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Old December 2nd, 2018 (2:21 AM).
Delirious Absol's Avatar
Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
Call me Del
     
    Join Date: May 2015
    Location: UK
    Age: 34
    Gender: Female
    Nature: Quirky
    Posts: 356
    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.

    “Because they’re closer,” said Macro. “If you scatter about going too and fro all over System then it will take forever to get them all.”

    “Scatter about…” Trojan parroted.

    “Pardon?” Macro looked up at him.

    “It’s a good point,” said Trojan. “If we break up, we’ll cover more ground.”

    Macro pointed a claw at Poipole. “But you need him!”

    “After we’ve got the others!” said Trojan. “Split us up. Take some of the beasts. Go and recruit more beasts. Split up. Find them. Recruit them. And so on and so forth.”

    “That’s a fantastic idea!” Web beamed from ear to ear. “If the Ultra Beasts split up and hunt down more as well, then it will speed things up a lot!”

    “And we’ve got our Z-Moves if they prove to be stubborn!” Annie cheered.

    Macro and Poipole leant towards her. “You don’t use your Z-Moves on the Ultra Beasts!” they roared.

    Annie blinked a few times and fell back in her seat, looking between Poipole and the space pirate.

    “Okay,” she squeaked.

    “I think it would be a good idea if we went on ahead,” Web told Macro. “We can take our ship to Pulse City and recruit the celesteela there while you finish recovering.”

    Macro nibbled on a claw as he mulled this over. It certainly seemed like a good idea, and he wouldn’t have to face the celesteela… although if it didn’t agree to their terms…

    No, they would be fine. They were strong pokemon, and Poipole knew more about it than any of them.

    He nodded and turned to Web. “That sounds like a plan. How long do you need?”

    “How far is Pulse City?” Poipole asked, still munching on his cake.

    “About a half-day’s flight in my ship,” said Macro. “I dunno about your pyukumyuku, though.”

    “Yours has hyper drive, right?” asked Trojan.

    “Yes, it does.” Macro narrowed his eyes, speaking slowly as he dreaded the scrafty’s next question.

    “Then if we use your ship,” said Trojan, “we could do it in less than a day, and still be back here before dawn tomorrow.”

    With a celesteela in tow. Macro swallowed audibly and glanced to the window.

    “Look, if you’re worried about us wreckin’ your ship, it ain’t gonna happen,” said Trojan. “I tend to be a bit ship proud, which surprised me actually.”

    “Yeah!” Annie leaned forward all too keenly. “If any harm comes to your ship, it wont be from our claws! It’ll be from that ‘steela thing.”

    Macro grew a little faint. He sank back in his seat, trying not to stare at the archeops.

    “Fine,” he muttered. “You can use my ship. But on one condition!”

    Annie inclined her reptilian head on one side. “And what’s that?”

    “You take Anchor.”

    She blinked. “Why do you want me to take an anchor?”

    ...

    Trojan marched on ahead of Annie and her crew, his paws tucked behind his head and each step a hefty stomp.

    “Lends me his ship and doesn’t even trust me to drive the jackin’ thing,” he muttered.

    Anchor glanced at Annie and cleared his throat. “You sure this is really okay?”

    “Yeah!” she waved a dismissive wing. “Macro leant us his ship, you heard it from the horse’s mouth.”

    “Horse?” Anchor’s muzzle creased and he raised an eyebrow.

    “It’s a metaphor,” said Annie. “Besides! This is gonna be fun! We’ll fly off to Pulse City and catch us a celesteela!” She paused and twirled to face him. “Got any pokeballs?”

    Anchor’s jaw went slack and he shook his head slowly. “Pokeballs?”

    She waved a wing again and continued marching towards the docks. “Guess it’s just a human thing then. We’ll have to catch it in a big net.”

    “We won’t need a net,” said Poipole. “Once it understands, it should come with us freely just like I’m doing now.”

    “Except it’s the size of a freakin’ city,” said Anchor. “Where are we gonna put it?”

    “It’s only thirty feet tall,” said Poipole.

    “Yeah, how small are your cities?” asked Annie.

    Anchor sank slightly. “All right, fine. I exaggerated. But still, thirty feet ain’t exactly somethin’ to scoff at. We’re like joltiks to that thing.”

    Annie cocked an eyebrow. “What’s a joltik?”

    Anchor paused beside Wildcard Gamma and gave Annie a confused shake of the head. He said nothing as he opened the door and nodded for them to climb on board. A little buzz reached his ears and he looked up to see Matrix vanishing into the cockpit.

    “Oi!” Anchor scrambled on before Waveform, eliciting a startled hoot. The granbull skidded into the cockpit. “Matrix, what do you think you’re doin’?”

    The ribombee looked up from the navigation deck. “Navigating.”

    “Did Macro tell you to navigate?” Anchor growled.

    Matrix shrugged and twisted back to the deck, keying in the co-ordinates for Pulse City. “You need one, so here I am. Pulse City all keyed in.”

    “Leave him?” Annie flopped into Macro’s chair and kicked her talons up on the dashboard. “Ooh, you’ve got seat belts!”

    Anchor sighed and moved towards his seat. He had to shoo Trojan from it, much to the scrafty’s displeasure.

    “Somehow, I feel like this ain’t gonna go well,” muttered the granbull.

    “What was that?” Annie fixed one eye on him.

    “Nothin’. Just silently scoldin’ my captain for this crazy idea.”

    “It were Web’s crazy idea,” said Annie.

    “Aye, and where is she right now?”

    “Lettin’ Zip know were leavin’ on a short trip.”

    “That ain’t gonna go down well,” said Trojan. “But I guess it’s a good thing he ain’t comin’. This ship ain’t got locks for his feet, and I doubt Hunter’s gonna want water spillin’ all over his ship.”

    “He doesn’t go by Hunter anymore,” said Anchor. “He’s Macro to anyone who listens.”

    “Sorry, but I ain’t used to that.”

    “Well, get used to it,” said Anchor. “He hates that old alias. And now Socket’s outta the picture, Hunter’s definitely gone.”

    Trojan snorted and cast his eyes around the cockpit. “Only three chairs, eh? Where do you expect us all to park our tails?”

    “I dunno, kitchen?” Anchor nodded towards the cockpit door. “Cookie will probably appreciate the company and cook you up some nice pancakes.”

    “Ooh!” Annie flew from her seat and darted for the kitchen, grabbing Waveform by the wing and dragging the startled decidueye after her.

    Anchor nodded to Trojan and waved a paw to the now vacant seat. “There you go, problem solved.”

    Web clattered onto the ship and glanced towards the kitchen as she entered the cockpit. A small smile played at her lips and she settled herself down in the middle of the room.

    “A bit lax on seats in here, huh?” she said.

    “This ship were designed for a crew of three,” said Anchor. “A crew of three plus our chef, and he spends all his time in the kitchen if he ain’t sleepin’.” He looked over at Web as the ship flared to life. “How’s the little goldeen?”

    “Zip? He’s fine,” said Web. “Just a little sad he can’t come with us. I think he’s had enough of the hospital now.”

    “So he’ll make a full recovery then?”

    The schooling wishiwashi left the docks, turning slowly towards Pulse City. When Web didn’t answer, Anchor looked back at her.

    “I’m not sure,” she said quietly. “They’ve not done medical work on a fish pokemon before.”

    “You kiddin’ me?” Trojan scoffed before Anchor could respond. “It’s a city full of water types! And they’re mostly vegan!”

    Web looked up at him. “It’s not Cyan City at fault, dear. It’s the bigwigs in the medical industry. If medicine isn’t created for use on a fish, then it doesn’t exist. What Cyan City is doing is very experimental.”

    Somehow that didn’t bode well.

    Wildcard Gamma was a safe enough distance from Cyan City for a quick hyperdrive burst. Anchor called to the cockpit to brace themselves before pushing it into hyperdrive. Web’s claws dragged across the floor as she fought to stay in place, crouching low to the ground. A ‘whoop!’ came from the kitchen followed by a clatter, splashes and a distressed squeal from the ship’s chef. Anchor grimaced at the mental image of a sticky archeops sprawled over the remains of Cookie’s lunch menu.

    The granbull shook his head slowly. Hyperdrive or not, this was going to be a long journey.

    ...

    Macro strolled down the corridor towards the rehabilitation ward. DL was already there, chatting to Jumper and one of the doctors. The male dewott tapped at the computer’s touch-screen keypad, their conversation long under way before the mawile had even had chance to tear himself away from Annie and her crew.

    He pushed his way through the door, violet eyes scanning over the various chambers adorning the wall. The room was massive, and each chamber sported a bug pokemon. The rooms they occupied were three times their length in width and depth, but Macro still felt they were too small. In the corner, back to the wall, sat Switch in his human form. He’d seen him before, but not in this ward. His eyes were as empty as the previous time, and it made Macro feel hollow inside.

    “Any joy?” he croaked as he joined Jumper’s side.

    “None,” said Jumper. “And it’s somewhat ironic… given Switch was one of the researchers behind this issue with the bug pokemon.”

    “I want to know how Luma City got hold of the technology,” said DL, “because Socket didn’t hand it out.”

    “Hackers,” said Macro. “Or someone who worked for her sold it.”

    “Either way, it doesn’t help us,” said the dewott. “What we need are the raw files his memories are on.”

    “I already told you,” Macro said through clenched teeth, “they’re either deleted or stored on the computer Socket’s crony used. And if it’s the latter, that’s currently holed up in a possessed mansion. And we can’t be sure the computer wasn’t destroyed in all that chaos!”

    Jumper nodded slowly and leant against the wall. “It leaves us in a rather… dire situation.”

    “Us? What about him?” Macro waved a paw at Switch. “He’s out of his own world, Gov, and he’s gotta go back like this! Who knows how that will affect the time-line? His life? It were almost a thousand years ago, they won’t have this kind of technology!”

    DL looked up at Macro, her eyes wet with tears. “There’s nothing we can do right now.”

    “No…” Macro slumped against the wall beside Jumper and folded his arms. “I suppose there ain’t.”

    “Just like the bugs, we can teach him to be a living being,” said the dewott, “but we can’t teach him about who he is. Not without extensive research dating back to his childhood years.”

    “Even System wouldn’t have that,” said Jumper. “I’m under the impression he was an adult when he arrived.”

    Macro bit his lip as his eye drifted to the human. Switch hunched forward with an arm hanging over one knee, staring blankly at the door. Macro hadn’t even tried speaking to him. He’d been told it was pointless, and to focus on recovery.

    “Maybe it’s like amnesia?” he suggested.

    “What do you mean?” the dewott asked.

    “Well, you don’t have any of these bug types’ families, do you?” Macro shrugged. “We don’t even know if they were hatched normally. These bugs could’ve been lab grown for all we know. So… what if someone Switch knows were to talk to him? It might help jog some memories.”

    “He has none,” said Jumper. “We’ve quizzed him-”

    “Who’s to say everything’s been taken?” Macro asked. “It might be a long shot, but I suggest we try! System needs him, and not just to chase off some monster building!”

    DL looked up at Jumper and pawed at her ear. “He has a point. It’s worth a shot.”

    “Would it have worked on you?” Jumper asked.

    DL shrugged her shoulders and huddled into herself. “I don’t know. There’s no one from my childhood…” She trailed off, her eyes going distant and watery.

    It ate Macro up inside. He shook his head and let out a slow sigh. “Just give me a shot, doc.”

    The dewott waved a paw. “Go ahead. Try.”

    Macro kicked back from the wall and approached the human. Seeing him sat like that caused a lump to rise in Macro’s throat. He froze part way and glanced back over his shoulder.

    “I think I’d rather you weren’t hangin’ around,” he told the dewott.

    “I’m the doctor,” the dewott protested.

    “So? I think the results would be pretty clear after, eh?”

    The dewott sighed and grabbed his Clipboard, then he strutted from the room. Jumper wasn’t far behind him. He paused by the door and gave Macro a pointed look.

    “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said.

    Macro shrugged his shoulders. “Would you?”

    The door closed behind them, leaving just Macro and DL alone with the human. Macro’s claws twitched as he braced himself to approach Switch, unsure of what to say or do.

    DL’s meek voice reached him from beside the computer. “Do you want me to leave?”

    Macro thought about it for a moment, straining to push the lump back down his throat. “No.”

    DL gave a quiet ‘okay’ as she huddled into the computer chair.

    Macro gave himself a mental shake and pushed himself on until he was close enough to place a paw on Switch’s arm. Nothing. He reached behind his head and flicked the switch. The human stretched languidly and his blank eyes flitted to the mawile’s.

    “Are you Socket?” he asked.

    It already felt dire.

    “Switch?” Macro said quietly. “Remember me?”

    “My name is Download Database,” said Switch. “I am programmed only to serve Socket.”

    That lump shot straight back up into Macro’s throat, strangling his voice.

    “No you’re not!” he whined. “You’re a human! You ain’t some computer! You have a life, a family! Remember?”

    “Family is irrelevant. I am just a database. Please shut me off. The first pokemon I see must be Socket.”

    “No! I’m not gonna turn you off like some computer! You’re my friend!” Macro dug his claws into Switch’s arm, causing a visible wince. “See? You feel! You’re not just some computer! Search that database of yours and see if you can find who you really are tucked away in some little void!”

    Switch’s eyes went distant for a brief moment, then fixed back on Macro. “No such information. Please switch me off. The first Pokemon I see must be Socket.”

    Macro bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. His eyes filled with tears and he slumped forward, burying his face into Switch’s sleeve.

    “Please…” Macro sobbed. “Say something snarky. Make a joke. Tell me I’m a jerk. Sass me! Wink!”

    Switch said nothing. Macro felt him shift, but when he looked back up Switch was just staring back at the door. Eyes empty. Tears flowed freely from Macro’s eyes and he huddled into the human’s arm.

    DL’s soft paw grabbed his shoulder and pulled him towards her. He released Switch and looped his arms around her neck, sobbing into her fur.

    “I’ve failed him,” he said. “I was meant to get him home…”

    She hugged him tightly and trailed a paw over his back. “You’ve not failed him.”

    “I have! I let this happen…”

    “No. You didn’t.” DL’s voice sounded thick with tears. “It’s not your fault, please understand that.”

    He shook his head, choking back a sob. Part of him knew she was right, but he couldn’t help but blame himself. Even if he hadn’t personally failed him, it sure felt like it.

    ...

    To say Pulse City had seen better days would have been an understatement.

    The air was close to freezing as a breeze blew through the shattered dome. Frost peppered the ruined walls and froze moisture into slippery patches over the tarmac. Green vines grew up through the cracked floor, glinting with frosty dewdrops like an adornment of pearls. It would have been a pretty sight if they weren’t penetrating walls and squeezing rubble, reducing the former city to ruins. Buildings lay in tatters, bricks and mortar strewn about the apocalyptic wasteland. Neon boards flickered erratically as they strained to clutch on to what precious electricity remained to fuel them. The only sounds came from the distorted mechanical voices that had advertised former entertainment arcades, and the occasional grunt from a small, green sewaddle as he strained to lift a stone slab with his head.

    “Need a paw there, Worm?” Anchor came to a stop at his side.

    Worm looked around with a squeak, dropping the stone slab back in place. A pained yelp came from deep within it, washing away Worm’s surprise with a look of remorse.

    “Is there someone under there?!” Anchor barked.

    “Keep your voice down!” Worm hissed.

    Anchor froze and glanced around at the vines. One or two twitched, causing the rubble they encased to crumble, trickling powdery residue onto the tarmac.

    The sewaddle frowned up at the granbull before returning to his task. “You should know better than to sneak up on a pirate in a place like this!”

    Anchor looked around at the wasteland and shrugged. “I ain’t never seen a place like this.”

    Worm said nothing, grunting as he craned out his neck to lift the stone slab. With a final jump, the slab pivoted on its edge and fell backwards onto the street with an almighty clatter. What had lay beneath it was a black and yellow striped leg. Anchor shook himself and leapt to the bug pokemon’s aide, hoisting a large rock from its captive.

    “It’s been like this for weeks,” Worm explained. “This fellow was tryin’ to rebuild this apartment so those of us stuck here have somewhere to stay, but the wall caved in.”

    Anchor froze, holding up the large rock with one paw. “Why are you stayin’ here?”

    “Ships got wrecked,” said Worm. “And no one’s comin’ here to save us, so we thought we’d make do. That giant fellow is happy enough now its roots have set in. We just gotta learn to live with it, haven’t we?”

    Anchor tossed the rock beyond the rubble and reached for another, larger slab pressing on its victim’s torso. “How many of you are left here?”

    “About a hundred or so,” Worm explained. “We’ve been livin’ in the black market, but it ain’t home. We decided we aught to just make do and try to live alongside our new ‘friend’. I mean, it ain’t that bad so long as you keep your distance. Those that get too close get whacked by one of its cannons. Eek!”

    Worm curled into a ball, his wide, black eyes fixed on Poipole. The alien drifted from side to side, examining the rubble curiously.

    “Is someone stuck there?” Poipole asked in his telepathic voice.

    Worm uncurled, fixing the Ultra Beast with a look of confused terror.

    “Don’t worry yourself, Worm,” said Anchor. “This here is Poipole. He’s a friend.”

    “F-f-friend?!” Worm squeaked. “Like that vine-cannon-monster?”

    “Celesteela,” Poipole corrected.

    “I beg your pardon?” Worm rose to his feet and gave Poipole an accusatory glare.

    “That’s the creature’s name,” Poipole explained. “Celesteela.”

    “It has a name?!”

    “She.”

    Worm blinked in bewilderment, but Poipole turned his attention to Anchor.

    “Once you’ve freed your friend,” said Poipole, “I have something I need to show you.”

    “Hang on!” Worm clambered onto the rubble, oblivious to the trapped Pokemon’s protests, so he could look Poipole in the eye. “I think you need to explain a little more. How much do you know about this creature that destroyed my home?!”

    “Her destruction of your home was not an act of malice,” said Poipole. “As for why she hits you if you get too close… that is because you are climbing into her nest.”

    Worm stuttered, blinking rapidly. “Nest?”

    Anchor scooped up the stunned sewaddle, setting him back onto the road. Then he lifted the last of the largest rocks from the trapped pokemon. The smaller ones fell away as an electabuzz pushed himself up so he was sitting. Anchor grabbed his paw in both of his and hoisted him to his feet. The electabuzz grunted with the effort and clutched a paw to his chest. The other paw hung limply at his side, useless.

    “Think that cracked a few ribs,” he gasped.

    “You got a medic?” Anchor asked.

    The electabuzz shook his head. “Not as such, no.”

    “Then I’ll send you to my ship. Our chef knows a thing or two about first aid. He’ll fix that arm in a splint and check your ribs while he’s at it.”

    Poipole’s large, purple face popped up between Anchor and the electabuzz. “I must show you something quick.”

    “What’s the hurry?” Anchor asked. “This ‘mon needs help.”

    “Annie knows scotch about patience.”

    “Oh, that.” The granbull nodded his understanding and turned to Worm. “Show your friend to our ship and let Cookie know what the problem is.”

    “You’re gonna allow strange pirates onto your ship?” Worm scoffed.

    “Time of need, Worm,” said Anchor. “Besides, you can’t fly it and your friend’s only got one workin’ arm. Matrix and Cookie would be more of a match for either of you.”

    Worm shook his head. “Forget it. I’m not interested in your ship. I wanna know what the deal is with this monster.”

    “Celesteela is not a monster,” said Poipole. “They’re usually quite placid.”

    Worm spat the word ‘placid’ as though it were poison.

    “If you wanna come along, fine.” Anchor nodded to the electabuzz. “But he needs help gettin’ to our ship.”

    “I’ll be fine,” said the electabuzz. “I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s goin’ on either.”

    Anchor watched the electric pokemon flinch as he staggered around the mound of rubble.

    The granbull shook his head and waved a dismissive paw. “Suit yourself. Can’t say I blame you, I’d be curious n’all. Lead the way, Poipole.”

    The purple Ultra Beast did a somersault and took off ahead of them at the speed of knot. Anchor had to trot to keep up, leaving a protesting Worm and limping electabuzz to follow after him. Part of the granbull hoped desperately they’d give up and go to his ship. Poipole didn’t have to lead them far, however. They reached the back alley of Moonlight Lounge, where Annie was crouching beside Web. The archeops stared intensely at a tangle of tiny, slender vines growing beside a drain.

    Anchor joined her side and followed her gaze. “What are we lookin’ at?”

    “This.” Annie pointed a claw at a small, sharp thorn. “Cute ain’t it?”

    Anchor ducked closer, unsure as to why a thorn would be thought of as cute. Then he spotted it. A tiny face in a tiny bamboo protrusion at the pinnacle of the thorn. His jaw dropped.

    “A hatchling?!” he squeaked.

    Worm stopped beside him, gasping for breath. He was about to berate the granbull when he spotted what all the fuss was about. His jaw almost hit the floor and his cry of despair rose into the air.

    Anchor snapped his head around and hissed at the sewaddle to shut up. Once the echo had faded, the vines began to shift. The tiny celesteela opened its mouth and let out a shrill scream.

    “Oh good job, bug!” Annie snapped. “You’ve only gone and woke it!” She turned back to the baby Ultra Beast. “Hush now, little’un. Go back to sle-”

    A deep, eerie scream filled the city. Annie leapt to her feet, stepping back from the baby. The larger vines surrounding it shifted, sending rubble raining down from what was left of the tall apartment blocks. The celesteela’s bamboo face rose above them, searching the streets with its tiny eyes.

    “Oh great, now we gotta book it!” Annie turned to flee, but Web grabbed her by the scruff. She turned her neck to raise an eyebrow at the skuntank. “Whatcha doin’?”

    “We can’t just leave!” said Web. “We’ve got a job to do!”

    Annie pointed at Poipole as he shot up towards the celesteela’s face. “Yeah, and he’s doin’ it. Let’s go.”

    She snatched herself free and ran towards the main road. Waveform and Trojan rounded the corner, the latter almost colliding with the archeops. He steadied himself by placing his paws on Annie’s shoulders.

    “There’s gotta be hundreds of them!” he gasped at Web. “All over the city, growin’ on them vines!”

    The screams reached a deafening crescendo. Amongst the chaos, Anchor could pick out shrill, child-like cries. The celesteela raised a cannon, aiming it into the back alley. The opening lit up red, and even at such a distance they could feel the intense heat radiating from it.

    “Celesteela, stop!” Poipole screamed, waving his tiny arms before her face. “You have to listen to me!”

    The massive Ultra Beast’s tiny eyes fixed on him briefly before going once again to the space pirates.

    “They are no threat to you or your children!” Poipole went on. “But there is a threat out there, and we need your help!”

    The cannon froze, still aimed at the space pirates, still radiating a threatening heat.

    “Please, listen to me!” said Poipole. “These are not your enemies! They want to send you home, to send all of us home. But they can’t because of The Altered One!”

    The red heat from the cannon vanished, washed away immediately by the frosty breeze. Celesteela’s eyes went back to Poipole. Wide, alarmed, and prompting an explanation. Slightly threatening. A low wail came from deep within her throat, chilling the space pirates to the core.

    “I’m telling the truth,” said Poipole. “He’s taken over a mansion in this world, and has destroyed a city to control it. His control will spread throughout System if we don’t stop him, and then we’ll never get back home. Never get back to our trainers.”

    Celesteela shook her head slowly.

    “You might not have a trainer,” Poipole went on, “but surely you want to go home? To raise your babies somewhere safe… and warm?”

    Celesteela looked back down at the alley. The small thorn-like children had stopped screaming. The one beside Annie’s feet had begun to snore. The Ultra Beast turned her attention back to Poipole and gave a curt nod. A brief silence passed between them, then Celesteela broke it. With a long, shrill screech. The purple Ultra Beast wasn’t remotely afraid. He shot back down towards his friends and hovered before them.

    “She’ll help,” he said. “But first she needs to make sure her children are okay.”

    “All right,” said Anchor. “How long do they take to grow up?”

    “That’s not what she meant.”

    The celesteela’s eyes were fixed on the space pirates. A deep gnawing feeling spread through Anchor’s gut.

    “What does she want?” he rumbled.

    “Someone needs to care for them.” Poipole turned to Worm. “I heard you say there were about a hundred of you living here?”

    Worm blinked at the Ultra Beast and shuffled his feet on the ground. “Why do I have the horrible, gut-wrenching feeling you’re gonna ask me to baby sit?”
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    Old December 16th, 2018 (2:11 AM).
    Delirious Absol's Avatar
    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
    Call me Del
       
      Join Date: May 2015
      Location: UK
      Age: 34
      Gender: Female
      Nature: Quirky
      Posts: 356
      A/N - Since this site was down last week when I tried to update, you have two chapters today! =D I really don't want to fall behind again, or mess up my update schedule!

      Chapter Seventy Three

      Macro refused to leave the lab. He sat watching the motionless human who, after having his requests ignored, had opted to switch himself off. Macro had been sat in silence for so long he'd almost forgotten DL was still with him. She'd returned to the computer chair, idly tapping away at the doctor's keyboard. The soft clicking drew him out of his thoughts and he sat back on his paws. A hefty sigh left his chest, drawing DL's perusing to a slow halt.

      "How are you feeling?" she asked.

      Macro shrugged his heavy shoulders. "Lousy."

      "Well… I think I might have discovered something to lift your spirits."

      He craned his neck around to look at her. She didn't meet his eye, instead looking past him at Switch while pawing her ear.

      "I've had a search through my own files." She tapped her head then returned to her ear-pawing. "And all biological functions are kept in the brain, not fed through the computer itself. That means that they didn't remove everything from my mind."

      Macro sighed and glanced back at the human. "What good are biological functions gonna do for him? They ain't his memories."

      "I hadn't finished," said DL. "If you remember, I was forced to watch the whole procedure. He was made with haste. The date of my installation was several weeks prior to the finished product. He was thrown together in an afternoon, while you were recovering from-" She trailed off at the sight of his discomfort. "I'm sorry. What I'm trying to say is, Switch was rushed. There might be more stored away than it appears. Crammed back in a way that even he can't access."

      "Either that or that Yobi guy has perfected his art over the years."

      "There are mere months between myself and Switch," said DL.

      "Well, the evidence that his work got out is creeping around in these walls." Macro waved towards the bug pokemon. "Each one has a computer in its brain, the only difference is they have no database like you and Switch do."

      "I'm beginning to wonder who bought the technology off who," said DL. "Or who hacked who, to look at it in another light."

      "Both lights are creepy." Macro hugged himself and turned back to Switch. "Well, whether or not he has some memories stored away, they ain't gonna be easy to crack open."

      "Well…"

      Macro really didn't like that 'well'. He swiveled on his bottom, fixing her with wide-eyed worry. She didn't meet his gaze, instead staring at the floor while obsessively tugging her ear.

      "You see," she said, "that's where I come in. If I can connect to him-"

      "What? Like some remote computer?"

      "Exactly." She finally met his eyes. "I can search around in there and crack open any blocks I find. Make it easy for him to gather some recognition of who he really is. It could be anything, from repressed memories to what he had for dinner last week. But it's something."

      "It's really that easy?"

      "No."

      Macro's heart sank and he slumped into himself.

      "There are risk factors," DL went on. "I wouldn't be surprised if defences will have been put into place to prevent such things from happening."

      "So there's a chance you won't come out of this unscathed?" Macro's voice was laced with warning and DL glanced back to the floor. "What are the chances you'll get hurt doing this? Will it be irreversible if you do, or just a headache?"

      "It could be irreversible," she explained. "Defences are put into place in government computers that can attack and destroy an opposing computer trying to get access to classified files. That's why a good hacker is so valuable to those wanting that information."

      "Yes, but for the hacker just their computer will get destroyed!" Macro snapped. "You're talking about a computer in your brain, DL! You could die!"

      "I'm aware of that, but I'm trying to save Switch's life here."

      "Right now, he's alive!"

      "But it's not him."

      DL's words froze the space pirate. He stared back at her, mouth agape as he processed what she'd said. He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath.

      "DL, I don't want to lose you."

      She stared silently at the floor, idly pawing her ear. He thought he saw the glint of a tear in her eye. The thought was too much to bare, but… he glanced back at Switch and closed his eyes again.

      "I don't want to lose either of you," he said. "What are the chances you'll come out of this unscathed."

      "Eighty percent," she said.

      He sucked in a sharp breath and grimaced. "That means one out of five times you do this, you could get hurt? What are the odds you could die?"

      "Five percent."

      He shook his head sharply as Matrix's beaming face, raving about the five percent drops he'd gained five missions in a row in Alien Hunter, careened through his mind.

      "Try not to worry." Her voice was soft, and he realised she'd moved beside him.

      Her warm paw rested on his shoulder, but he couldn't open his eyes. He feared if he did, he'd start crying again.

      "I'll do my best to be careful," she said. "For Switch's sake, I really want to do this. There's a chance I could help him, and I'm willing to take this risk."

      Macro nodded stiffly and whisked his organic paw across his eyes. "Then do it quick. Before I change my mind."

      "Well, first thing's first, I need a jack lead and this lab doesn't have one," she said. "I'll need the one off your ship."

      He sighed and ran a paw down his face. "That ain't possible. Anchor's taken it to go and get those Ultra Beasts."

      "Then I'll buy one."

      She rose to her feet and he looked up at her, meeting her gaze. A questioning gaze. Of course. He reached into his pouch and handed her a twenty credit bill. Deep down, the selfish part of him hoped she wouldn't find one.

      Once the door closed, he felt very alone. He turned his attention back to Switch. If DL was right, then somewhere deep inside him some memories might reside. Macro reached towards him and flicked the switch, prompting the same message requesting Socket.

      "Socket isn't alive," Macro told him. "You're with me now."

      Switch blinked a few times then shook his head. "I was made for Socket. She must be the first pokemon I see."

      "Well that ain't gonna happen," said Macro. "Now listen. I want you to search that mind of yours and find any little pockets that might have memories stored in them."

      "Memories will inhibit my primary function."

      "Tollywosh!" Macro spat. "They'll enhance it. Get searchin'."

      The human's eyes went distant, looking through the mawile. Macro sat back on his paws, watching Switch carefully. It seemed to take an eternity as every second ticked past, drawing closer and closer to DL's return. To her potential demise. If he could stop it, he would.

      Suddenly, Switch's eyes locked back onto him, taking Macro by surprise.

      "Search complete," said Switch. "No memories found."

      "You searched everywhere?" Macro asked. "Everywhere?"

      "Search is limited to outside the frostwalls."

      Frostwalls…

      Macro blinked a few times then flashed a canine. "Then break through them and search in there!"

      "Cannot comply," said Switch. "Attacking my own database is prohibited."

      "I'm commanding you to attack it!"

      "Relay command code."

      Macro stared at him, dumbfounded. What on earth was a command code? DL had never requested such a thing.

      Switch turned away from him to look at the door, his eyes as empty as they had been previously. Just then, the door opened and DL strolled in clutching a brand new jack lead. She looked between Macro and the human and gave a small smile.

      "Oh good, he's awake," she said.

      Macro felt 'awake' was a very polite way of wording it.

      "Now, if you don't mind," she said as she unwound the cable, "I'm just going to link up to you and have a little look around your head."

      "Unknown computers are not authorised to link with Download Database," said Switch.

      "I am a Download Database," DL explained.

      "Incorrect. There is only one Download Database."

      DL ignored him, reaching behind his head with the cable. In one swift motion, he flicked his arm and sent DL bowling tail over head across the room. Macro leapt to his feet, but before he could react Switch sparked with static and fell sideways against the wall. Both his arms jerked erratically.

      DL dusted herself down and retrieved the cable, fastening it in place at the base of his skull. At Macro's bewildered look, she cleared her throat.

      "Just a little thunder wave," she said. "He'll be fine."

      She removed a rubber bung from the socket in her own skull and replaced it with the other end of the jack lead. All Macro could do was watch. His mouth turned dry and he dropped down beside her, reaching for her paw. It fastened around his just before her eyes went as distant as Switch's were.

      "Searching files."

      Her voice sounded normal, which reassured him. Not like Switch's, monotonous and void of emotion. The long silence that followed, however, washed all reassurance away. He clutched at her paw, willing her to come back out of her search quickly. Successfully. For the both of them to be okay.

      "Encountered frostwall." Her words chilled him. "Running break code sequence."

      Whatever that meant, it didn't sound good. Switch had said he didn't have the means to break them himself. Macro knew nothing about hacking, and with Surge gone he had no one to contact for a reassuring head's up. All he could do was sit there. Breaking the link might only risk more damage than the procedure itself.

      "First layer broken," said DL. "Breaking second layer."

      Macro feared his heart would stop. He resisted the urge to lie down, instead taking his computer from his pouch to give him something - anything - to distract himself with. He brought up Central Meta News, but it only served to add to his anxiety. The photo of Distortion's attack on Seed City remained the talk of System. It had already begun to spread towards neighboring cities, driving what was left of Binary City's inhabitants out of their homes.

      "Second layer broken. Breaking third layer."

      How many layers were there? He wanted to ask, but again the thought of interrupting didn't settle with him. He resigned himself to reading the article. Before he could even make it half way, DL jolted. He snapped his head to look at her. Sweat drops clung to the fur of her forehead and she grimaced.

      "DL?" the words left his mouth before he could even finish thinking them.

      "Third layer broken," she said. "Encountering memory flood."

      He mouthed the words 'memory flood' and looked between her and the human.

      "Withdrawing." Her voice sounded weak.

      She lifted her paw to remove the jack and slumped sideways onto the floor. Macro scooped her up and pulled her towards him.

      "DL, please speak to me." He wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of his paw.

      "I'm fine," she said. "Just a little tired."

      He muttered a 'thank goodness' as he pulled her into him, brushing her fur with tender claws. A movement drew his eye to Switch. The human blinked a few times then reached behind him with a paw. His eyes widened with terror as he removed the jack lead, examined it, tossed it aside. Then his eyes went to the two pokemon.

      "Welcome back, buddy," said Macro.

      Switch's eyes widened again. His mouth opened slightly. Then his eyes rolled back in their sockets and he slumped against the wall, unconscious.

      It had all happened quite quickly, but one thing was for certain. The look he'd given Macro wasn't just a lack of recognition. It was the look one gives when they're really not expecting something. When something is definitely not meant to happen. Switch hadn't spoken much about his time in the human world, but he'd explained that pokemon didn't speak a language humans could understand.

      "Yeah…" Macro cleared his throat. "I guess we've got a lot of explainin' to do later."

      ...

      Celesteela had been too reluctant to fly it solo recruiting other Ultra Beasts. Instead, she opted to follow Wildcard Gamma to the outskirts. It had been a long ride, given they couldn't use hyper drive for fear of losing their newfound ally.

      Annie yawned and sprawled back in Macro's seat, her talons adorning the dashboard. "This is taking forever!"

      "Then go and get yourself a snack," said Anchor. "It'll be another few hours yet."

      She scratched her belly with her wing claws and frowned. "I eat another one of that cupcake's pancakes, I'm gonna be too heavy to fly!" She paused and glanced up at the ceiling. "Not that I can fly. But that's beside the point. I have plans to learn!"

      "Well the rest of your crew is in the kitchen enjoyin' a meal," said Anchor. "I think you should join 'em."

      "Want me outta your fur, eh?" She slipped from the seat and beat down her feathers. "Gotcha."

      She gave him a pointed glare and raised a claw, but something outside the ship caught her eye. She leapt onto the dashboard, eliciting a yelp of surprise from the granbull, and pressed her muzzle up against the glass. Her claws splayed out beside her face and a long 'whoa!' left her throat.

      Anchor followed her gaze towards System Ground. A huge dome of purple fire encased a huge stretch of land. Black and purple tendrils erupted from it akin to the chaos that Celesteela had wrecked on Pulse City. Chunks of earth floated around it, some still holding up buildings and twisted mechanical trees.

      "Is that Seed City?" Anchor gasped.

      "I guess it was." Annie put a lot of emphasis on the 'was', drawing an eye-roll from Anchor. "Man, it looks like a major trip-fest. Way to go on the decor, Distortion!"

      The disgust in her voice made Anchor laugh and he gave the archeops a hefty pat on the back. "Imagine what it looks like inside, eh?"

      "I don't really want to." Annie pushed herself back from the glass and dropped to the floor. "I prefer my reality not wonky, thank you very much."

      "Hang on a sec."

      Anchor's voice froze her on her way from the cockpit. She twisted her neck around to look at him and inclined her head on one side. He didn't look at her, instead fixated on the wreckage below them.

      "Binary City looks a bit… strange," he said.

      Annie hopped back up onto the dashboard to follow his gaze. "What's so strange about it?"

      "Look at it!"

      More wreckage. The purple tendrils didn't touch it, instead stretching out over the top of it in a weak net. The very edge where it joined onto Seed City was floating, drifting idly.

      Annie gave Anchor a sideways glance. "You wanna go check it out, don't you?"

      He shrugged his huge shoulders. "Kinda. But… it's a bit too close to Distortion for my likin'."

      "Well we're goin'." Annie hopped from the dashboard and waved a claw as she headed for the kitchen. "Let's head down there prepared! We've got our guns, our Z-Moves and our new, ma-hoo-sive friend. We'll be fine!"

      Anchor sank back into his seat and ran a paw over his face, letting out a huge sigh. Not only would Annie's crew likely rally behind her, rendering any reasoning he had against the endeavor moot, part of him did feel it would be a good idea to investigate. Besides… there might be an Ultra Beast lurking around there, and they did have to get all of them back home.

      So he aimed the schooling wishiwashi towards System Ground, training it like a needle and thread through the fiery net. The closer they got to it, the more of Binary City he could see. Whatever had happened there had reduced the huge entertainment district to a ghost town. Every inhabitant had likely fled. Maybe there wouldn't even be an Ultra Beast.

      Wildcard Gamma bucked as Celesteela blasted her rockets to aim herself towards the city. She gracefully slipped through the net and turned to face her bottom to the ground. Her cannons spat fire as she slowly lowered herself between the buildings. Wildcard Gamma wasn't far behind. It hovered above her and stopped.

      "What's going on?" Matrix's voice caused Anchor to yelp.

      His face flushed and he cleared his throat, brushing back his mohawk. "I forgot you were here."

      Matrix wiped frosting from his lips and drifted into his seat. "Guess you want this in auto pilot? Why Binary City?"

      "Curiosity." Anchor pushed himself up and reached for his gauntlets. "You're stayin' here. I need you to man the ladder."

      He poked his head into the kitchen, exchanging glances with Annie. The archeops froze with a waffle before her open jaws.

      "What?" she said. "It ain't a pancake."

      "We're goin' on a little trip," said Anchor. "As per Annie's suggestion, I thought it'd be worth our while to investigate Binary City. Might come across some Ultra Beasts and learn a thing or two about this Distortion."

      "You're kidding?" Trojan scoffed. "We're headin' out into the thick of it all? We ain't prepared!"

      "It ain't the thick of it all," said Anchor. "It's the outskirts. Just… not the outskirts we were aimin' for."

      Poipole poked his head up from Web's tail. "I thought we were going to recruit the kartana?"

      "Well, System's huge." Anchor waved a paw. "Let's be a little more linear about it, okay? Either way, I'm goin' down there whether you guys join me or not. Matrix!" He nodded towards the cockpit. "You're in charge!"

      "Oh boy." Matrix's voice wavered slightly. "Those are words no one ever wants to hear."

      Anchor moved into the airlock and instinctively reached for a mask. Would he even need one in Binary City? The smog might not have made it that far. He'd probably be better off with his jaws available for a fire fang or inferno overdrive. He left the mask where it was and braced himself for the ladder to descend.

      "So we're goin' in?" Annie appeared beside him and placed her claws on her hips, admiring the drop. "Bring it!"

      "It's like you've got a jackin' death wish." Trojan sighed and pushed back his head fin. "I hope for your sake we find an Ultra Beast, 'cos if we're riskin' life and limb for nothin'…"

      "It ain't nothin'." Anchor glared at him over his shoulder and reached for the ladder. "It's research. If we learn a bit about our enemy doin' this-"

      The words died on his throat as the ladder dropped towards System Ground. The rest of his allies scrambled for the ladder, except for Waveform. The decidueye dropped and took to the sky, rivaling the ladder for speed.

      "Tally ho!" Annie shot past them, wings spread-eagled.

      Waveform let out a surprised hoot and took off after her. Her hysterical laughter filled the air and with a flourish, Waveform grabbed her by the tail in his talons. Just before she hit the floor.

      Anchor landed beside them and shook his head. "You moron!"

      "That was amazing!" Annie spread her wings and beamed up at them. "I almost flew! I wanna go again!"

      "Keep your voice down!" Anchor hissed. He glanced at the buildings. "The walls had eyes in the mansion. These ones might have ears."

      He moved past them, leaving Annie and her crew to gather themselves.

      She fixed Waveform with a cocked eyebrow. "Was that a joke? It sounded like a joke."

      Waveform pinched the bridge of his beak and sighed, moving past Annie into the city. She waddled after him, catching up with both him and Anchor. Web and Trojan covered the rear, the latter clutching his laser like a lifeline.

      The entire city seemed lifeless. Not even a scrap of litter blew along the gutter. Binary City had a reputation for being clean, except for after major concerts. Even then, pokemon were rallied up and rewarded for gathering the most litter in a short spurt of time. It kept the city clean and welcoming. 'Welcoming' being a rarity amid System's type discrimination.

      Now, the welcoming city was a desolate wasteland. Every turn of a corner brought nothing but rubble and a lifeless building. The culprit for the damage lay in the tendrils that hovered overhead, clipping the tops from the massive skyscrapers. The rest of the damage was yet to be understood. Nihilego? Another Ultra Beast? The mansion's attempts to land, cleaving through the streets like a rogue bulldozer?

      A small explosion shook the air, and Annie bristled from ear to tail.

      "What was that?" she squeaked.

      Waveform whisked her behind him and a few stray bricks peppered the spot she'd previously occupied.

      "I think it's that." Anchor pointed a claw.

      One of the purple tendrils writhed, bringing down more bricks as it retaliated against a second shadowy explosion.

      "I think someone's fightin' it," he said.

      The granbull took off around the corner, followed closely by Annie and her crew. He skidded to a halt, eyes wide, as he almost crashed into the spindly culprit. He did a double take and stared back into the semi-translucent head of the most colourful Ultra Beast he'd laid eyes on. A ball of shadowy energy filled its right paw, but it fizzled out as it straightened. Then, it bowed with a flourish.

      "What the-" Anchor shook his head sharply.

      "Blacephalon!" Poipole shot from Web's tail, drawing the Ultra Beast's attention. "It's a blacephalon! You're from a different region back in my world!"

      "My oh my," the blacephalon replied, his head flashing with a rainbow of colours. Just like Poipole's, the voice spoke in Anchor's head. "A little poipole. Well, you lot are a much more friendly bunch than the previous creature I encountered."

      Anchor shook his head again and placed a paw to his temple. "Wait, hang on a sec… you can talk like this guy? Yet Celesteela can't? I…"

      Celesteela's wailing voice sliced the air and Poipole twisted towards her, hissing a 'shush!' The purple tendrils writhed slightly, and the blacephalon side-stepped to dodge a tumbling brick.

      "It would be advised to keep our voices down a tad," he said. "This wretched fellow has already claimed my friends."

      He swiveled what served as his head towards the mound of bricks, and the sparkling lights inside his head turned a sombre blue. Anchor's heart sank and he took a cautious step towards the rubble.

      "What happened here?" he asked.

      "Some android showed up and wrecked the city, along with some ghost of a dragon," the blacephalon explained. "I saw them off, but not before they tried to suck me into another one of those portholes. My friends and I were already recovering from his attack, but then all this purple stuff showed up. A lot of my friends were killed. I've been burying them."

      Trojan lifted a paw and pinched the bridge of his nose. "So let me get this straight. While the rest of System has been runnin' in terror from you aliens, you've been makin' friends?!"

      The lights inside the blacephalon's head flickered with a rainbow hue. "Of course. My trainer taught me to respect all life. Some of my closest friends back in my world are very different species to me. Your races are no different."

      Anchor beamed from ear to ear and stuck out his paw. "Then you're a friend of ours. Call me Anchor."

      The blacephalon took his paw and shook it. "A gesture the pokemon here taught me. They called me Rave. I'd like you to do the same."

      "Wait!" Poipole drifted before the blacephalon's head. "You let them name you? What about your trainer?"

      "My trainer's name for me is something I hold dear," Rave explained. "But the pokemon here named me, too. At the end of the day, the name a trainer gives you is different to the one your mother gave you. Each name expresses how those who gave it to you felt. My mother would still call me by the name she gave me, as would my trainer. What about you?"

      "She called me Poipole."

      "Then that tells me she respects what you are!" Rave sparkled jubilantly. "The pokemon here saw I loved music and named me after my dancing. I liked it, so I kept it."

      Poipole twisted his head to look at Annie. "This one nicknames everyone."

      "Fantastic!" Rave ducked to look the archeops in the eye. "What is your name for me?"

      Annie scratched her chin with a claw. "You kinda look like a big gumdrop. So… big gumdrop I guess."

      "I like it!" Rave removed his head and span it around in one paw. "So… I've made some new friends."

      "Good grief," Trojan muttered. "And I thought Annie was eccentric."

      "I'm glad you think of us as friends," said Anchor. "Because we really need your help."

      "Certainly!" Rave placed his head back so it was hovering where his neck would have been. "How can I be of help?"

      "You said you fought off that ghost dragon and the android?" Anchor folded his arms and grinned. "Well, that dragon thing happens to go by the name Distortion. Or The Altered One, as Poipole described it to Celesteela."

      Rave gasped and his lights turned a pale, icy white.

      "You ain't gonna faint are you?" Anchor asked.

      "No. Not at all. I just… hadn't put two and two together, that's all." Rave fell onto his bottom.

      "Do you want me to go on?" Anchor asked.

      "Please do."

      "Okay. So Distortion's taken over the mayor's mansion, and in turn has also taken over Seed City just north of here. That's what all this is." Anchor waved at the purple fire.

      Rave made a thoughtful noise as he eyed the flames. "I knew the fire was down to that dragon. But… I didn't think he was trying to take over your world. I assumed he was just another hostile mishap dragged into your poor world."

      "He kinda is," said Annie.

      "Well, I shall be happy to help remove him!" Rave leapt back to his feet and sparkled. "Now, what shall we do with the other fellow holed up in this joint?"

      Anchor's face fell. "What other fellow?"

      "The unfriendly one who gave me a hard time." Rave shrugged. "I only offered to help, but he blasted me with electricity and told me to, ahem… 'sod off'."

      "All right." Anchor's voice came out slow and cautious. "Another Ultra Beast?"

      "I'm not sure," said Rave. "But I've not seen one before. I've seen ones that look a little similar… but this fellow was significantly different."

      "I feel like he's speakin' in riddles," said Trojan.

      Waveform and Web nodded.

      "Lead the way, friend." Anchor placed a paw on the blacephalon's back.

      "Certainly!" Rave bounded along ahead of them, each step almost jubilant.

      "Can I ask you somethin'?" Annie trotted beside him. "How come you and Poipole can speak to us, but Celesteela can't?"

      "Oh, that one's easy," said Rave. "Poipole and I have spent a lot of time trying to communicate with a species very different to ourselves. So we adapted a method to do so. I'm going to guess Celesteela doesn't have a trainer."

      He waved at the tall, bamboo creature. She returned his wave with a rather unimpressed leer.

      "This is where the rude fellow is holed up." Rave stopped just mid-way down a narrow alley. He gestured to a cracked window. "Won't come out. That's how I managed to escape."

      Anchor knocked firmly on the glass, shattering it. His face fell and he withdrew his paw, tucking it behind his back. He lowered his head to speak through the now accessible window.

      "Hello? Anyone in there?"

      No response.

      Using his gauntlets, he pulled away the jagged glass and ran the metal wrist guard over the edge of the frame. Then he vaulted inside.

      "Watch out, there might still be sharp bits," he said.

      "Ouch!"

      He swiveled on the spot to see Annie sucking on a claw. "What did I just say?"

      Heavy panting came from the corridor behind him and he turned back to face a wide open door. A shadowy figure lumbered through it, and as he stepped into the light, it reflected off his deep orange coat. Yobi narrowed his eyes at Anchor, but a slick sweat betrayed his exhaustion.

      The sparksurfer raichu pointed a claw at him with his free paw. The other one was held down by a hunk of metal reminiscent of a vikavolt's jaws. Heavy metal armor covered his right arm up to the shoulder.

      "You!" he roared. "You murderous… this is all your fault!"

      "Hang on a sec!" Anchor placed his paws on his chest. "How is this our fault?!"

      Yobi flashed his sharp front teeth. "If it weren't for your criminal prying, none of this would've happened!"

      "If you hadn't designed an android that could open time and space, none of this would have happened!"

      The raichu took a few deep breaths to gather himself, then waved his free paw. "It was a flawless plan." He tore his eyes off the space pirate. "And if she'd let me install a kill switch, it would have been even more flawless. But no… she had to be scared someone would intervene. Oh wait… she was right!"

      "Our intervenin' had nothin' to do with this! You're the one who made such a dangerous machine-"

      Anchor cut off as Trojan shoved him aside. The scrafty aimed his laser at Yobi and squeezed the trigger. Anchor swiped his paw, aiming the laser into the ground. It narrowly skimmed Yobi's feet, reflected back off some invisible barrier. The deadly beam struck above the window frame, cleaving a hole in the crumbling stone.

      The pokemon outside choked on the dust, scrambling back. Debris filled the empty room, clouding out Yobi's form. Trojan swiped at the cloud and flashed his canines at Anchor.

      "You moron! What do you think you're doin'?" he scoffed.

      "We need him alive," said Anchor. "Only he knows how to stop that BackDoor!"

      "So do I," said Trojan. "It's called 'scrap metal'. I built our ship out of it. All I need to do is flatten it out and remove the dangerous bits."

      "And how do you plan on openin' portholes to send all the Ultra Beasts home after you destroy it?"

      "It's no use," said Yobi. "Your only hope now is to find another world. Because when I get my paws on BackDoor, he's dead."

      Anchor's jaw went slack. "Eh?"

      "You heard me." Yobi hunched over as he gasped for breath. "Now scram."

      "No," said Anchor. "Not until you tell me why you wanna dismantle your own creation. Aren't you wantin' to find the perfect world?"

      "It doesn't exist!" Yobi hissed.

      "What are you wafflin' about?" Annie scoffed. "You had all us hapless creatures dragged from our own world - to which I say thank you by the way. This one makes the one I came from look like a horror show. But nevertheless, little guys like Sticky here wanna get back home! So you did all that… for nothin'?"

      "Shut up, human," spat the raichu. "I made BackDoor for her. So she could find her own perfect world, and I'd be going with her. But he killed her! So what's the point? I'm gonna destroy him myself, and if I can't I'll go down trying."

      Anchor stared at the raichu dumbfounded. The exhausted pokemon dragged himself to his feet, staggering under the weight of the vikavolt weapon.

      "Consider it a race," he said. "Whichever of us gets to him first gets the pleasure of dismantling him. I'll see you lot at the finish line, and end your pathetic existence then."

      Trojan readied his laser again. "You're lettin' us live?"

      "For now," said Yobi. "Someone has to put a stop to BackDoor, and the more pokemon there are trying to stop him, the smaller his chance at survival." A small smirk tugged at the scientist's lips. "Priorities. He falls before you do. Now scram, before I change my mind."

      Anchor tugged the laser from Trojan's paws, much to the scrafty's protests.

      "Leave him," said the granbull. "He has a point. Besides, there's more of us than there are of him."

      He vaulted through the window and called for Matrix.
      __________________
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      Old December 16th, 2018 (2:12 AM).
      Delirious Absol's Avatar
      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
      Call me Del
         
        Join Date: May 2015
        Location: UK
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        Chapter Seventy Four

        Switch cowered on the opposite side of the coffee table. Once he'd come to, he'd been a panicked and frantic mess. Backing away from the dewott doctor, freezing up as the otter pokemon ran some brief tests before finally nodding and taking a step back.

        Switch was perfectly healthy except for one thing. Some kind of abstract amnesia, the dewott had called it. Then, DL and Macro had been given a scolding. Outside the laboratory, of course, so as not to frighten the human any further. But both Jumper and the doctor couldn't really fault what they'd done. It had been a success. Well… success was a generous way of wording it.

        Macro looked up from his occa espresso and rubbed a thumb and claw beneath his tired eyes. Switch didn't look much better than he felt. The human sat trembling, clutching a cocoa in both hands, desperately avoiding any eye contact with the mawile and DL. They'd barely been able to tell him anything. It was all too much. So far, he'd been told that yes, he was indeed a human, and no, he was not mad. His presence in their world was due to an accident. They hadn't even broached his watch, his other form, or any of System's current disasters.

        "Is any of it sinking in yet?" Macro asked.

        Switch shook his head and his voice wavered as he spoke. "One minute I'm sat having Sunday dinner with my folks, the next…" He waved a hand at the cozy meeting room and trailed off.

        Macro clenched his teeth together. Switch didn't even recall the events that had dragged the humans into System in the first place. Had he even relayed the story to Macro? He didn't think so. If Switch even had… Macro hadn't been listening. The mawile sank in his seat and pinched the bridge of his nose. The whole ordeal had made him realise how very little he knew about his friend.

        "I still don't understand why I'm here," said Switch. "Why you all talk… my pet growlithe doesn't talk. I always wished she did, but… now it's kinda… creepy."

        Creepy…

        Macro glanced up from his rapidly cooling espresso. He took that opportunity to quickly down it and cast the tiny cup aside.

        "Bit of a harsh word, pal," he said. "One thing that never crossed my mind was that you are creepy. Mainly because you look nothin' like all them depictions in picture books. Now those are creepy."

        "I'm sorry," Switch muttered. "I know you're trying to help me."

        "Hah. One of my first priorities is to get you back home."

        "So I'll see my family again?" Switch looked up at him with those deep, golden eyes.

        Macro felt his heart sink like a lead ball. His mouth opened slightly but no words came out. Of course… the 'home' Switch had always referred to… it wasn't sitting around a dinner table with his parents and pet growlithe. How on earth was he going to breach the fact that his 'home' was back in System's distant past? With pokemon friends and Macro's 'great times fifty grandparents'?

        DL lowered her own cocoa to the table. "That's… not quite what we meant."

        "What do you mean?" Switch panicked.

        DL met his eyes, keeping her voice as soft and as calm as she could. "Switch-"

        "How many times? That's not my name!"

        "It's what we've been calling you for the past few weeks," she explained. "It's how you introduced yourself."

        Switch's golden eyes widened with fear. "'Past few weeks'? I've only just got here!"

        Macro rose and lifted a paw to calm him, but the human fell from his seat and skittered backwards on his bottom, not taking his eyes off the space pirate.

        "What have you done to me?" Switch squeaked.

        "We haven't done anything to you," said DL.

        "Lies! You're feeding me lies! You've done something to me. Put something in my head…"

        Macro sank back into his seat, blinking back tears. "Switch…"

        "My name's Johnathan!" Switch roared. "I'm not from your stinking world! I'm from Unova! Now send me home!"

        He flailed his arms, striking the leg of his chair. In a flash, his form shrank down and sprawled onto the floor with a soft thud. Macro leapt to his feet and dashed around the coffee table. Switch lay staring at his feathered wing, beak opening and closing as a growing dread lit up behind his eyes. He floundered to his feet, wobbling as he tried to keep his balance.

        "You have done something to me," he hissed. "Well… whatever it is, I have a type advantage!"

        He opened his beak wide then snapped it shut again, a look of realisation crossing his face. Just like with DL, any memories of how to use his attacks had been taken away.

        Macro raised his paws and took a step towards him. "Please, listen to me."

        "No! Not until you tell me what you've done to me."

        "I haven't done anything to you!" Macro closed his eyes and bit his lip hard. There was really no sense in raising his voice. "Sorry. I just want to help you."

        "Then who's done this to me?" asked Switch. "Who put this computer into my head? Who turned me into some dumb bird?!"

        He staggered forwards, losing his balance. Wings spread at his side, he landed flat on his chest. He screwed his eyes shut and screeched, flailing his wings in an action reminiscent of a grounded magikarp.

        "I don't want to be a bird!" he roared.

        Macro grabbed the watch around his leg and pressed the button, returning Switch to his human form. He looked down at himself then at Macro.

        "How did you-?"

        "The watch." Macro returned to his previous spot and sat down facing him. "It allows you to go back and forth. Your friend made it for you."

        Switch narrowed his eyes at the mawile. "What friend?"

        Macro shrugged. "A friend back home. I think you called him N00b."

        "I don't…" Switch shook his head slowly.

        "Well, I can't tell you much about your friends," said Macro. "I never thought to ask much about your past. My job is to send you back there, not get a history lesson or write your biography." He scratched his nose and sighed. "Although it woulda been useful had I known this would happen."

        Switch sat back against the wall and folded his hands into his lap, staring down at the mawile. Although all previous hostility had vanished.

        "You're not lying… are you?" His voice wavered with uncertainty. "I mean… you haven't a clue what to even tell me."

        "I told you I'm not lying," said Macro. "What reason do I have? You're my friend!"

        "Yet you don't know anything about me?"

        "Give me credit, I've known you about three weeks. And a huge chunk of that you spent here, on this island." Macro pointed a claw at the floor. "You had to. You got seriously hurt defending this place."

        Switch's eyes widened again. "What?"

        Macro sighed and rubbed his temples. "I should really start at the beginning, shouldn't I?"

        Switch nodded stiffly, not taking his eyes off the space pirate.

        So Macro hugged his knees into himself, toying with the hem of his scarf, as he relayed everything. Finding DL and discovering Socket's plan; the golden ring gateway that pulled Switch into their world; the war in Cyan City that rendered Switch bedridden; the Ultra Beasts and Wildcard Gamma's visit with Solgaleo; the kartana attack that reunited Wildcard Gamma with Switch; DL's painful memories and Switch's offer to look after her; finally ending with the battle in Socket's mansion.

        Switch sat blinking as he processed it all. Everything had been rather nutshelled. Reduced into bite-sized chunks so as not to overwhelm him with information. But it still proved too much. He sank back against the wall and ran a hand down his face.

        "There it is," he sighed.

        Macro jerked his head up. "There what is?"

        "The abstract lie." Switch looked back down at him. "It's in every thriller movie where some character gets amnesia. The bad guy feeds them a lie to win them to their side."

        Macro blinked. "Pardon?"

        Switch spread his arms. "How do I know you're not the bad guy? This Socket might be the good guy in all this, and you're just a bunch of rebels."

        "Sounds awful familiar." Macro inclined his head at Switch and scratched beneath his goggles. "You came up with the same argument shortly after we met. Went off in a tantrum."

        "If that's true, then I probably had a point."

        DL rummaged beneath the table, drawing their attention.

        "What've you got there?" Macro asked.

        "Oh, when you were talking with Jumper and the doctor, I went back to my hotel room." She pulled out a plastic bag and reached into it. "I thought this might be helpful, but… I was waiting for the right moment."

        Macro found a tattered bundle shoved into his paws. He stared down at it, noting the charred blue and black fabric. He unraveled it, revealing his black scarf with the blue pixelated print. Damaged beyond use. Huge holes had been burnt into it, and the ends were tattered into shreds. But DL's intentions were pretty clear. He looked up at Switch and placed the scarf on the floor between them.

        "What's this?" Switch waved a hand at it, his face creasing with confusion.

        "You bought it for me," said Macro. "After you'd cooled down, as a peace offering. Said you thought it matched my laser's blue trim."

        Switch scanned the mawile's small frame. "What laser?"

        Macro shrugged his shoulders. "I don't have one anymore. And the one that did work, well…" He waved his mechanical paw.

        "Guns and pokemon don't mix," said Switch. "Although they don't mix with humans either, if I'm honest."

        Macro chuckled and smoothed out the tattered scarf. "Well, now I've seen this, things are startin' to come back to me. And you're startin' to sound more like your normal self."

        Switch raised an eyebrow, prompting an explanation.

        Macro shrugged and cracked a smile. "Not convinced? Well… you've not been happy with this world since you got sucked into it. It's wildly different to your System."

        "I'm not from System."

        "Your System is the one that gave you that talonflame body. Gave you your friends, like N00b and my ancient relatives." Macro lifted a paw to silence Switch before he could pelt him with questions. "That was about a thousand years ago now. Back then, it weren't as messy as it is now. Pokemon didn't eat each other, there weren't space pirates, no toxic air, and no laser guns. You were most disgusted at pokemon eating the water dwelling types. So much so, you said after I'd send you back, you'd try and change that. Know what I did after you said that to me? I laughed."

        Switch's nose crinkled. "Doesn't sound like a very nice response."

        "It weren't." Macro smoothed his paw over his scarf. "Thing is… I now think it wouldn't be a bad idea. Not sure if it would work, or how it would affect me. I mean… if you went back and changed the future, would I even be here? What life would I live if I did? How much would change, really?"

        DL tensed beside him. Then she reached forward and plucked his paw from the scarf, clutching it tightly in hers.

        "Maybe there wouldn't be any Socket," Macro went on, staring down at the blue and black print. "No BackDoor. None of this bad stuff would even have happened."

        They sat in silence for a while and Macro let his mind drift to that thought. A peaceful System. His mother might even have survived. Air would be clean everywhere, allowing trees to grow fruit, and no meat for food. The mayor wouldn't have grown desperate, throwing up a divide that separated the water dwellers from the land pokemon. With nothing to rebel against, there likely would have been no space pirates. No floating cities to escape the polluted ground.

        He felt DL's paw shift in his, and he stroked a claw over her soft fur. Would they even have met? Without Socket's wretched plan and Macro's reckless curiosity, their paths probably would never have crossed. And with no floating cities, there'd be no Botnet. He slipped his paw from hers and pulled her into him, nuzzling between her ears as his eyes fixed on a filing cabinet at the far end of the room.

        Changes would bring their good and their bad. It would be inevitable.

        Switch shifted against the wall, his clothes rustling and drawing Macro out of his deep thoughts.

        "Well, you've given me a lot to think about," said Switch. "Although I am wondering about this other System you told me about. The one I'm apparently from."

        Macro fixed one eye on him. "So you believe me?"

        "I'm not sure what to believe," said Switch. "But I want to know more about what happened to turn me into a talonflame."

        "Even I don't know that." Macro released DL and sat back on his paws. "I could hand you a history book, but I'm led to believe they ain't accurate."

        "How aren't they accurate?" Switch scoffed.

        "They got the picture of a human wrong, for one thing," said Macro. "And the drifting continents you are adamant were real, well… they've been demoted to 'myth' status in this day and age. Although that might be changed now, given Socket's used one of their salvaged engines to get her mansion flyin'."

        Switch blinked a few times then pinched his nose. "This is all too much to take in…"

        "I can believe it." Macro pushed himself to his feet. "If you need a break, I'll go call the doctor and see if your room is ready."

        Switch kept his head down as he waved him away.

        Macro gave him one last glance as he let DL out of the door, the tattered scarf bundled in her arms. Then the space pirate closed the door behind him. At least they'd got through to Switch. Now they just had to hope he'd take it all in, not just for his sake, but for System's too.

        ...

        It was a long way to Spool City. Matrix estimated another two hours at least. Anchor sat back in his seat, watching the world below. The antennae were still blinking, but the one for Meta City was long since dead. All communications to the capital had been cut off, and from what Anchor had read, the xurkitree were making their way across the outskirts. Hardly a bad thing. They'd swoop in and grab both them and the kartana, provided they listened.

        The granbull kicked himself from the dashboard and moved towards the kitchen, catching a glance from Matrix. He nodded at the ribombee then gestured to the window.

        "I'm gonna grab some supper, I'm starved," he said. "Let me know if anythin' weird happens."

        "Define 'weird'," said Matrix. "Because I'm not gonna lie… it's sort of losing its meaning."

        "I dunno…" Anchor rubbed his muzzle. "Flying Ultra Beasts. Portholes. Ships. Whatever seems threatening or out of the norm. Or both."

        Matrix nodded and swiveled his chair back to the navigation deck. "Alright. Grab me a donut, would you?"

        Anchor waved him off and marched into the kitchen. Sure enough, a plate of donuts sat on the table. He grabbed one just as Rave delivered a plate of pancakes to an excited Annie. The human practically danced in her seat with her knife and fork clutched in each hand.

        "You joining us?" Rave asked. "This truly is top nosh."

        Anchor wanted to say he had no idea what nosh was, but instead he nodded back to the cockpit. "Gonna give this to Matrix. I'll be back in a sec."

        He returned to the navigator who grabbed the donut gratefully. Before he could bite into it, Anchor wagged a claw at him.

        "Don't tell Macro I allowed you to have a jam donut in here," he said.

        "Noted." Matrix bit into his donut, letting jam fall down his scarf and onto his lap. He frowned at it, scooped it in one paw and licked. "I think I'm spending too long with him anyway. I'm picking up his bad habits."

        Anchor rolled his eyes and marched back into the kitchen, where he pulled up a seat opposite Annie. She attacked Cookie's pancakes with all the vigor of a half-starved tyranitar. He reached across the table to grab the plate of pancakes and nomel sauce.

        "You're acting like you've never had pancakes before in your life," he said.

        "I haven't!" Annie said around her mouthful. "Not before I came on your ship. This is amazing!"

        The slurpuff chef waddled over with yet more sauce, followed by Rave and a tray of waffles.

        Annie's eyes lit up with delight. "You're spoilin' me!"

        "Enjoy yourself," Cookie chirruped. "I made plenty."

        Web frowned at the slurpuff. "You're a bad influence." She turned back to Annie who payed her no heed. "You should slow down. You'll give yourself tummy ache."

        "I'll stop when I'm full," said Annie between bites.

        The kitchen slowly began to calm down as the rag-tag group enjoyed their supper. As Web rose to help Cookie and Rave clear the dishes away, Matrix buzzed into the kitchen.

        "Decided to join us?" Anchor asked.

        Matrix shook his head and wound his antenna thoughtfully. "Remember when you said to alert you if something weird happens?"

        Anchor lowered his fork to his plate. "Yes?"

        "Well, something weird's happening."

        Anchor rose to his feet and followed Matrix back into the cockpit. The granbull's first thought was the navigation deck, but Matrix pointed a claw towards the windscreen. Anchor narrowed his eyes at the gold speck moving towards them, and he placed his paws on the dashboard, leaning forward for a closer look. Rave joined his side, ducking slightly to avoid hitting his head on the window frame.

        "What is that?" the blacephalon asked.

        Anchor glanced up at the Ultra Beast. "I've no idea. But if I were to hazard a guess, that's one of Socket's ships."

        "But Socket's gone," said Matrix. "Who are they working for now? Distortion?"

        "I dunno… but I'm wary of it. I say we steer well clear of it."

        "But they could be in danger," said Rave. "We can't just run away."

        "Our tall, enigmatic friend is right!"

        Annie's voice almost made Anchor jump out of his skin. His head struck the low ceiling and he spun to face her, rubbing at his mohawk. The human beamed at him from ear to ear.

        "We can't leave a 'mon down," she said. "Perchance that golden speck needs our help, I say we check on 'em!"

        "But it's a government ship!" Anchor growled. "It might fire on us."

        "I highly doubt it," said Matrix.

        Anchor turned to the ribombee, who returned his look with a cocked eyebrow.

        "How can you tell when it's so far away?" Anchor asked.

        "Easy." Matrix tapped the navigation deck. A red light flickered in the top right corner where the speck showed on the navigation screen. "They sent us a distress signal."

        Anchor's jaw dropped. "A what now?"

        "Yeah, confused me too." Matrix wound his antenna as he watched the flashing light. "I've never seen it before. Strange phenomenon."

        "All right." Anchor sighed and returned to his seat. "Get us closer, let's see what they want."

        "You're not worried it's a trap?" Matrix asked.

        "It might be, but we're armed to the gills."

        "Hmm, fitting," said Annie. "Because we're in a giant fish."

        Anchor fired her a sideways glare.

        "Oh come on!" Annie threw her arms in the air. "That was fantastic!"

        Rave chuckled, his lights flickering with a jubilant pink. He smacked the human on the back, hard enough to make her stumble into the dash. "That was a cracking good joke. Well done."

        Anchor rubbed his brow and groaned under his breath. "And System's relyin' on 'mon like us?"

        As Wildcard Gamma drew closer to the golden speck, the cockpit slowly filled with the rest of their team. With no one small enough to fit in the captain's seat, Annie and her friends gathered around it, holding on perchance things should turn awry.

        Trojan frowned out at the government ship, wiping his paws on his wet scales. But the scrafty said nothing. None of them said anything. The ship didn't appear to be hostile. Instead drawing towards them at a steady pace.

        Anchor leant forward in his seat, narrowing his eyes at it. Well, there was definitely a reason it wasn't being hostile. The golden hull was dented, even cracked. One of the pointed wings bent upwards at an alarming angle. It was little wonder it could fly straight. The windscreen was shattered, the jagged edges peppered with frost. What remained of its laser cannon was nothing more than a ragged lump, the main body of which one could guess lay miles below. Possibly in the ocean.

        "I'm gonna grab her." Anchor jabbed the controls, causing the wishiwashi's jaws to slowly open. "I'll meet what's left of that ship's crew in the cargo bay, but I ain't goin' alone. Who's with me?"

        "I'll go," said Trojan. "They retaliate, I'll jackin' nut 'em."

        "Not one for trustin' others, eh?" Anchor asked.

        Trojan scowled up at him. "This comin' from a space pirate?"

        "I'll go too." Waveform pushed himself back from Macro's seat. "You'll need someone to keep Trojan in check."

        "I can check myself," Trojan spat.

        "Hey!" Annie pouted. "What about me?"

        "You stay here with Web," said Anchor. "You too, Rave. I don't want to terrify whoever's down there."

        Rave gasped, his lights paling, and turned his faceless head between the cockpit's occupants. "I'm terrifying?"

        Matrix turned in his seat to watch Anchor lead the group from the cockpit. Then he turned back to Rave, idly winding his antenna.

        The ribombee shrugged at the Ultra Beast, who was somehow managing to look a little wounded. "I'm saying nothing."

        Anchor went down into the cargo bay first, with Trojan sandwiched between himself and Waveform. It was oddly silent. Anchor couldn't help but wonder how long the distress signal had been going off. Maybe it wasn't even intended for Wildcard Gamma? What if the occupant had actually died and the ship was idly flying through System Sky until it finally ran out of fuel? He shoved that thought aside, but still mentally prepared himself for a possible grisly find.

        The golden ship lay ruined in the cargo bay. It had barely made it inside. Wildcard Gamma's jaws were closed tight around the tail end of the ship, tearing away what was left of the rudder. The ship didn't entirely fit inside the bay. The tips of the wings were missing, also removed by Wildcard Gamma's jaws. It was only slightly bigger than Surge's ship, and Anchor was greatly relieved they'd already disposed of that a week prior, otherwise it would never have fit.

        Trojan beat his paws together and sidled past the granbull. "Let's get this thing open then, eh? See who's inside."

        Anchor joined him, glancing up at the cracked window. He couldn't see a passenger. Had they already abandoned ship? No, it made no sense. It was still flying… unless… no, he wasn't going to speculate the worse. He joined Trojan around the side, leaving Waveform with his arrow notched and ready to fire.

        Before the pair reached the door, a loud bang came from behind it. Then another. Anchor clenched his paws together, bracing himself as whatever was behind it crashed against the door again. Then it flew open, swinging on its hinges. An emolga clutched the door frame, gasping for breath. His entire body trembled from nose to tail, the remains of frost melting from his fur. Then he slumped forwards, toppling from the steps. Anchor leapt towards him, catching his small body before it hit the ground.

        "Good grief, what happened to you?" Anchor asked.

        The emolga cracked one eye open. "The kracken… they…"

        Then it closed again as the small electric type dropped unconscious.

        "Huh." Anchor looked up at his two companions, then rose to his feet, cradling the emolga. "Somethin' makes me think we're gonna have a hard time roundin' up them nihilego."

        ...

        Annie blinked down at the sleeping electric type. "So we got a pet?"

        Web shoved her from the side. "He's not a pet."

        The human watched as the skuntank aided Cookie in tending to their unconscious guest.

        "So what's wrong with him?" Anchor asked. "Is he poisoned? Wounded?"

        "Half frozen and exhausted," said Cookie. "That's it. Makes me wonder if he's been around the Dead Glacier."

        "Why would anyone go there?" Waveform asked. "You'd freeze to death."

        "He said he'd had a run in with the kraken," said Anchor. "That's the nickname the space pirates coined for the nihilego. My guess is it's spread, and he was fightin' them off. If they don't like the cold, he might have used the Dead Glacier to get rid of them."

        "Seems convoluted and risky," said Waveform. "I doubt it."

        The granbull shrugged his shoulders and returned to observing Web and Cookie. The slurpuff took a step back, wiping his paws on a towel.

        "How's he lookin'?" Anchor asked.

        "He's fine." Cookie poked his tongue out and smiled. "A hot cocoa and he'll be good as new!"

        Web sighed and shook her head. "It's always sweets with you, isn't it?"

        Cookie's smile vanished and he huffed, sticking out his bottom lip. "Don't knock it if it works!" Then he waddled from the room.

        "I'd say what he needs is some berries!" Web called after him. "Aspear berries!"

        "I think we should let him get some rest," said Waveform. "In peace."

        "I dunno." Anchor scratched his nose. "This is a wild turn of events. I mean… a government 'mon on a space pirate ship?"

        "Hey, he needed rescuing," said Annie. "And we just happened to be there."

        "Annie's right," said Web. "In times like these, we need to work together. Maybe he sees that."

        "Not to mention, no Socket means no bounty," said Waveform. "So he's not getting anything out of this."

        "Well I can't just leave him here," said Anchor. "Who knows what he's gonna do?"

        "I wasn't suggesting that." Waveform drew one of his silver arrows. "I'll keep watch on the door, while you go and forget about it for a while. Have a nap, or a snack. Whatever it is you do to unwind."

        "I'm afraid there's no time for that," said Web.

        Everyone followed her gaze. The emolga stirred, rubbing a paw over his eyes. His mouth turned into a frown and he let out a whimper. Sparks flew from his cheeks and he sat bolt upright with a scream. Electricity flew across the room, and Anchor ducked, feeling the heat as it skimmed his mohawk. A yelp came from his right and he turned to find Annie stunned on the floor, electricity dancing across her limbs.

        Waveform dropped his arrow and leapt to her side. He sat her up against his open wing and turned his eyes onto the emolga. The small pokemon sat, panting, his wide eyes fixed on the wall. He glanced to his side and tensed, clasping his paws into fists.

        Anchor lifted his paws and slowly rose to his feet. "Calm down. We rescued you."

        "Where is it?" the emolga gasped.

        "Where's what?"

        "The kraken?"

        "We didn't see one," Anchor explained. "Your ship was alone."

        "Alone?" The emolga ran his paws down his face, then slumped forward on his knees. "I'm the only one?"

        The small group exchanged glances, then Anchor and Web drew closer to the bed. Anchor ventured to place his paw on the emolga's back. He didn't so much as flinch.

        "Okay, let's start from the top," said Anchor. "What's your name?"

        "Axle," the emolga muttered.

        "Okay, Axle. Welcome aboard Wildcard Gamma."

        Axle's ears twitched at that.

        "My name's Anchor," Anchor went on. "And your ship is tucked away in our cargo bay. We're here to get those things you're calling kraken back to their world. Why don't you tell us what happened?"

        "Back to their world?" Axle removed his paws to glare at the granbull. "Are you insane?! An entire fleet of Socket's ships couldn't stop those things!"

        "No offense," said Annie, "but your ships are pretty dang tiny."

        "Compared to Wildcard Gamma, sure!" Axle spat. "But a fleet of them? They're quick. Agile. One cannon shot is equivalent to… I dunno… several of your bomb things!"

        "You're wrong there," Anchor muttered.

        "Sorry," Axle growled. "Have you got a case of 'my ship is better than your ship' syndrome?"

        "No, I just modeled it to be stronger than a government ship," said Anchor. "It's called 'survival'."

        Axle snorted and leant on his knees, fixing his eyes on the door. "Well… I doubt your ship will stand a chance against those monsters."

        "You have a point," said Anchor. "We struggled against just one, and there were four ships fightin' that thing."

        The door slid open and Cookie waddled in, clutching a steaming mug of cocoa. A look of delighted surprise crossed his face, and he poked out his tongue in a smile.

        "You're awake!" He shuffled over to Axle and held out the mug. "I made you cocoa. With aspear sprinkles."

        Web slapped a paw to her face then sighed. "Well, at least you listened…"

        Axle took it hesitantly then looked down at Cookie. "Why are you all doing this?"

        "Because…" Cookie stuttered slightly and shuffled his paws. "Because… you were frozen and… well… cocoa!"

        "You needed help," said Anchor. "And we can't afford to discriminate in times like these."

        Axle sighed and stared into his cocoa. "I suppose you're right." He paused and tucked his knees closer to his chest. "There were fifty of us. We were on our way back to Socket's mansion after scouring for a Zero Day model. Yobi had requested one, and it took us ages to track one down. But when we returned to Meta City, Socket had already taken off and her mansion… it was all eerie, I don't know what had happened to it, but we decided to stay away. Go somewhere else and call Yobi. I assumed an Ultra Beast had taken over it."

        "You're kinda right," said Annie.

        Axle fired her a glare then returned to his cocoa-gazing. "Whatever it was, it gave me the creeps. To make matters worse, Yobi wasn't answering our calls. Then one day, we couldn't get through at all. None of us knew what to do, so we decided to find him ourselves. Go back to Meta City and ask around. Of course, that was a risk. It's crawling with those electrical beasts. But before we even reached it, we were mobbed by those kraken. They took over our ships, made us fire at each other, twisted the lasers free and broke off wings. One by one, ships dropped into the ocean or slammed down into cities. We couldn't get away. Wherever we went, they chased! They more than halved our numbers! One of my friends decided we should go higher in the sky. It's colder up there, maybe it would freeze them off. But the thing is, no ship has ever gone higher than System Sky! The only ships that have flown higher are space pirate ships, and believe it or not, we are not space pirate ships! We're just a government fleet, designed to fly no higher than System Sky. But the higher we went, the beasts weakened. They let go and tumbled back to the ground. Some dragged ships with them as their tentacles refused to let go. We fired at one and it shattered. Somehow, they'd frozen solid. But so had our ships. Ice coated my wind screen. It began to crack. So I returned to the ground as fast as I could. Freezing my tail off. I could feel torpor setting in, but I had to fight off sleep. But I don't think I managed it. The last thing I remember seeing was those creatures regrouping. I picked up speed and fled, but… I think I must have fallen into torpor. Somehow… I got away."

        The room fell silent as the pokemon and Annie took it all in. Cookie shuffled his feet in the silence and looked back up at Axle, still staring into his cocoa.

        "You definitely did fall into torpor," said the slurpuff. "You should drink that."

        Axle eyed the slurpuff, all aggression leaving his dark eyes. Then he took a sip of his drink. It appeared to visibly relax him, and he let his legs spread out across the bed.

        "I recommend a warm shower, too," said Cookie.

        Axle frowned. "Noted."

        "I don't really know what to say about your story, Axle," said Anchor. "But it must have been terrifying."

        "That's the understatement of the century."

        "Nevertheless, you're safe now-"

        Axle snorted and fixed him in a glare. "For how long? They're all over System! It's only a matter of time until-"

        Anchor raised a paw and barked to silence him. The small emolga cowered slightly, but returned his glare with venom.

        "I believe we can get out of this alive," said Anchor. "We're workin' together and if you wanna help us, be my guest. The more the merrier. Now… you said somethin' about a Zero Day model?"

        "I did." Axle sipped his cocoa, keeping his eyes on Anchor's.

        "Did it go down with the other ships?" Anchor asked. "If so, we might be able to retrieve it."

        "Now why would you wanna do that?"

        "Simple, really. They can open gateways." Anchor paused as Axle's expression twisted with confusion. "If we can send those creatures back where they came from, there ain't no need to fight them. They'll go back home, happy. Right now, they're not happy. Not all of them anyway."

        Web clasped her tail to her back as Poipole fought for freedom. His voice still rang out loud and clear, however.

        "No, we're not happy."

        Axle jolted and looked around at the room.

        Web's expression softened and she shook her head slowly. "They're not evil. They're scared."

        The emolga didn't look convinced. He flashed a canine and lowered his mug to his lap.

        "Is there somethin' on this ship?" he spat.

        Anchor sighed and rubbed his muzzle. "We'll talk about that lat-"

        "Is there somethin' on this ship?!"

        "Yes!" Anchor barked. "We've got two Ultra Beasts, and they can speak. They're friendly. We've also got one tailin' us, but you clearly didn't see that when you called for help. Or you didn't care, one or the other."

        "You're carrying monsters?" Axle gasped. "You're workin' with them, aren't you?"

        "We're tryin' to get them home and stop the monster that's taken over Socket's mansion and killed her!" Anchor roared.

        Axle's entire body stiffened. He stared back at Anchor, stunned.

        "She's dead?" he asked quietly.

        "It's all over the news," said Web. "I thought everyone knew, but I guess I was wrong."

        Axle clutched his cocoa in both paws and looked away. "I… I've been out of touch the last couple of weeks. Drifting along, trying to survive… my computer… it's dead." He sighed and lifted a paw to rub his ears. "I thought her mansion looked creepy. I had no idea that it…"

        "Well we're going to stop it," said Anchor. "You with us or are we lettin' you off at the next safe city?"

        The emolga sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I'll help."

        "All right. Now… where can we find that Zero Day?"

        "Right here," said Axle. "It's on my ship."

        Anchor's jaw almost hit the floor. "You still have it?"

        "Yes. You think I'd let it go after all the trouble we went through to find one?" Axle let out a dry chuckle. "I dunno what use it is to you, though. It's completely wrecked."

        "We'll give it a go. I'm pretty good at fixin' things." Anchor pushed himself to his feet. "You get some rest. Then you can meet the rest of our little team."

        The group rose to their feet and followed Anchor from the room, but Waveform kept one eye on the emolga.

        "I'll be on the door," he said. "So if you need anything-"

        "I need a guard?" Axle spat. "I just said I'll help you."

        Anchor looked back at the decidueye. "It's okay. Leave him be."

        Waveform hesitated a moment, then slinked down the corridor after Anchor.

        As Web stood up to follow after Annie, Poipole drifted from her tail and looked down at the emolga. Axle squeaked and sloshed cocoa onto the duvet, but Poipole didn't react. He floated there, staring at him until the emolga trembled from ear to tail.

        "Poipole!" Web called from the door. "Come on, leave him alone."

        Poipole drifted backwards towards the door. "I'm not evil."

        "Of course you're not, Sticky," said Annie. "You're adorable. Now let's leave Mister Squirrel alone, eh?"

        Poipole looked back at Annie, waiting until she'd vanished from sight, then he turned back to Axle.

        "My name is Poipole," he said. "Only Annie can call me Sticky."

        He ducked from the room, leaving the trembling emolga to a somewhat fitful nap.
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          #79   Link to this post, but load the entire thread.  
        Old December 23rd, 2018 (1:48 AM).
        Delirious Absol's Avatar
        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
        Call me Del
           
          Join Date: May 2015
          Location: UK
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          Chapter Seventy Five

          Macro strolled through the square for the burger van, DL keeping pace at his side. When the little van came into view, he noted the little round tables. Sat at one with a computer clasped in her paws was Defrag, her mouth turned down into a bored frown.

          The mawile let out a sigh and tapped DL on the arm, motioning to one of the other many fast food mobiles. DL gave him an exasperated look and dragged him towards the lopunny's table. She pulled up a chair before he could object, leaving him with no choice but to sit down beside her.

          Defrag looked up briefly and cocked an eyebrow at them. "Decided to join me eh?"

          Her attention was already back on the computer. Macro trailed a claw over the plastic table and shrugged, which went unnoticed.

          "So how's the human?" Defrag asked.

          "No different than he was this mornin'," said Macro.

          "Okay." Defrag looked up again, more pointedly this time. Meeting his eyes. "How was he this morning?"

          Macro sighed again and spread his paws. "Look. Don't take this the wrong way, Digit-"

          "Defrag."

          Macro rolled his eyes. "But what are you still doin' here?"

          The lopunny lowered her computer to the table and sat back in her chair. It creaked under her weight, but she didn't so much as bat an eyelid.

          "I believe I came here on your ship," she said. "Besides, I have one of those Z-Crystal things."

          She flashed it at him, as though he needed a reminder.

          "That's not quite what I meant," he said. "Why didn't you go with Anchor and Time Archeops?"

          "I wasn't asked." She retrieved her computer again, idly pawing through it.

          An awkward silence passed between them, and Macro stared longingly at the burger menu. He fidgeted his paws, trying to gauge when would be an appropriate time to get up and place an order. But too much time had passed already.

          "So," said DL. "Have you managed to use your Z-Move yet?"

          "Nope." Defrag didn't look up from her computer. "I've still not decided if I want to."

          "Well… maybe we could train together?" DL pawed at her ear. "I need to practice my move, anyway. Now I can remember how to use discharge…"

          Defrag looked up then, fixing DL in a glare. "No offense, little pachirisu, but you've been giving me the cold shoulder for the past two weeks."

          Macro jerked his head back and forth between the two girls. He cleared his throat and stood up, pointing to the van.

          "I'll go get a burger then-"

          "Sit!" Defrag pointed at his seat.

          Macro slumped back down, a cold sweat forming under his fur.

          "I'm not going to be harsh," Defrag went on, "but the pair of you are the reason I've been indecisive about this whole ordeal. If you really want me on your team, you need to prove it. Or you can find another pokemon with an ice type move. Maybe Floppy, for example?"

          "Hey, the crystal was meant for you." Macro spread his paws and shrugged. "You're clearly on the team."

          "I don't have a choice?"

          Macro shrugged again and stuttered as he struggled to find words.

          Defrag fixed her eyes back on her computer. "All right, I get it. Well, given Tracer and Widget have their own Z-Crystals, I guess I'm on board. But I'm not just doing this as a favor to you. I'm doing this because my home is under threat, and I've gotta admit I feel kind of humbled that I've been entrusted with this Z-Power. Just know that when this is over, we go our separate ways."

          "Well, at least we can be civil until then, right?" asked Macro.

          "You?" Defrag looked up again and laughed. "Civil?"

          Macro ran a paw down his face and sighed. "I've been through a lot recently, Defrag. It's changed me."

          "Hey, you got my name right." She turned back to her computer and nodded in the direction of the burger van. "Go on. Get your occa and nutpea, or whatever it is you're hooked on these days."

          Macro turned to the van then looked back at DL.

          "Surprise me," she said before he could even ask.

          So she wasn't coming with him to the van, then. He shook his head as the pachirisu leant forward to talk to Defrag, and placed his order with the watchog.

          "Listen," DL told Defrag, grabbing her attention. "I don't want any hostility. Whatever your past is, I don't care. Let's… just shove things aside and work together. It'll be easier if we get along."

          "I ain't denying that." Defrag idly tapped through the news page. "Fine. We can train together. I'll get Tracer and Widget in on the deal too, given they're still stuck here. At least I'm not alone anymore, eh?"

          Macro placed DL's spicy tamato burger before her and sat down with his own. A much less spicier option this time. He placed a large watmel soda between them, which DL immediately turned to before tucking into her meal.

          As Macro took a bite, three figures appeared out of the crowd. Tracer and Widget followed closely by a large, grinning incineroar. As Macro watched them draw closer, he felt a blob of relish drip from his burger onto his scarf. A low groan left his throat and he deposited his burger to lick his scarf clean. In vain.

          Defrag chuckled and shook her head, leaning it on one hand. "Some things never change."

          DL stuffed a napkin into his paw as Tracer pulled up a seat. He eyed Macro with curiosity and pulled a silver tin from inside his trench coat. A cigar appeared in his claws which he lit with a lick of flames from between his teeth.

          "Taken a change of occupation then?" Tracer asked.

          "With Socket gone there ain't no bounty on my head," Macro half-growled. "So don't go tryin' anythin'-"

          "I wouldn't dream of it," said Tracer. "Not while we're on the same team."

          Macro's eye went to the Z-Crystal around the delphox's paw. Of course. He really needed to keep up with the new members to their team. So much had happened since the chaos in Socket's mansion. He idly rubbed his artificial paw before returning to his burger.

          "Yeah, what's this about a team?" said the incineroar. "'Cos I want in."

          "You serious?" Tracer scoffed. "You're friend ended up in prison for shooting an officer! You're only with me because I've been told to keep an eye on you!"

          The incineroar folded his arms. "I'd be 'ere anyway. I ain't got noplace else to go. They apprehended my ship. Flippin' fuzz."

          Macro stared open mouthed at the incineroar. "Who did you shoot?"

          "I didn't shoot nobody," said the huge fire type. "It were my partner, Cyph3r. Shot some empoleon guy and left him in critical care."

          Macro stared up at him dumbfounded. The incineroar stuck a claw in his ear and scratched, oblivious to the mawile's stunned rage.

          "He shot HeatSink?!" Macro finally barked.

          The incineroar shrugged his heavy shoulders. "I don't know his name. But yeah. Got himself locked up. I weren't involved in nothin', so don't go pointin' claws at me."

          Macro sighed into his claws, dropping his burger back onto his plate. A soft warmth spread through his hip, growing with intensity. Surely he'd not spilled yet more relish?

          "But, of course," the incineroar went on, "'cos we're friends, they're keepin' me here as a suspect of… what were it?" He scratched his head, looking down at Tracer and Widget.

          "A conspirator," said the eevee.

          "Aye, that's it," said the space pirate with a grin. "Conspiritator."

          "No!" Widget whined. Clearly it wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation. "Con-spi-ra-tor!"

          The incineroar's eyes widened. "What did I say?"

          That warmth increased to a burning heat. Macro snatched at his hip, grabbing hold of his pouch. It was in his pouch? He wrenched it open in a panic, expecting to find a damaged and leaking laser module. But instead, sat among his stray credits, sat a glowing crystal, giving off an ultra-violet light. He pulled out the black Z-Crystal, oddly cool in his paws. He looked between it and the incineroar and muttered to himself;

          "You have to be kiddin' me?"

          The incineroar raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"

          Macro narrowed his eyes. "Do you know any dark type moves?"

          "Aye!" The huge space pirate grinned from ear to ear. "Brutal swing! One of my signature moves. Gets rid of other 'mon I don't want around real quick. Why?"

          Macro sighed and pinched his muzzle between two claws. He held out the Z-Crystal, not looking at the incineroar.

          "This is yours," he said. "Welcome to the team… erm…"

          "N0ize." The incineroar took the crystal in two claws and eyed it with a smile. "Neat! So I get to do one of them Z-Move thingies?"

          "Really?!" Widget sounded much too happy. His bushy tail wagged back and forth as he hopped on his toes. "Oh man! I wanna see that one real bad! Let's try it!"

          Tracer caught Macro's eye, reflecting his expression.

          "This can only end badly," said the delphox.

          Macro watched N0ize and Widget scamper off towards the lake. He took one final bite from his burger and rose to his feet.

          "My thoughts exactly," he said, looking over at DL and Defrag. "We should probably supervise."

          ...

          Spool City was in utter chaos. Wildcard Gamma drifted over it encased in the safety of its cloak as Matrix and Anchor desperately sought a place to land. Buildings crumbled beneath them as nihilego darted back and forth between a streak of silver. Occasionally the blur would pause, momentarily appearing bug-like before darting off to strike one of the jellyfish creatures. In the distance, electricity danced over the houses as the unmistakable bladed forms of the kartana trio sliced through the air, desperate to avoid a thorough shocking.

          "Seems like a turf war," said Trojan.

          "But why would they all try to occupy Spool City?" Web shook her head sadly. "System is huge! What could possibly-"

          One of the buildings right below the ship exploded into rubble as a red and green hulking mass shot through the roof, tailed by a xurkitree's well-aimed discharge. The huge creature fell amid the rubble before Anchor could get a good look at it.

          "My guess," said Rave, "is that something much more dangerous has left them with no choice but to concentrate in such a small area."

          "Like Distortion?" Matrix suggested.

          "Possibly," said Rave. "I mean… the distortion is spreading across System."

          Anchor wanted to ask how on earth the blacephalon even knew that, then his eye wandered to Axle huddled in a far corner, as far from the space pirates and Ultra Beasts as he could get without locking himself in the cargo bay. The little emolga pawed at his computer, plugged into one of the cockpit's few spare sockets. Not far from his feet lay the hulking, ruined mass of the porygon-z he'd scooped up. A few loose tools lay scattered around it. Every now and then, its one working eye would fix on one of the crew members, but it didn't move.

          "How bad is this distortion gettin', Axle?" Anchor asked.

          "Hard to say," said the emolga. "Drones can't get close enough. Pokemon daren't, those that do have either died or been critically injured. The latest report put the spread as far out of Seed City as the Backbone Mountains."

          "And when was that reported?"

          Axle shrugged his shoulders. "Yesterday? Day before? I didn't check the date. My main concern right now is getting this Zero Day unit working again."

          Anchor nodded stiffly and turned back to the window. The chaos had drifted towards the ship's left. He jerked the ship to the right as a stray electric bolt skimmed the fin.

          "Might I suggest something?" Waveform asked. "How about we move out of the city, disembark, then work our way back in on the ground?"

          "What, and die?" Axle snorted.

          "You'll be on the ship with Matrix and Trojan fixing this android," said Anchor. He turned back to the decidueye. "I'm with you on that one, Waveform. It's the best option we've got right now."

          "Aye," said Matrix. "One more stray bolt and they might fry our cloak. Then we'll be a prime target."

          Anchor steered the ship towards the edge of the outskirts. The squabbling Ultra Beasts thinned out the further they moved from the city. He strained his eyes on the horizon. Sockets mansion glowed beyond the mountains. Odd ultra violet rays spanned across the land. He couldn't see the effects, but in his mind they resembled the twisted land visible through the bubble surrounding Seed City. That was if the photographs were correct. What had been posted to news websites had been somewhat blurry. A quick photo shoot taken during a frantic attempt to escape.

          "All right." The granbull stepped back from the controls and waved to Time Archeops. "Annie, Waveform, Web, Poipole, you're all with me. You too, Rave."

          The blacephalon looked up from the Zero Day unit. Somehow, he managed to look surprised.

          "You want me with you?" he asked. "I thought you might need me guarding the ship."

          "Nope, I think Matrix and Trojan are fully capable. I need you to help translate," said Anchor. "And if both you and Poipole, along with Celesteela, can talk to the Ultra Beasts, it might win them to our side."

          "Oh, of course. Capital idea." Rave stood up and strode after Anchor.

          Axle snorted as he reached for a screwdriver to attack Zero Day's tiny screws. "Don't trust me as far as you can throw me, eh?"

          Anchor decided to say nothing, leading his crew out to the hatch. Annie found a mask stuffed in her hands. She frowned down at it.

          "Why are you handing me some fake beak?" she asked.

          "Put it on," said Anchor as he reached for another. "Air's toxic."

          Annie snorted and lifted it to her face, fumbling with the fastenings. Waveform stepped in to help her secure it around her head.

          "It stinks like wet dog in here," she groaned.

          "Who else wants one?" Anchor asked. "Because I've only got four, and one of them is Matrix-sized."

          Waveform gave the granbull a sideways glance and shook his head, nodding to Web. The skuntank also shook her head and nudged Anchor in the leg with a claw.

          "You wear one, dear," she said. "You're younger than me."

          Anchor thanked her and fastened his in place. The spare one found its way into Waveform's wings. The decidueye was about to put it back until Annie wrestled it free and wrapped it around his head feathers. Muttering under his breath, Waveform adjusted it and fastened it in place, dislodging split feather shafts onto the floor.

          "Right, we're goin' in." Anchor grabbed onto the ladder rung. "Follow me."

          The ladder descended towards the ground with its familiar flashing sound as each neon beam shot into place. Thick yellow smog obscured Anchor's vision as he fell through it, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Through the smog he could see the battling Ultra Beasts as something big chased the kartana through what remained of Spool City's rooftops. He dropped, calling out to the others to be careful. One of the kartana skimmed his back as he landed on the floor with a grunt. He quickly checked himself over, finding nothing but a close trim where the bladed Ultra Beast had clipped his fur.

          Rave landed beside him, along with Annie. The others weren't far behind.

          Waveform hovered in the air on his huge wings, squinting through the filter mask's green eye guards.

          "I'm going to see if I can spot what the problem is," he said. "We'll need a clearer idea of why they're all squabbling over the outskirts."

          Before Anchor could object, the decidueye rose higher into the sky to be lost beyond the smog cloud. Not far beyond that cloud he could see Celesteela's hulking mass seeking a place big enough for her to land.

          Anchor absently checked his computer. No reception. Whatever was going on, it was taking out System's antennae across the region. That left them with no way to contact Macro or Waveform, and he'd need to rely on Wildcard Gamma's local wireless headsets. If Matrix went too far outside its range…

          He decided not to dwell on that and instead waved the crew on.

          A low whistle split the air, pushing Anchor's fur on end.

          "Duck!" he barked, throwing himself and Annie to the floor.

          Rave twisted to meet the attack head on, throwing out a flurry of shadow balls. The kartana trio doubled back to dodge them, the two outermost kartana swerving away to attack the blacephalon from both sides. He leapt into the air, causing the two small Ultra Beasts to collide with the sound of clashing blades.

          "Stop!" he called. "We don't want to fight you! We are friends!"

          The kartana made a slicing noise as they swerved away to strike him again. Rave leapt back, firing out shadow ball after shadow ball in an attempt to slow them down. Each attack fell short, landing just before them, creating enough of a blast to disorient the three smaller creatures.

          Poipole swerved in from the top. "Stop! Listen to us! We just want to talk!"

          "Yes!" Rave said again. "Please tell us what has you all so upset!"

          One of the kartana reared up, hovering just before Rave. It rubbed its forelegs together swiftly, creating a sharp metallic screech. Rave appeared taken aback. He placed one foot behind him, staring at the small kartana.

          "War?" he gasped, his lights turning pale. "Over what?"

          The other two kartana hovered just behind their leader. It rubbed its limbs together again. A softer metallic screech, like someone sharpening a blade.

          Rave glanced behind them at a dumbfounded Anchor. "Trojan was right about a turf war. They're trying to defend their new home."

          "But why?" Anchor stepped towards them. "What could-"

          The kartana flew into a frenzy, scraping their limbs together in a deafening screech. Anchor placed his paws over his ears.

          "Cut that out!" he roared.

          "Please!" Rave lifted his paws. "One at a time!"

          The lead kartana spun to his allies, clanging his paper-thin blades together. The other two fell silent. A deafening silence. The lead kartana turned back to Rave and Poipole, and slowly began to scrape its limbs.

          Rave nodded slowly, exchanging glances with Poipole as the kartana explained itself in a baffling array of scrapes, screeches and clangs.

          "It's the nihilego," said Poipole. "They're trying to take over Spool City. And if that's not bad enough, the xurkitree are desperate for electricity. The kartana have been pushed from their lair."

          The kartana went on, each blade swipe becoming more violent like an angry warlord throwing out a pre-battle speech.

          "And then the others," said Poipole. "Small pokemon brought down their new lair with water and ice, before the kartana drove them away. The water was turned red with their blood."

          "The water dwellers," Web gasped.

          "Then two bugs showed up," Poipole continued translating, "destroying each lair the kartana move to."

          "But why?" asked Anchor. "Why squabble over a hole like this?"

          The kartana almost seemed to shrug as it rubbed its limbs together.

          Rave shook his head sadly. "They do not know."

          Waveform landed silently beside them, almost causing Annie to squeak with surprise. He dusted down his wings and glanced back over his shoulder. Then he eyed the kartana warily.

          "All I can see back there is a massacre," he said. "Distortion's reach hasn't even touched Gear Village yet. The water is running red. Fish pokemon are lying dead or electrocuted. I assume in their attempt to eradicate the fisheries."

          "So all this has happened because of the rebellion?" Annie gasped.

          "Don't give yourself too much credit," Waveform snorted. "The very buildings beyond the outskirts look like they've been eaten. I took a quick fly over to Proxy City. It looks like something is eating the place. Not merely destroying it. The water dwellers have simply been caught up in something unexpected. An unfortunate situation that we can't blame ourselves for."

          The kartana's screeching and scratching filled the air, rising into a crescendo. Everyone followed their eyes to the horizon. Two jellyfish pokemon scrambled through the sky, firing glittering rocks behind them. There was something else tailing them. Something big.

          "Is that Celesteela?" Annie gasped. "Why's she fightin' them?!"

          "It isn't Celesteela." Waveform's voice wavered.

          The huge shape became clearer. A round, hulking body with pincers that snapped and bit at the nihilego's limbs. One screeched loudly as its tentacle found itself in the monster's grasp. Inky blood splurted out to the sides, drenching the creature's slimy pincer, and peppering the rubble. A huge mouth opened in the monstrosity's gut, and the nihilego found itself hurtled towards it as the pincer retracted inside.

          "Well!" Annie tapped Anchor on the shoulder and took a step back. "I think we now know what's been eatin' the buildings. I say there's now only one thing we can do."

          She turned on her heel and rushed away from the monster with a cry of 'run!'

          Waveform took off after her, firing his arrows at the monster to cover their backs.

          The nihilego's terrified shrieks deafened them. The one remaining fired rocks and sludge at the creature, desperate to rescue its friend. The three kartana drifted back and forth, slicing their blades, undecided on whether to follow Annie or fight back.

          Poipole drifted down towards Web, his mental voice wavering.

          "I don't know what it is," he said. "I've never seen one before."

          "I believe it's a monster known as Guzzlord," said Rave. "I've only heard about it in the legends my trainer used to tell me. It eats anything in its path."

          "Then what are we doing just lookin' at it?" Anchor roared. "Take Annie's advice and run!"

          Anchor turned and rushed after Annie, pushing Web and Poipole on before him. Waveform had dragged her down a narrow alleyway towards another street, rather than out of Spool City entirely. Anchor glanced back to make sure everyone was ahead of him. The kartana slipped past, following the pokemon into the alley. Anchor was about to turn and follow them, but his jaw dropped. Rave was watching the nihilego's frantic attempts. Its friend was long gone, its screeches stopped. The only sounds were the nihilego's protests and battlecries, and the guzzlord's munching jaws. It turned its chomping limbs towards the lone nihilego.

          Rave launched himself onto the rooftops in one swift spring. Then he leapt to the nihilego, grabbing it in his arms. With a graceful twist, he dodged the guzzlord's snapping maws. With another spring, he vanished between the buildings.

          Anchor shook his head sharply and slipped into the alley, joining Web and Poipole.

          "She went this way." Web grabbed his arm and dragged him after her. "Where's Rave?"

          "I don't know!" Anchor growled. "Crazy goof leapt to rescue that other nihilego. He's somewhere in all this chaos!"

          He darted past them to lead them round the twists and turns of Spool City's alleyways. Annie and Waveform were waiting for them, and when they appeared, Waveform took to the sky to scout them a path.

          "See if you can spot Rave!" Anchor told him.

          Waveform rose higher, his keen eyes searching through the smog. "I see him."

          No sooner had the words left Waveform's beak, Rave sprang from a back alley with the nihilego still clutched in his arms. The guzzlord rose above them, its slimy tongue stretching its snapping pincer after the blacephalon. Celesteela's eerie scream filled the air and she dropped from the sky, landing atop the huge Ultra Beast. She hit her target with an almighty crash, the very ground trembling with the impact and scattering rubble from the ruined buildings. Anchor dodged to the side to avoid falling rocks as he scrambled after Rave. Another one of Celesteela's screams joined a bellowing roar from the guzzlord. Her bamboo neck stretched up above the ruins and one of her cannons crashed down on the monster flailing under her weight.

          The nihilego's tinkling cry was akin to sobbing amongst all the chaos. It didn't even try to leave Rave's arms as he carried it to safety. Anchor had almost caught up with him when another rock tumbled down, cutting him off. The granbull kicked out at it, roaring with frustration.

          Celesteela screeched as her huge body toppled sideways towards Anchor. The guzzlord let out an almighty roar as it pushed itself free, its limb groping for her face. She aimed a cannon flash at its gut, sending it flying away from her. But yet more debris filled the alley, leaving Anchor and his crew with no choice but to take a different path.

          A flash of fire drew his eye to the rooftops. Rave bounced on top of it, flames flickering away from his free paw like a flare. He turned and led them down a narrow alley with Waveform calling directions to those stranded on the ground.

          The kartana zipped on ahead of them, calling out in their own peculiar language. They followed tightly to Waveform's path, spreading out over the crew to keep a close eye on them. One of them performed a corkscrew above their heads, deflecting a stray pebble back into the fray.

          The guzzlord's roars grew with intensity as it fought back against Celesteela. Its long pincer tongue struck the buildings ahead of them, causing Anchor to do a double take. When had it moved ahead of them? Rave hadn't prepared for it. He lost his footing, dropping towards the floor with a yell.

          "Rave!" Anchor roared.

          A red streak shot down after the blacephalon. Then a shrill buzz cut the air. The red creature manifested above the dust and debris, clutching both Rave and the nihilego in a pair of muscular arms. It darted back towards them with surprising speed for its size. Then it curved away, leading them away from the combat towards Proxy Boulevard.

          Waveform trimmed his wings and swerved after it, along with the kartana. Anchor didn't even think twice. He led the group after the Ultra Beast, racing down Proxy Boulevard. Celesteela's screams and the guzzlord's roars shook the city. Rocks and other debris struck the ground around them, only adding to the chaos. Anchor squinted through the dust cloud. The red creature was just ahead of them, moving into Proxy City. The granbull picked up speed, glancing over his shoulder to make sure everyone was still with him. Then they entered the next city, leaving behind the warring Ultra Beasts.

          The red bug-like creature's shrill, buzzing whine fizzled out as it zipped into the gaping door of a ruined building. Anchor came to a stop just outside it, eyeing the opening with a growing suspicion. Waveform landed almost silently beside him, drawing his eye.

          "This is where it's lead us," he said. "I say we go inside."

          The kartana took his words as a sign to do so, zipping in over their heads. Anchor ducked instinctively, raising a paw to shield his mohawk.

          "Well I ain't standin' around like a damp squid." Annie pushed between them, marching into the building. "It's dangerous out here."

          Waveform shook his head and glanced at Anchor, before following after Annie. The granbull gestured to the rest of the pokemon and trailed after Waveform.

          The building was made a lot smaller inside by the sheer amount of rubble from the caved in floor above. A few Ultra Beasts occupied it, beside the bug creature, Rave and the frightened nihilego. Two more nihilego drifted above them among the remains of the rafters. About five xurkitree clung to the walls, their electricity lighting up the dim room with all the efficiency of a strobing florescent kitchen light. Against the far wall leant another bug-like creature, only this one appeared feminine. She stood with slender arms folded over a lithe body. A long, papery shell hung down her back, which rustled with every slight movement.

          Rave almost leapt for joy when he saw the space pirates. He waved at the large red bug to draw their eyes to it. Four legs, two muscular arms, and a long proboscis. Its shrill buzzing had stopped as its wings lay stationary behind it.

          "This is my new friend Buzzwole!" said Rave.

          The huge creature lifted both of his arms and flexed. Green veins protruded from his exoskeleton as his internal muscles bulged. His tiny eyes smiled down at the space pirates, nullifying his intimidating appearance.

          "Well, erm…" Anchor scratched his nose as his eyes drifted over the other occupants once more. "It's nice to meet you?"

          The feminine bug met his eyes then almost seemed to tut, diverting her gaze as she flicked her shell back from her head with one paw. It fluttered like silk.

          A shrill buzz filled the room and all eyes went back to Buzzwole. It wasn't his wings that were making it this time. It came from his proboscis reminiscent of a kazoo. Once he'd fallen silent once more, Rave took the opportunity to translate.

          "He says this is the safest place at the moment. The guzzlord has destroyed most of the cities, and the distortion is spreading across System, driving everyone out. Those that stay behind get sucked in. For now everyone has retreated here. The turf war will be put on hold until the guzzlord has moved on."

          "Turf war?" Annie made an obscene noise with her lips and waved a hand at Buzzwole. "No need! We're here to fight the distortion and get y'all back home!"

          Anchor lifted a paw to drag her attention, but the tinkling from the nihilego and the xukitree's increased light display caused him to take a step back. The kartana zipped back and forth above him, clashing their limbs together in a desperate bid for silence.

          Buzzwole leapt into the middle of the room, flexing his arms in various positions. A few kazoo toots quickly resolved the situation, and order fell over the room once more.

          A final flex. Eyes fixed on Annie.

          Rave waved a paw towards her. "He says to continue."

          Annie opened her mouth, but Anchor silenced her with a paw on her shoulder. He looked the buzzwole in the eye and cleared his throat.

          "Annie's right," he said. "We are tryin' to get you all back home, but we need your help. Distortion is wrecking our world, and an android called BackDoor is the reason you're all here in the first place, including Distortion."

          The xurkitree chattered among themselves, then turned back to Anchor.

          "They say they fought some creatures that opened their world," said Rave.

          "That might have been to do with him," said Anchor. "Anyway, we've got a friend workin' on our ship to make a device that can open a gate back to your own world. Then you'll be free, and away from all this… well let's face it, our world is pretty strange to you, right?"

          Buzzwole looked down at Rave, then up at the other Ultra Beasts. The nihilego tinkled amongst themselves, while the xurkitree chattered on in a series of words drowned in static that Anchor couldn't understand. Buzzwole flexed one arm, drawing the room into silence, then smiled down at Anchor.

          A few little toots.

          "He does want to go back," said Rave. "And so does everyone else."

          Toot kazoo patoot.

          Rave shrugged. "He says the berries here taste weird and everyone looks at him funny."

          Annie folded her arms and nodded. "I know that feel, bro."

          Buzzwole stretched a fist out towards her. She returned it with a fist-bump of her own. Then he flexed.

          "That's all well and good," said Anchor. "But it ain't just you guys. It's all of you. Including the guzzlord. You all need to go back, so we have to… well… gather you all together-"

          The nihilego rose into a tinkling panic, and the frightened one zipped behind Rave, wrapping its tentacles around his waist. He tried to pry it free, but it shook its head and let out a strange, screaming squeal.

          "That isn't going to be easy."

          Anchor looked up with a start. It was the female bug that had spoken. She unfurled her arms and placed one paw on her hip.

          "If you want to send that guzzlord back with us all," she said slowly, "then you're going to have to tame it."

          "Tame it?" Web squeaked. "You've seen what it does! How are we meant to tame it if Celesteela is struggling to fight it?"

          Poipole drifted back and forth in the room, eyes drifting to each and every one of the Ultra Beasts as he sucked noisily on his toxic tank. He exchanged glances with Rave and the two nodded.

          "Nihilego," they said in unison.

          The terrified nihilego screamed once more, and the two above them flew into a panicked frenzy.

          "Hear us out!" shouted Poipole. "Please!"

          Buzzwole honked up at them, flexing his massive arms. When they didn't quiet, he flapped his wings. Anchor cowered with his paws over his ears, trying to stifle the shrill buzzing before it tore through his eardrums. The nihilego calmed down, drifting back to their rafters.

          "Just listen," said Poipole. "You have the ability to control whatever you inject your toxins into. Right? So if one of you can take over the guzzlord, then we can try and reason with it."

          "That's a nice idea and all," said the female bug. "But the nihilego can't even get close to that guzzlord. They've already tried to neutralize it, and look what's happened! It's slaughtered hundreds of them!"

          All eyes went back to the three nihilego.

          "This is all that's left?" Anchor choked.

          "Not quite," said the bug. "They're relatively scattered, but their numbers are few."

          Poipole looked up at her. "Pheramosa… that's your name right?"

          "Call me what you want." She shrugged. "My trainer never bothered to nickname me."

          "Well if you help, too," Poipole went on, "and Buzzwole… you could weaken the guzzlord enough for the nihilego to get close and take over it. Even if you only distracted it. Your attacks are effective against the guzzlord."

          "Really?" Anchor frowned at Poipole. "What typing is it?"

          "In your terms," said Rave, drawing the granbull's eye, "I'd say it's both dark and dragon type."

          Waveform folded his wings and nodded. "In that case, it would be pretty effective against Distortion, too. If we can get this guzzlord on our side, I'd say we'd have a pretty powerful ally."

          "But how do we do that?" asked Web. "That thing eats buildings."

          Waveform's eyes lit up through his mask as he grinned. "Exactly."

          ...

          It took a while to rally the Ultra Beasts together with enough confidence to take on the guzzlord. As they trailed back to Spool City, each step brought on more anxiety. Celesteela's eerie screams rivaled with the guzzlord's roars. The city buildings had been flattened wherever they had fought, and long glowing vines impaled buildings, pulsing with light. They also covered the guzzlord's body, slowly draining his strength, yet he fought on with as much vigor as he had been doing. Dust choked the lungs of any who weren't wearing masks. Poipole, now without his tank hindering his attacks, spat poison from his proboscis to clear them, aiming it well away from his friends. But his breaths came in wheezes like a set of punctured bellows.

          Anchor stopped them just inside an alley, with a clear view of the warring titans. He turned to Buzzwole and Pheramosa and nodded.

          "All right, you two. You know what to do."

          The two insectoid Ultra Beasts shot from the alley, Buzzwole's wings creating his shrill buzz and drawing the guzzlord's attention. Celesteela cuffed the dragon over the head with one of her cannons. He caught the other in his tongue pincers, dragging it into his mouth.

          Buzzwole zipped past him, striking him with his wings' sound waves. He lurched to the side as Pheramosa lunged at the dragon, her slender limbs piercing his thick hide.

          With three Ultra Beasts to deal with, the tides of battle began to change. The guzzlord pivoted to focus his attention on one of the beasts, leaving himself open to attack from the other two. But it would only take one of them falling in battle to turn the fight back in his favor. If they were going to win this, they had to act fast.

          Anchor shot from the alley with Rave in tow. The granbull nodded to Rave and the blacephalon fired off a volley of shadow balls, dragging the guzzlord's attention away from Pheramosa. The slender bug managed to land another lunge right on the guzzlord's left tongue pincer. It retracted back into his mouth with such speed it knocked her off balance. She lay sprawled right beneath his flailing feet. Her eyes widened with fear as his left foot came crashing down towards her head. Buzzwole zipped towards her, yanking her out of the way, just as the massive dragon came crashing back down.

          Celesteela leapt into the air and heavy-slammed on top of him, giving the two insects the chance to flee to a safer distance and re-think their strategy.

          Web's team came in from the opposite side to Anchor. Poipole fired gunk shots at the guzzlord's other tongue pincer. It didn't phase Celesteela, who managed to get in the way of a couple of the attacks. But it was enough to cause the guzzlord's tongue to recoil with disgust. The dragon's flailing increased as he levered Celesteela off him with his small arms. Then, with an almighty roar, the bamboo cannon found herself careening away from him. Her leech seed vines snapped from the dragon's body, releasing him from the energy draining attack.

          "Drat," said Anchor. "That would've been useful if it had held for longer."

          His eye went back to the alley. Several silver arrows arced towards the battle, striking the guzzlord on the back. As he turned, Buzzwole and Pheramosa leapt in to strike him from behind. He turned again, flailing his tongues, pincers snapping. Electricity coursed through his body and his limbs jerked. He thrashed up and down, stamping his feet as he dislodged one of the xurkitree. It skittered away along with its companions, firing more electricity. His tongues lashed out, snapping at anything that moved. Pheramosa grimaced as one of them fastened over her leg. The kartana leapt to her aid, slashing at his tongue. Green blood leaked from it and the guzzlord howled. Pheramosa slipped free before the limb retracted back into his mouth. In a fury, she lunged at the other one, eliciting a pained roar from the huge beast.

          Another leech seed erupted from the ground, moving with Celesteela's eerie cry. It wrapped around the guzzlord's legs, staggering his movements.

          Anchor waved a fist at the sky and the three nihilego descended. Shining rocks and gunk shots peppered the guzzlord, while Buzzwole and Pheramosa added to the confusion. His huge tongues lashed out like fists, and a streak of red careened back from him as Buzzwole was deflected like a pebble. He struck the wall beside Anchor, sliding down it in a daze. He shook his head, buzzed and flexed, then shot back into the battle. He intersected a falling nihilego, giving it a moment to catch its breath before it drifted back into the air to launch more rocks.

          The timid nihilego dropped from between its friends, landing atop the guzzlord's tiny head. It stuck its tentacles into his body, piercing his thick hide. The dragon thrashed and roared, struggling to break free from the leech seed as the vines climbed up his body. Those that tangled his limbs were torn in an instant as he reached up to claw the nihilego from his head.

          Slow pulses spread down the nihilego's tentacles as toxins flooded the dragon's body. Then the strength left him as he slumped to the floor in a spasming heap.

          "Good grief." Anchor marched towards the dazed guzzlord, joining his allies as they gathered around it. "He put up a fight."

          Celesteela let out a cry that Anchor didn't need a translator for. He took it as a 'You aren't kidding.'

          He reached up and patted the huge creature on her metal cannon. "Thanks for helpin' us out."

          She returned the gesture, almost knocking Anchor face first into the guzzlord.

          "Our nihilego friend is growing tired," said Rave. "I think we need to work fast."

          "All right," said Anchor. "Tell him exactly what's goin' on. We need his help and co-operation if we're gonna save this world. His reward, he gets to eat a flippin' mansion."

          Rave leant forward, reciting exactly what the other Ultra Beasts had been told. The state of System. The reason the guzzlord had been dragged into it in the first place. At the mention of the mansion, the guzzlord reacted. Although Anchor thought that might have been more to do with the nihilego's weakening hold.

          A few grunts came from the dragon's gaping mouth. His tongues twitched as they snapped idly at the air.

          "Huh." Rave stood up straight and shrugged his paws. "He doesn't know why he should help us given we've ruined his dinner."

          "Seriously?" Anchor snorted. "He doesn't see the problem here? Destroying our home and taking innocent lives?"

          "If I were to put it into terms you would understand," said Rave, "you have herbivores. Carnivores. Omnivores. Well… the guzzlord species are very much omnomnomnivores."

          "This is no time for jokes!" Anchor spat.

          "I wasn't joking!"

          Annie wriggled between them and leant forward, so close she was almost eye to eye with the guzzlord.

          "Annie! What are you-" Web's gasp cut off as Waveform pulled her back to leap to the girl's aid.

          "Oi!" Annie said, her voice making the dragon flinch. "You fail to understand us, Omnom. That mansion is like… a gourmet meal! You help us, you get to eat the best, most top-grade buildin' in this entire universe! These pebbles are like… I dunno… morsels in comparison!"

          The guzzlord's eyes widened slightly and he pushed himself up on one of his tiny arms. The nihilego's pulses weakened as it trembled in its efforts to keep the guzzlord under control.

          A deep rumble came from the dragon, but its eyes never left Annie's.

          "Oh wow." Rave turned his head to look at Annie. "He asks why we didn't tell him that before."

          Annie shrugged. "We kinda did."

          "But you didn't put it in those terms," Rave quickly translated. "You've made the mansion sound like a real delight."

          The guzzlord struggled to his feet, depositing the nihilego. More rumbling.

          "If he gets to eat this mansion," said Rave, "then he's game."

          "All right." Annie pointed a finger at the guzzlord.

          He took a small step back, almost squashing the nihilego. It zipped to the side with a squeal.

          "If you're helpin'," Annie went on, "then all of these-" She circled a finger above and around her, "are your allies! We are not food. We will not be mistaken for food. This world is a meat-free-zone! Capiche?"

          A small growl, slightly disappointed.

          "Capiche," said Rave.

          Annie beamed at the dragon and nodded. "Right then. So I guess it's back to the ship?"

          The guzzlord growled again.

          "No, the ship is not food!" Annie snapped.

          The guzzlord's limbs slumped as he deflated. He let out another, pathetic growl.

          "Fine, I'll get Cookie to make you some pancakes," she said. "Get a wiggle on, Omnom, we've got a world to save, and you've got a mansion to eat."

          Annie herded the guzzlord ahead of her while everyone else watched in a stunned silence.

          "Did I just witness that?" Anchor asked.

          Waveform sheathed his arrows. "She has a way with words."

          "Clearly!" Rave cleared his throat and glanced at Anchor. "Why isn't she heading this crew?"

          Anchor shook himself into shape and trotted after her. "I need to tell her that dragon is flying behind the ship! Everyone else on board for the next part of the plan!" He paused to point at Celesteela. "Keep an eye on him, all right?"

          Celesteela looked down and sighed.

          Rave patted her on the cannon. "Don't worry, old girl. It's just a short flight to the distortion."
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          Old December 30th, 2018 (5:43 AM).
          Delirious Absol's Avatar
          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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            Chapter Seventy Six

            Macro leant against a metal storage crate beside DL, arms crossed as he watched Wildcard Gamma pull back into Cyan City’s docks. Beyond the ship drifted two huge Ultra Beasts, one of which sent chills down his spine. The odd bamboo creature didn’t look anywhere near as threatening, instead focusing all her attention on the hulking monstrosity beside her. There seemed to be some sort of conversation going on, resulting in the occasional disappointed growl from the huge mouth in the big beast’s gut.

            The ship’s hatch whirred open, followed by Anchor dropping onto the docks. He was swiftly followed by three kartana, the sight of which made Macro’s blood turn to ice. The rest of his crew followed close behind, trailed by Poipole and a jaunty looking creature Macro assumed was one of the new Ultra Beasts. It let out a telepathic whistle.

            “Jolly nice city, this one, eh?” The creature elbowed Anchor in the hip.

            “Aye.” Anchor waved towards the mawile. “Right this way.”

            The crew made their way towards Macro, sans Annie. The human girl stood with her arms crossed, looking up at the two larger Ultra Beasts drifting outside the docks. Mainly at the black, draconic creature.

            “Oi, Annie!” Anchor barked. “You joinin’ us?”

            “No, I’m watchin’ this guy,” Annie called back over her shoulder. “Make sure he don’t go and eat the entire city, an’ all that jazz.”

            “Celesteela’s got that job, dear,” said Web softly.

            Celesteela gave a soft yet somewhat disgruntled scream. Annie nodded and waved at the bamboo creature.

            “All right, you’re bigger’n me anyway.” Annie turned to her crewmates. “But you know where I am if he gets outta hand, right?”

            Celesteela visibly sighed.

            The jaunty looking Ultra Beast paused before Macro and waved an arm in an elegant bow. “You must be Macro! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Rave, a blacephalon from a little island called Sparkle Grove.”

            “Erm…” Macro stuttered a little and stretched out a paw. “Pleased to meet you?”

            Rave didn’t appear concerned by the space pirate’s nervousness. Instead, he took his paw and gave it a hearty shake.

            Macro released the blacephalon and his eyes went to the kartana.

            One of them drifted towards him, causing Macro to take a step back. But it didn’t advance any further. Instead, it rubbed its blades together, creating a soft grating sound.

            Rave let out a thoughtful noise. “Allow me to translate. It says it’s sorry.” He paused as the kartana continued its grating and clanging. “And it believes it speaks for its allies when it says it is truly glad to see you are okay.”

            Another one of the kartana began clattering its blades.

            “Your world hasn’t been making things easy for the kartana,” Rave went on. “They thought you were there to hurt them, so they defended themselves. They are sorry for all misunderstanding and hope you can work together to rid your world of the evil that has consumed it.”

            Macro absently pawed at his ribs. “Well… I’m no stranger to misunderstandings.” He smiled. “If they can set it aside, then so can I.”

            The lead kartana dragged one arm over the other, creating a swooshing noise that sounded a lot like a sigh of relief.

            Macro cocked an eyebrow at Anchor. “So these are all the beasts you recruited?”

            “Not at all,” said Anchor. “We found a whole host of Ultra Beasts. They’re off finding the stragglers, and will meet us just outside Seed City tomorrow evenin’.”

            “Really?” Macro’s eyes widened and he let his arms hang at his sides.

            “Aye.” Anchor grinned. “There’s a couple of newbies still on board, actually. We found one of Socket’s soldiers driftin’ about System Sky.”

            Macro’s jaw dropped at that, but before he could retort, Anchor lifted a paw and continued.

            “He had one of those Zero Day units. Turns out it can open up gateways, so we’re gonna use it. He’s gettin’ help from a xurkitree he’s nicknamed Sparky.”

            “I still think it’s cliche,” said Annie.

            Anchor ignored her. “So how are things holdin’ up here?”

            Macro ran his mechanical paw down his face. “Hang on. I’m still trying to process all that.”

            DL placed a paw on his shoulder. “What’s worrying you? I doubt the xurkitree is just going to damage your ship.”

            “Not gonna lie, the thought crossed my mind.” Macro pressed his paw over his mouth and stared past Anchor at the giant wishiwashi. “And one of Socket’s soldiers? Well…” He sighed and dropped his paw. “I guess he ain’t exactly workin’ for her anymore.”

            Web narrowed her eyes at the mawile. “We can’t exactly discriminate, can we? We’re all in the same boat.”

            “Ship,” said Annie. “It’s a ship.”

            The skuntank shook her head and moved away. “I’ll go and find Zip. He’ll want to be included.”

            “About that.” Macro’s words froze her in her tracks and all eyes went to the mawile. He sighed. “You’ll want to see for yourselves.”

            He led them back to the hospital in silence. He couldn’t find any words, and didn’t want to get them any more worried than they already were. They had two Z-Crystal users, Zip and Switch, and both of them weren’t in any state to use them.

            When they reached the hospital, Defrag was exiting it. Macro wasn’t surprised. It had been her turn to try and help Switch recover his memories and re-learn ‘brave bird’.

            “Any joy?” Macro asked as he caught her eye.

            She shook her head and slipped past him, turning her attention to her computer.

            The group finally came to a stop outside a private room. Macro spotted an azumarill nurse doubled over Zip’s water bowl. It had been removed from his mechanical legs. When Macro opened the door, the goldeen’s face lit up in a beaming smile.

            “You’re all back!” he cheered.

            “Of course we are, little fish!” Annie rushed to his bowl and crouched beside it. “And we’ve got a whole army to help us fight off Distortion.”

            Zip sank to the bottom of his bowl, pouting out his bottom lip. “That nasty dragon really threw a spanner in the works, huh?”

            “I’ll say!” said Rave. “A right party pooper, that one.”

            The goldeen spotted the Ultra Beast and a stream of bubbles left his gaping mouth in a gasp.

            “That is so cool!” he wagged his tail, pushing himself up against the glass. “You look amazing! What can you do?”

            “Well, I can make explosions.” Rave rubbed the back of his sparkly head. “But I’ve been told not to do that indoors.”

            “And rightly so,” said Anchor. He turned back to Zip. “So… what’s the situation here then?”

            Macro waved a paw and slumped on the edge of the bed, prompting the nurse to explain. She’d been too distracted by the blacephalon and had dropped her Clipboard. She retrieved it and scanned over it, keeping a cautious eye on Rave.

            “I know you had this goldeen’s best interests at heart,” she said, pausing to look at Annie and Web. “But those wounds he received at the fishery… they never healed properly. He ideally needed to be in clean river water.”

            “But it’s fine!” said Zip. “I’ll get better, and I can help you!”

            “You’ll be doing no such thing, young ‘mon,” said the azumarill. “You need a month’s worth of antibiotics and a lot of rest, or…” She paused and shook her head, nodding towards the door.

            The group followed her into the hallway, leaving Zip protesting in his bowl. After the door had closed, the nurse leant against the wall and looked at each of them in turn.

            “If that goldeen doesn’t get the rest he needs,” she said, “he’s going to die.”

            Web gasped and clasped a paw over her mouth. Annie’s eyes went back to the door, her expression unreadable. Waveform placed a paw on her shoulder, but she didn’t appear to notice.

            “Well that’s not exactly good news, is it?” said Rave, lights turning a subdued blue.

            “No, it’s not,” said the azumarill. “Like I said, you had his best interests. If you’d released him back into the river, he’d have been caught again in no time. With those wounds, he wouldn’t have been able to swim efficiently. And from what he told me, he also had no family to go back to. So… either way, it wouldn’t have gone in his favour. If I were in your situation, I’d have done exactly the same thing.”

            Waveform sighed and rubbed his head feathers. “I should have flown further out for cleaner water.”

            “It wouldn’t have made much difference,” said the nurse. “The air in Spool City would have poisoned the water in a matter of hours. The issue isn’t just the toxins, however. His wounds have become very infected. He needs regular antibiotics and a lot of rest. His water has to be changed daily. You can’t do that on the battlefield. And I will be honest with you, there’s a fifty/fifty chance he’ll even see out the full course of medicine.”

            “What does that mean?” asked Annie.

            Web rose onto her hind legs and pulled Annie aside by her shoulder. A whispered conversation passed between them, and Macro felt his stomach tie in knots.

            DL looked up at him and placed a paw on his arm. Anchor caught his eye and the mawile shrugged.

            “He’s just a kid,” said Macro. “He doesn’t deserve this.”

            Anchor nodded sadly. “He’s also got a lot of fight in him.” He paused and smirked at Macro. “Kinda reminds me of you.”

            Macro swallowed audibly and hugged his paws over his torso. He thought he saw the Fairium-Z sparkle in the corner of his eye.

            “Let me back in.” Annie pulled herself away from Web and marched back to the door. “I need to talk to him.”

            Web grimaced. “Annie, I’m not sure-”

            “He’ll listen to me,” said Annie. “He’s always listened to me.”

            “And what are you going to tell him?” Waveform looked down at her, his wings crossed. He slipped between her and the door, but she batted him away.

            “I’m gonna tell him exactly what he needs to hear,” she said. “That he needs to rest and get better. We’ve got his back in this rebellion. He doesn’t have to fight it any more!”

            “No.”

            Zip’s voice was muffled by the door, but everyone looked back at it. Annie twisted the handle and pushed it open, narrowly missing Zip’s bowl. The goldeen looked up at them, panting from the exertion of nudging his bowl across the floor.

            Web slumped her shoulders and shook her head. “Oh, Zip… You’ve been told to rest!”

            “I’m not resting!” he shouted. “I’m done resting. I want to help! You said I could help, that we’d change System! We’ll I want to help make a difference!”

            Annie crouched down beside him, peering into his bowl. “You have made a difference. That rebellion wouldn’t have been started without you. You also helped me find friends!”

            “But the rebellion has to stop,” said Zip. “Because of Distortion. I want to help you beat it so the water dwellers’ fight can continue.”

            “You’re not doing anything of the sort!” said the nurse.

            A rapid water gun narrowly missed the azumarill’s ear. She lifted a paw and squeaked with surprise. Zip poked his head out of the bowl, scowling at her.

            “See? I can fight!” he said. “I’m tired of you telling me to rest when I’ve got a war to fight! My war isn’t in this bowl. I don’t care if I’m wounded, or sick! I want to help my friends to beat Distortion! I even have my own Z-Crystal, and I want to use it!”

            Macro looked down at his own Z-Crystal. It was still sparkling. He thought he could see Solgaleo’s eyes looking back at him. Nodding.

            Macro lowered his arm and looked up at the nurse. “Let him fight.”

            “What?” The nurse, Web and Waveform all looked at him, stunned.

            “We need him,” said Macro. “And let’s face it. What statement would it make if a water dweller helped defeat Distortion and save System?” He grinned down at the goldeen. “Not exactly useless, eh?”

            Zip beamed and fluttered his tail fins. “You really want me to help?”

            “I demand it!” said Macro. “You’re part of our crew, right? But!” He lifted a claw. “Until we leave, you take your medicine. And we’ll bring enough with us. Can’t have you falling before we reach the battlefield.”

            Zip grinned widely and splashed with glee. “You’ve got it, Captain! I’ll be of great help, you’ll see!”

            The azumarill blanched and fixed Macro in a glare. “I have you know you’re stepping on toes. I can’t allow this! And I’m sure Jumper will have something to say about this, too!”

            “Oh, that he will.”

            Macro’s spine tingled and he looked back at the frogadier. Jumper leant against the wall and smiled down at Zip.

            “As you can see, Governor.” The nurse waved her paw towards the goldeen. “He’s in no fit state to fight.”

            “No, I’m with Macro on this one.” Jumper’s words made the nurse squeal with surprise.

            “But…” she stuttered. “Governor, please…!”

            “It would definitely make a statement,” said Jumper. “And if he can splash in his bowl, I think he’s got enough energy to fight. Provided he’s on the sidelines.” The frogadier’s eyes went to Zip and Time Archeops.

            “Sidelines?” Zip whined. “I want to help!”

            “And you can.” Jumper crouched before his bowl. “But you’re a fish out of your natural environment. Sure, that water bowl allows you to do more on land than any other water dweller, but you can’t get away quickly in it. And if it were to be damaged, you’d be stranded without water. That could be disastrous in your condition.”

            Zip’s lips turned into a frown and he diverted his eyes.

            “Don’t worry about him.” Annie placed a hand on Zip’s bowl, beaming at the frogadier. “I’ve got him covered, he won’t get hurt under my watch! Besides, he can cover my back. Right, little fish?”

            Zip gave her a weak smile. “You’ve got it. No one’s gonna get past me. Right?”

            Annie nodded, causing Zip to beam once more.

            “Very well.” Jumper stood up and crossed his arms. “But you come straight back here, and like Macro said, you take your medicine.”

            Zip saluted with a fin.

            Jumper nodded and turned back to the nurse. The azumarill threw her arms in the air, almost tossing her Clipboard free across the room.

            “Oh, dash it all!” she said. “You come in here and overrule my-”

            Jumper put a finger to her lips to silence her. “Let him have this one, ma’am. He’ll be right back here before you know it.”

            The nurse looked between the space pirates and Jumper, then shook her head and sighed. “Fine! Two days. You have two days!”

            She marched from the room, shoving past Macro as she muttered to herself. He watched her leave, then turned back to Annie and her crew.

            “We need to be on my ship in three hours,” he said. “Then we’ll head to our meeting place with the Ultra Beasts. Anchor?”

            The granbull turned to look at him and cocked an eyebrow.

            “You stay with these guys and find Tracer and his two friends,” said Macro. “I’m gonna visit Switch and see how he’s gettin’ on.”

            Anchor tapped him on the back and turned to talk to Zip. Macro tugged his scarf about himself and left the room with DL at his side. A small little note played from her belt pouch and she pulled out a small pocket computer. He raised an eyebrow at it, wondering if she’d picked it up during the aftermath of their run-in with Distortion.

            “I’ll have to meet you in there,” she said, popping it back into her pocket. “I need to run and get something.”

            He nodded, curiosity gnawing at him. She trotted away towards the reception, leaving him beside the elevator.

            It didn’t take him long to get to Switch’s private room. The human lay sprawled on his bed with his back against the wall, fidgeting with his transformer watch. He looked up when Macro entered, but there was no smile on his face.

            “How are you doin’?” Macro asked.

            Switch snorted and looked away from him. “Still dealing with not being fifteen anymore. The doctors here don’t even know how old I am. Pretty obvious humans don’t exist here, isn’t it? Every time I look in the mirror, I just think ‘Wow, I look like my dad.’ I’ve even got the odd grey hair.”

            “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” said Macro.

            Switch threw his arms in the air in exasperation. “I’ve lost about half of my life! What happened to the other fifteen years?”

            “You spent them in System,” said Macro. “We’re tryin’ to help you remember it all, okay? But I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened to you, or who your friends are. All I know is you’re some goofy guy who’s everybody’s friend. Even mine, and boy I don’t deserve it.”

            Switch snorted and looked back down at his watch. “You make it sound like you’re some kind of scum.”

            Those words stabbed like a dagger.

            Macro hugged himself and leant back against the wall. “Well, I’m tryin’ to change.”

            “So I was right then?”

            Macro looked up at him, meeting one of his golden eyes. “Weren’t a very nice kid, were ya, pal?”

            Switch waved a hand and sighed. “Sorry. I guess not. In my mind, I had a row with my parents yesterday. Something about ‘not pulling my weight’ and ‘talking back’.”

            “Teenage stress. I’ve been there.” Macro kicked himself back from the wall and strutted over to Switch’s bed. “It’s not okay, mind you.”

            He tried to scramble onto the bed to no avail. Switch leant over and grabbed him by the scruff, yanking him onto the mattress. Macro shook out his fur and straightened his scarf. Then he leant back against the wall and tucked his paws behind his head.

            “I know it’s not okay,” said Switch. “I just said things out of anger. Like then. I know you’re not scum.”

            “Yeah, well. Take it from someone who knows from experience,” said Macro. “I spent my irritable teenage years flyin’ a pirate ship and shootin’ laser pistols.”

            “Did it help?”

            Macro waved his mechanical paw at himself. “Almost died more times than I can count. So I’d say ‘no’.”

            Switch snorted. “You ever hurt anyone?”

            Macro grimaced and toyed with the hem of his scarf. “Too many times. Kind of an eye opener.”

            “Well, I did, too. Said things I didn’t mean.” Switch sighed and shook his head. “I vividly remember my mother crying as my dad sent me to my room.”

            “Then what did you do?” Macro asked.

            Switch shrugged. “I was planning to run away. I’d started writing a letter. After that, I don’t remember. It’s all blank.”

            Macro stared up at him, but the human didn’t meet his eyes. “Well, if Socket removed all your memories about System, I’d say… you probably ended up here after that.”

            “What, so I did run away?” Switch snapped. “Ended up here with talking pokemon and locked in a ward like some kinda freak-show?!”

            “You’re not a freak-show!” Macro growled. “You’re one of the nicest ‘mon I ever met, and that’s rich, ‘cos you’re not one!”

            Switch groaned and let his head fall back against the wall. “I just wanna go home. I want to apologise!”

            Macro balled his paws into fists and looked away. “Then you’ve left me with a difficult choice, ‘cos I don’t know which home to send you to anymore.”

            The door cracked open, drawing their eyes. DL peered back at them, smiling softly.

            “Can I come in?” she asked.

            Macro shrugged. “Sure.”

            She slipped through the door, clutching a fabric bag in one paw. Macro frowned at it.

            “What’s in the bag? It looks fancy,” he asked.

            “Oh, I erm…” She reached inside and pulled out a fabric bundle. “I wanted to replace your damaged scarf, but… I know you liked the old one, so…”

            Macro hopped from the bed, landing in a crouch. He took the scarf from her and unwound it. Black glossy fabric with a blue pattern. But at either end, the old scarf Switch had brought him had been neatly sewn. The blue pattern complimented the blue pixel print perfectly, and it had been cut in a way that none of the damaged burnt bits remained.

            “Do you like it?” DL asked.

            “You kiddin’ me?” he said. “I love it.”

            DL clapped her paws and beamed. “Try it on!”

            Macro chuckled and placed the scarf back in her paws. Then he removed his old, black one. Compared to the new scarf, it looked old and faded. As he exchanged it for DL’s gift, Switch let out a little gasp.

            Macro craned his head around to see Switch with a hand clasped in his hair. His mouth hung open as he stared at the mawile, eyes trailing down his back.

            “What’s wrong?” Macro welled with concern and turned fully to face him.

            “Those markings…” Switch’s face rapidly dampened with sweat. “I think I’ve seen them somewhere…”

            DL grabbed Macro by the arm and turned him so Switch could see them, tugging his heavy horn aside to reveal them more. Those two, brown stripes that had always reminded Macro of a pikachu.

            Switch let his arm drop to his side and slowly slipped from the bed. “Yes. Yes, I have. I’ve seen them.”

            Macro frowned at him over his shoulder. “Not on a pikachu, though, right?”

            “No, that wouldn’t be weird at all,” Switch scoffed. “No, I… I feel like they were somewhere strange. Black and white. No… blue. All three!”

            He tugged at his hair as he strained to remember. Macro turned back to him, his muzzle creasing with worry.

            “Easy there,” he said. “You’ll end up tuggin’ it all out at this rate.”

            “Just let me think!” Switch snapped. “Sorry… Sorry, I don’t mean to… Argh, where have I seen them before?”

            Macro knew exactly where. Switch had already told him, weeks ago.

            “A meowstic?” Macro offered.

            Switch fixed his golden eyes on him, releasing his hair. “A meowstic…”

            “Ringin’ any bells?” Macro asked.

            Switch shushed him, eyes drifting to the wall. “Yes… yes, I think… I faintly remember.”

            DL tapped Macro on his shoulder, drawing his attention. She stared transfixed at Switch, her chocolate eyes sparkling.

            “I think it’s working,” she whispered. “I don’t understand how.”

            Switch slumped to his bottom and trailed his hands down to his mouth. He looked at the two pokemon in turn.

            “I remember him,” he said. “And a mawile. But… I don’t remember anything about them. Just… that they’re friends of mine.”

            Macro’s mouth curled into a smile, then he grinned as he punched himself in the chest. “They’re also my ancestors.”

            “You’ve told me this,” said Switch. “But I couldn’t picture them as clearly as I am doing now. It’s like… some kind of distant memory, or dream. Just like the memory of me writing that letter. I can see it, but I can’t remember what it says.”

            “That’s because Socket’s removed them,” said DL. “But I guess it was a rushed job if you’re recalling things.”

            Switch stared at them for a moment, then let his hands fall into his lap. “Do you think I’ll get these memories back?”

            “If we can find them, yes,” said Macro.

            He grabbed the new scarf and tossed it over his shoulders. It wasn’t much longer than the one Switch had given to him. He smoothed it out and beamed up at the human.

            “Anythin’ else come back to you there?” he asked.

            Switch toyed with his watch and cleared his throat. “I’m suddenly not so scared of that talonflame form.”

            “Well that’s good,” said Macro. “’Cos we kinda need you.”

            “To fight?”

            Macro met Switch’s eye. The human grinned and rose to his feet, then he winked down at the mawile. Macro’s jaw went slack, and he returned Switch’s grin with one of his own.

            “I think ‘brave bird’ is coming back to me,” said Switch, “so I’m ready to try and master that Z-Move.” He moved towards the door. “If it’ll get me back home, I’ll do it.”

            “Question!” Macro stopped Switch with a pointed claw. “Which home?”

            Switch tugged the door open and shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out if these memories keep coming back to me, won’t we?”

            ...

            Wildcard Gamma’s cockpit was soon rammed to the gills as Annie lead her troop on board. Anchor closed up the rear and shooed the girl from his seat, much to her protests. He cast an eye over towards Switch, huddled in the corner in his talonflame form. Axle and his xurkitree friend worked silently beside him on the porygon-z. Its eyes periodically lit up, but other than that it didn’t seem active.

            “Nice to see you back aboard.” The granbull grinned at Switch.

            “Yeah, well…” Switch grimaced and ruffled his feathers. “I’m not sure how much use I’m going to be. I can’t even get brave bird right, let alone use this Z-Crystal.”

            He flashed the Flyinium-Z around his left ankle.

            Anchor exchanged a worried glance with Macro, which the mawile shrugged off with a wave.

            “Priorities,” said Macro. “We can’t hold things up any longer. We need to get a wiggle on. I seriously doubt Distortion is gonna wait until we master things before twisting System into an unrecognisable…” He flicked a paw as he tried to find the right words.

            “Coil?” Annie suggested.

            Macro nodded and kicked his feet up on the dash. “I’ll take it.”

            Annie grinned and nudged Waveform in the ribs. The decidueye let out a disgruntled hoot and smoothed out his feathers.

            “So are we all aboard?” Anchor asked. “Because we ain’t comin’ back for no stragglers.”

            The cockpit shook as Trojan leapt aboard. He shuffled into the cockpit, tugging up his baggy fur to avoid tripping over it.

            “We are now,” said Web. “Where have you been?”

            Trojan said nothing, dropping down beside Zip’s bowl to work at his frame. He began fastening the Z-Crystal band into place around his front leg with a hexnut.

            “That answers that question,” said Web. “I think we’re good to go.”

            “What about Mister Fox and the cloystercat?” Annie asked.

            “Eh?” Anchor cocked an eyebrow.

            “She means Tracer and N0ize.” Macro shuffled down in his seat and yawned. “They’re holed up in two of the rooms - Switch’s and my own. Apparently N0ize snores like a grumpig with allergies. They’ll join us when we get there, let’s go.”

            Wildcard Gamma shook as Anchor pulled her out of the docks. Macro spotted Celesteela as she backed away to give them space, before falling in step behind them with Omnom. (Annie had insisted on the nickname.)

            DL nudged Macro to get his attention. “You gave up you room?”

            Macro snorted and closed his eyes. “I didn’t have much choice.”
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              #81   Link to this post, but load the entire thread.  
            Old January 6th, 2019 (12:59 AM).
            Delirious Absol's Avatar
            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
            Call me Del
               
              Join Date: May 2015
              Location: UK
              Age: 34
              Gender: Female
              Nature: Quirky
              Posts: 356
              A/N - I was a bit concerned about this chapter as I believe it's one of the ones I fired out over November for NaNoWriMo. That meant a lot of words in one go, without deviating back too much to make serious edits. I found an embarrassing number of typos. But thankfully it didn't need too much tweaking. I hope you enjoy it nontheless!

              Chapter Seventy Seven

              The night was fast approaching as Wildcard Gamma encroached on Seed City. The distortion was clear from the ship’s windows, twisting the ground and coating it in a purple haze. What was visible through the haze was almost unrecognisable as part of System. Huge lumps of rock drifted through it, and deep shadows forewarned of fissures splitting the earth.

              “All right, we’re here.” Macro pushed himself back from the window, his voice wavering slightly. There had been no real sense of danger. Whatever had been going on to ruin the land had settled, but he still felt uneasy. “No backing out now.”

              His crew were already gathered around the door, checking over their Z-Crystals and supplies. Annie was still in her human form, which worried Macro greatly. She couldn’t exactly utilise her Rockium-Z like that. He turned to Axle, still working at his Zero Day unit. It had been moving earlier, but the emolga had since switched it off.

              “Any more joy?” Macro asked.

              Axle tutted. “It’ll be working again soon, don’t you worry.”

              “So… are you joining us?”

              Axle looked up at him, then over at the rest of the crew. “I doubt it. I don’t have one of those fancy crystals, and someone’s gotta watch your backs. Once I get this workin’, I’ll be there to send them Ultra Beasts back home. Don’t you worry.”

              Macro cast a glance at Sparky, but the xurkitree didn’t seem wounded by the emolga’s words.

              Macro shook it off and moved past them towards the hatch. A small movement from the kitchen diverted his attention and he locked eyes with Cookie. The brown slurpuff trembled so much his berry went lopsided.

              “Don’t worry, Cookie,” Macro told him. “You don’t need to come with us. No one’s forcing you.”

              “But… but…” Cookie wound his paws together. “Solgaleo said… well… I’ve been practicing, and…”

              Macro raised an eyebrow. “You’ve what?”

              Cookie ducked back into the kitchen and peered at him around the door frame. “Practicing. You know… the aromatherapy stuff. Because… well…” He took a deep breath and stepped into the hallway, forcing his paws at his sides. “I don’t want you to fall in battle again. None of you. You’re all like family. You took me in and gave me a home. If I can be of any help, then I want to go with you.” He grimaced and wound his paws into his thick coat. “Even if it terrifies the fur off me.”

              The corner of Macro’s lips turned up in a half-smile. “In that case, come along. But it’ll mean only Axle is watchin’ the ship.”

              “Really?” Cookie squeaked. “D-does that matter?”

              “Nah.” Macro waved a paw. “I doubt he’s gonna take off in it. Besides, after this, my space pirate days are over.”

              “B-but how do we get back? Cyan City? We need-”

              Cookie trailed off and sighed, giving himself a mental shake. He joined the rest of the team by the hatch, his tiny paws balled into fists.

              Macro scanned the hatch open and cold air buffeted them, driving them back. He braced himself against it and tugged his goggles down over his eyes.

              “If anyone needs a mask, grab one,” he said. “I’ve no idea what it’s gonna be like down there. Just bare in mind there’s only four of ‘em, and one’s tiny.”

              Macro tuned out the squabbling behind him between Tracer and Widget as the latter listed every reason under the sun why he didn’t need a mask. Instead, Macro squinted down at the haze, trying to spot a suitable dropping point. Something brushed his paw and he glanced down at a filter mask clasped in DL’s paws. He pushed it back towards her and returned to scanning the ground. There, right between a fissure and Seed City’s dome of distortion. He grabbed a neon ladder rung and shouted at the rest of the crew to grab on.

              Then he dropped.

              Each flash from the ladder filled him with anxiety, but there was no turning back. That didn’t mean he didn’t desperately want to. He forced himself not to look back at his ship, not to even look up at his crew. As he descended, the Fairium-Z flickered out of the corner of his eye, giving off a soothing pink glow. Somehow it quelled his burning anxiety. He wasn’t alone in this.

              The purple haze washed over him and once he was through it his heart leapt. Drifting chunks of rock floated past him, peppered with twisted trees devoid of foliage. One of System’s familiar mechanical trees hung from beneath one island, its trunk forming a coil pulled tight as though some magnetic force was straining to drag it back to earth. There was no sound, just an unearthly silence. Deep fissures ran through the ground, zigging and zagging at sharp angles. Above them, lumps of brick drifted back and forth like some sort of ferry system, except they vanished and reappeared at odd intervals.

              He braced himself for the inevitable danger, but it never came. Wasn’t it supposed to be too dangerous for pokemon to venture near? Where was the counter attack? His Z-Crystal continued to let off that calming glow and realization washed over him. He gave a silent thanks to Solgaleo.

              When Macro’s feet touched the ground, it felt like he would keep falling, almost as if the ground weren’t even there. He glanced down at the faux grass brushing his feet. Definitely stable. But each clump of grass looked like a bad render. Boxy, and lacking shadow.

              Matrix buzzed down beside his head. “It looks like a low budget video game.”

              “Don’t you dare say you like it,” Macro grunted.

              “No thanks,” said Matrix. “I like my graphics high-res.”

              A long whistle came from Annie, slicing through the silence, and she released her ladder rung, landing in a crouch beside the two pokemon. She stood up straight and looked around as Waveform and Switch fluttered down beside her. Soon, everyone was gathered together, struggling to take in their strange surroundings.

              “I can’t help but fear this is the end,” said Web. “What’s happened to our world?”

              Trojan placed a paw on her back but said nothing.

              “It ain’t the end,” grunted N0ize. “And if it is, I’m goin’ out with a bang. I don’t know ‘bout you guys.”

              “Sounds like a plan,” said Widget.

              Tracer let out a sigh and reached into his tail for his stick. “Bang it is.”

              Macro looked back at them all. Celesteela and Omnom stood behind the odd group, towering over them, yet in this strange world they didn’t look imposing anymore. Not one of his crew was wearing a filter mask. There might not have been toxic air flowing around in this part of the distortion, but none of them had any idea what to expect inside Seed City. The unspoken message was pretty clear. If they were going to go down, they’d be going down together.

              “If you want a bang, old chap,” Rave told Tracer, “then I have those by the bucket.”

              Celesteela wailed a response that set the Ultra Beasts laughing amongst themselves. Whatever the private joke was, it lightened the mood.

              He let out a dry chuckle and clenched his mechanical fist. “All right. Let’s find that mansion. The other Ultra Beasts are probably already waiting for us.”

              Omnom gave a growling cheer and the troop rallied together towards the purple dome.

              As they drew closer, a small army appeared in the haze. Anchor and the rest of his away team had done their best to describe their new allies, but it wasn’t enough to prepare Macro, DL and Switch for the shock. A large mosquito-like creature stood with his arms crossed. The rest of the army was formed of nihilego of which Macro counted twelve, and seven xurkitree. They rallied around a humongous building which teetered on a set of four very spindly legs, and on top of it sprawled a rather elegant beetle. As they drew closer, the building’s bricks flicked outward across its surface, revealing hundreds of blue eyes. They all fixed on a point above Macro’s head and turned red. The creature atop it zipped from her perch in a flash, landing a safe distance away.

              Widget let out an ‘eep!’ and Tracer brandished his stick.

              “It’s that thing again,” said the eevee. “And I think it remembers us!”

              “Whoa, hang on!” Macro lifted his paws and stood between the Ultra Beast and the detectives. “You fought this guy?”

              “Yes,” said Tracer. “It tried to kill us.”

              Macro looked up at the kartana, silently drifting from side to side as they assessed the situation. He was certainly no stranger to that scenario, and if both he and the kartana could let it slide…

              He looked back at the detectives and stood aside, waving a paw at the brick creature. “Misunderstanding or not, we’re on the same team now.”

              Tracer reluctantly replaced his stick and nudged Widget with his foot. The eevee staggered forward and cast a glace up at the delphox.

              Widget sighed and turned back to the Ultra Beast. “I’m sorry we got lost in your insides. And… erm… attacked your… bricks?”

              The wall of eyes flickered between red and blue, creating a complex pattern. Then they all snapped back inside the creature, leaving only one eye to drift along the wall between the pokemon and Ultra Beasts.

              Rave and Poipole gave everyone a quick introduction, while only Rave knew what the brick creature was.

              “This is a stakataka,” he said. “It is actually composed of one hundred and fifty lifeforms acting as one. They’re generally pretty placid, unless you anger them.”

              “Yeah,” said Widget. “We found that one out the hard way.”

              The stakataka’s eyes flashed across its surfaces in an erratic pattern.

              Rave shrugged. “He says don’t sweat it.”

              “Okay,” said Pheramosa. “Now we’ve got the pleasantries out of the way, what are we going to do about this?” She waved at the purple haze.

              Macro shook his head, scanning over the Ultra Beasts. “Is this all of you?”

              “As many as we could find,” said Pheramosa.

              “But I thought… there were hundreds of nihilego… and xurkitree…”

              “Yeah, well.” Pheramosa flicked back her silky shell. “System fought back. Hard.”

              Macro felt his heart sink. He wasn’t exactly innocent in that himself.

              “So, do you have a plan?” Pheramosa asked. “Because I can’t speak for everyone here, but I want to go home.”

              “I don’t exactly have a plan,” said Macro. “I don’t generally do plans. I just run in and see what happens. But… I think I might have an idea.”

              Pheramosa narrowed her eyes at him.

              “How good of an idea?” asked Anchor.

              Macro looked over at each of his allies, then craned his head back to examine the purple haze. He scratched the base of his horn and frowned.

              “I think we can safely say,” he said, “that Distortion might be aware of our presence. I mean, if Socket’s security system is anything to go by. He’s got full control of that mansion, and is now taking hold of System.”

              Buzzwole tooted a reply and flexed at the haze.

              “If he’s aware,” translated Rave, “he’s not done anything about the Ultra Beasts standing around here for the past hour.”

              “Maybe that’s because none of you have done anything yet,” said Macro.

              “That’s a good point,” said Rave. “He only attacked me when I fought back to defend my friends.”

              “All right then.” Macro absently pawed at where his lasers would have been. “When we go in there, we need to prepare ourselves for a retaliation. Because I doubt he’ll want us to reach that mansion.”

              “So that’s your plan?” said Annie. “Because it’s genius.”

              Macro frowned at her over his shoulder, not sure whether or not she was being sarcastic.

              “No, it’s not,” he said. “If you’ll all be patient, I’m still formulating it.”

              Poipole drifted from Web’s tail and hovered above them, eyes fixed on Macro. “I already detect a flaw in your plan, and you haven’t even made it yet.”

              “Really?” Macro folded his arms and frowned back at him. “Go on.”

              “You’re voicing it.” Poipole paused for a moment, turning his bulbous head back and forth from the pokemon and the haze. “When I speak to you, I speak to all of you. I don’t need Distortion to hear what I’m saying.”

              “Okay, so I ain’t telepathic like you.” Macro waved a paw at him. “Why don’t you come up with a plan?”

              “All right.” Poipole drifted closer to him so they were almost nose to nose. “I have one. Listen.”

              ...

              Macro, with his team, cautiously ventured into the haze. He went first, with Matrix hovering beside his head. Switch followed behind him, keeping pace beside Buzzwole and Rave. Anchor closed up the rear, ushering Cookie on ahead of him. But Wildcard Gamma wasn’t complete. Macro felt very lost without DL. Unfortunately, she’d had to accompany and lead one of the other teams. Between them all, only DL and Matrix had any idea of the mansion’s lay-out, provided it hadn’t been warped. So she’d taken charge of Time Archeops. The remaining small Ultra Beasts were led by Pheramosa, who insisted on bringing along Stakataka. They also took Tracer’s team with them, who could provide the Ultra Beasts with some knowledge of their world. That just left Celesteela and Omnom to circumnavigate Seed City, providing muscle where needed.

              Each small team had its own function. Macro’s team was to enter the mansion from the ground. But first, they had to find it.

              He paused and took in his surroundings. Seed City had been transformed into some alien world. The floor rose up in chunks, leaving deadly pot holes and fissures where it had once lay. Buildings dotted the small islands, warped and twisted beyond recognition. Something felt very off about the gravity. Wherever Macro put his feet, he felt like he wasn’t quite walking on the ground.

              He made his way forward, ducking beneath an island to check the ground beneath. It had previously been a road, but a long, wide crack ran across it, slicing through ruins on either side. No. If he stood on the fissure, he’d surely fall. They’d need to find another way across, or around it.

              “Hey, Switch.” He turned to the talonflame. “Any chance you can fly us all over?”

              Switch stretched out his wings and hopped, flapping to gain momentum. But no matter how hard he beat his wings, he couldn’t get into the air. His beak fell open and he stuttered.

              “I… I can’t,” he said.

              “You remember how, though?” Macro asked.

              “I… I don’t think I’ve ever tried,” said Switch.

              Macro turned to Buzzwole, but before he could open his mouth, the large bug fluttered his wings, creating a high-pitched whine. A look of surprise crossed his beady eyes and he performed a couple of small hops. Then shrugged.

              “Something seems amiss,” said Rave. “As though Buzzwole is suddenly too heavy to fly. I am going to hazard a guess that the same applies to your feathered companion.”

              “Then how can Matrix fly?” asked Cookie.

              Matrix looked down at himself, a dull drone coming from his wings. He glanced at each of them in turn and shook his head.

              “Don’t look at me,” he said. “I can’t carry you across.”

              Rave turned his head to look back at Macro. “Ominous. I sense trickery.”

              Macro grimaced and turned back to the drifting blocks. “Well ain’t that just dandy. It’s like he knows we’re comin’. Maybe Poipole was right?” He sighed and rubbed his scar. “How are we gonna get across?”

              “Do any of us know telekinesis?” suggested Matrix. “Or psychic?”

              Macro looked up at the Ultra Beasts. They both shook their heads.

              “Fantastic,” said Macro. “So we’re gonna have to either walk until we find a way around it… or…” His eyes went to the platforms drifting idly past. “Anchor, gimme a boost?”

              The granbull grabbed Macro by the waist in both paws and hoisted him up onto the platform. It slowly carried him away as he rose to his feet to check the other side. One leap and he’d be across. He crouched down and launched himself forward, performing a shoulder roll across the tarmac. He scrambled into a crouch and looked back at his companions.

              They gathered around the next platform, but before Anchor could grab onto it, it vanished. A look of surprise crossed the granbull’s face and he looked to his left. One platform after another drifted towards them, only to vanish before they could climb aboard.

              “I hate to say this, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “But I’m afraid we’re gonna have to find another way.”

              Macro’s heart sank. So he was alone? He grimaced and pushed himself to his feet.

              “Well, we don’t have much choice, do we?” he growled. “Dang it, Poipole was right. He’s watchin’ us.”

              “Don’t worry,” said Anchor. “We’ll meet you somewhere. Stick to the-”

              Rave slammed his paw over Anchor’s mouth. “Allow me to tell him, old chap. Perchance Distortion hears you and throws another spanner in the works.” He cleared his throat and released the granbull. “Stick to the right. We’ll try and get to you.”

              Macro nodded his understanding and watched as his team moved away. Buzzwole gave him a friendly flex before tailing them around a corkscrewed skyscraper.

              Suddenly the world felt very empty.

              Macro turned and stuck to the right of the old road. The very buildings appeared detached from it, an ultra violet glow emanating from where they met the ground. He glanced through one of the windows. All the furniture was on the ceiling while a wigglituff sat frozen in a chair, oblivious to what was going on. A teacup was clasped in one paw while the other was frozen reaching for the TV remote. Macro resisted the urge to peer inside any other windows. It was too creepy. Too real.

              He hugged his arms about himself as he searched for any promising route to reach his friends. But every right turn was blocked off by a fissure, or a wall that shouldn’t have been there. Much too high to climb. Too thick to break through.

              He just had to keep searching.

              ...

              “Good grief, that’s creepy.” Annie paused to peer through yet another window. “Like… that kid spilled juice. And the juice is still floatin’ in the air.”

              “Come along, dear.” Web grabbed her shoulder and dragged her away from the glass.

              DL shook her head and returned to looking around, pawing at her ear. Everywhere they turned, it was a dead end. But there was no turning back. A huge fissure had appeared in the road, out of nowhere, barring them from ever leaving. That meant they had to keep moving forward. The long road went on with no obstruction, leading them around the edge of Seed City.

              Zip tapped at the edge of the fissure with one of his mechanical legs. “Too wide. And there’s no bridge like last time.”

              “I really don’t know how we’re meant to get through this,” said DL. “If we can’t reach the mansion-”

              Poipole drifted back down from the rooftops. “There’s a path this way.”

              He zipped on ahead of them, leading them a little way along before turning a sharp left. The narrow alley was just wide enough to let them through. They gathered on a wide road that looked like it may have been one of the main roads through the city. But none of the buildings could tell them that. Each one was devoid of colour. An odd grey, twisted and broken into chunks. DL glanced back the way they had come, and squeaked.

              A dead end. A huge wall had appeared out of nowhere.

              “It’s like a jackin’ labyrinth,” Trojan scoffed. “What’s goin’ on?”

              Poipole lifted a claw before his motionless lips and shushed him. Then he drifted back into the air to scout another way.

              “I hope the others are okay,” said Web. “This place is really hard to navigate.”

              Waveform nodded, casting his eyes over the buildings. “If I could only fly, this would be no problem to get through.”

              “So you keep sayin’,” said Trojan. He wafted Web away as she shushed him close to his ear. “Why does everyone keep shushin’ me?”

              Annie crept away from them, eyes drawn to a large, drifting chunk of rock. Her eyes widened and she waved behind her.

              “You guys have gotta see this,” she said.

              Large buildings clung to the rock’s vertical surface. She trotted towards it, her friends tailing after her. Poipole zipped down from above, hovering over her head silently. The road was unobstructed, allowing full view of the vertical landscape. Annie placed one foot on it, then another. A squeal of delight left her throat as she strolled long the vertical road, then she looked back down at her friends.

              “I wonder if we’re meant to go this way?” she said.

              Poipole drifted ahead of her, leveling out as he reached the rock. “It appears to have its own gravity field. It is impossible for me to just drift over it like a wall.”

              Web gazed up at it, mouth agape. “I wonder where it leads?”

              “Only one way to find out.” Waveform placed his talons on it and followed Annie along the road.

              The human casually strolled through the buildings, each one more of a ruin than the last. Eerie ultraviolet light lit up her white shirt with a purple glow, almost blinding. She tried to hide her arms behind her back to avoid being dazzled. The vertical path reached an abrupt end, forming a sharp corner. But it was as easy to traverse as the climb had been. She found herself flipped upright, standing a mile above the rooftops. She stood surrounded by rubble, which drifted idly through the air. She shoved a lump of it aside, and it pinged to her right as if pulled away by some magnetic force. Then she shifted another. Then another.

              Once it was cleared, she had a perfect view of Seed City. And there in the centre sat the mansion.

              Zip stopped beside her and let out a long ‘whoa!’

              Purple fire exploded around the mansion like tendrils, curving into the earth and leaping back out to impale anything and everything around it. The flames spread the purple haze, and after a few hundred feet, the flames vanished into the earth entirely.

              “Like the roots of a tree,” said Waveform.

              “Eh?” Annie looked around at him. “What’s that?”

              “It’s holding on to Seed City,” he said. “Anchored in place.”

              “I’d say it’s more like a parasite,” said Annie.

              Waveform nodded. “A fitting description, given what it’s done to System.”

              “Do you think we’ll ever get our home back?” Zip asked.

              Waveform didn’t reply, staring out at the surreal landscape.

              Web and Trojan joined them with DL.

              “Well I’ll be,” Web gasped. “There it is.”

              “Oh to be able to fly,” said Waveform. “We’d be there in a heartbeat.”

              “It’s monstrous,” said DL.

              Everyone turned to look at her, but she shook her head and tore her eyes from the mansion.

              “I have no words,” she said.

              She looked up at the sky. From this height, they could see Celesteela and Omnom struggling to reach the centre. Too big to pass the rubble, which didn’t move as easily as Annie’s rocks had. Omnom munched his way through, allowing Celesteela to pass, but they’d reappear just as quickly, slowing his progress greatly.

              As for the others… They were lost somewhere in the labyrinth below.

              “I hope they’re all okay down there,” said DL.

              Waveform tapped Annie’s shoulder and herded DL forward.

              “Let’s keep going,” he said. “If we find anyone, we’ll help them.”

              ...

              With each step Macro clutched tighter at his scarf. The city felt more and more like a surreal dungeon. Empty and devoid of life. Deep down he knew that wasn’t true, but the ruined buildings and the lack of wind made him feel oddly alone. He couldn’t even see Celesteela or Omnom drifting overhead. Couldn’t even hear Celesteela’s eerie screams. He was beginning to long for them.

              He paused at another dead end, gazing up at the wall. It vanished beyond the haze. Smooth. Impossible to climb. The overflowing, blue trash can with its scattered nanab peels was too familiar. He’d come from this way only minutes before. Somehow he’d found his way back. Where had the wall come from?

              He turned his back on it and made a right, following the wide road around the edge of the city. Just one route and he’d find his way back into the thick of the buildings. So close. He’d been so close only to run into a pile of rubble. Now he was back at the edge of it, far away from his allies.

              Maybe it was a trap?

              He clasped at his scarf, turning his head to look back at the alley. But it was blocked off by a building. The former skyscraper lay on its side, its windows cracked. Yet not a brick was out of place. Compared to everything else, it appeared immaculate. On its side, a street lamp protruded from it, its light flickering erratically. Yet it cast no shadow.

              He turned away from it, trying to push it to the back of his mind and find his way. But every alley was blocked. He gazed up at the drifting rocks overhead, much too high for him to reach. When he looked back down, there was the skyscraper. On its side, with its flickering street lamp. No longer behind him, where he’d left it. And on his right, the alley with its blue trashcan and nanab peels.

              A long groan left his throat and he sank to his bottom, burying his face in his scarf.

              “Where am I?” His voice sounded faint in the silence. Flat. Not even an echo.

              Tears soaked through his scarf and he doubled over, trying to stifle his violent sobs.

              “Guys! Find me, please!”

              ...

              Anchor shoved a huge rock to one side. Light as a feather. It crashed into the wall of a house, not leaving so much as a scuff. His eyes widened as they met those of Pheramosa. She shifted her weight to one foot and placed a paw on her hip.

              “About time help showed up,” she said.

              Anchor grunted and led his group through. Matrix buzzed on ahead of him to survey the area.

              Two huge fissures carved through the floor in a cross. On one section stood Stakataka, covered by nihilego. They clung onto him for dear life, tinkling in fear. Next to them, across the gorge, six of the xurkitree. The seventh was stranded alone across from it, electricity sparking across its limbs as it garbled away in its unusual language.

              “How did this happen?” Anchor asked.

              Pheramosa tutted. “As if questions like that are valid in this world? Look at this place! It came from nowhere!”

              Anchor nodded stiffly and rubbed his mohawk. “Well… I’m afraid I can’t help you. None of us can.”

              Pheramosa looked up at Matrix and cocked an eyebrow. He shook his head and shrugged.

              “All right.” She turned to Anchor’s team and her eyes fell on Buzzwole and Switch. “I’m going to guess if I can’t jump then you can’t fly?”

              Buzzwole shook his head and tooted his kazoo, while Switch stuttered a ‘no’.

              “We’re as stuck as you are.” Rave’s lights turned a pale blue. “No way across. We’ll have to split up and find a way around until we find each other.”

              “We’ve already lost Macro,” said Anchor. “He’s out there somewhere alone.”

              Pheramosa snorted and turned to the lone xurkitree. “Hey, Kzappro!”

              It jolted and looked up at her, stopping mid ramble.

              “Think you can find a way through and find their lost ally?” she asked.

              “Erm, excuse me,” said Matrix. “But we’re not really meant to broadcast-”

              Pheramosa narrowed her eyes, silencing the ribombee. “I don’t care. It’s clearly making no difference.”

              “I’m actually starting to wonder that myself,” said Rave. “If we keep getting split up, soon there’ll be none to telepathically communicate. Besides… I think I might have an idea.”

              “I hope it’s a good’un,” said Anchor. “’Cos I’m out.”

              “Oh, I think you’ll find it borders on genius.” Rave chuckled and rubbed his paws together. “I suggest… we broadcast our moves as much as possible. There are many of us, and only one Distortion. Let’s add some confusion to the fray.”

              Anchor’s jaw dropped and he wagged a claw at the blacephalon. “I think I like it.”

              “Finally,” said Pheramosa. “Someone with a braincell.”

              Kzappro garbled and sparked, then slinked away. Matrix followed after him for a moment, then paused on the other side of the gorge.

              “There’s actually a path over here,” he said. “I wonder if we can find a way across?”

              Switch shuffled to the edge then fluttered his wings. Nothing. He sighed and shook his head.

              “But how?” he asked. “It’s too wide to jump, even if I could glide.”

              “Here’s a bright spark.” Pheramosa turned back to Buzzwole. “Have you tried tossing anyone across these gaps?”

              Buzzwole shook his head.

              “Then try.” She strutted over to him. “Start with me.”

              “While it might help us,” said Anchor, “it doesn’t help them, does it?”

              He waved towards the nihilego and xurkitree.

              Pheramosa clicked her tongue then sighed. “No. I guess not. But if it gets us across, we can make progress while they try to find another way. Because we’re stuck here. There’s no way back.”

              Anchor looked over his shoulder. Sure enough, those rocks had vanished to be replaced by a stack of small houses.

              “How long have they been there?” he asked.

              Pheramosa shrugged. “You came through one of the doors. They appeared once we’d reached this gorge.”

              Anchor stuttered and shook his head. “This place is a whole other level of nonsense.”

              He looked around again, his heart sinking like a lead brick.

              “Hang on a sec,” he said. “Where’s the detectives?! I thought they were meant to be with you!”

              All eyes went back to the house, slicing across the road and into the ruins either side of it.

              “My guess is they’re stuck in there,” said Pheramosa. “Or behind it. And behold!” She waved a paw towards the building. “The door is gone.”

              “Then let’s hope they’re behind it,” said Matrix.

              The ribombee began to zip towards the house, but Anchor reached up a paw and grabbed him by the leg.

              “Hold you’re mudsdales, Matrix,” he said. “If you go over that buildin’, chances are you’ll get separated n’all.”

              “I have an idea.” Rave removed his head and juggled it in one paw. “I can blast a door open. If they’re inside, then-”

              “No.” Anchor released Matrix and placed a paw on the Ultra Beast’s shoulder. “We can’t go attacking things. Distortion might fight back more than it’s doin’ already, and someone could get hurt. We need to keep our numbers steady for when we reach the mansion.”

              “He has a point.” Switch ruffled his feathers. “I’m sure Tracer and Widget can take care of themselves.”

              “Seconded.” Pheramosa turned back to the gorge. “All right, big guy. Toss me across.”

              Buzzwole didn’t hesitate. He grabbed Pheramosa in both his huge paws and leant back with her over his shoulder. Then he skipped forward and punted her as far as she would go. The lithe bug soared over the gorge, righting herself in mid air so her feet pointed forward. Then she landed daintily on the other side. She dusted herself down then turned back to her allies.

              “There.” She placed a paw on one hip. “Success. Now, how about-”

              Her words trailed off as debris drifted through the air. Two rows of huge, flat platforms crossed before the group in opposite directions, low enough to climb onto. It offered a way to cross to both sides, but none of the Ultra Beasts dared move.

              Matrix hovered over them and ‘hmm’d’, winding his antenna in thought.

              “I’ve seen things like this in games,” he said. “Here, Anchor. Climb onto one, then wait for another to pass by. Hop onto that then you can leap to the other side.”

              “I ain’t goin’ first,” said Anchor. “I’m in charge here. I say Switch goes first.”

              “Me?” Switch squeaked. He sighed and smoothed his feathers. “Okay. My life is in your paws, bee.”

              He hopped onto the first platform and flailed his wings to steady himself.

              “Try to be quick now,” said Matrix. “You want to join Pheramosa, not be stranded with Stakataka.”

              Switch fluttered to the next rock then kicked himself off to land in a crumpled heap beside Pheramosa. She looked down at him and tutted.

              “Hey, don’t sass,” he groaned as he straightened himself up. “I’m still getting used to this body.”

              Buzzwole stepped forward next, but as he did the drifting blocks changed. Each row jerked from side to side, independent of each other. Matrix made a thoughtful noise then cleared his throat.

              “This one is more tricky,” he said. “Put one paw wrong and you’ll miss, only to fall into a bottomless pit of doom.”

              “I feel like you’re enjoyin’ this,” muttered Anchor.

              Matrix shrugged and said nothing.

              “All right, there’s only one way for it,” said Anchor. “Buzzwole and Rave… you two go together.”

              Buzzwole tooted and grabbed Anchor in his huge arms.

              “He says no one gets left behind,” said Rave. “And I agree with him. Tally ho, old chap!” He smacked Buzzwole on the back.

              The huge insect tooted a triumphant ditty and leapt onto the rock beside Blacephalon.

              “Easy now,” said Matrix. “Think before you leap.”

              Buzzwole braced himself, watching the drifting rocks carefully. His footing remained steady as the floating rocks lurched from side to side. Then he leapt.

              Anchor screwed his eyes shut and his heart flipped. If Buzzwole missed…

              The Ultra Beast landed heavily on the next rock. Then he leapt again, bridging the gap to the other side. He landed beside Rave and the two Ultra Beasts high-fived. Buzzwole placed Anchor down carefully and caught his eye. Then flexed.

              “Thanks.” Anchor grinned and punched him in the arm.

              Buzzwole returned the gesture, knocking the granbull off his feet.

              Switch fluttered to his side. “Are you all right?”

              “I’m fine.” Anchor sat back up, catching an apologetic glance off Buzzwole. “No worries. Let’s just… get lookin’ for Macro, eh?”

              “What about them?” Rave waved across to Stakataka and its allies.

              The xurkitree had moved from the gorge towards the huge beast. There was no way Stakataka could use those platforms, and the gorge was too wide for it to act as a bridge. But something else caught Anchor’s eye. Beyond the Ultra Beasts was an alley, lying wide open.

              “The terrain’s changed again,” he said. “They can get out of there now.”

              “Oh thank goodness,” said Rave. He cupped his paw where his mouth should be. “Move on out, boys! Keep aiming for the centre!”

              Stakataka creaked and groaned as it rose to its feet. It moved out, carrying its charge of nihilego, while the xurkitree flocked around it.

              ...

              Tracer tapped the stone wall and tutted.

              “Solid as ever,” he said. “Nice idea, Widget, thinking there would be an invisible door. But I think you might be wrong.”

              “You think?” N0ize grunted.

              Defrag stood beside him, nursing her paw. “I loathe this dimension already.”

              “So you keep sayin’,” said N0ize.

              She cast the incineroar a sideways leer. “Hey, you’re the one who suggested we punch our way out.”

              N0ize raised his paws in a shrug. “Hey, you’re the one who went and did it.”

              “Yeah, while you watched and laughed.”

              “Enough of this,” said Tracer.

              Defrag let her paw drop to her side and leered at him.

              “We’re all in this together,” said the delphox. “Cast your differences aside and work as a team, or we’re never going to get out of here.”

              “You’re the one who recruited a space pirate,” Defrag scoffed.

              “Yes, and you used to be one.” Tracer wagged a claw at her. “Now put your space pirate knowledge together and lets find a way out of here. Please. Before the walls close in.”

              “They ain’t closin’ in,” said Widget. “Stop worryin’.”

              “Don’t give it ideas!” Tracer hissed.

              “You went there first,” said Widget. “Not me. Now… are we bashing our way out of here, or not?”

              “Not.” Defrag kicked herself from the wall. “I say we continue finding our way through this maze of corridors until we find an exit. This world keeps changing so much I won’t be surprised if a door suddenly opens beneath us.”

              Tracer paled at that.

              “Now lets get a move on,” said Defrag. “I am in desperate need of a change of scenery.”

              Tracer gave the wall one last glance and followed after his friends. Widget kept pace at his side, humming to himself. His voice echoed off the walls, only adding to the eeriness and emptiness.

              Not even a window in sight. Where was the light even coming from?

              He tried not to think too much about it, keeping his eyes on the two pokemon ahead of him. N0ize walked silently beside Defrag, his paws folded behind his head.

              A soft sound sliced through the air, dragging Tracer’s fur on end. He froze and reached for his stick.

              “Did you hear that?” he whispered.

              Defrag and N0ize stopped to look back at him.

              “Hear what?” N0ize asked.

              Tracer swallowed and strained his ears. Whatever it was, it had stopped.

              “Maybe it was nothing,” he muttered. “My mind playing tricks on me.”

              “I think you’re getting cabin fever,” said Widget. “Think about… I dunno… mountains or somethin’.”

              The eevee’s words did little to alleviate Tracer’s anxiety. He kept hold of his stick, remaining close to his friends as they wound through the maze-like corridor.

              Defrag tutted and turned back, pushing past Tracer.

              “Dead end,” she said.

              Tracer gave the wall ahead of them a mournful look and followed Defrag back the way they’d came.

              Swish swish!

              Tracer froze. That noise again. No, this time he was convinced it wasn’t in his head. He clasped his stick tightly, keeping his ears pricked. Defrag and N0ize still seemed oblivious to it, but Widget’s ears twitched and swivelled back and forth.

              The eevee glanced up at Tracer and nodded. Yes. He’d heard it.

              Swish swish!

              N0ize froze in his tracks and lowered his paws. Defrag clenched hers at her sides.

              “Okay, you weren’t wrong,” she whispered.

              The slicing noise grew in intensity. Claws scraped over rock, screeching through the air. Tracer lifted his stick, preparing a flamethrower.

              Three small shapes rounded the corner like a trio of shimmering darts. Their bodies lit up red as they dodged the flames, careening nimbly through the air and running their sharp bodies over the stone. Sparks flew, peppering Tracer’s fur. He quickly lowered his stick, spinning on the spot to follow the kartana.

              They drifted behind him, swaying from side to side as they analysed the threat.

              “I’m so sorry,” Tracer muttered.

              The lead kartana softly swiped its blades together. That familiar swishing sound emanated through the air.

              “I think they were looking for us,” said Defrag.

              “Aye,” said N0ize. “Must have heard us talkin’.”

              Tracer replaced his stick and gave his team an embarrassed glance. Of course. The kartana. The little trio had gone ahead to scout a path shortly after his team had entered the distortion.

              Widget took a step towards them. “I take it you got lost too, eh?”

              The kartana clattered their blades together.

              “I take it that’s a ‘yes’,” said N0ize.

              “I’m taking it as an ‘obviously’.” Defrag turned back to the kartana. “You came from that way.” She nodded behind her. “Does it lead to a dead end?”

              The lead kartana performed a twirl in the air and darted over their heads. Its two friends stuck close behind it, vanishing around a tight corner.

              “Follow them!” Tracer trotted after them, slipping past Defrag and N0ize.

              The soft paw steps of his allies reassured him they were close behind as he followed the kartana’s tiny forms. Their twists and turns were unpredictable as they took each bend as though they’d travelled the maze countless times.

              As Tracer took a sharp right turn, the kartana appeared right in front of him. He screeched to a halt, sliding onto his bottom. He stood back up and dusted himself down, then looked up at them. They drifted side to side right before a huge, gaping door.

              “That leads outside, right?” N0ize rubbed the back of his head. “’Cos… it could easily be an illusion. I’ve met my fair share of zoroark to know that.”

              The lead kartana clanged its arms together twice, then zipped through the open door.

              Tracer nodded to his friends and followed the other two kartana out of the building.

              “How did they know it was here?” Defrag asked.

              Widget looked back at her. “Maybe they found it, but heard us bickering and came to find us?”

              “That’s… pretty touching, actually,” said Defrag.

              The kartana zipped back to Tracer then turned and dived behind a small pile of rubble situated at the mouth of an alley. A skyscraper cut across the road beyond it, a street lamp sticking out of its side. Its light flickered erratically but cast no shadow. The sight set Tracer’s fur on end. He tore his eyes from it and followed the kartana. One of them drifted over the rubble, clattering its limbs.

              Tracer realised what it was trying to tell him. Curled in a tight ball behind the rubble lay Macro, his entire body trembling.

              “Good grief! Guys, it’s Hunter!” He dropped beside the space pirate and placed a paw on his shoulder. “Hey! Are you okay?”

              Macro cracked an eye open as the detectives and N0ize peered down at him. He let out a squeak of surprise and pushed himself up into a crouch.

              “Y… you’re real, right?” he asked.

              “Yep, pretty much,” said N0ize.

              “What are you doing lying out here?” Defrag asked.

              “I… kept goin’ in circles.” Macro pushed himself to his feet and smoothed out his scarf. “I couldn’t stand lookin’ at that street lamp any more. No matter where I went, I found my way back to it. I guess I ended up havin’ some kinda breakdown.”

              The lead kartana zipped past his head and leapt at the street lamp. It jerked to the side, sticking out at an odd angle. The entire ground rumbled and the pokemon turned their heads to the alley. The huge wall rumbled and rattled as it retreated into the ground, revealing an exit into a huge, wide road.

              “Well I’ll be,” said Macro. “I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years.”

              The kartana zoomed over their heads ahead of them. Tracer rallied the group on after the kartana and closed up the rear, drawing his stick. When they reached the street, electricity sparked from their right and they froze.

              A xurkitree flopped towards them, followed by Pheramosa and the rest of Wildcard Gamma.

              “Cap’n!” Anchor rushed forward and pulled Macro into a crushing hug.

              The mawile wriggled from his grasp and caught his breath. “Boy, am I glad to see you.”

              Pheramosa stepped forward and placed a paw on Macro’s shoulder. “You might be even more glad to see this.”

              She spun him around and the mawile’s jaw dropped.

              Tracer followed his gaze, and gasped.

              Looming at the end of the wide road was Socket’s mansion. Purple fire streaked from it, plunging into the road like the roots of a tree. The buildings around it were speared by the fire and cast in its eerie, ultraviolet glow.

              “Hey!” A loud whoop followed the cry.

              Tracer turned his head to follow it and raised an eyebrow. Annie stood steady on a vertical plain, waving jubilantly as she led her group down it. Just below them stood Stakataka and its group, eagerly awaiting Time Archeops.

              “All right,” said Macro. “There’s no time to back out now. You know your places.”

              Tracer ignored him and readied his stick. He’d noticed something Macro hadn’t. A huge, flaming, purple tendril dragged itself free of the building beside them. The pokemon scattered as rubble rained down onto the road. Then the tendril reached up and swiped the vertical plain. Time Archeops erupted into screams as they vanished into the fray.
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              Old January 13th, 2019 (1:37 AM).
              Delirious Absol's Avatar
              Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
              Call me Del
                 
                Join Date: May 2015
                Location: UK
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                Chapter Seventy Eight

                Macro rolled to the side as a huge boulder crashed down where he'd been standing, cutting him off from Anchor. The mawile clambered to his feet and spun, shattering the boulder with his horn. Shards of rock went flying, pelting Anchor's arms as he shielded his face. He lowered his paws and muttered a thanks as he leapt to Macro's side.

                "I've never fought anythin' like this," said Macro. "But I'm gonna guess we take out the tendrils."

                "If we wanna get close to the mansion, then yeah!" Anchor whipped Macro aside, narrowly dodging one of Distortion's tentacles. It left a nasty burn mark on the concrete. He grabbed Macro in his arms and rolled them both out of the way of another swipe, then launched a sucker punch at it as it retreated.

                They both stood up and looked back at their allies. Tracer fired off flamethrowers to drive back the tentacles. Widget buffeted him out of the way of falling debris, then launched himself into a full-body tackle. The eevee flew through the tentacle, severing its end. Widget screamed as fire seared his fur, but the end of the fiery limb lay writhing on the floor. The rest of it retreated into the ground as a deep growl filled the air.

                'Don't you get in my way!'

                Two more tentacles erupted from the floor, scooping up Tracer and his allies. Defrag screamed as she fought against it, smacking the flames with ice punches.

                Macro cupped his paws around his mouth. "Use your Z-Moves!"

                Tracer struggled to get his paw free. His stick fell to the floor and he howled with frustration.

                A flutter of feathers leapt into the fray, glowing with a white light. But it fizzled out before Switch could get his Supersonic Skystrike to work. He landed in a crumpled heap beneath the flames. Macro shook himself and rushed to the talonflame's aide, dragging him out of the chaos. A small tendril swooped across the ground, sweeping Macro off his feet and separating him from Switch.

                'You are pests!' Distortion roared. 'Nothing but fleas on the body of my world!'

                Hundreds of tendrils exploded from the ground. One of them speared Macro in the back, tossing him into the air. He roared with pain, and red flashed across his vision. When it cleared, all he saw below him was a spiralling, crimson inferno. He flailed his paws, desperate to avoid falling into it. But it subsided, revealing Anchor standing in a circle of black. All the tendrils around him were gone. Distortion roared, shaking the very ground. Macro came crashing back down onto Anchor, winding the granbull. Macro rolled off his friend and thanked him, before looking around to gather his bearings.

                "He didn't like that," Anchor muttered as he pulled Macro to his feet.

                Switch flapped his way out of the purple flames, gasping with each step. "This is crazy! We don't stand a chance!"

                "I advise optimism," Anchor grunted. "Come on, I've got an idea."

                Macro stared mournfully at the chaos. His friends writhing in Distortion's grasp, or desperately trying to avoid being speared while fighting back. "Well, I hope it's better than mine."

                "We grab as many allies as we can, and fight our way inside, while everyone else distracts the building." He grunted and leapt back from a tumbling rock. "There's words I never thought I'd say."

                A few toots drew their eyes to Buzzwole. The huge insect barrelled through several tendrils, destroying them with his bug buzz. Then he landed beside Anchor and flexed.

                "Well done." Anchor grabbed his arm. "You're with us. Kartana! This way!"

                Macro grabbed Switch's wing and tugged him after him. "Sorry, Switch, but you're not much use in this battlefield."

                "Hey, I'm trying!" Switch protested.

                Macro ignored him, craning his head back to spot the rest of his crew. "Matrix!"

                There was no time to wait around. He dived ahead of him as a flaming tentacle crashed down between him and Switch. The talonflame squawked, flapping his wings and scattering feathers.

                "Move it!" Macro barked, reaching back to throw Switch ahead of him. "Follow Anchor!"

                Switch didn't protest. He scrambled after the granbull, hopping and flapping as he strained to fly in Distortions crazy gravity.

                Macro sprinted after him, desperate to reach the mansion. Anchor had already made it, thumping any tendrils that got in his way. The ground rumbled and another flurry of tentacles erupted through the ground. Macro squealed and fell backwards as he scrambled way from them. Sparkles and explosions tore through them before they provided any real threat, and they retreated back with another angry roar.

                Rave landed before him and bowed his now tiny head. "I think a plan is needed, Captain."

                "Great timing," said Macro. "Anchor has one, but we can't get it to everyone. We're kinda winging it. Tell Time Archeops and the Ultra Beasts, and anyone else you can find, to provide a distraction. But I need Matrix and DL, stat!"

                "Roger!" Rave leapt into the air, diving over Distortion's flaming weapons. Flamethrowers and shadow balls severed them, beating them back from the space pirate as Rave rushed to deliver his message.

                It didn't take long. Macro heard Rave's telepathic voice in his head in a matter of seconds. But whether or not Distortion could hear it was another matter entirely.

                Macro desperately hoped not.

                Anchor, Buzzwole and Switch waited just inside the mansion gates. Macro scurried in, casting a glance back over his shoulder. Matrix's tiny form weaved between tendrils as they chased after him, desperate to stop him reaching the mansion. Macro began to miss his weapons. A few laser fires and he could pick them off to aide the ribombee. Switch reared up beside him and fired off a series of embers. They struck the tendrils, causing them to flinch back and allow Matrix through unscathed.

                "How's that for useless?" Switch muttered.

                "I didn't mean…" Macro dragged his claws down his face and groaned. "There's no time for this!"

                The ribombee buzzed beside Macro's head. "Rave said you want me?"

                "Yeah." Macro ushered Matrix across the garden. "I need you to stick by Switch. Once we're inside, you need to find the computer and fix him up."

                "So I'm on memory duty?" Matrix shrugged. "Okay, I can dig it."

                "Now how do we find a way in?" Macro asked. "I'm guessing not the main door."

                "No. That's fairly obvious," said Matrix. "A back entrance is much more sneaky. The front is likely heavily guarded."

                "Gaming knowledge?" Switch asked.

                Matrix paused and tugged at his antenna. "Come to think of it, all entrances are likely heavily guarded. But as memory serves, the computer used to remove Switch's memories was in the basement, and I'd personally like some ease here."

                Flaming explosions lit up the sky. N0ize leapt across the purple flames, striking each one with a fire punch. The result was an explosion of purple and red, and it lit up the immaculate garden. He dropped to the ground beside them in a crouch and grinned.

                "You ain't havin' all the fun. Count me in."

                Macro placed a paw on his hip and frowned. "We could use some extra muscle. Have you used your Z-Move yet?"

                "Not yet," said N0ize. "Why, was I meant to?"

                "Not unless you needed to," said Macro. "If you haven't yet, save it for battling Distortion."

                N0ize clasped his fist, flashing his Darkinium-Z. "You got it. Bring it on."

                "I love the enthusiasm. But first, we've gotta get in." Macro nodded at the building.

                "Aye. You didn't happen to see a basement door from up there, did you?" Anchor asked.

                "As a matter of fact…" N0ize gave them a toothy grin.

                He turned with a flourish and led them around the edge of the building. Flailing tentacles reached up above their heads, swiping at the nihilego. At some point the gravity had shifted, allowing the Ultra Beasts to fly. Maybe the distraction was working?

                "Here you go." N0ize stopped with his paws on his hips and nodded at the ground. "Basement door. Looks like this guy found it first. Keyed me in."

                The door lay at an angle at the building's base. Beside it, a xurkitree lay sparking. One of its limbs was bent at an odd angle beneath it.

                "What happened to you?" Macro stooped to help the xurkitree up.

                It babbled at them in its strange voice and struggled to its feet.

                "Best keep it with us," said Anchor. "We can't send it back out there into battle in this state."

                The xurkitree babbled again, turning its spiky head left and right.

                Anchor stooped to grab the door and pulled. Once. Twice. He grunted and released it.

                "Won't budge," he said.

                "We could burn it?" N0ize offered.

                "No, I don't want to risk it fighting back," said Anchor. "We're gonna need-"

                Buzzwole leant towards it and grabbed the door. His muscles bulged as he wrenched on the handle. The plastic splintered around the catch and it swung open, creaking loudly on its strained hinge. Beyond it was a flight of stairs leading down into the basement, lit up by a dim, purple light.

                "Hey, would you look at that!" Anchor grinned, stepping forward onto the stairs. "We're in!"

                "Way to go!" N0ize cheered, flexing his arms.

                Buzzwole released the door and flexed triumphantly. It swung back on its hinges, slamming Anchor in the back. A loud yelp came from beyond it, followed by a repetitive thud as the granbull tumbled down the stairs.

                Macro stared at the door aghast.

                N0ize placed his paws over his mouth, exchanging glances with Buzzwole. "Oops?"

                Buzzwole copied him, placing his huge paws over his proboscis.

                Matrix chuckled. "Classic!"

                Macro shook his head sharply and grabbed the door, straining to pull it open.

                "Buzzwole, hold the door," he said. "We're goin' in!"

                It was oddly quiet. Even the sounds of battle outside were greatly muffled once the door was shut. The dim lighting created long shadows ahead of them, chilling Macro to the core. Anchor waited for them at the base of the stairs, nursing his shoulder.

                "Rats," said Macro. "Are you okay?"

                "I'm fine," said Anchor. "I can fight."

                Buzzwole tooted sadly and held out a paw. Anchor took it and gave it a shake.

                "Don't worry about it," he said. "You didn't know it would slam shut on my tail!"

                Macro glanced back up the stairs. Where was DL? He desperately hoped she was okay, and hopefully just held up aiding her team. Macro moves past Anchor towards the next door barring their way. Matrix hovered beside it, running his computer over the lock panel.

                "We're in." He pushed on the door and it swung away from them. "After you."

                Macro slipped past the ribombee, mechanical paw ready at his side to defend himself. The room beyond seeped purple light into the stairwell. The walls were filled with eyes that lit up red as they entered. Purple fire clung to the surface. The room looked like a tornado had hit it. Tables and desks were upturned, and metal objects lined the floor, reflecting the purple light. A computer lay at an angle, propped against an upturned desk. Its screen flickered, displaying a corrupted error message.

                Matrix's arms slumped at his sides. "Well, looks like I've got my work cut out for me."

                No sooner were the words out of his mouth, the flames intensified. Purple flamethrowers erupted from the walls, driving the pokemon back into the stairwell.

                "How do we get past that?!" Matrix squeaked.

                "We don't!" Anchor barked. "At least, that's what Distortion wants us to think. I guess the fight starts here?"

                N0ize let out a triumphant roar and leapt over their heads. His fist lit up with flames and he brought them crashing down against the wall. Purple fire washed over his body, but he barely flinched. The eyes on the wall grimaced from his attack, temporarily shutting down their flames. He moved on, striking another section of the wall. Then another. The flames cut out wherever he hit. But as he reached the computer, the first set of eyes gathered themselves and spewed out their attack, cutting Macro and the rest of his team off from the room.

                "It's the eyes," he said. "But there's too many. How do we attack them all at once?"

                The xurkitree babbled and skittered into the room. Its body lit up with electricity and light pulsed from its body with the rhythm of a heartbeat. Then it flashed. Macro yelped, covering his eyes. A roar split the room, making the very walls tremble. Dazzling spots danced across Macro's vision. He blinked them away, bringing the xurkitree and the room back into focus. The purple fire had gone, and with it, all the eyes.

                N0ize laughed raucously from the other side of the room. "Nice!"

                "Excellent!" Matrix buzzed past them. "I'll get to work on this computer. Switch, if you would?"

                The talonflame skittered past them to join Matrix's side.

                "We'll move on," said Macro. "Join us when you're ready. I'll leave the xurkitree with you, in case those eyes come back."

                The xurkitree babbled to itself as it moseyed around the room.

                Macro followed the path to the next door. A deep sense of dread flooded him. It was all too familiar. The last time he'd taken this path, everything had gone horribly wrong. He looked up at his allies.

                "I've no idea what to expect beyond this door," he said. "Brace yourselves."

                Scrambling claws drew his eye back to the stairs and he felt his heart lurch. DL stumbled into the room, her fur scorched in places. The three kartana soared around her, swishing their blades in their unusual language. She stopped beside Macro and doubled over with her paws on her knees, panting to catch her breath.

                "DL…" Macro raised a paw to her. "Are you okay?"

                "I'm fine," she gasped. "I'm just… glad I'm not too late…" She stood up and smoothed out her fur as best she could. "Rave said you wanted me."

                Macro lowered his paw and diverted his gaze to the door. "Right now, I kinda want everyone…"

                The lead kartana clanged its arms together twice, drawing Macro's gaze. Buzzwole stood beside it and flexed.

                N0ize chuckled and thumped his chest twice then placed an arm across Buzzwole's shoulders. "They're right. You've got all of us. And the way I see it, so long as the rest of our allies are outside fightin', Distortion's attention is divided, givin' us more of a chance."

                Macro gave a stiff nod and reached for the handle. "Well… here goes nothin'."

                He pushed the door open and they stumbled into the room. Macro blinked at the immaculate walls. It looked every bit like the entrance hall to Socket's mansion. The very place they'd fought her. Not a hint of damage in sight. The only blemish was the blood stain on the tiled floor. The memory of it twisted his gut and he battled the urge to back into the basement and flee for his life. The small glint from his Z-Crystal settled his stomach and he pushed himself into the hall.

                A long desk sat across it, the only anomaly in the room. A long, gold name plate perched on it, sporting the words 'Mayor BackDoor'. The hoopa android leant back on a seat with his arms folded behind his head. His eyes were closed as he pretended to snore. Beside the name plate sat Tweak. The little chingling slurped at an over-sized mug of tea. He looked up as Macro's team entered and swiped a paw across his mouth, scattering tea droplets.

                "Mayor BackDoor is on break," he said. "If you have any complaints, you'll have to come back later. Or… I could always take a message. But I'm kinda enjoying my tea right now and don't wish to be disturbed."

                He slurped loudly, tipping the huge cup back as far as it would go. It shrouded him from view. Once he'd finished, he dropped it and reached for a pen.

                "Done!" He chimed. "What's the message? Water quality? Air quality? Plight of the water dwellers? Not enough land for fruit trees?" He looked up and grinned. "War?"

                "No, no, no!" BackDoor sat up and threw his arms in the air. "You're do-do-doing it all wrong! We rehearsed this!"

                Tweak waved his pen and shrugged. "I was going for 'sinister'!"

                BackDoor swiped the chingling from the table. Tweaks internal bell jingled as he rolled away across the floor, scattering his pen and pad in the process. The hoopa twisted his head back to Macro and his lip curled in a sneer.

                "Given he made a meh-meh-mess of things, I guess it's down to me." BackDoor's voice distorted and he rose into the air. "Distortion can't see you right now. Allow me to show you the exit."

                BackDoor removed a ring from his horn and tossed it behind Macro and his crew. The mawile leapt away from it, feeling the tug as the gravity tried to suck him in. The kartana whizzed over his head, making a beeline for BackDoor. Their blades sliced at his metal hide and he screeched, zipping back from them. Another ring appeared in his paw and he lobbed it towards the kartana. They split apart, giving the gateway wide berth.

                With no lasers, Macro had to get close to BackDoor. But it wasn't going to be easy. Both he and Anchor were in a similar situation. DL leapt between them, firing out streaks of electricity to short the android's circuits. He deflected them with one of his rings and tossed it into the fray. Between three gravity fields, Macro's limbs grew sluggish. He fought against the new gateway and threw himself at BackDoor. The lead kartana leapt in from the other side, sticking its blades into BackDoor's shoulder. He wailed, his voice breaking and sputtering with static. Macro brought his horn up and socked the android in the chin. His head snapped back and he whizzed away from Macro to land amongst Anchor and N0ize.

                The incineroar brought his flaming fist down onto BackDoor's head. The shell forming his skull cracked, revealing the circuits inside. BackDoor brought up his paws and grabbed the incineroar. Electricity coursed through his arms and engulfed N0izes body. His fur stood on end and he fell back, spasming and sparking. BackDoor whipped himself free of Anchor, firing another jolt of electricity for good measure.

                "You can't win this," said BackDoor. "You're just mortals!"

                The final 's' dragged out into a 'z' and he raised his paws, grabbing a ring from either horn. He clashed them together, and several gateways appeared around the room. They vanished and reappeared randomly, causing the pokemon to leap from one spot to the next. BackDoor floated amongst them, using them as a shield to keep the pokemon and Ultra Beasts at bay.

                BackDoor growled as he watched them desperately avoid the gateways.

                "You're nothing but pests!" he crackled. "Annoying little pests! Why do you so desperately want to ruin my plans? I thought you wanted Socket out of the way? Well guess what! She's gone! I got rid of her, and you ungrateful little worms are trying to get rid of me, now, too?!" He clapped his paws. "Tweak!"

                The chingling teleported next to him. "Yep?"

                "Teleport each one of them to a ring," said BackDoor. "Make sure it sucks them in."

                Macro's eyes widened and fixed on the chingling. No… they couldn't fight that. He looked over at N0ize and Anchor. Both of them knew dark type moves, like he did. Buzzwole had bug buzz at his disposal. But DL? The kartana?

                "Kartana? DL?" Macro called out. "Pick a buddy! Make sure Tweak can't get to you!"

                DL was too far away for Macro to grab. She locked onto N0ize while the kartana zipped over to Macro's side. A flash of purple appeared by Anchor. He brought up his fist and struck Tweak, sending him careening over to Macro. He brought up his horn and smacked the chingling like a tennis ball. Tweak let out an ear splitting scream as he soared across the hall to land at the entrance of one of BackDoor's gateways.

                "Useless creature!" BackDoor hissed.

                He lifted his arms and the rings vanished. Gravity returned to normal and Macro resisted the urge to fall to his bottom.

                "Fine. Have it your way." BackDoor growled. "I need him."

                Tweak looked up from his spot on the floor and a broad smile spread across his face. "Really?"

                "Yes," said BackDoor. "Help doesn't-t-t come cheap."

                Tweak ignored the back-handed insult and cheered, clapping his stubby paws. "What else can I do?"

                While BackDoor's attention drifted to Tweak, DL crawled away from N0ize. The hoopa sneered at the chingling and pointed a mitten-paw at the door.

                "Go and sto-o-op that ribombee!" He clapped his paws together to urge Tweak on. "I want him and that human in here. And that Ultra Beast! If they're gonna mess with my plan, they're all gonna die together!" He swivelled back to Macro and his group. "I'll pull each and every one of you to pie-pieces just like I did with Zero D-D-Day!" His voice cut off with static as electricity flooded his body.

                BackDoor's limbs spasmed and jerked in an unnatural fashion and he slumped to the floor. Sparks bounced from the crack in his face and flooded from his back, dancing over the tiles before they vanished into the floor.

                Macro stood over him, his mechanical paw clasped into a fist. He deeply hoped it was over, but deep down he knew it wasn't. They still had Distortion to contend with.

                "Way to go, DL," he said.

                The pachirisu stood up and dusted herself down, but her eye went to the window.

                BackDoor let out a distorted groan and pushed himself up. His head lolled and wobbled, and one of his eyes whirled back into its socket.

                "You… jerks…" he crackled. "You think… you've won…?" A raucous laugh. Distorted. It cut off as sharply as it had started and he fixed his lone eye on Macro. "Don't make me laugh."

                The window exploded inward, glass flying across the room and snagging fur and flesh. DL launched herself at Macro, knocking him onto his back. She screamed and blood splattered Macro's face. He opened his eyes, fixing them on DL. Blood trickled over her shoulder and she clenched her jaw. The culprit lay beside him and he kicked the shard of glass away. Fiery purple tendrils filled the room, the heat from the flames burning into his horn. At his feet, Annie pushed herself up. Her clothes were riddled with holes and burns, and through them her flesh had been burnt raw. But she stood up and reached for the skuntank beside her. The flames retreated back, revealing most of Macro's team. Celesteela lay at an odd angle, her bamboo head and one of her cannons being the only parts of her body in the hall.

                BackDoor rose into the air, sparks flying from his body.

                "If you want a fight…" His voice was deep, and seemed to come from the very walls. "Then I'll give you a fight. One you'll soon regret!"

                The purple flames flooded from the walls and filled BackDoor's body. He shrieked a mechanical scream as his body twisted and cracked, stretching out further than it was designed to go.

                As the flames subsided, BackDoor drifted in the middle of the room, his form warped wildly out of shape. Macro's jaw went slack. He recognized it as Hoopa Unbound, except the ring in his gut turned his body into a donut. It shimmered with its own ultraviolet light.

                "This world is no longer yours!" Distortion spoke through BackDoor. "It is mine! In it, you are merely vermin!"

                Widget scrambled to his feet from beside Tracer's dazed form. The eevee spat out bloody spittle and crouched.

                "Vermin, eh?" He chuckled.

                BackDoor turned his head towards him, but before he could retort, Widget leapt. His body began to glow and his four paws became a blur as he raced through the air. He covered the short distance in a flash, striking the hoopa in the side. More cracks exploded across his body and he shrieked, bringing two of his paws around to smack the eevee just as the light left his body.

                Widget rolled back across the room, landing against the stairs with his bottom in the air.

                "Urgh…" He coughed, expelling more blood. "Lucky shot…"

                "Does anyone else want to try and take me?" BackDoor hissed. "Bring it on!"

                Before anyone even had the chance to answer, one of BackDoor's disembodied hands leapt forward and grabbed hold of a nihilego. It tinkled furiously, fighting back. Its tentacles wrapped around BackDoor's limb, trying to take control of him.

                Macro shook himself and leapt away from DL, bringing up his horn to strike BackDoor in the rear. Instead, the android span around and socked Macro with the nihilego. He went flying back in a tangle of tentacles. The nihilego worked its way around him, cushioning his fall with its gelatinous body.

                The entire room leapt into an uproar. Ultra Beast and pokemon alike threw themselves at BackDoor. He swatted them aside with his six paws as if they were nothing, deflecting their attacks with his rings before tossing them across the room.

                "Fight all you want!" he roared. "You don't stand a chance!"

                Gateways appeared around the walls, dragging the fighters back. But they fought back, sending any long range attack in their arsenal at the hoopa. Gunk shot, thunder bolt, spirit shackle… any attack fired his way, he raised his body to swallow it in his void. Then it reappeared from one of the gateways to spear an unsuspecting pokemon.

                Macro's heart sank. BackDoor was right. They didn't stand a chance.

                ...

                Matrix busied himself with the computer, ironing out the final errors. Numbers rained down his pocket computer's screen as it analysed and corrected any and all issues on the ancient contraption.

                Thuds and screams came from behind the closed door. Muffled shouts and yelps of distress. Switch cowered beside the xurkitree, eyes fixed on the door.

                "Hurry," he urged Matrix. "They need our help!"

                "I'm going as fast as I can," said Matrix. "Don't rush me. Do you want a corrupted brain or not?"

                Switch tightened his beak and turned back to the door. Matrix was right. With his lack of combat knowledge, Switch wasn't much help. He needed his memories back if he was going to use his Z-Move.

                The red eyes reappeared along the walls and the xurkitree rose up, letting another blinding flash fill the room. Matrix blinked spots from his eyes, remaining focused on his task.

                "Thanks," he told the xurkitree.

                It babbled a reply and settled back down beside the talonflame.

                "And done!" Matrix unplugged his computer. "Now to search this thing's database."

                His claws flew over the keyboard. Window after window brought up hosts of dubious files that likely contained a fountain of information. But there was no time to check over it all. He needed to find Switch's memories. Any documents the computer held could wait for later when events would need to be documented.

                But Matrix couldn't deny with the information Yobi's computer likely held, books could be written about his and Socket's plans.

                "Aha!" Matrix grinned as he spotted a promising file.

                Download Database Mark2.

                He opened the file, displaying an array of text similar to DL's memory disks.

                "I think we've found it," he said.

                Switch shuffled over with the xurkitree and eyed the screen.

                "Are you sure?" he asked. "It's not going to… make me someone else, is it?"

                "I can't lie to you, Switch," said Matrix. "Well… I can, but I won't. It probably will make you someone else. So I apologize in advance if I turn you into DL." He grabbed the end of the jack lead and looked up at Switch. "Now… sit."

                Switch's beak hung open as he stressed over Matrix's words. Then he squatted down and let Matrix plug the jack into his skull.

                "Will I feel anything?" Switch asked.

                "DL never complained." Matrix's claws glided over the keyboard. "Incoming data dump!"

                Switch's eyes went distant as the files downloaded into his brain. Matrix sat patiently, watching the percentage crawl across the screen as he idly twirled his antenna. Once it was done, the xurkitree babbled a jovial little tune.

                "Yup! Done!" Matrix unplugged Switch and watched his eyes flutter open. "Feeling any better? Back to reality?"

                Switch sat back and pressed the button on his watch, allowing his human form to take over. He ran his hands down his face and sighed.

                "Well that was an experience," he said.

                "You haven't really answered my question," said Matrix.

                Switch looked over at Matrix and the xurkitree. Sounds of chaos worsened and he diverted his eyes to the door.

                "Come on," he told his friends. "We've got a war to win."

                He switched his form back to a talonflame and soared towards the door. His feathers coated with flames and he barged through, scattering molten plastic and heated metal. Then his body lit up with a white light. A loud screech split the air and his body surrounded with the form of a glowing, white bird. He crashed into BackDoor, knocking the distorted hoopa from the air. They crashed into the floor, shattering BackDoor's shell.

                Pokemon scattered as sparks flew around the room. And in a flash, each and every gateway blinked out of existence.

                Switch stood up, returning to his human form. He stared down at the remains of BackDoor, his crushed form barely recognizable.

                BackDoor pushed himself back up, trembling as his body rose back into the air. Two glowing orbs fixed on Switch, and the android's mechanical voice stuttered as sparks flew from the cracks in his face.

                "You wretched human! I'll make you pay for that!"

                BackDoor lifted his six paws and roared. The void in his stomach swirled, dragging Switch and anyone else close enough across the floor towards him.

                Switch covered his head with his arms and fought back, straining against the void's pull. Then BackDoor let out an ear piercing shriek. Electricity engulfed his body and the void stopped. All caught in its pull slumped to the ground, Switch performing a neat roll.

                The electricity died out and BackDoor collapsed to the floor, smoke curling up off his wires. Standing behind him was Yobi, gasping for breath. Machinery covered his right shoulder and the entirety of his arm, ending in the pincers of the vikavolt android. Its legs held it in place, and curled over his clavicle.

                The sparksurfer raichu caught his breath and spat on BackDoor's smoldering remains.

                "That's for killing Socket, you wretched hunk of junk!" he hissed.

                The room fell silent.

                "Is… is it over?" Macro's voice was barely a whisper.

                The pokemon and Ultra Beasts gathered around BackDoor's corpse. All eyes except Yobi's went to the window. Outside, it was still distorted.

                The walls began to shake as a deep rumble filled the room, and hundreds of red eyes spread across the bricks.

                "Fools," Distortion hissed. "You fools!"

                Mist flooded from the eyes, coalescing in the middle of the hallway. Distortion's insectoid body filled the room, stuttering between its draconic form. He fixed his crimson eyes on the small army.

                "No," he said slowly. "It's not over."

                He opened his mouth wide and a distorted, screech-like roar sliced through the air. The world around them twisted and spun in a cacophony of ultraviolet light. Lightning flashed in the distance, showing after images of Socket's entrance hall.

                Distortion's form warped as tattered wings appeared over his shoulders. Six legs appeared beneath his body and he leered down at them. Hundreds of red eyes flashed around the room, leaking purple dragon fire.

                "The battle," said Distortion, "is just beginning."
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                Old January 20th, 2019 (1:20 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 Nine

                  Macro stood staring up at the ghostly dragon, his mechanical paw clasped into a fist. Despite the huge advantage he had with numbers, he doubted it was going to be an easy fight. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, Distortion’s entire body turned a shadowy black and he vanished into the floor in a puddle of shadow.

                  Macro tried to follow him with his eyes, but he’d well and truly vanished. A searing pain shot through Macro’s spine and he wailed, flying forward as Distortion reappeared behind him and struck him in the back.

                  A flash of electricity lit up the swirling dimension as DL retaliated with a discharge attack. It barely phased Distortion. He flapped his wings and went soaring over them, taking on his centipede form. His body curled and twisted as he aimed his head back in their direction. Purple dragon fire streamed from his mouth, searing those close enough to him. Annie’s clothes lit on fire and she panicked, beating them with her hands. Web shoved her aside and took the brunt of the attack, grunting as flames licked at her fur.

                  Zip splashed in his bowl, drenching Annie with water to quench the flames.

                  “Thanks for that, little fish!”

                  Purple gas rose from Web’s body, a fatal flaw in her strategy given all the fire. Macro frowned. What was she up to?

                  But she cracked one eye open and smirked. All the gas flew from her in a torrent, lighting up as it struck Distortion’s fire. The resulting explosion blew him back with a tremendous force, leaving Macro’s team enough time to rally themselves.

                  “All right!” he barked. “Anyone with a Z-Move left in their arsenal, now’s the time to use it!”

                  He lifted his paw, readying his attack, but a small paw shoved him backwards. Defrag leapt past him, paws glowing with freezing light. DL wasn’t far behind.

                  “Zip!” DL barked. “Once Defrag’s hit him with her Z-Move, you’re up!”

                  “Roger!” Zip skittered away from Annie on his mechanical legs, tailing after the two nimble pokemon.

                  Defrag leapt high into the air, clasping both glowing paws together. She brought them both down towards Distortion’s head. He looked up, eyes flashing as he noticed her. Swerving to the side, he dodged the lopunny’s Z-Move. Ice blanketed the floor, deadly icicles spearing the air. One clipped Distortion’s right front paw and he howled, retracting them to take on his insect form once more.

                  Zip rose up from his bowl, spitting out his water gun. It warped and twisted into a spinning vortex, engulfing Distortion in its whirlpool. Then DL expelled her discharge. She leapt into it, letting the electricity engulf her body. She zigged and zagged, striking Distortion from all angles. The gigavolt havoc infused the hydro vortex with electricity, amplifying both attacks.

                  She landed behind Distortion, panting for breath. The water fizzled out, and Distortion drifted from it, sparks dancing across the water droplets on his scales.

                  His red eyes narrowed and he locked them on Defrag and Zip.

                  “Very impressive,” he spat. “Now it’s my turn.”

                  He landed back on his six legs and flapped his wings, whipping up a whirlwind. The pokemon and Ultra Beasts were blown back as the wind increased with intensity. Shadowy mist rose up with it, tearing at their fur, feather and flesh. The nihilego tinkled with pain and Celesteela let out a devastated wail. Macro clasped his paws over his ears, trying his best to brace himself to attack.

                  The wind petered out and Distortion rose onto his hind legs. The ground shook and eerie glowing spots appeared beneath their feet. Macro’s eyes widened with horror.

                  “Move!” he bellowed.

                  He leapt to the side as the ground exploded beneath him. Soil and rocks hammered his feet and he grimaced as pain shot up his right leg. He landed beside Annie who stooped to drag him back up by his horn.

                  “Hang in there, Captain,” she said.

                  Macro thanked her and hissed as he tried to put weight back on his wounded leg. Pins and needles shot up and down it. Dang ground type attacks. Along with fire, they were the bane of his existence. He glanced over at Web who wasn’t in much better condition. She stood beside Trojan as she shook soil from her fur, then gave her mate a reassuring nod.

                  Distortion rose up again for another earth power. His wings whipped up another ominous wind, catching the flying debris in some kind of ghostly sandstorm. His mouth opened in a screeching roar.

                  “We can’t get close enough!” DL lifted a paw to shield her eyes. “The wind keeps blowing us back, and if these ground attacks keep up…”

                  Macro’s jaw went slack and he looked down at her. Of course. He grabbed her in his paws and shoved her towards Switch.

                  “Get her in the air!” Macro told him. “Anyone with wings, get those weak to ground type moves in the air!”

                  Waveform soared over his head to grab Web in his talons. He turned back to Macro, but the mawile waved him off.

                  “You two provide a distraction,” he said. “Attack him from the air while I get close enough to strike him with a fairy attack.”

                  “But you’ll get trampled!” Waveform told him.

                  “Forget about me and grab Tracer!”

                  Waveform soared silently over his head while Macro tried to find the safest route forward. Something trembled beside his leg and he braced himself to dive out of the way of another earth power. His eyes met Cookies just before the ground lit up again. He grabbed the slurpuff and leapt, clasping him to his body as they rolled away. The entire ground shook, peppering the pokemon with tiny rocks. Macro opened his eyes again, finding himself against the swirling wall of distortion. He could see the mansion through it. The windows. Guzzlord fighting against the drifting rocks. Stakataka shattering those barricading its path on the ground. Wildcard Gamma in the distance, drawing ever closer.

                  Above him, the nihilego struggled against the ominous wind. Several of them had hold of their allies. The xurkitree dangled like damaged wires, sparking as they launched electricity at Distortion. It washed over him like water off a ducklett’s back. Another had hold of Tracer as he fired his flamethrower and psychic attacks.

                  “I’m going to try a shattered psyche,” he told the nihilego over the wind. “Get me closer, friend.”

                  The nihilego tinkled in reply then slipped between its allies.

                  Cookie wriggled free of Macro’s arms and pushed himself up. “Look at everyone…”

                  Macro looked away from Tracer, taking in everyone else as his eyes wandered over them. Panting. Sweating. Pushing themselves on. Everyone was exhausted, yet they were still fighting.

                  “I need to heal them,” Cookie went on. “Please… cover my back, Captain.”

                  Macro gave a curt nod and pushed himself to his feet. His eye went back to the mansion. His ship… it was definitely moving closer. He wasn’t imagining it.

                  A sweet smell filled the air and he turned back to Cookie. The slurpuff’s eyes were screwed shut and his tongue poked out of his mouth. The Z-Crystal around his right paw began to glow, infusing his aromatherapy. It spread out across the distortion, washing over their allies. Noses twitched and eyes flitted to the side, resting on Cookie for a moment, but all signs of fatigue washed away.

                  Cookie doubled over, his paws on his knees, and the sweet scent vanished. The nihilego above them tinkled in triumph and swooped across the sky with Matrix, Buzzwole and Pheramosa. A neon green bug buzz flew out ahead of them towards the dragon. Widget dashed past Macro with a ‘whoo!’, his tiny paws kicking up debris as he fought against the wind. Poipole swirled beside Web, firing gunk shot after gunk shot. Anchor roared and rushed forward, joining N0ize in a stampede towards Distortion. The incineroar’s fists glowed with dark energy.

                  “This is gonna hurt!” N0ize bellowed.

                  Distortion’s eyes went to N0ize and he screeched, flapping his wings. His body turned a ghostly black again and he vanished into the ground. Tracer’s shattered psyche missed its mark, and the delphox grimaced, burying his head in his paws. Distortion rose up behind Macro, slapping the mawile with his tail. Macro rolled backwards with a grunt and landed at N0ize’s feet. Anchor tugged him up by his scarf and Macro looked between them. N0ize’s paws still glowed with his Z-Power, but his eyes weren’t on Distortion anymore.

                  The dragon opened his mouth wide, purple flames licking at his teeth. But it flew from the side of his jaws as the nose of Wildcard Gamma broke through the distortion field and struck the dragon side on. He landed in a crumpled heap in front of it, and slid along the ground as the ship slowed to a halt. The swirling energy surrounding them flashed away, returning them all to Socket’s mansion.

                  Distortion pushed himself back to his feet, shaking his head to clear the fog.

                  “What on earth?” he wheezed.

                  Macro and his crew stared up at the ship aghast. Axle and Sparky waved to them from the window then vanished as they scurried to the hatch.

                  Distortion shook out his wings and fixed his eyes on his targets. He began to whip up another ominous wind, screeching with rage.

                  “You think you can stop me with a cheap trick?!” he roared. “This ship is nothing but a hunk of metal! And like this mansion, I will turn it into part of me! I’ll make you regret every moment of this! Every moment of your pathetic lives!”

                  His body turned to shadow, but it flickered back as a nihilego wrapped its tentacles around his neck. Another fastened itself to his shoulders. He bucked and swung around, dislodging the symbionts.

                  “You can’t control me, vermin!” he screeched. “This world is mine!”

                  The nihilego rushed him again, joined by the xurkitree. Kartana soared over his head, nicking his scales with their blades. He roared, causing the walls to tremble, and ghostly tendrils snaked up from the ground to grab at the Ultra Beasts.

                  Axle scampered around the distracted dragon, tailed by Sparky and the porygon-z. The Zero Day model appeared stable, its eyes rotating left and right as it took in its surroundings. He joined Macro’s side and cleared his throat.

                  “I’ve got it finished,” he said. “I can have it find a world licketty-split and we can send this dragon away from System, along with this mansion if we have to.”

                  Zero Day chirruped and swung its legs back and forth. Its head span in a dizzying fashion that Macro couldn’t look at for too long.

                  “Well find an empty one,” said Macro. “I don’t want to inflict this thing on someone else’s world, or the past for that matter.”

                  “Or the future,” said Anchor. “We’re headin’ that way, and I don’t know about you, but I ain’t willin’ to put up with this guy’s nonsense again.”

                  Yobi staggered from the shadows, buckling slightly under the vikavolt’s weight. He stared at Zero Day, his mouth curling into a sneer.

                  “Who brought that thing here?” he spat.

                  “I did.” Axle turned to face him. “You asked us to find you one.”

                  “Well I want it destroyed,” said Yobi. “Those things… all of them! They’ve caused me too much trouble.”

                  “No.” Macro cut in front of Zero Day. “We need this. It can send Distortion out of System.”

                  “But it can’t bring her back, can it?” Yobi flashed a canine. “It can’t restore System!”

                  “No, but it can give us a chance at surviving!” Macro retorted. “Back off and let us try, all right?”

                  Yobi lifted the vikavolt and aimed it at Macro. Sparks danced along the coil that ran up his arm between the pincers. A black paw fell on top of it and yanked it aside. Yobi looked up into N0ize’s sneering face and let out a pathetic ‘eep!’

                  “I’ve got enough experience dealin’ with railguns,” said N0ize calmly. “I suggest you aim it elsewhere, rodent.”

                  He shoved the vikavolt away from him, knocking Yobi off balance. Searing dragon fire narrowly missed his tail and he whipped it back, curling it around his body.

                  “If you’re gonna wave it around,” N0ize went on, “then aim it at the rampagin’ dragon!”

                  One of the nihilego landed in a crumpled heap between them, tinkling weakly. A xurkitree joined it, followed by a kartana. The small bladed creature arced away from them towards the ceiling in a bid to avoid spearing its allies. It scraped its arms together in frustration and leapt back towards Distortion, only to be buffeted away like a tennis ball by one of his tendrils. Its blades sliced through it, severing its tip, before the kartana found itself sticking out of the wall behind Macro. The brick spun around to reveal one of the many eyes and Distortion howled with pain.

                  Macro stared at the wounded eye for a moment, then looked back at Distortion, bucking and howling as he tried to dislodge the nihilego. The pokemon around him lashed out with every move in their arsenal. Acid rained down from the ceiling, unfazing the symbionts while the xurkitree ran for cover to attack from a safer distance. Web’s Z-Move had been activated. Poipole circled over her, firing gunk shots at the dragon’s face.

                  “Like this building, I’ll turn it into a part of me…” Macro muttered.

                  Anchor clenched his fists and looked down at him. “What’s that, Cap’n?”

                  “This building is part of Distortion,” said Macro. “That kartana hurt him when it struck it.”

                  The kartana bobbed beside his head, listening intently.

                  “Wildcard Gamma and Celesteela have both taken a chunk out of the walls,” Macro went on. “When the ship crashed, that strange world we were in vanished. So we should also attack the building. If you can’t reach Distortion, attack the building!”

                  Macro leapt backwards to strike the exposed bricks with an iron head. Eyes locked onto him as he approached it, spewing dragon fire. It washed over Macro harmlessly. He brought up his horn and smacked the bricks, shattering them into rubble.

                  Distortion howled again, jerking to the side. Two of the remaining three nihilego soared across the room to land beside Celesteela’s dazed body. The huge Ultra Beast slowly pushed herself up, sending rubble raining down around her. Distortion hissed at her and kicked off the remaining nihilego. Its gelatinous body bounced across the floor, striking Trojan and knocking him off his feet.

                  Macro readied himself for another attack on the walls. The flames intensified, taking on a deep purple glow. They seared across his fur, burning it away to expose his flesh. He wailed and leapt backwards away from them, stumbling into Anchor’s tail.

                  The granbull steadied his captain then threw a sucker punch at the wall. Flames washed over him, burning his pink fur to a charcoal grey, but he ignored them, focusing all his attention on the attack. The bricks exploded, creating a gaping hole in the wall.

                  Distortion’s shadowy form rose up behind Anchor. Four sets of claws leaked an eerie, shadowy glow and he brought them down on Anchor’s back. Anchor howled and staggered forward. Blood ran down his back and he crumpled to the floor.

                  “Anchor!”

                  Macro leapt over his friend, bringing an iron head up into Distortion’s jaws. The dragon’s head snapped back and he teetered on his two back legs. Then he vanished into the floor again.

                  Macro stared at the point he’d vanished, his fur on end. He was going to rise up behind him again. Not this time. Macro trotted forwards towards the shattered window and Wildcard Gamma’s huge nose. Black shadow pooled beneath his feet. It exploded into the dragon’s form and shadowy claws struck him in the chest. He careened backwards, briefly closing his eyes. But he saw Distortion vanish back into the ground once more. It trailed behind him like a dart, ready to attack.

                  ...

                  Annie watched as Macro flew backwards from Wildcard Gamma. The little emolga cowered beside the giant wishiwashi with Zero Day and Sparky. She was almost certain they were planning something. But she couldn’t very well watch Macro being tossed back and forth in the dragon’s solo game of volleyball. Web and Zip’s long range attacks fell short as the dragon vanished and reappeared too quickly and too unexpectedly to aim. Trojan and Waveform raced back and forth to avoid the purple flames in their desperate bid to attack the walls, like Macro had said.

                  But she couldn’t even do that. All she could do was dive out of the way whenever the flames decided to target her. Which was almost never. As if Distortion didn’t perceive her as a threat.

                  She clenched her fist. Useless. She was useless in this human form.

                  The brown Z-Crystal about her wrist sparkled and her eyes went to it. It hadn’t done that before. Not outside being used for her Z-Power, however. Had she imagined it?

                  No. It sparkled again. More brightly this time. She stared at it, mouth slightly open. That sparkle grew with intensity and a warm feeling spread up her arm. She began to shrink down as feathers exploded across her body. She lifted her wings and let out a triumphant laugh.

                  “I’m back, baby!”

                  Huge rocks rose up before her as she summoned her ancient power. The Rockium-Z infused it, merging the rocks together into one gigantic continent. She threw her wings forwards and the rock surged towards Macro. He struck it, bouncing away from it towards Annie. Distortion appeared from the ground beneath it and his red eyes widened as the continental crush smashed down upon his head, sending him back into the floor. He grunted, the sound coming from the walls as each red eye flinched and blinked out of existence.

                  Annie stared at the rock for a moment, then cheered. She stooped to drag Macro to his feet and he dusted down his scarf.

                  “Thanks,” he said. “That was getting a bit annoying.”

                  ...

                  Macro stared at the huge rock in disbelief. The glowing eyes flitted across the walls as Distortion tried to gather himself. Macro clenched his fists and looked up at each of his allies. Exhausted. Beaten. Sore.

                  But it wasn’t over. They needed to be ready.

                  The problem was, any plan needed to be voiced. The pokemon around him weren’t telepathic, and couldn’t communicate to one another’s minds like Rave or Poipole. He glanced over at the blacephalon, doubled over beside Wildcard Gamma as he tried to catch his breath. The wall around him was shattered, evidence of his battle with it. It had been struck over and over by his exploding head. The result left him with a cranium the size of a gum ball, slowly increasing in size as he gathered his strength.

                  Oh how Macro wished he could somehow get his plan to him so he could broadcast it to everyone except Distortion.

                  A white tentacle brushed his shoulder and he looked back at a nihilego. It softly placed its tentacle on his head and began to pulse with a white light.

                  Macro’s eyes widened. Had it read his mind? Well… whether it had or not, he could at least try. He thought only of his plan. A desperate bid to defeat Distortion once he reappeared amongst them. To tell everyone as fast as he could so they could wail on the dragon before he gathered his full strength.

                  The nihilego released him and rushed to Rave’s side. It placed its tentacles on his slowly growing head and he froze.

                  Maybe it had worked? Or maybe the nihilego just wanted to leech on everyone’s strength to recover its own? Macro didn’t feel any different, but regardless he hugged himself, bracing himself for the dragon’s sudden angry reappearance. The entrance hall was silent save for everyone’s gasping. They knew it wasn’t over. The vanishing and reappearing eyes were enough to tell them that. Distortion was still here. The world outside was still warped.

                  Rave stood up to his full height, placing one paw on Wildcard Gamma’s hull to steady himself. Then Macro heard his voice. Everyone froze to listen.

                  “Everyone, this isn’t over,” said Rave. “All those who still have Z-Moves, ready them. When Distortion reappears, strike. If you don’t have Z-Moves left, you aren’t useless. Attack any way you can. Ghost moves, dark moves, ice moves… use them on Distortion. Otherwise, destroy the mansion as quickly as you can-”

                  A purple tentacle wound up beneath Rave’s feet, knocking him off balance. He quickly regained it with a little athletic hop. But the tentacle wasn’t after him. It plunged deep into Wildcard Gamma’s jaws and they opened and closed, snapping at the air. Distortion’s head appeared above the large rock as his ghostly form manifested, flickering between insect and dragon. His red eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth in an ear-splitting screech.

                  “He’s taking over Wildcard Gamma!” Macro barked. “Kartana, the rest of the Ultra Beasts! Stop him! Everyone else, you know the drill!”

                  N0ize leapt in first, his fists seeping dark energy. Distortion spotted him and let out a low growl, lowering his body to vanish back into the ground.

                  “Oh no you don’t!”

                  A flurry of sticky thread flew from the ceiling above him and Macro spotted Matrix launching string from the proboscis in his chest. The string wrapped around Distortion, plastering his wings to his back. He screeched and thrashed, his long body fighting back.

                  N0ize laughed and brought up his glowing fist. “Thanks for that, bug!”

                  His fist crashed down on Distortion’s head and the air around them exploded with dark energy. It swirled with red and black, spinning Distortion around like a rag doll. He came crashing back down on the giant rock and shattered it on impact. Shrapnel went flying, peppering the pokemon and Ultra Beasts around it.

                  Waveform brought up his wing, shielding himself, Annie and Macro. Then he readied his arrow.

                  “Never ending nightmare,” he said quietly, almost drowned out by the dragon’s screeches. “Once I’ve fired, Macro, you run in. He’ll never see you coming.”

                  The arrow flew. It struck Distortion in the nose then vanished into the floor. Black, ghostly tendrils rose up around him, dragging his tangled body into the ground. Macro’s Z-Crystal flashed pink and he leapt through them, dodging between the thrashing tentacles. His body sparkled and he met Distortion’s furious eyes. The dragon let out another loud screech, stinging Macro’s ear drums. But he grit his teeth and powered through it. He brought up his horn and brought it crashing down on Distorion’s head. Pink sparkles exploded around him like a firework display. The shadowy tendrils retreated and Distortion broke free, staggering back and shaking his head.

                  He looked down at Macro, gasping. “You… this isn’t over!”

                  Distortion’s wings flew out to the sides, discarding the remains of the sticky thread that had bound him. Purple tentacles exploded from the floor, groping at the pokemon and Wildcard Gamma. The kartana fought them off, slicing them, but they reproduced faster than they could destroy them. Electricity danced from the xurkitree’s bodies, paralyzing the tendrils only briefly.

                  Celesteela let out a deathly wail and raised her cannon.

                  “Get down!” shouted Rave.

                  The cannon exploded in a torrent of flames. They engulfed Wildcard Gamma, melting its hull. The wires sparked and sputtered, then the entire ship erupted in an almighty blast of flames and shrapnel. Macro covered his head, feeling heat wash over him. Rocks peppered his body as the mansion rained down around them. He braced himself for death. But it never came.

                  He glanced up to find Celesteela and Omnom standing over him. The huge dragon gulped down the rocks as they rained down, protecting those below him with his gargantuan body. Just beyond them stood Stakataka, masking everyone else inside his heavy walls. They’d finally got through the rocky barrier.

                  Macro chuckled and pushed himself to his feet. “Bon appetite, pal.”

                  The guzzlord roared and lunged forward, sinking his toothy tongues into the bricks and pulling the mansion apart faster than Cookie could demolish pancakes.

                  Distortion screeched, turning his tentacles onto the dragon. Celesteela fired off another flamethrower, burning back the tendrils. She wailed again.

                  “Everybody move!” Rave told them. “Otherwise you’ll get caught in her attacks!”

                  Celesteela wasn’t interested in fighting the dragon. Her efforts were aimed at the walls and the pesky tentacles. She swung her cannons about, shattering rubble and firing flame throwers and seed bombs. Distortion hissed, his body blinking in and out of existence.

                  “No!” he said. “This is my world! Mine!”

                  Macro dove for the nearest opening. The world outside was gradually returning to normal. The purple haze fading. The land returning to where it should be.

                  Axle tapped him on the shoulder and nodded to Zero Day. The porygon-z’s shell was peppered with pits and scuffs, but it seemed otherwise okay.

                  “We’re gonna open a gateway,” said Axle. “You might wanna get everyone out of here. We don’t want any accidents, do we?”

                  “I’ll do it.”

                  The two pokemon looked up to see Yobi leaning against the rubble. He panted heavily, struggling to keep the vikavolt weapon aloft.

                  “You?” Macro snorted. “Why should we trust you?”

                  “Because this is my fault,” said Yobi. “I made BackDoor. I caused all this. I’m the reason Socket’s dead. Sending Distortion back… it’s sort of a redemption. To right my wrongs. To restore System. Please… Let me do it.”

                  Macro stared at him for a moment, meeting his eyes. The pokemon staring back at him was clearly wounded, and not just physically. Part of Macro understood. Years of pain, wanting to make things right… He nodded.

                  “What?” Axle stuttered. “After I-”

                  “Go with him,” said Macro. “I think he’s being honest… but it doesn’t hurt to have a guard, now, does it?”

                  Yobi nodded and ushered Zero Day ahead of him. Axle glanced back at Macro and cracked a half smile.

                  “All right, Zero Day!” said Yobi. “Find somewhere uninhabitable!”

                  Zero Day’s nose lit up and unleashed a beam. Its head craned back slowly, and Macro felt a soft warmth at his side. White fur, glowing with a warm sunlight. He glanced up at Solgaleo. The lion’s paw rose up with Zero Day’s head, then stopped. He pointed a claw, and the beam cut through reality. A spinning vortex unlike BackDoor’s gateways hovered in the air. It flickered with electricity, and it spiraled away from them like a tunnel through reality.

                  Distortion’s screeches intensified as the vortex pulled him in. His shadowy body flickered in and out of reality. He thrashed in the air, dragon fire seeping between his teeth. The vortex swallowed him up, and with a flick of Solgaleo’s paw, it was gone.

                  Silence.

                  Macro looked back up at Solgaleo. The lion gave him a warm smile and nodded. Then he vanished. The purple haze faded away, returning Seed City to normal. Save the ruins that filled it.
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                  Old January 27th, 2019 (3:28 AM).
                  Delirious Absol's Avatar
                  Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                  Call me Del
                     
                    Join Date: May 2015
                    Location: UK
                    Age: 34
                    Gender: Female
                    Nature: Quirky
                    Posts: 356
                    Chapter Eighty

                    Everyone sat nursing wounds. Macro huddled between DL and Anchor as Cookie rummaged through his bag for healing berries. Web tended to Time Archeops' collective injuries, despite Waveform's gripes at her own. Widget was the one playing doctor for his own team, nattering away loudly as he worked. The Ultra Beasts sported the worst injuries of everyone, but Rave wasn't sure what good System's berries would do. Regardless, he'd taken some after Cookie's insistence, which the nihilego and xurkitree puzzled over.

                    The air in Seed City had returned to normal, but none of them had wanted to stay in it. They'd left once everyone had gathered themselves together, spreading out over the faux grass that surrounded it. Macro gazed across at the city. Ruined. A far cry to its former glory. But yet there was hope.

                    His eyes fell on Yobi, sitting far away from them with Axle with his back against a tree stump. The emolga had insisted on keeping the raichu company, much to his complaints. Zero Day twirled its head back and forth, seemingly oblivious to the conversations going on around it. The vikavolt weapon lay discarded at Yobi's side and he flexed his fist while munching on a sitrus berry. Despite what had happened to System, he had certainly helped them get rid of Distortion.

                    Macro pushed himself to his feet.

                    "Where are you goin'?" Anchor asked.

                    "I need to speak to Yobi," Macro explained. "I'll be back, don't worry."

                    The granbull thrust an oran berry into Macro's paws. "Well, take that with you. Either you eat it, or give it to him. Looks like he might need it."

                    Macro took it and turned to head towards the raichu.

                    DL stood and trotted after him. "Wait. I'm coming too."

                    He paused to look over his shoulder. "You sure? I mean… well, he really… you know…"

                    "I don't care," said DL. Then she shrugged and rubbed the back of her head. "Well… I do care. But he helped us, and I need to put this grudge aside and move on."

                    Macro took a deep breath and stared down at the oran berry. "That's what I'm doin'. Hopefully he'll listen."

                    The pair approached Yobi, drawing his eye. He clutched his aching arm and narrowed his eyes.

                    "What do you two want?" he growled.

                    "Peace." Macro offered him the oran berry.

                    The raichu leered at it and shuffled backwards against his perch. His eyes snapped back to Macro and he flashed a canine.

                    "After all the pain you've put me through?" Yobi spat. "You want peace?"

                    Macro shrugged. "As much as it might have seemed a good idea at the time to you, I think we both know your plan was flawed."

                    "It wasn't flawed at all!" Yobi snapped. "You just got in the way!"

                    "That doesn't matter," said Macro. "BackDoor could have dragged Distortion into all this without my meddling. Who's to say he wouldn't have killed Socket regardless?"

                    Yobi grimaced and lowered his face in one paw. "The threats were there. She refused to have a kill switch installed." He jerked his head back up and snarled. "But that's not the point! You took Download Database-"

                    He pointed a claw at DL who slapped it aside.

                    "I am not, and was not ever a computer!" she snapped.

                    Macro placed a paw on her shoulder and she retreated into herself, hugging her arms about her torso.

                    Yobi kept one leering eye on DL as he returned to his arm. Axle caught his attention and shook his head.

                    "I can't say I agree with your actions, turning this poor lass into a computer," said the emolga. "I mean, what good would that serve?"

                    "It was a perfect undercover plan."

                    Yobi caught the leers of the pokemon around him. Even Zero Day managed to look unimpressed.

                    The raichu sighed and waved a paw. "But I agree. Socket's idea to turn Loop into a computer was nuts. I wasn't all for it at first, but she got to me. Okay? Like she manages to get to everyone!" He paused and buried his head in his paws. "'Managed'. Argh, I still can't believe she's gone."

                    DL wrung her paws together and glanced away from him, towards the ruins. "Neither can I."

                    Yobi looked back up at her and his expression softened. "I guess she did raise you."

                    "Yes, but she was full of lies." DL took a steadying breath and turned back to him. "But… I suppose you were her friend."

                    Yobi shrugged and fidgeted his claws together. "I had known her for years. There's a lot she'd tell me that she'd never breathe to anyone else." He paused and looked at each of them in turn. "S'pose there's no harm in telling you now. Might make you see her ideas differently."

                    Macro exchanged glances with DL. He took a deep breath and shifted his weight to one leg.

                    "Okay," he said. "Enlighten me. Other than trying to find a new world for her elites, what was the main motive behind her plan?"

                    "That was kinda it," said Yobi. "But… the world she was looking for? She wanted to find a world with humans."

                    "To turn them into computers?" DL asked. "Like me?"

                    "Not just that." Yobi scratched between his ears. "She didn't talk about it much, okay, but her family were in the circle. The one that believe they're descended from humans. I was in it too, but I kinda wanted to break away. I met Socket and we both had our own ideas. Our own wants. We wanted to meet these humans. Myself for a pure scientific reason. Hers was just curiosity. She wasn't convinced they were real, but her experiences in System were less than desirable. She lost family to the toxic air, and the ruffians really shook her. All the news about crime, space pirates causing trouble… after a while she was scared stiff of going out. She kept looking back at the times when humans came into System. The changes they made. Getting lost in stories pokemon brush off as fiction. It's all long forgotten about now, reduced to myth status. Who knows what's true and what isn't? But the fact they came to System at all is true, and I think Switch and Annie have proved that to us.

                    "I, however, wasn't interested in the 'fairy tales'. I wanted to find out what makes them tick. How different are they to us? All that stuff."

                    "So you wanted to dissect them." Macro grit his teeth together, biting back the urge to lay into the raichu.

                    Yobi waved him off with his stronger paw. "Water under the bridge. I ain't gonna do it. I can go into this… scientific rampage where the moral line is blurred. I don't know much about humans, but I know enough now to know we're similar. They're sentient, we're sentient. Killing one to chop them up would be immoral."

                    "Kind of like turning a pokemon into a computer?" said DL.

                    Macro caught her eye and she shook her head, turning her face away from the raichu. She pawed at her ear and Macro saw her bite her lip.

                    "I'm sorry," she said. "Maybe I shouldn't talk for a while."

                    Yobi watched her for a moment then closed his eyes. "I'm sorry I did that to you."

                    She jolted and slowly turned back to him.

                    "She made me," he went on. "Socket was pretty scary when she was mad. I had to do it. I told her destroying your memory disks would be murder. If I hadn't put my foot down, you wouldn't even have got them back."

                    DL shuffled her feet and diverted her gaze back to the city. "Well… thank you."

                    Macro rolled his eyes and tilted his head back to the sky. "So Socket thought she was human?"

                    "Part human," said Yobi. "All the evidence was there. She kept it under her hat."

                    "Whoa!" The voice hadn't come from any of them.

                    They all turned to spot Tweak standing with his mouth agape, staring at them.

                    "She was part human?" He hopped up and down jingling noisily. "That's huge!"

                    "Where on earth did you get off to?" DL snapped.

                    "Duh!" Tweak fixed his beady eyes on hers. "I ran! I wasn't sticking around after that guy went berserk! BackDoor went down and that was it. I was off!" He hopped over Yobi's knees to land between him and the vikavolt. "Is this another one? He weren't half bad, that BackDoor, I liked him."

                    "What?" Yobi grabbed the chingling by his hairs and held him at eye level. "He killed Socket!"

                    Tweak lifted his paws and laughed. "I was kidding! Can you take a joke? That guy was scare-ry!"

                    Yobi dropped the tiny pokemon and sighed, leaning back against the tree stump.

                    "Well," he said. "I guess after this… I need to find a new lab."

                    Macro narrowed his eyes in thought. DL shifted beside him and she slowly approached the raichu.

                    "You could… help rebuild System?" she said. "You have the mechanical know-how. You could build something that could really help. Make this the 'perfect world' she was looking for? Free of poison, where everyone gets along."

                    Yobi met her eyes and his mouth turned into a frown. "That ideal world doesn't exist."

                    "But you were lookin' for it," said Macro.

                    Yobi shrugged. "I was looking for it for her. Just taking the elites - no criminals, no dark types, no ghost types, no bugs… it was all for her." He wound his paws together and turned away from them. "I just want to be alone right now, okay?"

                    Macro nodded and placed the berry beside him. He took DL's paw and steered her away, back to their friends.

                    ...

                    It took about a month to restore System's major cities. The Ultra Beasts, along with Switch, insisted on staying to help rebuild, the nihilego in particular aiding with the restoration of the more toxic infused areas. While they worked, gateways were opened to Deep Sea, allowing the poisonous air to be sucked away, high up enough to avoid catching any unsuspecting pokemon.

                    Slowly but surely, System began to recover. Pokemon rallied across the region to work together. Those in System Sky came down to help their brethren on System Ground, and vice versa.

                    Macro eyed the restored Meta City and leant back against the remains of a mechanical tree.

                    "Don't think we'll be needin' these anymore, eh?" Anchor nudged a filter leaf with his toe then stood beside him, his paws tucked behind his back.

                    Macro nodded stiffly and licked his lips. "I just can't believe I'm looking at this place, knowing Socket isn't living in it… yet it still scares me."

                    "Memories take a while to adjust." Anchor shifted and looked down at him. "Give it time."

                    N0ize strolled from the city and tossed a huge lump of mortar into a skip. He beat his paws together, laughing joyously.

                    "Think that's the last of it!" he said.

                    The xurkitree manning the skip chattered in its peculiar language and rushed away, its body sparking as it gained momentum. Just outside the outskirts, Onmon waited to dispose of the rubble. The guzzlord puzzled Macro. All that rubble went somewhere, but it never left any waste whatsoever. It was the cleanest cleanup crew System had ever seen. He couldn't help but wonder what its world must be like.

                    N0ize spotted Macro and Anchor and grinned broadly as he joined them.

                    "Lookin' good, eh?" he said as he admired the city. "If I were seein' it for the first time, I'd never suspect it had been hit with a disaster."

                    Macro followed his gaze. Switch circled the city with a pair of nihilego, checking for anything that may have been missed.

                    "Aye," said Macro. "They've helped a lot. But pretty soon we'll be saying goodbye to our new friends."

                    "Argh, don't make me cry," said N0ize.

                    The two space pirates looked up at him and he shrugged.

                    "I'm serious," said N0ize. "I get teary eyed when it comes to goodbyes."

                    "Tell me about it." Macro tapped N0ize on the elbow and turned from Meta City. "I'm gonna check on how they're gettin' on in Spool City. See ya later."

                    "Hang on, I'm comin' too." N0ize fell in step beside Macro. "Tracer said he were redecoratin' his office. I've got a question for him."

                    Macro cocked an eyebrow. "Oh?"

                    "Aye." N0ize tucked his huge paws behind his head.

                    That was it. No elaboration. Macro exchanged glances with Anchor and they chatted quietly amongst themselves as they strolled through the streets of the outskirts.

                    No one would recognise it. The entire place was immaculate. The underground plumbing had been repaired, allowing waste to flow away unseen rather than overflowing from manholes and drains. The air was clean, barely a trace left of the yellow smog. One of Zero Day's gateways hovered above it, cleaning up what remained.

                    The tattered, outdated adverts had been eaten away during Omnom's rampage, and any that had remained had been eagerly devoured. The walls, if not new, had been scrubbed to within an inch of their lives. It was barely distinguishable from Meta City.

                    Tracer's little office stood where it always had. Unlike previously, it now sported a sign above the door. 'Tracer and Widget's Detective Agency.' It was originally only going to read 'Tracer's Detective Agency' but Widget had been very vocal on the matter.

                    N0ize moved on ahead of Macro and rapped on the door. Then he opened it, bellowing his greeting as he slipped inside.

                    Macro and Anchor had to trot to catch up before it swung closed behind them. Anchor looked around the office and let out a long whistle.

                    "This looks posh!" he said.

                    The walls were a clean white. Where the air filter had previously occupied now sat an air conditioner, cooling down the room with a refreshing breeze. Despite the air conditioning, however, the thick smell of cigar smoke filled the office, trailing up from Tracer's muzzle. Defrag sat at her desk with her feet up while the other two detectives busied themselves rearranging their desks. N0ize stood and watched them, leaning against the wall beside the door.

                    "Here!" Tracer bundled a heap of papers into the incineroar's arms.

                    A bewildered expression crossed N0ize's face and he opened his mouth to question the delphox.

                    "I think Omnom could dispose of these," Tracer said without prompting.

                    "This, too!" Widget tossed a broken pen onto the pile. "Let's make use of this recycling facility while we have it, eh?"

                    "Don't you think we aught to start our own?" Macro asked.

                    "That takes time," said Tracer.

                    "Exactly," said Macro. "The Ultra Beasts are set to head home in two days!"

                    "Wave City is already on the ball," said Anchor. "I think you aught to set aside some stuff and carry it down there if you need to. While the outskirts get their act together? Be a shame to let it fall into the same state it was in a few weeks ago, eh?"

                    Tracer nodded and retrieved the papers from N0ize. "A good point. I'll get on that."

                    "No, I'll do it." Defrag leant towards her computer. "As self appointed governor of the outskirts, it's my job."

                    Widget snorted and wrinkled his nose. "I think the self appointed governor should slack off less."

                    Defrag's pen bounced off the eevee's head and he laughed, returning to his tidying.

                    "Anyway, I've got a question for you, fuzz," said N0ize.

                    "Oh?" Tracer raised an eyebrow.

                    "Aye. Quite a biggun, actually." N0ize scratched his head and shuffled his feet. "You see, Pulse City's gone and… well, so's my ship. Cyph3r's still in custody. But even so, like… Socket's gone and now I've got no one to hide from. So…"

                    "Spit it out, man," said Widget.

                    N0ize cleared his throat and tried to look Tracer in the eye. "Do you need an extra paw here, or…?"

                    Tracer's cigar fell from his mouth. "You want to join my agency?"

                    "Our agency," said Widget, not taking his eyes off the incineroar. "So you wanna stop bein' a space pirate?"

                    N0ize shrugged his large shoulders. "Worked for you, didn't it?"

                    A huge grin spread across the eevee's face. "Well I say welcome aboard! But it's really up to Tracer."

                    The delphox's mouth opened and closed, and he stooped to retrieve his cigar.

                    "Well…" he said, popping the cigar back between his teeth. "I think we can give it a go?"

                    Macro caught Anchor's eye and nodded to the door. The granbull took his message and followed him out, but not without giving N0ize a friendly, congratulatory thump to the shoulder. The incineroar grinned at them both, and Macro smiled fondly before closing the door behind them.

                    "Well, that were an eye opener," said Anchor. "I mean… our ship's scrap now. What are we gonna do with ourselves?"

                    Macro glanced down the street, spotting a xurkitree slinking along it. DL followed after it, carrying a crate of cleaning supplies. She shouted something that Macro couldn't hear to Matrix as he buzzed on ahead of them. Cookie followed after her, no longer showing any anxiety towards being outside. He clutched a first aid kit tightly in his paws, trailing DL as she vanished into another street.

                    "Oh, I think I know what I'm going to do," said Macro. "I'm thinkin' of headin' back to Cyan City."

                    Anchor raised an eyebrow at him. He'd picked up the anxiety in Macro's voice, he could tell by the concern in his eyes.

                    "You don't think she'll go with you, do you?" Anchor asked.

                    Macro took a breath through clenched teeth and pushed himself from the wall to head back to Meta City.

                    "She's from Botnet," he said. "It's her home. I won't be surprised if she wants to go back. But me? I can't live there. To have those memories every day? Besides, they won't want me around up there."

                    "You even asked her?" Anchor asked.

                    "Not yet," said Macro. "I dread her answer."

                    ...

                    As System began to recover, its inhabitants taking up residence in their new homes, it was time to send everybody back home.

                    Yobi approached the two humans, his expression unreadable. He looked up at Switch, then over at Annie leaning against Zip's water bowl.

                    "Priorities," he said. "I'll be lookin' to send you back before the Ultra Beasts. They're still helping to iron things out, so… I'll be goin' away for a little while to find your homes."

                    "Really?" Switch asked. "How long a while?"

                    "No idea. It might take me a while to find your exact time-lines," he said. "You should brace yourselves for a long stay in System."

                    "Well, I can cut that in half for you then," said Annie. "'Cos I ain't goin' back."

                    "What?" The question came from almost every pokemon around her, even Switch.

                    "You heard me," she said. "I ain't goin' back to that time-line to get locked back up in a cell. I'm free here. I've made friends - no - a family. And I want to stay with my family."

                    Silence washed over them as they took in Annie's words.

                    Web rose up on her hind legs and placed her paws on the girl's shoulders. "You know you're very welcome here, dear. But Switch said you eventually go back to your human world."

                    "Yeah, and it's exactly the same," she said. "Another lab. More books. Forget it."

                    Waveform brushed Web off Annie and shook his head. "Let her stay if she wishes."

                    Macro's jaw went slack. "But won't it mess up the time-line?"

                    Switch sighed and rubbed his hand through his hair. "It's already pretty messed up. I mean, I've got to go back with a socket in my skull."

                    Macro grimaced and wound his paws in his scarf. How much would this impact System's future now? Would it change his own?

                    Yobi stared up at Switch and folded his arms. "I doubt it'd change much. If anything, it might just throw you into an alternate time-line."

                    Macro's jaw dropped and Switch gasped.

                    "Are you serious?" Macro squeaked.

                    "Really? Alternate?" Switch shook his head. "What about my own future? I don't get to live it?"

                    "Yes," said Yobi. "Given you haven't lived it yet, nothing has changed for you."

                    Switch let his arms fall to his sides and relaxed. "I guess you have a point. But how am I to explain this computer in my head?"

                    "Tell them the truth," said Yobi. "Unless you want to keep it under your hat?"

                    "So it won't cause any problems?" Macro asked.

                    "Not to us, no. Or to Switch." Yobi marched past him with Zero Day in tow. "I'll be back in a few days when I've found your time-line, Switch. Having two of you exist in one at the same time? Now that would be a problem."

                    Switch blanched. "You mean… like some kind of time anomaly? We'd freeze or turn to stone or something?"

                    Yobi looked back at him over his shoulder. His muzzle creased in bewilderment. "No. What kind of TV shows do you watch? It would just be a problem. There'd be two of you."

                    He shook his head and marched away.

                    A few days later, Yobi called Macro on his computer. The time-line had been found. They had to make their way to Seed City.

                    The sparksurfer raichu stood outside a deli with a small audience of curious pokemon. Macro and his friends stood amongst them, waiting for the raichu to open the way to Switch's world.

                    Macro looked up at the human. He stood with his arms folded, leaning back against the wall of a mini market.

                    "You know," he said to Macro, "the last time I watched a gateway be opened… I'd made a solid decision to stay in System."

                    Macro raised an eyebrow. "You're not sayin' you want to stay here, are you?"

                    "Because we've already got Annie," said Matrix.

                    Switch shook his head. "Of course not. I've got my own little family back in my own time-line. I want to watch my nephew grow up."

                    Macro nodded and turned back to the raichu. "I get it."

                    "Don't get me wrong. It's nothing personal."

                    Macro snapped his head back to face him, ready to tell him he didn't take it as anything personal, but Switch grinned and gave him a playful wink.

                    Macro laughed and shook his head. "It's good to have you back, Switch."

                    "So you keep saying." The human stretched and kicked himself back from the wall. "I guess I'd better brace myself for a rough ride home, huh?"

                    "All right, I've found it!" Yobi turned back to them as Zero Day cut open the gateway. "Switch, if you would?"

                    Switch smiled down at the former Wildcard. "It's been great to meet all of you. I'll be sure to tell my friends all about how their great-times-fifty grandson helped save System."

                    Macro blinked back a tear and returned his smile. "Have a safe journey, pal."

                    DL rushed forward and reached up to grab Switch's hand. A smile spread across her face and she released him quickly and brushed at her ear.

                    "Please… take care," she said. "And thank you… for everything."

                    Switch stooped to place a paw on her head then turned, waving at his friends as he approached the gateway.

                    Macro and his friends watched until it closed, taking Switch back to his own world.

                    ...

                    The time had finally come for the Ultra Beasts.

                    Yobi stood ahead of the crowd with Zero Day and Axle at his side. Axle's xurkitree companion Sparky had barely left his side, and the xurkitree muttered to himself as Yobi called Zero Day to open a gateway to the Ultra Beast's world.

                    "Like I said," Yobi told the crowd, "there's only one gateway here. It will get you back to Ultra Metropolis. That's Poipole's home. But I'm led to believe you're all from the same world, so you'll find your way back to your homes and your trainers."

                    The Ultra Beasts chirruped and cheered their replies, except for Rave. He strolled from the crowd towards Yobi and placed a paw on his shoulder. The raichu flinched but didn't shrug him off. He looked up at the blacephalon and nodded, stepping aside to allow him to speak.

                    Rave turned to the crowd and made an elegant bow.

                    "I can't thank you all enough for your hospitality," he said. "I made a lot of friends in Binary City, and I lost a lot of them during Distortion's attack. But we've all banded together to form a force to be reckoned with. We've learned we're not that different. And I think I speak for us all when I apologise for the sheer havoc we have wrecked on System."

                    Macro glanced up at the kartana drifting beside him. Somewhere behind them, both Celesteela and Omnom spoke up. The guzzlord's growl was almost drowned by Celesteela's eerie wail, but the pokemon understood their agreement to Rave's comment clearly.

                    "I am glad we were able to help you rebuild your world," said Rave, turning a pale blue. "And I have personally enjoyed my stay. But there is one question I ask of you. Back in my world, Ultra Beasts often long outlive their trainers. I miss my trainer dearly and I look forward to seeing him again. But once he's gone, I fear I'll be alone. I would surely love to come back and visit System in the future. So… would it be okay if we took Zero Day with us? That way we have the option to come back. If it's okay with you?"

                    The pokemon fell silent, staring at the blacephalon. Macro's mouth opened and closed as he tried to take it all in.

                    "I think it's a fine idea," said DL.

                    Macro snapped his head around to look at her. She beamed from ear to ear, clasping her paws together.

                    A few more pokemon in the audience spoke up, adding their agreements to DL's. A few shifted awkwardly, casting nervous glances back to Celesteela, Omnom and Stakataka. But no one declined Rave's request.

                    "I can reassure you," Rave continued, "that events here will be documented. We'll try our utmost to put in place a screening service. Visits here will be only allowed to those who promise to show respect."

                    "Then I can't decline it." Jumper strolled forward from the audience and took Rave's paw in both of his. "It's been a delight to meet you all. You've done a lot to help System. You chased off Distortion. You've repaired damage. And you've helped to clean up System to allow future pokemon to grow up without that wretched toxic air."

                    Rave bowed again. "Thank you, dear Jumper. You are a top notch fellow."

                    The frogadier chuckled and retrieved his paw. "Then lets send you home! You've got trainers and family alike who miss you."

                    Rave raised a paw and tutted. "Trainers are family, Jumper."

                    "My mistake." Jumper smiled and stood back, turning to address the Ultra Beasts. "Have a safe journey. All of you."

                    Yobi indicated to Zero Day, and a beam shot from its nose. One of BackDoor's signature gateways cut through reality. Its swirling ultra violet light flickered beyond it. The grass bent towards the void as its gravity slowly tugged at those closest to it.

                    Macro instinctively took a step back and clutched DL's paw. He watched as Rave stepped into the void first, pausing to wave at his friends.

                    Then, one by one, the Ultra Beasts flooded towards it. The kartana turned to Macro and rubbed their blades together, creating a slow grating sound.

                    Macro smiled up at them. "Take care, guys."

                    They turned and zipped ahead of the line, twisting as they sped through the gateway.

                    Web unfurled her tail, letting Poipole rise into the air. A warm smile spread across her face and she blinked back tears.

                    "Goodbye, little one," she said. "You take care now."

                    "Yeah!" Zip flailed his fins as he strained to rise to the surface. "You'll tell your trainer all about us, right?"

                    "Of course," said Poipole. "And I hope you manage to save the water dwellers."

                    "I think we already have." Trojan placed a paw on the rim of Zip's bowl. "System's changed a lot in such a short time. It's kinda jarrin'."

                    "But it's good, right?" Poipole asked.

                    "It's very good, dear," said Web. "Give our best to your trainer. Tell him we think he's raised an amazing little Ultra Beast."

                    "Oh, I will." Poipole looked at each of them in turn, letting his eyes linger on Annie. "I might… ask him if he doesn't mind calling me Sticky every now and then."

                    "Stop it." Annie rubbed a hand over her eyes. "You're makin' me all misty-eyed."

                    Poipole chuckled and turned back to Web. "Thank you for letting me live in your tail. I'll miss it."

                    Then he turned and zipped for the gateway, joining the nihilego as they drifted above the xurkitree. Buzzwole paused by the gateway with Pheramosa and flexed his muscles, before ducking inside. Pheramosa flicked her shell and smiled, then leapt daintily through. The larger Ultra Beasts closed up the rear. Stakataka and Omnom insisted Celesteela go first. She stood covered from head to foot in tiny versions of herself, brought back from Pulse City by Worm. The small space pirate sobbed beside Macro, waving a stubby paw.

                    "I'm gonna miss them," he said. "I got pretty attached to the little guys."

                    As soon as Omnom was through, Yobi ushered Zero Day to close up the gateway. Then his eye went to Axle.

                    Sparky stood beside him, rooted to the spot by his cable-like limbs. Axle nudged him, mouthing something Macro couldn't hear.

                    Then the xurkitree shook its head, cowering towards the floor.

                    Axle turned to Yobi and sighed. "I don't think he's gonna go."

                    Yobi flapped his arms as he looked between the xurkitree and the gateway. The gravity pull was beginning to intensify, and it tugged at his tail. Finally, he let out a flustered sigh and placed a paw on Zero Day.

                    The porygon-z vanished beyond the gateway. After a few long minutes, it closed up, leaving no sign it had ever been there.

                    Sparky rose to his full height and chattered, sending out thin sparks of electricity. Then he wrapped his wiry limbs around Axle, pulling the emolga into a hug.

                    "Argh!" Axle flailed in his grip. "Oh, put me down, you goof!" The emolga laughed, playfully shocking the xurkitree.

                    "Well," said Jumper. "Welcome to our first official Ultra Beast inhabitant."

                    ...

                    The outskirts were oddly quiet. Annie strolled along the streets with her friends, heading towards Gear Village. She clutched Zip's bowl in her hands, silently moving ahead of Waveform and the rest of the former Time Archeops. Web snuffled into her paws, but Annie chose to block it out.

                    All her attention was on reaching their destination. Not far now. She could see the green at the end of the road. The sign that read 'You are now leaving Spool City. Welcome to Gear Village.'

                    Green grass brushed against the hem of her trousers, and she followed the narrow path along to the trees. She heard the river before she saw it, gurgling away beyond the fruit trees. She came to a stop at its bank and looked up at the canopy across from it.

                    "Here you go, little fish," she said. "I told you I'd get you back home."

                    She reached into the bowl and pulled out the tiny scattering of ashes, then tossed them into the water.

                    "Swim free, little guy," she said. "The struggle of the water dwellers is over now."

                    Waveform placed a wing around her shoulders. "We did all we could."

                    "No," said Annie, struggling to fake a positive air. "We did more than we could."

                    She turned away from the river, still clutching the goldfish bowl. Web stood in Trojan's embrace, but when she caught Annie's eye, she nodded.

                    "We definitely did," she said. "We gave the little guy a second chance. Come on. Let's head home."

                    "Nah." Annie looked past her at the greenery. "I think I'm gonna sit here for a while."

                    She moved over to an oran tree and sat back against it, looking out at the river and the small orchard beyond it. Waveform strolled over to her with Web and Trojan, and they joined her side. Sitting silently as they let Annie escape into her thoughts.

                    ...

                    Cyan City's glass dome lay partially open, letting the orchards soak up the midday sun. Macro strolled out of his apartment, checking the time on the town hall clock in the distance. It wasn't long until he had to meet Jumper, but he wanted to catch DL first. She'd been quiet about her plans, and he still hadn't breached his question to her yet. His heart hammered in his chest at the sheer thought. He'd put it off for weeks. He really wanted to catch her before she made any decisions about giving up her appartment and returning to Botnet City, now it had been repaired. Shortly after Macro had visited it, it had fallen victim to Omnom's hungry rampage and it had taken about a month to get it back up in the air let alone rebuild all the tower blocks.

                    As he rounded the street towards the square, DL almost crashed into him. He placed his paws on her shoulders to steady her and laughed.

                    "What's the rush?" he asked.

                    "I was coming to get you." She pawed at her ear and diverted her gaze. "You have that appointment with Jumper, and… well… I was curious, so…"

                    "You decided to invite yourself along?" He shrugged and placed a paw on her back, steering her along beside him. "Well… funnily enough, I was coming to get you anyway."

                    "Oh?" She looked up at him and met his eyes.

                    "Yeah." A metallic taste filled Macro's mouth and he clutched a paw to his chest, trying to hide his anxiety. "Now Botnet City's been restored… I wondered if…"

                    "I'm not going back there."

                    Her answer caught him off guard and he snapped his head around to look at her. "But I thought… it's your home?"

                    She shook her head and pawed at her ear. "It was Loop's home. I found my own home when we arrived at Cyan City. And you're staying here, too, right?"

                    Macro looked away from her, his mouth turning dry. "Well… yeah…"

                    "Don't you want me to stay?"

                    "No! I mean, of course I do!" He turned back to her, violet eyes wide and frantic. "I, erm… I was kinda worried you'd want to go back and well… You know me and Botnet."

                    She chuckled and shook her head. "Don't worry. Even if I did want to go back, I wouldn't want to leave you."

                    His jaw dropped and he froze to stare at her. "DL, erm…"

                    She inclined her head on one side, prompting him to continue.

                    "You know I've had issues with forming attachments in the past." He wound his paws together. "Well, you've kinda changed that, and…" He paused to clear his throat and looked her in the eyes. "I was kinda hoping… you might live here with me. As my wife." He paused, watching the shock spread across her face. His heart leapt into his mouth and he waved his paws. "If you want to!"

                    She rushed towards him and threw her arms around his neck, burying her face into his shoulder. "Of course I want to!"

                    Macro let out a sigh of relief and held her close. "Thank you. Man, I don't think I've ever been so nervous."

                    She laughed and pulled back from him to plant a kiss on his lips. He returned it, refusing to let her go even when she tried to pull away.

                    "Come on," she said when he caught her again. "You'll be late!"

                    "Drat." He released her and took her paw, leading her towards the square. "I'd love to know what he wants. Why he can't tell me on the phone, I'll never know."

                    When he reached the town hall, Anchor, Matrix and Cookie were waiting beside Heatsink. Matrix didn't look up as Macro approached, sat comfortably on Anchor's shoulder as he messed with his computer.

                    Macro's face lit up when he saw the empoleon. "Great to see you finally out of hospital! But back at work already?"

                    "Oh, I'm not at work," said HeatSink. "But I couldn't miss this."

                    Macro frowned and looked at each of them. "Miss what?"

                    Anchor shrugged, almost knocking Matrix off his shoulder.

                    HeatSink ushered them into the town hall. Jumper's office door was open, and they spotted him going through his desk drawers. Boxes lay on the floor, filled with various office equipment.

                    Macro slowed down, casting his eyes over the small room.

                    "Is everything okay?" he asked.

                    Jumper looked up and beamed. "You're a little early! I was hoping to have this sorted before you got here."

                    "You look like you're off," said Anchor. "You givin' up your job?"

                    "Not quite." Jumper straightened and rubbed the back of his head. "System is in need of a new mayor. The situation of the water dwellers is somewhat shaky, and the transition to a vegetarian diet isn't settling with some of the more carnivorous pokemon. They wanted a water type to take over, and offered me the position yesterday. So I took it. How much different can it be, really? An entire city… the whole of System?" He rubbed the back of his head and sighed. "Needless to say, it's a daunting task that is both terrifying and exciting at the same time. I wanted to keep it quiet until I'd sorted things out in Cyan City."

                    Macro glanced around the office and spread his paws. "That's great, Gov, I'm happy for you… but who's takin' over from you?"

                    "That's why I called you here." Jumper leant against his desk and smiled. "I was hoping you would take the job, Macro."

                    Macro's jaw almost hit the floor. "Me?! But I'm a former space pirate! I'm a criminal! You can't honestly-"

                    Jumper waved a paw to cut him off. "I know full well who you are, Macro, and I don't think of 'criminal' as an honest description. You saved Cyan City. You and your friends. You helped put an end to Socket's plan. Saved System. If anything, you're more suited to Mayor status than I am. But when I broached that decision, Meta City wouldn't take it." Jumper leant forward to place a paw on Macro's shoulder. "So I'm leaving Cyan City in your paws. If you'll take the job?"

                    Macro stuttered as he tried to find the right words. Him? Governor of a city? The Z-Crystal in his mechanical paw caught his eye and he glanced down at it. It wasn't sparkling, but he was certain he saw Solgaleo's eyes smiling at him.

                    Anchor stooped towards his ear. "Say yes!"

                    "No pressure, or anything," Matrix added.

                    Macro snorted, then laughed and shook his head. "All right, Gov… I mean, Mayor. I'll take the job. I'm actually rather humbled you thought to ask me."

                    Jumper straightened and beamed down at him. "I wasn't going for 'humbling', Macro. You were just the perfect fit for the job, in my eyes. And HeatSink will be your assistant, so you definitely won't be alone in this."

                    "HeatSink?" Macro's muzzle creased. "But what about the force? Who's takin' over there?"

                    "Torrent," said HeatSink. "Floppy wanted the job, but I don't think he's quite cut out for it yet. Besides, I had to step down. I don't think I'd have the stamina now." He absently rubbed at his scarred chest.

                    "Well…" Macro took a steadying breath. "This is the second biggest thing that's happened to me today, and it ain't even lunch time…"

                    Everyone fell silent, and a blush spread over DL's face.

                    "We're, uhm…" A silly smile spread across her muzzle. "We're getting married."

                    Jumper's eyes widened as he looked between them. "Really?"

                    Macro nodded, trying to hide his own blush. "That's right. Old Macro's settlin' down."

                    "You serious?" Anchor clapped his huge paws together. "Oh boy, I'm happier than a baby ducklett who found a puddle!"

                    "What?!" Cookie gasped. "This is amazing! Oh man, I'm gonna head back home and make a start on designing the biggest, bestest most delicious cake you've ever tasted!" He jiggled with glee and scurried from the office.

                    Matrix chuckled from the granbull's shoulder and pawed frantically at his computer. "I'm gonna find the most embarrassing music I can, and you're gonna have your first dance to it."

                    Macro grimaced and playfully swiped for the ribombee's computer. Matrix zipped into the air to rest on the air conditioner.

                    "So!" said Jumper, drawing order back to the room. "Big news day, huh? Well, Macro, I'll leave Cyan City in your paws. If you need to recruit anyone else…" His eyes drifted to Anchor and Matrix. "Well, I'll leave that up to you."

                    Macro glanced up at his friends, and HeatSink placed a flipper on his shoulder.

                    "The police force might appreciate an extra set of paws or two?" he said. "Just suggesting."

                    "That's a fantastic suggestion." Macro grinned up at Anchor.

                    "They'll be well received," said HeatSink. "I mean… we still have the bug pokemon to deal with. Not to mention Lossy's missing twins."

                    Macro bit his tongue and glanced out of the window. Cyan City spread across from it, its berry orchards ripe for the picking. Things might have looked okay after System's tragedy, but it definitely was only surface deep. Things were still bitter between the grass, fire and water types. How could he have forgotten the twins?

                    "Switch was looking into that case," Macro said. "So… I guess we'll be takin' over, eh?"

                    Anchor saluted and Matrix buzzed back down to his shoulder.

                    Jumper grabbed one of his boxes in one arm and smiled at each of them. "I'll be back to check in on you from time to time. This city will always be my home, and I trust I've left it with the best pokemon imaginable."

                    Macro nodded and took Jumper's free paw. "Definitely stay in touch, Jumper. And thank you for everything."

                    The frogadier nodded and shuffled from the room. "I have a ship waiting. Take care, Macro. All of you."

                    "I'll give you a paw with your boxes," said Anchor.

                    He grabbed the remaining one and followed Jumper out of the office.

                    "So…" DL shuffled her feet. "From space pirate to governor of a city…"

                    "Yup." Macro chuckled and glanced around at the office. "If my mother could see me now…"

                    He stared at the chair for a moment, before sinking down into it. It reclined back slightly, and he relaxed back into the seat. He tucked his paws behind his head and kicked his feet up onto the desk.

                    "Oh yes," he said. "I could definitely get used to this."

                    ...

                    A/N - Thanks to everyone who made it this far! This was a fun story to write and I hope you enjoyed it =D I'm not 100% sure I'll continue posting stories to this forum however. I'm not a very active member, and it doesn't seem to be very active in Fanfiction enough to keep me wanting to come back. I might pop back with the occasional story, so don't write me off completely. I'm still very active everywhere else I post!
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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
                    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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