually felt overwhelmed. He wanted to run. Grab the neon ladder and drop towards the ocean. He’d worry about what to do next once he was there.

          “I can hear them.”

          He snapped his head around towards DL. Her chocolate eyes were wide and frantic, almost crazed.

          “What?” he gasped. His heart was racing, and he looked between her and Zero Day.

          “I can hear them,” she said. “So many voices. They’re terrified. They want us to leave.”

          “Terrified?” Anchor snorted and cast her a sideways glance before setting off another stream of explosives. “They’re robots!”

          “Well they’re terrified!” she snapped. “I can hear them, and I can’t stand it!”

          “What are they saying?” Macro asked.

          “It’s hard to make out,” she explained. “But they’re treating you like a computer virus and trying to eradicate you. They keep calling you a threat, and throwing themselves into a panic.”

          “So basically they’re acting like antibodies?”

          “In a sense, yes.” DL’s paw clutched around the seatbelt until her knuckles turned white. “They’re trying everything. Everything. How on earth have they discovered how to open pockets?”

          Zero Day broke apart once more, leaving only a few to fire at Wildcard Gamma. It looked at first like the ones leaving the group were heading towards the ship’s tail, but instead they hovered in the air, their heads spinning crazily.

          Several black voids opened above the ship and it trembled as each one emitted its own forcefield. The entire ship shuddered as each porthole tried to suck it into its void.

          “They’re trying to break us apart!” Anchor barked.

          Macro stuttered over his words as he scrambled to get out from his seatbelt. “Get… get us away!”

          “I’m trying!”

          “Guys?” Matrix’s voice was uncharacteristically wobbly. “Something’s coming right at us, and it’s big.”

          The ship surged, plummeting towards the ocean. Macro’s stomach shot into his throat, left somewhere above them. Then the ship levelled out, outside the pockets’ reach. Zero Day hovered above them, their eyes trained on the ship. What Macro could see of them, anyway. They didn’t move towards them, or move away. They just sat… watching.

          Macro opened his mouth to ask what had just happened, but his words came out in a strangled scream. His eyes were fixed on the windshield as a long shadow appeared outside it. A smile in a face with no eyes. Long, leathery hide billowed around it, trailing over the glass. A slender neck that looked almost skeletal or plant like.

          Its mouth opened and a long, wailing scream flew from its throat. Macro’s own scream died before it left his mouth. He felt all consciousness leave his body. The last thing he remembered was something warm embracing him, and the sensation of Wildcard Gamma dropping from the sky like a stunned swanna.

          ...

          The police station cafeteria was bustling. Voices filled the room, each one competing to be heard over the rest. Few batted an eyelid at the human limping through, a small tray clasped in his hands. One or two threw a hello or a grin in his direction, but most of them were more occupied with the contents of their plates or worried they might miss out on a joke.

          Floppy looked up from his burger and gave Switch a nod. “You’re lookin’ well.”

          The vaporeon was sat with Jumper and Heatsink. He eagerly tapped the table beside him with a paw and grinned.

          Switch fell onto a stool a bit too low down for his liking. It jarred his body slightly and he released his tray to the table with a clatter in favour of rubbing his ribs.

          The frogadier raised an eyebrow. “I think you spoke too soon, Floppy.”

          “Nah!” the vaporeon shook his head and waved a paw at Switch. “He’s fine!”

          “I really am fine,” said Switch. “Just a little sore still.”

          “I still think they discharged you too early,” said Jumper. “If you’d like, I can get back on at them again?”

          “No need.” Switch took a huge bite out of his burger. “I’ll be flying again before you know it.”

          Jumper’s brows knit together in a frown. “You talk as though injuring yourself is a common occurrence.”

          “It certainly isn’t a common occurrence,” said Switch. “But I’m beginning to think it is in this time line. I mean, I’ve been nearly crushed by two huge pokemon and I’ve only been here a week!”

          “Well.” Jumper dabbed at his lips with a napkin. “After lunch, you head back to my apartment and rest. It’s no good pushing yourself when your bones are still healing.”

          “If you say so.” Switch sighed and let his hand fall back onto his plate, spilling tamato slices out of his burger. “Man, I just want to get back out there. I wonder what Macro’s doing?”

          Floppy looked up with a start. “He’s still not contacted you?”

          “No. I can’t believe he just took off without me.”

          “That’s how he treats his ‘clients’?” Floppy flashed his canines. “I oughta show him a thing or two.”

          “That’ll be enough, Floppy,” said Heatsink. “I believe Macro had Switch’s best interests. He’s safe here.”

          “Aye.” Floppy sank to the table until his head was between both paws. “Fine, I’ll shut up.”

          “I know you said you didn’t want to call him yourself,” said Jumper. “But you do have his number. I made sure of that.”

          “I know,” said Switch. “But he could just as easily ring me.” He gave Jumper a wink and the frogadier rolled his eyes.

          “You’re both as stubborn as each other,” said Jumper.

          “But you all have a good point,” said Switch, ignoring his remark. “Once I can fly I’ll track him down, give him a firm word, most likely receive one back, and get back to finding a way back home.”

          “Well.” Jumper looked up at him a little sadly. “Until then, you’re very welcome to keep helping out around here.”

          “What little use I am,” said Switch. “I can’t even use my full potential yet. I’m only fit for pushing paper.”

          “Pull the other one!” said Floppy. “You still believe the twins are alive somewhere. Most of the force has given them up for dead. If they are alive and you weren’t here, we’d not even be bothering looking for them.”

          “So don’t you dare believe you’re a dead weight,” said Heatsink.

          “Besides, someone’s got to do the paperwork,” said Jumper.

          “I just let the shredder do it.” Floppy flashed Switch a grin, which he returned with a wink.

          “Well.” Switch picked up his tray and grimaced as he pushed himself to his feet. “I’d better get on with that rest then, hadn’t I?”

          “You haven’t even finished your dinner,” said Jumper.

          “Yeh, I don’t really know what I was thinking when I asked for nutpea mustard.” Switch smiled down at him. “I’ll see you when you get home.”

          “Take care now.”

          Switch felt the frogadier’s eyes on him as he made his way from the cafeteria. He paused to empty the contents of his tray into the compost bin then strolled through the double doors to outside seating. A small path cut its way around into a small park and he took in a deep breath of fresh air. Filterted or not, it was still fresh and carried the fresh scent of leaves and ripe berries.

          He stuffed his hands in his pockets and followed the path through the park. A few hatchlings stopped their ball game to throw surprised looks his way, their large eyes impossibly wide in their little faces. Switch gave them a warm smile and a playful wink which seemed to satisfy their curiosity. The ball bounced on the grass and a couple gave chase after it, while the remaining stragglers watched him over their shoulders as they ran after their friends.

          Switch chuckled under his breath and continued his way through the park. He knew exactly where he was going. He’d made the trip several times now. Every lunch break he’d had available, every evening, even in the mornings when he’d made a deliberate point of leaving the apartment after Jumper had already gone. A little path shot off through the trees until it met a wild bramble bush. Switch clambered through it, thorns tugging at his cargo trousers. Beyond it was a long rail blocking access to the glass dome.

          He leant across the rail and let his weight fall onto his arms, grimacing slightly. He adjusted his weight to be more comfortable and let out a wistful sigh. An ocean of blue spread before him, creating a gradient from the sky to the land below. What he could see of the land was a spray of colour. Deceptively beautiful from so high up, but he knew most of those yellows were nothing more than toxic air.

          He looked back up at the sky, dotted with white fluffy clouds. In the distance he could see a ship flying gracefully over them. Its form was that of a fish painted in hues of pink and purple. He couldn’t see it in detail, but he was fairly certain it was a bruxish.

          So far it was the only ship in sight. Sometimes he didn’t see any at all. And he never, ever saw Wildcard Gamma. He pulled his computer out of his pocket and held it between both hands. It was still new, handed to him by Jumper before he left the hospital. His thumb slid over the screen, bringing up his contacts. Only two were listed. Jumper and Macro. He’d been assured Macro had been sent his details, that he would contact him. It crossed Switch’s mind several times a day to ring him, find out where he was and if he was coming back. Several times a day he checked the news, made sure Macro was still listed as ‘wanted’. At least that way, he was ninety percent certain he was still alive, then went back to warring with himself over ringing at him.

          But it gnawed deeply at him that he wouldn’t answer. Somehow that felt a lot worse than waiting. Then he’d be worrying. Worrying he wanted nothing to do with him. Worrying he’d actually been killed somehow, and not at the paws of Socket.

          Not answering actually frightened him, something he wasn’t proud to admit.

          Once again, ‘no’ won the battle. He would just wait. Macro knew where he was, and he knew why he was there. But still… he was more than ready to leave. To find his way home.

          He slipped the computer back into his pocket and gazed back out at the vast sky.

          “Where are you, Macro?” he asked. “Why haven’t you come back for me?”
          __________________
          I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

          A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
          A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
          Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
          Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
          Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
          'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
          Reply With Quote
            #30    
          Old June 2nd, 2018 (5:48 AM).
          Delirious Absol's Avatar
          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
          Call me Del
             
            Join Date: May 2015
            Location: UK
            Age: 33
            Gender: Female
            Nature: Quirky
            Posts: 350
            A/N - A heads up that System:Reboot's update schedule has been changed to Saturdays as it suits me a lot better.

            Chapter Forty Seven

            Macro felt like he was floating in a cloud. A warm cloud, bathed in sunlight. His mind was filled with a dense fog that refused to clear. Everything was dark.

            Then he realised his eyes were closed.

            He forced them open and bright lights dazzled him, chasing the fog away. He raised a paw to rub at his eyes, willing them to adjust to the brightness.

            “You with us now, Cap’n?” Anchor’s voice sounded distant, lost in all that light.

            “Hnh?” Macro mumbled.

            “Cap’n?” Anchor was clearer this time. Louder.

            Wildcard Gamma’s familiar cockpit revealed itself around him, and his eye immediately went to the fine crack along the windshield. It all came rushing back and his heart flipped into his throat.

            “We’re… we’re still flying!”

            His voice sounded mechanical and he coughed into his paw. A violent, racking cough that caused whatever he’d mistaken for a cloud to shift behind him. He looked down at DL’s white paw clasped over his scarf. Her other paw was fastened snuggly around his left wrist. She released his paw as though she expected him to sit back up, but his heart was still racing and he worried if he did he’d just collapse again.

            “Thank goodness,” said Anchor. “You gave us a right fright. Thought that thing had scared the life outta ya.”

            “So I wasn’t the only one who saw it?” Macro croaked. “How long was I out?”

            “About a minute,” said Matrix. “So not long.”

            “Fifty six seconds,” said DL.

            “Seconds?” Macro ventured to push himself upright but found himself restrained in DL’s arms.

            “I can’t let you up,” she said. “You’ve had a shock. I’ve every right mind to put you in your bed.”

            “I’m fine. It ain’t the first time I’ve fainted.” Macro wrestled himself free and let himself flop onto the opposite arm of his seat. “Besides. I wanna know what happened. Where are Zero Day? What was that… monster I saw?”

            “Zero Day have fled,” said DL. “I believe there was more than one of those creatures, and they chased off Zero Day.”

            “As for what it was…” Anchor raised his paws then let them fall back onto the dashboard. “No clue.”

            “It looked like something out of a nightmare,” said Macro. “All skeletal with no eyes.”

            “I’d say it looked more like a plant.” Matrix wound his antenna slowly as his eyes drifted to the window. “It reminded me of bamboo. A bamboo scarecrow wearing a weird veil-like hat.”

            “It scared more than just crows,” Macro muttered.

            “It’s gone now, anyway,” said Anchor. “Took off like a rocket. Blasted the ship in the process. I thought we were gonna fall.”

            Macro ran a paw over his face and clenched his teeth together. After everything they’d just been through, he dreaded to think what repairs his ship would need. There was nothing he could do about it now, not when they’d travelled so far across System. Besides, turning around would likely only put them in the thick of Zero Day once again.

            His eyes snapped open and he stared out at the vast, black sky. “You said it’s gone…”

            “Yeh.” Anchor was hesitant. “Like I said, I dunno where.”

            “And there’s more than one.” Macro bit down on his claw. “They’re gonna be attacking cities just like that jellyfish thing, aren’t they?”

            Anchor bit his lip but he didn’t look at him. “Cap’n, I think it’s safe to say the end of the world is nigh.”

            Macro groaned and his head fell into his paws.

            “I mean, that thing were huge!” said Anchor. “Half the size of our ship!”

            “I’d say it were at least ten foot tall,” said Matrix. “And if a number of them could chase off those deranged porygon z…”

            “Let’s just hope they dealt with some of them,” said Macro. “Give us less to worry about.”

            Anchor grimaced and shrugged his shoulders. “We can hope.”

            “Anyway.” Macro turned his head towards Matrix. “How are we gettin’ on following those co-ordinates?”

            “We’re still going,” said Matrix. “It estimates we’ll have reached them by about five am.”

            “All right. If all that’s cleared, I guess I’ll take DL’s advice and lie down.”

            Macro slipped from his seat, but as soon as his feet hit the floor his head felt light and the whole room began to spin. His paw shot to his head and he staggered backwards into his seat. DL was beside him like a dart and caught him before he fell to the floor.

            When Macro opened his eyes again, the room was still spinning slightly and Anchor looked as taut as a spring about to snap.

            “I think she’s right,” said the granbull. “But I think someone should carry you.”

            “I’m not being carried like some invalid,” Macro growled. “I’ll be fine. I just need to… go slow.”

            Anchor frowned slightly. “You’re real stubborn, Cap’n.”

            Macro turned away from him and moved slowly out of the cockpit. He felt Anchor’s eyes on him the whole way, and Macro knew if he so much as bumped into the doorway he’d be scooped up in the granbull’s arms before he could blink.

            DL beat him to the door and slipped an arm around his back. Part of him wanted to protest, but the other wanted to fall into her and let her lead him down the corridor. He didn’t think either would go down well, so he settled for an in-between and walked quietly at her side, reassured that there was little chance of him falling over since the ship just wouldn’t stop spinning.

            “I don’t know if you realise this,” she said, “but your crew actually care about you.”

            “Oh, I know,” he said. “We all have a funny way of showing it.”

            “You’re saying you care about your crew?” She raised an eyebrow. “About Anchor, Matrix, Cookie…?”

            He snorted out laughter, the effort throwing his balance. He had to steady himself against her, and his arm found its way around her back. “Of course I do.”

            She stiffened slightly and her eyes wandered to his paw fastened around her waist. For a moment he thought he should snatch it back, but she relaxed and continued leading him down the corridor.

            “What about me?” she asked.

            “DL.” He stopped and turned his head to look at her. Man, everything was still spinning. “Do you really think I’d be helping you get your memories, and keeping you away from Socket, if I didn’t care?”

            She shrugged, avoiding his eyes. “Some of the things you say sometimes make me wonder.”

            He flinched and looked away from her, and she pressed her paw into his back to encourage him towards his room.

            “Come on,” she said. “We’re almost there.”

            “Listen,” he said. “I honestly don’t mean everything I say. I just get… pretty heated sometimes.”

            “I’m beginning to learn that.” She stopped beside his room and nodded to the panel beside it. “Let yourself in. I’m not sure it will recognize me.”

            He shrugged and placed his paw on the panel. The doors slid open silently.

            “It recognizes all my crew,” he said. “All the rooms do. In case of emergencies.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he pulled himself away from her to lean against the doorway. The image of a blazing room filled his mind and he rubbed the bridge of his muzzle in a desperate bid to remove it. “I don’t take any chances.”

            She pulled him back towards her and fastened her paw around his waist. The warmth of her body shooed away the awful memory and he let himself lean against her as she steered him into his room.

            “Okay,” she said. “You get yourself in bed.”

            She released him and took a step back. He flopped onto his bed, cold in contrast to her warm fur.

            “Can I get you anything?” she asked.

            He became aware he had his eyes closed. He cracked them open, meeting her chocolate gaze. A strange bubbling sensation welled from his stomach into his chest and he took in a trembling breath as he tore himself away. He pressed one paw over his eyes and waved the other one at her.

            “No,” he said. “Just leave.”

            “So… you don’t want me here?” she asked.

            He shook his head but didn’t look back at her. “Don’t take it personally. It’s just my ‘no girls in my room’ rule.”

            “I understand.” She crept across his room and paused at his door. “If you do need anything…”

            “I’ll call you.”

            His door hissed shut and he rubbed his paws over his face. That strange sensation didn’t leave. Every heartbeat felt like a flutter, and oddly enough he didn’t hate it.

            What he did hate was knowing DL wasn’t going to stay on his ship. Sooner or later, she was going to leave. And every second he drew closer to the next disk was another second closer to her leaving. The thought alone felt like a hot blade running through his heart.

            And he had only himself to blame.

            Well, that put an end to the pleasant flutter.

            He took in a few quick breaths as nausea decided to join in with the spinning room, and wiped away a few stray tears from his eyes. Why was he such a jerk?

            He rolled onto his side and grabbed one of his pillows, clutching it to his chest. He buried his face into it, trying to stifle out the dizziness and self loathing.

            He didn’t want her to leave.

            He wanted her to stay.

            He wanted to make her happy. To see her smile. To hear her laugh.

            Somehow, he needed to fix things between them. The problem was, he’d never been all that good at fixing things.

            ...

            “So let me get this straight.” N0ize spread his arms, making the little stool he was sat on look even smaller. “You say you came from a different time line, and the mayor wants to stick you in a lab?”

            Annie nodded her head, each bob rather over-dramatic although she didn’t appear to be aware of it.

            The incineroar scratched his nose and gazed up at the yellowed ceiling. “Huh. Not sure if I believe it.”

            Tracer removed his cigar from his lips and puffed out a ring of smoke. Annie watched it drift in front of her in fascination.

            “It is rather hard to believe,” he said. “But given the footage Socket sent us, I’m not going to swat it aside so freely. I mean… we have a human sat right here. That’s evidence enough that something’s amiss in my books.”

            “Between a form-changing human and a water dweller with mechanical legs, this feels like more of a freak show,” said N0ize. “How do we know Socket ain’t just toyin’ with us?”

            “Because we gave Zip his legs.” Trojan leant against the door and frowned at the space pirate. “Annie found him flailing in the street and brought him to us.”

            “Seems an odd thing to do.” N0ize nodded at Zip. “Don’t take this the wrong way, kid, but I only ever see your kind displayed in meat shop windows.” He grinned, flashing two rows of sharp, glinting teeth. “Or on plates.”

            Zip cowered towards the bottom of his bowl and his bottom lip quivered. “Annie…”

            Annie snatched her attention from the smoke ring, locking her eyes on the incineroar’s. “Sorry, cloystercat, but that little fish is off the menu.”

            “I weren’t gonna eat him.” N0ize snorted and looked away. “Not got enough meat on him anyway.”

            Zip groaned and edged closer to the human, his mechanical legs creaking with each movement and their sharp feet scratching over the wooden floor. The graceless movements reminded Tracer of a drunken hitmonlee he’d had to apprehend once.

            “You said the mayor sent you footage?” Trojan shifted his weight, almost stepping on the skuntank curled up at his feet like a rug. “I wanna see this footage.”

            “You can’t take Annie’s word for it?” Tracer waved a paw at the human who was more occupied with admiring the peeling wallpaper.

            “You initially wanted to apprehend her,” said Trojan. “Now you’re as baffled and… fascinated… as we are. The difference here is, you have first hand information that we don’t. All we know is Socket said somethin’ to Annie and she retaliated and gave the mayor what for.”

            “Oh, I gave her what for all right.” Annie grinned and balled her fist. “I weren’t goin’ back in no lab. So I took my magic pills and booked it.”

            Tracer met the scrafty’s eyes and took a long drag on his cigar, mulling over whether or not to show him the footage. After all he’d heard, he was growing more and more suspicious that Socket was the one in the wrong.

            He breathed out a long trail of smoke and said slowly, “There’s no sound in this footage, be aware of that.”

            “Wait.” Widget looked up as Tracer removed his computer from his pocket. “Didn’t Socket tell you that’s confidential?”

            “If we’re going to get to the bottom of things, we need to be open with one another,” said Tracer. “Besides, we’ve already shown it to N0ize, so we’ve broken that deal already.”

            “Yeh but… that was in exchange for…” Widget rolled his eyes and let his ears droop. “Whatever. Why do I even care? It’s not as if Socket and I get on anyway.”

            Trojan took the computer and crouched down so Web could see the screen. Small clicks came from Zip as he strolled over to them, and water sloshed around harmlessly in his glass bowl. The room fell into silence for the whole five minutes the footage played out for, the only sounds coming from Annie as she muttered to herself about the yellowing walls. Tracer thought he heard her liken them to a summer’s day.

            The scrafty snickered, then burst into fits of laughter. Web shook her head, but a small smile played at her lips. She retrieved the computer and rose up onto her hind legs to offer it back to the delphox, but before he could take it a large shadow loomed in the doorway.

            Waveform looked at them each in turn, his wing paw held millimetres from the scarf covering the lower half of his face. When his eyes fell on Tracer and N0ize he froze and his feathers bristled.

            N0ize grinned from ear to ear. “The mysterious owl returns.”

            “Here.” Trojan took the computer from Web and held it up to Waveform before he had a chance to speak. “You’re gonna wanna see this.”

            The decidueye took the computer cautiously, giving the detective one last glance before activating the video.

            “Pretty interesting,” said Trojan. “Know what I think? I think it should be broadcast across all of System so everyone can see what a jackin’ mess the mayor truly is.”

            N0ize threw his head back and roared out laughter. Tracer flinched and pulled his ear back.

            “I think that would be incredibly foolish,” he said, bringing N0ize back to silence. “Have you any idea of the implications that could-”

            “What?” Trojan spat. “’Cos she trusted you with it and you’ve gone and shown it to space pirates and thugs?”

            Tracer opened and closed his mouth as he stared at the scrafty. The only word he could find was a staggered ‘well…’

            Trojan spat, keeping his eyes on the delphox. “Yeh. ‘Well’, indeed. Shamus only cares about his own hide. Don’t care jack about us livin’ hard in the outskirts.”

            Tracer placed a paw to his chest and lowered his cigar. “I live in the outskirts!”

            “So do I,” said Widget. “And Defrag.”

            “Yeh, local coppers,” said Trojan. “Fear factor, just like Proxy Prison. Or is it really ‘cos Socket don’t want you in Meta City?”

            He turned that question onto Widget. The eevee’s ears drooped slightly but his brown eyes were fierce. Even the fur along his back bristled and his tail whipped from side to side, flicking up dust from the threadbare rug. Tracer began to fear for the scrafty’s safety, so he placed a paw on his small friend’s back.

            “Leave it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter why we live in the outskirts. But he’s not wrong to assume it’s a fear factor.”

            Widget let out a strangled laugh and fixed Trojan with one of his cheeky grins. “You’re right. I’m not allowed in Meta City. But it doesn’t mean I don’t go there.”

            Trojan’s face fell and N0ize let out another roar of laughter.

            “He really has got guts!” said the space pirate.

            “Anyway.” Tracer popped his cigar back in between his lips and turned back to the distracted human. “We’ve gone wildly off topic. Annie?”

            “Huh?” She snapped her head around to look at him. “Have I missed something?”

            “Nothing important.” Tracer leant back into the rickety chair. “You’ve not told me why exactly you are in Pulse City?”

            “Oh, that’s easy.” She leant against the wall and tucked her arms behind her head. “We’re just recruiting space pirates to take on the mayor and throw her off her high horse.”

            Tracer’s jaw went slack and his cigar bounced off his knee and landed on the bare floor. Had he heard her right? She was basically a catalyst starting off a rebellion?!

            Waveform looked up from the computer and stuffed it back into Trojan’s paws. He lifted a wing and pulled out a long, slender feather, the end of which glinted dangerously in the low light.

            “You’ve said too much,” he told Annie as he strolled into the room.

            “Wait!” Web gasped, rising to her feet. “Don’t be an idiot!”

            Tracer watched Waveform like a hawk as he turned to face the detective, pulling out one of his long vines - a sickly green from spending too long in the outskirts. The decidueye pulled it back like a bow string and aimed the feather right at Tracer’s head.

            It sprang towards him, whizzing as it sliced through the air. A crack resounded through the room and all eyes were on the delphox. He crouched in his seat, his trusty stick raised above his head. The arrow quivered as it hung embedded in the ceiling, the reverberations slicing through the sudden, heavy silence.

            Tracer snapped his head up to meet Waveform’s eyes and lowered his stick, holding it defensively before him.

            “Sorry, but you’re not going to win this one,” said Tracer. “Any night when I can’t see you, sure. But if you think you can best me in a face to face duel, you are sadly mistaken. And also, outnumbered.”

            He glanced at his two comrades. Widget was on his feet, his body taught and ready to pounce. N0ize, however, stuck his claw in his ear and scratched it while his other arm was behind his head. He watched the two disagreeing pokemon with morbid amusement.

            Waveform snorted and lowered his vine. “When you leave here, you’d better watch your back, detective.” He turned to leave the room, pausing to look at Annie. He turned back to Tracer and pointed a feather at him. “No one lays a claw on her, you understand me?”

            Tracer raised an eyebrow and lowered his fire stick. “One day, I hope you’ll tell me what your fascination is.”

            Waveform span towards the door, his feathers billowing behind him like a cape. He tucked his wings to his sides and stepped past Web and Trojan effortlessly.

            Web looked up at Tracer and let out a sad sigh. “I think it would be safer for you to book a room. He won’t let this go, believe me.”

            N0ize removed his claw from his ear and examined it. “Sounds like a shady decidueye I know. Well… not know personally. But news ‘bout bounty hunters gets around here, yanno.” He paused and looked at Tracer somewhat aghast. “You don’t think it’s him, do ya?”

            “If he is, he’s a dead ‘mon walking.” Tracer pushed himself to his feet. “Well, I’m going to take Webber’s advice. Widget, if you could book us a room?”

            Widget looked up at him and smiled. “With a view? Lakeside, park side?”

            He laughed and skipped from the room with his tail held high. Tracer looked back at Annie and folded his paws together on his lap, not relinquishing his stick.

            “I hope you are aware,” he said slowly, “of the repercussions of such an endeavour?”

            She blinked at him, still leaning back against the wall. “Pardon?”

            Tracer sighed and retrieved his smoldering cigar. It had left a small black patch on the worn wood.

            “Your actions,” he said. “If you are truly planning on rebelling against the mayor, which is what I took from your statement, then it could go disastrously wrong. She is a force to be reckoned with, Annie, and you are already in her bad books. She hired me to retrieve you.”

            She shrugged, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Tracer.

            “She needs dealing with,” she said. “She’s allowing pokemon to eat each other, she pulled me from my own time line with some weird time onion, and now she… wait…” She scratched her chin and looked up at the ceiling. “What were we talkin’ about?”

            Tracer blinked at her, dumbfounded, while N0ize laughed yet again.

            Web shook her head and stood up. “I think we all need to get some sleep. Tuck yourself in, dear. The nice detective is done with you now.”

            “Hardly,” N0ize grunted. “I wanna hear more.”

            “No. She’s right. It’s very late.” Tracer stood up and returned his stick to his thick tail. “I trust you have somewhere to stay, N0ize?”

            “Aye. Your room.” The incineroar grinned at Tracer’s stunned expression. “I ain’t done here. I hope you’re comfortable on the floor ‘cos I don’t share.”

            Widget paused in the doorway with a key fob between his teeth and looked between the two. He sighed and turned to go back the way he came. “I’ll upgrade to a family room then, eh?”

            ...

            It was late. Almost three in the morning, and Socket hadn’t left her office. She paced back and forth beside the window, occasionally glancing out over Meta City. Lights flashed intermittently as hover cars sped past on their air tracks, and pokemon still trotted along the sidewalks coming from or going to she couldn’t care less where.

            The only thing that occupied her mind was Surge. Surge the liar. Surge who she’d doubted since she received the photos of the magnezone and his fleet. Their gruesome bodies melted and deformed, sopping wet after their plunge into the lake. Mechanical eyes frozen in fear and shock. She didn’t particularly care how the pokemon had felt. What she cared about was that Surge had gone against her orders, and murdered a large number of pokemon. That Surge had hacked into Socket’s files and obtained her top secret plan. That, knowing that, Surge may very well tell others her plan. That Hunter obviously knew her plan given he was retrieving memory disks. If Socket’s plan got out, the entirety of System would be thrown into an uproar. Pokemon may very well claim Socket’s head.

            How much did Surge really know?

            Socket stopped in her tracks and tapped her claws over her arm for the umpteenth time that night. Her lips pursed together and she looked over at her holoscreen deck. If she were to contact Surge, what would she say? She wanted that zigzagoon behind bars, waiting to fry in her electric chair. But at the same time… something gnawed at her that Surge had a link with Hunter. Why else would she spare his life by melting a magnezone police fleet?

            She hit the control on her desk and the holoscreen appeared before her.

            “Ring Surge,” she said.

            The screen rang out, more times than she’d had cared for. Finally, Surge’s face appeared on the screen. Her eyes were bloodshot and heavy rings made them look sunken as though she’d experienced years of severe stress.

            “Mayor Socket.” The zigzagoon yawned widely, flashing two rows of sharp teeth. “It’s three in the morning.”

            “I’m very aware what time it is,” Socket snapped. “Where are you right now? You look like you’re on your ship.”

            “I am.” Surge vanished off screen briefly and the faint beep of a computer emanated from the holoscreen’s speaker. “I was following Wildcard Gamma. But I think I’ve lost them.”

            “Lost them?” Socket raised an eyebrow. “How do you lose a ship that size?”

            “I don’t know. I was receiving electrical interference, and then the ship just… vanished. My navigation system puts me at… the outskirts of System Sky?!” Her yelp of surprise bristled Socket’s fur. Surge’s voice dropped to a mutter as she spoke more to herself. “Why on earth is he travelling this far out?”

            “Well, Surge. I need you back here in my office.” Socket tapped her claws against her upper arm. “How long will it take you?”

            The zigzagoon raised an eyebrow and scratched beneath her green bandanna. “You’re calling me back? I was hot on his trail. Isn’t it something you can tell me over the phone?”

            “I’ve acquired some new information,” Socket said slowly. “It requires you right here in my office. And if you aren’t willing to come to me, I’ll send someone to retrieve you, and they won’t do it nicely.”

            Surge’s eyes flitted from side to side and her mouth opened and closed like a seaking. “I’m sorry, Mayor, but you’ve asked me to bring him in, and-”

            “Are you actually going to?” Socket’s words drew Surge’s attention right back to her. “Or are you going to slaughter another fleet of officers to save that pirate’s hide?”

            Surge stared back at her, dumbfounded. Her expression was even more like that of a seaking. One that was gasping for life, plucked from the ocean and left to dry on the sand.

            “I’m sorry,” she said carefully. “I don’t understand.”

            “Oh, I think you do.” Socket reached behind her for the photos and leafed through them. “A reliable source has told me that you’re not just any mercenary. But you are actually a jack of all trades. Does the name Troll ring any bells?”

            A flash of realisation flew across Surge’s face and she tugged anxiously at her bandanna, desperate to avoid Socket’s eyes.

            “I see it does.” Socket picked out one photo and dropped the others, turning it to face the holoscreen. “I’ve been torturing myself over these photos, Surge. I didn’t want to believe it was you. But when you stab someone in the back, they talk. And Troll talked. A lot. Apparently you know your way around a computer. ‘Hacking’ being the term I’d like to use here. And I believe it was you who hacked into my systems to obtain valuable information, and then you relayed that back to Hunter. How much did he pay you?”

            Surge’s face paled with every word. Those heavy rings around her eyes almost vanished and she sank into her seat, fidgeting her paws together.

            Socket chuckled and dropped the photo with the others. “A lot, I guess?”

            Surge shifted uneasily and her paw vanished out of view. Socket watched her silently, waiting for her to flick off the holoscreen. To prove her guilt. To flee.

            She stayed, breathing deeply and smoothing out her bristling fur, still avoiding Socket’s eyes.

            “May I ask you something, Surge? Why on earth would you risk your own life sparing his, rather than turning him in for the generous reward I was offering you?”

            The past tense got the zigzagoon’s attention. Or was it something else? Nevertheless, she looked at Socket head on before continuing.

            “I don’t know,” she said. “Something didn’t feel right.”

            Socket raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh?”

            “I think you need to ask yourself something, Mayor.” Surge leant forward in her seat so her entire face filled the screen. “Who’s the guilty party here? You or him?”

            Socket’s jaw dropped and she staggered back into her desk. Her paws found the edge, stopping herself from slipping to the floor. She knew. The wretched zigzagoon knew!

            Surge nodded and fell back into her seat. Her paw vanished from the screen again and she looked Socket in the eye, a smile tugging at her lips.

            “I think that answers my question,” she said, reaching for the hang up button.

            “Wait!”

            Surge froze and looked back up at her.

            “You’re playing a dangerous game,” Socket told her. “You hacked into my system, Surge. You’ve acquired information that you know nothing about. Leaking it could cause a massive uproar. That alone will list you with a death sentence. Then all I have to do is put up a poster and all of System will be on your tail.” She grinned at the sullen look on Surge’s face. “That’s right, little rat. Even space pirates. I’ll stop at nothing to turn you in. And him. I know you’ve told him everything. Why else would he be breaking into government property to obtain little black disks?”

            Surge shrugged. “Maybe the living computer he stole told him everything?”

            “I’ve shut her off,” said Socket. “Not only is she forbidden access, she’s frozen. She’s nothing now.”

            Surge shook her head and sat back in her seat. “Oh my dear Socket. How little you know. If I’m a dab hand at computers, surely a little computer program installed in a pokemon’s brain is no problem?”

            Socket felt all the blood leave her face.

            Surge grinned and once again reached for the hang up button. “Check mate.”

            The screen flashed off, leaving Socket feeling cold and lost.

            That wretched zigzagoon. That wretched Hunter. Oh, she’d catch them. She’d catch them and she’d kill them both. Personally.

            She shook out her fur and brought the screen back up, this time shouting for Yobi. The raichu’s sleep-deprived face filled the screen, alarming the gothitelle so much she actually screamed.

            What was wrong with her?!

            “Madam Mayor?!” Yobi dropped whatever it was he’d been holding, creating an almighty clatter as it bounced off the tiled floor. “What’s the matter?”

            “Surge!” she barked. “I want a wanted poster made for her. Mark it at fifty thousand credits. Do the same for Hunter, and the rest of his crew.”

            “But…” Yobi scratched behind his ear. “Isn’t that usually Tweak’s job?”

            “He’s asleep. I need this doing now!”

            “Wouldn’t it be better to… just send out your fleet?”

            “They’re scattered all over System Sky trailing Zero Day while stopping that little tyrant BackDoor from dragging in more aliens!” she spat. “I can’t send them out after space pirates and hackers!” She went thoughtful, nibbling on her claw.

            The raichu yawned and set aside his project. “All right. I can do it. Just send me the raw files and I’ll get it out before dawn.”

            “Make sure you apply it to all of System. All of it. Space pirates and all.”

            Yobi looked up with a start, his ears flopping back and forth wildly. “Wait… what?”

            “This is urgent. I want them turned in. They know too much, Yobi. Surge, Hunter and most likely the rest of his crew. They know our plan. If it gets out-”

            “I understand. I’ll do it. But… what if another wanted pirate turns them in?”

            Socket laughed bitterly and looked away. “Then we kill them as well. After we’ve paid them of course. But don’t put that on the posters.”

            Yobi nodded again and the screen flashed out. Socket sank down against her desk, a bitter laugh rising from her throat. It became even more hysterical the more she went over what she’d just said. The day she’d resort to using pirates… she’d never seen it coming.

            It tasted vile.
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              #31    
            Old June 9th, 2018 (3:05 AM). Edited June 17th, 2018 by Delirious Absol.
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            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
            Call me Del
               
              Join Date: May 2015
              Location: UK
              Age: 33
              Gender: Female
              Nature: Quirky
              Posts: 350
              Chapter Forty Eight

              Macro couldn’t sleep. He lay on his bed, forcing his eyes to stay closed in a desperate bid to at least snatch fifteen minutes. The battle with Zero Day was still fresh in his mind, whirring around in a chaos of flash backs and worse-case-scenarios. Then there was that horrible, screaming beast. Add to the list the crazy noise the ship’s engine was making, sleep just wouldn’t come at all. And they were too far out from Pulse City to do anything about the engine now. Nowhere safe to land. Below them was just ocean and icebergs. Icebergs so desperately cold that nothing could get close to them without freezing to death, let alone live on them.

              Then there was DL. The thought of her leaving made him feel sick, so he forced the thought to the back of his mind and focused on the recent battle with Zero Day. If they encountered them again, how could they handle things differently? Where did they go wrong in that battle? There were so many of them. So many tiny robots kitted out with the same kind of fire power you found on battleships. Wildcard Gamma was equipped with turrets to deal with aerial combat. More so as a means of defence rather than offence. It seemed Zero Day was made the same way. They defended themselves. Took out those who were unfortunate enough to witness what they were up to.

              He checked the clock on his computer. Almost four thirty in the morning. If Matrix’s assumption was correct, they should be at The Cache very soon. He clambered out from beneath the sheets and retrieved his scarf. It lay in a strewn heap over his chair, tossed there shortly after DL had left him. His goggles lay beneath it. He fastened them over his head and tossed his scarf over his shoulders, trying to ease out the creases. It was now dry, and given how it had been lying for the past hour, sported some pretty intense creases. Hopefully it would iron itself out with the warmth of his body.

              He pushed himself to his feet, wobbling slightly as nausea and dizziness overtook him. Great. He was still feeling rough from his faint. He placed a paw on the side of his head and strode carefully out of his room. When his door hissed open, he froze. DL’s door lay wide open, and he spotted her perched on the edge of her bed. She looked up at him and a small smile played at her lips, but it was washed away very quickly as though she was trying to hide it. Confusion gnawed at him and he fought the urge to march away.

              “We should be there soon,” he said. “So I’m going back to the cockpit.”

              She rose to her feet and walked silently to the door. “How are you feeling now?”

              He shrugged. “A bit better. But I need to be up. Got work to do.”

              “The Cache isn’t going anywhere. I’m sure when we get there we’ll wait for-”

              He silenced her with a wave of his paw. “I’m not just going to sleep through it. What if this place is heavily guarded? Wildcard Gamma needs her captain, and darned if I’m gonna let a little wooziness stop me from doing my job.”

              “Okay.” She wound her paws together and leant against the door frame. “I just don’t want you to do anything foolish.”

              “Since when have I ever done anything foolish?”

              “Oh, I don’t know.” Her voice was thick with sarcasm. “How about stealing me? Rushing into heavily armed buildings? Throwing yourself off a rooftop to escape being caught? Aggravating gangs and mobs in the outskirts?” At his raised eyebrow, she nodded. “Matrix talks a lot over breakfast.”

              “That’s not foolishness, sweetheart, it’s work.”

              “No, it’s foolishness. You just happen to come out of it very well.”

              He sighed and turned away towards the cockpit. “Foolishness or not, if it gets the job done I’ll do it. You coming to the cockpit or getting some sleep? ‘Cos it looks to me like you ain’t had any.”

              “Well.” She looked back at her bed, still rubbing her paws together. “If we’re almost there, then I guess I’ll join you.”

              “Don’t wanna be the only one asleep, eh?”

              He adjusted his goggles and marched towards the cockpit, silently berating himself for speaking so harshly. Before he reached the kitchen, he let himself flop against the wall and rubbed a paw over his scar.

              “Look, DL, I’m sorry. I’m just super stressed right now.”

              For a moment, he thought she’d gone back into her room. But a warm paw fell on his shoulder and steered him away from the wall. He looked up to see her beside him, not looking his way. He picked up his pace, walking out of her arm and into the cockpit.

              Anchor sat in his usual seat, his arms tucked behind his head as he surveyed the starscape. Loud snores came from Macro’s left and he looked around at Matrix. The ribombee lay back in his seat, his head lolling against the head rest and his mouth wide open. Macro reached out and tapped him on the head. Matrix sat up with a snort and shook out his antenna, then looked back at Macro.

              “Sorry, Captain,” he said. “Pretty tired.”

              “Tell me about it.” Macro fell into his seat. “How long now?”

              “Estimates about thirty minutes until we’re there,” said Matrix.

              “Then we should brace ourselves,” said Macro. “They might be heavily armed.”

              “Way ahead of ya,” said Anchor. “Turrets are already armed and ready to go.”

              Macro had nothing to say to that. Instead, he gave the granbull a huge grin, receiving one in return.

              DL climbed up into the seat beside Macro and he shuffled along to allow her to buckle herself in. Not that he felt he needed the seatbelt, but he didn’t want to argue with her. Besides, if they ended up in combat, it was better to be safe than sorry. He didn’t really fancy smacking into the windshield.

              Stars zipped past Wildcard Gamma as it advanced towards an unknown destination. Doubts gnawed at Macro’s gut. What if the co-ordinates really were just his imagination? He fumbled in his pouch for his computer and whipped it out, switching on the display. The disk locations glared back at him almost blindingly in the darkness of System Sky, still open from the computer’s previous use. As he stared back at it, his mouth turned dry. No sun symbol burned behind the writing. No co-ordinates were listed under The Cache. He looked up with a start, his mouth hanging open.

              “Are you okay?” DL asked softly.

              He said nothing, staring straight ahead. Anchor sat humming away, oblivious to Macro’s distress, carefully steering the ship through the emptiness. Soft snores were the only sounds coming from Matrix. Macro warred with the desire to tell his crew and to keep it quiet. Tell them he was mistaken, or play the oblivious fool. He glanced back down at the screen, desperate to see that sun symbol and those odd numbers. But they were as plain as when Surge sent them to him. Maybe they’d always been plain? He was clearly going crazy. Tiredness. Stress. That’s what it was.

              Soft cracking sounds flooded the cockpit and he looked up again, and his eyes widened slowly. The entire windshield was being consumed by frost, the cobweb shapes spreading from the edges towards the centre of the window.

              Anchor’s humming came to an abrupt stop. “I don’t like this, Cap’n. I don’t think many pokemon have been this far out.”

              “We appear to have reached the Dead Glacier,” said Matrix. “I fear if we travel much further over it, the fuel will freeze.”

              Macro’s computer trembled in his paws as he watched the frost creeping over the window. There was no way. No way they could make it over the Dead Glacier. Temperatures on the surface were rumoured to reach as low as absolute zero during the coldest months. Of course, no one could get close enough to actually find out. It created a permanent barrier around System, and many believed it marked the edge of the world. That beyond it was nothingness.

              Metal creaked as it contracted and small cracks spread from the corners of the windshield, jerking out erratically. Cold air whistled through them, blasting Macro’s face and peppering his fur with frost. He swiped at it and tugged his scarf tighter around himself. DL shivered next to him and he released his computer to wrap an arm over her shoulders. He turned his head to speak to Anchor but words died on his tongue. The granbull’s face was twisted with worry and his eyes fluttered left and right.

              “I’m trin’ to turn around.” Every word he spoke formed mist in the air. “But she ain’t listenin’ to me.”

              “The fuel’s not f-frozen yet.” Matrix’s wings buzzed frantically over his voice in a desperate bid to stay warm. “At least… I don’t think s-so?”

              Frozen fuel or not, something was up. Wildcard Gamma crept further into the glacier’s territory, the entire hull complaining with the shock of cold emanating from the surface. Sharp cracks shot across the glass, letting yet more freezing air into the ship.

              DL huddled into Macro’s side, her paws winding into his thick fur. Her breath formed misty clouds that froze into dust on his scarf. He let his computer fall to the floor in favour of wrapping his arms around her. At least they could keep each other warm. Frost dusted her fur and he swept it away, feeling the cold bite through his paw pads.

              Anchor hugged himself and rubbed his arms frantically, casting Macro a look of utter distress. That look alone confirmed Macro’s fears.

              If the ship refused to turn around, its body would inevitably shatter. The fuel would freeze. They’d plummet to the surface and die before they even hit the ground.

              Macro took in a trembling breath and closed his eyes.

              “Anchor? I… You were right. I was seeing things…” He shook his head slowly and pulled DL closer into him. “There were no numbers… on that list.”

              Anchor sighed and huddled into his chair. “I weren’t gonna doubt ya, Cap’n.”

              “S-so what you’re s-saying is,” said Matrix, “that if we d-die… it’s your f-fault?”

              Macro bit his lip and stared out of the window, not that he could see anything anymore. “Yeh.”

              “Don’t be ridiculous, Cap’n!” Anchor roared. “You wouldn’t have knowingly sent us out to the freakin’ glaciers!”

              “No, I wouldn’t have.” Macro looked up at him and flashed his canines. “But I forced you to follow somethin’ that was clearly formulated by my exhausted brain!”

              Anchor shook his head slowly but he never took his eyes off Macro. “Exhausted or not, you coulda been right, and we’re with you ‘til the end.”

              Macro stared at Anchor for a moment then DL caught his gaze. She stared up at him, no anger behind her eyes. Instead she looked fearful… sad… and she wound her claws into his scarf. Macro turned around stiffly to see Matrix huddled on his seat, his wings beating wildly in intermittent bursts. Whenever they stopped, Macro noted the very edges had turned red. The ribombee nodded, agreeing with Anchor’s words, and Macro sank back into his chair feeling tears prick at his eyes. Crying would be a foolish mistake. A lump rose in his throat and he huddled into DL, but what little warmth she gave off was washed away with every biting draught seeping through the cracked windshield.

              All the lights blinked off and the entire ship shook, sending Macro’s stomach shooting into his chest.

              “This is it.” Anchor ran his paws over his face then went back to hugging himself. “We’re gonna fall.”

              DL practically climbed into Macro’s lap, her wild eyes fixed on the frosty glass barrier.

              Everything was completely obscured, and with every tremble and lurch from Wildcard Gamma, Macro’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t tell if they were falling or not. All he could do was brace himself for impact.

              “I want you to know somethin’, Cap’n. No… Macro.” Anchor’s voice trembled. “I know it might sound soppy, but I don’t give a ratatta’s tail. You’re the best friend I ever had.”

              Macro grit his teeth together and screwed his eyes shut. “Likewise. I know I can be an ass.”

              “Oh yeh, you can be an ass.” Anchor laughed bitterly. “But what friends aren’t asses with each other at times?”

              Matrix’s buzzing cut out and his voice cracked. “I don’t say things like this often at all, but… same here. You’re both asses and I love you.”

              Macro didn’t even care if he was trying to be funny. At least it lifted some of the tension from the air. A dry chuckle left his throat and he felt DL shift in his arms.

              “Macro?” Her voice was weak.

              He looked down at her, meeting those warm fondue eyes. For a fleeting moment he didn’t feel cold anymore. She opened her mouth to speak, but the entire ship shook violently and she threw herself back against him. Macro fell back into his seat as the ship’s nose turned towards the sky. Were they seriously going to fall tail-first? It didn’t even make any sense.

              Then he remembered where the engines were. Held in the pelvic fins at the rear of the ship. If the fuel had frozen, then…

              He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.

              But instead of falling, the ship crept upwards. Further and further towards the sky. Then it levelled out ever so slightly, still moving up at an incline. Were they caught in some kind of tractor beam? He opened his eyes, but his view was obscured by the heavy frost.

              “I think something’s pulling us in,” he said.

              Anchor twisted to look at him. “But what? Some kind of rescue vessel?”

              Macro’s heart fluttered in a desperate bid to break free. What vessel would rescue Wildcard Gamma? Bounty Hunters? No… he’d rather freeze to death.

              He released DL and slipped from the chair.

              “Where’re you goin’?” Anchor watched Macro stagger from the cockpit.

              The mawile paused by the door and looked back over his shoulder. “Bailin’.”

              “But it’s close to absolute zero down there!” Anchor roared. “Get your fuzzy butt back in your chair!”

              A deep buzz filled the cockpit and Matrix hovered in the doorway with his arms spread. Despite being a blur, his wings looked sore and cracked, and his face contorted as he strove to stay airborne. “You aren’t g-going anywhere.”

              Macro flashed his canines and swept an arm through the air, narrowly missing the ribombee. “Move it.”

              “Make me.”

              Macro looked around at the cockpit and his brow furrowed. “Do you really think anyone who’s rescuin’ us is doin’ it out of kindness?”

              “Maybe not,” said Anchor. “But at least their ship works! Ours is gonna crash if we keep flyin’.”

              “I ain’t lettin’ them turn me into Socket!” Macro snapped. “I refuse to give her that satisfaction!”

              “Who says they’re even workin’ for Socket?” Anchor asked. “You ain’t got a clue.” He waved at the frosted window. “We can’t even see their ship!”

              “That don’t matter! You know the price on my head! Pokemon’s eyes swirl with credits signs whenever they freakin’ look at me!”

              “So what? You’re just gonna throw yourself to your death out of paranoia? Not everyone’s against you, Macro! Look at Jumper and Cyan City! Even Surge has bailed us out a few times, right?”

              “Really? Surge?” Macro sneered and felt his fur bristle. “Turns out she’s workin’ for Socket n’all. Tried to freakin’ shoot me.”

              Anchor’s jaw dropped. “When?”

              “Back in Pulse City. Look, it don’t matter. I ain’t lettin’ anyone turn me in. You wanna take that risk, you take it. But I’m not. I’m goin’.”

              DL poked her head over the back of Macro’s seat, her eyes glistening with unshod tears. “Don’t… please…”

              Macro dug his claws into the door frame and tried to look anywhere but at the pachirisu.

              “Look. Put it this way.” Anchor spread his paws. “Once we’re aboard their ship, if they’re hostile, we fight! We got a whole loot room full of weapons. Once we’re free, we shoot right out of the Dead Glacier’s territory and get back to Pulse City for a good, warming drink. ‘Kay?”

              Macro choked and screwed his eyes shut, sinking down against the wall. “I don’t wanna die…”

              “And you won’t,” said Anchor. “Provided you stay on this ship. We can do this. Reason your tag’s so high is ‘cos Socket can’t flippin’ catch you.”

              Macro’s heart was racing. He couldn’t recall a time he’d ever felt so defenceless. He sank down to his bottom and buried his face in his paws, letting out a long groan. There was no way he was going to let anyone turn him or his crew in. He’d go down fighting if he had to.

              Soft footprints crept closer to him and he cracked his claws apart to see DL reaching down to him. He waved a paw to push her away and clutched the wall, dragging himself to his feet. But he was thrown against it as the ship rocked violently. Yelps flew around the cockpit and he heard a thud from the hallway. He did a quick head count. No sign of Matrix.

              “Are you all right, Matrix?” Macro barked.

              “Yeh,” came a feeble cry from the corridor. “J-just a little b-bruised.”

              Macro looked over at the windscreen. Frost melted away into water and flowed over the nose of the ship. The entire ship groaned as the ice thawed away, creaking and cracking ominously, shuddering as parts fell away into the abyss. A huge crack exploded from the corners of the window right across the centre of the glass, then the entire thing erupted into shards, peppering the cockpit and bouncing off its occupants. Macro instinctively covered his nose, expecting the air to be sucked out of his lungs. But nothing happened. He lowered his paw and stared transfixed at the world outside.

              Well… it wasn’t so much a world as an anomaly. No sky. No blackness. Just a huge, bright light broken up into a swirling checkered pattern of blue and white. Dazzling, yet it wasn’t impossible to look at. It swirled around them like a tube and Wildcard Gamma was being dragged along inside it.

              “This ain’t no ship.”

              The words flew out of Macro’s mouth before he had any time to even process them. He half expected Anchor to reply with a ‘duh!’ but instead the granbull just shook his head, staring aghast at the strange sight before them.

              Then Macro noticed one key fact. They were no longer freezing. Wherever they were, it wasn’t the Dead Glacier. He dragged himself back to his feet, still staring from the window. Matrix buzzed back into the cockpit and hovered at Macro’s head.

              “Where in System are we?” The ribombee darted to the navigation system and shook his head slowly. “We’re not even on the map anymore. Wait…”

              Matrix stared down at the computer, wrapping his antenna around his paw. His face seemed to pale and he sank down into his chair.

              “Is something wrong?” Macro asked.

              Matrix continued to stare at the screen. “Two, four, six, three, five, seven.”

              “Eh?”

              “Those are the ‘co-ordinates’ you gave me.”

              “I don’t care for the air quotes, Matrix.”

              Matrix looked back at him and pointed a claw at the screen. “They’re here. Listed. No map, just a black screen and those weird numbers.”

              Macro crept over to him and peered over his shoulder. He wasn’t wrong. Across the black display was a string of yellow numbers, and they blinked erratically as though being disturbed by some invisible magnetic field.

              Heavy footsteps and panting reached his ears and he glanced back to see Cookie staggering into the cockpit. He leant against the wall with one paw, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he desperately tried to catch his breath.

              “What… why is the ship slanted?” he gasped.

              “We’re currently trying to work that out,” said Anchor.

              Cookie finally looked up at the window and a surprised, husky squeak squeezed from his throat. Then his eyes rolled back and he fell heavily onto his back, sliding from the door head first. DL leapt to her feet to chase after him and grabbed him by his stubby legs.

              “I can’t hold him for long,” she whined.

              Anchor stood and grabbed Cookie by the scruff, placing him into Macro’s chair.

              “Poor ‘mon’s not seen outside in years, and this is the first thing that greets him?” Anchor shrugged and fell heavily into his seat. “If it were me, I’d faint n’all.”

              The ship jerked again and Macro clutched tightly to the back of Matrix’s chair. All eyes were on the anomaly before them, swirling slowly as the ship was dragged along. At the end of it was bright light, and it grew in intensity. Macro shielded his eyes as the ship shot through it at a breakneck pace. The entire ship filled with light, then it fizzled out, leaving the ship feeling warm and secure.

              It was an odd feeling, after all they’d been through.

              Macro opened his eyes and looked around. Light. That’s all he could see. Soft, golden and warm.

              A peaceful silence washed through the ship. The only sounds were the exhausted breathing from Macro and his crew, and snuffles as Cookie came back around.

              “Where are we?” DL asked.

              It was a valid question. Macro mulled it over as he stared out at the vast expanse of warm light. Sat in an unknown location, after the ship had been dragged in by some invisible force. He was certainly beginning to get his suspicions.

              He scratched beneath his goggles and turned to leave the cockpit. “I don’t know. But I’m gonna find out.”

              “Hey, we don’t know if it’s safe,” Anchor called after him.

              Macro didn’t look back as he vanished through the door. “It’s gotta be safer than the Dead Glacier though, right?”

              Anchor muttered something and rose to his feet to follow Macro. The mawile stopped by the exit hatch as all of his crew gathered behind him.

              “What?” he asked. “All of you are comin’ with me?”

              Cookie shifted uneasily and looked back at the kitchen. “I uhm… I don’t do outside.”

              “It ain’t normal ‘outside’,” said Macro. “I’m beginning to think we got pulled through one of them porthole things.”

              “If that’s the case, who opened it?” Anchor asked. “’Cos I seriously doubt Zero Day coulda survived that cold. Our ship barely survived!”

              Macro folded his arms and shrugged. “Maybe BackDoor did.”

              “If BackDoor is also an android,” said DL. “Then it’s safe to say it wouldn’t survive this cold either.”

              Macro sighed and opened the exit hatch. “Then let’s have a look then, shall we?”

              The ground wasn’t far down at all. Wildcard Gamma appeared to have sunk into the floor like quicksand and lay submerged in it. Macro tentatively touched the floor with his toes, feeling warmth and solidity. When he stood on it, it was like climbing over a foam mattress. Soft and springy, yet not so much so he couldn’t keep his balance. The warm light washed over his fur like a comforting cloud and he found himself feeling much more relaxed than he had simply looking out at it from the ship’s shattered window.

              He paused and looked back at the ship. Anchor, Matrix and DL were all following him, looking around at the expanse of light. Matrix perched on Anchor’s shoulder, his cracked wings hanging limply behind him. Blood seeped from the cracks and the very edges of his wings had turned black amongst the angry red. Macro wondered how on earth the ribombee wasn’t so much as grimacing.

              Cookie stood in the ship’s doorway, peering out and trembling. He slowly climbed down from the ship, muttering to himself quietly. Then he trotted after them until he reached Anchor’s side.

              “Are you okay?” DL asked softly.

              “No, but…” Cookie swallowed audibly. “It’s not like a city or anything, and I’m not staying alone on that ship while we’re in such a strange place.”

              DL took his paw and the slurpuff calmed down slightly, keeping in pace beside her as they traversed the unusual landscape.

              Warm and bright. It never changed despite how far they moved from Wildcard Gamma. The springy ground became less and less disorienting, instead providing a huge comfort after their freezing ordeal. Macro hadn’t realised how sore his paw pads had been until they felt soothed on the warm, soft ground. It was everything he could do to not stop and sink into it, letting it soothe every aching and sore part of his body.

              Something appeared in the light ahead of them. Almost a shadow, but not. It seemed to be radiating light itself, a darker glow amongst the brightness. With each step, it grew larger and larger, almost as if it was moving towards them despite not moving at all. It was unearthly. Like nothing Macro had ever encountered. Yet somehow he didn’t want to rush back to his ship, or reach for his laser.

              As the shape solidified - that was the best word Macro could think to describe it - it seemed to take on the form of a pyroar. But as it grew larger, it was definitely not a pyroar. It was too large, and the mane too pointed. If Macro were to liken its mane to anything, it would be a sun. They were also completely the wrong colour for a pyroar. Whatever they were, they were white, and radiated yellow light.

              A pair of glowing, blue eyes looked down at them, and for the first time, Macro felt truly intimidated. Yet the eyes weren’t threatening. They were welcoming, as if the being they belonged to had been expecting them.

              “Macro.” The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, and was as deep as a lion’s roar. “Wildcard Gamma. Welcome.”

              Macro’s jaw went slack. He froze and stared up at the large, white lion. “You know me?”

              “I know all of you,” said the lion. “I called you here.”

              Macro stuttered and looked down at his paws. Everything was slowly starting to add up. He looked up again slowly and licked his dry lips.

              “You… you put those co-ordinates on my computer?”

              The lion nodded.

              Macro didn’t know what to say. Anchor let out a flustered breath and brushed back his mohawk.

              “This is all a little too much to take in,” said Anchor. “I don’t even know where we are right now.”

              Cookie trembled audibly and ducked behind DL, who wasn’t looking much better herself.

              “But… who exactly are you?” Matrix asked. “Why have us fly over the Dead Glacier?”

              “Because that’s how you get here.” The lion smiled. “I’m Solgaleo. And this is the Altar of the Sunne.”

              Macro’s legs buckled beneath him and he landed hard on his bottom. Or it would have been hard if the ground hadn’t been so soft. He stared aghast at the huge, white lion. Solgaleo… that was a name he hadn’t heard of since he was a hatchling. So long ago that he’d near forgotten about it. A pokemon that was said to bring light from the sun. But along with many legends, Macro hadn’t believed them. Legends had either become extinct, and if there were no evidence, deemed to be fabricated entirely from imagination.

              “Okay,” he muttered to himself. “Wake up, Macro. This is just another of them dreams you’re having. You’re just… lying frozen on your ship somewhere on the glacier’s surface…”

              “You are very much alive,” said Solgaleo. “But you may wish to remain seated for what I’m about to tell you.”

              Macro looked back up at him. He seemed even larger from his position on the floor, and he just couldn’t will his legs to push him back up again. He wound his scarf around in his paws and looked over at his crew. Anchor was still scratching his mohawk, while Matrix was looking around at the bright landscape. DL was trying to coax Cookie out from behind her to no avail, while not taking her eyes off Solgaleo.

              “There’s a reason I’ve called you here,” said Solgaleo. “You already know there’s a being travelling around System, opening pockets in time and space.”

              “Yeh,” said Macro, finally pushing himself to his feet. “It’s called BackDoor. But I didn’t know it was a being, I thought it was a network.”

              “It’s the main root of the network,” Solgaleo explained. “And it takes the form of a Hoopa.”

              “Huh.” Anchor let his paw fall to his side. “That explains the golden rings we’ve seen. Like that one Switch came through.”

              Macro pursed his lips together then sighed. Another legend to dig up from the depths of his childhood memories.

              “However, this Hoopa is an android,” Solgaleo explained, almost as if he was soothing Macro’s confused mind. “It is not a creature of legend, merely inspired by it. Its capabilities are not akin to the real Hoopa, however it strives to be so. It can create pockets in time and space, but it struggles to find its own due to its restricted capabilities. Instead, it relies on the entities Zero Day and TimeSkip to find them. However, TimeSkip is one less android for you to worry about.”

              “You say this BackDoor is trying to be more like Hoopa,” said Matrix. “Does that mean it can change shape?”

              “No,” said Solgaleo. “It doesn’t currently have the coding to allow that. But it can, unlike Hoopa, travel and manipulate its powers through digital waves. It would merely have to look at live video footage and it could open up a pocket behind it.

              “But BackDoor itself isn’t the reason I’ve called you here. I know you’re already aware of its existence, but what you might not be aware of is the invasion of dangerous beings being dragged through time and space by this android. You’ve already encountered two of them.”

              Macro let a small pause fly between them, just in case there was more Solgaleo wanted to add.

              “Yeh, we… killed one of them,” said Macro. “As for the other thing… well I don’t know where that went to.”

              “It was Zero Day who let that through,” Matrix added.

              Solgaleo nodded. “Yes, I still need to explain the issue with Zero Day. But BackDoor has become obsessed with these creatures. He’s dubbed them ‘Ultra Beasts’ and is hoping to find even more of them. The creature you destroyed, its species is nihilego, and there’s an entire flock of those swarming throughout all of System. While another similar creature, a blacephalon, is wrecking havoc on System Ground.”

              “What?” Macro gasped. “There’s more of those jellyfish things?!”

              “A lot more. In their own universe, they are nothing to be feared. They are merely pokemon from another world, but to you they are aliens. In System, they pose a huge threat. They struggle to survive here. The atmosphere is different, and in many places toxic. Toxic even to you, let alone creatures from a world that lacks civilisation. They are trying to adapt, and as such are manipulating System to their own liking. Their food sources are vastly different to what you would eat. For example, nihilego is a parasite that attaches itself to living beings and injects a neurotoxin to control them. It then feeds on their very life source.”

              “Like it controlled that ship?” Matrix asked.

              “Precisely. It was the pilot it was controlling. Not the ship itself.”

              DL shuddered. “It sounds terrifying.”

              “And System’s gonna be flooded with them.” Macro sneered at the ground then looked up at Solgaleo. “So what are we supposed to do? It took a small army to stop just one of them!”

              “That’s why you are here,” said Solgaleo. “Your weapons are nothing to these Ultra Beasts. You need something far more powerful. You need to drop these weapons you control and go back to your roots.”

              “Eh?” Macro raised an eyebrow. “But our weapons cover our weaknesses. Sure, I could take on a dragon type or a rock type single handedly, but if I was up against a fire type-”

              Solgaleo raised a huge paw and waved him off. The size of his paw alone was enough to choke off Macro’s words.

              “I’m aware every pokemon has their strengths and weaknesses,” said Solgaleo. “I don’t expect you to do this alone, Macro. You’re to work as a team. A much bigger team than you are right now. And you’re to take with you a powerful weapon. Each of you. One that amplifies your own signature moves.”

              He waved his paw again and a long, flat box floated before them. It opened of its own accord, revealing two rows of small, colourful diamond-shaped jewels.

              “These are Z Crystals,” Solgaleo explained. “And each of them unlocks its user’s full potential.”

              Macro and Anchor both reached forwards and picked one up. The one in Macro’s paw was blue with the black outline of a water drop inside it. With the warm light flowing through it, it looked dazzlingly beautiful.

              “I’ve never heard of a Z Crystal,” he said.

              “Neither have I,” Anchor grunted, turning the silver crystal left and right.

              Matrix leant forwards and plucked it from his claws. “There’s more than eighteen in that box. So I can’t imagine they’re all for different types?”

              “There are thirty four in total,” said Solgaleo. “But you’ll be taking with you only a small number.”

              “So we’re still gonna be a small team?” Macro asked. “Thirty four seems a much more comfortable number to me.”

              Solgaleo laughed and shook his head. “The team I’ve selected will be plenty. Allow me to explain these Z Crystals. Each of its owners will wear a ring around their wrist to contain it. Then, when you unleash your signature move, for example you, Macro, would be utilising ‘play rough’, hold the crystal above your head and it will then unlock the Z Move to go with it.”

              “Wow,” said Macro. “I was worried there’d be more to it than that.”

              “Yeh,” said Matrix. “Like having to strike a crazy pose.”

              “No, just hold it high,” said Solgaleo. “It’s that simple. However, you can only use the move once every twelve hours. The results of using it are exhausting, not just for you but for the Z Crystal itself. As such, make sure your timing is right.”

              “Exhausting?” Macro placed the blue Z Crystal back into the box. “I dunno. I’m not sure how much I like the idea of using these over my trusty laser. At least I can use that over and over.”

              “But your laser can be taken and used against you,” said Solgaleo. “If a pokemon takes your Z Crystal, not only can they not use it if they don’t know how, they cannot if they don’t have the corresponding attack.”

              Macro looked up at Solgaleo, his mouth pulled into a frown. He couldn’t deny he was torn. Having a weapon that couldn’t be turned on him was an attractive idea.

              “I can understand you’re hesitant,” said Solgaleo. “But I need to ask you to trust me. These are much more reliable and valuable to you than a mere firearm.”

              Macro stood up straight and scratched behind his head as he stared down at the Z Crystals. “Alright. You’ve sold me on them. We’ll try them out.”

              Anchor nodded with a small grunt and took the blue crystal back off Matrix to return it to its box.

              “I’m happy to hear that,” said Solgaleo. “Then I’ll explain to you each what your own crystal will do. Matrix, yours will be Buginium Z. That will allow you to utilise Savage Spinout via your bug buzz attack.”

              “Wow.” Matrix’s huge eyes became even larger. “That sounds brutal.”

              “Anchor.” Solgaleo turned his eyes onto the granbull. “Yours will be Firium Z. That will turn your fire fang into Inferno Overdrive.”

              Anchor grinned and folded his arms. “I’m really liking the sound of these moves.”

              “DL. Yours will be Electrium Z. That will turn your discharge into Gigavolt Havoc. Cookie.”

              Cookie yelped and peeked out from behind DL.

              “Your’s will be Grassium Z. This will turn your energy ball into Bloom Doom, or if you prefer a more supportive roll, will change the affect of your aromatherapy to heal damage. And Macro, yours is Fairium Z. That will allow you to turn play rough into Twinkle Tackle.”

              Macro almost fell over backwards. His arms fell limp to his side and he looked from his friends to Solgaleo and back. Anchor smirked as he tried to stifle a laugh, while Matrix chuckled behind his paw.

              “Twinkle Tackle?” Macro turned back to Solgaleo and tried desperately to regain his composure. “I didn’t mishear you, did I?”

              “No,” said Solgaleo. “The fairy type Z-Move is Twinkle Tackle.”

              “I… what?” Macro stuttered. “It doesn’t sound very intimidating. I mean, compared to Savage Spinout?” He gestured a paw towards Matrix.

              “It doesn’t need to be intimidating,” said Solgaleo. “See it as its name covering up its hidden strength. Much like yourself, Macro. You may be small in stature, but your strength and bravery more than makes up for that.”

              “He’s right,” said DL. “This move definitely suits you.”

              Macro felt like he’d been struck with a tranquiliser dart. Those words made it sound a lot more personal, as though it had been carefully chosen. He reached forward and took the Fairium Z.

              Solgaleo smiled and nodded. “Use them wisely. As for the others, you’ll be taking them and searching for the pokemon - and humans - I’ve selected you to work with.”

              “Hang on… humans? Plural?” Macro blinked in bewilderment. “There’s more than just Switch?”

              Solgaleo nodded. “Yes. There is one more. You have not met them yet.”

              Macro’s mind reeled back to Pulse City. DL leaning on the rail while they enjoyed ice cream, receiving a sudden update that a time pocket had been opened.

              “So Socket doesn’t have a human?” he asked. “Or are you asking me to get them from Meta City?” His voice wavered with the second question, and a wave of cold washed over him despite the warmth coming from the light.

              “This human is not in Meta City,” said Solgaleo. “They escaped from Socket, and have teamed up with a group of reliable pokemon. They are who you will be taking the Z Crystals to, amongst others. But fret not. You will know them when you meet them.” As he listed each one, they floated up out of the box to hover above it. “Rockium Z, Flyinium Z, Waterium Z, Poisinium Z, Normalium Z, Fightinium Z, Psychium Z, Icium Z, Ghostium Z, Darkinium Z.”

              Macro stared at the hovering Z Crystals. So each one had its own designated owner, and he hadn’t a clue who to deliver them to. He guessed the flying Z Crystal was for Switch, but as for the others… some mysterious human he’d not yet met and a whole load of other pokemon. Despite the mystery of it all, he felt a whole lot more comfortable knowing his small army had increased exceptionally in size.

              Solgaleo waved a paw and Macro felt a small weight tug at his wrist. He lifted it to find a curved, stone bracelet fasted around it, complete with the Fairium Z. A quick look around told him his friends had received a similar surprise.

              “These will contain your Z Crystals,” said Solgaleo. “You can remove them if you wish. But take care not to lose them.”

              “So… I kinda want to practice this,” said Macro.

              “Same,” said Anchor. “But… I’m a little exhausted. That was a lot of information to take all at once.”

              “Take your time,” said Solgaleo. “These moves will take some getting used to. Rest first, then practice them.”

              “And we’re meant to use these to get rid of those…” Macro waved a paw as he tried to remember the name. “Those Ultra Beasts?”

              Solgaleo shook his head. “These moves will aid you in saving System, but those Ultra Beasts are not guilty. They’re innocent victims. Living beings from another world. Your task is to get them back to their own worlds with as few casualties as possible. They will be volatile, and you will need to defend yourselves, even so far as to use your Z-Moves. But go with care.”

              Macro paled. How on earth were they meant to get volatile creatures into their own worlds without a means to open them up first?

              “But…” he stuttered. “But we can’t open time pockets.”

              “You will find a way,” said Solgaleo.

              “Huh.” Matrix wound his antenna in his paw. “So I guess we have to capture BackDoor or one of those Zero Day things?”

              Macro did not care for that idea, but he swallowed back a retort and examined the sparkling Z Crystal on his wrist.

              “Like I said, go with care,” said Solgaleo. “I now wish you a safe journey. But I give you one warning. Do not head back to Pulse City.”

              Macro looked up with a start, and Anchor let out a surprised ‘what?’

              “It is no longer a safe haven for you,” said Solgaleo. “Socket has increased the reward for your detainment, Macro, not to mention the rest of your crew.”

              Anchor let out a surprised bark, almost knocking Matrix off his shoulder in the process.

              “She has extended the reward to Pulse City,” Solgaleo continued. “Even pokemon you thought were allies may well turn against you.”

              Macro suddenly felt very sick. His legs buckled again and he sank back to the floor. A wave of exhaustion took over him. Not again. What had he done this time?

              “This increase is out of nothing more than spite and fear,” Solgaleo explained. “But so long as you do not do anything reckless, it should be no trouble to you. There is another safe haven for you. You know it already. Head there.”

              “But what about DL?” Macro looked up at him. “We still have two more disks to find…”

              “If DL still wishes to obtain Loop’s memories, then by all means find them. They are in Botnet City and Meta City, the latter heavily guarded. But be warned that chasing down these disks will result in pain for the both of you.”

              Those words left a bad taste in Macro’s mouth. He continued to stare up at Solgaleo, digesting what he’d just said. Everything. Everyone would be after him now. System was being ravaged by Ultra Beasts. And if he kept trying to help DL, then pain awaited the both of them.

              He hoped desperately he could avoid that, or at least spare DL the pain.

              “I never leave a job unfinished,” he said.

              Solgaleo nodded once. “That’s noble of you. Until we meet again.”

              The world around them warped and Solgaleo faded away into the warm light. The light shrank down around them like a warm embrace, dazzling Macro’s eyes so much he had to close them. It felt like he was being lifted, floating in a cozy cloud. When he opened his eyes again, he was lying on the floor of his ship, back in the cockpit.
              __________________
              I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

              A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
              A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
              Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
              Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
              Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
              'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
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                #32    
              Old June 17th, 2018 (5:22 AM).
              Delirious Absol's Avatar
              Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
              Call me Del
                 
                Join Date: May 2015
                Location: UK
                Age: 33
                Gender: Female
                Nature: Quirky
                Posts: 350
                A/N - Aim to fix absolute zero error in previous chapter. I am clearly not a scientist.

                Chapter Forty Nine

                The small tympole ship drifted along the edge of the Dead Glacier, frost dusting its perspex windows. Surge had no idea how long she’d been drifting back and forth. The navigation screen beeped feebly as it tried to locate Macro’s ship, but she was having no joy. Why she was even still bothering trying to find him she had no idea.

                Her eyes went back to her computer for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes. The news site was still open, still glaring at her with blinding intensity. Her face stared back out amid a sea of yellow, topped with a red ‘wanted’ sign. Beneath it, a prize. Fifty thousand credits. Half of what Socket had been offering her. Then there was Macro, updated, followed by each of his crew. Each one, fifty thousand credits. Their crime? Hacking government files and stealing government property.

                And to top it all off, the prize was open to space pirates.

                It didn’t take a genius to work out that Socket was desperate. ‘The scum of the skies’. ‘The bane of her existence.’

                Well, Surge wasn’t heading back to Pulse City any time soon. She could bid her little apartment goodbye.

                She sank into her seat with a groan and rubbed the bridge of her muzzle. What was she to do now? Where was she to even go? If she tried to join Macro, he’d be unlikely to welcome her with open paws. Especially after she’d threatened him. There was a bigger chance he’d see that poster then try to turn her in. He was still a space pirate. He still wanted money to survive in the skies. Fifty thousand credits could fuel his ship for two years and still leave him with enough to pay his crew. But would Socket merely reward him, pat him on the head and send him away with a clean slate? After years of trying to capture him? It was extremely unlikely.

                And what about Surge? Would she find herself at the gothitelle’s mercy if she still tried to hand over Macro? After her little stunt with the mayor, that was also very unlikely.

                Surge flopped forward over her dashboard and rested her muzzle on her arms. Lost. Empty. Cold. Like a hollowed out rock.

                Her eyes flitted over to her window, but she could see nothing in the vast darkness. Macro was long gone. If her calculations were right, he’d gone over the Dead Glacier. But why? Wouldn’t he freeze? She knew full well if she’d gone over it, her little ship would freeze up with her inside it. She wouldn’t survive the night. What was he after?

                Her navigation system chirruped a little tune, snapping her out of her thoughts. A red dot blinked far to the east of her ship and she leapt over to it to get a better look. Her jaw fell open and she shook her head slowly. It couldn’t be. If it were Macro, how had she missed it? It was as if the entire ship had materialised out of thin air one mile away from where she’d lost him.

                She shook her head and trained her ship onto his. It was only when she was well on her way towards him she began to question her sanity.

                ...

                Macro pushed himself up slowly and looked around at the cockpit. The rest of his crew were in a similar state. Cookie lay at his feet, shuddering and muttering as he looked around their surroundings. Anchor was silent, stroking his mohawk and exchanging baffled glances with Matrix. It was DL who was the first to speak.

                “There’s no frost on the windows.”

                Macro span his head around to look at her. She was sprawled over his chair, propping herself up on one arm, as she admired the windscreen.

                “The crack has gone, too,” she added.

                Macro leapt to his feet then steadied himself with a paw on the back of his chair.

                “Hang on.” He brushed back a lock of black fur from his eyes. “What are you saying? Weren’t we over the Dead Glacier?”

                “I believe so,” said DL. “But it’s hard to say. There’s no evidence we were even there.”

                Macro opened his mouth to reply, forgot every single word he wanted to string together, and instead said, “Wha’?”

                DL shook her head slowly and absently pawed at her ear.

                “Erm…” Anchor cleared his throat and rose to his feet. “Permission to be ridiculous, Cap’n?”

                Macro sighed and waved a paw. “Go ahead.”

                “Is it at all possible,” Anchor said slowly, “that we’ve all had the same dream?”

                “I’m beginning to wonder.” Macro hugged himself tightly and leant against his seat. “I mean… it’s pretty common knowledge if you fly over the Dead Glacier, then you freeze to death.” He paused and looked out the window. “But how?”

                “I can suggest one solution,” said Matrix. “There’s every possibility that the huge creature… or Ultra Beast… that attacked the ship could have given off some kind of toxin that induced a synchronised dream or mass hallucination.”

                Macro jolted at the term ‘Ultra Beast’ and cast a wary glance over his shoulder at Matrix. The ribombee was pawing at something out of his line of sight that Macro assumed to be his computer.

                “So that creature did this to us?” Macro asked.

                “It’s plausible, but I’m willing to rule it out.”

                “Why?” Macro frowned slightly.

                “Because all those Z Crystals Solgaleo gave us are right here.”

                Macro span on the spot and looked down at the ribombee. What Macro had so quickly thrown aside as his computer turned out to be an open box revealing the collection of Z Crystals Solgaleo had given to them. It was only then that Macro felt the weight on his paw, and he lifted it up to his face. His eyes widened as he took in the Z Ring and the sparkling Fairinium Z reflecting back every light in the cockpit.

                “This is all too much to take in,” said Cookie. “Please excuse me. I’m going to go and cook things…”

                Macro muttered an ‘okay’ to the slurpuff’s retreating back, not taking his eyes off the Z Crystal.

                “So, erm…” Anchor cleared his throat again. “It all actually happened?”

                “Apparently.” Macro lowered his paw and looked down at the box of crystals. “I… I have no idea what to make of all this.”

                “Then let’s recap.” Matrix sat back on one paw and used the other to twist his antenna. “We met with Solgaleo, who was in some kind of strange wormhole. He told us this BackDoor thing is releasing Ultra Beasts into System. They’re a threat, and we’re meant to round them up. But we’re going to need help, which is why we have these Z Crystals.”

                That had all gone a little too fast for Macro. He looked from Matrix to the box and back and bit back the desire to ask him to repeat himself… slowly. The ribombee had already removed the blue Waterium Z from the box and was turning it around in his paw.

                “Going off the number alone,” he said, “it looks like we’re meant to ask for a lot of help.”

                “Yeh, but who?” Macro crouched down before him and reached for the white Z Crystal. “The only normal type I know is Surge, but I can’t see why it would be her. Besides, it will be too early whenever I see her again.”

                “Why?” Anchor and DL asked.

                “I thought I’d already told you this,” said Macro. “She tried to kill me.”

                Anchor’s jaw went slack, and DL stared blankly at the mawile. A glimmer of anger flashed across her eyes and she diverted her gaze to the window.

                “I know you said she’d tried to shoot you.” Anchor brushed his mohawk back and sighed. “Guess I hadn’t really processed it, huh?”

                Macro snorted and continued fumbling through the Z Crystals. “I don’t think I know any rock types, either. Or any others who can use these attacks.” A long sigh left his throat and he lowered the Normalium Z back into the box. “Well, I’m at a loss.”

                “Give it time,” said Matrix. “He said we’ll know them when we meet them.”

                Macro gathered the long box and stood. “I’m going to guess one of these is for Switch. As for this other human and her allies… if she can shape shift like Switch, then she’s gonna be really hard to find.”

                ...

                Annie sat up in her bed and sneezed. She scratched a claw under her reptilian nose and frowned at the dingy room.

                “Huh. Is someone talkin’ about me?” She yawned and curled back up into her pillow. “Whatever, I’ll bite them later.”

                ...

                “Well.” Anchor shrugged his shoulders. “Guess we’d better keep an eye open.”

                “And I guess we won’t be going back to Pulse City,” said Macro. “Wow, this is going to be really strange.”

                He tucked the crystals away into a drawer beneath the dashboard and turned to the rest of his crew. Anchor looked as lost as he felt, and Matrix was still sat on the floor. Macro blinked at the ribombee as he processed something he’d missed. His wings…

                “When did your wings lose their frost bite?” he asked suddenly.

                Matrix looked back at his wings as if for the first time and flexed them. “Oh… I hadn’t noticed the feeling come back. Well, I guess I don’t have to sit on the floor any more then, do I?”

                He fluttered into the air and returned to his navigation screen.

                Macro shook his head and looked around at the ship again. Matrix’s wings, the crack in the windshield… Something truly amazing had happened. It both excited and terrified him.

                Macro climbed into his seat beside DL and she fastened them both in.

                “Where to, Cap’n?” Anchor asked.

                Macro shrugged and bit his lip. “I’ve no idea. Maybe Cyan City?”

                “Not a bad idea, if you ask me,” said the granbull.

                The giant schooling wishiwashi turned in the air as the navigation system locked them onto Cyan City.

                “Erm, I think we might have one small problem,” said Matrix. “We appear to have a stalker again, and they’re gaining on us pretty quickly.”

                Macro raised his head to look out of the window. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but his heart was hammering against his rib cage. A stalker… or a bounty hunter? It wasn’t happening already, was it?

                “Want me to fire on ‘em?” Anchor asked.

                “No.” Macro shook his head. “Just get us away as fast as we can without hitting hyper drive. If they give us problems, then shoot them.”

                “Alrighty then.”

                Wildcard Gamma surged away from the Dead Glacier and trudged back towards the inhabited parts of System Sky. All the while, that red dot trailed after them, leaving a horrible taste deep in Macro’s mouth.

                ...

                Meta City felt heavy with static. Long coated pokemon traversing the streets had their fur fluff out dramatically and struggled to beat it back down. Frowns were thrown at the mechanical trees and profanities were muttered under breaths as the victims trotted away from the structures.

                Deep in an alleyway, BackDoor drifted in the air upside down, his mitten paws tucked behind his head as he watched Zero Day at work. The static in the air made him feel wildly uncomfortable as it tingled his circuits, but he was too engrossed in the porthole that had opened conveniently out of sight of Meta City’s prying eyes.

                It had taken some work to lure the deranged fleet of porygon z away from the more inhabited areas. Zero Day had broken into smaller numbers and five of them had found themselves in Meta City. Whether or not they’d been spotted, BackDoor didn’t really care. But Socket would, and he’d tried to keep damages to a minimum. That’s why only a handful of pokemon had seen them. Only a couple of photos had been taken. Speculations would be made, propaganda would hit, then they’d be swatted aside as another conspiracy theory just like the Ultra Beast. Well… until the evidence was found. Where the rest of Zero Day had got to, he had no idea. And frankly, he couldn’t care less.

                The hoopa eyed the porthole curiously. He liked to believe he’d found it first, but Zero Day had been looking for something. Seemingly this particular porthole, going off their frantic behaviour. A couple of them fired pulses at it, their heads spinning as they sprayed binary taunts. BackDoor didn’t know where the taunts had come from, or what they were aimed at. Perhaps they’d evolved a higher intelligence along with the ability to open up portholes. Breaking up to cover more distance did seem a rather advanced idea for a group of androids constructed merely to follow orders. Whatever it was that had happened to them, BackDoor was incredibly intrigued.

                More static flooded from the porthole and the two porygon z closest to it staggered back, their pupils expanding and contracting dramatically. Their heads wobbled precariously and they span their legs in a bid to get away from the damaging electricity. It was certainly a bigger surge than the last time. Even BackDoor felt it, and he drifted a little higher out of the way until he felt its effects lessen off.

                Strands of lightning shot out of the ultraviolet mist, lighting up the alley. It narrowly missed one of the porygon z as it swerved to the side, not taking its lifeless eyes off the porthole.

                More electricity danced out from deep within, striking at random points and scattering Zero Day further into the alley. The area around the porthole strobed as each jolt gave off a brilliant flash of light. BackDoor righted himself and watched with fascination. His mechanical heart was doing somersaults, racing at a mile a minute and adding years to his artificial life. But he didn’t care. All he wanted to know was what fantastic creature was going to leap out of the porthole.

                It didn’t take long for his answer to arrive. Lanky, black limbs stretched out amongst a torrent of electricity, a stark contrast to the vivid, bright lights that flowed from its wiry tendrils. But that’s all it seemed to be. A wiry mass of tendrils creeping across the floor, each limb flopping over the next like an intoxicated arachnid. Then it separated into two and each one pushed itself up onto five limbs, topped with a head that looked like a jagged, static-filled fur ball. Electricity danced around their feet, catching in collected puddles where it erupted into deadly sparks.

                BackDoor let out a single laugh and clapped his paws. “Amazing! These might be even cooler than that jellyfish thing!”

                One of the creatures turned its head towards him, not that it had any eyes to speak of. It lifted one limb like an arm and fired out a string of electricity from its wiry fingers. BackDoor lurched to the side, shouting profanities, and came to a halt atop the roof of a bakery.

                “Watch where you’re firing at!” he scolded. “You almost shorted me!”

                But the creature didn’t respond. It turned and scurried off on two of its limbs, the others wiggling beside it like the arms of an excitable hatchling. The fifth limb waved behind it like a long tail, swishing side to side and toppling trash cans. The other creature didn’t wait around for long. It sauntered off in a similar manner to the first one, then leapt over fallen obstacles as though its legs were made of springs.

                BackDoor frowned and folded his arms. These creatures were impossible. How was he meant to control them when they kept attacking him? Electrical Ultra Beasts would make short work of him. One stray bolt and he’d be turned in for scraps before he could blink.

                Zero Day looked equally as perplexed. But from the binary that filled BackDoor’s head, they’d come to a similar conclusion. One of the porygon z drifted back to the porthole, its nose lighting up as it prepared itself to close it again. Before it could reach it, electricity engulfed the android and it let out a binary screech. BackDoor slammed his paws over his ears, but it was no use. The sound was completely in his head. An endless, agonised scream. Then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. He opened his eyes and looked down at the smoldering mass. The porygon z’s eyes kept zooming in and out as it struggled to focus. The remaining Zero Day looked on at the porthole, their limbs slowly rotating back and forth. Their pupils had contracted into pinpricks, but they were silent.

                Then another of those creatures came out of the porthole. Then another. Then another. Zero Day backed away, not taking their eyes off the slowly growing army.

                Each creature stood like a tree, surveying its surroundings before taking off down the alley. Zero Day scattered, desperate to avoid the thin jolts of electricity that endlessly streamed from their bodies. Each movement seemed to generate it, and they danced down the scrawny tendons of their limbs like live wires.

                Not one of them seemed to care about the porygon z that watched them like a hunter watches its prey. Then why had they attacked the one that had returned to close the porthole? Had they known? Had they wanted to enter this world?

                BackDoor returned to hovering upside down, watching the creatures curiously. They broke off into three groups, each taking a different route in the alley. Their strange, faceless heads turned left and right, and they stretched out their wiry arms. Static danced across them, and all heads turned towards the mechanical trees. Their bodies went taught, then relaxed again, letting their tail-like limbs sway just above the floor. BackDoor couldn’t help wondering if a silent decision had just been made.

                A spray of binary filled BackDoor’s mind and he quickly strove to decipher it. A war cry. One of the porygon z doubled back and launched a tri attack, knocking one of the creatures over. Then the porygon z returned to hover over its fallen comrade. The irreparable android smoldered beneath its feet, and the rest of Zero Day joined its side, their eyes lit up with the fire of battle.

                The lanky creature quickly clambered back to its feet and rounded on the porygon z. It said something. Something BackDoor couldn’t comprehend. It sounded like an electrical screech mutated into words. But the rest of the creatures understood it clearly. They gathered themselves and looked around at Zero Day. Even without facial expressions to go off, it was clear what they were thinking.

                A threat.

                Electricity flooded the alley, dancing up walls and trailing over moisture, engulfing anything that conducted it. Zero Day were drowned as it washed over their mechanical bodies.

                BackDoor took that as a clear message to get out of there. With a flick of his paw, he vanished into the nearest transmission signal and sent himself back to the safety of System Sky.
                __________________
                I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

                A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
                A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
                Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
                Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
                'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
                Reply With Quote
                  #33    
                Old June 23rd, 2018 (2:31 AM).
                Delirious Absol's Avatar
                Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                Call me Del
                   
                  Join Date: May 2015
                  Location: UK
                  Age: 33
                  Gender: Female
                  Nature: Quirky
                  Posts: 350
                  Chapter Fifty

                  The black market seemed a lot larger from Annie's current angle. She waddled through the crowds, holding her wings out at her sides awkwardly as she stretched up to her full height in a bid to see just a little bit higher. Only a couple of days ago, she'd borrowed Waveform's computer to do a little research on the extinct pokemon archeops. Allegedly it was meant to be around four foot seven inches tall. She wondered if that was either an over estimation, or from nose to tail, because she certainly wasn't standing four foot tall. The top of her head didn't even reach the decidueye's ribs.

                  "Grumble all you want," said Waveform. "You're the one who overslept and forgot to take your pills."

                  Annie bit her tongue and looked up at him with a frown. "I wasn't grumbling."

                  "You were, I heard you."

                  "That was my stomach." Annie fluffed out her feathers and looked over at the market stalls. "I'm hungry."

                  "Then you should have eaten your soup."

                  "It was gross! Like slimy slop!" She threw her claws into the air. "Besides, who has soup for breakfast?"

                  Web loomed over her and looked up at Waveform, who met the skuntank's gaze with a frown.

                  "Someone's clearly woken up on the wrong side of the nest," said Web. "Come on. Let's do what we came here to do then go and get something to eat."

                  "Yes," said Annie. "Some proper breakfast. Good breakfast. Cereal or pastries or something." She shot Waveform a leer. "Not slop."

                  With that, Annie waddled through the crowd, shouting 'excuse me!' and 'oi! Watch the tail!' at the larger space pirates. One would have expected her to be stamped on, but the market's occupants threw her concerned or worried looks and stepped aside.

                  It was almost impossible to find what she was looking for. Somewhere in the market was a pokemon who specialized in 'distributing news'. Unfortunately, the species name wasn't one Annie was familiar with. When she'd asked N0ize for a description, he'd merely shrugged and said, 'I dunno. He's a bird.'

                  "Bird," Annie muttered to herself. "Feathers. A bird. With feathers."

                  As she strolled on, scanning over all the tables, the sentence lost all meaning and became more of a habit. The surrounding pokemon threw her questioning looks, but she wriggled past them and craned her reptilian neck as far as it would go. One of the tables was crowded, and plastered with posters. Some of them looked like wanted posters. Why would there be wanted posters for space pirates amongst… well… space pirates?

                  She narrowed her eyes at one, and a mawile leered back. Fifty thousand credits. How much was that in Sinnohan money?

                  The crowd parted just enough to reveal the vibrant body of a feathered pokemon. They were considerably smaller than Annie. Small enough to scurry around the table, shouting loudly and gesturing with a bright blue wing. Unlike most space pirates who wore a belt around their waist, he had a small pouch strapped to his scaly, right leg. Although it looked much too small to fit anything in. Atop their black head was a tuft of feathers that looked like they'd been chewed away, resembling a mangled musical note.

                  Annie's eyes widened. A bird. With feathers. One she did actually recognise from a book she'd been forced to read called 'Perappu Says'.

                  She strutted over to the stall, forced herself between a rhydon and a scyther, and placed her wing claws on the table. Her eyes went to the posters again and she tugged one free and stuffed it unceremoniously into her bag. The vibrant bird paused mid-sentence to cast her a curious glance. He froze with his wing still spread, and his hooked beak flapped open and closed like a beached fish.

                  "I think you're who I'm looking for," said Annie. "Do you specialise in 'sending out information'?" She raised her claws for air quotes.

                  The bird didn't say anything. He continued to stare at her, still unwilling to lower his wing. His eyes then went to the top of her head, and Annie found herself drowned by a large shadow. She craned her neck around to look up at Waveform.

                  "So you found him," he said. "Pretty good for someone who hasn't a clue what a chatot is."

                  The parrot pokemon blinked and finally folded his wing neatly at his side.

                  "Well," he said. "I guess we're even, since I have no idea what you are."

                  "I'm Annie," she said. "I'm guessing you're… wait… I've got this." She scratched her chin with a claw and looked up at the ceiling.

                  "Name's Hatter," said the chatot. "Pulse City's very own Information Acquisition and Distribution Entrepreneur. And I'm afraid I have quite the queue so you'll have to wait a while."

                  Annie's lip curled and she pulled her head back slightly. "A what?"

                  "It's all fancy talk," said Waveform. "He's a spy."

                  She let out a long 'ohh'.

                  Hatter strutted away, commencing his talk once more. It sounded more like the shouts of someone trying to drum up a sale.

                  Annie leant forward and tapped a claw on the table. "Oi! Oi, bird! We can pay you!"

                  Hatter turned back to her and fluffed out his chest. "I have a name. Besides, you have to pay me. I don't work for free." He turned away from her and fired a sneer over his shoulder. "Now wait your turn!"

                  Annie bristled and cast a glance up to Waveform. The decidueye rolled his eyes and reached into his wing, fixing his finger-like feathers over one of his arrows.

                  She reached up her claws and placed them on his wing, freezing him in an instant. His crimson eyes widened for the briefest moment and locked onto hers. She gave him a playful grin and leant back across the table.

                  "Oi! Hatter! I ain't done with you!" She reached out her claws and grabbed the chatot by his tail.

                  A loud squawk flew from his beak and he flapped his wings frantically as she dragged him backwards across the table.

                  The large pokemon surrounding her leapt into action, drawing lasers and raising fists encased in gauntlet-like weapons. Hot beams erupted from the lasers, narrowly skimming Annie's feathers. She leapt aside with a yelp, bringing Hatter up to her face as a meat shield. He screamed as a laser brushed his wing, searing away a couple of primaries.

                  Waveform leapt before her, tugging out one of his vines to fire off his arrows, but Annie beat him aside with her wing while clutching the flailing chatot in the claws of the other. As she swung back her free wing, rocks erupted into the air and hovered precariously. Stray laser beams collided with them and evaporated harmlessly, leaving the rocks completely unscathed. The space pirates glanced from the rocks to her, still clutching their weapons.

                  "Annie!" Web's voice cut through the sudden silence.

                  A column of flames shot over the crowd, narrowly missing Waveform's head. He ducked aside and quickly re-aimed his arrow at the small crowd gathering behind Hatter's unimpressed clients.

                  Several of the space pirates span on the spot to aim their weapons at their assailant. Web ducked a brown laser beam then skidded to a halt between Trojan and Zip. The latter let out a nervous squeak and skittered aside to dodge a sparking flurry of electricity. Behind them, Annie could just make out Tracer and N0ize. The delphox had his stick raised, ready to launch another attack.

                  "Oh no you don't," said Annie slowly. "I'd drop your weapons if I were you. All of you." She lifted the terrified chatot to her face and smirked. "Besides. I think y'all are gonna like what I've got to tell you."

                  Hatter's eyes lingered over the hovering rocks before the archeops. A strange glow radiated from them in a manner the whole crowd deemed threatening. Annie merely smirked at her audience and lifted the chatot even higher. His wings flailed helplessly against her feathers as he desperately tried to right himself.

                  "Go on then!" one of the space pirates roared. "What've you got to tell us that involves holdin' our main source of 'secret' information hostage?"

                  Annie's eyes widened and she nodded to the chatot. "I ain't holdin' him hostage. I'm borrowin' him."

                  Pokemon from across the market slowly trudged over to the crowd, keeping a watchful eye on Annie while their paws clutched their holstered weapons. While many pirates less inclined to get involved made for the exit, a lot more watched from a safer distance, as taut as coiled springs.

                  Waveform ducked towards her slightly but he didn't take his eyes off the frightened and angry space pirates. "Get to the point."

                  "You see. I'm here to make a difference." Annie gestured with the flapping pokemon still clutched between her claws, and placed her other wing on her hip. "Where I come from, pokemon don't eat meat. Gotta say that sickened me when I found out about it. Could one of you nice space pirates please tell me how exactly you fish them up?"

                  The crowd became a mixture of twisted sneers and frightened eyes. One of the gruffer looking ones - a sandslash with icicles for armour - looked her in the eye.

                  "We use nets." His raspy voice created a fine mist in the warm air. "Electrified nets to stun 'em."

                  "Hmm. Seems rather barbaric." Annie glanced up at the ceiling and stroked her chin with a claw. "Don't they scream?"

                  The sandslash shrugged, as did most of her audience.

                  "We cancel out the noise with earplugs and headphones," a female voice explained.

                  Annie snapped her attention back to the audience, spotting the speaker immediately. A yellow and black head poked above the smaller members of the crowd. Ampharos, if she guessed correctly. An electric type.

                  Electric nets.

                  So they trapped the fish, electrocuted them, and couldn't even hear their screams? She glanced down at the parrot in her grasp. He stared back out at the crowd, drooling slightly. Well, at least he'd stopped flapping about.

                  "Yanno what?" She turned back to the space pirates. "I think I need to introduce you to someone. Oi! Little fish!"

                  The crowd fell silent as mechanical creaks rose into the air. Pokemon leapt aside as Zip slowly crept through the crowd, cautiously watching them as though he was scared they were going to pluck him from his bowl and swallow him in one bite. Looks of disgust and anger crossed their faces, but no one said a word.

                  "Go on," Annie told him. "Introduce yourself to these nice space pirates."

                  "Erm." Zip released his controls and turned in the water to look at the sceptical audience. "I'm Zip. Annie rescued me when I escaped from a fishery."

                  Those angry looks melted away as the crowd stared back at Zip. Jaws went slack, while others tensed and looked away.

                  "We don't like being eaten," Zip told them. "I tried to beg for my life while a scyther tried to cut me up. But he wouldn't listen. Or couldn't, through his huge headphones. I was lucky enough to escape with my life."

                  The space pirates looked on in stunned silence, although a couple of them broke away to move into the market. The ampharos had turned deathly pale. She span on the spot and vomited audibly onto the floor. The sandslash leapt aside with a squeak.

                  "I'd never even spoken to a land pokemon before then," Zip went on. "I didn't think anyone would listen. Then I met Annie and the rest of my friends, and they showed me not all land pokemon want to eat me! In fact, they want to help me!"

                  The small crowd exchanged glances, muttering amongst themselves. The ampharos looked back up at Zip and wiped a paw across her mouth.

                  "Are you going to help me?" Zip asked them.

                  "I… I used to be vegan." The sandslash diverted his gaze to the wall. "But money got pretty tight, you know?"

                  "I don't know if I can handle this," said the ampharos. "I need a lie down."

                  Annie placed both wings on her hips and frowned. "You can have a lie down when you've told me why y'all are actin' like you didn't even know fish could speak!"

                  "I-it's not like we didn't know." The ampharos couldn't even look at her. "In my job, we're told not to speak to them. To not even listen to them. We're given equipment that cancels out their voices. You see… they tell us the sound of a dying fish pokemon is deafening, and that they're persuasive and will lure us into the water. So we have to protect our ears."

                  Annie creased her muzzle. "Sounds like a load of baloney."

                  The ampharos shrugged weakly and looked away. "It's protocol."

                  "Ba-lo-ney!" Annie crossed her arms and looked at the rest of the crowd. "So. Whatcha all gonna do? Help us out, or keep on fishin'?"

                  A few of the remaining space pirates turned angry again, and a gabite flexed his claws as he sneered at her.

                  "Is that why you're here?" he scoffed. "To bring this little runt along and convince us to stop eatin' meat?"

                  Annie shrugged and shook her head. "That's not the only reason. It ties into my big reason, see. You know that mayor who bosses us all about? She's the big cheese around here, right?"

                  "Not here she ain't," said the gabite.

                  "No?" Annie looked up at Waveform who shook his head. "Oh, fair enough. But she's mayor of System. She makes the rules. She tells you that you can eat fish, so you eat fish. Well… she's the reason I'm here. Not here in Pulse City, but here in this weird, polluted place you still call System. Air is rancid. Pokemon don't get along. You fly around in these fish-shaped ships, yet you happily eat them off your plates! Well, what if I told you it ain't all roses and wildflowers?"

                  The angry pirates returned to looking stunned. And somewhat confused.

                  "You see, that mayor of yours pulled me right out of my own time-line," Annie went on. "'Course, I weren't happy there. I spent my days sat in a cell changing form back and forth. Sure, Socket gave me magic pills and I can stand before you as an archeops rather than yo-yo-ing like some kinda circus freak. Then we've got some monster flying around destroying cities. What part of this sounds like a conspiracy to you?" She stretched out both claws to make her point, Hatter swinging like a pendulum. "I show up, monster shows up. This is her doing. What is she up to exactly?"

                  "Wait a minute." The gabite was oddly talkative. "You're tryin' to tell us that Socket pulled you from another time-line? How exactly did she do that?"

                  "She used a Time Onion," Annie said flatly.

                  The dragon rolled his eyes and looked back at the rest of the space pirates.

                  "I think this bird's got a screw loose," he said.

                  "She's a jackin' archeops!" Trojan shouted from behind them. "Aren't they meant to be extinct? Use your brains!"

                  Annie looked out at the space pirates and grinned widely. The looks of confusion and anger had melted away once more, replaced instead by fear and realisation.

                  "You got a bone to pick with anyone, pick it with Socket," she said. "I'm gonna go and spread this message throughout System." She nodded at the dazed chatot. "We'll see what colour that mayor really is."

                  The large rocks she'd been holding in the air rained down like an avalanche, shaking the market's foundations. The pirates ducked and raised their paws as dust trickled from the old rafters.

                  Giving Waveform a pat on the back, she hopped over the rocks and strolled towards the exit, letting him sandwich Zip between the two of them. The crowd parted, keeping their eyes on her and her odd, aquatic friend. A few of them muttered amongst themselves, aiming leers at the archeops and drawing their weapons, but they didn't pursue. Too stunned by her story, unnerved by her ancient power, or wanting to avoid accidentally killing their 'bringer of secret news and high-paying jobs'.

                  "Well," she said as she rejoined the rest of her crew. "I don't know about you lot, but I think that went rather well."

                  "Are you insane?" Tracer gasped, flashing a glance back towards the muttering crowd. "You're going to start an uproar."

                  "Of course," said Annie. "That's part of starting a rebellion. First everyone gets angry about something, then they rebel!"

                  Tracer let out a groan and placed a paw over his face. "What are you doing?"

                  "Starting a rebellion," Annie said, pointlessly.

                  "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm kinda curious," said Widget.

                  "That makes most of us." Trojan looked down at Annie's claws. "What exactly do you plan to do with that pirate?"

                  "Get him to spread a message," said Annie. "All he has to do is tell each and every city in System exactly what Socket is up to."

                  "But we don't know what she's up to," moaned Tracer. "We don't even know why she dragged you out of your own time-line."

                  Annie looked up at him and shrugged. "So? She wants to stick me back in a lab. She likely unleashed that monster thing. I'd say she's not a very good mayor, wouldn't you?"

                  "But without any evidence-"

                  "I'm evidence!" Annie thumped herself in the chest. "Besides. You're a detective, right? If you want more evidence, get researchin'. We'll show the whole of System what a rubbish mayor this Socket is."

                  Tracer stared down at her, his paws and ears twitching. For a moment, she thought he'd broken into a sweat. N0ize erupted with deep laughter and smacked the delphox hard on the back.

                  Widget looked between them then locked eyes with Annie. "Rubbish mayor, eh? I've been saying that for years."

                  ...

                  Outside was sheer madness. Tentacled beasts clambered up Meta City's mechanical trees, electricity dancing from their bodies and striking the terrified pokemon below. The streets were swiftly emptying as pokemon fled back to their homes, or from the city altogether.

                  Socket watched, her mouth wide open in a silent scream, as the mechanical trees failed under the beasts' attacks. Yellow air flowed in from the outskirts, billowing in a victory dance over the trees' defeat. Electrical monstrosities clambered over buildings, attaching themselves to air filters and dangling from street lamps.

                  BackDoor.

                  That notorious android had to have something to do with this.

                  Socket tore herself from the living nightmare and brought up her holoscreen. Before she could even dial out to BackDoor it began ringing, the dancing cartoon phone filling the screen.

                  She clenched her teeth together and answered, silently willing it to be a useful call and not a panicked Meta City resident.

                  Yobi's panicked face appeared before her, his ears trembling and his paws free from any tinkering tools.

                  "M-Madam Mayor," he sputtered. "I… I think-"

                  She raised her paw to silence him. "I am assuming you've seen what's going on outside?"

                  "Yes," he said, trying to gather himself. "I think-"

                  "Is it that disobedient creation of yours?" she demanded.

                  Before he could answer, she dialled out to BackDoor. The screen split in two, ringing away. Yobi glanced sideways as though he was trying to see the dialling animation. A painful five seconds passed before BackDoor graced the segment with his grinning face.

                  "Socket!" he laughed. "What can I do for you?"

                  The gothitelle waved a paw towards the window, and the hoopa's eyes went to the scene. His face split into another grin and he clapped his mitten paws together.

                  "I see those Ultra Beasts have made themselves right at home!" he said.

                  Yobi's face paled, and Socket's ribbons stood on end.

                  "This isn't their home!" she snapped. "What are they doing here?! Why have you let them out?!"

                  "Me?" BackDoor feigned innocence and placed a paw on his chest. "It wasn't me who did it. It was Zero Day."

                  "Zero Day can't open dimensional gates," said Yobi. "I didn't program that ability into them."

                  "Well, it was them." BackDoor drifted upside down and tucked his paws behind his head. "I watched them do it."

                  "If you watched them do it, then you could have stopped them," said Socket.

                  BackDoor shrugged. "I wasn't gonna get in the way of those creatures. I watched them fry any porygon z that tried."

                  Yobi leant forward on his desk, looking in BackDoor's direction. "So Zero Day were destroyed?!"

                  "Not all of them." The hoopa yawned. "They've split up into little groups."

                  Yobi fell back into his seat and his jaw went slack. Socket looked from him to the android and back.

                  "I'm getting the impression this is unexpected behaviour?" she said.

                  "Yes…" Yobi scratched behind his ear and glanced away from her. "I'm not sure what's going on…"

                  "BackDoor." Socket snapped her head back around to the android, still drifting upside down with his eyes closed. And was he humming? She frowned and folded her arms, tapping her claws along her fur. "I want you back in Meta City. Round up these creatures before they destroy everything!"

                  BackDoor cracked one eye open. "You want me to deal with your problem?"

                  "Is it beyond your capabilities?" she asked. "You can open these gateways. We can't."

                  "No can do, love."

                  Socket's spine stiffened and she stared at the android, aghast. He chuckled at her expression and closed his eyes again.

                  "I won't go anywhere near those things," he said. "I don't want my circuits fried."

                  Socket seethed and she took a step towards the holoscreen. "This city is swiftly being destroyed! I demand that you do it!"

                  "Really?" BackDoor's eyes snapped open and he stared straight at her, chilling her through to her bones.

                  A deep humming filled the room and she felt herself being dragged backwards. She looked over her shoulder, straight into spinning ultraviolet mist. Then another opened beside her, then another at the far end of the room. She felt her ears dragged towards the ceiling and her eye went to yet another spinning below her ceiling fan. Each portal tugged at her, increasing in intensity. She span to grab hold of her desk, but every joint in her body felt like it was being pulled apart. A shrill scream escaped her throat and she reached across her desk to secure her grip.

                  "What are you doing?!" she screeched at the holoscreen. "Close them! Close them, now!"

                  She heard BackDoor yawn loudly. "No. I think I'll leave them right there."

                  "Okay!" she gasped. "Okay, you can leave the ones in Meta City! We'll have Zero Day close them! Just… get these things out of my office!"

                  "Alright, alright, fine." He sighed and one by one each of the portholes closed with a nauseating sucking sound. "Well, I think you've learned your lesson."

                  She looked over her shoulder at BackDoor's jovial face, contrasting wildly with Yobi's stunned silence.

                  "Zero Day are the ones that did it," said BackDoor. "So they can deal with it. Not. My. Problem." He waved, an action submerged in a mask of innocence. "Bye bye!"

                  His half of the screen blinked out, allowing Yobi to take over it. Socket stared back at the raichu, her chest still heaving as she tried to calm her blazing nerves.

                  "I don't know what's going on." He answered her unasked question. "Zero Day can now open gateways, and BackDoor's behaviour… I think they might be out of control."

                  Socket smoothed down her fur and leant back against her desk. Her eyes flit around the room, checking for any remaining pockets.

                  "You don't say?" she said. "What could have caused that?"

                  Yobi shrugged and looked down at his desk, absently running one paw over his arm. "I… I don't know. But I think we might have to shut them down. Postpone our plan until we've got them back under control."

                  "Postpone our plan?!" Socket gasped.

                  "I'm afraid so." Yobi glanced back up at her then back at the table. "If they're out of control, then they pose a threat to System, and to us."

                  Socket tapped her foot on the floor and looked over her shoulder at the window. Those electrical creatures. The rapidly discolouring air. She could already smell it drifting through her air filter. She reached across her desk to switch the filter on before turning back to Yobi.

                  "How do you plan on doing this?" she asked.

                  "I can create another virus," he explained. "One that can deactivate every android in the BackDoor network. If I had more time, I could create one that would give me remote access and direct them back to me, which would save time in rounding them up. But a program like that is complex… if you're wanting a faster approach-" He looked up to see Socket's nod. "Then I'll need to deactivate them and hunt around System to find them. Collect as many as I can and re-program them back to factory settings."

                  "That could take months, if not years. How about just one Zero Day model?"

                  Yobi scratched behind his ear and 'hmm'd'. "I suppose I could do that, but it might be a little more complex. I'd need to get it to just one model, and that won't be easy. Maybe if I just hunted one down-"

                  "Then do it quick," she said. "I want to leave this place before it gets any more toxic."

                  ...

                  Defrag leant back in her seat as she sipped a steaming cup of tea. Both feet lay across her desk and one of them bobbed back and forth to the deep beat of the music blaring from her computer's old speakers. As another tune cut through it, her eyes snapped open and tea sloshed over her chest. She yelped and placed the tea down with a clatter, reaching first for the box of tissues before grabbing her phone. She shot Tracer's name a venomous glare then answered it.

                  "Yes, Tracer?" she muttered as she dabbed at her fur.

                  "Are you all right, Defrag?" he asked quickly.

                  "Yes, just a little wet." She paused and narrowed her eyes. "Why? Shouldn't I be?"

                  "Oh no, you just sound stressed. Anyway, I have a little job for you."

                  She sat bolt upright, kicking her feet back to the ground. "A job?"

                  "Yes. Could you please contact Surge?"

                  Her heart plummeted and she sank back into her seat. "I thought she had a job with the mayor?"

                  "That's exactly why I need you to contact her," he said quietly. "Tell her we'll pay her double what Socket is. All I need her to do is find out exactly why Socket wants a human, and if she's responsible for that monster."

                  "Plural."

                  "Pardon?"

                  "I said plural." Defrag retrieved her keyboard and turned on her screen. Meta City News was still loaded, filled with ominous photos. "There's been an outbreak of monsters in Meta City. They're draining the city's electricity supply by attaching themselves to the air filters."

                  She could practically hear Tracer gasp and stutter as he struggled to find words.

                  "The infestation is bad, too," Defrag went on. "More and more monsters are showing up by the hour. It's only a matter of time until those trees give up and Meta City shares the very same air as us."

                  "Have they…" He paused to clear his throat. "Have they found out where they're coming from?"

                  "Yes. Apparently they're coming through some kind of porthole," Defrag explained. "They've also found the remains of destroyed robots in that very same area. Something from the old Porygon line, they believe. But it's difficult to tell which exactly from the burnt and melted remains. Socket has said they were sent in to try and close the porthole secretly, so as not to create an uproar, while her scientists deal with the threat. She claims to know nothing about it, but that there seems to be an outbreak of dimensional gateways opening across System and letting in what she's dubbed Ultra Beasts."

                  Tracer was silent as he took this in.

                  "You still want me to contact Surge?" Defrag asked.

                  "Socket obtained a human," he said. "A human that claims to be from a different time-line. And you're telling me she's calling these anomalies 'Dimensional Gateways'?"

                  Defrag scrolled through the interview. "That's what it says here."

                  "I have my doubts," said Tracer. "Contact Surge and ask her to keep an eye open. Quiz her on everything she knows. Call her back to the office if you need to."

                  "Fine. I'll do just that."

                  "Tell me exactly what she says," he went on. "And if you find out anything else, tell me. Don't delay."

                  "You got it."

                  "Take care, Defrag. Let's hope those things in Meta City stay there." He hung up.

                  Defrag let out a long sigh and let her arm flop over the arm of her chair. The article stared back at her, depicting a clear image of one of those strange, electrical monsters.

                  More desk work. And, by the sounds of it, Surge would get all the fun.

                  She lifted up her phone and dialled the zigzagoon's number. As it rang out, a soft scratching sound filled the office. She turned in her seat to face it, the phone still pressed to her ear. A shadow passed beyond the mucky window. Probably some little goon looking in again. She frowned and turned away, but it moved once more. Jagged limbs stuck out in an almost perfect star shape. It hovered there for a moment, then turned and took off towards the sky.

                  Defrag stared at the window, her heart racing. Her mouth hung open as she tried to catch her breath.

                  "…Hello? Defrag?"

                  Surge's voice snapped her back to reality and she took a few deep breaths to steady herself.

                  "Oh, Surge. Sorry… I…" She shook her head sharply. "Bad connection."

                  Surge was quiet for a moment. "Are you sure you're all right?"

                  "Yes." Defrag turned her chair fully from the window and brought up the Meta City News main page. "I'm just ringing to pass on a message, really. Tracer has a job for you."

                  "Well, that couldn't have come at a better time." Surge chuckled dryly. "I've just been fired from my old one."

                  Defrag felt her heart sink again and she released her computer mouse. "I'm not sure how much use you'll be then. He wants you to spy on Socket and see what she's up to."

                  "Explain."

                  "You've probably heard about this already, but apparently strange 'Dimensional Gateways' are opening across System, releasing monsters into our world."

                  "Oh. That." She chuckled again. "I know all about that, hon."

                  "Seriously?" Defrag raised an eyebrow. "What did Socket hire you for?"

                  "To take out that nuisance Hunter. He's been all up in her plans lately." Surge laughed again, but it didn't sound remotely jovial. "And so have I. You even seen the news? Check out the wanted posters."

                  Defrag hesitated for a moment, then opened the news site's Most Wanted link. There, right at the top, were Hunter and the rest of Wildcard Gamma. But beside them was a smiling picture of Surge. All of them were wanted for fifty thousand credits.

                  Defrag bit her lip and leant back in her seat again. "What did you do?"

                  "Let's just say I know everything about these 'Dimensional Gateways'." Surge paused, and Defrag thought she heard her smile. "So… what do you need to know?"
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                    #34    
                  Old June 30th, 2018 (6:29 AM).
                  Delirious Absol's Avatar
                  Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                  Call me Del
                     
                    Join Date: May 2015
                    Location: UK
                    Age: 33
                    Gender: Female
                    Nature: Quirky
                    Posts: 350
                    Chapter Fifty One

                    Floating cities drifted by on the horizon as Wildcard Gamma moved swiftly through the inhabited areas of System Sky. Macro leant on the dashboard, struggling to keep his eyes open. He yawned widely and watched one of the cities draw closer to his ship. Which one it was, he had no idea at this distance. But it wasn’t their destination, that much he knew.

                    The clatter of a mug appearing beside him snapped him out of his daze, and he looked down at a steaming mug of coffee.

                    “I really think you could use some sleep,” DL told him as she released the handle.

                    He took the mug in both paws before it slid off the dashboard to meet an unfortunate fate on the cockpit floor.

                    “I’m not sleeping until we’re back in civilization,” he told her.

                    “We are.” She placed her paws on her hips and frowned. “So get some sleep. You’re of no use to anyone the state you’re in now.”

                    “Coffee and some fresh air and I’ll be right as rain.” He sipped at his coffee and immediately regretted it as it burnt his lips. He set it back down quickly and whisked a paw across his mouth. “Besides, I’m not going to sleep while Ultra Beasts are wreaking havoc in my home.”

                    “It could take months to sort this out!” she gasped. “Get some rest.”

                    He waved a paw at the windows and looked at her pointedly. “We’ll get my ship somewhere safe, then I’ll sleep. ‘Kay?”

                    The pachirisu rolled her eyes and gazed out of the window. “Fine. But this macho attitude of yours isn’t doing anyone any favours.”

                    “Macho?” He narrowed his eyes as he took another - more cautious - sip of coffee.

                    “Yes. You think you’re stronger than you are.” She picked up a tray he’d failed to notice and made her way out of the cockpit. “You’re just another pokemon like the rest of us. And, just like the rest of us, you need sleep.”

                    Macro watched her go, still clutching the hot coffee in his paws. With a sigh, he turned back to the window and slowly sipped his drink.

                    The cockpit was oddly quiet. Anchor had gone for a lie down, and Matrix had decided to take a break and play some video games in his room.

                    Macro didn’t like to leave the cockpit empty, but DL was right. He did need sleep.

                    He placed his mug carefully on the dashboard, then let his head fall onto his arms as he sprawled across it. As soon as he closed his eyes, all he could see were distorted monsters. Blurry shapes that manifested into otherworldly creatures. Then that screaming bamboo face filled his vision. Its unearthly voice wailing through his mind.

                    His eyes snapped open again and he found himself trying to catch his breath. That beast had got to him. It was enough to make him miss his fiery nightmares.

                    A light paw fell on his shoulder and he glanced to the side, meeting DL’s gentle face. The warmth in her eyes chased away those frightening cobwebs and he lifted his head slightly to get a better look at her.

                    “I can take over in here,” she said. “Go on. Bed.”

                    “You know,” he said as he pushed himself up. “That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.”

                    “Glad to know I’ve got through to you.”

                    She stood aside as he clambered off his chair, then immediately pulled herself up into it.

                    “I might only nap for an hour or so,” he said. “I don’t think we’re too far from Cyan City.”

                    “Take as long as you need.”

                    She didn’t even look back at him. Somehow, that stabbed at his chest. He shook it off and reached into his pouch for his computer. At least he could get some reading done and catch up on things before letting sleep take over. Clear his mind.

                    As he left the room, he looked down at the screen. It was already lit up, showing the main page of Meta City News. His breath flew out of his lungs and he staggered into the wall. Wide, frantic eyes lingered over the screen as he tried to take it in.

                    Strange, black and white creatures clambered over buildings and the mechanical trees. Their bodies discharged electricity, engulfing those unfortunate enough to get too close. The headlines claimed they sucked electricity out of anything that produced it. The mechanical trees were twisted and broken beyond repair, allowing putrid air to enter Meta City.

                    His computer clattered to the floor, landing with the screen face up. Still broadcasting the horrific news. He slid down the wall but before he hit the floor he found himself caught in DL’s arms. She lowered him to the floor and sat down beside him, her entire body trembling. But somehow she managed to maintain her composure as she read over the nightmarish news.

                    “They’re going to be everywhere, aren’t they?” she said. “It makes me wonder how many there are, and how dangerous they really are.”

                    Macro’s eyes flitted towards her, but words failed to form. What did she mean? Surely those pictures alone showed how dangerous they are? Hadn’t that jellyfish killed other pokemon? That strange bamboo monster almost took out Wildcard Gamma!

                    The antenna behind her ear began to flash sporadically and her eyes went distant. Macro felt his heart sink, but the blank look in her eyes was fleeting.

                    “I’m getting a message,” she said.

                    “Ignore it.”

                    His voice came out strained, and he stared at her, silently pleading. But she took no notice. She just stared down at his computer, not seeing it, as she retreated into her own head.

                    No. He wasn’t having any of this BackDoor nonsense. Not on top of everything else.

                    His breath came in quick, shallow bursts and his eyes flickered towards the back of her head. He could stop it. He could stop BackDoor’s interference with his life. All he had to do was flick that switch.

                    He raised a trembling paw towards the base of her skull.

                    “It’s not off BackDoor.” She released him and reached for the computer. “Where’s the jack cable?”

                    Macro let his paw fall weakly onto his lap and he leant against the wall, watching DL as she scrambled around the cockpit. His head rolled back, stopped only by the cold wall, and he let out a strangled sob. Had he seriously tried to do that? To switch her off? She was a living pokemon, just like him. It was monstrous to even consider it.

                    Tears stung his eyes, threatening to leak out, and he clasped both paws over his face to stifle them. Or hide them. He felt too weak to hold them in.

                    “I’ve found it,” said DL. “I just have to download some data.”

                    Her words barely registered. He raked his claws over his face and took in a few deep breaths, but nothing could shake that dark cloud. That horrible realisation he’d just tried to get rid of her. Switch her off like some machine. He didn’t even know what damage that could do now she had her memories. Would she lose them? Revert back to a mindless computer? It didn’t bare thinking about.

                    Silence filled the cockpit, the only sounds his frantic breathing. He cracked his claws and peered through them. DL sat beside him with the jack lead in the back of her skull. The other end was in the bottom of his pocket computer. Her antenna flickered rhythmically, but she appeared as alert as ever, watching the screen patiently. Then she lifted a paw and removed the jack lead.

                    Macro lowered his paws and stared at her with his mouth open. He took a few breaths to steady himself, and she looked up at him with a smile.

                    “Done,” she said. “I think you might appreciate this.”

                    “I thought you… I dunno… went dormant when you had a jack cable in?”

                    She shrugged and retrieved his computer. “You’re usually downloading things to me at the time. I guess it’s different when I’m downloading data to a computer.”

                    He took another deep breath and pushed himself up, but he still felt weak. Guilty. Wretched.

                    “What did you do?” he asked.

                    “I got a message from Solgaleo,” she explained. “He sent me a data file containing information on all the Ultra Beasts. He called it an UltraDex.”

                    Macro sank back against the wall.

                    Solgaleo…

                    Solgaleo could send her data?

                    Of course he could. He’d been contacting Macro for days prior to reaching the Dead Glacier. Through dreams, sun-like images, and through a message on his computer no one else could see.

                    Macro grit his teeth together and screwed his eyes shut, letting out a strangled sob.

                    “Macro, are you okay?” DL asked.

                    He shook his head violently. “I… I thought it was BackDoor. I tried to switch you off…” His voice trailed off, but he dared not look at her. “You’re not just some machine, DL. Especially not to me. I don’t know what got into me. I… I’m terrified.”

                    He heard her shift, every movement tearing at his heart as he pictured her leaving the room.

                    “I think everything’s got on top of me,” he choked out. “What’s happening to my home?”

                    DL scooped an arm under his and gently lifted him to his feet. He opened his eyes and looked down at her, but she wasn’t looking at him. It pained him. He’d done it again. He’d hurt her.

                    He closed his eyes again and leant against her as she walked him from the cockpit.

                    “I’m sorry,” he choked. “I’m a real-”

                    “If you call yourself a jerk I’m gonna pour that coffee over your head.” She shook her head and sighed. “It’s understandable you’d be scared, Macro. I could easily have been assaulted by BackDoor, and if it did do anything… untoward… to me, then I’d want you to switch me off.”

                    “I will never do that to you.”

                    “If it was to save my life, or yours, or anyone on this ship, I’d want you to.”

                    Macro stiffened and glanced at her. But she still wasn’t looking at him. She stopped outside a door and he realised they’d reached his room. A quick flick of her paw opened the door and she steered him inside.

                    “Get yourself settled down,” she said softly. “I’ll be back shortly with a cocoa.”

                    He watched her leave, then climbed onto his bed, sitting hunched on top of his duvet. He didn’t want to climb under it. Didn’t want to sleep. His mind was a swirling mess and guilt still gnawed at him.

                    He looked around for his computer, but it was nowhere to be found. Maybe DL still had it? He sighed and leant back on his paws, looking up at the bare ceiling. Those wiry monsters were still clear in his mind, dragging down the mechanical trees and causing havoc in Meta City. He hoped desperately the city would be okay. He might not care for Socket, those monsters were mainly her fault, but there were still innocent pokemon living there. Innocent pokemon having their lives ruined by rampaging Ultra Beasts. Creatures they knew nothing about. Creatures that couldn’t be controlled or communicated with.

                    And it was all linked to BackDoor.

                    His mind went back to DL and he grimaced, trying to force the guilt away. But it was no use. It ate away at him.

                    The door hissed open and DL strolled in carrying two steaming mugs. A familiar, spicy smell filled his room as the door closed, trapping the steam inside.

                    “I made us occa cocoa.” She gave him a small smile. “I thought it might help you sleep.”

                    He took one of the mugs, not taking his eyes off her. She set the other one on his bedside unit then perched on the edge of his bed.

                    “Scooch,” she said.

                    His mind whirled with a new kind of confusion but he obeyed, edging along enough to allow her to sit beside him. She adjusted his two pillows against the wall and leant back, reaching into her pouch and pulling out his computer.

                    “What are you doing?” he finally asked.

                    “We’re going to look at this stuff Solgaleo sent us,” she explained. “He said it might help us to put things into perspective. Especially as we’ll be rounding those Ultra Beasts up.”

                    She loaded up the file and a little animation played across the screen. Some kind of blue and silver ball spun in the centre of the screen before it split in two like doors opening. A list of names filled the screen, each one numbered from one to eleven. The top one was Nihilego, which Macro instantly recognised.

                    “Let’s start with this one.” DL tapped the creature’s name and brought up a new display.

                    This one showed the creature in a little box, which changed at regular intervals to display it in different positions. Beside it’s picture was it’s typing. Rock and poison. Just like a pokemon, it had it’s own type.

                    Macro leant over her shoulder to read the description.

                    ‘Nihilego, also known as ‘Symbiont’, is an Ultra Beast that resides in a dimension called Deep Sea. It produces a neurotoxin to control other creatures, making them do its will. It can also control inanimate objects. Creatures and objects under its control often react in a violent way, but this is believed to be the creature’s way of defending itself. It will often resort to violence if it feels it’s suffering.

                    ‘When it’s not reacting in a volatile manner, it behaves in a very innocent manner. As it drifts around in its own environment it moves in an almost hypnotic fashion. It cannot survive for long outside of toxic air.’

                    “Sounds like it would be right at home in Proxy City,” said Macro.

                    “It also might explain its volatile manner while it was flying around System Sky,” said DL. “But it makes me wonder how long it can survive outside of toxic air, given it was in System for quite some time.”

                    Macro shrugged. “Even though they cleaned up the air, we’re still polluting it. Maybe it was enough to sustain it for a little while.”

                    “Maybe.” She sipped at her cocoa then tapped on another name. “Let’s look at this one.”

                    The next Ultra Beast looked like a large, muscular insect. The one following it was a lot more feminine. Macro wondered if they were from the same world, despite the different location names. When they got to the next one, Macro almost spilt his cocoa.

                    That electrical beast. The one he’d seen in the news report. Its name was Xurkitree. With a name, its existence seemed a lot more solid.

                    Xurkitree. An electric type, from a dimension called The Lightning Plantation.

                    ‘It energises itself with electricity, preying on anything that produces it. Although it prefers non-organic sources. As such it’s a common sight around electrical plants in its home world.

                    ‘It stands like a tree, with all five limbs pressed into the ground as it searches for electricity. It often draws lightning to itself in this position. The inhabitants of The Lightning Plantation sometimes tame them to use them as lightning rods, diverting lightning away from vulnerable areas.’

                    “Tame them?” Macro gasped. “They didn’t look like they could be tamed from those photos.”

                    DL shrugged. “Do you look good in all your photos?”

                    “Well… I… erm…” He stuttered and sipped at his cocoa. “I like to think I do.”

                    She chuckled and turned her head to look at him. “Shall we keep looking over this list? Or do you want to try and get some sleep?”

                    “I still don’t think I can,” he said, although a yawn betrayed him.

                    “Want me to read them to you?” she asked. “Then you can at least close your eyes.”

                    He shrugged and shuffled down against his pillow. “Sure.”

                    She opened up the next Ultra Beast, but the image made him sit up again. That bamboo creature… he’d only seen its head, but he recognised its face instantly. The rest of it was huge, sporting two cannons floating at its sides.

                    Steel and flying type. Apparently lived in a place called The Crater. It made him think of the moon, riddled with craters from meteor impacts. With those cannons, he wouldn’t be surprised if it made them.

                    “Celesteela,” said DL. “Despite being a steel and flying type, it draws nutrients from the soil like a plant. It can also create large roots, anchoring itself in place. Its cannons fire out various debris, from iron to fire. It’s been known to burn down entire forests. It shoots a flammable gas from its cannons to propel itself through the air for high speed flight.”

                    Macro clutched his mug tightly to stop his paws from trembling.

                    “C-can they… tame that one?” he asked.

                    DL placed a paw over the screen, blocking out the text and photo. “It doesn’t say. But… there’s no reason why not, is there?”

                    Macro looked away from her, fixing his attention on the door.

                    “Look, at least we know its weakness now,” she said.

                    “Yeh. Steel flying type.” He clutched his mug close to his lips. “I can’t do anything to it.”

                    “No, but Anchor can. And so can I.”

                    He turned to look at her again, catching a reassuring smile.

                    “Tomorrow, we’ll land somewhere and try out those Z-Moves,” she said. “Meanwhile, get some rest or you won’t be joining us.”

                    He sighed and returned to his pillow, shuffling down so his shoulders were resting against it. He quickly downed the remains of his cocoa then handed the mug back to DL.

                    She slipped from the bed and gathered up her own mug. The bed suddenly felt really cold, despite the warmth lingering behind where she’d been sat.

                    “Do you want me to leave your computer?” she asked.

                    “Please.” He diverted his eyes from hers. “I might need it.”

                    She nodded and placed it carefully on the night stand. Then she turned to leave his room. The door opened, but she paused in the doorway and looked back at him.

                    “I’ll be in the cockpit if you need me,” she said.

                    He watched the door close, leaving him feeling very cold and alone. But at least she wasn’t annoyed with him. That gnawing guilt had been swiftly expunged. With a sigh, he shuffled under his duvet and rearranged his pillows. A soft scent wafted up from the one DL had been leaning against. It smelled just like her. A soft sweetness hidden beneath the lavender from the ship’s shower. It warmed him from the inside. Enough to make him want to run after her.

                    He bit back the urge and tucked the pillow beside him, turning his back on it. But it was still there. He stared at the wall, trying to ignore it. But he was convinced it was getting worse. It was oddly soothing…

                    As he closed his eyes, he found himself rolling over, snuggling into the pillow. Before he knew it, he was sound asleep.

                    ...

                    Annie burst from the Moonlight Lounge, still clutching the dazed chatot in her claws. A loud laugh escaped her and she turned to shout over her shoulder.

                    “I thought that might motivate you!”

                    The rest of her crew were mixed amid the riled rabble that pursued her down the street. Lasers fired left and right, widely missing her as the space pirates intended to slow her down more so than actually hit her. Something whizzed over her head, slicing through the air, and she ducked with a squeak. A silver disk bounced ahead of her, rolling down the street on its serrated edge. An arrow lay discarded behind it, the sharp point of its feather blunted where it had struck something solid.

                    She trampled over it and glanced back at the crowd. Waveform had caught up with her now, notching another feather onto his vine. Widget’s brown tail bobbed up and down behind the decidueye as he ran in circles, throwing his weight around to knock the faster pirates back into the mob. Those less fortunate to land on their feet were trampled beneath those bigger than them, creating a trip hazard to slow the space pirates down.

                    “Not too far now,” said Waveform. “Keep running.”

                    Annie laughed and picked up her pace, speeding around a corner onto the docks. Adrenaline fired through her veins, and her lungs felt fit to burst. It was fabulous.

                    The colourful hulls of the ships filled the docks, as did the colourful forms of many more pirates. Bright eyes widened as the mob followed the maniacal archeops, fixing on the angered faces and the frantic feathers clutched in her claws. The irritating chatot decided to dig his hooked beak into her claws between desperate cries for help that were drowned out beneath the enraged voices that filled the street.

                    Annie made a beeline for her pyukumyuku ship, and her smile widened when she saw the pokemon waiting around it. Web and Zip stood behind N0ize, the incineroar’s nonchalance contrasting wildly with the fear in the other two’s eyes. He stood with his arms folded and flashed her a single canine in a playful grin. Another pokemon stood a few feet away from him, leaning on a bollard. A magmortar, his right arm decked out with a flashy cybernetic canon. His eyes were locked on Annie and Waveform, occasionally going to the bird flapping in her grip. Blue, white and yellow feathers drifted around her feet as she rushed towards her ship, but not without another glance over her shoulder.

                    “Y’all might wanna think about what I said!” she roared.

                    More lasers fired, more items were thrown, another arrow went whizzing over her head to impale another disk into the immaculate hull of a lanturn ship. Some pirate was going to be very upset about that.

                    Annie skidded to a halt before N0ize and lifted Hatter up high above her head. His beak aimed for her eye, reaching just shy of it. The archeops didn’t so much as flinch.

                    “Alright, listen!” she snapped at the oncoming mob. “I’m gonna take off with this parrot, and y’all are gonna let me!”

                    The mob didn’t stop running. Some of the bystanders abandoned their leisure to intervene, trying to hold some of the angry pirates back. Others decided to join in, rushing at her from the street only to be held back by a gunk shot from Web. Lasers and elemental attacks whizzed over the heads of the living barrier, skimming Annie’s ship and narrowly missing her feathers.

                    Widget cut through the barrier of pirates, landed at her feet and turned his back on her. “Get on your dumb ship, human!”

                    “Come on, Annie.” Web placed a paw on her shoulder and steered her to the door. “We’re not wanted here.”

                    “They just want to eat me,” Zip said weakly.

                    Annie didn’t budge. The goldeen’s mechanical feet clambered up the tinny door into the ship behind her, and he paused at the doorway.

                    “Hurry, before they add archeops to the menu!” he cried.

                    “Flambeed parrot, anyone?” Annie waved Hatter at the crowd. “Because mark my words, I’ll plunge him into one of your laser attacks!”

                    “What?!” Hatter screeched. “Are you crazy?!”

                    “Yes.”

                    N0ize strode to her side and shoved her backwards. A stray laser nearly clipped his ear, singing the fur at the tip, but he didn’t appear to notice or care.

                    “All right, I think we’ve had enough here, don’t you?” he said.

                    The magmortar abandoned his post against the bollard and cut her off from view, aiming his cybernetic canon at the mob. A deep, pulsating noise filled the air, followed by a beam of electricity. It flew out of his canon with a deafening screech, causing those closest to him to cover their ears and flinch back. The mob was brought to a halt as the beam flew over their heads and punched a neat hole a billboard atop a casino. The beam blinked out as rapidly as it had started, plunging the docks into silence. The damaged billboard teetered backwards then crashed down onto the roof with an almighty clatter.

                    “I think we’re all better’n this,” N0ize rumbled. “Get yer fuzzy asses back to Moonlight Lounge, you drunkards.”

                    “She’s taking off with Hatter!” came a very squeaky voice from deep within the mob.

                    Other voices rose up to join in, each stating their concerns for the chatot. A majority of the concerns were more about needing him to run a few errands or pay their rewards, which Annie thought was a little unfair.

                    The magmortar raised his cannon again, and the voices all cut off simultaneously.

                    “Yeh?” N0ize spat towards the lanturn ship then fixed a leer on the crowd. “You ever thought she might have good reason?”

                    “Bounty hunter!” someone cried. “She’s a bounty hunter!”

                    “Waltzing in here for that jackin’ mayor!” said another.

                    “I don’t work for no mayor!” Annie put her paws on her hips and flinched as Hatter dug his beak into her scaly leg. “I thought I made that clear in that… Mooney… Loungey place.”

                    Waveform backed towards her, keeping his arrow notched. Tracer came from the other side, watching the mob over his shoulder with his paw clutched over his stick, which was partially buried in his tail. He ducked his head as someone let out an electric attack, and the sparks bounced off an innocent bollard, shattering it on impact. He looked over at Annie, wide-eyed, and opened his mouth to speak, but a loud shout from the crowd cut him off.

                    Trojan bolted from amid the group, eyes filled with fire. Tracer seemed to relax momentarily and he looked up at the scrafty.

                    “Where did you get-”

                    “Get on the ship!” Trojan’s roar had been aimed at Annie.

                    He bolted past her, knocking the detective off balance, and clattered up onto the ship, causing it to rock precariously. Tracer stumbled backwards, steadying himself against the lanturn ship.

                    “Come on, Annie.” Waveform placed a paw on her shoulder and backed towards the pyukumyuku. “We’re leaving.”

                    Annie didn’t even look up at him. Her attention was still fixed on the angry mob.

                    “I have you know I don’t work for the mayor!” she said. “I’m trying to stir all you pirates up into a frenzy! One day, that mayor will be gone and we’ll have ourselves to thank!”

                    She thudded her chest with her claws, Hatter swaying unceremoniously. His face had turned a little pale beneath his black plumage.

                    “Lies!” one of the pirates shouted.

                    This was enough to stir up the others. They pushed back against the barrier of pirates, not so much as flinching as the magmortar raised his railgun cannon once more.

                    The pyukumyuku flared to life, its tinny hull rattling like a can of coins.

                    “Annie!” Web poked her head out of the door. “Come on! We’re leaving!”

                    N0ize chuckled and shook his head, while Tracer fidgeted his paws together. He brandished his stick and aimed it into the crowd.

                    “Time’s running out.” He sent out a flamethrower, singing the fur of a purugly. “I hope you’ve got a backup plan other than spouting another monologue!”

                    Web looked back into the ship, stepping aside to let Waveform on. Trojan had sat himself down at the steering controls, muttering curses as he stared at Annie’s back.

                    “Do we have a backup plan?” Web asked. “She won’t move.”

                    “I’m on it! Don’t nag me.” Trojan lifted a paw and struck The Big Red Button.

                    A white, sticky mass shot out of the pyukumyuku’s nose, stretching out like a set of claws. Annie was on a ramble about mayors and fishes, much to the confusion of the space pirates since it had stopped making any coherent sense. The gooey claws fastened around her waist, plucking her from the docks.

                    A small yelp left her throat as the stretchy mass shot back towards the pyukumyuku’s nose, dragging her deep within its confines. The last thing the crowd heard as it snatched her on board was:

                    “This is mutiny!”

                    Trojan grimaced and looked back at Web and Waveform. The pyukumyuku rose from the docks, sending the two off balance. Zip’s metal claws screeched over the surface as he slid backwards into the skuntank’s arms. She made sure the goldeen was securely locked in place then settled herself into her seat.

                    “I don’t think she liked that,” said Zip weakly.

                    “I have to agree,” said Waveform. “I feel it was a little discourteous.”

                    “I don’t really care,” said Trojan, rubbing the back of his neck with a grimace. “She was causing a jackin’ ruckus. We coulda been killed.”

                    “Murder is illegal, even in Pulse City,” said Web. “The worst that could have happened-”

                    “Is monslaughter,” said Trojan. “I reckon some got trampled to death in that mob and it’s all her fault. I have every right mind to keep her in the cargo bay until we reach… I dunno…”

                    “Wave City,” said Zip. “She told me we’d go to Wave City and talk to the water types.”

                    Trojan leant on his paw and frowned at the blackness ahead. “Right now, I couldn’t care less.”

                    Banging came from beneath them, shaking the seats. The scrafty grit his teeth together and fought back the urge to stamp his foot in response.

                    “Anyway, she can stay there for a while,” he grumbled. “I need to cool off.”

                    “Can’t she get out?” Web asked.

                    “’Course not,” said Trojan. “What kinda jackass leaves a cargo bay door unlocked? That’s just askin’ for trouble.”

                    “Then someone should go and get her.”

                    Waveform glanced back down the ship then made his way towards the captain’s seat. Before he could lower himself into it, Trojan looked up at him and froze him in place with a glare.

                    “Then I vouch you do it,” he said. “’Cos if I see her, I’m gonna pluck her feathers out.”

                    Waveform’s face paled and his eyes flit left and right. He cleared his throat and lowered his scarf from his metallic beak.

                    “I speak for all avians when I say please… don’t do that.”

                    “She ain’t avian. She’s human.” Trojan waved a paw, brushing off Waveform’s crimson leer. “Go get her. Then use your scarf to gag her.”

                    “What’s got your gogoat?” Web snapped.

                    Trojan scoffed and snapped his head around to face her, flinching with the momentum. “I got trampled! Trampled! I ain’t ever been so freakin’ humiliated!”

                    Web’s jaw dropped and she rose to her feet.

                    “Sit down!” Trojan snapped, watching as she slumped back into her seat. “Worst thing was that shamus saw everything. That look of concern on his wretched face, fighting back as he got swept away. Like I wanted his help…” The scrafty yawned and leant back in his seat, spotting Waveform still watching him. “You gettin’ her or what?”

                    Waveform shook his head with a sigh and turned towards the cargo bay. The little hatch was built into the floor, right at the back of the ship. He pulled it open and leant his head inside, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Something small crashed back and forth, bouncing off the walls and squawking insults. It turned and shot towards Waveform, startling the decidueye back onto the ship. A loud hoot escaped his beak, much to his dismay, and he watched the chatot bolt from the hatch and crash into the ceiling. He fell back through the hatch like a stunned chick.

                    Waveform clambered down, scooping Hatter up under one wing. He spotted Annie lying in a tangled sprawl a few feet away. She writhed beneath the sticky mass, fixing her eyes on him.

                    “A little help here?” she asked.

                    Waveform deposited Hatter and scrambled over to her. The pyukumyuku’s ‘innards’ were still fastened around her small frame. He grabbed at them in his paws and tugged them free. They weren’t so much sticky as they were gooey and difficult to latch onto. Once he’d prised them free, Annie staggered to her feet and shook out her dishevelled feathers. A few yellow ones fell free, joining a goopy mass of them on the floor. Waveform shook a couple from his paws then wiped them down on his chest.

                    “Thank you,” she said. “Now I need to speak to the designer behind this ridiculous yet genius idea and request they never use it on me again.”

                    He gave her a curt nod and gathered up the stunned chatot. Fortunately Trojan had installed a ladder, making climbing out of the cargo bay relatively easy. Once they were back on board, Annie marched to her seat and flopped back into it, kicking her talons up onto the dashboard.

                    Trojan fired her a sideways glare and smirked. “You’re the one who requested a pyukumyuku.”

                    “Yeh, that was genius.” She scratched some goop off her shoulder and grinned at him. “Do that to me again and you’re fired.”

                    “Where do you want our hostage?” Waveform asked.

                    She turned to look at him and frowned at the parrot cradled in his right wing.

                    “Do we have a cage?” she asked.

                    Waveform’s beak fell open and both Web and Zip gaped at her wordlessly.

                    “What?” Annie shrugged. “Back in my world, we sometimes keep birdies in cages.”

                    “Well we’re not in your world,” said Trojan. “A cage is a prison cell.”

                    “Then… set him in a corner somewhere until he wakes up.” Annie yawned and leant her head back in her seat. “I’ll give him my request later. Then we can discuss how much we can pay him.”

                    “Pay him?” Trojan scoffed.

                    “We don’t really have much money, dear,” said Web. “We can’t pay him.”

                    “Then we make money.” Annie reached into her pouch and pulled out the poster she’d claimed from Hatter’s stall. “There are a couple of guys we can round up. They’re worth a pretty penny.”

                    Waveform took the poster from her and unravelled it. “Hunter? His bounty’s gone up again.”

                    “You know this mawile?” Annie pointed a claw at the wanted poster.

                    “Not personally. But there’s not a pokemon in System who’s managed to get so much as close to arresting him. You think we can catch him, you’re living a pipe dream.”

                    “What about the other one then?” She tapped the sheet.

                    He turned it over, revealing the second target. “Surge? What did she do?”

                    “Sounds like you know her then.”

                    “We’ve done a job or two together,” he said. “Split the reward, although she always left with more so I stopped bothering. Sounds like she’s got her paws dirty in government secrets.” He looked up at Annie and cleared his throat. “Much like us, I guess.”

                    She waved a wing at him and turned away. “I ain’t no government secret.”

                    Purple streaked across the sky like a dart and she leant forward, straining to make it out. She wasn’t alone. Trojan stared at it too, frowning at the anomaly.

                    “Is that a shooting star?” she gasped. “Didn’t think they were purple.”

                    “That ain’t no star, we ain’t high enough,” said Trojan.

                    “What is it then?” Annie nudged him. “You got a telescope?”

                    He beat her claws away and urged the ship forward. “No I ain’t got no telescope. Shut up while I try to get us closer.”

                    “You seriously think we can catch it in this…” Web waved at the ship’s walls. “This… hunk of-”

                    Trojan and Annie both glared over their shoulders.

                    The skuntank cleared her throat and smiled. “Hunk of fantastic design?”

                    “The engine I bought might not be the latest model.” Waveform sat in his seat and secured himself in. “But I can assure you we can at least catch up with that creature.”

                    “Creature?” Annie looked back at him. “You think that’s a creature?”

                    “Is your vision not as good as mine?” Waveform asked. “I can make that out clearly. It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

                    Annie squinted at it. “It just looks like a purple blob to me.”

                    “Wait for it,” said Trojan. “We’re getting up to five hundred and fifty miles per hour here. If I were to guess, that thing is flying closer to four hundred.”

                    She clapped her claws together and bounced in her seat. “Oh! This is getting exciting!”

                    “I’d like to ask what you expect,” said Trojan. “But given random creatures have been showing up, I’m gonna hazard a guess this is one of them.”

                    “I think you might be right,” said Waveform.

                    “Well, we’re gaining on it quickly,” said Trojan. “And it appears to be slowing down.”

                    “What do you plan to-” Waveform’s voice cut off with a grunt and he keeled forward in his seat.

                    Hatter shot over to Annie and landed on her shoulder, screeching in her ear.

                    “You crazy moron! What do you think you-” He trailed off and looked out of the window. His tiny eyes widened like saucers and he clutched her head with both wings. “What on earth is that?!”

                    “Hang on a sec…” Annie grinned widely, brushing the chatot aside. “It looks like an onion!”

                    The odd, purple creature turned its bulbous head back towards them. When it spotted the ship, it flicked its long tail and tried to speed up.

                    “Are you jackin’ serious?” Trojan leered at her. “What kind of freak-ass onions did you used to eat?”

                    “The ones that came on my plate,” said Annie. “Can this hunk of fantastic design go any faster?”

                    He muttered under his breath and pressed the ship onward. It gained fractionally in speed, drawing them closer to the fleeing creature.

                    “What do you expect us to do when we get close to it?” Web asked, somewhat apprehensively.

                    “Simple.” Annie kicked her feet up again and leant back, almost sending Hatter to the floor. “We catch it with that goop thing you used on me.”

                    “I have to say,” said Waveform. “This creature doesn’t look much like the celebi I’ve seen in drawings.”

                    “Neither does Annie’s archeops form,” said Zip.

                    “Exactly,” said Annie. “So let’s hurry up and catch that Time Onion.”

                    Web pointed a claw at the blob. “You actually want to catch this?”

                    “Yep.”

                    “Without knowing for certain that this is a celebi?”

                    “Yep.”

                    “And hold it in this ship?”

                    “Yep.”

                    Web shook her head and let it fall into her open paws.

                    “I got a question.” Trojan turned fully in his seat to face her. “Are you crazy?”

                    “I’ve already answered that question once today.” She yawned again and glanced down at The Big Red Button. “I guess that’s the one you use to set it off? Or… it deposits the ship’s engine like in those daft films I watched as a kid.”

                    Trojan leant defensively over the button. “I’m not having some unknown creature on this ship.”

                    Annie looked back out of the window. The creature was in plain view. A violet body with a long, reptilian tail. Its bulbous head had some kind of needle-like appendage sticking out of it, yet its arms and legs made its appearance oddly cute. It looked quite like a pokemon, except one she’d never seen. Although that was hardly a feat given she’d not seen all that many. Nevertheless, it did look onion-like in an odd not-quite-an-onion kind of way.

                    Maybe it was a red onion?

                    She scratched her nose and looked back down at what she could see of The Big Red Button. She hadn’t seen how far Innards Out could reach. And with Trojan guarding the button like a mighteyena with a bone, she only had one chance to get it right.

                    Her eyes flew to Hatter, cowering on her shoulder, his beak hanging open as he stared at the blob’s purple bottom.

                    “Hmm…” She ran a claw under her chin and glanced up at the ceiling.

                    “She’s plotting something,” whispered Zip.

                    Closer now. Still out of her own physical reach, but the creature’s head kept turning back and its bright eyes kept widening whenever it saw them.

                    Annie reached up and grabbed Hatter, eliciting a squeak from him. Then she tossed him at Trojan’s face. Flapping wings and scrambling talons sent the scrafty reeling back in his seat, roaring profanities. She leapt across the dashboard and struck The Big Red Button. The white goopy mass lurched out of the ship’s nose much faster than the ship could physically fly. It engulfed the creature full on, swallowing it up in the stretchy, claw-like tendrils. It then retracted back into the ship with just as much speed as it left.

                    A grin split Annie’s face and she leant back into her seat, kicking her talons back up onto the dashboard.

                    The ship fell silent. All eyes were on her. Hatter perched on the back of Trojan’s chair, clutching the scrafty’s cheek in both wings. Trojan didn’t seem to care. His expression went from terrified to angry in the blink of an eye, and he exploded from his seat, sending Hatter flapping over to Web.

                    “I told you not to press it!” he roared.

                    Annie wagged a claw at him. “You never, ever tell someone not to press a red button. It makes it even more tempting!”

                    “But now we have a strange, potentially dangerous creature on the ship!”

                    “No we don’t.” She rose to her feet and strolled towards the hatch. “It’s Annie’s Time Onion. By the way, it’s dark down there. Does anyone have a torch?”

                    ...
                    Tracer and Widget watched the pyukumyuku ship surge into the horizon, its movements ungainly and sporadic. The mob had died down now. Pokemon returned to their previous endeavours, or boarded their ships to leave Pulse City. Tracer had held back perchance any had tried to pursue the human, but so far the only ships that had left the dock had gone off in other directions.

                    “We’re not going after her?” Widget asked.

                    “Oh, we are.” Tracer stubbed out his cigar on the remains of the shattered bollard and thrust his paws into his trench coat pockets. “I just don’t want her to think we’re giving chase.”

                    “She gets much further out, we’re gonna lose her.”

                    “I wouldn’t worry about that.” N0ize’s voice startled the two detectives.

                    Tracer looked over at the incineroar, leaning against the hull of their alomomola. The magmortar was still with him, feverishly polishing his railgun appendage.

                    The incineroar flashed a grin. “My ship could track her no problem. Got sensors that can pick up ships hundreds of miles away.”

                    Tracer choked on his own spittle while Widget almost fell over on his haunches. Tracer strove to regain his composure and tried to mask his surprise behind clearing his throat.

                    “I’d like to ask how you got your paws on such equipment,” he began, “given the distance most top government ships can reach is only a couple of hundred miles.”

                    N0ize maintained his grin for a painfully long, silent moment, causing Tracer to sweat under his coat.

                    “That’s classified,” said the space pirate.

                    Tracer’s ears sank and he nodded sullenly. “Well, we hate to disappoint you, but-”

                    “We’ve got our own ship,” said Widget.

                    “What?” N0ize nodded behind him at the alomomola. “This pink thing? Little girly, ain’t it?”

                    “It’s not girly!” Widget yapped.

                    “It is a little girly,” Tracer told him.

                    “All right, fine.” Widget rolled his eyes. “It’s girly. But it flies, and it has two bedrooms.”

                    “Not really enough room for little you if your boss and I each get a room, is there?” N0ize folded his arms and smirked.

                    Widget’s tail went limp and his jaw went slack. He looked between the incineroar and Tracer, fixing the latter with pleading puppy eyes.

                    “I’m not so sure what makes you think were taking you with us,” said Tracer. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your help-”

                    “He helped?” Widget asked.

                    “-But I think we’re okay from here,” Tracer finished, blatantly ignoring his small companion.

                    “You’re kiddin’ me, right?” N0ize scratched inside his ear and flicked away what Tracer desperately hoped wasn’t a flea. “You get me all involved with this human of yours and you expect me to just go away quietly? I got questions, fuzz. Besides, I really wanna see how this all plays out. She caused quite a stir here. I reckon she’ll cause even bigger stirs down on System Ground.”

                    The incineroar’s face split into an even bigger grin, flashing one of his sharp canines. The magmortar looked up from his railgun and frowned between the space pirate and detectives.

                    “So… where’s she goin’ next?” N0ize asked.

                    Tracer shrugged. “No idea. But she appears to be heading in the direction of Meta City.”

                    “She lands there, she’s got a death wish.” N0ize nodded to the other fire type who returned to his polishing. “She’s gonna need a little backup.”

                    Tracer’s heart sank. So both pirates were wanting to squeeze themselves onto his ship? Things were starting to feel a little cozy. And somewhat dangerous.

                    “Thank you, gentlemon,” he said. “But we’ll be taking our leave now.”

                    N0ize laughed while the magmortar rolled his eyes.

                    “You hear that, Cyph3r?” N0ize nudged the magmortar with his elbow. “They think they’re just gonna leave us behind!” He fixed Tracer in a leer decorated with a grin to make it even more menacing. “I think not, fuzz. You need backup. This has gone too deep even for you. With Socket, and with Pulse City. You turn away from us, you’ll leave yourselves vulnerable to a whole host of enemies waiting to tear you limb from limb. Those pokemon you cheezed off in Moonlight Lounge? They’ll recognise you, and they’ll come for you. It also won’t be long until Socket realises you’ve turned tail on her, helpin’ the human raise a rebellion against her, against meat eaters, and whatever else sparks her fancy. ‘Cos let’s face it, she’s a tickin’ time bomb of disaster waitin’ to happen. And I wanna see it! So get your two fuzzy tails onto my sharpedo and we’ll head on out to tail that human you’re so fixated with.”

                    Tracer stared at him, open mouthed. Widget gave a pained whimper beside him, his brown eyes fixed on the alomomola. Tracer counted off his list of crimes. Failing to apprehend Annie, more and more willingly with each fail. Selling a government ship. Assisting in causing a scene. Partnering with space pirates. Now he was going to abandon his ill-gotten ship to hot tail it across System with a pair of space pirates who only wanted to see the mayor fall off her high horse and all of System to go into an uproar.

                    All for the sake of fun.

                    Fun or not, two large pokemon backing him wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

                    “Okay. We’ll go with you.” He pointed a claw at N0ize’s chest. “But I’m in charge.”

                    The incineroar threw his head back and laughed heartily. “Of course. This is your little mission after all. We’re just hired paws.”

                    N0ize met Tracer’s confused gape with yet another grin and moved away around the other side of the alomomola. Tracer followed after him with Widget in tow.

                    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” the eevee muttered.

                    Tracer said nothing. But oh how he wanted to agree.

                    Sat in the docks, dwarfed by the alomamola, was the stout form of a sharpedo. Painted along the side of it was a word Tracer never wished to repeat. N0ize stood beside its jaws and beckoned him on board.

                    “We board through its mouth?” Widget’s voice didn’t hide his disgust.

                    “I guess so,” Tracer muttered.

                    “Goin’ off the size of it, you and I will be bunking in the cargo hold,” the eevee snorted.

                    As they stepped forwards, the ground lurched. Voices rose into an uproar, and Tracer turned slowly with a sinking feeling deep within his gut. Surely the human hadn’t actually left a ‘ticking time bomb of disaster’ somewhere deep within Pulse City?

                    “Tracer…” Widget’s voice wavered.

                    The delphox followed his friend’s eyes towards the tall buildings in the distance. Towering over them was a creature he’d never seen before. Tall, slender at the top and wide towards its shoulders. The rest of it vanished beyond the buildings. Then there was the scream. An unearthly scream coming from that very monster. Two canons sat at either side of it, and it lifted one, aiming it towards the heart of Pulse City. Towards them.

                    “Get on the ship!” Widget yapped.

                    He turned tail and Tracer followed after him. They dived after N0ize, and the shark-shaped ship’s jaws snapped shut behind them.

                    Cyph3r was already at the controls, pulling the ship out of the docks. Tracer stared from the window, his eyes locked on the glowing cannon.

                    “What is that thing?” N0ize asked, his voice wavering uncharacteristically.

                    Tracer shook his head slowly. “I regret to say I’ve no idea.”

                    A flash split the sky as the cannon fired into Pulse City. Then a sound like thunder. An explosion of green and ruin.
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                      #35    
                    Old July 7th, 2018 (1:37 AM).
                    Delirious Absol's Avatar
                    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                    Call me Del
                       
                      Join Date: May 2015
                      Location: UK
                      Age: 33
                      Gender: Female
                      Nature: Quirky
                      Posts: 350
                      Chapter Fifty Two

                      Macro woke up in a tangle of sheets with his face still buried into his pillow. At some point he’d flipped over, dragging the pillow with him. He propped it against the wall and rolled onto his back to reach for his computer. A faint trickle of light came through the window, but it wasn’t enough to gauge what time it was.

                      Eight thirty in the morning. He’d slept right through the breakfast alarm.

                      He groaned and unwound himself from his sheets, hastily remaking the bed as a final decision to not climb back into it. Then he grabbed his belt and scarf and made for the door.

                      His sleep had been somewhat dreamless, and he’d needed it. The immense grogginess that filled his head was something he’d become accustomed to after a good night’s sleep. After a strong coffee and a pile of steaming pancakes to clear the cobwebs away, he’d be good to go.

                      He yawned widely and paused to poke his head into the cockpit. Matrix leant back in his seat with his over-sized headphones on, nodding along to some music Macro could only faintly make out. A loud clatter came from the kitchen and Macro slipped into it, spotting Cookie doubled over by the oven. He swiftly mopped up what looked like caramel, muttering to himself about being a klutz, while DL silently set the table. She beamed when she spotted Macro, causing him to flush under his fur.

                      “You’ve got a late start,” he said.

                      “I know. I requested it.” She turned back to Cookie and stooped to help him mop up the sticky mess. “I thought you could all use a lie in.”

                      Stomping feet thundered down the corridor and Anchor exploded into the kitchen. He grabbed the doorway and stared inside, his chest heaving. He looked over at Cookie and DL, eyed the set table and the steaming stove, and immediately relaxed.

                      Macro grabbed his seat and sank down into it. “I appreciate the thought, DL, but your message clearly didn’t reach the rest of the crew.”

                      “I did leave a note on the door for anyone who got up early.” She rung out the wet cloth into the sink. “Matrix is obviously the only early riser.”

                      As though on cue, the ribombee buzzed over Anchor’s head and landed gracefully in his seat.

                      “I trust you slept well?” DL asked Macro.

                      “Like a log.” He yawned again and leant his groggy head on his paw. “Is there an ETA on the coffee?”

                      “Coming right up!” Cookie straightened and grabbed the cafetiere from beside the stove. “I’m a little out of sorts this morning, so please forgive me if it’s a little weak.”

                      Macro poured a coffee for himself and Matrix then took a sip from his mug. It was a little weak. He frowned slightly but let it slide, settling back in his seat.

                      Cookie clenched his paws over his stomach, eyeing Macro curiously. “So it’s okay? Thank goodness.”

                      Matrix sipped his coffee and spoke without looking up. “It could have used an extra minute.”

                      The slurpuff stuttered and looked over at Macro again.

                      Macro cracked an eye open. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

                      Cookie waddled back to his stove and busied himself over various sticky sauces.

                      Anchor slumped down beside Macro and poured his own mug. “Someone either slept like a king, or is just desperate for a coffee this morning.”

                      Macro said nothing as he sipped his drink, feeling it warm every nerve. He watched DL assist Cookie, muttering things to him that had some kind of placating affect on the jittery slurpuff. Her thick tail was held in a neat curl over her back as she moseyed back and forth, and the warm light from the fluorescent bulb highlighted every subtle curve of her body. Her gentle smile and chocolate fondue eyes only added to the warmth and peacefulness she seemed to radiate.

                      “Cap’n?”

                      Macro blinked and looked away from DL to meet Anchor’s raised eyebrow.

                      “Did you hear me?” he asked. “I said we’re only fifteen minutes away from Meta City. Is that our next destination?”

                      Macro almost spilled his coffee. A few drops sloshed over the side as he tried to steady it, peppering the table with little, dark spots.

                      “I thought we were headed to Cyan City,” he said. “When did we-”

                      “Don’t worry, we’re not going to Meta City,” said DL. “I spoke to Matrix last night. We agreed it might be a good idea to scope out the damage these Ultra Beasts are doing.”

                      “What?” Macro fixed wide violet eyes on hers. “But I thought… aren’t they actually in Meta City?”

                      “Yes, but we can get a feel for that in the outskirts,” DL explained. “You can still see the mechanical trees from the outskirts, right? So we’ll be able to see the Xurkitree’s behaviour for ourselves. Rather than reading up and absorbing mindless propaganda.”

                      “It would have been nice if you’d run it by me first,” said Macro. “I mean, with everything that’s going on right now - even space pirates are after me! - it’s not safe for us all to just go down into the outskirts.”

                      “Not to mention our bounty’s gone up.” Matrix nonchalantly sipped his mug while thumbing over his computer screen.

                      “What?” Macro stared, dumbfounded at him.

                      “You did know that, right? Fifty thousand credits?” Matrix turned his computer so Macro could see it. “Not just you and Surge. All of us are wanted now. Fifty thousand big ones. Except Cookie.”

                      “Not a space pirate,” Cookie chimed from the stove.

                      Macro blinked as it all came back to him, and his mug clattered to the table. He tugged at the fur on his head and groaned. “That complicates things even more!”

                      “Come on, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We were all wanted ‘mon anyway. How does this change things?”

                      “A bigger price attracts more bounty hunters,” said Macro. “And no space pirate is gonna sniff at fifty thousand, let alone the opportunity to claim it three times over!”

                      Matrix shrugged and dragged his computer back to himself, holding his mug in one paw as he continued reading over the recent news.

                      “We’ve been asked to turn these beasts in,” said Anchor. “I say we not let this mishap put us off.”

                      Macro narrowed his eyes at him. “Mishap?”

                      “Aye. I mean, would you let it put you off getting the rest of DL’s memories?”

                      “I might proceed with some caution.”

                      “Since when did you use caution?” Anchor choked back a laugh. “You show up guns blazin’ no matter what the situation.”

                      Macro turned away from him and clutched the hot mug to his chest. “This is different. Space pirates now want me, there are strange alien beasts destroying cities, and we’ll be right in the thick of the action from both the beasts, thugs and Socket’s goons!”

                      “And if there are any space pirates down there,” said Matrix, “you can add ruffians to that list.”

                      DL chuckled and popped a plate of pancakes in the middle of the table.

                      Macro eyed them, suddenly void of his appetite. Nevertheless, he grabbed a couple and dropped them onto his plate. If he was going to go with DL’s bonkers plan, he was going to need his strength.

                      “So who’s going down into the outskirts?” Anchor asked.

                      “I was thinking we could discuss that.” DL pulled up a seat beside Macro and placed a hot pan of chocolate sauce before him. “Like Macro said, we need to be cautious.”

                      “And none of us have practised these Z-Moves,” said Macro. “I sense a problem there already.”

                      “We’re not going to fight the Ultra Beasts,” she said. “We’re gathering data. We need to get them home, like Solgaleo said.”

                      “And what if one attacks us?”

                      “Beat it back and run. Just don’t hurt it.”

                      Macro stuck his fork into his pancakes as the screaming face of Celesteela filled his mind. ‘It’s been known to burn down entire forests.’ Blazing trees receded into burning buildings and he shook his head sharply to dislodge the onset of another flashback.

                      “You alright, Cap’n?”

                      He met Anchor’s concerned face and returned to his pancakes, stuffing a forkful into his mouth. He barely tasted it.

                      “I’m just not ready for this,” he said.

                      DL reached for his paw, then retracted back, her eyes going distant. Then she reached for the chocolate sauce and spooned a ladle-full over her plate.

                      “Look,” said Macro. “We’ll go. We’ll scope it out. Spend no longer than an hour, two hours tops. But someone needs to stay on the ship with Matrix as back up. Because if something happens to me, Wildcard Gamma has to keep going.”

                      “Nothing is going to happen to you,” DL told him. “You’ll stay in touch, and if you need us then we’ll swoop in.”

                      “Wait!” Macro raised both his paws and looked at each of his crew members in turn. Even Cookie had stopped what he was doing to listen in. “Am I going in there alone?!”

                      “Of course not!” Anchor spat. “I won’t allow it!”

                      “That’s exactly what I want to hear from my second in command.” Macro spooned more pancake into his mouth.

                      “But if it’s information you’re gathering,” said Anchor, “might I suggest you take someone small? Easier for you both to hide.”

                      Macro looked up with his fork still in his mouth. His eyes wandered from Anchor to Matrix, taking in his tiny form. The ribombee wound his antenna in his paw, glancing between Macro and Anchor. Then he glanced towards the end of the table and Macro followed his eye to DL.

                      The pachirisu shrugged and leant back from her empty plate, almost spotless save for some chocolate streaks.

                      “If you need me to go with you, then I’ll go,” she said. “I’ve actually still got all that information Solgaleo sent me saved in my brain.”

                      “That sorts it then,” said Anchor. “Since she’s basically a walking Ultra Beast Encyclopedia, then take DL.”

                      Macro sank into his seat, fixing Matrix with a pleading look.

                      “Don’t look at me,” said Matrix. “I’m the only one who can use the navigation system. Do you want Wildcard Gamma to veer off course and leave you stranded?”

                      No. Macro didn’t want that.

                      He looked back over at DL as she wiped chocolate from her pink nose. She gave him a reassuring nod, but it didn’t serve to alleviate his nerves.

                      If anything, knowing he was going to be taking her down into the outskirts, System’s single-most dangerous place outside of Pulse City, only served to fuel his fighting spirit.

                      ...

                      The Time Onion didn’t put up much of a fight. Since Annie and Waveform had untangled the thing from the ship’s innards, it had gone from wriggly to placid quite quickly.

                      The pyukumyuku trundled on across System Sky in the vague direction of Wave City, but Annie didn’t particularly care about that. She was more intent on getting the creature to talk, or move, or something.

                      She sat it back up on her knee, but its head lolled pathetically onto its shoulder, weakly tickling her with its antennae thing. It had three of them, and an odd wheezy noise kept coming from them. Sometimes musical, sometimes whiny.

                      “I still think that’s how it communicates,” said Web.

                      “I still think it ain’t no celebi,” said Trojan.

                      “Neither of you are being helpful,” Annie said, somewhat calmly. “Either make a Time Onion to System-glish Dictionary, or find a clear picture of a real celebi and then we’ll talk.”

                      “System-glish?” Zip laughed, blowing a stream of bubbles from his gills.

                      The creature wheezed again, then struggled to lift its head. Its head was rather ungainly compared to its tiny body. If it kept lolling dramatically, it would fall off her lap sooner or later. Not to mention its body was sticky. Like a dried, thick sweat that made it easy to grip but repulsed her at the same time.

                      “I think this onion might be off,” she said. “Does someone else want to hold it?”

                      “Not really,” said Waveform. “My feathers still feel gammy from the last time.”

                      “Is it slimy?” asked Zip.

                      “Not so much slimy as sticky,” Annie answered. “I feel like if I chuck it at the wall, it’ll cling to it.”

                      Web placed her paws on her hips. “You’re not chucking it at the wall.”

                      “Like jack you’re gettin’ the walls sticky,” said Trojan. “We don’t even know if it’s toxic.”

                      “I say chuck it, right back out the window,” said Hatter. “That thing ain’t right!”

                      Annie turned the creature to face her and stared down at it. More wheezing. It didn’t even open its mouth. It kept it tightly closed, and its glazed eyes drooped as it stared blankly at her feathered chest.

                      “What’s wrong with it?” Annie asked. “Looks fine to me.”

                      “You’re kidding, right?” Hatter gasped. “Not only is it monstrous and alien, it’s clearly dying!”

                      “Dying?”

                      “I didn’t want to say this earlier, dear,” said Web. “But I think he might be right. I don’t think that’s a celebi. It’s got to be one of those creatures that have been showing up. It’s alien and clearly doesn’t belong here.”

                      “Huh.” Annie frowned at it. “Well, let’s make it better then ask it how it can get me back home. Right?”

                      “Back home?” Zip glugged to the top of his bowl. “You mean after the rebellion, right?”

                      “Nope.” Annie continued to stare at the creature. “If this guy can get me home, I’m off.”

                      “But-”

                      “You can lead your own rebellion,” she said. “Once I’m gone, you’re in charge, little fish.”

                      Everyone fell silent, staring at her open-mouthed. Eyes were either narrowed, or in the case of Zip, wide and frightened. She looked around at the cockpit, clutching the limp creature in her claws.

                      “Why y’all starin’ at me?” She waved a wing to get their attention. “Hello? Did someone freeze time?” Her eyes snapped back to the creature. “Was it you, Mister Time Onion?”

                      Web let out a sigh and Trojan shifted in his seat, tearing his glare away from her.

                      “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’,” he said.

                      “Well I do have something to say!” said Web.

                      “Save it for later,” said Trojan. “Let’s just get our asses to Wave City.”

                      “Not so fast.” Annie returned to staring at the ‘Time Onion’. “If this little guy really is sick, then we need to get him better. Can we do that in Wave City?”

                      “It has some of the cleanest air in System,” said Waveform. “Doctors often recommend it for those with asthma or chest infections.”

                      “But the air in System Sky is clean, too,” said Web. “Probably cleaner than on the ground where there’s pollutants. If this creature had a breathing condition, it should be clearer up here.”

                      “It’s also thinner,” said Waveform. “Which makes it harder to breathe.”

                      “It doesn’t mean you can’t,” said Web. “And we’re lower down than most space pirate vessels fly right now. Not to mention our air filters and life support systems.”

                      “Which are feeble at best,” muttered the decidueye.

                      “I reckon it’s the atmosphere,” said Trojan. “It’s alien to this world and can’t breathe our air. It’ll be dead before we hit the ground.”

                      “That’s no good!” said Annie. “It can’t get me back home if it’s dead!”

                      She adjusted her grip, but the creature lolled back in her hands. It’s eyes were screwed shut and its breathing came in shallow bursts. There was only one thing for it. She had to resuscitate it. How did they do it in the movies again?

                      A lightbulb went off in her mind and she lay the creature across her lap.

                      “I have to issue mouth to mouth!” She leant forwards towards the creatures tiny mouth.

                      A firm paw grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back before she could even position herself properly.

                      “Don’t be so foolish!” Waveform growled in her ear. “We don’t know what stuff is coating it’s body! It might be toxic!”

                      “Toxic…” Annie turned away from him and stared out of the window. “Toxic… toxic…”

                      Trojan muttered under his breath and looked away from her. “She’s off on one again.”

                      “Toxic.”

                      The lights below them blurred into a cacophony of colour as her mind went to that word. ‘Toxic’. She mulled it over, tasting it, trying to figure out where it fit in her reality.

                      Sticky creature. Possibly toxic. Toxic meant poisonous. Death.

                      Reality snapped back into focus and she turned in her seat to face Trojan.

                      “Get us back home,” she said.

                      “Home?” he scoffed. “You think I can time travel now?”

                      “Not my home. Your home.” She pointed a claw at the window. “That yellow, mucky place with the poisonous air.”

                      Trojan stared at her, his lip curled up at one side in a confused sneer. A look of realisation crossed Web’s face and she nodded.

                      “I think I understand,” she said. “I’m not sure it will help the little creature, but it’s worth a shot if we’ve no way of getting it back to its own world.”

                      “Exactly,” said Annie. “I want to help this Time Onion. It’s my only chance to get home.”

                      “I don’t believe for one minute that air can help anybody,” said Trojan. “But if you think so, we can give it a shot.”

                      The ship lurched so the nose was pointing downward, and sank at a steady pace. As Annie clutched the little creature, it wheezed musically. Four notes, two high and two flat. Out of rhythm, but an unusual sound nontheless. As though its head was some kind of primitive pipe organ attempting to play a melancholic tune. In, out. In, out. Her eyes wandered to the long proboscis-like appendages on its head.

                      “We’ll land in about five minutes,” said Trojan. “Think the little guy can hang on that long?”

                      “I don’t know,” said Annie. “But I think you might be right about the air. That noise it’s makin’… I think it’s trying to breathe.”

                      “Do you want me to check it’s not got any obstruction?” Web asked. “You know, from the innards-out stuff?”

                      “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that.” Annie turned it so she could examine the protrusions. “I don’t believe it breathes through its mouth. It seems to be breathin’ through these things.”

                      Web stood and relieved Annie of the creature, then settled back into her seat as she checked over its proboscis.

                      “Why, you really are a sticky little fellow, aren’t you?” she said. “Well… if it’s not the slimy stuff from the innards-out, then let’s hope your theory is right, Annie, and it’s the air.”

                      “Me too.” Annie tucked her hands behind her head and leant back in her seat. “Because if it’s not and it dies, then I guess I’m stuck here.”

                      “Well the longer you’re stuck here, the more I’m gonna kick your lanky ass,” said Trojan. “And don’t think I’m scared of your ancient power, ‘cos I aint.”

                      “What did I do to warrant you kicking my ass?” Annie asked.

                      “You serious? You jackin’ serious?!” Trojan span in his seat and waved a paw at Zip.

                      The goldeen slumped in the bottom of his bowl, resting his head on his fins. He wouldn’t look at either of them. Small bubbles rose from his gills to fizzle away on the surface.

                      “I’ll leave you to think about it,” Trojan said, turning back to his controls. “I need to focus on landing this wreck before I end up killin’ us all.”

                      The ship jerked and levelled out again. The crumbling rooftops of Spool City spread out before them, bouncing out of view as the ship leapt over them. It then came to a crashing halt in their back garden.

                      Annie flew forwards in her seat, throwing out her claws to catch herself on the dashboard. She shoved herself back into her seat and shook out her feathers.

                      “Whew!” She turned to look at the scrafty. “Might I suggest seat belts?”

                      Trojan sneered and rose to his feet, then stomped towards the door. It fell open with a clatter, and the ship immediately filled with the putrid, polluted air.

                      The creature’s wheezing lessened slightly and its breathing became more desperate. Its head expanded and contracted as it sucked up air through its three proboscis.

                      “Goodness!” Web gasped and looked up at Annie. “I think you were right!”

                      She rose to her feet, cradling the creature in her arms, and raced from the ship.

                      Annie stood up slowly and exchanged glances with Waveform. The decidueye narrowed his eyes slightly and gestured for her to leave ahead of him, then turned to Zip. She paused in the doorway to look back at him crouching before the goldeen, shrugged, then clambered from the ship.

                      Web stood in the back garden, beaming from ear to ear. The wheezing had faded out completely, replaced with loud gasps reminiscent of someone breathing frantically through a straw. The creature’s eyes were open, although still hooded. It stared blankly at the sky, its mouth slightly open.

                      “Look!” Web turned to Annie. “This horrible air has revived it! Who would ever have guessed this deadly air that can even kill steel types could actually give life to something?”

                      Annie peered over her shoulder at the creature. Its pupils focused onto them and it looked at each of them in turn.

                      Web cradled it in her arms like a hatchling and smiled. “You might be the only creature that can survive in this place.”

                      It blinked a couple of times and opened its mouth again. “Where am I?”

                      Its mouth didn’t move with each word. Annie thought the voice had only happened in her head. She blinked at the creature, wondering whether or not she should actually answer, when Web did instead.

                      “You’re in System, honey. Where are you meant to be?”

                      “Ultra Metropolis.” It blinked again. “Why am I here? What happened? Who are you? What are you? Where’s my trainer?”

                      “I don’t think we have all the answers,” said Web. “But we can help you. Can you tell us what you are?”

                      “He’s a Time Onion,” said Annie. She stretched out her claws and flexed them. “Gimme!”

                      Web steered the creature protectively away and asked again, “What are you?”

                      “My name is Poipole,” he said. “The same as every other member of my race.”

                      “So you’re not a Time Onion?” Annie asked.

                      “What’s a Time Onion?” he asked.

                      “She thinks you’re a celebi,” explained Web.

                      The creature shook his bulbous head slowly. “I’m a poipole.”

                      Annie snorted and wiped her claws on her feathers. “So you can’t get me home?”

                      When the creature didn’t answer, she folded her wings and frowned at him.

                      “That’s disappointing.” She turned and headed towards the house. “I’m going to go and get a shower. I feel oddly sticky.”

                      The house was as cold as outdoors, as was the water. The open shower fixed to the top, left corner of the bathroom sprayed yellow water over her feathers, the walls and the floor. The drain gurgled a few times before refusing to take in any more water, creating a puddle in the concave tiles surrounding it. Annie clawed at her feathers until most of the goop from innards-out and the poipole’s sticky body were off her. She never liked feeling sticky. Or wet. But a shower was the lesser of the two evils.

                      As she strained her feathers dry, her stomach growled. Having no watch or clock nearby she had no idea whether or not it was even meal time. Regardless, she was hungry. Hungry and tired. A quick snack and a good long sleep sounded absolutely delicious. She stomped through the pooling water and strutted out into the hallway, her claws leaving little wet patches as she hopped down the stairs. Droplets of water still fell from her feathers, spattering the wall and peeling woodwork. She was too busy watching where she put her feet, enjoying creating perfect prints on the dry wood, to see where she was going. As she landed on the final step, her snout found itself buried in fluffy, warm, white feathers.

                      “I think we need to have a little chat.” Despite the calmness in his voice, there was a warning note that didn’t settle well with her.

                      She pulled her head back and looked up into Waveform’s crimson eyes. His face was as calm as his voice, yet somehow he seemed a lot bigger.

                      Annie raised an eyebrow and inclined her head on one side, taking him aback ever so slightly. He’d tried to mask it, but she’d seen it.

                      “Oh?” she said. “What about?”

                      He glanced over his shoulder at the voices coming from the kitchen. Muffled and incoherent. Then he turned back to her and frowned.

                      “’What about’,” he scoffed. “Get upstairs. We can’t talk here.”

                      He span her around with his wing and nudged her forwards, causing her to stumble on the steep steps.

                      “But I’m hungry,” she whined.

                      “You can eat later. This is more important.”

                      “Hardly.”

                      She tutted and hopped back up the stairs. Her wet prints were already fading away. When they reached the top, he steered her towards her room and followed her inside, closing the door behind them silently.

                      Annie looked from her still unmade bed to the decidueye and raised an eyebrow again.

                      “Couldn’t we talk somewhere else?” she asked.

                      “I’m afraid we lack a meeting room, and I don’t really want to make a scene in the kitchen.” He tucked his wings under his collar and stared down at her like a teacher scolding his pupil. “I think we need to go over your recent actions.”

                      “What recent actions?” She spread a wing towards the window and grinned. “All that awesome?”

                      “Awesome?” Waveform spat. “You think what you did in Pulse City was ‘awesome’? First you tell a detective and some space pirate crony everything about your ‘plan’ and where you came from, then you kidnap another space pirate who, by the way, is still cowering on the ship. Don’t even get me started on your malicious handling of him, either. I know I don’t think much of space pirates. My job is to round them up and turn them in, but I can’t turn a blind eye on you waving him around by the tail! Then you go and upset Zip. The little fish you’ve adopted and promised - blindly - to rescue him and his kind from being turned into meat.”

                      He paused and she stared up at him, unblinking. He took a breath, unfurling his wings to cross over his chest, and leant back against the wall.

                      “I know I backed you,” he said. “I thought you had a good premise. Sort out the mayor, free the water dwellers, clean up the outskirts. No more toxic air. Give those living in unfair persecution a voice. I liked it. But seeing all this… I honestly don’t think you’re capable.”

                      She finally blinked. Silently.

                      “You’re no captain,” he went on. “A captain doesn’t behave like that. A captain cares about their crew. The ship goes down, they go with it. You know as much about being a captain as you do about being a pokemon. You go around looking like one, but you can’t play the part.” He waved a wing-paw at her soggy form then tucked it away again. “I think you need to take a good look in the mirror and tell me if you really, truly believe you can handle this.”

                      “I don’t got a mirror.” She took a step back and glanced over at the yellowed wall and lop-sided drawers. “Besides. I got this, believe me. Everything is going fine.”

                      “It’s not going fine! We’ve got a terrified space pirate holding his breath on your ship, and a depressed goldeen in the kitchen. Not to mention that creature you’ve abducted and the fact we’re back exactly where we started. Back in Spool City breathing toxic air. If it’s bad for Webber I can’t imagine how bad it must be for you. You weren’t even born here.”

                      Annie folded her arms and stared sideways at him. “If we didn’t come back here, that little creature would have died.”

                      “You only wanted to save it because you thought it was a celebi.” He met her stare and narrowed his eyes. “If you knew it wasn’t what would you have done? Sent it back out into the atmosphere?”

                      “Of course not. I’m not a monster.”

                      “Says the human swinging a chatot around by the tail.”

                      “Look!” She raised her wings and flexed her claws. “I’ve got tiny hand-things here. And no one gave me anything to put him in. How was I meant to carry him?”

                      “Carrying is not the same as swinging around. Nor is threatening to kill him.”

                      She let out a low groan and trailed her claws down her face. Anger bubbled up inside her like an overheating pot of stew that she fought desperately to put a lid on.

                      “Fine!” she snapped. “You think it’s so easy being captain, you take over.”

                      “I’m not saying it is easy being captain. Quite the opposite. And I’m not taking over.” He crouched down so he was level with her, and placed a paw on his knee. “I’m just saying you need a bit of a reality check here. You need to think things through more. Apologise to Hatter, give him your request and let him go. And don’t worry about paying him, I’ll deal with that.”

                      She cracked her claws to peer at him. “You can pay him?”

                      He shrugged a shoulder, and she thought she saw him smile. There was that lid.

                      “I thought you said we had no money,” she said.

                      “Like I said, don’t worry about it.” He paused and trailed his eyes over her. “Now. You’re well out of your element here. And from what I can gather from your back story, you’ve not had much chance at freedom. I hope our little talk has made you realise you’re going about it the wrong way. You might think you’ve got a crew behind you with this rebellion, but if you keep behaving like this, before long Web and Trojan aren’t going to back you. Web used to be a pirate, and I wouldn’t blame her if she accused you of giving them a bad press. That stir you caused in Pulse City will have done more damage than good. As for Trojan, you can only push him so far before he snaps.”

                      “So I gotta apologise to them too?”

                      Waveform nodded.

                      “Alright. I’ll do it.” She tried to move past him, but he stretched out a wing to block her way. “Do you want me to apologise or not?”

                      “I’m not done.” He gently scooted her back in front of him. “You have to learn to walk before you learn to run. You’re not going to make a good space pirate or rebellion leader if you don’t know how to act like you actually belong in System.”

                      “But I don’t belong in System.”

                      “That’s why I said ‘act’. Now…” He grabbed her claws in his paw and held up her left wing. “No bird goes around looking like they’ve just rolled in a thorn bush.”

                      She furrowed her brow and pouted. “Hey! I have you know I just showered.”

                      “Yes, and I’m going to guess you squeezed your feathers dry rather than shaking the water off. Am I right?”

                      “Maybe.”

                      Waveform released her and placed his wing back across his knee. “Do you know anything about birds, Annie?”

                      “They have feathers, lay eggs and fly.” She folded her wings and puffed out her chest. “They also evolved from dinosaurs.”

                      “And you are…?”

                      “Annie.”

                      He slapped his paw onto his face. “Yes, but not quite what I was going for here.”

                      “I’m an archeops,” she said. “Evidence to prove my point.”

                      “Yes, a prehistoric bird that scientists believe were weak fliers. But that’s not to say they couldn’t fly. You appear to really struggle in that area, and if the way you treat your feathers is anything to go by then I think we’ve figured out why.”

                      Annie raised her wing to examine it. The blue and yellow feathers lay in a haphazard fashion, still sodden with water.

                      “Archeops weren’t just tatty-looking birds?” she asked.

                      “Well, you’re feathers are primitive but they don’t look like those of a dodrio. I’d say you could likely fly given the chance.”

                      “Wow. I’d really like that.” She grinned widely. “You gonna show me how?”

                      “First thing’s first, you need to learn a little feather maintenance.”

                      “What? Preening?”

                      “Exactly.”

                      “But…” She frowned again. “But I don’t have a beak.”

                      He merely shrugged. “I don’t think you need one. Just… comb your feathers with your teeth. Knit them together, get them into the right position.”

                      “Huh.”

                      She turned her reptilian head towards her right wing and frowned at the long, blue feathers. Then she grabbed them in her teeth and dragged them through, pulling off odd strands and spluttering as she tried to avoid swallowing them.

                      Beside her, Waveform grimaced. “Stop! Stop.”

                      She looked up, flicking out her tongue to remove the coarse, blue strands. Waveform didn’t look her in the eye. He was too preoccupied with the mess she’d made of her already messy feathers. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his beak above its armour.

                      “I guess I’m going to have to show you,” he said.

                      She shuffled around so she was facing him and stared up at him expectantly. He raised his own wing and opened his beak… then hesitated. Instead, he cleared his throat and lowered it again.

                      “I think you’d learn faster if I used your own feathers,” he said.

                      “Hang on.” She raised her claws. “You asked me what I know about birds. I just brushed over it. Perappu Says told me birds engage in… what did he call it?” She scratched her chin and looked up at the ceiling. “Mutual preening.”

                      Waveform’s cheeks flushed and he fell back from her. “What…! How do you expect chicks to learn?”

                      “I ain’t a chick,” she said. “I’m technically an adult. And Perappu Says made it pretty darn clear that mutual preening is a mating ritual.”

                      “What-?”

                      “No offence… but I ain’t interested in that.”

                      Waveform cleared his throat again and swiftly regained his composure. The surprise in his eyes hardened into seriousness and he folded his wings neatly, uniformly.

                      “If you want to get into the technicalities,” he said, “it is an affectionate thing. But also between friends and hatchlings. If you want to learn to tidy yourself up and fly, you need someone to teach you.”

                      “What about Web?”

                      “Web isn’t a bird.”

                      “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.”

                      He narrowed his eyes and fell silent for a moment until he had her full attention.

                      “Do you want me to teach you or not?” he asked.

                      Her wings fell limp at her sides and she slumped. “Fine.”

                      She turned her back on him and let him take her left wing in his.

                      “Just don’t cut me with that metal thing on your face,” she said.

                      “It’s no more serrated than my beak is, don’t worry.”

                      “Then what’s its purpose?” she asked.

                      He said nothing, taking two of her longer feathers in his beak and running them through. All she felt was a tug, and she watched as they smoothed out and knitted into place. He did this a couple more times until he was satisfied.

                      “See?” He said without looking up. “Now you try.”

                      She shrugged and turned to her other wing. He didn’t release her, working away at her ‘primaries’. Another word coming back to her from her childhood books. She tried to copy him, getting much better results and less strands in her mouth. She wasn’t sure whether or not still being wet from the shower was helping, but it certainly looked smoother. Like when you wet your hair to smooth down the frizzy strays.

                      When she felt the cold metal brush her skin, she froze and snapped her head around to face him. He had his eyes closed, combing through the smaller feathers over her arm. She’d always been anxious of hair dressers nicking her with their deadly scissors as a child. But his precision felt more like a metal comb. She relaxed herself and returned to her work.

                      She was barely half done when Waveform released her and stood up. She looked from him to her wing, noting the tidy display of blue and yellow feathers.

                      “I think you get the idea.” He turned to the door. “We’ll try flying tomorrow morning. I’ll be back shortly with some breakfast for you.”

                      “No, I’ll come with you.” She tried to follow him, but he pulled the door shut before she could leave, wedging himself between the frame.

                      “You’ll wait here,” he said. “Give everyone a chance to cool down. I need to relieve Trojan from watching your captive. Be grateful I came here to talk to you instead of him.”

                      “That bad, huh?” she asked.

                      He nodded then gestured to her bed. “Get some rest, then we’ll all sit down and have a little chat.”

                      The door closed behind him, and she stared at the bare, stained wood. Oh well. A good rest did sound like a grand idea. She hopped onto her bed and finished straightening her feathers out before clambering under the musty sheets.

                      ...

                      As Wildcard Gamma dropped slowly towards the ground, Macro could make out more and more of the run-down rooftops of Spool City. The worn streets looked a sickly brown through the heavy smog, darkening to a black as his ship dropped a little lower.

                      DL stood beside him, her breathing noisy through her filter mask. He checked it was fastened properly around her antenna and then gave his own a second check over. It was more of a nervous tic. For the first time, he’d be taking DL onto System Ground. A place she’d not walked since her memories were taken away. A place she’d probably never seen with her own eyes, never even smelled, never once experienced except maybe for the faint smog one could see on the skyline from one of Meta City’s skyscrapers.

                      It tied his stomach in knots.

                      He steadied himself onto the neon ladder and nodded for DL to join him. She clambered down until she was almost beside him, and he looked down at the ground below. He could feel her trembling. Heights? Anticipation? Maybe memories she’d not told him about? The entire ladder shook and he reached out a paw to pull her into himself, just in time for the neon bars to drop noisily towards the outskirts.

                      Wind whipped past his ears, blowing his long fur up over the goggles of his mask. DL screwed her eyes shut, cowering into him and clutching the ladder so tightly he could see her knuckles through her fur.

                      Before long, they were on solid ground. He offered his paw to help her down, then looked up and down the street. They’d been dropped just shy of an alley. If it weren’t for the fact they were in Spool City, he’d have thought it an ideal hiding spot. But the trash cans were often teaming with trubbish and garbordor, and the drains were perfect lurking spots for grimer and muk as they spied on their rivals’ turf.

                      He lifted his paw to activate his visor, but it was held firmly in place. He glanced down at DL’s white paw still clasped around his. She wasn’t looking at him, instead anxiously eyeing the buildings before them. Windows blocked off by curtains and wooden boards. Walls plastered with posters of wanted space pirates, both recent and long since captured. Several of them were for himself, some dating back to the days where he was only wanted for ten thousand credits.

                      It might only have been a mere couple of weeks, but those days felt long gone.

                      “She really doesn’t like you, does she?” said DL.

                      Macro stared back at a poster of himself, frowning at his sneer. “No. She doesn’t.”

                      He steered her away from the space pirate montage and led her towards Meta City. His heart was in his throat, pulsing nauseatingly. He could see the skyscrapers dominating the skyline. Tatty rooftops backed by a pristine white, tinted yellow with the Spool City air. But beyond that he knew they were white. He’d seen them. He’d been there.

                      Deep voices reached his ears and he froze, straining through the green tint of his mask. He’d still not activated his visor. Spool City was unfamiliar to him. Unlike Proxy City, not many of Spool’s inhabitants had hired him, so he’d had no reason to walk its streets.

                      The voices rose into a crescendo of shouts. Gang war, most likely. Nothing he wanted to be a part of. He ducked though a narrow alley and came out on the other side. He crouched against a boarded-up wall and wriggled his paw from DL’s grasp. A quick flick of his ear piece and his visor flashed before his eyes. Maps. Maps was what he wanted. It took a moment to find it, but an outline of Spool City from the sky overlaid his view of the buildings. He let his paw relax to his side, where it was immediately snatched up by DL.

                      He restrained himself from looking at her, instead straining his ears to pick up those voices. They’d gone. All he could hear was the wind, and the flapping of hundreds of posters. Loud, papery flaps. Loud enough to drown out a quieter voice.

                      He straightened up, bracing himself to move, but no sooner was he back on his feet something wet slapped him across his mask. He beat it aside and stood back, watching as a damp poster for Giga Impact fluttered in the wind, torn right across the dates. Neatly. Something wasn’t right. He stood back and looked up at the wall, taking in all the posters.

                      All of them flapped around noisily. Damp. Torn. Not untidily, either. Each cut was perfectly straight. Angled. Slices were cut out, littered along the damp sidewalk and plastered on the road. Every single poster had been sliced with the precision of a blade. And it wasn’t just the posters either. The wall beyond it had also been sliced. Sliced like butter.

                      His eyes flew across each one, taking it in. Trying to fathom what in System could have done it. Various pokemon rolled through his mind. Pawniard and bisharp? Their claws weren’t sharp enough to slice through brick or stone. Neither were skarmory, or scyther. Scizor could take out chunks, but not slices.

                      Something zipped past behind him, whipping up the air. He spun on the spot, searching the empty streets. On the other side, a curtain fluttered. He caught the flashing eyes of a dark furred meowth, before the curtain fell back into place. But they hadn’t been watching him. He wasn’t even sure they’d seen him.

                      He grabbed DL’s paw and ducked back into the narrow alley, not taking his eyes off the vacant street.

                      Whatever it was whipped past again, in the same direction. Small. Glinting in the dull light. Then, like a flash, it was gone.

                      DL pressed herself up against him, fixing her terrified eyes on the street. Her breath came in quick bursts, and a couple of times he thought she was about to say something.

                      Then they saw it again. Retracing its footsteps. Slower. Slow enough to just make it out.

                      A small creature, far different from any pokemon he had seen before. Papery, but its limbs glistened in the weak sunlight. It turned away from them, zooming out of view.

                      Then he heard a scream. A blood curdling, terrified scream.

                      He instinctively fastened his arms around DL, pulling her into him. Her entire body trembled and she buried her face into his scarf. His heart was racing. He scanned the street, straining his ears, but nothing else came. No creatures. No voices. All he could hear was the fluttering of the posters.

                      One thing was for certain. They couldn’t stay here. Not unprepared. If these were more of those Ultra Beasts, they needed to know exactly what they were and come back with the tools to deal with it. He took a steady breath and licked his dry lips as he removed one paw from DL to reach for his pouch.

                      Light footsteps exploded into the alley on his other side and he moved his paw from his pouch to his laser. He snapped his head around to spot the ruffian, but instead what he saw was a slender lopunny, her head covered with a filter mask. She stood with her back against the wall and something sparking in her right paw. He glanced down at it. A taser. Then back up at her. She’d spotted them. Her eyes went between the two of them, then over at the silent street. She lifted her free paw and gestured for them to join her.

                      Macro grit his teeth together, unseen beyond his mask, and shook his head slowly.

                      She lifted her paw to gesture again, more urgently this time.

                      Macro kept one eye on her and grabbed the butt of his laser, slowly dragging it from its holster. She watched him carefully, then took a step towards the alley mouth. Both her paws rose to her chest, still clutching the taser, but it was a defensive pose. Not a threatening one.

                      Then she wasn’t a ruffian. Or if she was, she wasn’t a very good one. He met her eyes, a pale rose colour, lit up with fear. A fear he’d not seen since he was a child, reflected in the eyes of his friend. A fear elicited by a monster.

                      It stunned him, as though he’d been shot through the chest. He released his gun and relaxed his hold on DL, falling slightly against the wall. The lopunny lowered her weapon and tiptoed around the garbage towards him. She lowered her head to his, keeping both eyes on the vacant street.

                      “It’s not safe here,” she whispered. “Come with me.”

                      Macro stared up at her, narrowing his eyes with confusion. There was something about that voice…

                      DL pulled back from him and took his paw again, guiding him after the lopunny. The lopunny paused occasionally to look around, her long ears slightly raised. Then she ducked out of the mouth of the alley, turning a sharp right. Macro followed after her, keeping at DL’s side. His paw found his laser again, and he searched the walls for any sign of damage. The further they followed the stranger, the more posters were torn. Ominously flapping in the wind, like the clapping of an invisible audience. It chilled him.

                      The lopunny stopped beside a rundown building, and Macro paused to take it in. She fumbled with a set of keys, too many for one lone building. The building had no sign. It stood between a boarded-up shop filled with sliced up posters. On the other side was a club that looked like it hadn’t been frequented much in years. One thing about the lopunny’s chosen residence struck him. Painted across the wall in scarlet paint were the words ‘shove off shamus’.

                      Macro’s mouth went dry.

                      The lopunny finally got the door open and stood aside, ushering the space pirate inside. He frowned up at her, but lurched forwards as DL dragged him after her. The lopunny was on his back in a flash, shoving him into the building. As she slammed the door, Macro spotted one of the creatures zipping past the window. If it had seen them, it didn’t show any interest. A neat clipping from one of the posters drifted down like a fallen feather onto the street.

                      Macro turned back to their rescuer and folded his arms. “Mind telling me what a detective is doing saving my ass?”

                      “Oh, I think that’s fairly self explanatory,” said the lopunny.

                      She unbuckled her mask and pulled it over her head, shaking her ears into place. Then she fixed her rose coloured eyes onto his.

                      Macro’s jaw almost struck the floor and he staggered back, groping for a chair. Failing to find one, he slid down against a desk. DL crouched beside him to try and drag him back to his feet, but his legs wouldn’t obey. He stumbled over his words, unable to take his eyes off the rabbit pokemon.

                      “Digit?” he gasped out.

                      DL snapped her head around to look at him, then spun to face the lopunny.

                      “Long time no see, Hunter.” The lopunny kicked herself back into one of the office seats and set her mask on her desk. “But it isn’t ‘Digit’ anymore. I go by Defrag now. Welcome to Spool City’s little undercover detective agency.”
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                        #36    
                      Old July 16th, 2018 (2:36 AM).
                      Delirious Absol's Avatar
                      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                      Call me Del
                         
                        Join Date: May 2015
                        Location: UK
                        Age: 33
                        Gender: Female
                        Nature: Quirky
                        Posts: 350
                        A/N - Here it is! A semi-canon special. Crack-fiction, if you will. Prepare for some craziness!

                        I have a few specials planned, but not all of them are canon. This one isn't 100% canon, but it gives you a glimpse into Macro's psyche. Unless there's a demand for me to post all specials (including the Serebii Fanfiction Forum exclusive Christmas special I did last year) then I won't be posting the non-canon ones here. Please let me know in a review.

                        (I do not own Alice in Wonderland or Pokemon! I just love them both and threw them together in a glorious crack-fic frenzy!)


                        Special Episode - Macro in Wonderland

                        When Macro opened his eyes, everything was dark. Cold, damp grass tickled his paw pads, and dew soaked through the fur of his stomach. Somewhere nearby, there was water. The sea? A lake? It swept back and forth, gently lapping some unseen land. He blinked his eyes a few times, allowing them to adjust to the darkness, before pushing himself to his feet. His head hurt. His body hurt. What had happened?

                        He smoothed out his scarf and looked up at the sky. Stars. Twinkling and… moving? Their patterns were erratic, but they cast a dim glow down onto his surroundings, reflecting off miles and miles of water. He looked down at his feet, hidden among long grass. But all around him was water. What little island he was standing on, it wasn't much bigger than himself.

                        "Oi!"

                        His head snapped back up, meeting a pair of angry, glittering eyes leering at him from the water. The head was both avian and reptilian, flashing two rows of sharp teeth.

                        "If you're gonna cry that much, at least warn a girl first!" The bird thing pulled a wing from the water, yellow feathers dripping wet. "Look what you've gone and did!"

                        Macro blinked down at her. An archeops? Weren't they extinct? Where on earth was he? He looked around again. What he'd mistaken for stars were a swarm of volbeat and illumise desperately fleeing the water. They gathered in the branches of trees stretching up from the lake, or congregated in roots that expanded above him like the roof of a splendid, ancient, underground palace.

                        "Where am I?" His voice came out hoarse and he coughed into his paw. "Where are my friends?"

                        "Friends?" the archeops scoffed. "You mean there's more of you crybabies?"

                        "Annie!" A skuntank paddled towards her, and it took a moment for Macro to realise she was riding on a huge book. There was a grinning cat on the cover. "Oh, thank goodness you're okay."

                        "I'm fine! Just a little wet." The archeops blinked at him before climbing aboard the skuntank's book-boat. "So what's your story, shorty? What made you cry so much?"

                        "'Shorty'?!" Macro spat.

                        The archeops merely nodded.

                        "All right. Well… I don't remember." Macro looked down at the lake and shook his head. "I really haven't a clue."

                        "Really? 'Cos it looks to me like you've been put through the ringer." She paused and lifted a claw. "Actually, that ain't a bad idea. Anyone got a mangle? That aughta get us dry quick."

                        The skuntank frowned at her. There were now two other pokemon on her book. A scrafty and a small, purple creature Macro didn't recognise.

                        "A mangle's a bit old fashioned, ain't it?" said the scrafty.

                        "I am not being squeezed through a mangle!" Macro rubbed his ribs. "I already feel like I've got a chest infection. I ain't adding broken ribs to that list."

                        "Spoilsport." Annie folded her wings. "All right then, plan B. Stand aside, we're gonna climb aboard and run in circles 'til we're dry."

                        Something white fluttered in the distance, snatching Macro's attention from the archeops. A fluffy, blue and white tail vanished beneath the water, sending his heart into his throat.

                        "DL?" he gasped.

                        "Eh?" Annie snapped her head towards him, half on and half off the little island. "I said 'circle'. I suggest you start runnin' too, else you'll never get dry."

                        "No, I'd rather not," said Macro. "I need to get off this island and catch her before she drowns."

                        "There's no way off," said Annie. "You'll be swimmin' for days."

                        "Good thing I can swim then, ain't it?" He put one toe in the water and grimaced. "Wow, that's cold."

                        Before he could drop his entire weight onto one leg, the entire water surged. He let out a squeak as something hidden beneath the surface dragged him across the lake and away from the island. He glanced back, wanting to scream for help, but Annie and her friends were busy running in tight circles around the rapidly shrinking island. He turned back to face where he was going and screamed. The water moved down, away from him like a waterfall. Before he could fully process his potential demise, the water launched him over the edge and he landed flat on his face on a cold, tiled floor.

                        "What in the world?" He pushed himself to his feet and rubbed his sore nose. "This is not a good day."

                        Somewhere, a door slammed. He spun on the spot to locate it, taking in his surroundings. Wherever the waterfall had launched him, it wasn't a beach or a river bed. Black and white tiles stretched out before him like a chessboard. The entire hallway was filled with doors - huge, towering doors - and at the far end was a red curtain. With all those doors, finding which one had slammed shut would be nigh impossible. And there was no sign of DL. He looked back up, but all he saw was a ceiling. No water. No waterfall. And no way to reach it even if there were. The hallway was bare save for a small, glass table. Well, given the size of the hallway, it looked small. It actually towered over Macro's head. Through the glass, he could see a lone key.

                        "Well, that's a bit rotten," he muttered. "Guess it opens one of these doors. But there's more than one way to get that key down."

                        He reached for his laser and gasped. His paw fastened around nothing. He twisted to check his belt, grimacing at the effort. Two holsters and nothing in them. Where on earth were his lasers?! He'd never felt more exposed.

                        He groaned and turned away from the table to the doors. He wasn't even going to try and climb it. Maybe the doors weren't even locked? He trotted to the nearest one and groped for the doorknob… except it didn't have one. He craned his neck back to look up at it, seeing if it had been placed mockingly out of his reach. But it hadn't. There was, in fact, no doorknob. Just a keyhole. He muttered under his breath and checked another door. Same result.

                        So all the massive doors held their keyholes well out of his reach, and the key was placed atop a huge table. He was beginning to feel very claustrophobic. He absently rubbed his chest, giving the hallway a disheartened glance. Then his eyes fell on the curtain. He half-ran, half-skidded down the hallway towards it and wrenched it aside. A door! A normal-sized door! A mawile-sized door! With a doorknob! He grabbed it in both paws and twisted. It didn't budge. He jiggled it a bit. Nothing. Then he saw the keyhole just below the doorknob.

                        "Drat!"

                        He spun on the spot to face the table, now seeming so far away. Still tall, still holding a key. And there was no way he could reach it.

                        "Somewhere," he said, "a sadist is laughing."

                        He strutted over to the table, keeping his eye on the key. There had to be some way to get it back down. As he stared at it, it began to grow closer. And… smaller? Before he knew it, he was staring down at the table, hunched over in the now minuscule hallway.

                        "What is happening?!" he roared.

                        "Oi!" Annie's archeops face poked through the tiny door. "Would you keep it down? I'm trying to hold a chess tournament in here!"

                        He stared at her, aghast. A small draft stirred his fur from the open door. Oh, how he desperately wanted to bolt through it. But there was no way he'd fit now. He couldn't even fit his paw through.

                        "Sod your chess tournament!" he said. "I'm stuck in here!"

                        She made a thoughtful noise and inclined her head on one side. "You clearly didn't take me calling you 'shorty' very well, did you?"

                        He flashed a canine and growled. "I'd rather be short than folded up in this corridor like a deck chair! Get help!"

                        "Sorry, can't," she said. "But before you go cryin' again, take this. It might bring things back down to size a bit."

                        She tossed a wing into the air and vanished back through the door. Something small and round bounced along the floor to stop at his hip. He stared down at it and his heart sank.

                        An onion. Attached to it was a gift tag that read 'eat me'.

                        He picked it up in his claws, and its skin crunched under his touch.

                        "You have to be kiddin' me?" The thought of eating the thing whole, and raw, made him briefly consider remaining stuck in the hallway. But it was getting hard to breathe. "Oh well. You only live once, huh?"

                        Given it was much too small to faff around with peeling, he tossed the whole thing into his mouth and swallowed it like a tablet. Then gagged.

                        "All right," he choked. "Maybe next time, just peel the wretched thing."

                        He deeply hoped there'd never be a next time.

                        The walls began to grow, as did the doors. And the glass table.

                        "Oh no. I'm not letting this chance get away."

                        He pushed himself to his feet and swiped the key in his left paw, then bailed towards the red curtain. As he lowered the key, it jerked in his paw and he snapped his head down towards it. A klefki struggled in his grip, its eyes closed tight as it struggled to pull the key free.

                        "Hey!" he snapped. "Let go! I'm using this!"

                        "But it's mine!" the klefki wailed.

                        "I'll give it back! Now let go!"

                        Macro snatched the key back, sending the keychain pokemon rolling away from him through the air. He turned back to the door and realised with a sinking heart that he was still shrinking. He stood on tiptoes, jammed the key in the lock and twisted. The door swung away from him, revealing a lush garden. He tossed the key back towards the klefki and raced into the open air.

                        "I'm free!" he shouted. "I'm free!"

                        Long grass tickled through his fur as he raced between manicured flower beds. Bugs hummed in the air and the sweet smell of nectar filled his nose. Tall flowers swayed from side to side, almost looking at him. In fact… they were. The large faces of vibrant coloured florges stared down at him, frowning.

                        "Rowdy little bug, isn't he?" one of them asked the other.

                        "A bug?" said another. "He has no wings, and too few legs. I'd say he's a weed."

                        "Oh yes," said a pink florges. "Much too ugly to be a garden flower."

                        "Yes, a common weed," said the second one.

                        Macro glared up at them. "Excuse me?"

                        "Oh." The first florges lifted her arms to cover her mouth. "I think we offended it."

                        "Worry not, dear sister," said the third one. "I'll call for the weed spray."

                        Macro knew when he wasn't wanted. He turned and raced through the flower beds towards the trees. The manicured beds gave way to a field dotted with sparse woodland and fruit baring trees. Huge mushrooms rose up on either side of him, florescent in the dim light. Amongst them, a thin trail of smoke rose into the sky.

                        "Well, I think I'm far enough away from the psychotic flowers." He sank to his bottom with his back against a mushroom. "I think I need a rest to figure this out. Now… what did I eat last?"

                        "An onion, I'm guessing."

                        Macro waved a paw. "Well, aside from that. What could have caused this trippy dream?"

                        "What makes you think it's a dream?"

                        Macro was about to answer when words froze in his throat. He craned his neck around to spot the speaker. Atop one of the smaller mushrooms sat a small, green bug pokemon. The sewaddle stared back at him, holding a hookah pipe in one little leg. He blew a stream of smoke from his mouth, that formed a huge question mark above his little head.

                        "Worm?" Macro gasped.

                        "I know not of this Worm," said the sewaddle. "I'm a mere, humble caterpillar." He took a long drag of his hookah then frowned at Macro. "Now, what in the world are you?"

                        "I'm a mawile," said Macro. "Come on, Worm! You know me!"

                        "I do not know you, and you didn't answer my question." Worm narrowed his eyes. "What… are… you?"

                        A sickly green question mark flew at Macro's face. He coughed and wafted it away. "I told you I'm a mawile! A space pirate! A rogue of the skies! Did you hit your head or somethin'?"

                        "My head is fine." Worm returned to his hookah. "It is yours that is not."

                        Macro hissed through his teeth and folded his arms, scanning the mushrooms for any hint that Worm might have ingested something that sent him loopy.

                        "All this aside," said Macro, "do you know where my crew might have gone? Or where I am? Like… what city is this? Where in System are we?"

                        "I did not say we could shove the matter aside," said Worm. "As for where we are, we are amongst mushrooms."

                        "I can see that. What city?"

                        Worm took a long drag of his hookah and slowly breathed out a stream of smoke. It formed a huge heart in the sky, then deformed into a grinning hoopa.

                        "I haven't a clue," he said.

                        "You don't even know how we got here?"

                        "Oh, I know how I got here," said Worm. "I woke up this morning on this mushroom like I do every morning. As for you…"

                        "I feel like I fell." Macro rubbed his ribs. "Or something punched me."

                        "'Fell' is more likely," said Worm. "That happens when you go tumbling through rings and wormholes."

                        Macro frowned and looked over at the mushrooms. Lots of them had holes in. With bite-marks. Was Worm being jokingly literal?

                        "I don't recall any rings, or wormholes," said Macro. "I just woke up in a lake."

                        "That explains why you look wet."

                        "Exactly." Macro paused. "But I haven't a clue what happened leading up to all this!"

                        "Maybe you hit your head."

                        Macro reached up and rubbed beneath his goggles. Then he straightened them out. His head didn't feel sore, so he could rule that one out. Right?

                        "You look concerned," said Worm. "Let's see if we can figure out why you are clearly having memory loss. Recite 'How Doth the Little…' for me."

                        Macro raised an eyebrow. "Eh?"

                        "No, not 'How Doth the Little E'!" Worm took a huge drag on his hookah. "Try again."

                        Macro wound his scarf in his paws, fixing the sewaddle in a violet glare. All the bug pokemon did was stare back, nibbling the end of his pipe. Macro let out a resigned sigh and threw his arms in the air.

                        "Fine. 'How doth the little krookodile improve his shining tail-'"

                        "Wrong!" Worm blew out a huge, red cross. "It has nothing to do with krookodile or tails. Besides, who dragged shiny pokemon into all this? What makes them so special?"

                        Macro's jaw dropped.

                        Worm turned his nose into the air. "Try again."

                        "No!" said Macro. "I am done playing your games! I'm not gonna continue makin' a fool of myself reciting non-existent poetry!"

                        "Why not?" A question mark flew from Worm's mouth.

                        "Because it's silly! And I have friends to look for. I saw DL, but I lost her and have to search for her in all… all this!" He spread his arms over the field of mushrooms. "And right now I'm a measly what… three inches high?"

                        "That is a splendid height."

                        "No it's not! I hate being so small! I can't even reach the key on the table! Just get me out of this nightmare and back to normal height!"

                        Worm's face turned red and the smoke surrounding him formed lightning bolts. "What is wrong with being small?!"

                        Macro stuttered and took two steps back. He'd seen Worm angry before, but this was a whole other form of angry. The bug pokemon's back prickled and his eyes began to glow yellow. Even the milky one with his everstone.

                        "I'd say three inches is a very grand height indeed!" Worm exploded in a flash of light.

                        Macro ducked, raising his paws over his head, but all that flew over him was smoke and glitter. He looked back up, spotting Worm's face hovering above him. Out of his back sprouted a pair of butterfree wings.

                        "What the…" Macro muttered. He rose to his feet and pointed a claw at Worm. "That's not even the right freakin' evolution! If my dreams are gonna be wacko, they should at least get their science right!"

                        "Science is nought but a myth," said Worm. "You need to take in what's around you and accept the extraordinary."

                        "What are you wafflin' about?!"

                        "If you hate being small," said Worm, "then maybe you should turn to the trees?"

                        The sewaddle-butterfree fluttered away from him, abandoning his hookah to the mushrooms. The odd contraption slowly sank into the mushroom's cap, leaving behind a gnarly hole. Macro frowned and turned to the trees. His heart sank. Whatever was growing in them, it wasn't apples.

                        Onions hung from the branches like baubles, looking as out of place as Worm's sudden wings. Both red and white, growing on the same trees. He sighed and picked up a stone, lobbing it at the vegetables. Two of them broke loose and thudded to the floor, narrowly missing his toes. He skittered backwards, then stooped to grab them. One red and one white. What were the odds? He shrugged it off and shoved them into his pouch.

                        "Dunno what he were goin' on about," he said. "But since the last one helped me to shrink back down, maybe these might get me out of some tricky situations n'all."

                        ...

                        The field of mushrooms felt like it went on forever. Each one cast a neon purple glow, giving the entire stretch an unearthly feel. When Macro finally spotted the roof of a house rising over the mushrooms, he found a renewed vigour. Trotting through the multicoloured stalks, he found his way onto a path and almost skidded to a halt. Just ahead of him sprinted a frogadier, clutching a huge envelope beneath one arm.

                        "Jumper?" Macro gasped, taking off after him.

                        The frog pokemon ran at such a pace Macro felt his legs might fall off. His breath came out in raspy bursts and he lifted a paw, screwing his eyes shut as he tried to find his second wind.

                        "Jumper! Wait!"

                        The frogadier looked over his shoulder and 'hmm'd', hopping to a stop. "Are you shouting for me, good fellow?"

                        "Of course I am!" Macro stopped before him, placing his paws on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. "Boy, can you run!"

                        "That's because I'm in a rush," said Jumper. "So if you could make this quick?"

                        Macro looked up at him then slowly straightened up. "Can you tell me where we are? Like… what's going on? Where's DL and the rest of my crew?"

                        "We're at the Duchess' house," said Jumper. "And I'm delivering an important message from the Queen. So if you don't mind-"

                        Macro grabbed his arm before he could sprint off again. "And DL?"

                        "I don't know any DL."

                        Macro's heart sank like a lead brick and he released the frogadier's arm. First Worm and now Jumper? No… something was very amiss.

                        Jumper nodded to the little house. "I'll be off now, shall I?"

                        Macro waved a paw and let him go. The frogadier sprinted at an unbelievable speed towards the door, and threw the letter through the mail box like a ninja star. Then he leapt into the air, bounding over the roof out of sight.

                        "Curiouser and curiouser." Macro cleared his throat and ventured towards the house.

                        He lifted his paw to knock, then a sharp rap at the door took him by surprise. He stared at it. Did someone just knock from inside? He knocked back, only to get another knock in return. Muttering under his breath, he twisted the handle and pushed it open. Then ducked. A saucepan whizzed over his head to vanish into the mushroom field.

                        "What the…?"

                        He removed his paws from his head and peered into the house. It was just one room. A large sofa spread out at his left, with a very noisy chingling sat upon it. He wailed with laughter, his bell jingling loudly. Beside him sat a very disgruntled zigzagoon Macro recognised in an instant. But before her name could leave his mouth, someone sneezed and another saucepan soared over his head. He spotted the culprit by the stove. Cookie waddled back and forth, throwing pepper left and right in a bid to season some unseen dish. The cloud of pepper spread to the sofa, causing the chingling to fall into a sneezing fit. Surge refused to look up from her book, frowning at the pages.

                        "Cookie?" Macro gasped.

                        The slurpuff didn't look up from his preparations. A cloud of pepper wafted from the shaker, sending him into his own sneezing fit. He launched a plate in frustration. It narrowly missed Surge's ear then shattered against the wall, scattering porcelain in all directions. The zigzagoon didn't appear to notice.

                        Macro ducked into the house and closed the door behind him. An idea he soon regretted, as Surge looked up from her book and trapped him with her eyes. He swallowed a nervous lump in his throat and reached for his missing laser.

                        "What?" he growled. "Gonna kill me?"

                        "No." She looked back down at her book. "I might kill this annoying chingling though, if he doesn't stop laughing."

                        The chingling rolled onto his back and kicked his tiny legs in the air, erupting into a fit of maniacal giggles interspersed with sneezing.

                        Macro gave another glance around the room, and his heart froze in his chest. Something hung beside the stove, something he'd missed. Hanging by its tail was a spoink, missing the pearl on its head.

                        "Oh that?" Surge followed his eyes. "We had pearl soup for dinner last night. We'll be having spoink curry tonight. Care to join us?"

                        Macro felt unbelievably sick. He backed towards the door, but before he reached it another pan clattered against it just above his head. Then it knocked on the door and poofed away in a cloud of smoke.

                        He turned back to Surge and flashed his canines, but she didn't acknowledge it, too interested in her book. "Why in the world are you eating a spoink?!"

                        "The Queen permits it," she said flatly. "'Livestock', she calls it."

                        "It's cannibalism!"

                        "Take it up with the Queen," said Surge. "I'm nought but a Duchess."

                        "I think I shall!" He turned to the door and paused with his paw over the handle. "Where can I find this Queen?"

                        "Heart Palace."

                        That wasn't a name he was familiar with, but it wasn't a world he was familiar with. He licked his lips and spoke without looking back, "Have you seen DL?"

                        The already loud laughter increased in volume and mania. Surge leapt to her feet and grabbed the chingling by his tassels, lobbing him towards the kitchen. He clutched onto the spoink's head, dragging the pig pokemon from its nail. Its eyes flashed with life, and it landed on its springy tail and bounced towards the door with the chingling still clutching onto its head. Macro wrenched it open, watching as it bounded away towards the forest which had oddly replaced the mushroom field.

                        He didn't wait around for Surge's answer. Instead, he ducked a meat cleaver and fled from the house, slamming the door behind him. The meat cleaver embedded itself in the trunk of a tree with a 'twang!' as it wiggled with the impact.

                        "What a crazy-ass place!" he gasped.

                        "Certainly."

                        He jerked his head back to look into a tree. Sprawled on the branch was a pachirisu, leaning her head on one paw.

                        "But here, you might be perceived as the crazy one," she said.

                        "DL?" he gasped.

                        She watched the spoink hop away into the trees and sighed. "Such an annoying chingling, but he makes a rather handsome spoink pearl."

                        "What are you doing here?" Macro gasped. "I mean… what are we doing here? And you didn't drown! Thank goodness."

                        She peered down at him and yawned. "Why would I have drowned?"

                        "I saw you in the lake."

                        "The Lake of Tears?" She shrugged and a huge grin split her face. "Pachirisu can swim, you know."

                        He stared at her dumbfounded, then shook his head sharply. "Where are we? Do you know?"

                        "We're here." She spread an arm across the forest. "That's all you need to know."

                        "Rather lax on the details, DL," he muttered. Then he spoke more loudly, "This is a ridiculous place. How do I get back to my own world?"

                        "I think this is a splendid place," she said. "But if you want to get back, I guess you have to take things up with the Queen. She rules this world, not me. I'm just a humble pachirisu."

                        "And how do I get there?"

                        She pointed to her right. "That way." Macro was about to head in that direction then froze as she pointed to her left. "Or was it that way?"

                        He frowned up at her. "Come on, DL. I've no time for jokes."

                        She grinned from ear to ear and drifted into the air. Then she leant on her back, flicking her long tail up below her legs.

                        "We've all the time in the world," she said. "Enjoy a little madness."

                        "Madness? This world is totally crazy! Everyone I meet seems mad!"

                        "Oh, we can't help it. We're all mad here." She pointed to herself, then to Macro. "I'm mad, you're mad-"

                        "I'm not mad!" he paused then looked up at the canopy. "… Am I? I mean… I've clearly dreamt this place up…"

                        "Exactly."

                        "But I don't want to be mad!" he shrieked. "I want reality! I've got a girl to save, and a crazed robot to stop!"

                        She turned and drifted towards the ground until she was hovering upside-down before him. "So it's all about the romance is it?"

                        His entire face flushed and he stuttered. "N-no! It's not."

                        Another grin. "Lies."

                        If this was DL, she was clearly at the mercy of this crazy world. Maybe they were all imposters? Whatever it was, he had to fix it.

                        He pushed her aside and marched through the trees. "Forget it. I'll find Heart Palace myself, and get myself back to reality."

                        "If you keep going that way," she said, freezing him in his tracks, "you'll find the Mad Hatter."

                        He glanced back at her, then turned to head the other way.

                        "And that way leads to the March Hare," she said.

                        "Doesn't sound so bad." He kept marching on. "Rather him than some Mad Hatter."

                        "You say that now," she said. "But have you ever seen a hare in March?"

                        He inclined his head on one side and she chuckled.

                        "Of course, this is May so perhaps she won't be quite so mad," she explained, "but I guess you can take your chances."

                        A golden ring appeared behind DL and she vanished into it. Macro's jaw dropped as he watched it close up after her. Then it reopened again higher up in the canopy.

                        "Oh, by the way." She poked her head out of it. "Are you to play croquet with the Queen today?"

                        "I beg your pardon?" he asked.

                        "Croquet," she repeated. "She's been sending out invitations."

                        "Well I'm afraid I haven't got one," he said.

                        DL shrugged then grinned. "Well if you do show up, I'll be there." Then she vanished back into the ring.

                        Macro shook himself off and looked left and then right. "Both mad, eh? Well, I guess I'll take my chances with the March Hare."

                        ...

                        The woodland thinned out into a clearing, where sat a house with long buneary ears. The roof was thatched with fur, and it towered above Macro's head. He ducked by a tree root and placed his paw upon it.

                        "I can't enter there," he squeaked. "What if she eats me? I don't know if mawile is on the menu in this crazy place!"

                        Then he remembered the onions. He plucked one from his bag, the red one, and stared at it. It seemed a lot bigger than one would have looked had his paws been their ordinary size.

                        "If I remember rightly," he said, "it was a white one that made me shrink. So maybe a red one will make me grow?"

                        So he took a nibble, and before he knew it, he shot right up in size. The trees looked ordinary, the house looked ordinary. But the sudden change felt very surreal. He popped the onion back into his pouch and tiptoed towards the house.

                        Voices reached his ears. Laughter, singing, and the clatter of crockery. Thankfully no one was throwing it around. A cute, white picket fence surrounded a long garden, and in the middle of the garden sat a long table. Only three pokemon sat around the table. A delphox, a lopunny and an eevee. The eevee lay sprawled with his head on his paws, snoring loudly, but the other two didn't appear to notice.

                        "Digit?" he gasped, eyeing the lopunny.

                        But she didn't look up at him. Too engrossed in whatever the delphox had to say. Given his run-in with Worm, Surge and Cookie, he wasn't sure whether or not to be reassured at a familiar face.

                        Nevertheless, Macro vaulted the low fence and strolled towards the table. The delphox looked up from his cup of tea and upon seeing Macro almost dropped it, sloshing steaming liquid onto the table. The lopunny let out a cry of distress and reached for a napkin, but the delphox didn't take his eyes off the mawile.

                        He flicked his top hat so it was resting between his large ears and shouted, "No room!"

                        The lopunny looked up at this and added, "No room!"

                        "What are you talking about?" Macro spread his arms wide. "There's plenty of room!"

                        "No there isn't," said the delphox, who Macro assumed with a sinking feeling must be the Mad Hatter. "You are imagining it."

                        "Definitely imagining it," murmured the eevee. "You are but dreaming. Twinkle… twinkle…"

                        Macro pulled up a seat anyway and helped himself to a teacup. The March Hare slapped his paws aside and frowned at him.

                        "Do I know you?" she asked.

                        Familiar face or not, it wasn't the Digit he knew.

                        He looked up at her and shrugged. "I'm beginning to wonder if anyone I think I know here is either off their rocker, or an impostor."

                        She scrutinised him for a moment then nodded. "Good answer."

                        The table fell into a long, painful silence as the two pokemon continued to stare at him. The only sound came from the snoring eevee who Macro realised had fallen asleep on a plate of scones, and his entire chin and chest were coated with jam and cream.

                        Finally, the Hatter broke the silence. "Your scarf needs washing."

                        Macro looked up with a start then glanced down at his scarf. He fixed the delphox with a frown. "No it doesn't."

                        "It smells."

                        Macro flashed a canine. "It's rather rude to make personal remarks, you know."

                        "Of course!" said March. "You should know."

                        "You're also rather short," said the Hatter. "You should eat more onions."

                        Macro seethed silently and picked up his teacup. But there was nothing in it. Instead, all the tea had drained out of a hole in the bottom.

                        "Answer me something," said the delphox. "Why is a murkrow like a writing desk?"

                        From one extreme to the next. Macro mulled this over for a moment, then wondered why on earth he was bothering.

                        "What kind of nonsense is that?" he asked.

                        "It's a riddle," said the Hatter. "I am testing your intelligence."

                        Oh, so it was an insult. A bit of a back-handed one at that. Macro snorted and discarded the teacup to the seat beside him.

                        "I haven't a clue," he said. "Go on, tell me."

                        "Can't." The Hatter shrugged. "I don't know the answer myself."

                        "The answer is simple." The eevee lifted his head and rubbed a buttery paw over his eyes, smearing the fur back from his chipboard tattoo. "It's because they can both make a few notes, albeit flat, and you can't place either with the wrong end in front."

                        March pointed a claw at the eevee and beamed. "Genius!"

                        "That makes no sense!" Macro roared.

                        "It makes a lot of sense!" the Hatter roared back. "Now shut up and drink your tea."

                        A cup scurried across the table to Macro and poured tea from a pink teapot into itself. It seemed to go about it for a good long while. Long enough for the Hatter to check the time on his pocket watch.

                        "Do you know what's going on in this place?" Macro asked.

                        "What's going on is that Time has stopped working," said the Hatter. "At least for us, anyway."

                        Macro decided to brush past that little statement. "I mean where am I? What happened to System? My home?" He paused and continued watching the teapot pour out its endless stream of tea into the tiny teacup. "I mean, it took me ages to find DL and then I lost her again."

                        "I like to do that too!" March leant forward across the table all too eagerly. "I check the alphabet every day just to make sure none of those pesky letters go missing!"

                        Macro stared back at her, unsure of what to say. The lopunny retracted to her seat, looking all too pleased with herself.

                        "What day of the month is it?" the Hatter asked.

                        "Dunno," said Macro. "But last I checked, it was the fourth."

                        "Just as I thought." The Hatter lifted the watch to his ear and sighed. "Two day's slow. I guess butter just didn't fix it."

                        "It was the best butter," said March sadly. "The kind we used to oil the eevee. And he's working just fine!"

                        "No he's not, he's sleeping again." The Hatter leant across the table and poured scalding hot tea onto the eevee's nose. "Come on, wake up!"

                        The eevee sat up spluttering and wiped a paw over his muzzle. "Oh dear! Did I nod off again?"

                        The Hatter said nothing as he checked over his watch. "Typical. Still six o clock, still tea time."

                        "Still March," said March. "I guess Time really has stopped."

                        Macro waved a paw at the Hatter. "Just get a new watch!"

                        March glanced at Macro and wiggled in her seat. Her eye twitched. "I really wanna box your ears."

                        "Well, I've had enough." Macro shoved his cup towards the middle of the table, startling a teapot, and stood up. "I need to find the Queen."

                        "Good luck," said the Hatter. "We were playing hide and seek with her last…" He checked his watch and shook it. "Oh bother. I don't remember. But we never found her."

                        "Nope!" said March. "I spent three days stuck in a tree. Had to eat onions to stay alive."

                        "Hmm, no wonder you're so tall," Macro joked.

                        March grinned broadly and sipped at her tea.

                        "Anyway, I'll be off then," said Macro.

                        Hatter said nothing, still shaking and checking his watch. March returned to her tea, staring off into space. The eevee had nodded off again on his 'bed of scones', snoring into a plate of melted butter.

                        Macro shook his head and vaulted over the fence, glad to leave the mad tea party behind. Still non the wiser as to how to get to Heart Palace.

                        ...

                        The woodland spread out around Macro, its trees standing tall like sentinel soldiers. Signs were nailed to the trees, promising to guide him in the right direction. But closer inspections made his stomach sink.

                        'This way.'

                        'No, this way.'

                        'You sure you want to go that way?'

                        'Don't listen to him, it's this way!'

                        And so on, and so forth.

                        He shrugged off the signs and resigned himself to finding his own way, with no idea to how far he'd come, or whether or not he was moving in circles. Thanks to the promise of yet another arrow sign, he was strongly beginning to think so. He could still hear the mad tea party well in the distance, and it greatly unsettled him.

                        "I can't seem to put them far enough behind me," he muttered. "There's got to be some way out of these woods. That flippin' Digit. Threatenin' to box my ears." A canine poked out of his lip and he cast a glance over his shoulder. "It's like she knows I won't fight back. But I won't go down eas-"

                        Thud!

                        Solid wood met face. He staggered backwards, rubbing the side of his jaw.

                        "What the-?!" He glared up at a wide, ancient tree. "Where'd that come from?!"

                        The hollow trunk sported a mawile-sized door. And right above it, a wide arrow sign pointing down at it. 'Trust me, it's this way.'

                        "Really?" he asked the door. "You want me to open you? And what shiny, terrifying delights do you hold, hmm?"

                        The door didn't answer.

                        Macro sighed and grabbed the handle. To his surprise, it opened freely, swinging away from him. Beyond it was a glorious garden that almost took his breath away. Vibrant flowers and grass so green he wondered if it were an illusion. Until he stepped on it, feeling its soft blades stroking his paw pads. The door slammed and he twisted on the spot towards it. But it had vanished. No tree. No door. No sign.

                        A trap?

                        He deeply hoped not.

                        Oh well. Now he had several directions to choose from. He turned back towards the colourful flowers. Most of them were red, and shaped like hearts. Even the neatly manicured topiaries.

                        He shrugged and began heading towards them. "Guess I'll go this way."

                        "You sure you wanna head that way?"

                        The familiar voice snapped his head up to the air above him. Slowly, bit by bit, a pachirisu began to manifest. First her tail, then her feet. Then her ears. Until gradually, her body met in the middle. She floated on her back, arms tucked behind her head.

                        "It's a dreadful place," she said.

                        Macro glanced at the bushes and flowers. The lush green grass. Almost baiting him to keep moving forwards.

                        "What exactly is it?" he asked.

                        "Heart Palace."

                        "Then that's exactly where I want to go!" He waved her off and pressed on.

                        She drifted along above him, backwards, her tail acting as a rudder. One eye fixed on him and she grinned widely.

                        "Have you met the Queen?" she asked.

                        "No," he said. "But she can't be as mad as that tea party I've just come from."

                        "Oh, I wouldn't say that," said DL. "Compared to the Queen, those two are a real treat. A fine Earl Grey."

                        Macro faltered and glanced back over his shoulder. Behind him was just green. Dotted here and there by a spray of red flowers. Beyond that was a flat stretch of hedges.

                        "What's back that way then?" he asked.

                        "A maze."

                        "A maze?"

                        "Yep." Another grin. "It's a-maze-ing."

                        Puns? Not once did Macro recall DL using puns. He waved her off and kept heading towards Heart Palace.

                        "If I see the Queen," he said, "she might be able to get me back to my own, sane reality."

                        "And what makes your reality so sane?"

                        "Well everyone makes sense for one thing! And Digit doesn't threaten to box my ears. Worm can't evolve, and Cookie is about as violent as a day old hatchling on tranquilisers!"

                        "I don't know any of those pokemon," said DL.

                        He pointed a claw at her. "And you can't float! Nor… disappear and reappear at will."

                        "Really?" she raised an eyebrow. "You sure about that?"

                        With that, she grinned once more, and slowly faded away. First the white parts of her body. Then the blue. The last parts to fade were her grin, yellow cheeks and chocolate eyes. They hung around for a few seconds after the rest of her had vanished, leaving Macro feeling greatly unsettled. Once they'd gone, he smoothed out his fur and let out a flustered breath.

                        "To Heart Palace it is, then," he said to no one.

                        He reached the topiaries, and between them sat an archway. Ivy trailed up it, red blossoms buzzing with life. On closer inspection, he saw a flying mudbray no bigger than his index claw. It rocked back and forth on wooden supports, then whinnied as it flew to another blossom. Shooing a tiny butterfree aside. Which had bread for wings. Buttered bread.

                        "What kinda crazy-ass place is this?" he muttered.

                        He strolled through the arch and weaved his way along the path between the heart-shaped topiaries. It seemed to stretch on forever, until voices reached his ears. Familiar voices. He followed them into a large courtyard.

                        Anchor stood beside a quagsire, both of them waving around paintbrushes laden with red paint. Small trees stood in neat rows on either side of the square, their red roses dripping red paint onto the grass. Macro turned back to the frantically painting pokemon. Above them flew Matrix, wielding a paintbrush much too large for him with very little effort (or enthusiasm).

                        All three pokemon sported unusual garments. A long, flat shirt that came down to their knees. Both their shirts and trousers were white, as were their helmets. Each shirt was designed to resemble a playing card in the Hearts suit. Anchor was seven, the quagsire was two, and Matrix was three.

                        Macro strolled towards them and eyed the dripping bush. White roses dotted it, each one fated to receive a thick coating of red paint.

                        "What exactly are you doing?" Macro asked them.

                        "Painting the roses red," Anchor growled all too rapidly.

                        Macro cleared his throat and asked, politely, "May I ask why?"

                        "Well, you see." Anchor lowered his paintbrush to face Macro. "We were asked to plant red rose bushes. But Three, here," he pointed the brush at Matrix, "went and planted white ones."

                        Matrix paused what he was doing to grin at Macro.

                        "So if we don't paint them red," Anchor said as he returned to his work, "the Queen will have our heads."

                        "Does she have something against white roses?" Macro asked.

                        "You could say that," said Anchor. "She's the Queen of Hearts. Hearts are red. So all her flowers have to be red."

                        "It's only logical," said Matrix. "Why would the Queen of Hearts want white flowers?"

                        "Then why did you plant white flowers?!" Anchor snapped.

                        "I got bored," said Matrix. "I wanted to see her reaction."

                        "Her reaction is to remove our heads from our bodies!" Anchor sighed and ran a paw over his face, leaving a small smear of red paint on his forehead. "Why can't you just be sensible like Two?"

                        The quagsire said nothing, silently painting the roses with all the neatness of an artist.

                        "If it were just Three's fault," said Macro, "why are you two worried for your own heads?"

                        "Well all three of us planted the bushes," Anchor explained. "So, whether or not we knew what we were plantin', we're all responsible. So we gotta cover up our crimes."

                        "Crimes?!"

                        "Yeh. Plantin' the enemy's colour."

                        "This Queen sounds mighty violent," said Macro, more to himself. "Kinda wish I'd picked the other route."

                        "Well you're here now," said Anchor. "So start paintin'."

                        Macro found a large paintbrush shoved into his paws. With a shrug, he dipped it into the paint tin and started painting what was left of the white roses.

                        A trumpet blast erupted through the square, and the three soldiers dropped their paintbrushes onto the grass.

                        "Oh jack, it's the Queen!" Anchor barked. "Quick, get down!"

                        The three suits threw themselves face first onto the floor. Macro looked from them to the oncoming parade and back.

                        "Get down!" Anchor barked at him.

                        Macro sighed and slumped onto his belly, pressing his face into the grass. It seemed like an odd thing to do. Why not just kneel, or bow as she passed? Why lie flat like a playing card?

                        Heavy footsteps marched across the square towards them. Then stopped. A familiar voice shouted, "Here! The Queen of Hearts!"

                        Macro cracked an eye open to look up at the speaker, but the first thing he saw was a gothitelle standing before them. She clutched an ornamental staff in one paw, topped by a ruby encrusted heart. She gazed around at the rose bushes, each rose as red as the bows that adorned her body. Previously white bows replaced with red ones. Behind her, kitted out like a Queen's Prime Minister, was DL. Macro opened his mouth to gasp out her name, but swallowed it back.

                        Socket paced around the rose bushes, a smile on her face.

                        "Ahh, my precious rose bushes," she said. "The blooms have really come into their own, haven't they?"

                        She paused beside one to sniff it, holding the blossom delicately. A grimace twisted her smile and she released it, staring at her paw in horror.

                        "Paint?" she gasped. Then she turned to her entourage. "Paint?!"

                        The army stood to attention, keeping their eyes trained ahead of them.

                        "Who's been painting my roses red?!" she roared.

                        DL pointed a trembling paw at the suits lying face down. Socket marched over to them, eyeing each one in turn.

                        "Who are you?!" Socket asked. "Stand at once!"

                        The three suits scrambled to their feet, smoothing out their suits. Socket's scowling face leant towards Anchor's.

                        "Why are you painting my roses red?" As calm as her voice sounded, it was laced with danger.

                        Anchor stuttered and twisted the hem of his shirt in his paws. "You see… your majesty… there was an accident and-"

                        "And what?" she asked.

                        "Well… you see… we accidentally planted white roses…"

                        "White roses?" Socket pulled her head back and narrowed her eyes.

                        "Yes, your majesty." Anchor glanced away from her. "I'm terribly sorry. We've been trying to fix it-"

                        "In the hopes I wouldn't notice?" Socket tapped her staff on her arm. "I suppose you thought that was noble?"

                        Anchor and the quagsire stuttered while Matrix twirled his antenna in his paw.

                        The Queen straightened up and opened her mouth so wide Macro feared she was going to swallow them whole. "Off with their heads!"

                        The army surged forwards and grabbed the three suits, then marched them from the square towards the palace.

                        Socket watched them go then turned to Macro. "And who are you? You don't work for me. You aren't in suit."

                        "I'm just a humble, lost mawile," said Macro.

                        Socket leered at him, tapping her arm with her staff. "I'm just a humble, lost mawile what?"

                        "Eh?" Macro cocked an eyebrow and his muzzle creased with confusion.

                        "I said," Socket said, her voice laced with ice, "'I'm a humble, lost mawile what?'"

                        Macro shook his head and shrugged. "Nope. I can't work out this riddle, I'm afraid. It could rival the Hatter's riddle about the writing desk."

                        "You are meant to address me as 'your majesty'!" she snapped. "Now try again!"

                        A vile taste filled Macro's mouth at the mere sound of those words. Surely having to say them would poison him? He took a step back, fixing the gothitelle with a look of sheer horror.

                        "Just do it," DL said meekly from behind her. She lifted a paw and sliced it across her throat, making a clear point to Macro what would happen should he fail to address the Queen with her favoured title.

                        "I'm just a humble, lost mawile," he said through gritted teeth, "your majesty."

                        Socket smiled and nodded once. "Much better. Now… do you play croquet?"

                        "Croquet?" Macro's eyes widened as he recalled DL mentioning such a game to him. "But I never received an invite."

                        "I am offering you one," said the Queen. "And it is non-optional. You shall join me in a game of croquet, or it will be your head."

                        If he declined, she'd probably use his head as the ball. With a nod, he resigned himself to his fate.

                        "Excellent!" Socket turned to follow after her entourage. "We will start post-haste."

                        Macro exchanged glances with DL, and she lowered her head to scurry after the Queen. With a sigh, he followed behind her.

                        ...

                        The Queen's Court was bustling with various colourful guests. Amongst them scurried her suits, throwing themselves around the court and bending with all four paws on the ground, arching their backs reminiscent of croquet hoops. Macro barely got a word out before a small doduo was stuffed into his paws. He stared down at it, then looked up at Socket.

                        "What is this?" he asked.

                        "Your croquet mallet," she answered.

                        His brow furrowed and he opened his mouth to retort, but DL stuffed her paw into it, turning his comment into a surprised muffle.

                        "And this," Socket stooped to place a togedemaru at his feet, "is your ball. Commence!"

                        The gothitelle turned and marched away, clutching her own doduo in one paw. She shouted commands to the other players before vanishing into the thick of it all.

                        Macro turned to DL and gestured to the doduo hanging obediently from his paw by its legs. "What on earth is this?"

                        "Croquet," she said meekly.

                        "With live pokemon? It's barbaric!"

                        DL waved her paws and let out a long, sharp 'shh!' She glanced over to where the Queen had vanished then moved closer to him and lowered her voice.

                        "The Queen has standards," she said. "Those that don't fit them have their rights removed. Turned into meat or… entertainment." She nodded to the togedemaru who was peering up at Macro over her shoulder.

                        The small hedgehog pokemon raised her arms. "We doin' this or not? 'Cos I haven't got all day."

                        "Oh… of… of course." Macro readied his doduo behind the small togedemaru and she curled up into a tight ball.

                        "Ready!" the doduo barked. "Aim! F-"

                        "No!" Macro dropped the doduo, receiving surprised looks from both heads and the togedemaru.

                        "What's he doing?" one head asked the other.

                        "Not a clue," it replied. "But at this rate, the Queen will-"

                        "Sever his head for sure!" The first head trembled.

                        "Took the words right out of my mouth," said the second.

                        "I'm not doing this," Macro hissed. "You have rights."

                        "Hey, I'm just glad I'm not on a sandwich," said the togedemaru. "Now use that doduo and smack me towards that croquet hoop before it moves again! I wanna be on a winning team for once."

                        Macro shook his head and turned away. "No. I will not do something so barbaric."

                        "Why you…" The togedemaru waved a tiny fist. "Bleeding heart!"

                        Macro looked back to find DL, hoping to drag her away from the barbaric game. But she'd seemingly vanished. He let out a sigh and continued on towards the heart-shaped topiaries.

                        "Curious fellow, aren't you?"

                        DL's voice snapped his head up towards a broad tree branch. He wasn't surprised to find every single blossom was red and heart shaped.

                        "DL?" he squeaked. "How did you get up in that tree?"

                        "I'm a squirrel." Her answer became redundant as she slowly drifted into the air. "Now. You seem rather perplexed by the Queen's wonderful game."

                        "Wonderful?" he scoffed.

                        DL merely grinned. "Why don't I introduce you to someone who can put things into a better perspective?"

                        He snorted and folded his arms, glancing back at the game. The Queen shouted something in the distance that sounded very much like 'Cheater! Off with his head!'

                        "If it gets me out of here," he said, turning back to DL, "then sure. Introduce me."

                        She let out a silent laugh and tucked her paws behind her head, drifting backwards away from him. "Very well. Follow me."

                        Macro ducked through the bushes, the sounds of the game fading away behind him. Pretty soon, he lost track of the pachirisu.

                        "DL?" he shouted. But he got no reply.

                        With a sigh, he pressed on. The path weaved through the topiaries like a maze, and he soon found himself running into dead ends. He muttered under his breath and turned one eighty to retrace his footsteps. The path turned sharply to the right, and he let out a squeak as he found himself face to grinning face with the floating pachirisu.

                        "Good grief!" He placed a paw against his pulsing rib cage then flashed a canine at her. "What game are you playing?"

                        "Just hide and seek," she said. "I'd say 'you're next', but we're here."

                        She drifted backwards through a neatly manicured gorse bush (with red, heart-shaped berries) and Macro ducked after her. The thorns snagged his fur as he scrambled through them, shielding his eyes which they seemed intent on scratching out. Once on the other side, he gazed out at a heart-shaped pond which was, surprisingly, not red. Beside the pond sat a snoring talonflame, his head lolling forward against his chest.

                        "This is the Queen's mysterious creature," DL explained. "He can tell you everything."

                        With that, she did a little back-flip in the air and vanished through a golden hoop. Macro looked from the spot she'd occupied back to the talonflame.

                        "Switch?" he asked, tentatively.

                        The talonflame jerked his head up, letting out a loud, surprised snort. He blinked his bleary eyes and fixed them on the mawile.

                        "You need to keep your voice down when others are sleeping," said Switch. "Otherwise, you're just being rude."

                        "Sorry." Macro shrugged and shifted his weight to one leg. "But DL said you might be able to help me."

                        "I don't know who this DL is," said Switch. "But he's no friend of mine."

                        "She," Macro corrected.

                        Switch appeared to not notice. He craned his neck around and started preening his right wing, snubbing Macro completely. The mawile cleared his throat, and Switch looked at him out of the corner of his eye, not stopping his preening.

                        "She brought me here," Macro began, "because she thought you might be able to explain the Queen's barbaric game of croquet."

                        Switch dropped his wing, letting it fold neatly against his side, and turned fully to Macro.

                        "Barbaric?" he repeated. "I'd be inclined to agree with you. A lot of pokemon here have little to no rights. Those that fall into that category are either abused or turned into meat. One such pokemon has met the latter fate many times."

                        "Eh?" Macro raised a confused brow.

                        "Well… not personally," said Switch. "His family, mainly. One by one. Gone. Would you like him to tell you about his sorrow?"

                        Macro's eye wandered to the pond. A fish pokemon? That would have been his first guess. But seeing the spoink, and the croquet game, he decided he couldn't very well just assume.

                        "All right," he said, perching on a rock beside the talonflame. "Go ahead."

                        Switch cleared his throat and turned his head to the water. "Oi! Mock Squirtle!"

                        Squirtle? Ripples spread across the water, drawing closer towards them. The first thing he saw was a long, blue fin, slicing through the glassy surface like a blade. Then two blue paws clutched the bed, followed by a lithe, blue body. Drops of water fell from their fur. No. Not a squirtle at all.

                        A vaporeon sat down… rather floppily. Macro recognised him immediately.

                        "Floppy?" he gasped.

                        The vaporeon blinked his glassy, black eyes. The last time he'd seen them, they'd been filled with mischief despite his injuries. Now… they were filled with sorrow.

                        Floppy let out a wistful sigh and flopped onto the rocks, letting his chin fall onto his forepaws.

                        Switch inclined his head on one side then nodded to Macro. "I thought you might want to tell this young fellow about your sorrow."

                        "Sorrow?" Floppy sighed again. "What's the point. No one cares."

                        "Hey!" Macro narrowed his eyes. "I care! Everything that's goin' on in this place? It's madness!"

                        "Precisely," said Switch. "Everyone is mad here. Because she's mad."

                        "The Queen?" Macro asked.

                        "The Queen," Switch and Floppy answered.

                        Floppy raised his head and blinked his huge, sad eyes. "Ever since she became the Queen, the world turned violent. Heads rolling, pokemon turned into slavery and meat. All because they don't fit her criteria."

                        "And what would that be?" Macro asked.

                        Floppy shrugged. "She doesn't have one, really. If she doesn't like you, or you wrong her in some way, she'll have your head. If you're a bird, or a water type, or fall into her 'livestock' category, you're meat."

                        "And what of the togedemaru?" Macro asked.

                        Floppy shrugged again. "Oh that's obvious. She needed pokemon that roll."

                        "Exactly," said Switch. "And all the voltorb she tried to use exploded. Made a jolly mess of the palace grounds."

                        "This is insane!" Macro roared.

                        "Of course it is," said Floppy. "Because she is!"

                        Heavy panting came from the bushes and DL exploded through them. She stood, trying to catch her breath, then looked up at him.

                        "There you are," she said. "Come on! The trial's about to start!"

                        "What trial?" Macro asked.

                        "What do you mean 'what trial'?" DL gasped. "Yours!"

                        Macro's jaw almost hit the floor. "What on earth did I do?"

                        "No time to explain." DL grabbed his paw and dragged him after her through the maze. "We have to go now!"

                        His heart hammered in his chest with every foot step. The maze zipped past him all too quickly, and before he knew it he was dragged through the palace doors to the Queen's court room.

                        Socket sat in her throne, high up where everyone could see her. A plump sparksurfer raichu stood behind a podium, leafing through sheets of paper each of which had the Queen's heart motif printed on them. Macro was thrown into a seat before the jury. Various small pokemon filled the jury booth, each one clutching a small black slate.

                        "A call to silence!" Socket roared.

                        It hadn't been all that necessary. The pokemon in the courtroom hadn't so much as squeaked.

                        She fixed her livid eyes on his. "Hunter. You are being tried for stealing something that belongs to me."

                        Macro's entire voice turned dry. He stuttered, but she went on, silencing him.

                        "You have stolen my tarts," she said. "And for that, I find you guilty."

                        "We can't rush just yet," said the raichu. "We haven't brought in any witnesses."

                        Socket sat back in her seat and sighed, rubbing between her eyes. "Fine. Bring in the first witness."

                        "Calling the first witness!" the raichu roared.

                        The double doors were thrown open as a tatty looking archeops scurried through them. She looked up at the Queen and grinned.

                        "Yo there, your Majesty!" She flopped into the witness booth. "How can I help you?"

                        "Do not address me with such vulgarities!" Socket snapped. "If I didn't need your evidence, I'd take your head!"

                        Annie shrugged and kicked one gangly leg over the other.

                        "Now then," said the raichu, turning to his papers. "You say you saw Hunter take the tarts?"

                        "I never said such a thing." Annie faltered and placed a claw under her chin, glancing up at the ceiling. "Or did I? I don't remember. What day was it?"

                        "It was a Friday," said the raichu.

                        "Hmm…" She inclined her head on one side. "I don't remember Friday."

                        "That's very important!" the raichu shouted to the jury.

                        The small pokemon scrambled to write this all down on their slates with their claws.

                        "Next witness!" the Queen roared.

                        Suits rushed to the witness booth and picked it up, carrying Annie out of the courtroom. She let out a cheer and raised her wings into the air as she was whisked through the side doors into the yard. The entire booth went flying and the suits slammed the doors before rushing to erect a new one. Right before the Mad Hatter strolled in with March and the eevee.

                        "Hater," the raichu said slowly.

                        "It's Hatter," the delphox corrected.

                        "Apologies," said the raichu. "You claim to have dined with Hunter recently? What was his behaviour like?"

                        "Rude," said March. "He just invited himself in."

                        "Despite us telling him there's no room," said the Hatter. "All unclean with his mucky scarf. Not quite the gentlemon at all."

                        "Not at all," added the eevee.

                        "So… technically…" said the raichu slowly, "he stole from you?"

                        "You could say that," said March. "Helped himself to tea and scones."

                        "I never touched a scone!" Macro barked.

                        "You did," said the Mad Hatter. "And you got fur in them."

                        "That might have been me, actually," said the eevee.

                        "Write that down!" the raichu barked at the jury.

                        Macro pointed at the eevee then looked directly at the Hatter. The delphox shrugged, before the suits were ordered once again to 'remove the witnesses'.

                        "Third witness!" the Queen roared.

                        The doors flew open and in marched a figure that left Macro chilled to the core. A mawile… complete with a scar and black scarf. Goggles topped his head, and he frowned at Macro as he took the witness booth.

                        "Now… tell me in all honesty," the raichu said to the mawile, "did Hunter steal the Queen's tarts?"

                        The mawile said nothing, almost staring into Macro's very soul. Macro staggered backwards, toppling over the jury booth onto the small pokemon. Yelps of protest came from beneath him as they tried desperately to scramble free.

                        "Yes," the mawile said flatly.

                        "No!" Macro roared. "I didn't steal anything! I rescued them!"

                        No sooner had the words left his mouth, the Queen roared "Off with his head!"

                        The suits lurched forwards, almost flying at him. A bone chilling scream left Macro's throat.

                        "Admit it, Macro," he heard the other him say. "You know you stole them. Whether or not you're trying to be the hero now, it doesn't change the fact you're a criminal. And you know it." The other mawile grinned widely, morphing slowly into a grinning pachirisu. "You deserve this."

                        Macro watched, stuttering, through the flying suits, as she rose into the air. Morphing, twisting, into the form of a grinning hoopa.

                        "Let's hear it again!" squealed BackDoor. "Off with his head!"

                        The suits rushed at Macro with more speed, their bodies morphing like origami. Their forms became more pointed, more knife-like, and Macro realised with horror they were morphing into kartana. A strangled scream erupted from him as their bladed limbs slashed at his body. That soreness in his chest flared up into a full-blown stabbing pain as one of them ran right through him. Red filled his vision. Then a white light started in the centre like a pin prick. It exploded like a star, dazzling him with a blinding white rose. He shut his eyes tightly, clutching the bleeding wound in his chest. He staggered back beneath their wicked blades and rolled backwards onto the floor as he groped for his missing lasers with his free paw.

                        Soft ground enveloped him like a mattress. The soreness lessened in his chest as he felt the last of the kartana vanish from him like dust. He blinked his eyes back open. Soft, white light surrounded him, and he found himself looking into Solgaleo's smiling face.

                        "Time to wake up," said the lion.
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                        I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

                        A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
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                          #37    
                        Old August 4th, 2018 (1:18 AM).
                        Delirious Absol's Avatar
                        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                        Call me Del
                           
                          Join Date: May 2015
                          Location: UK
                          Age: 33
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                          Posts: 350
                          Chapter Fifty Six

                          Socket stared out of her office window with a combination of mourning and loathing. The strange lanky creatures sprawled themselves over the mechanical trees and the walls of every building she could see. Every building except hers. A huge, perspex dome surrounded the mansion, cutting her off from the outside world and greatly reducing the invasion of toxic air from the outskirts.

                          Mechanical trees lay bent like bows amid debris from fallen ships. They hadn't even stood a chance, becoming fodder for the electrical monstrosities. Barely a dent had been made in the creatures' numbers. Some of the trees were even broken completely, their innards sparking as the aliens fed from them. But they had no faces to speak of, no mouths to feed with. They used their 'legs', attaching them to the wires and letting the current run up their wiry limbs to fuel the jagged fur that formed their 'heads'.

                          Her gut burned, flooding her body with hatred. It wasn't BackDoor that was solely responsible for this. Sure, the android had opened a gateway to another world, but that was its job. No, it wasn't BackDoor's responsibility. It wasn't her perfect plan that had gone awry. It was that wretched space pirate. If she'd had Download Database, she'd have been able to keep a tab on the gateways. Monitor them. Close them if things looked to be getting out of hand.

                          But no. She hadn't had Download Database. Her connection to the portholes had been fed through BackDoor's own childish rambling and gloating reports. Rather than send the information directly to Download Database, along with every other android in his network, he'd had to report back to Socket himself. A pokemon who rarely went outside. A pokemon who relied on her scientist. A pokemon who only wanted what was best for those who stuck to her law, and that wretched Hunter had wrecked everything.

                          Now she'd had to press her big, red eject button before her plan had even reached completion. Her eyes went up to the cloud of toxic fog slowly darkening the sky to a murky yellowish brown. It wouldn't be long until it penetrated the mansion's barrier.

                          She span towards her holoscreen and flicked it on, her claw automatically dialling Yobi. It only rang once before the sparksurfer raichu appeared before her.

                          "How are you getting on?" she asked before he could even open his mouth.

                          "Time is of the essence, Mayor," he replied. "We should hopefully be out of Meta City by dawn."

                          Socket nibbled her claw and looked over her shoulder at the electrical apocalypse.

                          "That dome is state of the art," he told her. "It's meant to hold back a full blown riot. Not to mention it doesn't even give off a charge. Even a thunderstorm couldn't wreck it. I doubt those creatures will."

                          "But the air…"

                          "Can get through, yes. We still need filters, and for something pretty old it's doing the best it can."

                          "How long before that air poisons us?"

                          The raichu's ominous silence set her fur on end. She leered at him until he finally met her eyes again.

                          "I erm…" He scratched his nose, leaving behind a greasy streak. "I'm working on getting us out of here non stop, but everything is ancient. I can only go so fast."

                          "Go faster."

                          Yobi stared out at her for an uncomfortable moment, watching the gothitelle twitch as her eyes went from the window to the holoscreen. All she could hear from his lab was the dull drone of some hidden machine and Tweak's jingling and chuckling. Finally, he let out a sigh and nodded.

                          "I promise you, we'll be out of here by dawn," he said.

                          She spun back to him with a start. "So it will be ready?"

                          "It might not be perfect, but it will at least get us out of the air. And out of range of those creatures."

                          "I thought you said this barrier was impenetrable to them?" She narrowed her eyes, prompting a response.

                          "I didn't say 'impenetrable'," he said. "I said 'I doubt they can wreck it'. Besides, with all the electricity they're indulging in, I can't see them turning on the mansion in a desperate frenzy anytime soon. Hold tight. Sleep if you need to."

                          Before she could reply, he cut out, vanishing before her eyes. She leant back against her desk and gazed around her office.

                          Empty. Silent.

                          It crossed her mind to call Tweak back from his laboratory assistance, but that may only slow things down. For the first time in a long time, she really didn't want to be alone.

                          ...

                          Macro stared at Jumper, dumbfounded. Had he heard him right? No… surely it was just another nightmare?

                          He pushed himself up against the pillow and fixed the governor in a violet plea. "You're lying, right? Pulse City isn't…"

                          "I'm not lying, Macro," said Jumper. "Most of System is under attack from these monsters. Your crew explained to me about what happened in Spool City, and that wasn't even your target for investigation. You were trying to monitor the chaos in Meta City, which, as we speak, is falling apart at the seams. The only footage we have of Pulse City is a blurred shot taken from a fleeing ship, uploaded to the Underground News, and what we can make out looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland."

                          Macro narrowed his eyes, fighting back tears. But a couple betrayed him and hung around at the corners of his eyes. "Are you trying to hurt me? Pulse City is my home!"

                          "I'm not trying to hurt you!" Jumper gasped. "Of course not. I felt obligated to let you know. It would be deceitful of me to let you go back there without telling you what state it lay in. Hundreds have been killed already."

                          "Hundreds…" Macro flopped back against the pillow and rubbed his paws over his face. "I have friends there. Sure we're a rough lot, and I also had a lot of enemies and rivals. But I still had friends! How am I meant to know-"

                          Jumper raised a paw to silence him. "We don't know for certain who managed to escape and who was trapped, but there's a list of confirmed casualties from those who… witnessed things before they managed to leave."

                          "Any idea which Ultra Beast it is? Which one that done it?"

                          Jumper clasped his paws behind his back and leant against the wall, diverting his gaze to the window. "It has been described as a bamboo cannon with a deathly wail."

                          Macro felt his blood turn cold. Every fur on his body stood on end and he tugged the duvet up to his chest. Unconsciously, he followed the frogadier's gaze, but his mind was on that creature. The same thing that had terrified him. And it had reduced Pulse City to ruins…

                          "I can't handle this, gov." He shoved the duvet off himself and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Every movement caused his chest to complain, but he grit his teeth and pushed through it. "I need a walk. Clear my head."

                          "I can't allow that." Jumper was at his side and placed a paw on his shoulder. "The only activities you're meant to have are your scheduled rehabilitation exercises. If you push yourself too much you're going to hamper your recovery time. Maybe even take a step back."

                          Macro narrowed his eyes. "I thought rich city medicine was supposed to encourage a quick recovery?"

                          "It does, but it doesn't work miracles. You still need rest."

                          "I can't rest with that nightmare of an image floating around my head!"

                          Jumper sighed and released the mawile. "Maybe I told you too soon. I just felt you had a right to know."

                          "No, you did the right thing." Macro leant forward on his knees and stared at the door. He clenched his teeth together and dropped to his feet. "No sense in dreamin' about a home that ain't there anymore, is there?"

                          Jumper watched him as he reached for his scarf, grimacing at the effort to wrap it around his shoulders.

                          "At least let me get you a wheelchair," the governor offered.

                          "I ain't no invalid."

                          "Right now you are!" Even though Jumper didn't raise his voice, it was firm enough to cause Macro to glance at him. "I implore you, please look after yourself. If you want to go out and clear your head, that's fine. We have a means of getting you there, and the hospital has a beautiful garden."

                          "But I don't want others to see me like that."

                          Jumper raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

                          Macro shrugged, painfully, and looked away. "It makes me look vulnerable."

                          Jumper was silent for a moment, but he didn't take his eyes off the mawile. Macro shifted under his gaze, feeling his strength wane with the effort of holding himself up. He took a step back towards the bed just to give himself something to lean on, an action he immediately regretted.

                          "We're all mortal." Jumper's words caused him to look up with a start. "We're all vulnerable for that reason. You nearly died. You're fortunate to even still be here."

                          "It ain't the first time I nearly died. First time, I almost lost an eye. This time, I lost my pride. I've never fallen in battle like that."

                          "You don't need pride. What others think is irrelevant." Jumper gave him a small smile. "Besides, I've been in a wheelchair before. Voluntarily. I did it to raise awareness, and I have to say I enjoyed it. You might find it quite fun."

                          Macro's muzzle creased into a sneer. "This ain't about fun."

                          "Listen here, Macro. The only way you're leaving this room is in a wheelchair. It's in your best interests, and if you keep being stubborn I'm going to encase you in frubbles and bury you in sheets."

                          Macro raised an eyebrow and looked from Jumper's face to the scarf-like foam around his neck. His heart sank. He was in no shape to fight, and he actually didn't want to. Part of him understood the frogadier's concern. He let out a defeated sigh and rolled his eyes.

                          "Fine, get the wretched chair." Before Jumper could reach the door, Macro locked him in a violet glare. "But I'll make you a deal, okay? I only use it when I can't walk no more."

                          Jumper stared at him over his shoulder and he shook his head. "You're a stubborn one, aren't you? Fine. If you want to go down fighting, I'll let you have this one. But they aren't light. You may need assistance. You won't be able to push it yourself in your condition."

                          Macro's lips formed a frown as the image of Anchor wheeling him along lit up in his mind. No… he was meant to carry his crew, not the other way around. What was left of his pride shattered like brittle glass. He forced his dismay to the back of his mind and fixed his eyes on Jumper.

                          "Anchor or DL would be fine," he said. "I doubt Matrix could - or would - do it."

                          "Very well." Jumper gave him a nod and slipped from the room.

                          Macro stared at the door as it closed behind him, his eyes slowly narrowing. No. He wasn't having that. It was the last straw that would break his back.

                          He pushed himself from the bed and walked as steadily as he possibly could to the door. Peering out, he checked the coast was clear. No sign of Jumper or any of Wildcard. It would take too long to get the schematics for the hospital. He'd need to rely on signs, and he didn't even know what floor he was on. From his window, he knew it wasn't the ground floor.

                          He let the door close behind him and turned towards the double doors at the end of the corridor. Using his paw to steady him against the wall, he pushed himself towards them. Only three more private wards separated him from what he hoped was an elevator to the entrance.

                          Unlikely.

                          And he didn't see a single sign for the garden Jumper had told him about.

                          The double doors swung open with ease, a necessity given the number of stretchers whipped through them to emergency wards. But Macro's heart sank as he stared out at a waiting area filled with patients, visitors, chairs and nurses. Two nurses bustled around a small kitchenette making up fresh drinks for the ward, and perched on a chair amongst all the water type pokemon was Anchor. The granbull had his head down as he messed with his computer, a look of pure focus on his face. Macro had no doubts he'd be able to sneak past him.

                          Provided the nurses didn't give him a hard time.

                          He wrapped an air of nonchalance about himself and strut-staggered his way across the room. A convenient nurse passed him, blocking him from the granbull's peripheral vision. But as he reached the next set of doors, a simipour nurse eyed him curiously. She followed him with her eyes as he pushed through the doors, trying his best not to look at her.

                          "Excuse me," she said quietly, so as not to draw attention to them. "I don't think you're meant to be out of your ward."

                          Macro kept going, drawing the nurse after him. A quick glance over his shoulder told him Anchor had looked up but only to retrieve a steaming cup of tea from a marill.

                          "I need some air," Macro said flatly. "Where's this 'amazing garden' this hospital is meant to have?"

                          "It's on the ground floor," the simipour explained. "Just before you reach the cafeteria. But you still shouldn't be walking."

                          "Don't worry, I won't take the stairs." He paused and licked his lips thoughtfully. "Where's the elevator?"

                          The simipour stared at him as though trying to read him, her eyes narrowed slightly. In one paw she held a digital Clipboard, a computer specific to hospitals, and if Macro were to guess his information would be on there amongst the host of other patients she attended to. Either way, he didn't recognise her. Maybe she'd attended to him when he was unconscious? Half dead, clinging to life… The thought made him bite his lip hard.

                          "You're close," she said. "Go through the next set of doors and you'll reach the stairwell. They're right there. Go to the ground floor and turn left. You can't miss the garden."

                          He glanced up at her, noting her flick through the Clipboard's screen. She met his eyes briefly and she nodded to the doors ahead of them. He muttered a quick 'cheers' and guided himself along the wall with his paw. She said nothing as she watched him go. Watching him intensely in case he collapsed.

                          He wasn't going to let that happen.

                          Just as she'd said, the elevators rose up on his right. One was already waiting, and he climbed inside, clutching the rail. The glass chamber gave him a fantastic view of Cyan City. The lush green grass, clean air, happy pokemon. Most of it had been repaired after their clash with the grass types.

                          Pulse City floated through his mind, a ruined mound topped with a wailing monstrosity. He shivered. How long would it take to repair? Would it even be possible? He hoped desperately Jumper's use of the term 'ruins' was a huge overstatement.

                          The elevator came to a smooth stop and let him out on the ground floor. It was oddly empty. He found the garden straight away, on his right. It appeared to be attached to the cafeteria, but just like the hallway it was empty. The cafeteria was a different matter. He could see it clearly through the glass panels that made up the wall, providing diners with a clear view of the garden, complete with its own horsea-shaped water fountain. He could hear its gentle gurgling from where he stood.

                          The doors to it weren't open, but a push of a button made them slide open with a gentle hiss. He soon discovered why it was empty. There was a slight chill to the air. He glanced up, but the dome was still above them. Cyan City sometimes opened it for the orchards. Perhaps noon was one of those times?

                          He hugged his scarf around himself and found a suitable bench, slumping down onto it with a pained sigh. Finally. Some air. Some peace. Some time to mull over what a mess his life had become over the past few weeks.

                          Socket cranking up his bounty. Getting sucked into her twisted conspiracy. Almost dying. Losing his home. He quite literally had the past, and the responsibility for his own present and future, resting in his paws in the form of a lost human. And on top of getting Switch home he had to also find a way to send back a host of dangerous creatures who, from his experience, would no sooner look at a pokemon than kill them.

                          Part of him wished it was all a bad dream. That he'd wake up from a bad night at Moonlight Lounge with a killer hangover. He rubbed the bridge of his muzzle between two claws and groaned. He felt groggy thanks to those powerful painkillers. And exhausted. Maybe he could just curl up on the cold bench and…

                          "Macro!"

                          He looked up, one arm resting on the arm of the bench while the other still rubbed at his muzzle. Anchor raced into the garden with DL and Switch in tow. Behind them he spotted both Matrix and Jumper on the other side of the glass. Not a wheelchair in sight. The frogadier looked sullen. Disappointed. For some reason, that bothered Macro greatly.

                          He grimaced and looked away, straining to push himself back up.

                          "What on earth's got into you?" Anchor asked.

                          "Nothin'," said Macro. "I just needed some air."

                          "Air my ass." Anchor stopped before him and placed a claw under Macro's chin, lifting his face so he could meet his eyes.

                          Macro swiped his paw away, fixing the granbull in a leer. "I said I needed air. I had to get out of that stuffy room and clear my head."

                          Anchor stood back and sat beside Switch on the stone wall around the fountain. DL was the only one who clambered up onto the bench beside Macro. She hugged her tail into her lap, looking anywhere but at her friends.

                          "Look, Cap'n," said Anchor. "We're worried about you. That nurse said you had a warnin' look in your eye. Like if she stopped you, she'd regret it. I know you're reckless 'n' all, but… You can't blow our freedom here, we ain't got nowhere else to go."

                          Macro sighed into his paw. "I weren't gonna hurt her. I just…"

                          "This is about Pulse City, isn't it?" Switch asked, letting his computer fall limply in his lap. "Believe me, I understand how you feel. I lost a lot of friends when the drifting continents crashed."

                          Macro glanced up at him and shook his head sadly. "Friends, home, work… I don't even know who got out. Did Worm? Surge?"

                          Anchor shrugged weakly, not meeting his eyes. "I dunno. But I mean… space pirates bounce back. Once we get them creatures home, it can be rebuilt."

                          "Listen to yourself," Macro groaned. "'Once we get them home'. How? You've seen what they can do! How are we meant to catch them and get them back? Use a huge net?!"

                          He immediately regretted raising his voice. His breath caught in his throat as pain shot through his ribs and he coughed violently into his paw. Anchor and Switch leapt to their feet, while DL spun on the spot and placed a paw on Macro's shoulder. He shrugged her off and waved his paw, taking steady breaths to ease his breathing. A metallic taste filled his mouth. He looked down at his paw and relief flooded him when he saw it was clear of any blood.

                          "Look," said Anchor. "You clearly need to get back to your bed. We can plan how to do this while you're recovering, if it helps. Get the ball rollin'."

                          "But the damage they're causing." Macro wheezed as he pushed himself upright off the arm of the bench. "They need getting out of System sooner, not later."

                          "Exactly," said Anchor. "And we're the 'mon that have been asked to do it. But the more you try to rush your recovery time, the longer it's gonna take for you to get outta here. And, as a result, the longer those Ultra Beasts are gonna be wreckin' up the joint."

                          "He has a point," said Switch before Macro could retort. "Before you got yourself hurt, you didn't have my help. But now you're back here, you do. So your team isn't one 'mon down. We can come up with a plan while you recover, and we'll discuss things with you. Once you're out, we can get straight to work. I suggest we start with the smaller threats."

                          "What would you deem a smaller threat?" Macro asked.

                          "I dunno." Switch flicked his computer and turned it to Macro. A large, clear picture of the xurkitree feeding off mechanical trees filled it. "I'd say these. Off the top of my head, we could bait them. Give them something electrical to chase after. Lure them into their home world."

                          Macro blinked up at the human, absorbing what he'd said. It made sense, and it just might work. But it was still only one Ultra Beast species out of the several that had invaded System. He sincerely doubted an electronic lure would work on the celesteela wreaking havoc on Pulse City. Nevertheless, he gave Switch a weak smile.

                          "All right," he said. "You all work together. Come up with some ideas. We'll iron them out and put them to the test when I can get out of this…" He waved a paw at his surroundings, wanting to say 'cell'. But it was hardly a prison. He let his paw flop to his side and took a ragged breath. "You know what I mean."

                          The look on Anchor's face told him he'd assumed 'cell'. The granbull nodded then gestured to the frogadier waiting in the doorway. "Want us to get your chair and wheel you back?"

                          "No." Macro shook his head, not daring to look at the governor. "I still need some air and space to think. Alone, not with doctors fussing over me. I'll see you later."

                          Anchor raised an eyebrow, a small frown playing at his muzzle. "But how do you expect to get back?"

                          "Same way I got here."

                          "Cap'n…" Anchor's voice was a near-growl.

                          "Look, if I need help I'll ask for it." Macro sighed, feeling his energy draining away. "Just leave me for a while."

                          Anchor opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. His expression softened and he nodded once before ushering Switch after him. Macro watched him go, catching Jumper's eye. But he didn't look as irritated as he had previously. Maybe he'd overheard everything? Macro watched them go, then turned back to the fountain.

                          "You not going with them?" he asked.

                          DL shifted beside him and hugged her tail into her lap. "No."

                          "I thought I said I wanted to be alone."

                          She combed her claws through her tail, watching them vanish into her thick fur. "I don't think you really want to be alone. No one would after something like that." She paused. "No one should after something like that."

                          He clasped his paws together, not taking his eyes off the fountain. Clear water gushed from the horsea's mouth to gather into a pool beneath it. The soft splashing filled the garden in an almost tranquil and harmonious way.

                          "I mean, you've lost your home," DL went on. "Personally, I always thought of Wildcard Gamma as being more of a home, but Pulse City was… It was always a retreat. Somewhere to go to get off your ship."

                          "It was more than that, DL. I used to have an apartment there," Macro explained. "Sold it in favour of living on my ship. But still. That city was home."

                          She was silent, but he could feel her watching him. He leant back in his seat and sighed, raising a paw to his forehead.

                          "A lot's happened recently," he said. "It's hard to get my head around it all. Like… where did I go wrong? When did my life end up such a mess?"

                          "If you're talking about now, I don't think it is a mess," said DL softly. "You've just had some accidents trying to put things right. System's suffering because of Socket, not you."

                          He lowered his paw again and looked down at her. She was still clutching her tail, watching her fur part as she absently combed her claws through it. If she'd intended her words to have a soothing effect, it had worked. But recent events still gnawed at him, making him wonder what he could have done differently. Like if there was any way he could have prevented the attack on Pulse City? Should he have acted to prevent the other human being pulled into everything? Was the fight with the kartana possible to win? He took a deep breath to still his thoughts and closed his eyes, trying to focus on the fountain, but all he could think about instead was the pachirisu at his side. She was innocent in all this. She didn't need to stick with him, yet she chose to. His paw sought out DL's, scooping it from her fluffy tail and bringing it to rest on his knee. Still encased gently in his, he brushed his thumb over her soft fur and leant his head back against the bench.

                          She scooted closer to him, her warm body pressing against his side. Her head fell to rest on his shoulder and she let her other paw rest on his arm. His stomach flipped up a flurry of bubbles, dominating the pain in his chest until he barely even noticed it. That's when another thought entered his head. Another 'what if?'. What if Jumper hadn't interrupted them earlier?

                          He looked down at her, catching a whiff of lavender from the fur between her ears. A scent he'd often wondered why he even bothered having on his ship, but on her it was perfect. Oh how he wanted to re-ignite that moment from earlier. He lifted his free paw towards her, but the image of Pulse City flashed in his mind in a bid to win the tug of war with his emotions. Instead, his paw joined the other around DL's and he nuzzled the soft fur between her ears, letting the lavender consume him and that memory with it. She looked up slowly until her nose brushed his, and he looked back into her chocolate eyes. Warm, inviting… he was desperate to get lost in them. To hold her close. To breathe her in. To forget about the disaster and the pain.

                          He pulled back slightly and closed his eyes. At some point her paw had found the long fur around his face, and he took hold if it and gently pried her free.

                          "Macro?"

                          "I'm sorry," he said. "My mind is a mess right now. I really don't want to hurt you."

                          "Then I won't let you."

                          There was no disappointment in her voice, and he could no longer see her face. She curled up into him again, nuzzling into his shoulder. He couldn't deny his feelings for her, but he didn't want to let his emotions get the better of him and lead him to do something he'd regret. He still had hold of her paw, small, easily nestled in his. He lifted it to his lips and brushed them against her soft fur. She shifted to look up at him, but he kept his eyes closed, dotting her small paw with slow, tiny kisses. After a moment he stopped and nuzzled it before he sank down in his seat, clutching her paw in his lap. She wound her claws between his and snuggled back into him with a small sigh. His strength was failing him again. He could easily fall asleep listening to the fountain, with DL huddled into him.

                          "You know, DL," he said slowly as he let his heavy eyes close. "After everything that's gone on… you're the one part of it all… I would never change."

                          ...

                          Across from the small garden, behind the glass wall, Surge sat watching. Thanks to the angle of the horsea fountain, Macro couldn't see her, but she could see him clearly. Her cup of steaming cocoa was clutched in both paws, hovering just beneath her chin, almost forgotten about.

                          No one from Wildcard Gamma knew she was there. She'd followed their ship into Cyan City fully cloaked, slipping through the dome to hover behind it as it deposited its crew. She hadn't been sure she was going to stick around until she witnessed the fallen mawile being whisked off in an ambulance. With no idea what had happened to reduce him to such a state, she parked her tympole at the docks between Cyan City's less elaborate ships, leaving the cloak up. She'd had to re-jig her appearance slightly, removing her trademark bandana and waistcoat in favour of a small, brown dress and black neckerchief. Fortunately for her, Cyan City had its own share of normal types so no one batted an eyelid at her presence.

                          She'd been unsure how to approach Macro, instead lurking around the hospital's cafe as she tried to work up the courage to catch him or another member of Wildcard. Find out what exactly had happened. Maybe even apologise.

                          But the scene that had unfolded before her eyes left a gnawing feeling deep in her gut. A feeling that left her questioning her own sanity. Her claws fastened tightly around the porcelain mug and it trembled in her paws, spilling sticky cocoa onto the glass-topped table.

                          She'd been a fool. Risking everything for that mawile until she'd landed herself on Socket's 'most wanted' list.

                          She let the mug clatter onto its coaster and stood up, her chair screeching across the tiles. A few irritated glances were flashed her way from the closer tables and she gave those pokemon an apologetic nod before strutting, seething, from the cafe. She passed a lombre at the entrance, and he followed her with his eyes. It wasn't until she reached the square that she realised the walking lily pad was tailing her. There was every chance he just wanted to go to the square, so she ducked into an alley, stopping beside a set of bollards. The lombre was still following her. She leant back against one of the bollards, fixing him with a raised eyebrow.

                          "Problem?" she asked innocently.

                          The lombre's beak-like muzzle turned up into a smirk. "I recognise you. You're that chica, Surge, Socket wants turning in."

                          "Really?" Surge examined her claws. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

                          "Quit with the innocent act, chica," he scoffed. "I know you've been conspiring with that space pirate. Well, he might be protected here, but you ain't. So I'm gonna take you all calm-like to the governor's office and turn you in. That's a nice fifty thousand credits for old Midi here."

                          So the sneaky lombre wanted to make a quick credit, did he? Surge stifled a smirk of her own as an idea manifested in her mind. A way to get the lombre off her back and potentially get herself cleared from Socket's radar.

                          "I'd hardly say I conspired with him," she said.

                          "Ain't what I heard." Midi's muzzle creased and he flashed a sharp canine. "Apparently you gave him government information."

                          "Lies." She pivoted against the bollard to face him fully and folded her arms across her chest. "He hired me, I took the job to win his trust. I've been after that mawile for months."

                          Midi chuckled and fixed her with a look that turned her blood to ice. "Not exactly in the best place to apprehend him, are you? And given the state he's in, I'd say it would be pretty easy right now."

                          A soft laugh rocked her shoulders. "Well. You're not in the best place to apprehend either of us. I'm not a wanted 'mon anymore. I explained my case, and I've been given another chance."

                          "Eh?" A confused sneer tugged at his face.

                          "I have… oh, I dunno… two weeks to catch Hunter and turn him in before the authorities are back on my tail. So I'm lurking about here until I can catch him when he leaves."

                          "Say that much louder and you'll be locked up in our prison," he scoffed. "You ain't much good to me there."

                          "Like I said. I'm not much good to you anyway."

                          "That's a nice story, chica, but I ain't buying it. Socket doesn't give second chances."

                          "I admit my actions weren't completely innocent," said Surge. "But when I explained, at length, what I was actually doing, she let me go on that condition. For Hunter to be at her feet in no more than two weeks. Dead or alive." She chuckled and fixed him with a playful smirk. "And I even get an extra bonus. Double the reward."

                          "Even if he's dead?"

                          "Yup."

                          "Pull the other one!"

                          Surge laughed and pulled her computer from her dress pocket. Fortunately she still had the old email Socket had sent her. He didn't see the date on it, she made sure of that. Socket's signature was all that was needed to convince him. She watched as his eyes almost bugged out of his head.

                          "You ain't lying!" he gasped.

                          "Nope." She popped her computer back into her dress pocket. "Now. I'm at odds here. Given I can't apprehend him, I'm going to need something that will prove to Socket I'm still on the case while cluing her into something she might find pretty interesting. You see, Hunter knows me. He knows I'm hunting him down. If he recognises me, I won't have a chance at catching him."

                          "What you telling me for?" he scoffed.

                          "Because if you help me, I'll give you a cut of my share. Say… ten percent?"

                          "Twenty."

                          "It's ten, or I walk away and do this without you."

                          The lombre met her eyes with a leer, but Surge wouldn't let it shake her. He scoffed and let his shoulders slump. "Fine."

                          "All right." Surge popped her computer back and nodded back towards the hospital. Its tall chopper landing point rose high above the lower buildings. Clean, white and as clear as day. "Hunter stole something that belonged to Socket. Well, kidnapped would be the better term to use. A pachirisu."

                          "That little pachirisu belongs to the Mayor?! I ain't buying this, chica. What would Hunter want with a fluffy pachirisu?"

                          "Hostage," Surge said flatly.

                          Midi's face blanched.

                          "That little Loop is her daughter."

                          Midi's jaw dropped. "That's the kid she adopted?!"

                          "Exactly. Now. Your job in all this is to spy on him," she explained. "You get a photo of them together and bring it back to me. I want proof for Socket that her little pachirisu has gone renegade. I don't know if it's Stokholm Syndrome, but I'm under the impression there's something going on between them. Socket needs to know this."

                          "Let me get this straight," said Midi slowly. "You want me to take photos of a couple of pokemon being all lovey dovey?"

                          "Exactly."

                          "Can I tell you something?" He paused, meeting her eyes again. "I think you might be crazy."

                          "Really?" Surge folded her arms and leant back against the bollard. "How would you feel if someone kidnapped your kid or your wife, or even your niece, and then that poor innocent pokemon fell in love with her kidnapper?"

                          Midi snorted. "Well, since you put it like that. But it ain't gonna be very easy given he's in hospital. I can't very well waltz in there and start snapping."

                          "Take all the time you need. I doubt he'll be leaving this city any time soon."

                          The lombre looked hesitant as he tried to read the zigzagoon's expression.

                          "Look, you take this photo," said Surge slowly, "then ten thousand credits of my reward is yours."

                          That melted away any doubt on the water pokemon's face. She held out a flat, LCD screen camera to him and he took it with a flourish. "You got yourself a deal, chica."
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                          Old August 25th, 2018 (3:07 AM).
                          Delirious Absol's Avatar
                          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                          Call me Del
                             
                            Join Date: May 2015
                            Location: UK
                            Age: 33
                            Gender: Female
                            Nature: Quirky
                            Posts: 350
                            Chapter Fifty Nine

                            “It looks like you’re ready to leave.” The azumarill flicked through her digital Clip Board as she read over Macro’s notes. “The doctor has given you a clean bill of health.”

                            “Oh, finally. Some good news.” The mawile tried to resist grimacing as he pushed himself up against his pillow. ‘Clean bill of health’ clearly didn’t mean ‘no pain whatsoever’. Although it was significantly better than it had been two days ago. “So when do I leave?”

                            The nurse raised an eyebrow at his eager tone. “You can leave today. But not until I give you the doctor’s guidelines.”

                            He sighed and flopped back against the headboard, waving her on with a paw.

                            “He says you’re to take it easy for a few days,” she said, returning to the screen. “Rest, don’t work. Do very little exercise outside of walking, and don’t try to lift anything. Practice your breathing exercises every morning, and take pain killers when you need to. He seems optimistic that you won’t really need them in a couple of days.”

                            Macro stifled a scoff at that and rubbed his ribs beneath his duvet.

                            “You’re to pop back in for a checkup in seven days.” She looked up to lock eyes with him. Warm but as hard as rock. Like a mother scolding a hatchling. “Jumper will be on your back about that, as will your crew. The doctor has warned me how stubborn you can be.”

                            “Seven days. Check up. Gotcha.” He tossed the duvet aside and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “And believe me, ma’am, I won’t be lifting anything heavier than a dinner plate.”

                            “All right. Well, I can see you’re already confident I’m going to tell you you’re good to go.”

                            He paused as he reached for his scarf and goggles to glance the nurse over his shoulder, but she wasn’t looking at him. “I am good to go, right?”

                            “Of course.” She snapped the cover over her Clip Board and looked up at him with a forced smile. “See you in seven days.”

                            She left the room before he could, letting the door swing shut behind her. Macro let out a flustered breath and tossed his scarf over his shoulders, followed quickly by his goggles. After not wearing them for a few days, they felt a little alien and he jigged them about a bit until they felt comfortable in front of his horn. As he left the room, DL almost collided with him in the doorway.

                            “Oh!” She took a step back, her eyes widening momentarily. A warm smile spread across her face and she looked him up and down before meeting his eyes. “I see you’re ready to leave.”

                            “I was ready days ago, they just wouldn’t let me.” He fell into place beside her and turned down the corridor towards the stairs.

                            “They wouldn’t let you because you were critically wounded,” she said flatly. “But I can understand. I wouldn’t want to be cooped up in here either.”

                            “Well, it’s a lesson well learned to not be reckless.” He glanced her out of the corner of his eye. “Is everyone else waiting somewhere?”

                            “Anchor and Switch are practising using those Z-Crystals,” she explained. “Not that they’re having much joy getting them to work. I told them I’d collect you and we’d meet them for dinner later on. Matrix is having lunch in a gaming cafe, but he said he’ll join us later. He also had breakfast there, too. In fact, he’s barely left since we got here. He’s attracted quite the fan base.”

                            Macro tutted. “Sounds like Matrix. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even know what day it is. Don’t expect him to show up at dinner.”

                            “Really?” A look of concern crossed her features. “I told him you were getting out today and he said he’d buzz on over with some breakfast. I’m guessing he’s not been?”

                            “Nope. I had to have porridge again.” Macro stretched, flinching as his ribs twinged. “Gah, I can’t wait to have Cookie’s pancakes.”

                            DL’s lips curled up in a smile. “Cookie’s really looking forward to making them for you.”

                            Macro glanced the elevator as they passed, briefly considering their smooth journey. He shrugged them off and began descending the stairs, already adjusted to a smaller pokemon’s height.

                            “Have you had lunch?” DL asked him.

                            “Nope. When I heard I might be getting out, I decided not to order one. I’m tired of hospital food. I wanna hit one of those fast food vendors.”

                            “In that case, let’s head to the market square,” she suggested. “I spotted a few of them this morning. I think one of them does berry burgers.”

                            “Oh good.” He burst through the door into the lobby, taking some of the waiting pokemon by surprise. “Given this city is filled with water types, I’m gonna guess it’s fairly safe they don’t serve meat.”

                            A poliwhirl let out a squeak of surprise and almost fell off her seat.

                            “I’ve not seen anywhere that might,” said DL quietly, giving the tadpole pokemon an apologetic smile. She trotted to keep up with the space pirate and grabbed the door as he held it for her. “Everything looks like it might be made from locally grown produce.”

                            “That’s a relief.” He took in a breath of fresh air and stretched again, feeling much less sore. “Ahh, freedom. How I’ve missed thee.”

                            DL took a deep breath as well then let out a sigh. “The air is nice here.”

                            He looked down at her, letting his eyes linger on her for a moment before steering her from the hospital. “So… you said something about a burger vendor?”

                            She chuckled and took his arm, leading him down the street towards the square. “I believe it’s near the end of the market. If it’s still there, maybe we could take them to the lake? It was a little busy on my way over.”

                            “I don’t mind busy markets. I lived in Pulse City, after all.”

                            The thought of his former home gnawed at him and he shook the thought away, letting the sunlight pouring through the dome clear the threat of a storm cloud from his mind. When he looked up again, he spotted the market bustling with pokemon. The last time he’d been in Cyan City the market had been closed. With so much activity it looked like a different place entirely.

                            As they strolled through the crowd, various voices and smells struck him at once. Children begging their parents for games or candied fruit, market sellers calling out their wares, the smell of frying fritters and chocolate fountains competing with savoury dishes. Colourful bodies zipped back and forth - hairy, scaly, feathery - brushing against him or skittering out of the way, providing obstacles to duck by. With his tender ribs, it was quite the chore to get through unscathed.

                            When DL came to a sudden stop, she steered him to the side out of the way of a pair of boisterous children on their way to a crepe van. She gave him a warm smile and nodded behind her at a digital menu. Macro finally realised they’d made it.

                            A squat van perched beside the menu while a watchog manned a hot plate of sizzling burgers. The vendor promised a selection of delights, but lacked his favourite occa and nutpea burger. Each one had its own name, but one that stood out to him was The Sunscorched Burger. Chople and lansat dressed with moomoo cheese and a tamato relish. It promised to be the spiciest in System Sky. The customer before him moved aside and Macro eyed the menu once more.

                            Well… you only live once.

                            DL shuffled up beside him, drawing an affectionate smile from the watchog. “I’ll have a Sunscorched Burger please.”

                            The watchog jolted with surprise. “Wow. A sweet girl like you? I guess you like your spices.”

                            Macro reached into his pouch and handed the watchog a ten credit bill. “Make that two. And a large mago juice. Please.”

                            DL twitched her head around to smile at him. A smile that warmed him from the inside. He diverted his gaze to the market place, distracting himself with the hustle and bustle. His eyes fell on a small, round table not too far from the vendor and he nodded towards it.

                            “Fancy saving us a seat?” he asked.

                            DL nodded and moved past him to claim the empty table. She immediately picked up the plastic menu stand and read over it, mouthing the contents to herself. A clatter drew Macro’s attention back to the vendor, and he spotted the large mago juice beside his arm, dripping condensation onto the counter. Whether the watchog was insinuating something or not, two straws lay at lopsided angles against the rim of the glass. The burgers followed, plonked down onto a glossy black tray. Macro scooped everything up and carefully waddled over to the table. DL looked up immediately, her nose twitching as the steaming burger was placed in front of her.

                            He flopped down into the chair opposite her and picked up his burger, spilling relish onto the plate. “I think I’m looking forward to this more than any sane ‘mon should.”

                            Before DL could answer, he took a bite out of it akin to a half-starved tyranitar and an involuntary groan left his throat. The pachirisu chuckled and tucked into her own meal with much less vigour. Just like it had advertised, it was spicy. A pleasant heat unlike the unbearable curry he’d once encountered in Raster City. That thing could have melted a steelix’s hide.

                            “It’s good,” she declared with her mouth full.

                            “Tell me about it. I might come back here for dinner.” He glanced up at her, noting the relish smeared over her cheek. “So. Have you been training with Anchor and Switch?”

                            DL paused mid bite and licked her lips slowly, reaching for the mago juice. She looked thoughtful, diverting her gaze to the market place as she took a long sip through the straw. Finally she glanced at him and shook her head.

                            “Really?” Macro sat back in his seat and a huge glob of tamato fell from the bun and splattered onto his scarf. “Drat.” He swiped it aside and licked the remains off his paw, the heat from the spices making his skin tingle. “Why not? You’ve got a new move to practice too, right?”

                            “Yeh.” She lowered her burger back to her plate but didn’t relinquish it. “I erm… I don’t know how to use any attacks.”

                            “Oh!” Macro almost dropped his burger, but managed to get it back onto his plate rather than down his front. “I hadn’t… considered you wouldn’t know any.”

                            “I think I know them,” she explained. “I just don’t know how to use them. I guess they’re on another memory disk.”

                            He made a thoughtful noise and trailed a claw over his scar, staring at the skyscrapers behind her. “That’s interesting. I assumed they’d just be instinct. You know… like biting and scratching.”

                            “I guess they’re learned behaviour.” She took another bite of her burger.

                            “Then if you can’t use them, I suppose we either have to get the other two disks or find a way to teach you how.”

                            “It might be faster to get the disks.” She shook her head and sighed. “After what happened last time… I wasn’t sure I wanted the rest of those memories.”

                            “You’re speaking as though you’ve decided you want them.”

                            “I feel I have no choice. I’m useless to you if I can’t fight.”

                            Macro’s muzzle creased in a frown. “You’re not useless. You’ve got a gun, right?”

                            “Yes but…” She dropped her burger and glanced around before lowering her voice. “But Solgaleo said we’re to use the Z-Moves to fight BackDoor, right? He gave me one of those Z Crystals. That means I’m expected to use one.”

                            He leant his head on his paw and sighed, absently rubbing under his eye. What were they to do then? He was expected to remain in Cyan City for another week. Retrieving DL’s memory disks would only delay their duties, and he highly doubted the Ultra Beasts or BackDoor would wait for them. He flinched as his eye began to burn and he snatched his paw away.

                            “Okay…” he whimpered. His eye began to stream, leaving a cool trail over his cheek. “Don’t touch the relish and then your eye.”

                            He snatched up a napkin and held it to his face, looking back at DL with his free eye. The pachirisu chuckled and nudged the glass towards him. He picked it up and took a swig, but it only served to make his mouth burn more than it already had been. He let out a laugh of his own and picked his meal up again, keeping the napkin pressed to his face.

                            “Okay, it’s hot,” he said. “I’ll give them props for that.”

                            DL licked what was left of her vanished burger from her paws. “Shall I get us some ice cream? It might help cool you down.”

                            “What?” He frowned again and removed the napkin. “Didn’t you find it spicy?”

                            She shrugged and pushed the chair back as she stood up. “It was okay.”

                            “You’re kidding, right?” He turned his head to follow her as she made her way to the crepe van. “Do you have no taste buds? A bionic tongue?!”

                            She laughed and stuck her tongue out at him as she reached the small queue. Well it certainly didn’t look bionic. He turned back to his burger and challenged himself to finish it. There was no sense in wasting good food, even if it did threaten to burn his mouth away. He caught the watchog’s eye from the van, and the normal type laughed and shook his head before returning to his task of wiping down the counter. Macro thought he heard him say ‘rookie’.

                            To distract himself, Macro pulled out his computer and loaded up the locations of DL’s remaining memory disks. He’d somewhat committed them to memory, but he felt the need to prove himself wrong. As expected, the last two were in the two locations he never wished to step paw in. Botnet City and Meta City. He couldn’t even decide which one was the easiest for him to face. One thing was for certain, he didn’t want to go there before he felt ready to take on Socket’s loyal army.

                            Once his burger was suitably demolished, he reached for his straw and supped up half of the mago juice. It didn’t do much to soothe away the spices. DL appeared beside him and held a cheri and cream crepe before his nose. He took it from her and gave it a hearty lick. There. Spices neutralised.

                            He chuckled and stood up, scooping up the tray with his free paw. “Shall we head to the lake?”

                            “Definitely.”

                            She took the tray from him and placed it on the top of the trash can. The watchog thanked them with a friendly wave which DL returned gladly. Macro gave him a more cautious one and followed the pachirisu out of the square.

                            It wasn’t far to the lake. He spotted the berry bushes surrounding it and a couple of azurill running around them. A few feet away from the playing children was a small row of benches, each spaced enough apart to give their occupants a little privacy. He pulled himself up into an empty one and looked over at the two hatchlings. It left a hollow feeling in his gut as his mind went back to Lossy. Part of him hoped deep down Cyan City would get to the bottom of her missing children.

                            One of the azurill dived into the lake with a soft splash, all but their tail vanishing beneath the surface. The other one laughed and raced along the side of it as they tried to beat them to the other end.

                            “It’s so peaceful here,” said DL.

                            “Aye.” Macro nibbled at his dessert. “Even more so to me now, after my first visit here. Be glad you didn’t see that.”

                            “I am.” She paused as she licked melted cheri ice cream from her paw. “But some good came of it.”

                            “What good? It was a war.”

                            “Well… they got to see who you really are, for one thing.” She glanced him out of the corner of her eye. “Rather than the reputation the media gives you.”

                            “Some of that is self earned,” he scoffed. “Not that I’m happy about it.”

                            She took a bite of her crepe, leaving a streak of cheri on her nose. “You’ve changed a lot since I first met you. That’s definitely a good thing.”

                            “So you didn’t like me when we first met?”

                            “I’m not saying that.” She leant back in her seat and fixed her chocolate eyes on him. “Bad pokemon don’t offer to help others. Saying you were keeping me just to get back at Socket… I don’t think that was your main motive.”

                            “To be honest, it was up until I realised you were a real flesh and blood pokemon.”

                            “Exactly.”

                            Macro stared down at his crepe and ran his free paw over his head. He let out a small sigh and looked over at the lake. “To be honest, DL… you’ve changed me a lot.”

                            “Me?”

                            “Yeh.” He paused, watching the ice cream melt down the side of his crepe. “You gave me someone to care about other than myself.”

                            There was a small silence before she asked, “What about your crew?”

                            He shrugged. “To be honest, I’d never realised I actually care about them either. For years, I was just their captain. You know… Captain of a sky ship with a crew who’s always got each other’s backs, like any space pirate. The hunted Hunter, wanted all over System. I’d never seen my crew as a family or anything. I guess you’ve changed that, too.”

                            He could feel her watching him, but he couldn’t look round at her. Ice cream dripped over his paws and peppered the floor with small, sticky pink puddles.

                            “I want to help you, DL,” he said. “And if that means stepping paw in Botnet City to get your next memory disk, I’ll do it. And if that won’t help you use your electric attacks, then I’ll march into Socket’s mansion and get the other one.” He paused and looked over at her, meeting her chocolate gaze. “But only if you want them.”

                            “What I want?” Her crepe found itself folded back into its wrapping and placed beside her on the bench. “What I want is for everything to be normal… and to just stay here in this city. With you… and the rest of our friends.”

                            He gave a bitter laugh and took a bite out of his rapidly melting ice cream. “I’m afraid life ain’t that easy, sweetheart.”

                            “Then I guess we just need to enjoy it while it lasts, don’t we?”

                            Another splash came from the lake and he looked up at the azurill. Still playing, alternating with diving as far as they could beneath the water. Their life-guard tails preventing them from completely vanishing out of sight. Peaceful. Not a care in the world.

                            “Well, I do have seven days until I’m ‘fit for work’,” he said, forcing a smile. “I guess we could just… pretend aliens aren’t taking over System?”

                            DL chuckled and leant back into the bench. “That’s a rather dark way of putting it.”

                            “I suppose we don’t have to go as far as forgetting everything,” he said. “The media won’t let us anyway. But we could enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.”

                            His ice cream had turned what was left of his crepe into a soggy mess. He considered giving it one last, desperate lick then shrugged it off, tossing it into the trash can beside them. It had left his paws feeling sticky, so he gave them a wipe on his scarf. It needed a wash anyway, still stained with tamato relish.

                            “Right, well,” he said, stretching. “Maybe we should go and find Anchor and Switch?”

                            Before he could rise, DL’s paw fastened around his wrist. “Erm…”

                            He looked down at her, but she avoided his gaze, pawing at her ear.

                            “I kind of claimed you for the day,” she said.

                            His stomach did a flip and he found himself letting out a strangled, “Really?”

                            Her eyes snapped back to his, dragging him into their chocolatey depths. He sank back into his seat and adjusted his paw so he could take hold of hers. The way the sun reflected off her fur with highlights of silver and gold was mesmerising. Part of him wondered what she meant by ‘claimed for the day’ but he didn’t want to ruin the suspense by asking. A smile tugged at his lips and he lifted a claw to wipe the cheri streak off her nose. Her tiny nose twitched at his touch, causing him to chuckle.

                            “I guess I don’t have much choice then, do I?” he said, feigning resignation.

                            “No.”

                            She scooted over to him and brushed her lips against his. He jolted slightly, his heart leaping in his chest and causing him to drop her paw. She snatched herself back, a soft blush dusting her cheeks beneath her white fur. Her eyes flitted away from him and she wound her paws together.

                            “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought that-”

                            He regathered himself and placed his paw on her cheek, gently moving her face back to his. Her eyes widened slightly but all anxiety melted away as he brushed the back of his claws over her jaw. He leant forward and placed a small kiss on her nose, then placed another one on her lips. He pulled back and gazed into her eyes again before letting out a soft sigh as he moved in to catch her in another kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, melting into him, and he let himself forget about everything else. Relishing in the fact that for the first time in years he wasn’t afraid to let himself care about someone else.

                            ...

                            Wet footsteps dragged Surge’s attention from the news report she’d been reading. She blinked away mental images of sparking aliens to focus on the pokemon walking towards her. Midi stopped beside her, dripping water onto the floor where it pooled around the legs of her little, round table. He dropped her camera onto it, encased in a waterproof ziplock bag. It splashed droplets of water around her coffee mug and the remains of a nanab berry cake.

                            “I got them,” the lombre told her. “Took enough photos you could make them into an album.”

                            Surge picked up the bag and removed the camera, oddly surprised it was still completely bone dry. She loaded up the photos and her stomach tightened into knots. Her muzzle stiffened and she forced a nonchalant attitude as she scrolled through what looked like the contents of some sappy romcom.

                            “Good enough for you?” Midi asked. She didn’t look up at him, but she could almost hear the smile in his voice.

                            “Good enough for Socket,” she said. “This should prove a thing or two to her.”

                            “And secure you in her good books?” He folded his arms and frowned down at her. “’Cos I don’t work for free, chica. I expect my side of the bargain whether you get your reward or not.”

                            She pulled her computer from her pocket and began to wirelessly link it up to her camera. “Oh, you’ll get your side of the bargain. I’ll be surprised if Socket isn’t happy to receive this new little bit of information. What else did you find out? Any idea where they’re going?”

                            “He said something about getting her memories from Botnet City.” Midi paused and inclined his head on one side. “Rather dubious. What’s so special about that pachirisu, anyway?”

                            “That’s classified.” Surge didn’t look up at him. Her claw slid over the photos, selecting as many as she could to attach to her email.

                            “Spill,” Midi snorted. “I wanna know what I’m gettin’ into.”

                            “Should have thought of that before you agreed to help.” She shot him a brief leer. “I’ve been told not to breathe a word to anyone, and that includes you.”

                            “Fine. So… how do you think the Mayor’s gonna react to these photos? He clearly ain’t hurtin’ her. Aren’t you worried it’ll backfire?”

                            “Not at all. Socket has the right to know her daughter is currently being wooed by some sleezy space pirate.” Surge glanced up at him. “If you were her, how would you react to this information?”

                            “I don’t need to be Socket to know how I’d react,” he spat. “If some space pirate got his paws on my little girl I’d have him hung, drawn and quartered!”

                            Surge let out a bitter laugh and fixed him with a sly smile. “Then you understand.”

                            Her claw hit the ‘send’ button, and she heard the familiar whoosh as her computer sent the email and its contents to Socket. It also took her confidence with it, but she hid that under a sip of her tepid coffee.

                            ...

                            The entire mansion shuddered, sending Socket to her bottom. She fixed her eyes on the holoscreen and shrieked at Yobi’s face.

                            “What are you doing?!” she demanded.

                            “Don’t worry, it’s normal,” he said.

                            “Normal? We’ve never flown this thing before!”

                            “These engines are pretty old, you know,” he explained. “It’s to be expected. Lifting the entire mansion out of Meta City is gonna take some doing.”

                            Socket cast a nervous glance to the window. Those electrical creatures were still sprawled over anything that still gave off electricity. The smog hung in the sky, thick and heavy and dark. Above them, it threatened to rain. Rain would bring down the smog, filling the very streets with toxins so potent her feet itched at the sheer thought of stepping in it. She was convinced there were even more of those creatures, scrambling around broken and splintered electric trees, and clinging to what remained of the buildings’ lights and air filters.

                            Her own air filter was humming away safely behind her glass dome. The dome had become both a prison and a sanctuary. The creatures had tried to climb it, but their scraggly legs couldn’t grip the smooth surface.

                            Now the entire thing trembled, attracting dozens of the aliens to her mansion. Their lanky bodies tried once again to climb it, with more persistence than they’d previously shown. Tweak filled the office with jingling laughter as he watched them flailing in a desperate bid to access the precious electricity it promised.

                            She snatched her head around to Yobi. “Fine! Get it up. Then get in here and explain things to me. I’m done with talking to a holoscreen.”

                            Deep down she hoped Yobi hadn’t translated her desperate need for company. She gave another fearful glance to the creatures. Deep rivets had appeared in the ground outside the dome as the mansion shook itself free. Concrete sprayed up into the air as the entire building jerked to the side. Socket slid away from her desk, but it moved towards her with an alarming speed. She rolled to the side and watched as it crashed into the far wall, shattering the holoscreen emitter before Yobi could give her an answer.

                            “Drat!”

                            She pulled herself to her feet and rounded on Tweak. The chingling lay upside down against the wall, waving his tiny feet and giggling like a maniac.

                            “Tweak!” she spat. “Pull yourself together! This isn’t a joke!”

                            His laughter stopped abruptly and he fixed his upside-down eyes on hers. “Oh, but it’s just so funny. Like… the mansion is gonna fly. Just like them islands you claim never existed! And what’s funnier? You’re using their salvaged engines to do it!”

                            Socket balled her right paw into a fist. “I suggest you silence that mouth of yours before I do it for you!”

                            He stared up at her and opened his mouth in a wide smile, letting his tongue hang free. She growled and turned to her shattered holoscreen. Unsalvageable. Now she’d no idea what Yobi was up to. Whether or not the mansion could actually get them safely out of Meta City.

                            She looked back out of the window. One end of the mansion’s faux garden had lifted cleanly out of the ground. The entire building still shuddered, although not as violently. The floor levelled out, sending her sprawling face first across the tiled floor. A scream of frustration left her throat and she kicked and punched the ground.

                            “I want things back to normal!” she shrieked.

                            The door flew open and a warm paw fastened over hers. It dragged her back to her feet and she turned to see Yobi’s concerned face. She took a deep, steadying breath and folded her arms.

                            “So tell me,” she began. “Is this little experiment of yours going to fail or not?”

                            “It’s working fine.” He nodded to the window and she turned to look through it.

                            The grounds were level, but she could see nothing of the streets. The aliens slid down the glass and clutched the edge of the grounds feebly before plummeting out of sight.

                            “As you can see, we’re in the air,” said Yobi.

                            Socket ventured to the window. The garden crumbled away to drop into the city miles below, leaving a hefty gap between the dome and the mansion. But there was no way the aliens could reach it now. The air filter hummed in overtime, but soon they would be above the smog.

                            Yobi joined her side and chuckled. “For being thousands of years old, those engines are working a treat.”

                            “I still don’t understand why we hadn’t just installed new, trustworthy engines,” she said. “Whatever my great, great grandfather was thinking, I’ll never know.”

                            “Well, let’s face it.” Yobi turned to her and folded his arms. “Look at System Sky. Those cities float, sure, but can they be steered? Do they move?”

                            Socket stared at him blankly. He was making a solid point, but doubt still gnawed at her.

                            “At least we know these engines were designed to move huge islands,” he explained. “Islands bigger than this mansion. Sure, the controls are clunky. But given it was installed as a huge ‘eject button’, I doubt it was ever expected to actually be used. Given time I might have been able to modify it, but… there are no modern engines designed to actually fly an island.”

                            Socket pursed her lips together and stared out of the window. Not an alien in sight. “So I guess we’re just going to have to trust ‘mythical’ technology to get us through a promising gateway.”

                            “Yes. I’m sorry.”

                            “It doesn’t matter. At least we’re safe.”

                            A beep came from her desk and she moved over to it. Her small computer tablet lay against the wall, a narrow crack adorning its screen. She tutted and attempted to wipe it off to no avail before frowning at the name strewn across it.

                            “Surge,” she growled. “What does she want?”

                            “Beggin’ for her life, probably,” said Tweak. At some point he’d hopped onto her desk.

                            She turned and leant against it as she brought up the email. The words ‘I thought you might want to see this’ were scrawled above a series of photos. Socket’s eyes widened with each one. Macro and DL, wandering around a lush city. Eating together. And…

                            Her lips curled into a smile and she let out a dry laugh, before bursting into fits of laughter.

                            “Is something the matter, Madam Mayor?” Yobi’s voice wavered with nerves and he took a wary step towards her.

                            “Oh no. It’s perfect.”

                            Tweak hopped up onto her shoulder and let out a long whistle. “Smooth isn’t he?”

                            She picked the chingling up by his hairs and dropped him back onto her desk. Then she continued scrolling through the photos until she reached another two lines of text. The space pirate’s next destination, along with a request from Surge that she was still available to help. Pathetic.

                            Yobi peered over her shoulder and his eyes widened like saucers. “So… little Loop got herself a pirate boyfriend?”

                            Socket resisted the urge to slap the raichu in the face with her computer. One crack was enough. “That and Surge begging for forgiveness. She seems to think this will sweeten me up. Hunter’s next destination is Botnet City, looking for the next memory disk. Apparently they’ll be heading there in a week. It looks like our little pirate has been injured.” She let out another chuckle. “Botnet City… that’s bold of him. Those electric types will skin him alive. By any chance do you know which disk that is?”

                            Yobi pulled out his own computer and pawed through its contents. “Its memories date back to her very young childhood.”

                            “More recent ones?”

                            “No. They’re here in your office.”

                            “And where is Botnet’s disk?” she asked.

                            “Botnet Town Hall, just like you asked.”

                            “Arrange to have that disk exchanged with the one here,” she said. “And change its location to Strobe Street Apartment, number forty eight. Tweak?”

                            The chingling looked up from his sprawled position among her pens. “Yes?”

                            “You’re to exchange them. Today. Make sure it’s not guarded, and evacuate that entire block until Hunter has the disk.”

                            “Roger!” Tweak whisked the drawer open and rummaged through it for the disk.

                            “Today?!” Yobi gasped. “They’ll be out of their homes for over a week!”

                            “Not necessarily,” she said. “Knowing that little sneak, he could arrive there as early as tomorrow. Injured or not.”

                            “Then where are you evacuating them to?” Yobi stuttered.

                            “Don’t care. Just get them out of the way,” said Socket. “No one is to touch a hair on that mawile.”

                            A sinister smile crossed her face and Yobi looked up with a start. “M-Madam Mayor, what are you saying? You actually want her to have her memories? I might alert you to the consequences-”

                            Socket waved a paw at him. “Oh, she’s beyond repair already.” She flicked her computer off and held it to her chest. “Besides… these memories might prove to be quite useful.”

                            “Useful?”

                            Socket chuckled, her eye darting to Tweak as he zipped out of her room in a beam of light.

                            “What about Hunter? He’d be a sitting ducklett! You don’t want to take this opportunity-”

                            “No.” A wicked grin split her face and she let out another chuckle, oblivious to Yobi taking two steps back towards her window. “There’s more than one way to hurt him. And once he’s wounded, he’ll be easy prey.”
                            __________________
                            I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

                            A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
                            A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                            Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
                            Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
                            Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
                            'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
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                              #39    
                            Old September 2nd, 2018 (2:16 AM).
                            Delirious Absol's Avatar
                            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                            Call me Del
                               
                              Join Date: May 2015
                              Location: UK
                              Age: 33
                              Gender: Female
                              Nature: Quirky
                              Posts: 350
                              A/N - Sorry for the delay. My Asperger's has been giving me a hard time this weekend. I actually worried I'd have to leave it until tomorrow, but I'm feeling a fair bit better now.

                              Chapter Sixty

                              Annie followed her crew into the large auditorium. Eyes trailed over her body, widening with shock and fascination. But any vocalisations were kept quiet, nothing more than hushed whispers. The blastoise led them to the front and motioned for them to sit down facing the audience. He turned to the podium and clapped his large paws together by the microphone, reminiscent of a thunderclap as it rang out from the speakers.

                              “Order!” he roared.

                              The audience fell into silence, all eyes on Annie and her crew.

                              “As you well know,” the blastoise began, “this group of space pirates helped us to eliminate a large threat. A threat that had previously ransacked other cities. One that had grown in numbers! Now I know their captain might look funny. I know she’s drawn many curious looks and scepticism, but they’ve been here almost a full day and no harm has befallen us. I feel it is only right that, rather than turn them in, we hear out exactly why they are here.”

                              He turned to look over his shoulder and stood aside for Annie to approach the microphone. She frowned out at the audience then threw her arms in the air.

                              “Alright, yeh, I’m a human!” she said. “A shape shiftin’ one from the past. A Time Archeops, if you will.”

                              “I thought we were past that name,” Trojan whispered to Waveform and Web.

                              The latter two merely shrugged and hushed the scrafty.

                              “When I first arrived in your time line,” Annie went on, “I found myself in Mayor Socket’s clutches. She wanted to stick me in some lab, but I ain’t no lab experiment. So I escaped and found myself a crew. And I learned a little somethin’.” She lent forwards over the podium. “Your world is a mess. Not only do crazy mayors try to run experiments on innocent, helpless individuals like myself, you actually eat each other?!”

                              A few yelps rang out from the audience, and she could see pokemon shaking their heads or cowering back in fear.

                              The blastoise placed a heavy paw on her shoulder and she met his narrowed eyes.

                              “Not in Wave City we don’t,” he rumbled. “You think we’d eat our own kind?”

                              “What about sharpedo?” Annie asked. “Carvannah?”

                              “Extinct,” he said flatly. “At least in Wave City they are. Just ‘cos you’ve got sharp teeth doesn’t make you a meat eater.”

                              She huffed and turned back to the audience, then lifted a hand to the blastoise. “See? Now my human world is a little different. Back there, pokemon do eat each other, but they ain’t like you. You are more sentient, more aware of right and wrong. Not driven by instinct like they are. I mean, yeh, sure, human world pokemon are intelligent. At least… that’s what I’ve read. They eat each other, they eat eggs, and I ain’t gonna deny it. Humans eat pokemon too.”

                              Gasps spread across the audience and a few pokemon threw enraged questions at Annie. She raised a hand to silence them, but not all of them calmed down. One individual fired an ice beam at her, but she strafed to the side, letting it spread over the back wall. Waveform let out a surprised hoot and swivelled his head around towards it.

                              “I ain’t sayin’ I eat pokemon. But I think, given humans were once in this world, we’ve discovered where this little problem came from. Humans probably missed meat. You were all desperate for food. So pokemon turned to the ocean, turning you lot into victims! I say that’s wrong. That’s like turnin’ on your own family. Just ‘cos you’ve got sharp teeth doesn’t make you a meat eater! We should write that all over System!”

                              “Yay!” Zip cheered, drawing the audience’s attention. Silence washed over the assembly as they finally spotted the goldeen.

                              “You heard it, little fish.” Annie beckoned the goldeen forward. “Now. I found this little guy floundering wounded in a polluted street, desperately clinging to life and the hope he could make it back home. He opened my eyes to this corrupted world. Why… oh why… are y’all eatin’ one another? You know what we call that back in the human world? Cannibalism! I know y’all are different sub species, but y’all are sentient. All the same inside.”

                              “She’s right!” Zip clattered towards the podium, standing beside it so the audience could see him. “I know I can’t walk on land. I’ve had this device kindly made so I can help Annie and my friends make their point. But I can see pokemon here who also can’t walk on land.” He looked over at a small pool at the front of the hall, diverted in from the ocean. Hundreds of eyes peered back at him. “We shouldn’t need to live in fear. Pokemon shouldn’t be fishing us up as a cheap and easy food source.”

                              Mutters came from the pool as the pokemon nodded in agreement.

                              “I know System was desperate once,” Zip went on. “I know we can’t grow fruit trees or vegetables on System Ground anymore. But turning to us for meat just because we ‘couldn’t help in other ways’? We’re not useless! I saw what you all did to stop those nihilego! We’re every bit a part of System as any other pokemon, and we shouldn’t be persecuted just because we don’t have legs!”

                              Cheers came from the audience, particularly the pool. Small fish leapt into the air, splashing and smacking the water with their tails and fins.

                              “Exactly, little fish!” Annie placed a hand on the rim of his bowl and beamed at him before turning back to the audience. “So what are y’all waitin’ around for? I say confront the mayor! Make her notice you are more than just meat!”

                              “Actually.” The blastoise placed a paw on her shoulder again and steered her back from the podium, meeting her gaze with a steely glare. “You don’t need to do that. You even seen the news?”

                              “Huh?”

                              Annie found the sea turtle’s computer thrust into her hand. She stared down at it and her eyes almost bulged out of her head. A grin split her face and she twirled back to the audience.

                              “Oh this is just perfect! Can we get this up on the big screen, please?”

                              “No,” said the blastoise flatly.

                              It was too late. Waveform plugged his own computer into the projector, bringing up the front page of Meta City News. A huge, detailed photo of the mayor’s mansion floating miles above the city, encased in a perspex dome, contrasted a smaller photo of the city itself being ransacked by aliens and toxic smog. A few of the water pokemon screamed, and Annie heard something crumple to the floor with a thud. Someone had clearly fainted.

                              Annie waved a hand towards the photo. “This is your mayor! Bailing on the very pokemon she’s meant to look after, leaving them to the mercy of… of…” She squinted at the photo. “I dunno. Aliens. And poison.”

                              Mutters came from the audience as they pulled out their own computers.

                              “So I say one thing,” Annie went on. “Rebellion! Who wants a mayor like this? Throw her off her high horse! Get shut of this careless, wicked gothitelle and take a pokemon like Zip as your mayor!”

                              Zip almost fell off his mechanical feet as Annie ushered him forwards. The audience cheered and rose to their feet. A few of them started chanting Zip’s name, ushering the others on until hundreds were shouting it. A deep voice called from near the front ‘Down with the mayor!’, filling the auditorium with another chant. Claps and splashes erupted like thunder.

                              “Me?” zip squeaked, his face turning crimson.

                              “Enough!” The blastoise’s voice was barely heard over the chaos in the auditorium. He pulled Annie away from the podium and frowned down at her. “You come along here raving about starting a jackin’ war?”

                              Annie raised a finger to correct him. “Rebellion.”

                              “It’s the same jackin’ thing!” Spittle flew from his teeth and peppered her face. “How do you think System is gonna respond to a speech like that?”

                              “I dunno. But surely water types outnumber the rest? I mean half the world is water.”

                              “It doesn’t matter!” He released her, pushing her back into Waveform’s waiting wings. “I need you lot out of this city. I can’t thank you enough for helping us, but I can’t have you around, risking starting a war! The water types are already at odds with the fire and grass types. You want to literally throw us into the mincer?”

                              “You sound scared,” said Annie.

                              “Of course I’m scared!” he roared. “At the moment, they don’t eat any water pokemon that have legs!” He waved his limbs. “An uproar might upgrade the menu!”

                              “So it’s okay to eat water types so long as it’s just the fish?” asked Zip.

                              “Of course it ain’t okay,” said the blastoise. “But we can’t exactly do anythin’ about it.”

                              Annie looked back at the audience. The smiles on the water types’ faces. The jubilation from the pool. She turned back to the blastoise and frowned.

                              “That’s where you’re wrong.” With that, she turned to steer Zip away towards the emergency door.

                              The blastoise followed them but he didn’t leave the auditorium. Annie gave one last glance back at him. His expression was unreadable.

                              “Did we fail?” Zip asked quietly.

                              “I wouldn’t say so,” said Annie. “I’d say we succeeded.”

                              “How did you get that from what just happened?” Trojan spat.

                              “Easy.” She aimed a grin at the scrafty. “We sowed a little hope.”

                              He raised an eyebrow and let out a confused ‘eh?’

                              “The water types have been gifted a voice.” She tucked her arms behind her head and marched towards the docked pyukumyuku. “All they gotta do now is use it.”

                              “And what about us?” Web asked. “What’s next in your big plan?”

                              “Oh that’s easy.” Annie grinned from ear to ear. “We’re gonna shoot down a flying mansion.”

                              ...

                              Tracer thought his fur would never stop standing on end.

                              He read over the Meta City News article for the third time, hoping that in some way he’d managed to misunderstand it. But there it was, clear as day. A photo to back up the propaganda infested article. Socket’s mansion had risen into the sky, abandoning her home city to the fate of aliens. He’d be inclined to think it were a misunderstanding were there any evidence whatsoever that her army was trying to rid the city of the invasion.

                              But first it was the jellyfish, ransacking cities. More cities followed at the tentacles of a whole host of jellyfish. Pulse City had been reduced to rubble thanks to the onslaught of a seed-bombing cannon. Now there was something he could only describe as ‘live wires’ tearing down Meta City.

                              He lowered his computer and ran a paw over his large ears. “What’s happening to System, Widget?”

                              The eevee wagged his tail, and not in the comical, jovial way that Tracer was familiar with. It was more of a nervous tail-thump.

                              “I don’t know,” he said. “But I gotta say, I only enjoy these scenarios on a big screen. Living one?” He lifted a paw and swiped it to the side. “Whole different story.”

                              “Aye.” N0ize turned around in his captain’s seat and fixed them with a grin. “I’d describe it more like a bad dream. Can’t say I’ve ever found myself without a home to retreat to. Right, Cyph3r?”

                              The magmortar shrugged his shoulders, keeping his eyes on System Sky.

                              N0ize continued to stare at Tracer, pushing his fur even more on end. “You all right, Fuzz? You’re startin’ to look a lot like an alarmed quilfish.”

                              “I’m fine.” Tracer looked back down at his computer but N0ize’s grin was emblazoned in his mind. “I’m sorry you’ve lost your home.”

                              “Ah, forget about it.” N0ize exploded with raucous laughter. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Still tailin’ that human you’re so fixated with.”

                              “How are you getting on there?” asked Widget. “’Cos not gonna lie, I don’t exactly have sky legs.”

                              “We’re landin’ in five minutes, but you wanna hurl, you know where the toilet is.” N0ize swivelled back to the windscreen. “She’s docked at Wave City. We’ll be on ‘em before you know it. Oh wait… hang on a sec…”

                              Tracer looked up again and raised an eyebrow at the back of the incineroar’s head. “Is there a problem?”

                              “I’d say so. Little scoundrel is on the move again.”

                              Widget let out a loud groan and slumped onto his belly.

                              “Calm down, Widget,” Tracer told him. “You’re creating a scene.”

                              “I can’t help it!” Widget whined. “I’m so sick of flying! I’m built to run. Run, I tell you. Run!”

                              He smacked the floor with his forepaws then buried his nose between them. His long ears drooped at either side of his head and he frowned at the floor.

                              N0ize laughed again and shook his head. “Such a drama queen. Well, I guess she’s done whatever it is she came here to do. You wanna check on that, Fuzz?”

                              Tracer trawled through the news sites, but it didn’t take him long to find Wave City atop the live news feed. Video footage started playing straight away, and his eyes widened at every word from the marshtomp’s mouth.

                              ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ the water type gasped. ‘I can’t turn a single corner without fish pokemon braying for their freedom! A small army is on its way into Meta City. I keep saying it’s suicide, just like everyone else. But they just won’t listen!’

                              Tracer looked up, the following words barely registering. Widget had lifted his head again, ears pricked and trained on his computer. N0ize peered with one eye over his shoulder, a sly grin painted on his face.

                              “Looks like she did it then, eh?” The incineroar gave a hearty laugh and swivelled away from them. “Wave City’s in an uproar, just like she wanted.”

                              “I’d hardly say that’s a good thing!” Tracer barked.

                              Cyph3r fixed one eye on him but said nothing. The delphox looked back down at his computer. The interview was still playing out, but the footage had changed to display the fish pokemon and all who supported them gathering in a river, preparing to swim down towards Meta City. They’d be risking ploughing through polluted water, so many of them had been kitted out with special masks that reduced what toxins their gills would otherwise be filtering.

                              No. It wasn’t good at all. With Socket soaring miles above System Ground, Wave City threatening an attack on Meta City and all surrounding fisheries would have a huge impact. And quite possibly a disastrous one. One of the concerns brought up on the screen only solidified his worries.

                              ‘What’s next?” the blastoise roared. ‘The fish rebel and what’s next? All water types thrown into the mincer? Bugs? Grass types? I tell you, she’ll upgrade the menu. It’s been done once before, so what’s stopping them from doing it again just to shut the rebels’ mouths?’

                              “He has a point,” said Widget weakly. “What is stopping them from turning on other pokemon for meat? Berries and vegetables are getting harder and harder to grow in all this toxicity.”

                              “Aye,” N0ize agreed. “It’s all one big, epic fight for survival. I can’t say I blame the fish for getting fed up with it, but eh. Food with a face is gonna argue back at some point, right?”

                              Tracer felt his fur bristle along his spine and a canine poked out from his lips. The combination of N0ize’s flippant attitude and the rising calamity System was facing was seriously taking its toll. Between the alien invaders and Socket’s bailing, Annie’s ploy to start a rebellion was only adding to the chaos.

                              “We need to stop her,” he thought out loud.

                              Widget pushed himself up so he was sitting and frowned at Tracer. “What? Please tell me you’re not wanting to shoot Socket down. Not that I’m complaining, I mean… think about the mess!”

                              “No, no. I’m talking about Annie. The human.”

                              “The lass you’re fixated with?” N0ize cocked a confused eyebrow and waved a paw at the window. “You wanna shoot her down instead?”

                              “I’d rather not, but if it comes to it, it might be necessary,” said Tracer.

                              “I don’t get it,” said Widget. “You went against turning her into Socket because you were worried for her wellbeing, and now you’re willing to take her out?”

                              “Think about it,” said Tracer. “Amongst everything that’s going on, she’s only making things worse. System is practically falling apart at the seams, and most of that is to do with these alien invaders. Annie isn’t from our System, Widget. She might be from a System, but it’s not ours. Just like those aliens, she’s invasive. We don’t understand what the aliens are up to. Can they understand us? Are they sentient? Why are they damaging our world? What if they’re just trying to adapt, and in doing so are restructuring the environment to suit them? They’re trapped here, just like Annie is. But unlike them, we can understand her and she can understand us. Back in her time line, pokemon didn’t eat one another. So, in a way, just like those aliens she is trying to restructure System to her own liking. Therefore, she is a threat.”

                              Widget narrowed his eyes and let out a muffled ‘huh’.

                              “We’ve been studying her.” Tracer looked back down at his computer. Now it was showing footage of Annie’s speech at the assembly. “I’d like to think she’s reasonable, but I’m really not sure. If anything, I’m worried she’s very unwell. Either that, or she doesn’t think through her actions, acting merely on impulse. That would make her closer to the alien invaders than to us.”

                              “I can see where you’re comin’ from.” N0ize stuck a claw in his ear and twisted it back and forth. “To be honest, I couldn’t give a rattata’s ass if we ate meat or not. I like it, yeh. But throwin’ the entire world into chaos for the sake of a bit of fun? I like the fun part, but not so much the chaos. Let’s tail her and shoot that pyukumyuku outta the sky, eh?”

                              Before Tracer could retort, the ship picked up speed and rocketed through the sky.

                              “Hang on a second!” he barked. “I never said we’re shooting her now. I said if it were necessary-”

                              “It is, ain’t it?” N0ize burst into laughter and leant back in his seat.

                              All Tracer could do was stare through the windscreen at the speck on the horizon. He could just make out the pyukumyuku’s decorative spines.
                              __________________
                              I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

                              A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
                              A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                              Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
                              Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
                              Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
                              'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
                              Reply With Quote
                                #40    
                              Old September 15th, 2018 (1:08 AM).
                              Delirious Absol's Avatar
                              Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                              Call me Del
                                 
                                Join Date: May 2015
                                Location: UK
                                Age: 33
                                Gender: Female
                                Nature: Quirky
                                Posts: 350
                                Chapter Sixty Two

                                Jumper stared across his desk at Surge, his eyes narrowed in a way that greatly unnerved her. His chin rested on his steepled paws, and not a single glint of uncertainty crossed his features. The fact her paws were still trapped in sticky frubbles did nothing to aid her confidence. No way to defend herself. Surrounded on all sides by members of his police force. A quagsire sat beside her with a small lie detector hooked up to a tablet computer. It didn’t intimidate her in the slightest.

                                A large empoleon the frogadier had addressed as ‘Heatsink’ jabbed her in the side with one of his sharp flippers, prompting her to speak. She hissed at him and shuffled in her seat, masking her attempts to remove her restraints as an attempt to make herself more comfortable.

                                “I’ll ask you again.” Jumper’s voice was steady and patient. “You said you’ve not been working alone. Now who were you working with?”

                                “And I told you that would be a breach of confidence,” she replied.

                                “I think you’ve got a lot more to worry about right now than a breach of confidence.” The governor sat back in his seat and rapped his fingers on his desk. “There is a law in this city that no one is to harm pokemon under our protection. I owed that to Wildcard, given they saved this city from a war resulting in famine. Thanks to them, one of the biggest scourges in Luma City’s army has been removed, and while we’re still recovering from the aftermath, we could have ended up a lot worse off if it weren’t for Macro and his friends.” He narrowed his eyes again. “So tell me who you’ve been working with.”

                                Surge’s lip curled up into a smile. Luma City… a place filled with grass types. That Midi was starting to look a little suspicious now. Who’s side was he really on?

                                “You can smirk until the miltank come home.” Jumper shook his head. “It’s not going to help you.”

                                “I’m just thinking,” said Surge, “that you might want to consider that not everyone in this place is on Cyan City’s side.”

                                Jumper raised an eyebrow, and the vaporeon behind her let out a gasp.

                                “Are you saying there are traitors out there?” Jumper asked. “Spies?”

                                Surge shrugged as best she could. “No idea. But I’d take things with a pinch of salt.”

                                Floppy bounced to her side and fixed her with cold, black eyes. “You’d better talk! Because I’m feeling pretty trigger happy right now!”

                                His cold breath frosted over her fur and she grimaced.

                                “I’m not saying anything,” she said. “Not after you let Macro’s goons take off in my ship!” She leered across at Jumper and he sighed, swiping a paw over his glossy desk. “Besides, you can’t keep me here for long. Socket wouldn’t stand for it. She’s hired me!”

                                “You’re right,” said Jumper. “I can’t keep you here for long. Not if Socket did indeed hire you. But I’m afraid this says otherwise.”

                                He pushed a flier towards her. Her face frowned back at her, complete with fifty thousand credits scrawled below her chest. And there with it, her crime. Hacking. No further details, just plain and simple.

                                “Now, allow me to put the pieces together,” he explained. “You’ve shown up here looking… how do I put this? Different from this poster. No bandana, a black dress rather than a waistcoat. And you’ve brushed your fur so much it looks like a transition between zigzagoon and linoone.”

                                She glanced down at her tail, smoothed out yet still ragged, a dead giveaway to her species. Regardless, it took away that rugged look she’d worn for years.

                                “If you indeed are working for Socket,” said Jumper, “then why has she put out a wanted poster for you?”

                                Surge tightened her jaw as she stared back at him. Why, indeed? It was written right on the poster. Socket didn’t like hackers, that much was obvious. But her targets very rarely rose over ten thousand credits.

                                Jumper steepled his paws together again and leant towards her. “You said you’d done some work for Macro. I’m well aware of what DL is. Socket took her memories, made her into a machine.”

                                “Computer,” Surge corrected.

                                Jumper shrugged. “Computers are machines. But you’ve only aided in proving my point with that little statement. I suspect Macro hired you to hack Socket’s databases in order to find out what exactly happened to little DL. Am I right?”

                                She pulled her lips back from her teeth but said nothing. The frogadier was really beginning to get on her nerves.

                                “I think you want to catch Macro in order to make amends with Socket,” he went on. “But I highly doubt that she’ll-”

                                “She’s already wiped my slate.”

                                Jumper raised an eyebrow.

                                “I’ve forwarded her new information,” Surge went on. “As a result, she’s given me a second chance to catch him. Although my payment has taken a pretty big hit.”

                                “I’m not certain I believe you.”

                                The quagsire looked up and nodded. “This says she’s telling the truth.”

                                Jumper examined her from his seat, trailing his eyes up and down her body for any hint of a lie. Surge chuckled and shook her head. Useless. As if she hadn’t trained with lie detectors before.

                                “You heard it straight from a tangle of wires.” She shrugged. “Can you really take the chance in keeping me here, then? If I’m right, Socket might execute you. If I’m wrong… well, you’ve let a wanted ‘mon escape.” A smirk tugged at her lips and she chuckled again. “I’d hate to be you right now.”

                                Heatsink frowned and looked at Jumper, keeping his bladed flipper near Surge’s neck. “Lie detectors ain’t perfect. You really wanna take that risk?”

                                Jumper rubbed a paw over his face and sank back in his chair. “No. Not really.”

                                Surge resisted the urge to grin.

                                “Now, about that pokemon who helped you,” Jumper went on.

                                “If I tell you, what will happen to him?” she asked.

                                “He’ll be locked up here in our cells,” said Jumper. “I can’t say how long, that will take a jury to decide. But if I were to hazard a guess… for attempting to hand a protected citizen over to his death… I’d say fifteen years.”

                                Fifteen years… She’d never even have to look back at Cyan City. “All right, I’ll tell you. His name’s Midi.”

                                “Really?” Jumper’s eyes almost bugged out of his head. “So you’ll happily hand him over to us then? I’ll guess you made a deal and don’t want to follow it through. What did you offer him? A cut of your share? Before Socket docked it, no doubt.”

                                Surge shrugged. “A ‘mon’s gotta get by.”

                                “You’re notorious.” Jumper jotted the name down on his pad. “Heatsink, see Surge to a cell and locate this Midi. I believe he’s a lombre.”

                                Heatsink snorted. “I’ve had dealings with him before. I know who he is.”

                                The empoleon jabbed Surge with his flipper and she slid to her feet. She aimed a glare at Jumper and wrestled with her restraints.

                                “I thought you said you weren’t gonna keep me here!” she barked.

                                “I don’t really want to,” said Jumper. “But your ship is currently AWOL.”

                                She spat on the floor. “Yeh, no thanks to you!”

                                Jumper closed his eyes as he leant his head in one paw and waved the other. “Take her away. I’ll deal with her once her ship has been returned.”

                                “You really think Wildcard’s gonna return her ship?” Floppy asked. “Macro knows she’s after him. If I were him, I’d leave it somewhere. Like the bottom of the ocean.”

                                “Then we’ll find another way to get her out of the city. I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Jumper shooed the other pokemon out of his room. “Go. I need to file all this.”

                                Surge glared at him over her shoulder, but searing cold shot up her spine as Floppy launched an ice beam at her tail.

                                “Keep walkin’,” he growled.

                                She muttered under her breath and turned to exit the office. Trapped between three large pokemon, she stomped after them as they led her to the cells.

                                ...

                                The sharpedo ship grew steadily closer to the pyukumyuku, covering distance at a speed Tracer found difficult to describe. Any second now, Cyph3r would unleash an attack. The delphox’s heart sank. That pyukumyuku looked harmless. The aquatic pokemon the ship was modelled on, however, was packed full of surprises. If you hit one, it would hit you back with twice as much force. Tracer stroked his chin as he wondered how that would be incorporated into a ship built in a criminals’ back yard out of scraps. The flimsy structure looked like it would fall apart if he so much as breathed on it.

                                “All right!” N0ize grinned at his pilot. “We’re close enough. Unleash the torpedoes.”

                                The magmortar’s single paw nimbly flew across the dash, lighting up an array of buttons. Something deep within the ship whirred like a well-oiled motor. It probably was.

                                N0ize chuckled and leant back in his seat so far it creaked beneath his weight. “These oughta punch through that hull like a knife through cheese.”

                                “I think butter would be a better description,” said Widget. The incineroar leered back at him, but he didn’t so much as flinch. “It’s softer,” he added.

                                N0ize grinned from ear to ear and pointed a claw at the eevee. “I like you, little mutt.”

                                Widget snorted through his nose but said nothing.

                                The whirring stopped, followed by a deep roar. Ahead of them, three grinning carvanah whizzed towards the pyukumyuku. The rickety ship dropped several feet before the missiles had a chance to hit, letting them soar harmlessly overhead.

                                N0ize’s face fell and he scratched inside his ear. “Nimble piece o’ junk, eh? Make us swerve up and down and send a barrage. Let’s see if they can dodge that.”

                                Tracer leapt to his feet and dived across the cockpit, grabbing the magmortar’s paw in both arms. He fixed a leer on N0ize.

                                “Is this a game to you?” he barked.

                                N0ize stared back at him and Tracer’s fur stood on end as an electrically charged hum emanated behind him from Cyph3r’s railgun.

                                “What if it is?” the incineroar rumbled. “You want that human threat removed, and I’m just providing pest control.” A grin split his face, chilling Tracer to the core. “If I’m havin’ a little fun doin’ it, so what?”

                                Tracer’s lip twitched as he searched for any reason the pirates should call off the attack. Static was slowly filling his fur, turning him into a bronze brush.

                                “It’s murder,” he said flatly. “Other pokemon are on that ship.”

                                “Aye, criminals.” N0ize grinned again. “We’d be savin’ Socket a job.”

                                “I doubt she’d see it that way.”

                                “What does she care, anyway?” The incineroar threw a paw in the air. “She’s miles above Meta City dealin’ with them alien things. Let’s shoot this human down and put an end to this rebellion. Either way, rebellion or not, I don’t rightly care. I’m just in this for the fun. Hit it, Cyph3r.”

                                The magmortar clubbed Tracer over the head with his railgun arm and a grunt came from the detective’s nose as he crumpled to the floor. Before he could jump back up, that whirring filled the ship again. It swerved up and down, sending a wave of nausea through Tracer’s gut. Although that was more likely to do with the whack he’d received. At some point, Widget had attached himself to the magmortar’s arm. The large fire pokemon waved him off, sending Widget sprawling across the cockpit floor to land in a heap against the wall. Tracer rolled towards the eevee and pushed himself up, wobbling slightly. His ears were ringing. He barely heard the roar as the missiles flew towards Annie’s ship. Twelve of them, soaring towards her in a figure eight. They’d been aimed in such a way the ones at the top and bottom of the attack were curving towards the ship.

                                “They’re not gonna dodge that,” Widget muttered.

                                The eevee pushed himself up and shook out his massive ears. The pair of them watched in horror as the pyukumyuku tried to dodge. At least… that’s what it looked like. The ship swerved to the side and just kept going, turning to face towards them. A long, stretchy arm swung out from its nose, sweeping towards the missiles in an arc. The top most ones were caught in its slimy appendage and knocked towards the ones below it. They exploded on impact, blowing both ships away from each other.

                                The sharpedo shook and keeled backwards. N0ize let out a grunt of surprise and blinked a few times.

                                “Guess it’s got more defences than I thought.” He roared with laughter and struck the dash. “I like it! Send another flurry, let’s see what else this piece of junk can do.”

                                Cyph3r sent out another torrent of missiles. Five more carvanah flew at the pyukumyuku. It swatted aside three of them, but one of the missiles hit its ‘innards out’. The missile exploded, shrapnel striking the ship and its lone weapon. The slimy thing was torn to ribbons, and a huge chunk of it fell with the missiles still wrapped in its gooey fist.

                                If a ship could look surprised, the pyukumyuku managed it down to a T. It turned tail and tried to saunter away to freedom.

                                “We’ve got it!” N0ize barked. “Chase after it!”

                                The magmortar pointed a claw at the dash and fixed N0ize in a glare. The incineroar leant over to see what he was pointing at and grunted.

                                “All out of missiles, eh?” He shrugged. “Guess we’re usin’ our close range attacks then. Full speed and crunch!”

                                “Close range?” Widget gasped. “Oh boy. We’re gonna die.”

                                “You don’t sound very distressed,” Tracer muttered.

                                “I’m running on adrenaline. This is awesome.”

                                N0ize flashed the eevee a grin. “That’s the spirit, mutt. You wanna evolve into a flareon and join my ranks?”

                                “Nope, can’t and don’t want to.” Widget puffed out his chest, flashing his everstone. “I’m awesome just the way I am, thank you very much.”

                                N0ize turned away and scratched inside his ear again. “Such a waste. All right! We’re close enough!”

                                The sharpedos jaws opened slowly, gaining on the pyukumyuku inch by inch. Tracer pulled himself up on the dashboard and fixed wide eyes on Annie’s ship. Were those decorative spikes trembling? How much damage had they done? The thing was about to fall apart. Shredded to bits at the jaws of some deranged space pirate’s vessel. He glanced at each of the space pirates in turn, a deep dread rising within him. He’d made some pretty bad mistakes in his life, but this one definitely took the biscuit. His paw sought out his stick. One dazzling gleam and he was taking over the sharpedo.

                                A flash of green caught his eye and he snapped his head around just as two of the spikes launched from the pyukumyuku on rusted chains. They struck the sharpedo, one spike striking the side of its jaws. The other one smashed through the windscreen, almost impaling N0ize to his seat. The incineroar let out a squeal that didn’t suit his appearance at all.

                                The spike retracted back towards the ship, their rusted chains rattling and creaking. They didn’t quite make it back, dangling behind the ship like a pair of tails.

                                Cyph3r leant over the dashboard towards N0ize and aimed his railgun arm out of the window. It hummed, growing with intensity as the entire length of the coil lit up. Then, a long beam of electricity shot towards the pyukumyuku. Something hidden in that beam struck it, creating a hole in its tail. Shrapnel rained down around it, and the small ship ducked and swerved as it tried to regain balance. Then… it began to descend towards System Ground.

                                Tracer’s jaw dropped as he watched it vanish through the clouds. He swallowed dryly and licked his lips.

                                “What have you just done?” he whispered.

                                N0ize blinked as he tried to gather himself and ran a paw over his ears. “Wretched thing’s busted my windscreen.”

                                Widget’s head appeared on the other side of his lap, his brown eyes livid. “Yeh? Well you just busted their entire ship!”

                                “Just doin’ my job.” N0ize glared at the shattered glass and rubbed his arms. “Let’s turn back and head somewhere we can do repairs. I ain’t flyin’ with a wrecked window. It’s freezin’ up here. All six of my nipples could cut glass!”

                                Tracer let out a growl and retreated to the back of the cockpit, Widget in tow. The eevee sat down heavily and looked up at him.

                                “I think you’re suffering from a rare case of ‘moral dilemma’,” he said.

                                Tracer pulled a cigar from his pocket. N0ize couldn’t exactly complain now the window was smashed. He fixed Widget with an unreadable look and let a lick of flames light the end of his cigar before popping it between his teeth.

                                “What makes you say that?” he asked.

                                “You can’t make your mind up about the girl,” the eevee explained. “Now we have two choices. Find parachutes and bail, or wait for this ship to land and go find her.”

                                “You two ain’t goin’ nowhere,” said N0ize. “It’s your target that busted my ship, so you’re payin’.” He glared at them over his shoulder, a glare that chilled Tracer so much he feared he’d been frozen solid. “You got a problem with that, there are other ways to squeeze the credits outta you. I can think of twelve ways off the top of my head.” A grin. Not a friendly one. “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

                                The incineroar turned away and Tracer’s cigar dropped from his mouth into his lap. Widget looked up at him, his ears slightly drooped.

                                “Man, Tracer… I think we might have just been abducted.”

                                ...

                                “Did you install any parachutes in this thing?” Web desperately clutched her seat while Poipole clung to her back in sheer panic.

                                “No, I didn’t install any parachutes!” Trojan barked back.

                                “Why? Did it just not occur to you?!”

                                “Clearly not!”

                                “I hate to be the one to speak the obvious,” said Annie. “But two of us have wings.”

                                All eyes flew to the human. A sneer crossed Trojan’s face only to be quickly wiped away by fear as the ship swerved towards the ground once more.

                                “Well I also hate to be the one to speak the obvious,” he growled, “but you currently don’t!”

                                Annie looked down at her human self.

                                “Are we gonna die?” Zip squeaked.

                                Water sloshed from his bowl with every stomach-churning lurch.

                                “No we’re not,” said Trojan. “Because I’m gonna fix this bag o’ bolts. All right?” He vanished beneath the dashboard, stumbling as the ship continued to lose altitude. “Someone man the controls!”

                                Waveform pushed Annie back into her seat and took Trojan’s seat. A few tugs of the steering stick and the ship levelled out. Annie’s eyes widened and she removed her hands from her head.

                                “Have you fixed it?” Her bottom left her seat as the ship dropped another few feet. “I guess not.”

                                “I have a question,” said Web. “How does a hole in the tail of the ship affect the engine if it’s in the front?”

                                “It doesn’t,” said Trojan. “The engine’s fine. That blast, whatever it was, removed the rudder and shook up the thrusters that keep us in the air.”

                                “So what are you trying to do?”

                                He pulled his head out and glared at her. “Increase the thrust so we can at least land on dry ground!” Another plummet. He struck his head on the dash and swore loudly. “Everyone shut up and let me work, alright?!”

                                Annie sank into her seat and placed a finger on her lips, just like children are told to do when they’re required to shush. Waveform raised an eyebrow at her then turned back to the controls.

                                “Well if we’re probably gonna die,” said Zip quietly, “I want to thank you guys for helping me. And being a friend. For showing me that other pokemon actually care for us water dwellers.”

                                “We ain’t gonna die,” said Trojan. “Shut your berry hole.”

                                “You’re very welcome, Zip,” said Web. “And ignore him, he’s just as scared as the rest of us.”

                                “I want to thank you as well,” said Poipole. “Other pokemon had tried to shoot at me.”

                                “Well, if we’re all doing the thanking thing,” said Annie, “then I want to thank you all for… erm… doing this rebellion thing. And… dang it, I was sure there was something else.”

                                “Taking you in?” Web helped.

                                “Yes! Yes, exactly.” Annie folded her hands behind her head, but the ship gave another lurch that pushed her to cower in her seat. “I don’t like this. I want off.”

                                “We all want off,” said Waveform. “But that’s not an option. This ship needs her captain.”

                                Annie removed her arms from her head and looked around at her crew. Terrified faces. Except Waveform who looked as collected as he often did. She cleared her throat and sat up straight.

                                “All right!” she said. “Onward to dry ground! We ain’t sea pirates, we’re space pirates! We don’t do the swimmin’ thing.”

                                “I do,” said Zip.

                                “Well… the rest of us aren’t as talented as you, little fish. I don’t like getting wet.”

                                “Seconded,” said Waveform.

                                “Thirded,” added Poipole.

                                “Where’s the closest dry land?” Annie asked.

                                The thrusters roared and the ship levelled out. The hull still trembled like a terrified child, but things felt… firmer.

                                Trojan climbed out from the dashboard and shooed Waveform from his seat.

                                “There,” he said. “That should get us to the coastline at least.”

                                “So it’s fixed?” Web’s eyes narrowed. “I find that very hard to believe.”

                                “It ain’t fixed,” he said. “It’s merely tweaked so we don’t crash and die in the sea. Is that good enough for everyone?”

                                A chorus of ‘yes’ echoed through the cockpit.

                                Trojan nodded and turned back to his controls. “That’s what I like to hear.”

                                The ship trembled and ducked slightly, causing Zip to yelp.

                                “What was that?” Annie asked.

                                Trojan didn’t even look up. “Let’s not talk about it.”

                                ...

                                The beartic leant towards the camera, as close as he could get to the microphone without knocking the camera ‘mon over.

                                “What do you mean it’ll all blow over?!” he screamed at the interviewer. “Between here and Wave City, fisheries have been dragged to the ground! Electricity, scalding water, rocks! Smashed to bits! Pokemon have died!”

                                The interviewer pushed him back so she could get back into the camera shot. The young gardevoir brushed her paw over her head, trying her best not to sigh with frustration.

                                “All wars come to an end eventually,” she said. “Let’s not get System riled up over pointless propagan-”

                                “Pointless?!” the beartic hissed. “The water types are revolting and the mayor couldn’t give a -” Someone managed to beep out the beartic’s language. Most likely an exploud.

                                The ice type was taken away, while the gardevoir returned to the camera.

                                “As you can see,” she said, “the oceans have done a double take. Turning to the land to right the massive wrong made centuries ago, riding on the coat tails of a group named Time Archeops. Will the little goldeen and his friends manage to turn this around? Will fisheries fall? Or will all of System fight back, brining an end to any rights the water dwellers currently have left?”

                                Anchor groaned and closed his eyes. “Switch it off, Matrix. It’s depressin’ me.”

                                “But you don’t eat fish,” said the ribombee. “What’s the problem?”

                                “It’s not the fish that’s the problem, it’s the situation!” Anchor waved a paw towards the dark space ahead. “System’s fallin’. Any other time, I’d be backin’ a rebellion like this. But now ain’t the time! We’ve got bigger fish to fry, if you’ll excuse the expression.”

                                “I will not excuse it,” said Switch. “I think it was in very bad taste.”

                                Anchor sighed and brushed back his mohawk. “Sorry. I’ll try to think of better words to use when my brain is frazzled. Let’s just… focus on catchin’ up with Macro, okay?”

                                The cockpit fell into silence as Matrix stuffed his computer back into his belt pouch. The lone tympole ship trundled along, growing gradually closer to the schooling wishiwashi, while miles below the oceans glowed yellow as the lanturn rallied their masses. Somewhere, another fishery fell, washed away beneath the chaos that the Ultra Beasts were bringing.

                                ...
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                                  #41    
                                Old October 6th, 2018 (2:15 AM). Edited October 6th, 2018 by Delirious Absol.
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                                Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                Call me Del
                                   
                                  Join Date: May 2015
                                  Location: UK
                                  Age: 33
                                  Gender: Female
                                  Nature: Quirky
                                  Posts: 350
                                  Part Five - Terror

                                  Chapter Sixty Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  “Getting a better view.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  “Do what you want.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  Silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  “The very same,” said the girl.

                                  “And might I ask… Time Archeops?”

                                  The girl nodded again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  “Well I ain’t heard of you.”

                                  “You were in a mental ward.”

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

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

                                  “Who’s the squirt?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                  The skuntank looked at each of them and caught the purple creature as it drifted back down towards her. “That’s rather generous of you. Although I’m not complaining about breathing clean air. It’s much better up here than in the outskirts.” She tucked the creature beneath her tail then let it fall across her back. “Do either of you want to help me gather lunch? I think that will be a good chance for us all to get acquainted.”
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                                  Old October 14th, 2018 (6:31 AM).
                                  Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                  Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                  Call me Del
                                     
                                    Join Date: May 2015
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                                    Chapter Sixty Five

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

                                    DL. Those memories. That fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Pirates?” Macro’s voice cracked.

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

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

                                    Lavender…

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

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

                                    Pirates…

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

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

                                    Then faltered.

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

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

                                    It felt so wrong.

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

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

                                    “No,” said Macro.

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

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

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

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

                                    “Fantastic,” Macro spat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    ...

                                    The Analogue Isles sure were chilly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Given how it ends, I say don’t.”

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

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

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

                                    “Deeper we go then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Why me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Do you not feel it?” he gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “All right. Shoot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Widget, move!” Tracer roared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    A roar.

                                    Another rear up into the air.

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

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

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

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

                                    “This way!” Widget took a sharp right.

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

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

                                    “Get back in the ship!” he roared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Long story,” said Anchor.

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

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

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

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

                                    Matrix buzzed over their heads towards the city.

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

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

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

                                    “So what’s gonna happen to her?”

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

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

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

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

                                    “Wait!”

                                    Jumper’s voice froze him in the doorway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Then she lied to you.”

                                    “Lied?”

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

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

                                    “Don’t know. But I can try.”

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

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

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

                                    “That’s good.”

                                    “Depends on your perspective on ‘good’.”

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

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

                                    “Macro, what happened?”

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

                                    “Macro…”

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

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

                                    “I am so sorry…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “Just answer my question!” he barked.

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

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

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

                                    “And you never thought to tell me?”

                                    “It was irrelevant given the circumstances.”

                                    “It was incredibly relevant!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    “I already told you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    He caught her eye just beyond the seared glass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    He stared down at his laser. One shot. That was all it would have taken to kill Surge in the heat of his anger. Yes… Socket had wanted to break him, and she’d succeeded.
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                                      #43    
                                    Old October 28th, 2018 (2:58 AM).
                                    Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                    Call me Del
                                       
                                      Join Date: May 2015
                                      Location: UK
                                      Age: 33
                                      Gender: Female
                                      Nature: Quirky
                                      Posts: 350
                                      A/N - Given I was posting from my laptop which hasn't saved my password for this forum, and I've forgotten it, I didn't post this update last weekend.

                                      If you are reading, please like this post. I'm trying to work out whether or not it's worth still posting my writing here. I'll post until the end of this story, but out of all the places I post, this website at the moment appears to be the weakest reader-wise.


                                      Chapter Sixty Six

                                      Macro's head was spinning.

                                      He lay on his back, one arm over his eyes, as he ran over everything in his mind. Everything from the beginning. From the moment they found DL all the way to his breakdown in front of Surge. Why? Where had he gone wrong? When he found the pachirisu? Or the moment he trusted Surge to help them? Space pirates weren't meant to trust others outside their own crew, and even then they were meant to keep them at arm's length. He wasn't one to trust so freely. Not usually. But recently…

                                      He grimaced, screwing his eyes shut. All it had brought him was pain. One foot wrong, and everything fell apart. No… where he'd gone wrong was in Binary City. That mission he wished he'd never taken. That one mistake that had Socket panting for his life. He should have just turned himself in, given himself a chance to explain everything. But instead he'd fled like a coward. Not even given anyone an apology. Not even the pichu he'd saved.

                                      "You need to drag yourself out of this hole." The voice made Macro's spine stiffen. "Because it's exactly where she wants you."

                                      He lifted his arm and glanced to his right. Taking up most of his room was a huge white lion, his mane radiating a soft light that seemed to brighten up the dinginess Macro had locked himself in.

                                      "What…? Solgaleo?" Macro pushed himself up onto one arm. "What are you doing here? Who let you in?"

                                      The huge lion merely smiled. A smile that lifted some of the weight off Macro. He pushed himself up and positioned himself against the headboard. He rubbed his eyes to remove the grogginess and soothe the heavy bags beneath them.

                                      "I'm here because you clearly need someone," said Solgaleo. "I can't deny what's happened isn't crushing, Macro, but you really need to look at the bigger picture."

                                      "What? System?" Macro lowered his paw to look at him. "I wanna ask what this world has ever done for me?"

                                      "You live in it." It was a simple answer that made the mawile sigh. "So do your friends. Don't let the pawful of bad pokemon drag you down. There are a lot of pokemon relying on you right now. Even if they don't know it."

                                      "But why me?" Macro whined, leaning his head back against the wall. "I'm in no state for this. I almost got killed!"

                                      "A lot of good pokemon have died in the past by trying to stop the bad ones."

                                      "Yeh? Then what happened to them?"

                                      "They're with me."

                                      Macro looked up with a start, fixing wide violet eyes on Solgaleo's warm blue ones.

                                      "I chose you for a reason," Solgaleo explained. "You're against Socket, you refuse to eat meat, and you want to save DL. To top it all off, you helped Switch. That human is a hero, and one your distant relatives are very close to. You're descended from someone gifted the power to make a difference."

                                      "Yeh, but did he kill hundreds of pokemon in a fire?" Macro growled.

                                      "That was an accident."

                                      "Accident or not, I did it! And look where it's got me!" Macro spread his paws wide. "I have a huge price on my head, and I hurt someone I truly care about. I killed her family!"

                                      "And she knows it was an accident." Solgaleo paused, fixing his calming eyes on Macro's. "You even went out of your way to save that little pichu. In his eyes, you're a hero."

                                      Macro's eyes welled up and he tore them away to wipe at them.

                                      "You are not a bad pokemon," said Solgaleo. "You're one of few space pirates fighting for the greater good, despite what mask you hide behind. I want you to use that good, and put an end to this mess."

                                      "And what will you do?" Macro asked flatly.

                                      "I'll be working through you."

                                      Macro's eye went to the Z-Crystal around his wrist. Was it sparkling? If it was, it was brief. Enough to catch his eye.

                                      "You will never be alone, even if you feel like you are," said Solgaleo. "I'll be right there, like I have been this whole time." He reached out and tapped the Z-Crystal.

                                      Macro chuckled and shook his head. "And only a couple of weeks ago, I was a common criminal."

                                      "Even pirates can become heroes," Solgaleo said with a smile. "Now get out there and make a difference."

                                      "But what about DL?" Macro's voice broke slightly at her name.

                                      "She's safe. But you need to get to her quickly. Not just her, but the pokemon she is with all need their Z-Crystals."

                                      "What?" Macro's jaw dropped. "She… she's found them?"

                                      Solgaleo smiled again. "Funny how things work out, isn't it?"

                                      With that, he slowly faded away. But Macro's room still felt much brighter and warmer from the lion's presence. He kicked his legs over the edge of his bed and clambered off it. All grogginess had faded, and with it the threat of a dull headache. In fact, he felt a lot better than he had in years.

                                      He hopped off his ship and made a beeline for the lake. Anchor and Floppy were engaged in sparring practice while Matrix 'watched' from a nearby bench. The granbull looked up when he spotted Macro and his eyes widened.

                                      "Cap'n!" He grinned. "You're lookin' a lot better."

                                      "Aye," said Macro. "Turned out all I needed was a little pep talk."

                                      Anchor stared at him wordlessly as he tried to process what he'd said.

                                      Macro looked down at the vaporeon. "Aren't you meant to be with the rest of the police force?"

                                      "Yeah." Floppy rolled his eyes. "But Jumper said, given Switch is away, I'm to take his place in sparring practice."

                                      "We have Matrix." Macro waved a paw at the ribombee.

                                      "Matrix has already burned out his use of the Z-Crystal," the ribombee said, not looking up from his computer. "And he doesn't want to be a tiny punching bag."

                                      Macro tutted and shook his head.

                                      Floppy inclined his head on one side and his eye went to Macro's Z-Crystal. "So I guess you're joining us then?"

                                      "Yeh, I am." Macro clenched his fist and looked at each of them. "Now show me how to use this thing. Faster I learn, faster we can stop Socket and get these Ultra Beasts back home."

                                      "That's what I wanna hear!" Anchor grinned widely and held his bracelet over his head. "Now, I've only managed to do this like… twice. But just like Solgaleo said - you hold it over your head just before you perform your attack. But… it ain't as easy as it sounds."

                                      "I don't really get it," said Floppy. "Like I said, I've been appointed 'Official Punching Bag' while work is slow. But those moves look super tough. I'm a little sad I've not seen it in action, yet at the same time a little bitter I can't try it myself."

                                      Anchor laughed. "Ah, don't be like that!"

                                      Macro's heart sank slightly. He looked from the granbull's Z-Crystal to his own. The pink crystal reflected sunlight even from deep within it, contrasting with the fairy type symbol it bore. So it wasn't going to be easy. Well… he'd keep practising until it became easy. System was relying on Wildcard Gamma and their unsuspecting allies. Even if it meant he'd have no sleep for a week, he was going to keep on trying.

                                      "All right, well… I'll give it a shot." He flexed his claws and turned to his friends. "Brace yourself, Floppy. I'm comin' at you."

                                      "What?" Floppy's black eyes shot wide open. "Why me?"

                                      "Because you said you've been told to be our punching bag, now get ready."

                                      Matrix chuckled. "I'm just glad it's not me. Otherwise I'd be wishing I'd gone with Defrag to grab a donut."

                                      "Defrag?" Macro stiffened and looked at Anchor. "Digit's been joining you?"

                                      "She's stuck here and pretty bored, Cap'n," Anchor explained. "She's been sparring with us since Switch isn't available anymore. Kinda as a favour so we'll give her a lift back to System Ground."

                                      "All right." Macro shrugged and turned back to Floppy. "You ready?"

                                      He lifted his paw into the air then leapt towards Floppy, spinning his horn around like a windmill. Floppy braced himself, lowering his head as he ducked to dodge. Macro opened the jaws to grab the vaporeon by the tail, but before he could make contact, his body lit up with a pink glow. Floppy's black eyes reflected a sparkle Macro couldn't see, and his jaw dropped open as the mawile picked up rapid speed. Before the vaporeon could jump out of the way, Macro crashed into him, knocking all the wind out of Floppy's lungs with a sound reminiscent of a hatchling's squeak-toy. Pink and white stars exploded around them, lighting up the lake with a flash like lightning. The pair rolled into the bench in a tangle of fur and tail. Macro pulled himself back and fell onto his bottom, his breath coming in quick bursts. His surprise reflected in Floppy's eyes as the winded vaporeon pulled himself up so he was sitting.

                                      "So…" said Floppy. "That's a Z-Move?"

                                      "Interesting." Matrix wound his antenna as he peered at Macro between Floppy's ears. "Shame I wasn't really watching. I should have taken notes."

                                      Macro's eyes flew to the Z-Crystal. Somehow, it wasn't reflecting the light quite so brightly. Well, it definitely hadn't been 'play rough'.

                                      "And we finally get to see Twinkle Tackle!" Anchor clapped his paws together in an applaud that sounded deafening in the suddenly silent park. "Well done, Cap'n. Put us all to shame!"

                                      No… it wasn't meant to be that easy. If his crew were struggling, then why would he manage it on his first try? Surely it was just a fluke?

                                      "Hey, I'm back." Defrag strolled towards them clutching a sugared donut. She froze mid-bite and looked at the space pirates in turn. "Oh great. What did I miss?"

                                      Something caught Macro's eye and he looked up at the glass dome. A small twinkle beyond the clouds. He chuckled and fell onto his back, pressing a paw over his eyes.

                                      Of course. A little pep talk. 'Make a difference'. Somehow, things didn't feel quite so bleak.

                                      ...

                                      Binary City pulsed with music. Dusk was on the horizon, and the streets were already alive with neon lights, swinging back and forth as the band played their music. Well… 'band' was a bit of a stretch. On the stage was a holographic display of the animated band playing to their audience, singing in their synthetic voices. Behind them on a huge screen, each song's music video played out much to the delight of the audience. Pokemon bounced up and down, a huge mish-mash of typings unusual to see throughout System. All brought together by the love of entertainment and the band Neon Blue.

                                      A group of smaller pokemon made up of sentret, skitty and purrloin danced around the more unusual guest. The lanky creature's movements were oddly graceful despite its appearance, and it removed its eyeless head to juggle back and forth in its arms. Every so often it would pause to fire off a volley of fireballs, each time eliciting cheers from the mosh pit. The fire types would add their own pyrotechnics, throwing up flamethrowers from their mouths and paws. Then the electric types would join in with their light display, lighting up the stage.

                                      "Bleh." BackDoor floated above the rabble with his paws tucked behind his head. "Not quite the chaos I was expecting it to cause."

                                      'Then it's a failure?' Distortion's voice rumbled in his head. 'It should be destroyed.'

                                      "That would be pretty fun to watch play out," said BackDoor. "Man, when I saw that thing appear, I wondered where it had got to. I didn't expect it to be clowning around in Binary City, making friends. These things are meant to destroy, right?"

                                      'They're useless lifeforms, just like the rest of the creatures here. Look at them, dancing to a fictitious display. I want to end it.'

                                      BackDoor let out an 'eep!' as his body was dragged like a meteor towards the mosh pit. He froze above it abruptly, drawing a few eyes from the pokemon below. Claws pointed, faces turned, all eager to see the hoopa. Then Distortion left his body in a cloud of mist, his insectoid form slowly solidifying beside him. Distortion opened his red eyes, glowing like embers out of his misty body. His shape spasmed erratically as it struggled to maintain one form - insectoid or dragon.

                                      Screams erupted from the audience as the more timid pokemon tried to scramble away, but those that stayed were either amazed or bracing themselves for a fight. The more intoxicated laughed, thinking it was all part of the show. A few of them even paused to take photos.

                                      Distortion narrowed his eyes. "Foolish creatures. It's almost a waste of my strength to erase you from existence."

                                      He opened his mouth, sending out a pulse of purple energy. It spread over the mosh pit, setting fur, feather and scale ablaze. More screams, more desperate scrambling as those left remaining realised what peril they were in. Distortion's dragon pulse spread across the floor, splitting the concrete as it caught up with the stragglers.

                                      The lanky Ultra Beast leapt from its spot, throwing itself between the dragon pulse and an injured sentret. It removed its colourful head, bouncing it up and down in its paw like a basket ball. The sentret scurried away, casting a nervous glance between the two warring Ultra Beasts.

                                      "So you're fearless?" Distortion asked the creature. "Given you're willing to throw your life away to protect a creature that would no sooner turn its back and run, I'd say that behaviour is foolish."

                                      The creature dropped into a battle stance, juggling its huge head between its paws. The lights flickering inside it turned a vivid red. It aimed it towards Distortion.

                                      The dragon opened his mouth to fire out another dragon pulse. It soared towards the Ultra Beast. The Ultra Beast flicked a paw, sending a shadow ball that exploded against the dragon pulse, cancelling it out. Before Distortion could retaliate, its huge head left its paw with surprising force. It exploded against Distortion's body into sparkles and flames. He threw his head back and roared as his body began to lose its solidity, melding into mist.

                                      BackDoor tutted. "Feisty fellow, isn't he?"

                                      Distortion's eyes glowed from deep within the mist, fixing on BackDoor.

                                      'This world…' His voice came out as an echo in BackDoor's head, 'is not stable enough to hold me!' He retreated back into BackDoor's body, causing the android to jerk uncomfortably. 'It needs distorting. But first… I need to distort you.'

                                      "Who, me?" BackDoor pointed a thumb at his chest.

                                      A 'whoop!' left his throat as his entire body rocketed into the air, barely dodging another shadow ball from the Ultra Beast. At some point, it had regained its head, still pulsing with red light. Although it appeared a lot smaller than its previous one. Was it… growing? Before he could get a decent look, his body twisted so he was looking over Binary City. Distortion fell silent, but he could feel him moving around his wires and components. Creeping like a tiny scolipede… or a seviper.

                                      'Yes…' he hissed. 'Yes, I think I've found it. A worm. Something I can distort.'

                                      The words sent a chill through BackDoor's body. Before he could retaliate, Distortion latched onto something. BackDoor's mind began to spin, and he sprayed out a series of nonsense commands that could have baffled even Zero Day. His body twisted, creaking as the metal re-built itself. Stretching as he increased in size. No… he wasn't organic. His body wasn't designed for such feats. He screwed his eyes shut, bracing himself to explode. Why, oh why, wasn't he built with a self-destruct command?

                                      Then it all stopped.

                                      He opened his eyes again, looking down at his body. Twisted almost beyond recognition. Six arms floated beside him, three at each side. A huge ring-like hole expanded across his torso. He even had legs, and behind him, a tail. He lifted a paw and flexed it, admiring his new claws.

                                      "Hey," he said, his voice no different than before. "They're no longer like mittens."

                                      'This is a much better fit.' If Distortion had heard him, he didn't show it. 'Now… time to erase that Ultra Beast.'

                                      BackDoor found himself launched once more towards the ground. He reached up and grabbed a ring from around his right horn and lobbed it towards the creature. It leapt back, dodging it as it spread open before it. Then it flailed as the porthole tried to drag it in.

                                      'A world without air. Without atmosphere.' Distortion laughed. 'This will be your end!'

                                      The Ultra Beast snapped its head up towards them. Then it kicked off from the ground, diving over the porthole. Another lob of its head. Another explosion. Searing heat spread over BackDoor's body. His scream melded with Distortion's as they were blown back through the city. He hit the floor hard, feeling a crack explode along his back.

                                      When he opened his eyes, it was pitch black. He searched through his mind, finding a substantial chunk of time missing from his memory logs. He rubbed his head with a mitten paw and twisted his neck back and forth. Yes, something had indeed cracked open. Sparks erupted from his back as he drifted into the air, wobbling left and right as he searched the city. Both the Ultra Beast and the porthole had vanished.

                                      "Drat." His voice cracked and distorted, stuttering over the final 't'. "I think-k-k we lost it."

                                      A deep growl echoed in his head and he rolled his eyes back to search for the dragon. But he couldn't see a thing. Not even his red, glowing eyes.

                                      'You are weak,' Distortion hissed. 'I need a stronger host. Find me one.'

                                      ...

                                      Trojan kicked the side of the pyukumyuku, creating a deep ring that caused Switch to cover his ears with his wings.

                                      "Piece of junk just wont fly!" the scrafty roared.

                                      "Well it wont if you kick it like that, will it?" Annie placed her hands on her hips and leant towards him. "Would you fly if I kicked you?"

                                      Trojan looked from her booted foot all the way up to her eyes and frowned. "I might. You're pretty big."

                                      Annie cocked an eyebrow. "I'm not sure whether that was an insult or not. Hang on." She looked over her shoulder. "Oi, Web! Was that an insult?"

                                      The skuntank didn't look up from her cooking. "Perhaps. It is Trojan."

                                      Annie turned back to him and pointed a finger at her eye, then at the scrafty. She turned and headed back to Web, who was busying herself beside DL and Zip.

                                      Switch sighed and strolled over to them. The previous night had been pretty quiet, and it was rapidly growing darker. Without any streetlights, they needed to rely on a pair of dusty torches, one of which seemed to enjoy flickering on and off at random intervals. The one that didn't flicker had been fixed to Zip's right leg.

                                      "I don't think we'll be flying tonight," Switch told DL.

                                      The pachirisu looked up at him with a sombre expression and nodded, turning back to her task of vegetable slicing.

                                      "I figured as much," she said. "But argh… we need to leave this mountain soon. We have a job to do."

                                      "Aye, the rebellion!" Annie called from beside a razz bush. She'd sprawled herself out on the floor, oblivious to the prickles. "As much as I like lookin' at these stars, I'm itching to get movin' again."

                                      "Aye, it might not be too long before those space pirates realise we ain't dead," said Trojan. "Sooner we leave this mountain, the better."

                                      Something caught Switch's eye and he turned to his right as Waveform swooped silently down towards them. A quick flick of his wings and he landed with a flourish, dropping something beside Trojan.

                                      "What's this?" the scrafty asked him.

                                      "A few bolts and a stabiliser," said Waveform. "Also salvaged some parts from the drones I shot down. Might fix the engine compatibility."

                                      "What are you? A jack of all trades?"

                                      "I'm just itching to move." Waveform tucked his wings to his side and strutted past them towards Annie, casting Switch a curious glance.

                                      Web looked up at them then glanced around the mountain. "I'm not so much worried about those pirates than I am about Socket. This mountain is off limits, so we're trespassing."

                                      "You're worried about trespassin'? With all we're doin'?" Trojan shook his head and ended his statement with a 'hah!'

                                      Web frowned. "Well, now we know why it's off limits. It's one of few places with natural fruit trees and - lo and behold - a spring!"

                                      Zip wagged his tail. "Yeah! I get clean water!"

                                      "We could technically live here," said Web. "Yet she's keeping it to herself."

                                      "And not living here," said Switch. "Why is that, exactly?"

                                      "I thought that was obvious." Web narrowed her eyes at him. "At the expense of her own enjoyment, nobody learns about it. Instead, she could use it as a secret getaway. I'm guessing the other mayors did just that. She's just a nervous wreck who won't leave her mansion except for serious circumstances."

                                      Switch folded his arms and frowned. "So you have an agoraphobic mayor?"

                                      "You could say that, yes."

                                      As the night grew gradually darker, the smell of Web's cooking surrounded the ship. Trojan worked away at the engine, but as the smell tickled his nose, he clambered out and wiped oil onto a rag.

                                      "About time," he said. "I was gettin' hungry."

                                      "Well, I hope you all enjoy it," said Web. "Thanks to DL and Zip, we've managed to find berries I've never even tasted before."

                                      Trojan froze and held up his paws. "Hang on. It ain't poisonous, is it?"

                                      "Only if you're allergic to figy berries," said Web.

                                      Trojan rubbed his throat then sat down. "Don't think I've ever had them."

                                      The group tucked into their meals, sharing banter and stories, mostly aimed at Switch. He went off on a tangent, talking about the events with the Fracture that Web and Trojan were particularly interested in. Waveform was also hooked, but Annie was more interested in the contents of her bowl. She scraped the remains into her mouth then looked around at her crew. Then she stretched her arms out and yawned.

                                      "Well, I'm gonna continue stargazin'."

                                      She stood up and returned to the razz bush, flopping onto her back on the lumpy ground. A stone jabbed her in the spine and she shifted until she grabbed it, then tossed it into the distance. It collided with something soft. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a feathery form slump down beside her.

                                      She fixed one eye on Waveform, who had removed his quiver to polish his silver arrows.

                                      "So, whaddaya think?" She knocked a thumb towards the nattering group. "Another human?"

                                      Waveform shrugged. "It certainly answers more questions. Particularly about the Fracture and that yes, some humans did indeed stay behind and mix with pokemon."

                                      Annie yawned again and tucked her arms behind her head. "Kinda removes my 'special' status."

                                      "You can be special in the eyes of others without being unique."

                                      "Are those lyrics from a song?"

                                      Waveform fixed an eye on her. "Not one I know of."

                                      "Maybe you should write it?"

                                      He lowered his arrows and looked down at her, a glimmer of amusement in his crimson eyes. She looked away from him to the arrows then nodded at them.

                                      "Why do you use them anyway?" she asked. "I thought decidueye make their own arrows."

                                      "We do." He returned one polished arrow to his quiver then retrieved another. "But I prefer it this way."

                                      "More deadly?"

                                      "More convenient."

                                      "But you didn't take them into Pulse City?"

                                      "That's because they're a bit of a trademark," he explained. "I hunt space pirates, and space pirates know for a fact a silver arrow means Waveform."

                                      "So it's bounty-hunting bling then?"

                                      He froze and looked down at her, cocking an eyebrow. She flipped herself up onto her bottom and fixed him with an emerald gaze.

                                      "Look, I've read alotta books," she said. "And I know pokemon all make their own attacks. Nature is a pretty thing, and you don't need all this glitz and glam." She waved a hand at his armoured beak and silver quiver. "Wherever I look in this crazy, whacked-out world, pokemon have weapons and mechanical body parts. Like that magmortar in Pulse City, and all them 'mons with guns. How can trusting a finite weapon be more convenient than producing your own? Seriously, just… take it off and be a pokemon!"

                                      Waveform's face fell and he narrowed his eyes. "I thought you didn't remember much about Pulse City?"

                                      "I remember that magmortar and the big cloystercat."

                                      He tutted and returned to his arrows. "Your memory seems to be very convenient to you."

                                      "It ain't remotely convenient," she said. "And don't change the subject! Decidueye in my books were these amazing owls that fired arrows from their vines. You fit the bill - flying silently, using your vine. But you don't use your own arrows and you keep your beak covered up with some kinda ornament. What's the deal?"

                                      He stopped what he was doing and set the rag aside, not looking at her. "Why are you bringing this up now?"

                                      "'Cos I feel I now know you enough to call you out on these shenanigans."

                                      "Shenanigans?" He placed his arrows to one side and swivelled to face her. "Not all pokemon use modifications as a fashion statement, Annie. They're also used for medical reasons. Replacing missing body parts, protecting against disease. You've seen the outskirts and what damage it can do. It slowly kills the pokemon unfortunate enough to live there."

                                      "Well, yeh. I mean Zip can't walk on land. But when he goes back to the water, he won't need them legs!"

                                      "You haven't taken in anything I've said, have you." He shook his head. "Zip might not need them, yet there are some pokemon that do need mechanical legs."

                                      She scratched her chin and looked up at the stars. "Yeh, I guess some do. But!" She pointed at him. "Surely they don't need some fancy beak ornament. Come on, I can barely see your face properly with that on."

                                      He sighed and grabbed an arrow, idly polishing it as she stared at him. She shifted forward until her arm brushed up against his wing, causing his feathers to stand on end.

                                      "Annie, I really think you need to drop this conversation."

                                      "I'll drop it when I see your face."

                                      The decidueye sighed loudly. "Fine."

                                      He tossed the arrows to one side and reached up, grabbing the armour between two of his paw-feathers. There was an audible click and he pulled it away, keeping both eyes on Annie.

                                      Around his beak had been rubbed raw by the metal until his feathers had been brushed away. Bloody in parts. But what it had been hiding turned Annie's throat dry. Around the corners of his beak and nostrils were unsightly lumps, some of which trickled blood from having the armour removed.

                                      "Happy?" he asked.

                                      She stared at him for a bit longer as he replaced the metal sheath. Her mind went back to that dry, brittle feather. It all made so much sense. She balled her hand into a fist so tightly her nails dug into her palms.

                                      "No." The word came out so calmly, yet in her mind she was screaming.

                                      She pushed herself to her feet and turned, walking away into the shadows.

                                      ...

                                      The soft hum of Wildcard Gamma's engine soothed Macro into a light slumber. He sat back in his chair, arms tucked behind his head and feet up on the dashboard. Stars swept past them at a steady pace as the ship drifted on in silence, miles over System Sky. It was a peaceful place Macro had enjoyed visiting long before all the chaos had happened.

                                      Soft footsteps dragged him out of his doze and he glanced back over his chair. DL stood in the doorway, winding her paws together as she glanced around at the cockpit. His jaw dropped and he dragged himself from his seat.

                                      "DL?"

                                      Her eyes went to him and immediately all tension left her body. She ran towards him, throwing her arms around his neck. He felt her nuzzling into his fur as she pushed his scarf aside, her breath tickling his neck. It ignited a tingle in his stomach and he pulled her close, covering her shoulder with soft kisses.

                                      "Oh, I've missed you," he said.

                                      "Me too," she sighed.

                                      She combed her claws through his fur, trailing them up his spine, and she pulled back from him to catch his lips in a kiss. A small groan left his throat as he returned it. Tears stung his eyes and flowed down his cheeks and he couldn't help but pull her closer, stumbling into the back of his seat. He brushed his paw over her ears, her fur warm against his pads, down the back of her head. His claws trailed over the jack socket and his heart began to ache.

                                      He pulled back from her to take a breath, to spill out his feelings to her. He met those chocolate eyes. But they weren't warm. Instead, they were sad. Pained. Reflecting fire that burned behind him. All around him. He panicked, stumbling backwards as his eyes flew around the cockpit. All feeling left his legs. He grabbed the arm of his chair to stop himself from slumping to the floor.

                                      Fire.

                                      It erupted between them like a barrier, spreading across the floor beneath her. He stretched out a paw towards her, to drag her from the inferno, but the floor began to splinter. Debris crumbled away from the cockpit, threatening to take DL with it. But she didn't seem to notice or care. Her body shook as the disaster caught up with her.

                                      "Goodbye." Her voice seemed to echo eerily, as though it hadn't come from her.

                                      "No!" He watched her fall away from him into the abyss below. "No, DL! Don't go! I love you!"

                                      He threw himself forwards into the flames, scattering the sheets off his body.

                                      Dawn.

                                      He blinked a few times, trying to dispel the nightmare from his mind and enter reality.

                                      His bed. No fire. A tangle of sheets sticky with sweat. Just another nightmare. He groaned and ran a paw over his head, then flailed an arm towards his nightstand for his computer. His heart was still racing. Those nightmares… he knew they weren't real, but he needed to know DL was okay. That they were all okay.

                                      He brought up Switch's name with his trembling claw then fired out a disjointed message. He didn't care what time it was, he just wanted to know. Once it was sent, he fell back into his pillow and rubbed a paw over his eyes. The previous day, he'd felt happier. Now his mind was a swirling mess again.

                                      The familiar message tone came from his phone and he picked it up so it was hovering over his face.

                                      'We're all fine, thanks, Macro. Trying to get the ship running again. Things are looking good. We should be at Meta City the day after tomorrow.'

                                      Macro sat up so quickly his computer flew from his paw to the end of the bed. Meta City? So DL wanted the last memory disk? He raked his claws over his face and groaned. No. No, he couldn't let them just walk into Socket's mansion. DL and a human? Didn't Socket want both of them? The more he thought about it, the more Socket's stunt in Botnet City felt like an elaborate scheme.

                                      He kicked himself from his bed and strutted from the room towards the cockpit. His eye immediately went to Matrix who he expected to be up, but his seat was empty. What took him by surprise was the lopunny in his captain's seat. His lip curled into a snarl and he pointed a claw, but she span the seat around and gave him a disarming smile.

                                      "Up already, Captain?" she asked. Then she looked him up and down. "You feeling okay? You look like you lost a wrestling match with a goodra."

                                      "Digit?" he spat. "What are -"

                                      "Good mornin', Cap'n." Anchor slipped into the cockpit beside him and cast him a curious glance. His nose twitched and he recoiled. "Yeech! What, did you take a dive in a swamp?"

                                      Macro flashed a canine. "Bad dream."

                                      "Wow, yeh." Anchor gave him an apologetic nod. "Must've been a bad one because… well… you look bad."

                                      Macro's arms fell limp at his side and he stared at Anchor aghast. He caught a nod from Defrag behind him, along with a smirk.

                                      "You know what…" Macro sighed and rolled his eyes. "Look, we need to get to Meta City. I got word from Switch that they're headin' there in a couple of days, and there ain't no way I'm lettin' DL and Switch practically hand themselves over to her!"

                                      Anchor raised an eyebrow and his mouth formed an 'o'.

                                      "I don't know much about this DL," said Defrag. "No one has really taken the time to fill me in. What does Socket want with her exactly?"

                                      "It's a long story," said Anchor. "I wouldn't get involved if I were you. We'll drop you off on the way." He turned back to Macro. "So we're finally doin' it? Goin' into Socket's nest to grab the final disk? Feels like the plot of some terrible video game."

                                      "Meta City, eh?" Matrix buzzed down the corridor, stifling a yawn. "I'll key us in after breakfast. Nice hairdo, by the way."

                                      Macro shrugged off the ribombee and nodded towards Defrag. "Care to explain?"

                                      "She showed up at the crack o'dawn," Anchor replied. "Wasn't gonna turn her away. Lass ain't got nowhere to stay here."

                                      "Exactly," said Defrag. "If you think I'm letting you lot slip away again after you all flew off to Botnet, you've got another thing coming! I can't steer a ship! How else am I supposed to get back home?"

                                      "You shoulda thought about that before you hitched a ride!" Macro snapped.

                                      Defrag's face fell and she tutted. "Really? You would have left me in Spool City to get cut up by those… things?"

                                      Macro felt his heart sink and he sighed. He shook his head and looked away towards the kitchen. "No. Of course not. We'll… get you back home."

                                      He waved her off and marched towards the bathroom, but a warm sensation spread through his right leg. He froze and looked down at his pouch.

                                      "What the…?"

                                      He reached into it and pulled out a lone Z-Crystal. How had that got in there? He eyed it and held it up to the light. Pale blue, with a dark blue snowflake design beyond it. Icium-Z? His mouth turned dry and he licked his lips as he peered back into the cockpit.

                                      Both Anchor and Defrag had tucked into a bag of donuts. Somehow he didn't think Cookie would be too impressed they were vetoing his pancakes.

                                      "Digit?" Macro rasped.

                                      "Defrag," she corrected. She fixed him with a cold stare and licked sugar from her lips. "What do you want?"

                                      "You know ice punch, right?"

                                      "Sure. Why do you ask?"

                                      Macro's heart felt like lead. He held out the Icium-Z. "I think this might be yours."

                                      Defrag's jaw dropped and Anchor let out a loud 'Eh?!'

                                      The granbull looked up at Macro with a start. "When did you work that out?"

                                      "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," said Macro. "I'm gonna go shower. Prod Matrix until he gets them co-ordinates in for Meta, okay?"

                                      Macro groaned and rubbed at his temples as he strutted towards the wash room. What a morning. First the bad dream, then Defrag receiving a Z-Crystal? Talk about an unexpected ally. Maybe a good, long shower would help him put things into perspective before they took off on what could be the deadliest mission he'd ever encountered. He shuddered as he thought back at those kartana. Compared to Socket's mansion they felt a lot more welcoming.

                                      ...

                                      Light footsteps echoed through the cells, flat feet on cold tile. Surge looked up in time to see Jumper standing before her cell. He flashed a paw at the panel and the glass slid open. A small smile tugged at Surge's lips and she chuckled.

                                      "I take it he's gone?" she asked.

                                      "If you're referring to Macro, yes," said the frogadier. "Now he's out of Cyan City, I have no reason to hold you here."

                                      "Socket will be so pleased."

                                      Jumper met Surge's eyes with an exasperated eye roll. He stood aside and gestured for her to get up and leave.

                                      "What?" she asked as she pushed herself to her feet. "No paperwork?"

                                      "No need. I've made all the notes required for my records."

                                      "Don't wanna cheese of the Mayor even more, eh?" Surge shoved past him into the corridor. "I'll be needing my laser back. And my ship."

                                      "Your ship is in dire need of repairs."

                                      Surge's jaw almost hit the floor and she spun to face him. "I beg your pardon? They wrecked it?!"

                                      "Yes. So if you would like to take one of our ships as compensation-"

                                      "Darn straight I shall! And big enough to carry my own! Then I can sell your golden prize for scraps to fund for a replacement!" She placed her paws on her hips and flashed her canines in a growl. "Allowing Macro's cronies to destroy my… that ship was like home!"

                                      Jumper stared back at her, expressionless. Not even a hint of sympathy in his eyes.

                                      "Look," he said. "The offer is there. The damages to your ship are not my concern or fault. If you want one of Cyan City's ships, take it. But I can't guarantee it will hold your tympole."

                                      Surge groaned and rubbed her paws over her face. Several years. She'd had that ship for several years, and it was reduced to scraps in less than a day.

                                      "What I can guarantee, however," Jumper went on, "is that our ships are a lot faster than your little bubble ball."

                                      She parted her claws to look at him. Something sparked in her mind and she chuckled.

                                      "Oh my," she said. "You're willingly offering me an efficient way to track down Wildcard Gamma?"

                                      Jumper sighed and rolled his eyes as the zigzagoon went on.

                                      "I guess you want him turned in after all." She laughed. "Well, I'm not offering you a single credit after all you've put me through."

                                      Jumper's lips turned into a frown. "I'm not offering you a means to hunt Macro. I'm offering you a quick way out of Cyan City. Macro and his crew have a lot of friends here after what they've done for us, and they're desperate to see you leave. The choice is yours. Take it or leave it."

                                      "I'll take it," said Surge. "Have your cronies load up what's left of my ship into one and I'll be out of here before you can blink."

                                      She made for the exit, but Jumper hopped past her. Keeping his back to her, he opened the door and let her out into the police station.

                                      "Ordinarily, I wouldn't help a criminal pack her bags," he said. "But given I want you out of this city, I don't really have much choice."

                                      She flashed a scowl over her shoulder. "I'm flattered."

                                      "You can do what you want with my ship," he said. "Provided you never, ever come back. I don't want to see your sorry tail in this city again."

                                      Her fur bristled like a brush and a canine poked through her lips. "Oh don't you worry. I have no immediate plans."
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                                      Old October 30th, 2018 (5:06 AM).
                                      Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                      Call me Del
                                         
                                        Join Date: May 2015
                                        Location: UK
                                        Age: 33
                                        Gender: Female
                                        Nature: Quirky
                                        Posts: 350
                                        A/N - This chapter was originally a lot shorter, but I've merged two together. It'll certainly speed things up a bit.

                                        Trigger Warning! - Please be aware there is violence later on in this chapter! And not of the Pokemon variety! (As such, Serebii and PokeCommunity will be getting this update later on when I've had permission to post.)


                                        Chapter Sixty Seven

                                        It had been a long night. Switch took down one of the makeshift tents Web had thrown up. Both tents were nothing more than a couple of sheets she'd managed to bundle onto the ship 'just in case', and that night had been one of those nights. The groups had been split into two, cramming themselves into the tents to sleep on the rocky floor. Switch had found himself squeezing his talonflame form in with Web, Poipole, DL and Annie. Not only did Web have a particularly skunky smell to her, Annie stumbled in late, narrowly stepping on his tail feathers, and tossed and turned until the early hours of the morning. He let out a sigh of relief when she finally decided to get up and go for a walk. At least, that's what her mutter had sounded like. Switch had been much too sleepy to chase after her, and had left the girl to go and do her own thing. It wasn't until Trojan recommenced banging away at the ship that Switch finally staggered from the tent in a fog of sleep and hunger.

                                        As he neatly folded the sheet, he took another look around at the camp site. Still no sign of Annie. He'd taken a brief fly and spotted her by the lake, shifting around broken branches and lobbing rocks at the water. But when he'd called she'd merely said she wasn't hungry. So he'd left her. But that had been about an hour ago, and breakfast was long since over.

                                        He looked over at the other two pokemon helping him, working in complete silence. DL had barely said a word since they'd landed on the mountains, lost in thought. Web, respecting the pachirisu's wishes to not be pestered, worked silently alongside her as the pair of them folded the other sheet.

                                        "You know," said Switch, depositing the folded sheet beside the ship's open door, "I'm going to go and see how Annie is."

                                        "Are you sure?" Web asked, a look of concern crossing her face. "I'm pretty worried, and no offence, Switch, but we've known her longer."

                                        "Yes, but we share a species," he said. "At least let me try."

                                        Web glanced to the side and cleared her throat. "From what you've described, it doesn't sound good."

                                        "Then that leaves me with another advantage. I can fly out of the way." The human flashed her a reassuring smile. "If you hear a scream, come running."

                                        Web's jaw went slack. "Come now, don't go making jokes like that!"

                                        Switch laughed and waved a hand. "Don't worry, I've battled bigger and scarier pokemon than Annie."

                                        "Well, if you're going to find her, take her tablets. She'll need them."

                                        Web tossed the jar of blue pills towards Switch and he caught them. He gave her a playful wink which she rolled her eyes at before gathering up the sheets.

                                        Switch found Annie in exactly the same place. She stood beside the lake in her human form, picking up rocks and lobbing them across the water. Each one struck down with a 'plop!' to vanish beneath the shimmering surface.

                                        "If you're not careful, you're going to hurt someone," he said.

                                        "They'll duck." She bounced another rock in her open hand for a moment, as though she was considering what he said, before letting it fly out as far as she could throw it.

                                        Switch stooped beside her, grabbed a flat rock and with a flick of his wrist it skimmed across the water, bouncing a few times before finally disappearing.

                                        "Show off," Annie muttered.

                                        He said nothing, pausing to take in the scene as Annie continued to batter the lake with projectiles. Branches lay in tatters, leaves scattered around amongst the splinters. One poor tree looked like it had received the sorry end of a branch to its trunk. The bark was scuffed and missing altogether in places.

                                        He folded his arms and turned back to Annie. "Needed to burn off some stress, huh?"

                                        She grunted, lifting her arm back to lob a rock as far as it would go.

                                        "What's eating you?" he asked.

                                        "Nothing's eatin' me. I'm not a fish."

                                        "Okay, let me rephrase that. What's bothering you?"

                                        "Nothin' that concerns you."

                                        "No, maybe not." He slumped down onto the floor and skimmed another rock across the lake. "But it helps to talk about these things, rather than letting it hollow you out from the inside. And… potentially give an unfortunate aquatic creature concussion."

                                        "All right, fine." She dropped a large pebble back into the pile and kicked some rubble into the shallows. "You live here, right? Well… not here, here. But in System, right?"

                                        "Yes, I made it my home. Much like you're doing now."

                                        "Well, I was." She slumped down beside him and tugged at some dry grass. "Was much better than back home, if I could even call it that. Barely saw my parents, spent most of my life in isolation because they wanted to 'sort out my head'."

                                        Switch eyed her air quotes before she returned to lobbing small rocks into the pool.

                                        "So your parents left you with a doctor most of your life?" Switch asked.

                                        "Varying doctors. Spent a lot of time on air planes. I was originally from Kalos, but they sent me to Kanto, then to Alola, then back to Kalos, then finally dropped me in Sinnoh where I lived for what… seven years?" She shrugged.

                                        "So you've travelled a lot!"

                                        "I'd hardly call it travelling," she snorted. "I never left the wards except to board another plane. Didn't even see this 'school' thing people talk about. I had a private tutor who made me read alotta books."

                                        "Books are good," said Switch. "I learned a lot from books."

                                        "They weren't really for learnin'," she explained. "They wanted to see what triggered me. Set me off. I can't handle negative emotions, see? So they made me read things that triggered them to see if they could stop me goin' into a rage. If anythin', bein' locked up there set me in a rage. Then I ended up in System and lo and behold! I got locked in another ward because I was scared and bit someone. Smacked 'em with my wing claws - I was originally goin' for a punch but that dang body wouldn't stick. Then I end up here and they fix me. Give me some tablets that lock me in one shape. I meet some folks who care about me and actually want to be my friend. They're not scared! And then I go and find out the one who really seems to care the most, the one I can actually call a friend, is really sick!"

                                        She grabbed a handful of rocks and lobbed them one by one into the water to punctuate her statement.

                                        Switch silently reached into his pocket and handed her the jar of tablets. It took a moment for her to process it, but she snatched up the jar and tossed two of the pills into her mouth.

                                        "I can't understand how you must be feeling," he said, "but I can hazard a guess. That air in the outskirts is awful. Goodness knows what damage it does to the lungs."

                                        She grunted and hugged her knees to her chest.

                                        "You should try talking to him if you're this upset," he said.

                                        "Seriously? What good would that do?" At that moment, her body switched to an archeops.

                                        She let out a roar of profanities and leapt to her feet, swinging a wing around in an arc. Several glowing rocks appeared before her, and she sent them soaring across the lake. They rained down in the centre, creating a huge spray of water, and in the midst of it Switch thought he spotted a very startled horsea.

                                        Switch cleared his throat, watching the water settle into ripples. "I think it would help a lot, actually."

                                        Annie grunted and flopped back onto her bottom. "Well, I'm not entirely sure I want to. He didn't tell me sooner. As far as I'm concerned, this is over. We'll do this rebellion for Zip and the other water dwellers, then I'm headin' out my own way."

                                        "That's really not helpful, Annie."

                                        "If it stops me bein' sad and angry, it's helpful."

                                        "It won't." He leant back on his hands and fixed his golden eyes on her. "You'll have memories of this forever. It'll just… eat you up inside."

                                        "Well, that's where you're wrong." She picked up a rock in her claws and juggled it back and forth. "Because I have this nifty way of just forgettin' things. If I don't like somethin', I won't remember it. Only reason I know I bit that doc is 'cos they told me. I think they call it 'memory repression'. I only remember happy things."

                                        "Then how come you remember all this from yesterday?"

                                        "Because I ain't slept yet."

                                        Switch nodded and took a breath. "Well. I think you need to talk it over. At least explain. It'll give your new friends some understanding." He paused and eyed her for a moment. "You worry them a bit."

                                        "Because they're scared of me?" She gestured a wing at the surrounding wreckage.

                                        "No. Because, like you said, they care about you." He pushed himself to his feet. "I'll let you cool down a bit. See you back at camp."

                                        She didn't even look back at him. As he entered the camp, he glanced back at her still juggling that rock. Then he turned to one of the sturdy trees. Waveform perched in it, huddled into a bundle of feathers. When he noticed Switch watching him, he cracked one eye open.

                                        Switch tucked his hands behind his back and smiled. "Good morning."

                                        The decidueye huffed a noise that sounded like a 'hoo'.

                                        "I'm guessing you didn't sleep either?" Switch sighed.

                                        "I think it was a bad night for most of us," Waveform explained, letting his eye close. "I tend to sleep in bursts anyway."

                                        "Well… it doesn't look like Annie slept a wink."

                                        Waveform fixed one eye on him again.

                                        "She seems pretty upset about something." Switch paused and cleared his throat. "She could probably use a friend."

                                        Waveform sighed and ruffled out his feathers, beating down his chest with his paws. "I think I know what this is about. I have to admit, I'm a little surprised."

                                        "I don't see why. I mean, the lot of you are like a family. Even down to the bickering."

                                        Waveform froze and narrowed his eyes. "How much did she tell you?"

                                        Switch raised a hand and closed his eyes. "I won't say a word, trust me."

                                        The decidueye snorted and kicked off from the branch, flying away from Switch without a sound.

                                        ...

                                        Annie barely heard the decidueye approach her. He paused beside her and surveyed their surroundings, silently. Then he brushed some splintered wood aside and sat down beside her, slipping a wing around her shoulders. He took the rock from her claws and replaced it with his paw. Something metal touched her neck and she jolted slightly, then relaxed as she felt him combing her feathers with his beak.

                                        For a while they sat in silence, Annie lost in her thoughts while he preened her feathers.

                                        Finally, she took a long breath then said exactly what was on her mind. "Life isn't fair."

                                        He stopped and lifted his head to look at her. "I wouldn't put it that way. It's hard, but not unfair."

                                        "No, it's not fair. I finally get some freedom and it just leads to yet more pain."

                                        He let out a sigh and trailed his paw over her wing. "I don't know what happened to you, but… life has ups and downs. You need to just learn to handle them."

                                        "What, like you're doing?" she spat.

                                        He stared at her silently, his crimson eyes burning into her skull. She curled her lips back in a snarl and snapped her head around towards him.

                                        "Back in my world, when someone gets sick they get help!" she growled. "Is that not the case here?"

                                        "In the outskirts, if someone gets sick they die," he said. "Pokemon there can't afford fancy help."

                                        "Then that's another thing that needs to be fixed then, ain't it?" She turned back to the lake, but something twigged in her mind and her eyes widened with realisation. "Wait a minute… didn't you pay for like… most of our ship?"

                                        Waveform released her claws and scratched his head. "Yes, but… I have my reasons."

                                        "So you could totally afford to get yourself sorted?"

                                        "No." He released her and tucked his wings to his sides. "It's not as simple as that."

                                        She threw her wings into the air in exasperation. "Then what's the problem? How can you afford to build a ship yet not be able to get yourself treatment?"

                                        "Because I owe Webber and Trojan!" he said. "A lot!"

                                        "What? They bail you outta somethin'?"

                                        "You could say that." He sighed again and ran his paws over his face. "Look… I already told you about that group back in Gear Village. I fled that place, okay? Found myself in the outskirts and got into some scrapes. I wasn't the bounty hunter I am now, I was nothing but a small-time merc picking off stray, weaker pirates and thugs. That gang was more than I could handle. They left me to die on the streets, and Webber took me in. I was surprised. I knew she was a former space pirate, and she'd been on my list. They used up valuable berries to help me recover. I spent many days trying to think up how I could repay them. So I practised, and removed Webber from my list of targets. I went out on the streets picking off wanted criminals until I managed to turn over each and every 'mon in that gang. I gave the credits to Webber and Trojan, much to their protests.

                                        "After that, I left them. But I still wanted to repay them. After a year, I managed to turn in the most wanted space pirate in System. A huge garchomp named Iron Claw who'd shocked terror even into Hunter's heart. I rounded him up along with his crew and net myself three hundred and fifty thousand credits in total. Two hundred thousand of that was for Iron Claw alone."

                                        "Whoa, so you're, like, loaded!" Annie gasped.

                                        He shrugged and tucked his wings back in. "I decided every credit was going to help Webber and Trojan. I went back to Spool City and stayed with them, paid my way. Made out as though I had very little. That each space pirate and criminal I caught counted greatly. I'd give enough to feed us all and pay the rent on that run-down little house. I knew I'd get sick. I hid all evidence under my beak sheath and opted to use silver arrows, given my feathers don't grow back as strong as they used to. It's already set up that when I die, everything goes to them. They can have a new life outside the outskirts and get any help they need."

                                        Annie balled her claws into fists. Her jaw ached from grinding her teeth together. Waveform wasn't even looking at her anymore. Air whistled from her teeth in a hiss and she grabbed the nearest rock, tossing it into the lake.

                                        "That isn't good enough!" she roared.

                                        He jolted, letting out a surprised hoot.

                                        "I want you all," she said. "All of you. You're like my family now. I didn't really have that back in my own world, and mark my words I ain't losin' one now."

                                        He said nothing as he stared at his talons.

                                        "Besides," she went on, "how would they feel if they knew you were doin' this?"

                                        He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I've not really thought about it."

                                        "Then think about it. Because I reckon they'd be as bitter as I am. They might be able to handle it better, but I reckon they'd be steamin'!"

                                        "My decision hasn't changed, Annie."

                                        The feathers down her spine bristled and she clenched her fists so hard the claws punctured her skin. "You're still just gonna let yourself die?"

                                        "I don't have much choice. You're in the mix now. I want what's best for all of-"

                                        "Don't you dare!" she snapped. "You can't decide what's best for me! I don't care about money. I want a family! I never had a family, not one that cares like you do! You guys won't just leave me in some lab to be poked at, made angry or sad and studied like some kinda lab rat! 'Ooh, what's gonna set her off next? What kinda tablets can we give her? Will these ones knock her into a coma again?' No! You guys care! You understand! I don't want to lose any of you!"

                                        She flew to her feet, sending another ancient power out to the lake. This one struck some rocks out on the far side, exploding them into rubble. She stood with her wings outspread, trying to catch her breath.

                                        Waveform had risen to his feet, staring down at her. He pulled her into an embrace, and she buried her nose into his chest feathers.

                                        "Okay," he said. "After all this, we'll sort it out, and we'll move out of the outskirts."

                                        She wound her claws into his chest and let out a strangled sob.

                                        "Is that okay?" he asked.

                                        She nodded and let out a muffled 'uhuh'.

                                        "Shall we get back to the others?" he asked. "I think I can hear the ship's engine."

                                        "No," she choked, still clutching his feathers like a blanket.

                                        "No?" He tried to pull back to look down at her, but she fastened him in some kind of death grip.

                                        "No," she repeated. "I'm really freakin' tired."

                                        ...

                                        BackDoor found himself dragged across System Sky as Distortion roared about finding a new host. The android's body still sparked from the cracks in his plating, either from the intensity of the battle or the Ultra Beast's attempts to change his form. Although they'd succeeded, the transformation had put terrible strain on his mechanics.

                                        "Would you slow dow-ow-own?!" his voice still hadn't recovered, stuttering, and crackling with static like a damaged speaker. He was really beginning to sound like a bad trap record. "I can only go so fast, you know!"

                                        Distortion slowed, turning his eyes onto BackDoor's mechanical mind. 'You complain too much.'

                                        "All right, listen-en." BackDoor tried desperately to calm his voice, to no avail. He leered back at the pair of red eyes. "I can travel through data streams. If you let me, we'll get to wherever it is you're going in a jiff-jiff-jiffy!"

                                        Distortion seemed to mull this over, then let out a hissing sigh. 'Do you have any suggestions for an extra host?'

                                        "Extra host?" BackDoor tried to ignore the fact he'd stalled on the 'a'. "I suppose we could use one of Zero Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-"

                                        Distorion slammed BackDoor's brain around in his head, bringing the hoopa to an abrupt stop. The android lifted a paw to rub beneath his left horn and tutted.

                                        "Day," he finished. "Zero Day. And thanks for that."

                                        It had done nothing to fix his damaged speech. He still sounded like a DJ's fall-back mixer station. He drifted forward a couple of feet and lifted a paw, feeling for a data stream. Zero Day weren't too far away. Hopefully he could farm some parts and repair some damage. Then they could open a whole, fun new world and throw Socket into it. See what kind of delights would await her in her 'New System'.

                                        'Who is this Socket?' Distortion asked.

                                        "Oh, juszzzzt the 'mon who had me made," said BackDoor. "Bosses me about like I'm some kind of inferior life form."

                                        'Like those Ultra Beasts?'

                                        "Hey, don't hate on them." BackDoor wagged a paw. "You're one yourself."

                                        'I am far superior to those pathetic creatures! Now find me one of these Zero Day androids.'

                                        "Oh, I can do better than that." The static from the data stream surrounded his body, pulling him in. "I can find us a whole fleet."

                                        With all the ease of water through a straw, BackDoor shot through the data stream. His body became like liquid, curling and curving until the stream locked onto Zero Day's signal. In a flash, they manifested above the fleet. A small fleet. Only six androids drifted back and forth, opening and closing empty portholes.

                                        'These pathetic things are what you expect me to use as a host?' Distortion spat. 'What are they doing?'

                                        "Nothing." BackDoor tucked his paws behind his head and leant back. "Might as well make them do-do-do something useful, eh?"

                                        Distortion sighed and flowed from BackDoor's body, his insectoid form drifting above Zero Day. They turned their heads back and forth, eyes contracting into pinpricks. One of the closer ones span its head around as its nose lit up like a laser gun. Then it unleashed its tri-attack beam. Distortion vanished momentarily, letting it pass harmlessly through the air. Then he reappeared behind the porygon-z. It let out a panicked binary stream, rallying its allies. Each one aimed its own attack, but Distortion vanished into the android, letting it take the brunt of the friendly fire. It sparked and spasmed in the air, its legs flailing, then dropped slowly towards System Ground in a feeble retreat.

                                        Distortion manifested beside BackDoor and tutted.

                                        "These things are about as sturdy as cardboard armour," said Distortion. "But if you want to repair your own feeble body, go ahead. For now… you'll just have to do."

                                        BackDoor rolled his eyes, muttering silently. He advanced towards the fleet, removed one of his rings, and commenced pulling each one apart to farm their mechanical organs.

                                        ...

                                        Not far above System Ground, the wounded porygon-z drifted through the sky. Sparks danced around its joints, rendering its movements even more erratic. It turned its head back and forth, spraying binary in a desperate bid to find its allies.

                                        Repairs. It needed repairs.

                                        A gentle hum resounded above it, and it craned its head back to see a golden ship. A threat. Sparks erupted from its laser, cutting off any attempts to launch an attack. A long, narrow beam shot from the ship's nose and locked onto its body, dragging it towards a wide opening.

                                        'We've found one, Yobi,' a voice called through its wireless signal. 'I've no idea what's happened to it, but we're bringing it back.'

                                        ...

                                        The journey seemed to be taking forever. Macro wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not. His eye kept going to his computer, checking for any new updates from Switch. The latest one he'd received had been the early hours of the morning, while he'd been tossing and turning in a desperate bid to sleep.

                                        'The engine is repaired. We're now on our way to Meta City.'

                                        Those two sentences had twisted Macro's insides like one of Cookie's pastry bags. Macro leant one arm over the edge of his bed, reaching for his trash can. Oh, he felt wretched, but nothing was coming up. He hadn't eaten since they'd decided to make the journey. The thoughts of Meta City, of facing Socket in her mansion, of being in a hot-bed of pokemon after his head… he could barely stand it. It was like a bad dream he'd never wake up from.

                                        He craned his head back to look at his window. A faint light seeped through it. Early morning sunlight. If his memory served, that meant they were very close. Too close. His insides did a somersault and he keeled towards his bucket, dry heaving against an empty stomach devoid even of water.

                                        "Cap'n?" A soft knock against his door was followed closely by Anchor's worried face. "You okay?"

                                        "Do I sound okay?" Macro croaked, rolling onto his back.

                                        Anchor studied him silently, and ran a paw over his mohawk. "We don't have to do this. We can get the rest of the 'mon meant to help us, increase our numbers."

                                        "They're meant to help us stop BackDoor, not retrieve DL's memory disks."

                                        "All right." Anchor clasped his paws behind his back and glanced over his shoulder at the hallway. "Then I guess we're goin' in guns blazin'? Shall I make sure we're all armed to the teeth?"

                                        Macro pushed himself up and narrowed his eyes at him. "You're makin' it sound like we're nearly there."

                                        "We're approximately one hour away, Cap'n."

                                        Macro's gut felt like lead. Fur pricked along his spine and he wound his claws into his bed sheet.

                                        "If we're doin' this alone," said Anchor slowly, "we need to be prepared."

                                        "We're not alone. We've got this other human and her crew, right?"

                                        "That's still…" Anchor counted off on his claws. "Twelve of us… Eleven if we don't count Cookie."

                                        "Okay." Macro kicked his legs off the bed and licked his dry lips. "Make sure we take enough guns. We're all gonna need to be armed."

                                        ...

                                        "I've got the guns!" Annie poked her avian head out from the cargo hatch and hoisted a bag onto the floor. "Man, I can't believe I forgot we got these."

                                        She scrambled out of the hatch and crawled through the bag, dragging out its contents.

                                        "Careful!" Trojan barked as a laser skittered across the floor and bounced against his foot.

                                        "Sorry," quipped Annie. "That one's yours."

                                        DL leant over her shoulder, watching as the archeops handed out the lasers. She craned her head around to face the pachirisu and cocked an eyebrow.

                                        "You need one?" she asked.

                                        DL shook her head and pawed at her own laser. "I'm already armed."

                                        "Good. 'Cos I've got a spare, and there's only two of you newbies." Annie looked up at Poipole poking his head from Web's tail. "Well… three… but I'm gonna guess you don't need a gun?"

                                        Poipole shook his head and pointed to his proboscis. "I've got one built in."

                                        "Then that just leaves you." Annie tossed a laser towards Switch who flailed his arms to catch it.

                                        "I said be careful!" Trojan roared. "I don't want a hole punched through this ship! I've only just finished fixin' the jackin' thing!"

                                        Switch let out a sigh of relief and popped the small laser into his trouser pocket. It definitely wasn't designed for a human's use. Maybe he could manage it with his talons?

                                        Annie popped her laser into her belt's holster and tapped it. "There we go. Let's see that Mayor answer to this!"

                                        "Speaking of which," said Switch, "I think it would be best if we didn't just show up guns blazing."

                                        Annie frowned. "I don't understand. What?"

                                        "DL wants to get her final memory disk," Switch explained. "We need time to find it. So if you drop us off first, we can sneak in, while the rest of you find another way in to… bring about your rebellion."

                                        Annie chuckled and flashed a toothy grin. "What better way than to bring down her flyin' mansion, eh?"

                                        "I wouldn't say so." Waveform cracked an eye open. "If you bring it down… you'll kill any pokemon below it."

                                        "He's right," said Zip. "Right now, the ocean is below it. You could kill hundreds of water dwellers."

                                        "Then what do you suggest, little fish?" Annie asked.

                                        "I dunno," said Zip. "Maybe we could take control of it?"

                                        Annie scratched her chin with a claw.

                                        "I don't like any of this," said Web. "But I'm with Waveform and Zip on this one. If we're going to do anything, we're taking over the mansion."

                                        "Yeah! Takeover!" Annie threw her arms in the air. "Viva la rebellion!"

                                        Zip let out a loud 'woo!' and did a somersault in his bowl.

                                        DL gave a weak smile and pushed herself to her feet. She turned to look out of the window at the floating mansion mere minutes away.

                                        "I can't believe I'm going back there," she said. "I never thought I'd step paw in that place again."

                                        Switch looked down at her. "You sure you want this disk?"

                                        She nodded and made a 'mhm.'

                                        "Well then…" He smiled and winked. "Let's snag it and leave before anyone notices."

                                        "We've got ya back on that one." Annie knocked the safety off her laser.

                                        "For goodness' sake!" Trojan barked. "Stop messin' with them guns!" He turned to Web and gave her a pleading look. "Webber…"

                                        The skuntank leant over her chair and prised the laser from Annie's claws, much to the archeops' protests. She tucked it away in her belt pouch and waggled a claw at Annie.

                                        "You can have it back when we're off the ship," she said.

                                        Annie tutted and fell to her bottom, folding her wings. "Ruin all my fun."

                                        DL crept closer to the windscreen and peered out at the city. They were drifting over the ocean towards the mansion, having skirted the city to stay masked in the smog. But the air cleared enough for them to see the coast. Below them, hundreds of lithe, spider-like creatures scrambled over buildings and what was left of the mechanical trees. Their bodies pulsed with electricity, discharging periodically. Not a single pokemon filled the streets. Her memory of Meta City was of a place bustling with life. Now, it looked like it had been hit with an apocalypse.

                                        She swallowed a lump in her throat and winced away from the scene, fixing her eyes on the mansion. Her anxiety washed away with a burning anger, and she dug her claws into the back of Trojan's seat.

                                        "I might be of more use if I could use my electrical attacks," she said. "Then I could use that Z-Move. But no… she had to do this to me."

                                        She pawed at the jack socket on the back of her head. All eyes were drawn to her, but no one said a thing.

                                        Except Annie. "Use your what-now?"

                                        DL was silent, eyes fixed on the flying mansion. The ship crept closer, the mansion growing clearer through its glass dome. The pyukumyuku fell parallel to it, following the circumference.

                                        "There's gotta be a docking bay somewhere," Trojan muttered.

                                        "We could probably fly from here," said Switch. "We'd be a lot harder to spot, unlike your ship."

                                        The scrafty waved a paw. "Be my guest. You've got our number, let us know when you're inside."

                                        Switch pushed the button on his watch and shrank down into his talonflame form. He flashed DL a smile and lowered his head.

                                        "Climb on," he said. "And hold tight."

                                        The pachirisu obliged, clasping her fists over the feathers on his neck. They looked back at the crew, meeting both concerned and excited faces.

                                        "You two take care," said Web. "If you run into any trouble-"

                                        "We'll call you." Switch raised a wing in a salute. "See you on the inside!"

                                        As he jumped from the ship, Annie's voice rang out behind them, "Viva la rebellion!" Then it was drowned out by the wind rushing past their ears.

                                        Propellers span their deadly blades beneath the mansion, keeping the building airborne. Toxic air formed a cloud beneath it that was constantly repelled by the propellers. But that wasn't their main purpose. They were designed to keep things cool. The engine the building was using was one Switch was oddly familiar with. Entire continents held up with primitive technology. An exhaust spat deadly fumes to join the cloud, allowing the mansion to be moved, albeit slowly, across System's sky.

                                        "We just need to find a way in," he called to DL. "Can you see anything?"

                                        DL craned her neck around to examine the mansion's base. Switch swept back and forth, keeping his eyes on the propellers while trying to elevate them above the toxic cloud. Anything. A cargo bay for ships, a gap between the engine into its room, a window into the basement… But he was coming up short.

                                        He dipped his wings, resigning himself to have to go up the side of the mansion to find a window, and risk being caught, when DL pointed a claw.

                                        "There," she said. "Right beside that propeller."

                                        He followed her paw to something he'd previously missed. A door beneath the mansion, between the rear propeller and the exhaust. An emergency hatch.

                                        "If you aim an attack at it," she explained, "it might bust it open."

                                        "It seems a little risky," he said.

                                        "This whole expedition is risky," she said. "We might as well go in from the back exit."

                                        Switch nodded and arced up towards the hatch. He gradually picked up speed until the air whooshed around their ears. His talons lit up with energy and he brought them up above his head, lashing at the door. A combination of metal and plastic. Cracks exploded across it with the impact. A second aerial ace ruptured the door, and it fell free towards the ocean below. Switch tucked his wings in and flipped into the hatch. The smell of oil assaulted his senses, and he brought up his right wing to waft his beak. DL coughed a few times then slipped from his back.

                                        "Any idea where we are?" he choked.

                                        She shook her head, turning to take in their surroundings.

                                        The ancient engine took up most of the room. The hatch had been at the back, embedded into the floor. All access to it was via narrow corridors that circumnavigated the engine. The monolithic contraption was fenced off, its only access a gate, locked and in need of a key. It roared, drowning out the spinning propellers beneath it.

                                        DL waved a paw towards a door at the other end and led Switch towards it. She reached up and jiggled the handle. Locked. Switch nudged her aside and rammed a claw into the handle, splintering it from the wood. The door swung freely towards them, and they paused to look out into a dark hallway.

                                        No… it wasn't a hallway.

                                        DL's fur stood on end as dim light lit up a room from an old computer monitor. Swirls danced around the screen, indicating no one had touched it for a while, but each change of colour reflected off metallic utensils, glinting off sharp blades and screwdrivers. In the corner were the glistening chrome parts of an incomplete android.

                                        DL swallowed audibly and reached up to clutch at Switch's feathers. "I know where we are…"

                                        ...

                                        Macro stood by the cockpit door, checking over his lasers. Ground, grass and water. His usual choices. He had a vague idea of what cronies Socket might have working for her. Primarily psychic and normal types, but a fair few of her soldiers could fly. He toyed with the idea of adding the electric component he'd taken from DL's laser. One extra choice to scroll through. One extra choice added to his response times. His eye wandered to Anchor's gauntlets, sparking as the granbull slammed them together 'just to check they were workin''. Macro released the electric core into his pouch and settled with the three he already had.

                                        His sucker punch could handle Socket and her psychic types, while brute force was the way to go with any normal type soldiers. Anchor had that by the bucket, and with his electric gauntlets, any flying types would be reduced to a spasming heap. Defrag stood behind the granbull, checking over her own weapons. She'd been oddly quiet. But after everything they'd told her, her mind was made up to help them assist DL. She'd not quite decided on the situation with the Ultra Beasts, returning the ice type Z-Crystal Macro had handed to her.

                                        Then there was Matrix.

                                        "Think I need a bigger gun?" Matrix asked.

                                        Macro looked up at the ribombee fluttering above the navigation screen. His tiny paws checked over his belt. Weapons made for bugs. Tiny yet deadly.

                                        "I think you're fine," said Macro.

                                        Truth be told, he'd rarely seen Matrix in combat. But he needed the numbers. He glanced up at Cookie as he shuffled into the cockpit, returning Macro's glance with one wracked with nerves. He wound his paws together, looking over the ship's controls.

                                        "You sure you've got this?" Macro asked. "Because I can always ask Matrix to stay behind."

                                        "Sure, leave the tiny bug." Matrix's sarcasm didn't fall on deaf ears.

                                        "No, I'm fine," Cookie squeaked. "Anchor and Matrix have shown me everything. I think I can-"

                                        "Oh, look who's come back." Matrix lowered himself towards the screen. "Our stalker."

                                        Macro rolled his eyes and let out a long groan. "That's gotta be Surge."

                                        "Surge?" Anchor looked up from his gauntlets. "I thought she were apprehended in Cyan?"

                                        "Guess Jumper let her go." Macro sighed and rubbed beneath his horn. "Well, this mission just got harder."

                                        "You've met Surge then?" Defrag asked. "She's one of System's best bounty hunters. She used to work for my boss."

                                        Macro narrowed his eyes at her. "And she's been hunting me. Thanks a lot, Digit."

                                        "Defrag," the lopunny corrected. "Besides, Surge hasn't worked for us in like a week. She told me Socket hired her to turn you in, but she's since been fired. So… I'm gonna hazard a guess she's no threat."

                                        "Really?" Macro rounded on her. "'Cos she ain't actin' like it! I wouldn't be surprised if Socket withdrew her bounty after her previous little stunt."

                                        The cockpit fell silent and Matrix looked at each one in turn.

                                        He let out a sigh and buzzed over their heads. "I'm gonna get a bigger gun."

                                        Defrag stuttered for a moment, then looked away and brushed back her ears. "What did she do?"

                                        "Let's just say she's the reason DL ain't on my ship." Macro waved a laser towards the door. "Come on, let's get this over with. Cookie, find us an entrance."

                                        The slurpuff nodded and hopped into Matrix's chair. Despite his small stature, he almost dwarfed the ribombee's seat. Macro left him to it, moving out towards the exit hatch. His crew and Defrag crowded into it, letting the internal door shut behind them.

                                        The mansion was uncomfortably close. Macro could see it below them through the open hatch, but to Socket and her cronies, Wildcard Gamma was invisible. The cloak blended the hulking ship seamlessly against the sky. A mixture of blue and white clouded with yellow smog. Just beyond them stood a docking port, riddled with her golden fleet. Originally part of a small 'airport' behind her mansion, where her workers could come and go. Now it resembled those attached to the floating cities, only on a much smaller and less grand scale.

                                        Defrag lifted a pair of binoculars to her eyes and frowned at the port. "It seems empty."

                                        "That's no surprise," said Macro. "Few pokemon are gonna wanna stand outside in this smog, even with filter masks."

                                        "Not to mention it's colder up here." Matrix buzzed his wings in protest. "Permission to borrow your scarf, Captain?"

                                        "Buzz off," said Macro. "You've got your own."

                                        "Psh, it's part of my body but whatever."

                                        "The docks are empty," came Cookie's voice. "Prepare yourselves to drop in!"

                                        The neon ladder began to descend. Macro took hold of it, followed by the rest of his crew. As each rung flashed into place, the mansion's docks grew closer. Each flash caused dread to rise in Macro's gut. Each flash brought back that terrible nausea, and he resisted the urge to throw a paw over his mouth.

                                        When his feet touched solid ground, everything began to spin. He placed a paw on his head and tried to shake it off.

                                        "Having second thoughts?" Defrag asked.

                                        Macro frowned at her, but he felt too overwhelmed to retort. Anchor dropped a paw on his shoulder, drawing his attention.

                                        "We can always turn back now," he said. "But once we're in there…"

                                        "We can't turn back now." Matrix twirled a pistol around one of his claws. "I'm in the zone."

                                        "This isn't a game," Defrag scolded. "Pull yourself into reality, bee."

                                        Macro looked up at the iron doors, scouring the area above it. The walls. The guttering.

                                        "See any cameras?" he asked.

                                        "Nope," said Anchor.

                                        "Neither do I." Macro licked his lips. "That's not reassuring."

                                        Matrix rose higher into the air and fluttered about above the door. "Unless they're those keyhole-like ones, I'm gonna guess they don't have any."

                                        "And what are the odds of that?" Macro asked.

                                        "About one in… none."

                                        Macro's heart sank and he glanced back up where his ship was hiding. Or he hoped it was still hiding.

                                        "I'll scope out the area," said Anchor. "Stick close and don't go past me."

                                        "Good idea." Macro took a deep breath to steady his nerves and grabbed his right laser. "We've no idea what's beyond those doors."

                                        "Whatever it is, bring it on." Matrix knocked the safety off his weapon.

                                        Defrag rolled her eyes and drew her own gun. "Oh whatever. It serves to be prepared."

                                        Anchor pulled his heat sensor out of his pouch and placed it over his eye, then he moved on ahead of Macro. He kept close to the wall, ushering the small group after him. Then he paused beside the door and cocked his ear.

                                        The air around them trembled and each one of them looked back at the docks. Appearing with the force of a golden bullet was one of Socket's ships. The sleek, pointed design looked every bit as threatening as its hidden pilot promised. The door to the ship hissed open, but before its pilot could exit, a stream of bubble bombs rushed out from the clouds, striking the golden ship with a series of explosive blasts.

                                        The pilot yelped and leapt from the ship, landing in a heap of scraggy brown and white fur. She rolled backwards, aiming her laser in the direction of Wildcard Gamma. But it was a feeble attack that only managed to detonate one lone bubble.

                                        Surge dragged herself to her feet and aimed her laser at Macro. "Really? You let your crew steal my ship… and wreck it?!"

                                        Macro raised a paw, keeping his own laser trained on Surge. "I didn't have anythin' to do with that. Besides… your ship, my life? Kinda a bit imbalanced there, aren't we?"

                                        "Well…" Surge's frown distorted into a sneer. "Now we're here, I think all your bounties rolled into one will fund me a new ship and then some. What do you say?"

                                        Macro opened his mouth to retort, but a strange sucking noise drew their attention behind them. The door exploded inward off its hinges, dragging everyone into the building with all the force of a vacuum. Surge held onto the door frame, but Macro found himself buried beneath his crew. Anchor pushed himself up, letting his captain shake off the fog and try to process what had happened. When he opened his eyes, his heart froze in his chest.

                                        Socket stared back at him, standing over them with her paws on her hips. Around her stood a small army. Pidgeot, a couple of medicham and meowstic, a slowbro, an oranguru, ambipom and ursaring. Each one was kitted out with some kind of modification or weapon. But Macro's eyes went immediately to Socket's smirk.

                                        "So you thought we didn't have any cameras?" A chuckle. "You were wrong." She snapped her claws, not looking back at her army. "There's a talonflame hanging around in Yobi's lab with my Download Database. Apprehend the both of them."

                                        The ursaring nudged one of the meowstic and the pair rushed from the room, dodging the rubble.

                                        "Now don't get any ideas," Socket went on. "One bad move and your little captain is going to be reduced to minced meat. 'Mon, relieve Wildcard Gamma of their weapons."

                                        The army moved in, taking the weapons from each of the space pirates and Defrag. Each crew member was picked up and pulled aside, held with a weapon to their heads. Socket continued to smirk down at Macro, freezing him to the spot.

                                        "Okay, do what you want to me," he spat. "But don't you dare hurt DL."

                                        "Oh, don't worry. I won't hurt her." Socket shrugged a shoulder. "I'm merely going to repair all the damage you've done. You see… how convenient is it that you come tumbling through my door right as I'm trying to get my plan into action? Not only do you deliver yourselves, you also bring back my computer!"

                                        "DL isn't a computer!"

                                        "Oh, but you're wrong," said Socket. "The brain is a biological computer. I was just making it more efficient."

                                        Macro clenched his teeth together so hard it hurt. Every word that came out of the gothitelle's mouth made his skin crawl. He jerked his head around, bringing his horn up in an arc. It struck the gothitelle on the jaw, sending her staggering away from him. Her army leapt to action, but stopped just as suddenly as a purple light engulfed them. Socket stood with her arms spread, her eyes glowing with an eerie light.

                                        "Back off," she warned her army. "He's mine."

                                        One of the iron bars forming the door frame shook until it broke free, flying towards her outstretched paw. She released her army and took a step towards Macro.

                                        "Isn't it funny," she said. "All space pirates use aquatic themed ships to fly through System Sky. What was originally a stand against the introduction of meat has become nothing short of irony. Most of them eat fish. I know you don't, I saw enough of your pathetic protests in your younger years before you became Wildcard. How many ships have you had? Three?" She shrugged, slapping the iron beam into her paw. "A schooling wishiwashi. Fitting, given all the hassle you and your crew have caused me. A schooling wishiwashi is a force to be reckoned with, but get one on its own and it's nothing more than an appetiser!"

                                        The iron beam sliced through the air and struck Macro in the jaw. He flew onto his side with a grunt as pain exploded through his face and horn. He was pretty sure he'd heard a crack. Something warm and wet trickled from his horn onto his fur, and he instinctively reached up to check it. Blood coated his pink pads. Socket let out a sigh and let the beam fall to her side.

                                        "You know…" she said. "That felt good. I think I might understand why you scum use weapons."

                                        She advanced towards him, bringing the iron beam up for another swing. Then another. Each one cut through the air like a whip. Macro tried to lift his paws to block it, but it was useless. His head, arms, ribs, legs… everything fell victim to Socket's 'weapon'.

                                        "Stop it!" shouted Anchor. "Stop it! You're going to kill him!"

                                        Sounds of commotion erupted behind her as the guards fought to restrain the granbull.

                                        "That's murder, you hypocrite!" Anchor roared.

                                        Socket didn't listen. Instead, she laughed. Laughing at Macro's feeble yelps. He had to get away. Just crawl for the door. He cracked an eye open to see her grinning, maniacal face before the iron bar struck his head once more. Whether or not it was the final blow, he didn't find out. His body gave into the pain, shutting him into blackness.
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                                        A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
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                                        Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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                                        Old 4 Weeks Ago (7:05 AM).
                                        Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                        Call me Del
                                           
                                          Join Date: May 2015
                                          Location: UK
                                          Age: 33
                                          Gender: Female
                                          Nature: Quirky
                                          Posts: 350
                                          A/N - I've been making some embarrassing mistakes with the names of the Z-Crystals. If you notice any, please let me know. I may have to go back and fix it...


                                          Chapter Seventy

                                          Macro raced through the tunnel, blackness on either side. It closed in behind him, but his eyes were on the pachirisu scurrying along ahead of him towards the light. He stretched out a paw, but nothing but silence left his mouth. He’d wanted to shout, but it hurt. Everything hurt. Every step, breath, movement. But he refused to stop. Refused to be eaten up by the darkness.

                                          A dry heat filled his nostrils and he faltered, glancing back the way he’d come. Fire. Fire spread down the tunnel, rushing towards him like a tidal wave. He turned and kicked the ground, pushing himself onward. But he’d lost sight of her. The light was dazzling. He squinted, just making out a black speck on the horizon. Then the floor shook violently, causing him to lose his footing. Rock erupted beneath him like a geyser, and a huge metallic beast rose from the ground. Its huge mouth opened in its bamboo face, letting out an almighty scream.

                                          Macro howled with fright, falling back onto his bottom. The beast aimed a cannon, then exploded into light. Light that put out the flames, bringing with it a refreshing coolness. Solgaleo drifted through the creature’s remains and landed behind Macro, catching the mawile as strength left his body. He fell into the lion’s warm fur and let his eyes drift shut.

                                          “Where am I?” Macro asked. “Where is everyone?”

                                          Solgaleo shushed him. “Don’t talk. You need your rest.”

                                          “That’s easy to say,” said Macro. “But everything hurts. I can’t feel my paw. I can see it, but…” He cracked his eyes open and stared ahead at the light. DL had long gone. “What’s happening, Solgaleo? Is the world ending?”

                                          Solgaleo shifted so he was looking at him. “It’s the end of the world as you know it. Rest. You’re going to need your strength.”

                                          ...

                                          The mansion floated miles outside of Meta City. Below Yobi, the ocean lashed the cliff face, coating the rocky outcrops with a layer of salty froth. The raichu drifted over them, his breath coming in heavy bursts. He’d been flying for hours, lugging the remains of his vikavolt android beside him in a psychic bubble. His tail skimmed over the brittle grass and dry rocks until he finally felt able to dismount, landing heavily on the ground and dropping the chrome carcass beside him. He doubled over with his paws on his knees, fighting to get his breath, and looked back over his shoulder at the purple chaos swirling across System Sky. The mansion, its red eyes glowing like stars, and the purple fire cascading out from it. He’d never even imagined such a scene in his wildest fantasies.

                                          The chaos it had brought. The lives it had claimed. That dragon… BackDoor… Socket…

                                          His legs gave way and he flopped onto his back, his arms falling spread-eagled beside him. His heart was still racing. He could still see her face, frantic. That brief moment she reached for him, her cry for help dying on her lips as the other world claimed her.

                                          That was it. In an instant, she was gone. Dragged into a world no life in System could survive. If BackDoor’s words had been true, she’d have died quickly amid methane gas.

                                          BackDoor… Socket had requested it, but Yobi had been the one to create it. An android with no kill switch, for fear others might get their paws on it and deactivate it. An android who’d been programmed with a personality. With the ability to learn. Much needed requirements for something that could assist them in finding a new world. A world for System’s elites, for them to start anew. And the wretched android had found something powerful, grown bored of its task, and used it against them. Used the skills Yobi had programmed it with, and killed Socket. Not just his boss, but his friend.

                                          He choked back a sob and stretched out a paw, cold chrome meeting his fur. His claws fastened around it, but his eyes went back to the mansion.

                                          Some way… if he just had some way to stop it…

                                          His eyes narrowed and he pushed himself back up, dragging the remains of the vikavolt onto his lap. His eyes went towards Meta City. No longer safe. Riddled with those Ultra Beasts. But he needed to get back to his home. To his lab - old yet familiar - and put an end to BackDoor. If that meant trapping Distortion and all the Ultra Beasts in System, so be it. They’d be at his mercy. He’d rid the world of them all, or die trying.

                                          ...

                                          Beep, beep, beep…

                                          Macro grimaced, trying to focus on that sound. He didn’t remember setting an alarm. His right arm felt like lead. Clearly he’d slept on it and lost all feeling. He lifted his more obedient left paw and rubbed his eyes, grunting as a dull ache resonated in his head. He couldn’t recall the previous night. No drinking and merriment. Then he remembered the pain. His eyes cracked open, bright, florescent light stabbing his eyeballs and aggravating his headache into a migraine. He groaned and squeezed them shut, clasping his paw over them. Something tugged at his flesh, a minor stab in the back of his paw.

                                          “Cap’n!” Anchor leapt from his seat and jerked the bed as he leant across it.

                                          Macro cracked one eye back open and the granbull’s pink face filled his vision. Matrix peeked out behind his ear, clutching his computer in both paws.

                                          “Man, I don’t believe it,” said Anchor. “The doctor thought you were gonna be out another week at least.”

                                          “Wait, where…” Macro’s voice cracked and he licked his lips.

                                          A cool glass of water touched his left paw and he took it gratefully, glancing sideways to see DL putting the jug back on his nightstand. He sipped at his water and tried to push himself up, but Anchor pinned him back down. Then he busied himself with untangling the drip’s tube from around the mawile’s arm.

                                          “Not yet, Cap’n,” he said. “You’ve only just come round. I don’t think you’re ready for gettin’ up and bein’… well… you.”

                                          “So I’m in hospital again?” Macro sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Gettin’ a little tired of waking up here.”

                                          “I think they’re getting a little tired of seeing you,” said Matrix, eyes back on his computer.

                                          Macro frowned at him, then shook his head. “What happened? How long was I out?”

                                          “Ten days,” said Anchor.

                                          “Ten days?!” Macro sat bolt upright, only to be pushed back into his pillow by DL this time.

                                          Anchor brushed back his mohawk and fell back into his seat. “Yeah, after that… Distortion thing… took over the mansion, things took a pretty brutal turn. We were fortunate enough to get out of there and get you back here.”

                                          “Wait, what?” Macro’s lip curled into a frown. “Distortion? What happened?”

                                          “Oh yeah, you were unconscious then.” Anchor cleared his throat. “It’s a long story and you’ve only just woken up, so…”

                                          “No, I need to know,” said Macro. “What’s Socket done to her mansion?”

                                          “It ain’t Socket,” said Anchor. “It’s some entity BackDoor’s dragged into this world. Socket… well, she’s gone.”

                                          Macro’s jaw dropped. Had he heard him right? “Gone where?”

                                          “She’s dead,” said Matrix, all too bluntly. “Got sucked into some world filled with toxic gas.”

                                          Any words Macro had died on his lips. He cast a sideways glance to DL, catching her eye. She diverted her gaze to the wall and swallowed back tears.

                                          “I guess… we don’t need to worry about her anymore, huh?” she said.

                                          “Well, I guess it makes sense to be upset,” said Anchor. “She did adopt you, after all.”

                                          “With bad intentions,” said DL. “She may have been a monster, but I didn’t want her to die. I don’t want anyone to die. All those lives… even Surge…”

                                          Macro’s eyes widened. “Wait… Surge?”

                                          DL nodded stiffly.

                                          “Yeah,” said Anchor. “She had our backs all the way out. If it weren’t for her, DL and I… and you… would have been sucked into the same world Socket found herself in.”

                                          “She was oddly strong,” said DL. “Managed to throw all three of us behind her.”

                                          “Must be all those enhancements she had done,” said Matrix. “Makes you wonder what it was.”

                                          Macro’s throat tightened and he let his eyes close, placing his paw across them. He’d often been at odds with Surge, but she’d saved his life. More than once. She hadn’t deserved that. He bit his tongue to stifle tears and took in a deep breath.

                                          “Are you okay?” DL whispered.

                                          He nodded, but he wasn’t sure if she’d noticed.

                                          “What about Switch?” he croaked.

                                          Anchor let out a sigh and slumped forward on his knees. “He’s goin’ through the same rehab those little bug pokemon are.”

                                          Macro couldn’t even look at him. He bit his lip hard, tasting blood. No memories, and with Socket’s mansion taken over there was no way to even begin attempting to recover them. That is, if they were even still intact in Yobi’s computer.

                                          “It’s worryin’,” Anchor went on. “Nothin’ we can do about it.” He stood up with another sigh. “I suppose I should let a doctor know you’ve come around.”

                                          “Give me a few minutes,” he said. “I don’t want one sent in just yet.”

                                          “But they need to know.”

                                          “And they can know.” He shifted his arm to look at the granbull. “But I’ve got a lot to take in right now. I don’t need some doc pokin’ at me.”

                                          Anchor stared at him for a moment, then nodded. “Sure. I’ll ask ‘em to come in here in about ten minutes. But they won’t be happy.”

                                          “Five will be fine,” said Macro.

                                          “That’s why I said ten. They’ll probably try and negotiate.” Anchor winked then turned to leave the room.

                                          Wink…

                                          Macro grimaced and huddled into his sheets, unable to remove the human from his mind.

                                          “You look a little iffy,” said Matrix. “Still, glad to see you awake.” He drifted from his chair and buzzed over their heads to the door. “I’m gonna get a coffee. Do either of you want anything?”

                                          DL shook her head and Macro muttered a ‘no’.

                                          Once the door closed, Macro glanced over at DL, but she didn’t meet his eyes. It gnawed at him. An unpleasant sensation alongside the pounding headache.

                                          “You’re not going with them?” he asked.

                                          She looked away from him towards the window, her paws wound in his bed sheet. “No.”

                                          “Very well.” He let his arm fall over his eyes again. The room felt oddly quiet. He opened his mouth to tell her she didn’t need to stay, but she cut him off.

                                          “I owe you an apology.”

                                          Her words took him by surprise and he lifted his paw to look at her. But she was still avoiding his gaze.

                                          “I… was hurting.” Her voice cracked and she twisted the bed sheet in her claws. “You’ve done a lot for me, but I couldn’t see past the blind rage that came with those memories. They conflicted me. No matter how much I’d tell myself I was wrong, it… it just wouldn’t work. It was like I was two separate pokemon and Loop just wouldn’t listen…”

                                          He gave her a moment to continue, but she stared down at her paws, tugging at the sheet.

                                          “Believe it or not,” he said, “I do understand.”

                                          “Then you’re foolish.”

                                          Her words took him aback and he let his head roll back on the pillow, shielding his eyes again. “I don’t know how understanding makes me a fool, but whatever.”

                                          “Because my actions were irrational,” she said. “I said hurtful things… I hurt you, and you didn’t deserve it.” Her words choked off into tears and she wiped her eyes with a paw. “And if it weren’t for me… you wouldn’t have gone after me in Meta City… and all this…” She sobbed loudly and covered her face with her paws. “You almost died and it was my fault!”

                                          “Hey!” He pushed himself up on his elbow and twisted to face her. “Don’t you dare blame yourself! We needed to go there for your final memories anyway.”

                                          “But it wouldn’t have been such a reckless attempt! You… you came to rescue me, didn’t you?”

                                          “I came to help you.” His strength gave out and he fell onto his side, but he didn’t take his eyes off her. “Whatever happened, Socket would have known we were coming. We’d have been walkin’ right into trouble. She’d have still caught me.” He paused and trailed his paw over his horn. Still cracked, although it had been sealed with something.

                                          “What did she do to you?” DL whispered.

                                          Tears trailed from her cheeks, peppering the bed sheet. His paw twitched as he warred with the desire to hold her and calm her down. Surely if he told her it would just make her break down and blame herself even more. He closed his eyes and sighed.

                                          “You don’t need to know that,” he said.

                                          “Maybe I don’t want to,” she said. “Anchor and Matrix refused to go into detail. Defrag won’t say anything, either.” She took in a trembling breath and dried her eyes. “But you can’t keep hiding things from me.”

                                          “What do you mean?” he asked.

                                          “You’re an enigma,” she said. “I found out about Digit from Anchor a while back. And about how you got your scar, although I barely got any details. And you never told me about that fire in Botnet City.” She paused and looked him in the eye. “Would you have ever told me about that? If I never got those memories?”

                                          Her paws fell back onto the sheet and he stared at her for a moment, his claws twitching mere millimetres from hers.

                                          “Maybe,” he said. “If you’d ever asked me what all my nightmares are about. It’s… something I don’t want to keep reliving.”

                                          Her breath trembled and she looked down at her paws again. “I understand.”

                                          “Hey, I don’t want to keep secrets from you. If you ask me anything about my past, I’ll answer. Socket trying to kill me, Ironclaw almost takin’ my eye… Even Digit ditchin’ me… I’ll tell you.”

                                          DL looked him in the eye. “She prefers Defrag now.”

                                          A hint of a smile.

                                          Macro threw his left paw in the air and rolled back onto his back. “I suppose I can’t very well complain about her changin’ her name, can I?”

                                          “I keep thinking back at my own past,” said DL. “And when I do, all I can see are Loop’s drawings of Wildcard Gamma. The ship in flames… she really hated you.” Once again, she stared at her paws. “Her last thoughts when Yobi was about to operate on her… were how if you hadn’t killed her family…”

                                          Her voice choked off as tears fell onto her paws and the bed sheet. His paw felt cold, and he retracted it slightly.

                                          “I know a sorry will never be enough,” he said. “But I’m afraid it’s all I can offer.”

                                          She looked up at him, but her eyes were soft, and wet with tears. “You risked your life to save mine. That’s more than enough.”

                                          “Of course.” His voice cracked. “DL, please believe me when I say I would never do anything to hurt you deliberately. But… I’d understand if you still hate me.”

                                          She shook her head and released the sheet, fighting back tears. She took his paw and clambered off her seat towards him, leaning across the bed to catch his lips in hers. His breath snagged with surprise and he slipped his paw from hers to trail over her cheek and cradle her right ear.

                                          She pulled back slightly and brushed her nose against his. “I love you.”

                                          His heart did a somersault and he opened his eyes to gaze into hers. Warm fondue. Enough to get lost in.

                                          “Oh, DL,” he said. “I love you, too.”

                                          She smiled and brushed her lips against his, prompting him to kiss her again. He pushed himself up on his right elbow and she wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss. He pulled back to nuzzle her neck and lifted his arms to wrap around her waist. But his right one still felt heavy. Something wasn’t right at all. He pulled back from her to remove his arm from the sheet and his eyes widened as he took it in.

                                          DL combed her claws through the fur on his shoulder and closed her eyes. “Your paw… I’m afraid they couldn’t save it.”

                                          Black, metal claws formed up some mechanical attachment. Layered armor that reached up to his elbow, allowing full flexibility. It was reminiscent of the enhancements many pokemon had done. Yet whoever had made it had put a lot of thought into its convenience. It was light, although not as light has his natural paw had been. The colour, size and shape was meant to emulate the paw of a mawile, although it did lack paw pads. To top it all off, embedded in the back of his ‘paw’ was the Fairium-Z. A soft pink light trapped amid all the black, metal plating. He flexed the claws with some difficulty. No feeling. That explained the ‘dead arm’.

                                          A monstrous thing. Unnatural. It made him feel vile.

                                          She brushed her paw over it, but he snatched it back.

                                          “Don’t,” he said. “I don’t trust it.”

                                          “But… why? They said it’s ‘state of the art’.”

                                          “I can’t feel anything.” He shrugged, bitterness taking over. “If I can’t feel anything, then I’m worried it might hurt you.”

                                          “You’re meant to have feeling in it.” She took a breath and pushed herself off the bed. “I’ll go see where that doctor’s got up to.”

                                          He looked away from her as she scampered to the door, leaving him clutching the duvet in a tight fist. He kept his mechanical arm to the side, as far from his body as his dead arm would allow.

                                          “Macro?” DL looked over at him from the door, catching his eye. “If it means anything… as much as I’m sorry you lost your paw… well…”

                                          He raised an eyebrow, bitterness melting away to amusement. “You like this contraption, don’t you?”

                                          Her eyes flitted from him to the mechanical paw and a light flush dusted her cheeks. “It is rather fetching.”

                                          He rolled his eyes and chuckled, then nodded towards the door. “Go and find that doctor.”

                                          She gave a brisk nod and scampered from the room, leaving him to chuckle to himself as he flopped back onto his pillow. The air felt a lot lighter, and warmer. A pink glint flickered at the corner of his eye, and he turned his head towards his right paw. The Fairium-Z glittered in the sunlight as it leaked through the window. A warm pink. His mechanical claws twitched against the bed sheet. Another failed attempt to turn it into a fist.

                                          The door opened, and he pushed himself up as an azumarill shuffled in. She looked up from her Clipboard to give him a brief nod and a smile before falling into the chair Anchor had previously occupied.

                                          “Good to see you up,” she said. “You’re looking much better than you did when you arrived. How are you feeling?”

                                          “A little bitter about my paw right now,” he said.

                                          “Yes, I’m sorry about that.” The azumarill’s face fell and she turned back to her Clipboard’s screen to key something in. “Anchor says your laser exploded. You’re very lucky you didn’t lose the entire limb. Or your life, for that matter.”

                                          Macro sighed and rubbed his scar. “It’s a little difficult to look on the bright side right now, doc. I tend to rely quite heavily on my right paw and I can’t even move it.”

                                          “At all?”

                                          “Okay, I can get the thing to twitch. But I’d hardly call that moving it.”

                                          The doctor ‘hmm’d’ as she scrolled through her notes. “Well, you are put down to have therapy to control it. So they’re not expecting you to be able to do much with it yet. And it can take a few days for the sensors to respond while your body gets used to it.”

                                          “A few days? When was it attached?”

                                          “Five days ago.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “So I wouldn’t worry too much just yet.”

                                          He let out a long breath, but it certainly wasn’t out of relief. “Well, a lot of pokemon lost their lives in that battle. So I suppose I should be happy I just got away with a lost paw and some bruises, eh?”

                                          “Bruises?” The azumarill’s jaw almost hit the floor. “Are you serious?”

                                          “Deathly.” He fixed one eye on her and cracked a smile. “You’re the one who’s hinting I should be lookin’ on the bright side. So when can I get this therapy over and leave this joint? I’ve got a job to do.”

                                          “Macro, you’ve been in a coma for nearly ten days,” she said. “Not only did you lose your paw, but a lot of blood. Your horn had cracked open and had to be sealed. You suffered three breaks in your left arm, not to mention a shattered bone in your paw; a fracture in your right arm; a break in the femur of your left leg; blunt trauma to various parts of your body; shattered ribs all along your left side; a severe concussion; internal bleeding; a punctured lung, and ruptured vessels in your left eye!” She sighed and lowered the Clipboard to her lap. “When you arrived here, we weren’t even sure we could save you. You’ve been awake for fifteen minutes and you’re asking if we think you’re fit to leave?”

                                          A long silence passed between them as her words struck home. Each one making him increasingly aware of the repetitive beeping from his heart monitor. A cruel drag back into reality. Prior to that it had been a mere background sound that had followed him out of his dream. His eye wandered to the screen attached to the wall. The green line that flickered with every beat of his heart. He turned back to the nurse and tried to appear stoic.

                                          “I didn’t ask ‘if’,” he said. “I asked ‘when’.”

                                          She stared at him silently, then turned back to her Clipboard. “I see. Well… you’ll need to be monitored to make sure you don’t relapse back into a coma. So… if things go well, I’d say you can start therapy tomorrow afternoon.”

                                          “Great.”

                                          “At the earliest.”

                                          He sighed and pinched the bridge of his muzzle. “The world might have ended by the time I’m outta here.”

                                          The azumarill closed her eyes and her ears drooped. “I’m just doing my job.” She stood and shuffled towards the door. “I’ll be back before dinner time.”

                                          “Hey, doc.”

                                          She looked up at him, meeting his eye.

                                          “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just… this is pretty darn stressful. I’m tryin’ to help System recover from these monsters, and…”

                                          “I understand. All of us are terrified.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “But this is the third time you’ve ended up here in the space of a month. You’re mortal, like the rest of us. Remember that.”

                                          She slipped from the room, leaving behind a chill that caused Macro to burrow under his sheets until only his head was poking out. He groped at his chest with his left paw, feeling nothing but fur. His eye flew around the room, scouting for his scarf. Nothing. He groaned and resigned himself to clutching the duvet, wishing he could just fall asleep and wake up to everything being normal again. But it never came. He just lay there listening to the repetitive, scolding beep of the heart monitor.

                                          ...

                                          It felt like Tracer had been flying around System Sky for a decade. One short trip back to Pulse City revealed the entire island to be engulfed with vines, the monstrous creature standing tall over it like a sentinel. Silent. Unmoving.

                                          The image chilled the delphox to the core, and he huddled at the back of N0ize’s ship beside Widget. The eevee was less bothered, idly pawing at a laser module he’d found a few days prior. The two space pirates had barely said a word since the events in the analogue isles. Both were clearly stressed, and Tracer didn’t want to push his luck perchance they toss him from the ship to a grisly demise below. Fuel was running low, and was becoming harder to come by. Not wanting to chance another trip to the analogue isles, and finding Pulse City unable to supply them safely, the two space pirates had resigned to looking for parked ships to pilfer it from. But it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

                                          “Ey, you seen that?” N0ize’s voice drew Tracer’s eye to the window.

                                          The incineroar pointed a claw through the cracked glass. In the distance floated a monolith of a building. Whatever it was, it was almost indescribable. It gave off an iridescent purple glow, almost draining all light from around it. Or did it actually drain all light? It was difficult to say for certain, but it looked like it might have been on fire. Was it one of those monsters?

                                          “What on earth is that?” Widget stood on his hind legs with his paws on Cyph3r’s chair, both eyes fixed on the anomaly.

                                          “I’ve no idea,” said Tracer. “But I’m loathe to go near it.”

                                          “I second that.” N0ize turned to the magmortar. “Steer us well clear of that thing. I don’t want yet more damage comin’ to old Sharkie.”

                                          Cyph3r obliged, turning the ship so the anomaly was on their left. Miles away.

                                          “You’ve still no idea where we’re going?” Tracer ventured to ask.

                                          “Nope.” N0ize turned back to Cyph3r, brushing the delphox off. “Hit hyperdrive. I wanna get as far away from that abomination as possible.”

                                          Tracer rushed back to his spot in the corner, but before he could sit comfortably, the ship lurched forward sending him nose-first into the wall. He pushed himself back up as best he could, rubbing his sore snout. A thin stream of blood coated his fur and he huddled against the wall to steady himself. Widget clutched to the magmortar’s chair for dear life, his claws tearing rivets in the leather. Yet more damage the space pirates would blame them for.

                                          Finally, the ship returned to a saner pace and Tracer slid to the floor. Back amid the floating cities. Three of them, forming a triangle, but they were really miles apart. The closest one looked massive in comparison to its siblings. The trio of warring cities. Cyan, Magenta and Luma.

                                          “Oi, hang on a sec!” N0ize leaned forward in his seat, grinning like a lunatic. “That’s Wildcard Gamma!”

                                          Tracer jolted and lifted his head as far as it would stretch. N0ize wasn’t wrong. Docked in Cyan City’s port was the famous schooling wishiwashi, dwarfing several golden government ships. The pyukumyuku stood on the other side of the fleet, sandwiching them between the two larger ships.

                                          “What’s Hunter’s crew doing so blatantly in Cyan City?” Tracer voiced. “And Annie, too…”

                                          “I dunno,” said N0ize. “But fifty thousand credits for him and each of his crewmon is sat waitin’ in that city like sittin’ ducklets. I can grab them, get my revenge on that human girl and her posse then book it! So that’s…” He counted off on his claws, struggled then threw his paws in the air with a laugh. “A lot of fuel and easy ship repairs, plus enough to dine like kings!”

                                          Widget muttered under his breath, “Yeah, if there’s anywhere still left standing in System to eat.”

                                          “What were that, pup?” N0ize growled.

                                          Widget merely grinned back at him.

                                          “Whatever.” N0ize shrugged him off and turned back to the window. “Let’s get in there and find Hunter. I want my ship repaired pronto.”

                                          Cyph3r steered the sharpedo into the docks beside the wishiwashi. Before it had even fully parked up, the incineroar was on his feet and marching towards the door. He grabbed Tracer by the scruff, dragging him to his feet.

                                          “Come on, fuzz, I ain’t exactly gonna leave you and your rogue on this ship alone, am I?”

                                          “Dang it!” Widget dropped to his feet and slumped after them. “It’s like you can read me like a book.”

                                          As much as the eevee was joking, it went straight over N0ize’s head. He gave Widget what was clearly intended to be an intimidating grin but all it did was elicit one in return. N0ize laughed and threw the door open.

                                          “I like you, pup,” he said. “The offer still stands if you wanna join my crew.”

                                          “I don’t work for bullies.” Widget skipped past him onto the docks, and froze. “Oh, hang on.”

                                          N0ize landed heavily beside him, clutching Tracer by the collar in one paw. Waiting on the docks stood an empoleon and several other water types. The vaporeon beside the penguin pokemon bristled, his head lowered and canines bared. N0ize reached for his laser, but the deep, electrical hum beside them told them Cyph3r had disembarked and had his railgun at the ready.

                                          “Drop your weapons!” the empoleon roared. “And explain yourselves! What are you doing in Cyan City?”

                                          N0ize laughed and dropped Tracer, who landed in an ungraceful heap at his feet. “I ain’t explainin’ nothin’! Cyph3r? Take ‘em out!”

                                          The magmortar raised his railgun, the hum rising into a shrill scream. The empoleon readied an attack of his own as he raised his right flipper. A metallic sheen surrounded it. Beside him, steam erupted from the vaporeon’s mouth.

                                          “Stop!”

                                          The empoleon froze, his flipper returning to normal, but the vaporeon’s attack was too advanced and he choked, spluttering hot froth. It erupted from him in a sputtering flurry, peppering Cyph3r and N0ize with scalding water. The two fire types grimaced, and N0ize whipped out his huge laser.

                                          A frogadier scurried between the warring groups, waving his slender paws. His eyes went from the empoleon and his crew to the space pirates, and he narrowed his eyes.

                                          “I trust you aren’t friends of Wildcard?” the frogadier asked.

                                          “No, we ain’t.” N0ize raised his laser to the frog pokemon. “And we plan to take ‘em back with us.”

                                          Cyph3r placed a paw on N0ize’s arm, lowering his laser as he aimed his railgun at the frogadier. Electricity screeched along it, concentrating its deadly power behind the hidden projectile. If the water type was afraid, he didn’t show a single hint of it.

                                          “I’m afraid it won’t get you anywhere,” he said. “Socket’s no longer around to give you your ‘reward’.”

                                          “Eh?” N0ize’s jaw dropped.

                                          Cyph3r lowered his railgun, the screech returning to a static hum. His face matched N0ize’s surprise perfectly.

                                          “Surely you’ve seen it?” said the frogadier. “Her mansion has been taken over by some unknown entity, and its currently drifting through System Sky.”

                                          “That’s what that thing was?” Tracer stood up, rubbing his ears. “It was her mansion?”

                                          “So it’s some monster house now?” Widget chuckled and wagged his tail. “Bring it!”

                                          Tracer placed a paw on the eevee’s back, but he didn’t take his eyes off the frogadier. “So what does that mean exactly?”

                                          “It means,” said the vaporeon, “that System ain’t got no flippin’ mayor enforcing her laws! You won’t get scratch for turnin’ in Wildcard Gamma. You could gallivant across System Ground and no one would touch you because, let’s face it, no one wants to fight for nothin’! So get your mangy tails out of our city!”

                                          The empoleon cuffed him around the ears, eliciting a protesting whine.

                                          “Thank you, HeatSink.” The frogadier turned back to the space pirates. “Sorry for my friend’s outburst. I have no gripes with you pokemon. I’m aware Pulse City has been reduced to ruins, which means you’ve got nowhere to go. We’re a peaceful city. Wildcard have done a lot for us. I can see your ship is in bad shape, so if you promise to remain peaceful, then we can sort you out with repairs.”

                                          N0ize threw his head back and laughed. “You serious?! Scourge of the skies and you open your doors for us? Well… I ain’t entirely sure how happy I am mixing with water types.”

                                          Cyph3r’s railgun hummed to life again, but he didn’t lift it towards the water types. He narrowed his eyes, limb twitching with uncertainty.

                                          “Oh hey, it’s the cloystercat!” Annie’s familiar voice erupted behind the water type army. She waved an energetic wing, bouncing on her feet. “Hi, cloystercat! And Mister Fox, too! Woo! It’s like a reunion!”

                                          N0ize glared at her, clutching his paw into a fist around his laser. The metal creaked beneath his grip, setting Tracer’s fur on end as he braced himself for the weapon to fire at the ground. The incineroar snapped his head back around to the frogadier.

                                          “All right,” he growled. “I’ll take you up on your hospitality. You might have no gripes with us, but I’ve got… personal issues… with that raggy bird back there.”

                                          “What? Annie?” The frogadier looked between N0ize’s sneer and Annie’s beaming grin. “Well… I’m not sure what to do about that. If you wish to avoid conflict-”

                                          “Not at all.”

                                          “Well, if you threaten violence, I will have to put you in a cell.” The frogadier gave him a sympathetic shake of the head. “I don’t think either of us want that?”

                                          N0ize holstered his weapon and nodded to Cyph3r to switch his off. The magmortar obliged, contributing to the sudden silence.

                                          The frogadier stepped closer to them and held out a paw. “Welcome to Cyan City. My name is Jumper, Governor of this city. Would you like me to show you around?”

                                          N0ize’s muzzle creased with confusion as he stared at the frogadier’s outstretched paw. He shook it hesitantly, drowning it in his larger, hairy one.

                                          “Not sure I want showin’ around, though,” he rumbled.

                                          “Well, I know a fantastic place for dinner,” said Jumper.

                                          “Sold.” N0ize stomped past him with Cyph3r in tow. “I’m itchin’ for a fish burger right now.”

                                          “I hate to disappoint you, but here, we’re vegetarian,” said Jumper.

                                          N0ize stared at him over his shoulder, aghast. Then he sighed. “Fine. Nutpea it is.”

                                          Tracer and Widget stared after them, their jaws almost touching the floor. The water army wore equal expressions of surprise. Annie scrambled over to them, looking between the pirates and the detectives.

                                          “This is awesome,” she said. “I wondered what had happened to you lot.”

                                          “Didn’t we attack you?” Widget asked, not looking away from N0ize’s swishing tail as he followed Jumper into the city.

                                          “Let flygons be flygons.” Annie waved a dismissive wing. “Wanna grab somethin’ to eat? I know an awesome place.”

                                          “So long as it’s far away from them, I’m game,” said Widget.

                                          “Me too.” Tracer reached into his pocket for a cigar and grimaced. “Maybe we can find a decent shop, too? I need to stock up.”

                                          Widget snorted and shook his head. “Fine. But can we do that on the way back? I’m starved.”

                                          The pair of them followed Annie into the city, heading a different way to the space pirates.

                                          “While we’re there,” she said, “I can tell you the awesome story about how a building ate the mayor!”

                                          Tracer and Widget snapped their heads around to look at her.

                                          “You know what happened?” Widget gasped.

                                          “Of course!” She fired them a toothy grin over her shoulder. “I was there! And it was awesome.”

                                          Tracer and Widget stuttered and exchanged glances. ‘Awesome’ wasn’t exactly a word Tracer would have used.

                                          “All right.” He cleared his throat. “We look forward to it.”

                                          “Awesome, eh?” Widget shook his head and sighed. “Drat, and we missed it.”
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                                          Old 3 Weeks Ago (2:46 AM).
                                          Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                                            Join Date: May 2015
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                                            Chapter Seventy One

                                            Purple tendrils rose up on the horizon as the glowing mansion swiftly approached Seed City. Yobi watched with a combination of horror and fascination, the remains of his vikavolt android clutched in his paws. It was definitely lower in the sky, as though it was going to land.

                                            Incomplete. His plan was incomplete, and he was swiftly running out of time. He’d have to move… but where?

                                            ...

                                            Tweak sang jovially as he flopped around the mansion. The feather duster in his tiny paws flicked over the windowsills and skirting boards, and a quick flick of his psychic shot it up into the high corners of the eaves.

                                            ‘Cut out that infernal singing!’

                                            Distortion’s voice rocked the walls, causing the chingling to spin on the spot. The feather duster fell gracefully back into his paws and he grinned widely.

                                            “But it’s my cleaning montage!” he jingled. “Everything has to be clean! You don’t want to be dusty, do you?”

                                            A low growl shook the air and Tweak laughed, spinning back to the wall and sending the duster back up to sweep across the ceiling.

                                            “He hazzzz a po-point.” BackDoor drifted down from above him, reclining back with his arms folded behind his head. “It is so… so annoying.”

                                            “So is your fractured speech,” said Tweak. “But you don’t hear me complaining about it.”

                                            BackDoor snorted and reached up for one of his rings. “If it were my choice, I’d send you to join Socket. But for some reason, he decide-de-ded to keep you around.”

                                            “I’m a qualified PA, cleaner and System navigator!” Tweak saluted. “No one knows System like I do.”

                                            BackDoor frowned and crossed his arms in indignation. “’System navi-vi-gator’ isn’t even a thing!”

                                            “’Navigator’,” Tweak mocked. “And it is a thing. You’ll see what I mean when we land in Seed City. The real capital of System.”

                                            “Historically speaking,” said BackDoor. “I still think you’re a lunatic.”

                                            The hoopa drifted back towards the eaves, leaving the chingling to return to his dusting. BackDoor’s eye drifted back towards the floor, noting the hefty blood stain. Three days the chingling had spent cleaning that. It hadn’t come out. When he’d inquired about whether or not Distortion could just distort it out, he’d said he wasn’t bothered. The mansion was a means of growing his strength, and because of that it was only temporary.

                                            Whatever that meant.

                                            BackDoor’s eyes went to the window, fixing on the skyline of Seed City as it grew ever closer. A smile tugged at his artificial lips and he chuckled. He itched to find out.

                                            ...

                                            The small restaurant was one of Cyan City’s finest. Relatively quiet and more of a family scene than the posh, upscale restaurants of Meta City. Gentle music played from the hidden speakers while various water pokemon nattered. Some fired occasional glances at the newly arrived space pirates, which had led Jumper to ordering a booth for extra privacy.

                                            N0ize poked at his nutpea burger with a suspicious claw. Tamato relish leaked out to join a small salad leaf on the plate. Resigning himself to the only palatable option he could think of, he scooped up the burger and took a bite. His confused disgust melted away into bliss and he took another bigger bite then leant back in his seat.

                                            “Is it okay?” Jumper asked.

                                            “It ain’t bad,” said the incineroar.

                                            Cyph3r didn’t look as impressed, taking small cautious bites of his cornn dog. N0ize chuckled at his expression and returned to his own meal.

                                            “I hope that doesn’t put you off, Cyph3r,” said Jumper. “There are loads of options here to suit all pokemon.”

                                            N0ize grunted and spoke with his mouth full. “Pretty welcomin’ place this, given the circumstances. You usually welcome criminals in?”

                                            “No, but I’m an understanding pokemon,” said Jumper. “Wildcard was only welcome here after they ended Luma City’s invasion. It showed me that space pirates are pokemon too. And given your circumstances - ruined ship, no home to go to - I’m opening Cyan City’s doors to you as well.”

                                            N0ize huffed and shrugged his shoulders. “Pretty noble.”

                                            Cyph3r said nothing, picking at his meal with his only paw.

                                            “So…” N0ize licked his lips and shoved aside his empty plate. “Who’s gonna take over Socket, eh? Someone’s gotta dish out these rewards.”

                                            “Rewards?” Jumper cocked an eyebrow.

                                            “Yeah, rewards! You might have a little bubble over Hunter and his crew, but they’ve still got a price on their heads-”

                                            “Which is nullified.” Jumper narrowed his eyes, keeping them on the incineroar’s. “As far as I’m concerned, all bounties died with Socket. That includes your own. There will be no rounding up space pirates, at least not in my city.”

                                            N0ize leered back at him and folded his arms. “I don’t really think it’s your place to say.”

                                            “I’m Governor of this city,” said Jumper. “It is well in my right to say. Socket appointed me herself when the water dwellers demanded a voice in office. She didn’t want a fish, so she picked me. And I have you know I am against most of the laws she laid down, and that includes taking a life, criminal or not!”

                                            Cyph3r shoved his plate so hard it skittered across the table and smashed onto the floor. A deep hum resonated from his railgun and he rose from his seat and aimed it at Jumper. The frogadier’s eyes widened and he leapt into the air, grabbing hold of the rafter above him. The electricity flashed from the railgun’s coil with an earsplitting screech, narrowly skimming his feet. Someone behind him grunted and Cyph3r tutted and aimed his weapon up at Jumper. The frogadier grabbed a pawful of frubbles and flicked them at the weapon. They coated it in a sticky foam just as a torrent of mud struck it, clogging the mechanisms and drowning the electrical current. Cyph3r grimaced and shook it violently, scattering wet mud onto the floor. But most of it stayed in place along with the frubbles.

                                            Jumper dropped to his feet, mouth twisted with anger. He spotted Torrent the quagsire as he waddled over to him, wiping mud from his lips. The quagsire’s eyes were fixed on a spot behind Jumper. He turned to spot HeatSink with a flipper clasped to the right of his chest. Blood trickled from his claws and static danced over his oily feathers. Floppy panicked beside him, running in circles and whining, pawing at the empoleon to answer whether or not he was all right. But HeatSink could only stare at the magmortar’s soiled railgun.

                                            Then HeatSink sank to his knees, dropping his flipper and allowing the blood to trail from a perfectly round hole in the plating of his chest.

                                            Floppy spun on his heel to leer at the magmortar. “You… you…” He shook his head then opened his mouth, firing out a spiraling torrent of water. It struck Cyph3r in the gut, sending him flying backwards over the booth to crash down on another table. Surprised squeals followed and a family of marshstomp and their mudkip kits fled towards the exit.

                                            N0ize blinked in confusion and craned his head around to the booth. “You moron!” He turned back to Jumper and rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry ‘bout that, I think he’s just really cheesed off.”

                                            “Cheesed off…” Jumper shook his head and dashed towards HeatSink. “Speak to me.”

                                            HeatSink’s eyes rolled back and he lolled sideways into the frogadier. Blood began to pool on the floor and Jumper reached into his bag for something - anything - to cover it with. A small audience had begun to gather around them and someone shouted about calling for an ambulance. Floppy let out a whine, his huge black eyes wet with tears.

                                            Jumper pointed a paw towards the booth. “Apprehend him!”

                                            The vaporeon obeyed, dashing towards the booth with Torrent. N0ize made to move towards Jumper, but the vaporeon cut him off with a nip at the heels.

                                            “Don’t you dare!” he growled before vanishing into the booth.

                                            “I’m helpin’!” N0ize threw his paws in the air then joined Jumper. “Let me see.”

                                            “So you’re an expert in first aid now?” Jumper leered up at him as he resigned to using his neckerchief. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re both in this together.”

                                            “Hey, I didn’t fire it!” N0ize growled. He shoved Jumper aside and held HeatSink up, then nodded. “I’m familiar with these wounds, been hit with enough of ‘em meself. They’re gonna wanna know what caused it.”

                                            Jumper stared at him, aghast, his eye going towards the magmortar coated from head to toe in Torrent’s mud.

                                            “He gets angry,” N0ize explained. “I’ve been on the receivin’ end of that railgun, although nothin’ fatal. It’s a pachinko ball launched by an electromagnetic thingy.”

                                            “Pachinko ball?” Jumper spat.

                                            “Aye. It’ll be lodged in there somewhere. They’ll need to get it out.”

                                            Floppy bounded to his side, eyes fixed on the empoleon. “So they can save him?”

                                            “Dunno.” N0ize stood up and looked back at their booth. “Tore up that wall real nice though.”

                                            Jumper followed his gaze. Part of the booth had been torn away neatly. A perfect, tiny, round hole nicked into the side of the woodwork.

                                            “That would have slowed it,” he said.

                                            N0ize shrugged. “I dunno much ‘bout physics. I just shoot stuff.”

                                            A siren cut through the air, followed closely by three paramedics. Two of them dropped to HeatSink’s side, while the remaining one - a bibarel - approached Jumper.

                                            “What happened, Governor?” he asked.

                                            Jumper stood and gave the bibarel a nut-shelled version of the events complete with what N0ize had told him. The incineroar remained with the paramedics, adamant to help, but he only found himself shooed away. The two smaller pokemon, an azumarill and wartortle, struggled to hoist the heavy empoleon onto the stretcher. The bibarel jumped at this and gave Jumper a nod.

                                            “Come along,” he said. “You can tell me everything on the way.”

                                            He joined the other two as Jumper assisted to even out the weight at either end.

                                            “You know,” said N0ize. “It’d be a lot easier if you just let me carry him!”

                                            The paramedics left the space pirate with Floppy, Torrent and his detained companion. He looked between the two water types’ leers then met Cyph3r’s eye just as the police pokemon ushered them out.

                                            A growl rose in N0ize’s throat. “You and your jackin’ railgun.”

                                            ...

                                            Tracer and Widget strolled along towards the park, the former clutching an ice cream dripping pink droplets onto the grass. It dripped over the long, lush blades to mix with the dry soil. Somehow, it felt like a shame to see the grass marred in such a way, given the scarcity of natural grass on System Ground.

                                            Shouts and squeals drew the delphox’s eye towards the lake. Annie and her comrades leapt back and forth launching attacks at one another while Anchor and Matrix watched. Well, the ribombee wasn’t so much watching as messing with his computer. It seemed odd to see Annie engaged in such antics given they’d been watching her demolish a burger not thirty minutes earlier. Waveform sent a flurry of arrows towards the archeops. She leapt back to avoid them, narrowly dodging a punch from Trojan in the process as she struggled to find an opening to launch an attack of her own. Widget let out a repressed giggle, which would have betrayed his excitement if it weren’t for his slowly wagging tail.

                                            Tracer swallowed his current mouthful and cocked an eyebrow at the eevee. “You want to join them, don’t you?”

                                            “Oh, please!” Widget fixed him with a pleading gaze. “It’s been ages since I’ve had a good scrap!”

                                            The delphox sighed and said, “Very well,” before taking another lick of his ice cream.

                                            The eevee skipped along ahead of him, still wagging his tail, as he made a beeline for the sparring pokemon.

                                            Matrix looked up as they arrived and twirled his antenna in his left paw. “Can we help you?”

                                            Rather polite for a space pirate, Tracer thought. He gestured towards Annie and her friends.

                                            “What’s going on?” he asked.

                                            “Practicin’,” said Anchor. “Once our Cap’n is out of hospital, we need to deal with a mutant mansion, so we can’t exactly slack off.”

                                            “Yeah!” Annie cheered. “Shootin’ down buildings! Bet they never taught you that in Pokemon School!”

                                            She raised her wings in a flourish, bringing up a heap of shimmering fossilized rocks. They soared towards Waveform who ducked with such speed it took Tracer quite by surprise.

                                            “Drat! I failed again!” she whined.

                                            “It looked like a successful ancient power to me.” When she didn’t respond Tracer scratched his head in thought and turned to Anchor. “What is she trying to do exactly?”

                                            “I can’t relay that information,” said the granbull.

                                            “Why not?”

                                            “It’s confidential.”

                                            Widget skipped before Annie, tail wagging wildly. “Try it on me! Try it on me!”

                                            “Are you kiddin’ me?” she squeaked. “I can’t hit a pupper!”

                                            “Oh, come on!” he whined. “I can take an ancient power! I’m stronger than your average eevee. Smack me with some rocks!”

                                            She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “All right, fine. If you’re that desperate.”

                                            She raised her wing, claws clasped in a fist. Something sparkled around her tiny wrist and instead of shimmering, ancient fossils, a huge slab materialised out of thin air. The massive disk looked like it had been freshly plucked from the earth as soil pattered down onto the ground from beneath it.

                                            Widget fell to his haunches, his now motionless tail forming a brush. He fixed wide eyes on the humongous slab of rock as it rose into the air above his head. Then it stopped, hovering above him for the briefest of moments before it came crashing down with all the force of a falling continent.

                                            Tracer dropped his cone as he stared aghast at the mound of rock and earth. There wasn’t a single sign of the eevee in sight. Annie’s expression mirrored his, except her eyes sparkled with glee.

                                            She leapt into the air and cheered. “I did it! I did my Z-Move thingy!”

                                            Tracer rushed towards the mound alongside Anchor, but before either of them could touch it the entire thing melted away like ice cream during a summer heat wave. Widget lay spread-eagled on his stomach, his eyes spinning in their sockets.

                                            “Widget!” Tracer dropped down beside him and placed a paw on his shoulder. “Speak to me! Are you okay?”

                                            “He seems okay,” said Anchor. “Just a little dazed.”

                                            “What on earth was that?” the eevee muttered as he struggled to his feet. He shook out his fur, scattering dirt. “I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

                                            “I should think not,” said Tracer. “What kind of move was that?”

                                            “That’s what I want to know!” Widget’s eyes sparkled and a huge grin split his face. “That was freakin’ awesome!”

                                            Tracer blinked a few times. “Pardon?”

                                            “I said it was awesome!” Widget skipped past him towards the archeops. “Do it again!”

                                            “You’re kidding right?” said Waveform. “That thing crushed you.”

                                            “Yeah, I know you said you wanted to get hit by rocks,” said Trojan. “But this just borderlines on-”

                                            “Do it again!” Widget rounded on Annie. “But this time, I wanna watch the whole thing from the non-squishing side of the attack.”

                                            Annie shrugged and spread her claws. “Sorry. Can’t.”

                                            Widget’s ears drooped and he let out a long, shrill ‘Whaa?!’

                                            “Ask me again in twelve hours.” Annie twirled towards the bench and sat down. “It’s someone else’s turn now.”

                                            “Is that it?” Trojan scoffed. “We’ve trained for almost two weeks and that’s it? I thought you’d be at least a little more celebratory.”

                                            Tracer looked from the squabbling lot to Anchor and Matrix. “I think this now warrants an explanation?”

                                            Anchor sighed as he returned to his bench. “I suppose, given the circumstances.”

                                            “I think the circumstances have changed a tad,” said Matrix without looking up.

                                            “How so?” asked Anchor.

                                            “Got these burning a hole in my belt.” Matrix held up a pair of sparkling crystals in both paws.

                                            Anchor took them in one and cocked an eyebrow at them, a thoughtful noise escaping his throat.

                                            “What are those?” Something gnawed at Tracer’s gut as he stared down at the crystals. One purple, one a dazzling white, and both of them holding a strange, black design. Both round, except the purple one’s design looked like an eye.

                                            “Z-Crystals,” Anchor explained. He looked up briefly at the sparring pokemon. Widget leapt backwards, dodging punches thrown left and right by the scrafty. “I think you might wanna call over your buddy, delphox.”

                                            Tracer gave a sharp whistle and Widget stopped what he was doing. One nod towards the bench brought the eevee running.

                                            “I think these are both for you two,” said Anchor. “Psychinium-Z for… what’s your name, detective?”

                                            “Tracer,” said the delphox. “And this hyperactive fox is Widget.”

                                            Widget stood on his hind paws with both front ones on the bench, craning to see into Anchor’s paw. His nose twitched a mere centimetre or two from the crystals.

                                            “These are what all those guys are wearing,” he said.

                                            “Exactly,” said Anchor. “They allow you to use a Z-Move, like that continental crush dropped on your head.”

                                            “That… sounds… epic!” Widget panted.

                                            “Shattered psyche,” said Matrix.

                                            The three pokemon turned their heads towards him.

                                            Matrix twirled his antenna in one paw, fixing them all with one eye. “That’s Psychium-Z’s move. ‘Shattered psyche’.”

                                            Anchor nodded and popped the Z-Crystal into Tracer’s hesitant paw. No sooner had he taken hold of it, a band appeared around his right wrist. He let out a gasp and almost dropped the crystal to the floor.

                                            “Yeah, that happens.” Matrix looked back at his computer. “Normalium-Z allows the use of ‘breakneck blitz’.”

                                            Widget took his crystal with much more excitement, using his teeth to place it into the bangle on his right fore-paw.

                                            “That sounds super powerful!” he said. “How do I do that, then?”

                                            “It takes practice,” said Anchor. “Annie has been tryin’ to use her move for the past two weeks.”

                                            “There’s no sayin’ I can’t master it first try though, eh?” Widget sat down and grinned. “Teach me!”

                                            Anchor sighed and leant forward on his knees. “I burned mine out over an hour ago. But you can watch what they’re doin’.”

                                            Tracer sat down beside him, drawing his attention. “I’m more interested in how you got these.”

                                            “That’s a long story,” said Matrix.

                                            “Nutshell it,” said Widget.

                                            “Okay. We got them from Solgaleo.”

                                            Tracer watched the ribombee, expecting more information, but his complete attention remained on his computer.

                                            “No,” said the delphox, “I think we need a little more of an explanation.”

                                            “Well, you did ask me to nutshell it,” said Matrix.

                                            Anchor rolled his eyes and turned towards Tracer. “We were headin’ over the Dead Glacier. Solgaleo pulled us in. He’d called us the whole way there, actually. These aliens comin’ into our world… it’s all Socket’s doin’. But she’s been killed by her own creation. That mansion, it ain’t natural. Her android BackDoor dragged a big alien through one of ‘em porthole things he makes, named Distortion.”

                                            “He’s a giratina,” explained Matrix. “Apparently there’s legends about them twisting worlds to their liking.”

                                            Widget craned his head around to look at Matrix. “Apparently there’s legends of Solgaleo n’all.”

                                            “That’s what Annie said when we told her and her friends,” said Anchor. “She read books about him back in the human world. I’ve never heard of Z-Crystals, but the humans? They use them in their pokemon battles.”

                                            “Humans battle?” Widget gasped.

                                            “With pokemon, aye. Apparently we’re more like ‘pets’ in their world. That’s the word she used. We don’t talk or have jobs or fly ships or nothin’.”

                                            Tracer made a thoughtful noise and stroked his chin. “Given these aliens… I’m guessing Solgaleo isn’t in our world then?”

                                            “No idea,” said Matrix. “But he sent me all the information on Z-Crystals so I could explain things to Annie while I was stuck on her ship. So he’s certainly active in our world.”

                                            “I wouldn’t be surprised if he appears in all worlds,” said Anchor. “There’s certainly more than one. These Z-Moves are to help us stop BackDoor. And BackDoor is currently up in the air in Socket’s mutated mansion.”

                                            Widget chuckled, his tattoo creasing around his eye. “So we’ve gotta fight that thing? Bring it!”

                                            Tracer narrowed his eyes at the eevee. “You’re a little too excited about this.”

                                            Widget grinned and thumped the ground with his tail, then he returned to watching the sparring pokemon.

                                            “So what happened to her mansion?” Tracer asked Anchor.

                                            Anchor closed his eyes and leant back in his seat. “Now that one is a long story. But to cut it short, Distortion took over and Socket got sucked into some other world.”

                                            “So she’s gone?!” Widget squeaked.

                                            “Yup. And if BackDoor’s description was anything to go by, she won’t be comin’ back either. At least not alive.”

                                            Tracer exchanged glances with Widget.

                                            “So Socket’s dead,” said the delphox. “I never thought I’d see the end to her reign in my lifetime.”

                                            Widget shook his head and returned to watching the training session.

                                            Waveform leapt into the air, unleashing a flurry of arrows. They exploded off the ground, sending up smoky tendrils that engulfed Trojan, dragging him towards the earth. The scrafty squealed as the ghostly smog engulfed him, then he let out a scream. The smog exploded, blowing him backwards until he landed on his bottom. The scrafty’s face turned a deathly pale and he looked up at the decidueye as he slowly descended back to earth. He gave Trojan a nod of apology and gathered up his arrows.

                                            “Well, that was ‘never-ending nightmare’,” said Matrix.

                                            Widget trembled with glee. “I want a go!”

                                            Anchor turned to Tracer and nodded towards the other pokemon. “So… given you’ve been gifted your own Z-Crystals, are you gonna train and help us out?”

                                            Tracer scratched his cheek then stood up slowly. “I guess we’ve not got much choice.”

                                            “Seriously?” Widget fixed him with wide, surprised eyes. “You wanna do this?”

                                            “System is in a dire state,” said the delphox. “We currently have no mayor, and aliens are all over the place. Goodness knows what this Distortion is going to do.”

                                            “Well, that was a long and convoluted ‘yes’,” said Widget.

                                            ...

                                            Web shuffled towards the hospital as fast as she could without appearing conspicuous. Poipole drifted along beside her, puffing noisily on his makeshift breathing apparatus. Cyan City had wasted no time in kitting the small alien out with a toxic version of an oxygen tank, the breathing part fastened around the two smaller proboscis above his ‘ears’. It made him look even more like an extraterrestrial investigating an alien world than his strange appearance already did.

                                            The double doors swung wildly as Web scurried through them, making a beeline for the azumarill chatting to some unseen pokemon on a holoscreen. The skuntank rose up on her hind feet and placed her paws on the reception desk, drawing the receptionist’s attention. The azumarill raised a claw as she swiftly wrapped up her query, then she turned fully to face Web.

                                            “How can I help you?” the receptionist asked.

                                            “We need to see… erm… Macro.” The name was still alien to Web. “It’s urgent.”

                                            The azumarill clicked her tongue as she browsed her computer screen. “He’s in ward eleven.”

                                            Web muttered her thanks and scampered away towards the map, her keen eye spotting the assigned ward almost instantly. Two floors up. Well, she’d waited almost two weeks. A short elevator trip couldn’t hold a candle to that.

                                            Yet it seemed to take an eternity.

                                            Poipole watched the numbers scroll with an avid fascination, humming to himself through his proboscis. Such a strange noise compared to his boyish telepathic voice that Web had grown used to. She watched the little Ultra Beast drift back and forth, examining everything his large eyes fell on. She couldn’t deny she was going to miss him if everything went according to plan.

                                            Finally the elevator pinged and allowed them out into a sterile corridor. Nomel and ammonia assaulted her senses as she dodged a yellow slip-hazard cone, and her muzzle creased as she tried not to breathe it in. Despite her need to keep a clean home, the smell of such harsh cleaning chemicals made her feel like her poison typing was being stripped away.

                                            Ward eleven rose up on her left as she slipped through into a new corridor. A private room. She nudged the door open with her head and muttered a polite ‘hello?’

                                            The mawile looked up from his bed. He sat back against a pillow, frowning at his mechanical paw. But when he spotted Web, the frown became a look of surprise. He swiftly regained himself and went back to examining his paw.

                                            “Don’t think I know you,” he said. “You must be one of Annie’s friends.”

                                            Web snorted and shook her head. “Why am I not surprised? I remember you.”

                                            “Really?” Macro’s mechanical claws flexed and he looked up at her again. “You might need to jog my memory.”

                                            “Does the name Webber ring a bell?”

                                            He shook his head slowly.

                                            “We met over a game of Farkle,” she said.

                                            “I’ve played a lot of Farkle.”

                                            Web shook her head again and marched into the room with Poipole in tow. Macro’s eye immediately went to the Ultra Beast and he scrambled back against his pillow. The small creature drifted over to him, tracing his trembling body with his large, playful eyes.

                                            “Absolutely typical.” She climbed up into a seat and folded her tail over her lap. “I’m still feeling the sting of that meeting and you don’t even remember me.”

                                            “W-what did I do?” Macro squeaked, tugging his duvet up in a desperate bid to keep Poipole at bay.

                                            “He won’t hurt you,” said Web. “It’s him who wanted to see you actually. Not me.”

                                            Her words failed to relax the space pirate. He resorted to using a pillow to keep as much distance between himself and the playful Ultra Beast as possible.

                                            “If you really can’t remember,” Web went on, “it was a casual game between myself, you and Anchor, and some machamp who really didn’t like you. I left long before the game was over. Couldn’t even afford to re—fuel my ship after that little stunt.”

                                            “So you bet everything and lost?” Macro’s voice trembled as Poipole whisked the pillow aside. “Is that what this is? Some kinda sick revenge plan? Get your monster off me!”

                                            He looked about to faint as Poipole grabbed his mechanical paw in both of his tiny, sticky ones. The Ultra Beast trailed a claw over the sparkling pink crystal then released him, drifting back slightly.

                                            “So it’s true,” said Poipole, puffing noisily. “You really did meet Solgaleo.”

                                            Macro’s jaw dropped and he stared at the Ultra Beast, aghast. “I… I’m hearing its voice in my head. How am I hearing its voice in my head?”

                                            “That’s how he talks,” said Web. “We all hear it.”

                                            Poipole stared back at Macro silently, looking between the mawile and the pink crystal.

                                            Macro narrowed his eyes at the Ultra Beast. “How do you know Solgaleo gave me this?”

                                            “He gave my world Z-Crystals,” Poipole explained. “I use one but… my trainer has it.”

                                            “Trainer?”

                                            Poipole drifted backwards towards Web, landing gracefully on her lap. She kept her eyes on Macro as she gently stroked the creature’s bulbous head.

                                            “Back in Poipole’s world,” she began, “the Ultra Beasts depend on humans to look after them.”

                                            Macro let out a very confused “Eh?”

                                            “In answer to your other question,” said Web, “no. This isn’t some revenge plan. I’ve moved on, I’ve married. If it weren’t for that crazy game, I probably would never have even met Trojan. I’m here because this little guy thinks he might be able to help you.”

                                            Macro’s eye snapped towards the Ultra Beast. “You? Help how?”

                                            “That mansion is being controlled by a monster,” Poipole explained. “You need an army. Your army is too small. But there are lots of us.”

                                            Macro’s mouth opened and closed as he tried to make sense of the poipole’s words.

                                            “That mansion has the porthole thing,” said Poipole. “It can open the door home. We destroy the monster, we can take the porthole thing and go home. All Ultra Beasts should be able to defeat the monster if we work together.”

                                            “Hang on.” Macro raised his paws. “Are you suggesting we work with those other Ultra Beasts? Those city destroying kartana? The things that almost killed me?!”

                                            The room fell into silence, broken only by Poipole’s noisy breathing. Web trailed her paw over his head, keeping her eyes on Macro.

                                            “I’m slowly dying every day I live in Spool City,” she said. “And I’m happy to work with you in order to bring about a greater good.”

                                            Macro frowned at her. “Wait a minute… you blame me for that? I thought you said you’d moved on!”

                                            “I may have moved on, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with you.” Web shrugged her shoulders. “You didn’t need to take everything. I asked… I even begged. You told me it was the rules and sent me on my way. If it weren’t for Waveform landing on my doorstep, I wouldn’t even be able to afford to live there. I’d be scavenging from trash cans like the trubbish that fill our streets.” She paused and narrowed her eyes. “I know you cheated in that game, with your trick dice, but I didn’t even say anything.”

                                            Macro couldn’t even look at her. He stared down at his paws, occasionally glancing towards the window.

                                            “Just like these Ultra Beasts,” she said, “I’m living in a city that’s toxic even to me. They’re not meant to be here, Macro. They don’t understand. But Poipole? He can talk to them. Help them to see we’re willing to help them get back home! There’s hundreds of them. But there’s only one Distortion, and only one BackDoor.”

                                            “Loads of pokemon died escaping that mansion.” Macro spoke through clenched teeth, his organic paw balled into a tight fist. “If we couldn’t fight it then…”

                                            “You didn’t use your Z-Power,” said Poipole. “None of you did. And you didn’t have us. You didn’t have a plan.”

                                            Macro looked back at Poipole. “And what’s your plan exactly?”

                                            “Get all Ultra Beasts together. Explain. And pool all our power into fighting Distortion and BackDoor. All we need to do is analyze our strengths and weaknesses. I can poison things, and make things sticky. Kartana can cut through steel. Celesteela can fire many elemental attacks from its cannons. It is also strong and can fly, so it could carry those that can’t. I’ve not met all the different Ultra Beasts that live in my world, my trainer tends to stay in one place, so some might have strengths I don’t even know of.”

                                            Macro had turned pale under his fur. He stuttered over his words and glanced towards the door.

                                            “I’d take his plan into consideration,” said Web. “Because I think it’s the best you’re going to get.”

                                            The space pirate took a steadying breath and brushed his long black fur from his eyes. “We are meant to get them all back home. So… maybe you’re right. Maybe it is the best idea. I mean… I’d never considered reasoning with them. I didn’t even know it was possible. None of us did. Switch wanted to burn the kartana to cinders.”

                                            Poipole trembled from proboscis to tail. “Kill them? Killing them is not an option.”

                                            “No… I know it’s not.” Macro hugged himself and stared out of the window. “Sadly they don’t see us in the same way.”

                                            “That’s why we need to talk to them,” said Poipole. “Right now, they think you are a threat, just like you think they are a threat. They’re just defending themselves.”

                                            Macro nodded stiffly but said nothing.

                                            Web pushed herself from her seat with a sigh, letting Poipole drift into the air.

                                            “I’m glad you see things our way,” she said. “We can discuss it some more when you’re up and about.”

                                            Macro didn’t look up as she made her way towards the door. But his voice froze her as her paw fastened over the handle.

                                            “Webber?”

                                            She looked back at him over her shoulder, but he wouldn’t meet her eye.

                                            “I just wanna say I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m a different ‘mon now, and I don’t like the way I used to be. If there’s anything I can do-”

                                            “Get these Ultra Beasts home,” she said. “This world isn’t good for them, and I want them all to get back home safely, and for this little creature to get back to his human friend. That’s all I ask.”

                                            She tugged the door open and slipped back out into the hallway, feeling a lot lighter.

                                            ...

                                            Seed City erupted into chaos. Fairy types scattered as they fled from the descending mansion. Purple flames shot from it like rockets, washing harmlessly over the fleeing pokemon. But everything else it touched exploded into rubble. Harmful rubble that rained down and crushed tiny bodies, knocked victims off their feet, and fell like a barrier between terrified families.

                                            Then the mansion landed. Purple tendrils shot into the earth and erupted back up again several feet away. One slight brush from the tendrils brought buildings down in a cloud of dust. Before the dust even had a chance to settle, the tendrils began to pulse. The rubble rose into the air and reformed. The ground around it warped and twisted as it was dragged from the floor to join the hodge-podge jigsaw of brick, stone and iron.

                                            The ground rumbled as yet more probing limbs stretched through the earth, spreading the purple light across the entirety of Seed City. Buildings warped and twisted into corkscrews and more sections of the ground split to rise into the sky at random angles. Suddenly there was no sense of gravity. Wherever there was ground, things clung to it effortlessly. But as for reality, the very essence vanished. The Seed City System had come to know and love vanished in an instant. A wasteland of chaos and despair.

                                            ‘Perfect!’ The deep voice shook the air. ‘From here, all of System, and the worlds that surround it, will be mine!’
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                                            Old 2 Weeks Ago (2:21 AM).
                                            Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                                              Join Date: May 2015
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                                              Chapter Seventy Two

                                              The door to the ward flew open and Macro dropped the ball he’d been holding. It fell from his mechanical paw onto his lap, then rolled onto the floor. It finally came to a stop at Jumper’s feet. The frogadier stepped around it and held out his computer to Macro.

                                              “We’ve got a clearer picture,” he said. “I thought you’d want to see it.”

                                              Macro took the computer in his organic paw and frowned down at it. It wasn’t much clearer than the other pictures he’d seen. Over the past five days he’d been handed photo after photo and it was always the same. Seed City, covered in a dome of purple fire. What he could see of the city was as much a blur as the previous photos had hinted at. Buildings twisted like corkscrews. Ground pulled up to form seamless walls dotted with ruins. Some of those ‘walls’ were littered around the dome, allowing a clearer perspective into the ongoings inside what pokemon were calling ‘The Warped Zone’.

                                              One thing was for certain, however.

                                              “It’s spreading.” The words left Macro’s mouth before he’d even finished thinking about them.

                                              “I fear it is,” said Jumper. “Unfortunately no one can get close enough to even take a decent picture, let alone deal with it.”

                                              Macro handed the computer back and met Jumper’s eye. “Why do I feel like you’re going to ask me to stay away from it?”

                                              Jumper sighed and tucked the computer away, but not before giving the photo one last, scornful look. “Because you know I’m worried about you?”

                                              “I’m fine.”

                                              Jumper’s eye went to the mechanical paw. “Just because you survived your last run-in with this entity-”

                                              “Look, Gov.” Macro lifted his paws to silence him. “I’m goin’. I’ve got a job to do.”

                                              “You’re a braver ‘mon than I, Macro.”

                                              “Hey, I won’t lie,” said Macro. “I’m absolutely terrified. But someone’s gotta stop it, and I’m not alone. I’ve got my crew, along with Annie and a load of other ‘mon.”

                                              He pushed himself up slowly and retrieved the ball before reaching for his scarf. A black one, washed and pressed by DL. The one Switch had bought him had been reduced to tatters.

                                              “Where are you going?” Jumper asked.

                                              “Lunch. I’ve got a date.”

                                              “Ahh, with DL I imagine?” The frogadier smirked.

                                              “No, actually.” Macro handed him the ball and moved past him. “This one’s with Time Archeops.”

                                              Jumper’s jaw dropped and he watched him leave the room before scampering after him. “So you actually have a plan?”

                                              “It ain’t my plan,” Macro explained. “Webber came to me with some crazy idea and I’ve been stewin’ over it for days. Finally decided to pull myself together and get the ball rollin’.”

                                              “I have to say, I’m pretty curious.”

                                              “I wish I were. Instead, I’m terrified. It involves those Ultra Beasts.”

                                              Jumper stuttered and his eyes almost bugged from his head.

                                              Macro chuckled and waved him off as he turned towards the elevator. “Exactly. Now you know how I feel inside.” He tapped a mechanical claw to his temple.

                                              Jumper sighed heavily and nodded to the doors. “This one’s on you, I’m afraid. I think I’ll take the stairs.”

                                              Macro watched him leave then climbed into the elevator. Once the doors opened again, he turned to his left to head into the cafeteria. Annie and her crew sat around a large table beside the window overlooking the garden. The horsea fountain gurgled away, spraying water from its nose into the pool around it. Given the window was open, the noise was audible over the voices of the cafe’s few occupants.

                                              Poipole sat beside Webber, clutching a small cake in both tiny paws. He froze and looked up as Macro pulled up a seat beside him. Annie stared back at the mawile, her claws folded neatly before her. It took a moment for him to realise she was imitating Waveform, faking a stoic expression. It melted away when she spotted Macro’s paw and she scrambled across the table to grope for it.

                                              Waveform grabbed her by the scruff and dragged her back into her seat. “Manners.”

                                              “I just wanna look,” she whined.

                                              “Look with your eyes.” Waveform turned his attention onto Macro and nodded. “Good to see you’re getting the hang of that paw.”

                                              Macro clutched his real one over it as he began to grow rather self conscious, but the warmth from the Z-Crystal placated him before it really kicked in.

                                              “Yeah, it’s fine,” he said. “But that’s not why I’m here. Webber suggested something to me a few days ago and I really think, if it’s gonna work, we need to get things movin’.”

                                              “She told me the same thing.” Annie spread her claws. “I agree. That Distortion fellow isn’t goin’ anywhere so we’ve gotta make him.”

                                              “To put it bluntly, yes,” said Webber.

                                              “I could put it blunter,” muttered Trojan.

                                              Macro looked about the table and grunted. “Hang on. Aren’t there meant to be six of you guys? Where’s the goldeen?”

                                              “Having treatment,” said Web. “Jumper was quite concerned about his stitches. He’s been taking sitrus pills and basking in medical water for the past week. But he should be fine to leave with us when we’re ready to go.”

                                              “He’ll just up and leave anyway,” said Annie. “That’s our Zip! Always eager to help! Although… he’s pretty gutted he’s missin’ this meeting.”

                                              “Which really should be under way,” said Trojan. “So… Ultra Beasts. They seem pretty dangerous, so how do we recruit them without getting ourselves killed?”

                                              “We smack them with Z-Moves!” Annie grinned.

                                              “No,” said Macro. “You don’t. You do not harm the Ultra Beasts, understood?”

                                              Annie pouted and folded her wings. “Fine. But trainers weaken pokemon in my world before we catch ‘em! Same thing ‘n’ all that jazz.”

                                              “That’s not how it works in my world,” said Poipole. “But Ultra Beasts can communicate with one another just like we’re doing now. So you’re best bet is to establish an alliance through me.”

                                              Despite him still munching away at his cake, his mental voice sounded perfectly clear and unobstructed. It made Macro fell rather uneasy.

                                              “I still think it won’t work,” said Trojan. “Does anyone have a better idea?”

                                              “Z-Moves,” said Annie.

                                              Macro clenched his teeth together. “Here’s an idea. How about savin’ them for Distortion, eh?”

                                              “I’ll talk to them,” Poipole went on, ignoring Annie and Macro. “If we start with those Ultra Beasts I’m more familiar with, we’ll have a better chance of recruiting them.”

                                              “How so?” Annie leant towards him until her nose was almost touching his.

                                              The little Ultra Beast backed away slightly, puffing noisily on his toxic tank. “Because if I were to approach one more alien to me - one that might never have met a poipole - they might see me as a threat. Like he did.” He nodded towards Macro.

                                              “He’s got a point,” said the mawile. “If those kartana attacked me because they saw me as a threat, then this little goop ball doesn’t stand much chance, does he?”

                                              Trojan scoffed. “From what I heard, he put up a better fight than you!”

                                              “Oi!” Macro flashed a canine at the scrafty. “If we’re all gonna get along in this little partnership, there has to be less snarkiness.”

                                              The two pokemon glared across the table at each other and Trojan balled his paws into tight fists. Web narrowed her eyes at him and he backed down, sinking into his seat and muttering to himself.

                                              “I think we should start with the celesteela,” said Poipole. “That way, we have a strong ally when we approach the kartana. After that, we’ll recruit them as we find them.”

                                              Macro shuddered at the thought of the two Ultra Beast species. The screaming celesteela and the sharp, deadly kartana… would they really work alongside pokemon to stop Distortion and BackDoor? He shook it off and leant forward on his elbows.

                                              “Might I suggest,” he said slowly, “that after you get those two, you go for the xurkitree in Meta City? If they’re still there, at least.”

                                              “Why?” Annie asked around a mouth full of cake.

                                              “Bec