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Old May 3rd, 2017 (5:06 AM).
Delirious Absol's Avatar
Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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    Join Date: May 2015
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    Age: 32
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    25 - Bad Eggs


    "Are you sure you want to leave so soon?" Circuit asked plaintively.

    Pixel was sat with her friends at a dinner table, helping herself to heaped piles of berries, berry toast and cake. There were also steaming bowls of soup, stew and jugs of cool juice amongst them which Vector had tucked into with a vigour that had surprised her.

    The jolteon's question had been aimed at Switch, but he was too busy chewing on a toast crust to answer her quite yet.

    When he finally swallowed it, he nodded and said, "Yes. We have places we need to be."

    "And that doesn't include us?" Circuit asked. "Because we can help, you know."

    Burst nodded his head quickly and placed a wing around her shoulders. "I think you know, Switch, that if you need anything all you have to do is ask."

    "I don't really want to get you involved in this," said Switch.

    "Besides," said Vector without looking up from his next bowl of stew. "If you do want to help, you're better off not sticking with us."

    "What's that supposed to mean?" asked Circuit.

    "What he's trying to say," said Pixel before Vector could open his mouth, "is that since we're looking for a cure to this virus, we're better off spreading out rather than sticking together."

    "That's not what I was going to say at all," said Vector. "But you can take it if you want."

    Circuit's fur stood on end and her canines showed between her lips. Switch reached across and placed a hand on her back.

    "He's not being rude. He has a price on his head. You're better off not getting mixed up with us."

    "We're already mixed up with you," she said. "And I think I will help you look for a cure. I can send my own team out to scour areas you haven't yet."

    "The areas Vector said he wants to search are the Binary Jungle and the ocean," said Pixel. "So our next stop is the jungle."

    Vector licked stew off his spoon and gave Circuit and Burst a sideways glance. "You wanna take the ocean?"

    Circuit's face split into a smile and she chuckled. "Since we often float above it, we actually have the gear to deal with that."

    "Huh." Vector shrugged and spooned more stew into his mouth. "Then be my guest."

    "You weren't expecting that, were you?" said Circuit. "So, you can rule that location out. Cogs and Wire will be your underwater eyes, okay?" She nodded to the linoone and a spinda further down the table.

    "So when are you leaving?" Burst asked. "My father always said to never fly on a full stomach."

    "As soon as the island reaches its furthest northern point." Switch smiled and dabbed sauce from his lip with a napkin. "So I think around twilight?"

    "Really?!" Pixel nearly dropped her fork. "We're flying at night?!"

    Burst's eyes misted over. "Ahh, night flying."

    "You could fly with us if you like?" said Switch.

    "I was actually going to offer!" said Burst. "You can't really carry both of them, can you? So I'll take Vector."

    Vector choked and spewed gravy from his nose. He shot the staraptor a glare as he wiped it away on the back of his paw.

    "You're gonna carry me?"

    Burst chuckled and struck the meowstic on the back with a wing. "Don't worry, my boy! I'm quite experienced in carrying other pokemon, being one of few fliers on this island."

    "Not to mention the only one left after the virus outbreak," Circuit added.

    "Ah." Pixel's face became solemn. "It effected your island too?"

    "Not directly," said Circuit. "But those that went onto the ground picked it up. It's claimed over half of our team. We've been extra vigilant since."

    Burst shook his head sadly and sighed. "I think everywhere's been affected by it."

    Pixel looked over at Switch, still wearing his smile. If it had claimed over half their team, then surely he must have lost some friends? She wondered if he was putting that smile on. Saving face until he managed to get away and have some time alone.

    Many pokemon had lost loved ones and family. Unlike them, he like the other humans could rest assured his family was safe back in his own world, but of course he would have lost some friends in this world, especially after spending two years on their island.

    The general consensus was that the drifting continents were safe in the sky since the virus seemed to only be contracted on the ground. But it didn't mean the islands wouldn't feel their own losses.

    It also didn't mean it couldn't one day reach them.

    The faces of various pokemon filled her mind, along with the three she'd been closest to. Retro, Nano, Chip... were they even okay? She didn't even know where they were, and she'd lost so many as it was. She pushed her plate away and climbed down off her seat, muttering a quick thank you as she made a beeline for the door.

    It lead out into a corridor that wound its way back towards the lobby. She was familiar with this building now, having been through it twice already today. The whole building served as a communal area for the pokemon here. Cyan Island had nothing like this. She'd thought about suggesting they build one since everyone tried to cram into the control room on a wet day.

    The lobby had a sofa in it and a television mounted on the wall, but nobody was sat there. Everyone was still in the dinner hall. She fell back into the plush cushions and wiped suppressed tears away from her eyes, taking in steadying breaths to calm herself. After all the commotion over the past few days with the breakout and finding a cure, she'd forgotten her original goal. To find her friends. Find out if they were okay. The desire to find a cure first and help the world to recover had taken over.

    She leant sideways against the arm of the chair and pulled her feet up beneath her, fixing her eyes on the blank, black TV screen. Her mind drifted back to that thought she'd had earlier that day. Of lying in the grass with Retro while her mother baked, the smells wafting from the window to be caught on the breeze. Even Leaf would come running for a slice of berry cake.

    Before she knew it, she was back home. Lying on the sofa while her mother sang in the kitchen, waiting for a fresh slice of bread and melted butter.

    ...

    Vector was feeling rather sluggish after that meal, but it was certainly nice to have a full stomach. It felt like he hadn't had one in weeks. He hung a couple of feet behind Switch as they made their way back out into the lobby. Switch had said he was going back to his old tree-house but Vector had no intention of climbing anywhere off the ground. He preferred to be on it, and the idea of lying back and relaxing in the sun's rays before they vanished for the day was at the front of his mind.

    And hopefully to be undisturbed this time.

    "Huh." Switch stopped in the doorway to the lobby and nodded to the sofa. "That's where she got to."
    Vector peered around his leg and followed his gaze. There was Pixel, curled up in one corner looking small in comparison to the large plush cushions.

    "Looks like she fell asleep," said Switch. "I haven't the heart to wake her. Oh well, we've a couple of hours until we need to leave yet."

    He tucked his arms behind his head and strolled out of the main door, leaving Vector faltering as he looked from the human to the sofa and back. Switch didn't so much as glance back at him as the doors hissed shut behind him.

    Something wasn't right. He'd been fairly certain that Pixel hadn't looked happy when she left the dining hall, but he hadn't wanted to go after her. Well, part of him had, but he'd suppressed it. If she'd not wanted to be alone then why leave?

    Regardless, he found his feet moving towards the sofa. He could see her breathing softly, huddled up in a dainty ball of yellow fur and scarf. Peaceful, completely normal, like nothing could ever be wrong. As he pulled himself up onto the sofa and sat watching her, he wondered how anyone could sleep like this knowing what state the world was in. It was only two nights ago he'd watched her fall asleep in a state of distress. She'd cried in her sleep and all he could do was sit and watch her. He'd wanted to hold her, but he couldn't bring himself to do so.

    He'd been terrified of losing her. It hurt him to know she was in danger from the virus, like every other pokemon in System. Like them, she was also in danger of being hurt from losing someone. He feared she was getting too attached to him, but the risk worked both ways. It hurt so much to push her away, but it hurt even more to leave her. He just couldn't. All he wanted to do now was to curl up next to her, to fall into a peaceful respite and be warm and oblivious to the outside world, to know that she was safe and happy.

    His paw reached out to brush back the fur from her eyes, but faltered a mere few millimetres away, claws flexing with uncertainty. He snatched his paw back and slid from the sofa, giving her one final glance before he trotted through the door.

    The cool air snapped him out of whatever daze he'd been in and he shook his head so hard his ears beat against his skull.

    "Are you all right?" Switch stood leaning against the wall looking down at him, his pocket computer clasped in both hands.

    Vector snorted and waved a paw at him. "I'm fine. I thought you were going back to your tree-house?"

    "I was, but I finally heard back from N00b."

    Switch glanced to his computer as Vector leant back against the wall on the other side of the door. His heart was hammering, still reeling from his close call with Pixel. What had he been thinking? He rubbed his paws over his face and groaned silently.

    "You sure you're all right?" Switch asked.

    "I told you, I'm fine!"

    Switch shrugged and turned back to his computer. "If you say so."

    Vector sighed into his paws. If this human was so intuitive, he clearly hadn't picked up that there was something wrong with Pixel earlier. Or maybe he had and felt he didn't need to do anything about it. If that were the case then why keep pestering him?

    Although... there was a possibility he could actually help him out here.

    Vector fixed one blue eye on Switch. "You're male, right?"

    Switch almost dropped his computer as his golden eyes snapped onto Vector's. "What?! What kind of question is that?!" He laughed and stuffed his computer back into one of his many pockets. "There really is something wrong, isn't there?"

    Vector rolled his eyes and folded his arms across his chest. "Look, if you're not gonna help me, then -"

    "I'll help you! Man to 'mon. What's the problem?"

    Vector sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, searching through his mind for the right choice of words to string together. He could feel Switch's eyes on him and hear him shifting against the wall, growing impatient with the wait.

    Finally, he looked up at the grassy moor and distant tree-houses. "What do you do if you've found yourself falling for someone?"

    "Huh." Switch nodded and folded his arms, watching the wind rustle the long grass. "I think I know what you're getting at. But to be honest, I've never really had the confidence to do anything about it. I wasn't very popular with the ladies."

    "Then that makes two of us. Hypothetically, though. What would you do?"

    "I don't know. Say something. Ask her on a date maybe." Switch looked down at him and winked. "The question you need to ask is, what would you do?"

    Vector harrumphed and looked away from him. The next question gnawed away at him so much he bit his lip so hard he thought it was going to bleed. He couldn't even look up at Switch as the words flew from his mouth.

    "That's all well and good, but... what if you knew you were dying?" he asked.

    Switch was silent as he watched the grass swaying, leaving Vector's question hovering heavily in the air. He heard him shift again against the wall, could see him ruffle his hair with a hand as he sighed audibly.

    "Vector... is there something you're not telling us?"

    That wasn't what he wanted to hear at all. That was prying, and he wasn't ready for that yet. He'd obviously said too much.

    "Forget it." Vector kicked himself back from the wall and walked towards the trees. "You can't help me."

    The grass crunched loudly beneath his feet until Switch's words froze him in his tracks. "She's very fond of you, you know." Pause. "I can tell."

    Vector stared down at his paws as he let the human's words sink in.

    "We're helping you find a cure, Vector. Keep your chin up, and know you're not alone."

    Not alone, huh? As reassuring as that was, it didn't change anything. He nodded sullenly and moved quietly through the grass, feeling Switch's eyes on him until he vanished beyond a thicket.

    ...

    The Backbone Mountain was eerily quiet, made all the more eerie by the strange, violet-leaking cracks that marred its surroundings. Hertz didn't even want to risk stepping over them, instead turning away from the ones that blocked his path to continue following the trail left by the ones that had vanished.

    He was convinced they had vanished. The rocks seemed to be leaking steam, which on closer inspection was the kind of jargon you'd find in corrupted computer text. The ground was just as solid as it always had been. It wasn't warm. Cool on his pads, the sparse grass tickling his feet. If he'd been walking around with his eyes closed he wouldn't even had noticed anything different.

    "I don't like walkin' through this stuff," said Mono. "It looks alien."

    "It's seemingly harmless," said Hertz. "It's like walking through air."

    "Air that tickles."

    "It tickles you?" Sample laughed. "I think that's your imagination."

    Mono tried to side-step a rock leaking code only to end up walking into a small bush. She spat leaves and wiped a paw over her face, grumbling under her breath.

    "You know what?!" she snapped. "I wanna go home back to the city where there's less..." She waved a paw at the offending bush. "Less of this!"

    "Less nature?" Hertz shrugged. "Pity. On a good day, I quite enjoy it. It's sad to see it reduced to a mess of cracks and whatever this white code stuff is."

    He froze in his tracks, almost stumbling over as Sample bumped into his back. He raised a paw to silence the exploud before he could open his mouth and strained his ears to pick up the faint voice somewhere in the vicinity. Was it the meowstic and those felons? He took a step forwards and paused beside a crag, moving as silently as he could. The voice was louder now. It didn't sound familiar. He peered over the crag and his eyes widened.

    "What the...?" he muttered.

    Sample and Mono appeared on either side of him and the wartortle clasped her paws over her mouth to muffle the yell of surprise that popped out.

    Before them lay a pile of eggs. A large pile that stretched on into the horizon, piled up between buildings in what had once been a village but now looked as desolate and abandoned as those around the Fracture. No pokemon could have laid that many. Pacing back and forth was a marowak, jotting down notes on a clipboard. He was dressed head to foot in a hazmat suit, but he wasn't the speaker. The owner of the voice was a wobbuffet – also dressed in a hazmat suit – who was scanning the eggs with a long metal rod connected to a computer tablet. A van stood a few feet from them, half hidden behind a razz berry bush.

    Curiosity got the better of Hertz. He climbed out from behind the crag but before he could even introduce himself, the marowak looked up and raised a paw to stop him.

    "Stay back!" he said. "This area is out of bounds!"

    "We're government officials," said Hertz. "And I want to know what's going on."

    The marowak moved over to him and pulled out a pocket computer, quickly scanning it over all three of them. He seemed satisfied with the results and gave a curt not.

    "Hazmat suits in the back of the van. Help yourselves." He indicated to the truck behind him without so much as looking at the gallade, too interested with whatever he'd written down on his clipboard.

    Hertz trotted over to the van, happy to find the back doors weren't locked. Despite there only being two pokemon examining the area they had several more suits packed into a suitcase. Probably in case more of their group planned to meet up here later to help with their investigation.

    Hertz was happy to find a suit his size and he chuckled as he pulled it neatly over his shoulders.

    "They must have a gallade on the team," he said. "This one fits like a glove."

    "Speak for yourself," said Sample.

    Hertz looked up at his colleague squeezed into a suit that was rather too small. It stretched across his chest and the pipes on his head were squashed into a helmet with just enough space for him to open his mouth. Mono stood beside him, looking a little baggy in the arms.

    Hertz had to stifle a laugh and instead cleared his throat. "Let's go find out what's going on over there, shall we?"

    The marowak and wobbuffet were still working away beside the pile of eggs. The marowak glanced up at them and scrawled something on his clip board.

    "Hertz, right?" he said. "Got your names from your scans. I'm Bootstrap, and my colleague is Mirror."

    "Pleased to meet you," said Hertz. "What's going on here?"

    "That's what we're trying to figure out," said Bootstrap. "All we know so far is these eggs are bad."

    "Bad how?"

    "Rotten. Bad. They have a smell to them. No idea where they came from, but it ain't normal, I can tell you that."

    "Bad eggs..." said Mono. "Not what any female wants to lay, eh?"

    Sample gave her a sideways glance and frowned. "So where'd they come from?" he asked Bootstrap.

    "Dunno," said the marowak. "Our guess is an infected pokemon lay them, but there's loads. No ordinary pokemon can lay this many eggs."

    "Do you think the cracks have anything to do with it?" asked Hertz.

    "That's our second guess. Some have vanished, see? That's why we're here, but then we found these."

    "That's why we're here, too. Although not officially. Curiosity threw us off course."

    "My ma always told me curiosity lands young meowth in trouble." Bootstrap looked up from his clipboard at Mirror. "How are you getting on over there? You've not spoke up in a while."

    "I dunno," said Mirror. "I'm getting some strange readings suddenly and I'm trying to figure them out."
    "Weird readings? Let me take a look."

    Bootstrap took a few steps towards him when suddenly a strange snap cut through the air. He froze in his tracks, but only briefly as he was thrown into the air as an explosion shook the very ground. Shards of egg shell whistled past Hertz's helmet and he ducked, covering his head with both his paws. When he looked up, thick, jagged egg shards lay scattered in front of them, blurred by a shimmering screen. Mirror lowered his paws and the screen vanished. All five of them were speechless, their mouths hanging open as they stared at the field of eggs.

    "I'm getting another strange reading," said Mirror. "We'd better get back to the van."

    They stood and scurried over to the van, but another explosion tore through the air, thick shell shards whizzing overhead and clattering off the van's metal roof. They clambered inside the back of the van and waited until the shards settled on the ground.

    "I don't recall bad eggs ever doin' that," said Mono. "What on earth is goin' on?!"
    "Virus that corrups and strange black cracks?" said Bootstrap. "I hardly think exploding eggs are out of place in all this. It only furthers my case that they're connected."

    Mono rounded on him, her canines flashing between her lips with each word. "Regardless, they're freaky and need to be gotten rid of!"

    Bootstrap raised his paws and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by a strange, drawn out scream. He crept forward and peered out of the van and his body went rigid. Hertz joined him, craning over the marowak's head.

    The egg field was visible through the bush's sparse branches. Standing amidst the field of eggs was what looked like a nidoqueen, but its body was covered in vines like a tangela. Another indescribable creature stood a few feet from her, making a strange clicking noise that could only be heard between the nidoqueen-esque creature's strange wails. She threw her head back with each one, her voice plaintive and pained. What happened next would be etched into Hertz's mind for an eternity.

    The creature exploded.

    Red painted the eggs and surrounding trees and rocks. He couldn't duck inside fast enough. He wanted to bring up the contents of his breakfast, but held it back. There was no way he was removing his helmet now. Those eggs were indeed linked to the virus. Those creatures had hatched from them, and not in the normal way. They'd exploded from them, much too large to be contained by those eggs.

    Another explosion followed by a rain of red.

    There went the other creature.

    "I wanna go home," muttered Mono. She squatted in the corner of the van, hugging her knees as she rocked back and forth. "I wanna go home. Someone... please... wake up from this nightmare!"

    Sadly, they wouldn't be going home any time soon. Bootstrap slammed the doors to the van closed just before another explosion hit. Then another. Then another. The eggs were going off one by one, interspersed with blood-curdling screams.

    Hertz tried to cram his paws over his ears, but it was fruitless. Instead he resigned to hiding his head between his knees as he joined Mono and Sample in the corner of the van. The other two pokemon cowered behind the suitcase. Bootstrap's clipboard lay discarded by the door, and Hertz found himself watching his pen roll back and forth as the van shook amidst the chaos, the rattle it made on the floor only audible between each intense scream and boom.

    Finally, it began to end. The explosions lessened off. Two or three went off in the distance, mere echoes compared to the previous ones.

    Hertz finally looked up, joining everyone else in staring at the closed doors to the van. His heart was hammering in his chest and his breath came in heavy bursts, misting over the inside of his helmet.

    "Is it over?" Mono asked in a shaky voice.

    "I think so," said Sample.

    Mirror faltered by the doors, one paw resting on the handle. Hertz couldn't blame him. No one knew what it now looked like outside. The image replaying through his mind would pale in comparison to the state of the place now. There were no windows in the back of the van to give any of them any idea. The only light came from a dim, flat bulb above them that now flickered slightly, likely caused by damage to the wires after the repeated blows from the explosions.

    "What shall we do?" Hertz asked. "Shall we just drive back?"

    "No. The van's going to be covered in... stuff," said Bootstrap. "It'll be full of contagions. It's much to risky."

    "Then shall we call for a decontamination team?"

    Bootstrap let out a heavy sigh and leant back against the wall. "I think that's best. They can take the whole van. Not one of us needs to step paw out-"

    A low groan reached their ears, freezing them all to the spot. Sample looked round at Mono and raised an eyebrow.

    "Was that you?" he asked.

    "Why would it be me?" she replied.

    "Well we did skip lunch, so..."

    The groan resounded again, and all of them froze once more, bracing themselves for another explosion.

    None came.

    "You know what I think?" said Sample. "I think someone's alive out there."

    "I think you might be right," said Bootstrap.

    "But they all exploded!" said Mono. "Every one of them!"

    Bootstrap moved Mirror aside and pushed the doors open. Outside was just as Hertz had dreaded, and he had to look away from the open mouth of the van. The marowak's paws pattered over the ground and he let out a yell of surprise.

    "Oi! You might wanna look at this!"

    "I really don't," Hertz muttered beneath his breath as he pushed himself to his feet.

    He reminded himself over and over in his mind that he was a government official. With each step he reminded himself the world was falling apart. That the pokemon that had hatched from those eggs had died of the very thing he was trying to stop.

    Outside was red. But this time rather than repulse him it hurt him. What was left of the village wasn't even standing any more. Every single building had been reduced to a pile of rubble. He didn't know for certain where those eggs had come from, but pokemon had emerged from them. Pokemon in pain and not one had deserved this.

    What if those eggs were just another corruption? Another distortion caused by the virus, reducing the victims to life stuck inside a shell? It was only a guess, but it was the most likely theory.

    Bootstrap stood only a few feet away, watching Hertz over his shoulder. He nodded at the object that had caught his eye. A long, thick mound of metal. What lay there looked like a steelix, but it wasn't. The head of a serperior lay amongst the shards and blood-stained rubble, its eyes screwed shut as it groaned repeatedly.

    "This one survived," said Bootstrap.

    Hertz blinked in confusion. "How?"

    "I dunno." The marowak jotted more notes down on his clipboard. "I wanna get this pokemon to the hospital. A private room. Run some tests on it and see why it hatched from an egg, and why, like all the others, it exploded. If this virus is corrupting pokemon into eggs, I want to know. That way, we can increase the warning that the virus leads to deaths other than those from merely not withstanding a DNA transformation."

    Hertz mulled this over, wondering for a moment why the marowak was telling him this until he remembered the scan he'd received. Of course Bootstrap would now know his place in the hospital, but it still didn't quite register that he was requesting a room for the pokemon that lay before him.

    A pokemon who was by no means meant to have a body made out of metal.

    None of those pokemon were meant to explode – at least not the ones he'd seen. Exploding was a move that only certain electric type and rock or steel types were meant to know, reserved as a last-resort during a period of extreme distress.

    Those wails. Every one of those pokemon that hatched had been distressed. Their bodies warped, suffering pain from maintaining bodies they were not meant to have.

    Steel types...

    They had the body structure to deal with such an attack. To survive the nasty side effect of blowing oneself to bits. All that happened was the explosion, the impact. The pokemon itself survived, albeit exhausted from the effort.

    "It survived because of its body." The words came out of his mouth the moment he said them.

    Bootstrap looked up at him, pen paused mid-sentence. "Pardon?"

    "The serperior," he said. "It has a steel body. That's why it survived the explosion."

    "Huh." Bootstrap looked back down at the fallen victim. "You know what, Hertz? I think you might be right."

    "So what's next?" Hertz asked. "You really want to send this pokemon to a lab? It might try to explode again."

    "We'd keep it under anaesthetic, or artificially induce a coma. I don't think for one second that this pokemon was born from these cracks. I think something went crazy here, turning hundreds of pokemon into eggs."

    "So do I," said Hertz. "I think I can grant your request, Bootstrap. But we need to find a way to get this pokemon there first. Where do we stand on the decontamination squad?"

    Bootstrap looked back over his shoulder at the van and shouted for Mirror. The wobbuffet immediately peered out at them.

    "Have you contacted them?" Bootstrap asked.

    "They're on their way. I've sent them our co-ordinates."

    "Excellent." Bootstrap tucked his clipboard into his belt and crossed his arms as he stared down at the groaning pokemon. "You know something, Hertz? I've been investigating this virus since it first appeared, but I've seen nothing like this."

    "Me neither," said Hertz.

    "Your identification of the explosion phenomenon has struck something with me." The marowak looked up at him out of the corner of his eye. "I think I might want you on my team."
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      #27    
    Old May 4th, 2017 (10:44 PM).
    Delirious Absol's Avatar
    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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      Join Date: May 2015
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      26 - Family

      The dark of night made those cracks harder to see and thus made flying a dangerous endeavour. Several times Pixel had let out a squeak of surprise as a flash of violet appeared before her eyes only to vanish a hair's breadth above her head as Switch ducked and swerved out of the way.

      Burst didn't have an easy time himself. Those cracks took him by surprise and several times he'd faltered in a flurry of feathers to get around them. Fortunately for him, Vector was on his back. The meowstic removed two of the more complicated webs, clearing a large path for them, but the closer they got to the ground the worse they became.

      Which was a shame, because all in all it was a beautiful night. In this area of System, there was less light pollution from cities, making the stars stand out brightly against the dark blue sky. Pixel would have enjoyed star gazing if she'd been given the chance.

      Finally, Switch's talons touched the ground and he ducked to let her dismount. Burst landed beside her, his beak open as he tried to catch his breath.

      "Well that wasn't easy," he gasped out.

      "We would have waited until daylight," said Switch. "But unfortunately we'd have more distance to travel and... well, we don't want to waste any time."

      He regained his human form and beat down his sleeves, avoiding the staraptor's eyes. After a short while, Burst shrugged and had a quick look around.

      "I don't plan on trying to fly back in the dark. I think I'll scope out a hotel room for the night."

      "Where?" asked Vector.

      Burst pointed with a wing feather. "Just over there."

      Pixel had to squint a little, but beyond the trees she could just make out the lingering lights from a small town.

      "That's Backlink Town," he said. "Their hotel is mostly used by travelling pokemon. I've used it before myself."

      "Why when you can just fly back to your island?" Vector nodded to the drifting continent miles above them.

      "I ain't as young as I used to be," Burst told him. "Sometimes I don't wanna fly all that way, especially when it's back out over the ocean. Takes hours when the wind's against you!"

      "Suit yourself," Vector said with a shrug. He turned and started to walk away, keeping one paw outstretched for any cracks.

      Burst huffed through his nose and ruffled his feathers before turning back to Switch.

      "That kid needs to learn some manners," he said.

      Switch said nothing as he watched Vector move away. Pixel looked from the human to the meowstic and back, half expecting Switch to agree. Something seemed to have changed, but she couldn't work out what.

      "To be honest, I'd like a rest myself," he finally said. "But I think we need to make tracks."

      "I expected nothing less," said Burst. "Just make sure he doesn't overwork himself, okay? Scanner is rather worried about that."

      Switch winked. "Noted."

      "I wish you all the best," Burst told them. "Take care, and stay in touch!"

      He gave Switch a firm stare which the human merely laughed at and waved a hand.

      "I shall try my best," he said. "Provided I don't get zapped by any more ampharos."

      Burst smiled broadly and spread his wings, hopping along the ground as he dodged a small crack then rose into the air.

      Switch watched him vanish beyond the trees then turned back to Pixel.

      "We should catch up to Vector before he loses us," he said. "That wouldn't exactly be a good start to our task now, would it?"

      She gave a tinkling laugh and kept pace beside him as they jogged to catch up with Vector. The meowstic paused to look back at them and sighed.

      "If you're done with your goodbyes-"

      "How long until we reach the jungle, Vector?" Switch asked.

      Again, no argument, no retort. Pixel's nose crinkled with confusion. She was definitely beginning to think she'd missed something.

      Vector turned away and continued along the dirt road. "We should be there by dawn if we don't dawdle."

      "Dawn, eh?" Switch yawned and stretched then folded his arms behind his head. He gave Pixel a warm smile that made his eyes crinkle. "Good job you had a nap, huh?"

      ...

      The little bullet car soared through the night sky, its headlights leading the way as it twisted and turned between the web of cracks. N00b feared if it weren't for his headlights they would have been caught in those strange anomalies by now. Not to mention he was having to drive at a speed that mimicked one of those lorries going through Meta City's crowded streets, or at times a thread going through a needle's eye. The collision detector wasn't programmed to avoid those deadly, violet-leaking cracks. As the thick mass thinned out around them, he could clearly see the world below. Villages were engulfed in them, the street lamps and antennae providing the only light in those now derelict areas. The backbone mountain was well behind them now, but N00b hadn't failed to notice the path cutting through those cracks. What unnerved him was that the path was leading towards the Fracture. He had no intention of going there, but maybe there was a town or city they could land in that was clear of those cracks. Clear of the virus.

      "How much longer?" Byte asked with a yawn.

      "You can sleep, you know," said N00b. " You don't need to stay awake, because I've really no idea."

      "I can't sleep in a moving vehicle," said Byte. "I don't know how Nybble does it."

      N00b glanced at the emolga's reflection in his rear view mirror. His sister was huddled up to him with her head resting on his shoulder, just visible behind Leaf's sleeping form. A small smile spread across the terrier's face and he turned his attention back on their destination.

      "I've noticed something."

      Leaf's voice caused a yelp to fly out of N00b's mouth. His body stiffened from ear to tail and he glanced back at the ivysaur who prompted him to turn back around with a claw.

      "Those cracks," said Leaf. "They've thinned out."

      "I know," said N00b. "Has it always been that way though? Or is it just a coincidence?"

      "It's strange behaviour to be a coincidence."

      "We know nothing about them to confirm that though," said N00b. "All we know is they're dangerous and we need to stay away from them."

      Leaf went silent and N00b glanced his reflection in the mirror observing the world below.

      "Where were you going anyway?" he asked Leaf. "You never told me."

      "That's because we had nowhere planned," said Leaf. "We were just going to keep heading north and investigate some areas that aren't riddled with cracks."

      N00b made a thoughtful noise and shrugged. "Well it looks like you're out of luck. 'Cos everywhere down there is full of them."

      "Where are you headed?"

      "I finally got in touch with Switch. He told me they're heading to the Binary Jungle. I was going to go there."

      "What?! When?!" Leaf leant forwards on his seat so that he was leaning so close to N00b he could feel his breath on the back of his ears. "You never told us!"

      "It was via text," said N00b. "And you were asleep anyway. I thought you wouldn't object since Pixel is with him."

      "She's all right?" Leaf let out a sigh and fell back in his seat. "Thank goodness!"

      N00b fired him a grin through the mirror. "Have a soft spot for her, huh?"

      "Not exactly. She's like a sister to me. Her and the twins are the closest thing to a family I have left."

      "Ah." N00b sighed and his ears drooped. "Kinda like I am with my little group. At least when all this is over, you guys can still stick together."

      "What do you mean?"

      "Well you're all pokemon. There's no humans on your island."

      A look of realisation spread over Leaf's face and he diverted his gaze to the passing scenery. "I guess you're right. I'm sorry."

      "It's all right. I always knew they'd have to go home some time. And Connor will be so happy to get back to his own world. I know Snippet will be really sad to see them go. She's looked after all four of us like her own children."

      Leaf was silent for a moment as he examined N00b's reflection. "You're an orphan?"

      "Yeh! Me and Diode."

      "If you don't mind me asking, why?"

      "Keep it under your hat and I'll tell you." N00b grinned at Leaf's stiff nod. "My parents are both hackers. My dad taught me from being really young how to use computers and analyse code. Shortly after I turned two, I remember the police barging into the house and taking them both away. I was bundled into an orphanage where I met Diode. He's a quiet one. Only ever speaks to me or Snippet. He was there from being an egg. Snippet used to work there as well, see, and she took a liking to us. Took us both in after she retired, which wasn't even a year after I got there. We've been living with her ever since."

      "Whoa." Byte blinked his large eyes. "A hacker?"

      "What? That wasn't obvious?" N00b chuckled.

      "I knew you knew your way around a computer, but... you said yourself you wouldn't call yourself a hacker so I just assumed..."

      N00b laughed heartily and struck a paw on the steering wheel. "I only said that so those goons wouldn't turn me in! I only use my hacking skills for good. Rescuing Vector for instance."

      Leaf had been silent as he took all this in. The look on his face told N00b he wasn't impressed, but after a moment there was a twinkle in his eye that said otherwise.

      "I have to say I agree with you," he said. "I never thought much of hackers, but that poor meowstic might be dead by now if it weren't for you."

      "Pixel and Switch helped out a lot as well," said N00b. "I was just the intel and get-away mobile."

      "I think you were a lot more than that."

      N00b closed his eyes and chuckled. "I guess I do have a pretty mean wild-charge. Ooh!" His eyes widened briefly and he nodded to the horizon. "There's Binary Jungle! Can you see it?"

      Leaf and Byte leant forwards, and a small grumble came from Nybble as she rubbed her sleepy eyes.

      Sprouting up amongst the black cracks stood the thick canopy of the Binary Jungle. It wasn't visible in this lack of light, but N00b could picture the binary-like steam rising from the leaves. He'd only seen it on the television, beautiful and green and filled with bug and grass type pokemon. It was even home to some fairy types.

      He daren't think what state it lay in now.

      ...

      Dim lights lit up the quarantine ward, only enhancing the eeriness that the presence of the virus itself brought with it. It was like this every night. Outside was pitch black, save for the street lights and flickering antennae. None of those lights were enough to light up the dingy corridor. Even after working there for weeks, Hertz was by no means immune to the atmosphere. It made his fur stand on end.

      The blood splattered hazmat suits had been incinerated as soon as they arrived back at Central Meta Hospital with Bootstrap's team. His fur still had a chemical smell to it and it filled the clean hazmat suit's helmet. The smell alone wasn't enough to give another pokemon reassurance he was virus-free, but all of them had also received a scan. Fortunately not one of them showed signs of having contracted the virus.

      The marowak stood just beside the door to a private ward, his arms crossed over his chest being the only sign he was feeling any anxiety about their new patient. Hertz was also anxious, but he wanted answers. That corrupted serperior was alive. Sedated, but alive. The sedation wasn't just for the pokemon's comfort either. If there was a risk he was going to explode again, it needed to be kept to an absolute minimum for the sake of everyone's safety.

      Keeping everyone safe wasn't going to get them any answers though, was it?

      Hertz pushed himself into the room and approached the unconscious reptile. The sheet over his long body bulged where steel plates and spines sprouted from his scales. Hertz kept one eye on him as he turned the dial on the machine, lowering the steady dosage that was being pumped into the serperior's veins.

      "Hang on, Hertz," Bootstrap whispered harshly. "What do you think you're doing?"

      "We won't know what's going on unless we ask, will we?" Hertz replied. "He hatched from one of those eggs. That means there's a chance he was there, in the thick of it all."

      "But it's not safe! We don't even know what pokemon he is. What if he explodes again?"

      "And what if he doesn't?"

      "If he's scared and in pain it might be a reflex, like every single other victim that hatched from those eggs!"

      Hertz looked back at him over his shoulder. "And your voice won't scare him? Keep it down. I won't be long."

      Bootstrap grimaced and let the door close as he ducked out of the room, leaving Hertz alone with the serperior.

      A few moments passed before the sleeping pokemon's eyes flittered open. A low groan escaped his mouth and one of his eyes locked onto the gallade.

      Not a single hint of fear crossed Hertz's face, but he kept his claws on the dial just in case. So far so good. That pokemon was breathing much too heavily, but he was watching him. One thing reassured Hertz – there was sanity behind that eye.

      "I'm sorry to wake you," Hertz said softly. "But I was wondering if you could answer some questions for me?"

      "Questions?" the serperior gasped out. "What do you want to know?"

      "Firstly, I want to know what species you are?"

      The serperior laughed bitterly and closed his eyes. "I was a servine."

      Servine? Hertz looked him up and down. His previous assumption had been only because of his long, limbless body, but he could see it in his face now. He looked too young to be a serperior.

      "What's your name?" he asked.

      "Coil."

      "Coil... I see." Hertz nodded as he looked him up and down again. "Well, Coil. I'm Doctor Hertz. And I'm hoping you might be able to tell me what went on in that village? Why did everyone suddenly explode out of an egg?"

      Coil screwed his eyes shut and grit his teeth together. "I'm in pain, doctor."

      "I'm aware of that. But you'll be in even more pain if you let yourself explode, not to mention you'll bring the whole hospital down with you. Try to hold yourself together and I'll put you back to sleep when we're done talking."

      Coil opened one eye to watch Hertz as he pulled over a chair and fell down into it. His breathing was still heavy, but he was looking a lot more relaxed. Hertz had to give him credit that he was truly trying to remain calm.

      "I'm really sorry to do this to you," Hertz said. "But like you I am desperate to find a cure for this virus. Right now, I would do anything to be rid of it. This world needs help, but we need to know what we're fighting if we're going to find a cure. Most of the patients that come in here are on death's door. Many of them aren't in control of their faculties. You, however, are. Is there anything you can tell me at all about what happened before you were... transformed?" He gestured with a paw at the patient's body.

      Coil let out another groan as he strained to lift his head, but Hertz stopped him by raising his paw. Instead, the servine resigned himself to rolling over on his side so both eyes were locked on the gallade.

      "It was the cracks," he said quietly. "They just appeared. The best way I can describe it is to say they sliced through the village. Anything they touched was destroyed. Buildings, pokemon. I watched them turn into eggs. I tried to outrun them, but... I couldn't."

      "The cracks..." Hertz rubbed his paws together but he didn't take his eyes off Coil. "So they are linked to the virus."

      "I don't know how much they're linked, or in what way, but I think it's safe to say they are."

      "If what you say is true, then it's proof they are." Hertz stood up and reached for the dial. "Thank you, Coil. I'll let you go back to sleep."

      "Wait, doctor."

      Hertz paw froze on the dial as he looked back at Coil. Tears glistened in the corners of the servine's eyes. Coil licked his lips a few times and diverted his gaze away.

      "Did you... did you happen to see my family in those eggs?" he asked.

      Hertz stared at him for a moment as he tried to work out an answer. Suddenly he was back in that village, watching the eggs explode. Hiding in the van as screams tore through the air. Standing amongst a pool of red looking at the desolation. There was no way he was going to tell him all that. But no matter how sensitive he tried to be, the truth would probably crush him.

      "No," he finally said. "I'm sorry, Coil, but you're the only survivor from that village."

      Coil closed his eyes as tears streaked over his cheeks. "I feared as much."

      "I'm really sorry," Hertz told him. "I know it won't bring your family back, but I promise you I'll try to find a cure. Sleep well."

      Coil nodded stiffly and muttered a 'thank you' as Hertz turned the dial, letting the anaesthesia flow back into the pokemon's veins.

      As he watched Coil fall under the effects of the anaesthesia, something gnawed inside his chest. Something that pushed a lump up into his throat. He tore himself away from the sleeping servine and dragged himself towards the door.

      Bootstrap was still waiting for him, but whatever the marowak said fell on deaf ears. Hertz wouldn't stop walking. Not until he was out of the dingy, poorly lit hallway and inside the bright, white walls of the decontamination room. The hiss of the spray tore through the silence and he fell with his back against the wall, sliding down onto his bottom with his head in his hands.

      No matter what he knew about that virus – what it did, where it came from – there was one thing he knew for sure. A cure wouldn't bring that poor servine's family back.

      Just like it wouldn't bring back his family, either.
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        #28    
      Old May 7th, 2017 (11:35 PM).
      Delirious Absol's Avatar
      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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        27 - The Silent City

        Pixel was really glad she'd had that nap. The sky was dyed with a yellow and orange hue as the sun began to rise, stretching out their shadows across the empty park. Its vibrant rays reflected off the puddles of a recent rainfall and dazzled on the still water of a previously well-kept pond. What was once a city now stood in ruin but it had proven to be the safest route towards the Binary Jungle. Strange sounds had come from the sparse village and empty plains around it and none of them had wanted to meet the pokemon making those sounds.

        Plus this former city was oddly free of those deadly cracks.

        As they moved back onto one of the high streets, her heart leapt into her throat as she glanced her reflection in a shattered store window and she swiftly ducked to Switch's other side.

        He gave her a small smile and stifled a chuckle. "You seem on edge."

        "After our experience with that gooey monster, how couldn't I be?" she said. "I'm surprised you're so oddly confident."

        "That's because I'm convinced there's nothing here."

        She let out a wistful sigh and nudged at a piece of egg shell with her toe. "I just pity those that had to flee from here. It looks like a few of them even left their eggs behind."

        "I want to know where they fled to," said Switch. "My guess is they went towards the metropolis." He nodded back the way they'd come.

        Pixel eyed the damaged buildings around them. Some of them had deep claw marks amongst the shattered stones and broken glass. "I would have thought the jungle would provide more cover if they were fleeing from a rampaging virus victim."

        "Switch is right," said Vector. "There's no way they would have fled into the jungle. If they went towards the Binary Jungle they'd only be heading towards the Fracture, and nobody wants to go there."

        "I think those who are running for their lives wouldn't be worrying about the Fracture," said Pixel.

        "No, but the SWAT teams rallying them would be."

        She gave the debris a nervous glance as she pressed on after the meowstic. More shards of egg shell lay scattered amongst the rubble and dotted the road, scraping along the paving stones and tarmac as the wind picked up. There certainly had been a lot of eggs. She found it hard to believe that their parents would be forced to abandon them like this.

        "Huh." Vector came to a sudden halt and looked to his right.

        Pixel and Switch joined him, following his gaze to an alley still cast in deep shadow. Tattered rags hung above it. Banners that had once advertised local stores that couldn't afford the luxuries of a digital billboard in the more frequented areas of the city. It wasn't something she saw very often, since she had rarely left the comforts of Meta City. The rags dripped water from the night's tropical rainfall, but what had piqued Vector's interest lay below those rags. Amongst fabric, egg shells and stone debris lay thick, dark puddles. Dark puddles that differed greatly to the ones that filled the potholes and blocked-up rainwater drains. The ground below the rags had barely been touched by the rain.

        In the dim light it was hard to be completely certain. Vector took a few steps towards it, his nose crinkling as he sniffed at the air.

        "It's blood," he said flatly.

        Pixel's stomach knotted and she placed a paw over her mouth. She'd feared as much. Several scenarios played through her mind as she pictured the inhabitants fleeing, chased by an army of indescribable virus-ridden monstrosities. Monstrosities that had once been the friends or colleagues or family of those they were now chasing down.

        Vector craned his neck to look up at the rags and took a few steps backwards. "I want to get out of here. Come on, let's get a move on."

        Switch gave the alley one last glance and shook his head as he ushered Pixel forwards after the meowstic. Her body didn't want to obey. She had to remind herself if she stayed here much longer then something might come back.

        But then again, there was also always the chance that the blood belonged to a virus victim. Puddles of it just lying there in the alley, infected, waiting to spread itself into whatever unsuspecting pokemon stepped in it.

        Her stomach knotted again and she picked up her pace, almost trotting after Vector. Her eyes scanned over the ground and she let out a yelp as her foot touched a cold puddle of water.

        Vector glanced back at her, his eyes wide, until he saw the water and tutted. He grabbed her paw, steering her away from a large, deep puddle and into a quiet, narrow road.

        A fine mist coated the floor, pouring in from the jungle as they drew ever nearer to it. But the closer they came to the edge of the city, the more egg shells there were. Piling up against stone walls, shattered amongst debris, drifting along in the gutter. Pixel's heart hammered in her chest as she found it impossible to look away from them. Something was wrong. No one could have abandoned this many eggs. It didn't make sense.

        "Looks like we're almost out," said Vector.

        She looked up at him, aware he was still clutching her paw as he half-dragged her along after him. She adjusted hers around his claws, securing her grip and steadied her pace at his side. He gave her a sideways glance, an air of confusion behind his eyes, then looked away as he readjusted his paw to rest comfortably in hers.

        "What do you think really happened here?" The words just came out of her mouth, voicing what she'd been wondering for a while.

        "I'm trying not to think about it," said Vector. "But I really don't like the look of all this shell."

        "Me neither," said Switch. He followed behind them with his arms tucked behind his head, looking like the scene didn't phase him in the slightest. Like it was just another route to pass through. "To be honest, I want to put all this behind me. It's giving me the creeps."

        "Well, in a mere few minutes, you can do that," said Vector. "I can see the trees from here."

        Pixel squinted into the distance. She could barely make it out through the mist, but a hint of green peeked out at them. It gave her a renewed vigour and she picked up her pace, keeping her eyes on that little green patch.

        It was almost impossible to tune out the egg shell as it crunched beneath their feet, loud in the deafening silence of the city. Pixel's heart leapt into her throat as the trunks of the green trees became visible through the mist. She could now make out the binary code that made up the mist around the branches and leaves as it rose into the air and vanished, or flooded into the city until it resembled the cloudy stuff they'd been walking through. But something wasn't right about those trunks.

        She trotted on ahead of her two friends, their shouts of concern ringing in her ears. It couldn't be what she dreaded it was, could it?

        It was.

        The trees of the Binary Jungle were splattered with deep, red patches. Just like the cloth-covered alley. Blood. Streaked up the trees, pooled amongst the roots, marring the lower branches' vibrant, green leaves in a stark, morbid contrast.

        Any thoughts that the jungle might be safer and more welcoming than the city were brutally torn away from her. She clasped her paws to her chest and took a step back, meeting the fabric of Switch's cargo pants.

        Vector stood staring up at the jungle, his ears pulled back and his paws balled into fists. But he said nothing.

        Pixel stuttered over her words as she choked out, "What on earth happened in this city?"

        ...

        The N00b Mobile's engine whirred to a stop as the car pulled up beside the tall trees of the Binary Jungle. N00b hopped out onto the grass and went to open the doors for his other passengers, but they vaulted them and landed on either side of the car, stretching and looking around at the sombre surroundings.

        Cracks everywhere, rising from towns and cities and spreading into the air like a giant galvantula web. Now the sun had risen, the cracks were prominent, tinting the fluffy white clouds with their ultraviolet light.

        A good few miles from them lay Binary City, named after the jungle. They'd wanted to avoid that. Strange sounds had been coming from the ground to the right of that city and every one of them had agreed to put a good distance between themselves and that noise. N00b had chosen a flat, green area that had been used as farm land. In some fields he could see berry trees, blocked off by an ultraviolet web. This patch was oddly clear of cracks, and the empty path led into the jungle.

        "It's a shame we don't have any food," said Byte. "Because I'm really hungry."

        "Me too," said Nybble.

        "We'll find food soon enough." Leaf didn't look up from his pocket computer. "The Binary Jungle is home to exotic berries. If we don't find any, I'll be surprised."

        N00b grinned broadly. "Watmel berries?! Bring it on!"

        The two emolga cheered.

        "Just give me a few minutes..." Leaf tapped at his screen and muttered an 'ahah'. "Pixel? Can you hear me?" When he got a response, he smiled and leant back against the car. "We're with N00b at the Binary Jungle right now. He told me you're heading there. Where are you up to?"

        Pixel's voice squeaked away incoherently, and N00b strained his ears to hear what was being said on the other line to no avail.

        "You're here already?!" Leaf gasped. "We'll try to find you. See you inside."

        He cut the line and exchanged bemused and relieved glances with the emolga twins.

        "So she's here then?" N00b asked tentatively. "Alone or...?"

        "She's inside the jungle with Switch and Vector," explained Leaf.

        They were okay! A grin split the lillipup's face from ear to ear and he skipped backwards towards the trees. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!"

        "Yes, but be careful," said Leaf. "We don't know what's inside, and if the state of the surrounding towns are anything to go by, it could be a real mess."

        "Just watch where you're putting your paws," N00b told the others. "The grass gets really dense towards the trees."

        "Yeh, and its littered with egg shell." Leaf kicked one aside. "Who in their right mind would-"

        His words died on his mouth as his body went rigid, his eyes widening with fear. An ear-splitting scream flew from his mouth and N00b's jaw went slack as he watched the ivysaur turn from green to red, his leaves sizzling from the tips and receding back towards the bulb on his back.

        "Leaf!" Nybble shrieked.

        N00b shook his head in disbelief. The egg shell... it was infected?

        The putrid smell of burning flesh and foliage filled the air and smoke billowed up in thick black clouds. The screaming continued as Leaf flailed beneath the flames, rolling on the ground which only spread the fire to the grass.

        "The car! Get to the car!" N00b barked, nudging Byte towards the N00b Mobile. "Hurry! Now!"

        "Nybble, move it!" Byte grabbed his sister by the paw and tugged her after him, but she fought him off as she tried to reach their burning friend. She choked on the smoke, trying in vain to waft it aside with her paw.

        "No!" she wailed. "We have to help him! Leaf!"

        N00b grabbed her scruff in his teeth and lugged her after him, tossing her into the passenger seat. Byte held the struggling emolga in place, his eyes glistening with tears as N00b started the engine.

        "We can't leave him!" she screamed, leaning over the edge as the car rose into the air.

        "We have to! There's nothing we can do!" N00b's voice was hoarse over the lump in his throat. "If we go back, we'll meet the same fate. Okay?"

        "But-"

        "He wouldn't want you to catch it," said N00b. "Would he?"

        The twins fell silent as they watched the ground shrink away beneath them. They swiftly passed over the first trees of the jungle while behind them the grass smouldered, engulfing what remained of their friend in a terrible, black cloud. They could no longer hear his screams. All N00b could assume was that they had stopped, and that would be a terrible yet good thing. No one deserved what the ivysaur had just gone through.

        "I can't believe it," Nybble whispered as she clutched onto her brother, their eyes locked onto the smouldering grass. "We're losing everyone."

        N00b bit his lip and glanced back at the field. At the thick tendrils of black smoke rising into the air. It had all happened so fast, and now it really hit him.

        Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them away with a paw. "Farewell, my friend."
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        A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
        Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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          #29    
        Old May 10th, 2017 (12:09 AM).
        Delirious Absol's Avatar
        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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          28 - Surreal


          Hertz strolled down the empty corridors of Central Meta Hospital's mental health ward. One of the lights flickered so erratically he just knew spending too long in this corridor would give him a migraine. He had to make this visit quick. Hopefully he'd be a little more enlightened by the end of it.

          Finally he arrived at his destination, stopping before a door marked 'M.H. Room 15'. A quick flash of his card key and the lock clicked open, allowing him to step inside. Another door separated him from completely entering the room - metal framed, the clear windows obscured by a mesh of heavy steel. The steel structure continued along to his right, reaching up to his torso. The rest of the wall was made from double-glazed perspex. That meant whatever was kept on the other side wouldn't be bursting their way out any time soon.

          Huddled in a corner sat what at first glance appeared to be an archeops, but in the blink of an eye they transformed into a human girl, her long black hair flowing neatly down her back and contrasting greatly with her white hospital clothes. He knew all about this patient, well... what the hospital knew anyway. Maybe too much for his general area, but reading up on another patient's records in a desperate bid to find a cure to the virus would hardly be frowned upon.

          He hoped.

          At one point she'd been chained down to the bed to stop her from damaging herself or her doctors. Eventually she'd calmed down but no one could do anything about her going back and forth between two forms. Over time she'd just learned to deal with it, and it had been deemed safe enough to unchain her and keep her in a sturdy cell. It was certainly not safe to let her go free, and Hertz hoped desperately that the sole reason wouldn't hinder him getting the information he hoped to obtain.

          It was a long shot and he knew it, but the plight of the poor servine and his own family was weighing heavily on his shoulders and right now he was going to try anything in his power to track down that meowstic. His current involvement with Bootstrap's investigation into the cracks would have to wait.

          He pushed a small black button to activate the microphone and cleared his throat.

          The girl looked up, her body changing to the feathered form of the archeops. The narrowed eyes that peered back at him unsettled him but he refused to let it show, instead returning her look with a steely stare.

          "Annie, I presume?" he said.

          Her form flashed back to human again and she pushed herself to her feet. "What do you want? I took my meds at lunch."

          Lunch? He glanced down at his phone. It was coming up to supper time. Surely someone must have seen her in that time? He grit his teeth together and hoped the poor creature had just lost track of time.

          The girl was now hugging her knees to her chest, staring blankly at the wall and muttering over and over, "Meds at lunch... meds at lunch..." until it transformed into, "Leds at munch..."

          "I'm not here for that," Hertz said loudly to get her attention. "I'm here to ask you some questions?"

          "Again?" The exasperation in her voice was clear and she pushed herself to her feet and slumped back against the far wall to face him, folding her arms across her chest. "Look. I don't know what happened to me. One minute I'm at home, the next I'm in your world with this-" Flash. "Condition."

          He now stared at a disgruntled archeops and shrugged. "Your condition is actually why I want to talk to you. I'm assuming you're aware of the virus that's attacking System?"

          "Somewhat, yeah. Don't affect me though, does it?" She paced over to the window and stopped about mid way, repeating 'does it' under her breath over and over as though she wasn't quite sure of the words.

          Hertz eyed her curiously and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "No, not especially. But one aspect might."

          That interested her. An eyebrow rose as her form changed once more, but she said nothing. Just staring. Waiting. Two green eyes fixed onto him which seemed oddly bright in the white, padded room of her cell.

          "I had... what might have been a solution," Hertz explained carefully. "But it was taken from me. One of the culprits has the same ability as you, albeit he can control it somehow."

          She snorted. "Then why can't I?"

          He shrugged. "I've no idea. But I will say one thing. As far as pokemon go, you have a spectacular type advantage."

          The girl spread her blue and yellow clawed wings, looking them over before she lost the form then looked back at him with a start.

          "You see," Hertz said slowly, "you have your problems, and we have our own. This virus could be the end of this world, and you're living in it."

          She inclined her head on one side, which looked rather comical for an archeops. "Am I?"

          "Yes. Unfortunately, but... I can't say if that's more for your sake our ours."

          "Think I'm a problem?" she grumbled. "Wanna get rid of me? That why they feed me tranquillisers? Tranquillisers... Tranquillisers..." She was off again, slowly pacing the room as she mulled the word over.

          "If you don't want to be a problem then be a part of the solution!" Hertz snapped.

          She span on the spot and clasped her hands behind her back, giving him a sweet smile that seemed extraordinarily creepy under the current circumstances.

          "What? You want help off me? How can little Annie help?"

          "You could start by telling me about the human male who can also change form," Hertz went on. "Then I could perhaps... get you out of here? You could help me track him down."

          She snorted with amusement. "You want me to get outta here and help you search for some human/pokemon freak?" She laughed, doubling over onto her knees. "Gimme a break, doc. I can't even hold one form for more than five minutes!"
          Well, at least she was aware of her problem. Putting aside her fascination with words and blank walls, that is.

          "Do you know him?" Hertz asked.

          "I dunno." She leant back against the wall again and placed a finger on her chin, which then became a claw. "What's he look like?"

          "Tall. Brown hair with red highlights. Golden eyes. Flight jacket. And when he changes form, he's a talonflame."

          "You didn't list pants."

          "What?"

          "Pants. You didn't list pants."

          Hertz swallowed his exasperation. "Black. Do you want the colour of his boots as well?"

          "No. I think I'm fine. Hang on."

          She was silent for a moment, repeating his description so many times the words began to get mixed up and mispronounced. Finally her green eyes locked back onto him and an innocent frown twisted across her mouth.

          "No. I don't think I know him."

          Hertz let out a sigh of defeat. It had been a long shot and he knew it. Right now he was just clutching at straws. "Well, thank you for your time." He slowly turned from the window.

          "You done with me now? Not taking me with you?"

          "No, I... honestly think you're in the best place for you." He paused, meeting her eyes briefly. "I'll see if I can find a doctor on my way out and remind them they need to give you your medication."

          She shrugged and skipped back to her corner where she flopped down and began humming to herself. The rapid personality change she'd just gone through was tiring even for him. He swiftly left the cell and locked it behind him, hoping to slip out before Bootstrap discovered where he'd been.

          He wasn't sure the marowak would understand.

          ...

          More of the jungle's foliage was becoming visible as the pool of egg shell fragments thinned out. Pixel's feet crunched over the last of them before her toes finally touched the lush grass. She was thankful the blood-splattered trees were behind them now. It had been hard to discern whether the blood had anything to do with the egg shells, but whatever the case was she really didn't want to think about it. The Binary Jungle had a strange feel to it as it was. Wisps of binary code drifted up from both the ground and canopy, but the stuff on the ground was different. It was identical to the strange mist-like code that rose up off the ground after Vector erased the black cracks. Harmless mist that they could wade through with no hindrance.

          It would have been a picturesque, vibrant landscape if it weren't for the black cracks. They spread like a web over the canopy and zigged and zagged through the jungle, slicing through the trees which had either broken at their contact or stood warped and twisted in a surreal way that left Pixel feeling incredibly unsettled.

          "I feel like I've walked into some surrealist's painting," said Switch.

          "Tell me about it." She turned her eyes away from one particular tree, its trunk twisted into a screw, and tried to focus her attention on getting through the jungle.

          Vector, who had been silent since they'd been faced with the morbid task of climbing through what looked like a massacre scene, let out a relieved sigh as he reached the end of the egg shells. He took one look at the corkscrew tree and placed a paw on the crack running through it. The jagged anomaly vanished with a snap, but the poor tree still stood as warped as ever.

          "Well, that's a shame," said Switch.

          Vector grunted with agreement and tore himself away from the tree. "I just hope the berries we're looking for aren't warped and twisted as well."
          That was a good point. With the state the jungle stood in, the trees they were looking for might have been destroyed or damaged. Pixel dreaded to think what eating a potentially contaminated berry could do. She hugged her arms to herself and followed after the black and white meowstic.

          The Binary Jungle was oddly quiet. Not a sound rose from the canopy other than the rustling of leaves in the wind. There was no sign of any life, yet she was certain pokemon lived in this jungle. Sooner or later they would stumble upon a village. A village that she was certain would be abandoned or consumed with destruction from the cracks and virus.

          They paused as Vector examined a thick web of cracks. None of them were small enough to pass through it. He made short work of it, setting off a series of snaps which were like explosions in the silent jungle. The gap it left was more than enough for Switch to pass through.

          As they moved along, Pixel absently gazing up at the cracks arcing high above her, Vector doubled over as coughs racked his body. Her attention snapped to him and she rushed to his side, placing a paw on his back.

          "Are you okay?"

          The words seemed fairly pointless. Red streaked his paw as he ran it across his mouth while throwing her a disgruntled sideways glance. Her eyes drifted to the ground and widened as she spotted small specks of blood dotting the green grass and curling ferns.

          Allergies. He'd told her he had allergies, but surely they couldn't do that?

          "There's no need to push yourself, buddy," said Switch. "We could have found another way around."

          "Will you two stop worrying about me?!" Vector snapped.

          He took in a ragged breath then shrugged Pixel's paw away. His reaction hurt a little and she held her paw to her chest as she watched after him. Something wasn't right. Part of her couldn't help thinking he was hiding something from her.

          Switch ducked to place a hand on her head and she looked up into his reassuring smile. He didn't say anything, just ushered her on and they followed after the meowstic in silence. What Switch had said, however, seemed to have struck home. Every mess of cracks that blocked their way were scrutinised by Vector for a moment before he turned away and looked for another way around.

          Knots of the wretched things blocked their path on several occasions and after a while it looked like they weren't going to make any more progress. It wasn't long until Pixel spotted the corkscrew tree, still free from its damaging crack, rising up on the opposite side she'd previously viewed it. From this angle she could see a warped hole at the top of it. Either damage from the crack or a hole made by a pokemon at some point in its existence – a hiding place an arboreal or flying pokemon had made as a child, long since abandoned. Whatever it was, she couldn't decide.

          Still blindly following Vector, she scanned the branches of the trees. The only berries she spotted were mago and maranga, their sparse numbers clinging to the branches of twisted trees, or scattered on the ground where a hefty bough had been blasted from its trunk.

          The dirt trail wound into a clearing and Pixel's paw crunched on something in the grass. She didn't need to look down to see what it was. The entire clearing was filled with egg shells, the tree trunks splattered with blood. It was becoming more obvious the two were linked.

          She swallowed drily, hoping desperately that she didn't have to walk through it. Thankfully, Vector looked away from the clearing and stepped off the path, climbing over thick ferns to get deeper into the trees.

          Heavy, bulging roots and tangled plants made the trek through the trees incredibly difficult and the three of them were exhausted when they found another path to follow. The smell of rotting fruit stung their noses, the culprit being scattered maranga berries crushed beneath the tree that had once held them. The tree lay across the path, its branches tangled with another tree that had been pulled down by the maranga in its fall. Corrupted binary code rose from the fallen tree and its damaged fruit amidst the zeroes and ones that Binary Jungle was famous for.

          They were about to turn away from the tree, to put it behind them when a shrill scream cut through the air like a hot blade. Three pairs of eyes snapped to the foliage on the other side of the path and they froze. Every muscle in Pixel's body was taught as she braced herself to either fight or flee, but nothing else came. Just one scream. One, and that was it.

          "What on earth was that?" Vector muttered.

          He sprinted towards the foliage, leaving Pixel with an outstretched paw as she failed to stop him. Switch joined the meowstic, glancing back at her as he stepped over the ferns. She gave herself a mental shake and followed after them, scrambling as her feet tangled in the roots and stems of some hidden plant.

          Switch vanished beyond a thick tree, bent over like a bridge where a violet crack cut through it. She ducked beneath it, spotting the black-tipped tails as they vanished into a bush. To any other pokemon, vanishing into a bush in this jungle filled with its deadly cracks would have been a foolish move. She decided to skirt around it instead, finding herself standing beside a rocky outcrop covered in moss and jungle plants. Trees wound and twisted atop it where a web of cracks covered it as though they were trying to keep whatever lived inside them trapped. The cracks stretched out over the canopy for as far as they could see, occasionally stretching down to the floor in a frozen, violet lightning bolt.

          "Did you see who it was?" she finally asked.

          "No," said Vector. "But whoever it was might have gone inside."

          She followed his gaze to the outcrop. A deep cavern ran inside it, but the entrance was overgrown with plants. If anyone had resided inside, they didn't now. But that didn't mean whoever had screamed hadn't taken refuge in what was likely an empty cave.

          "Should we look for them?" The waver in her voice didn't go unnoticed. "I mean... there's no saying they're definitely a virus victim, is there?"

          Vector glanced at her then moved towards the cave, keeping his body low. She followed after him, her small form swallowed by Switch's shadow as he ducked to enter the cave mouth. He steadied himself by placing a hand on the ceiling as he crept after them.

          The further they went the darker it became. Water dripped from somewhere deep inside, but the ground felt dry beneath her feet. Eventually, Vector came to a halt and she had to stop herself from walking into him.

          "Is there a problem?" Switch asked.

          "Yeah," said Vector. "It forks off here. One path moves up, the other goes down."

          Pixel peered past him, squinting in the dim light. The path moving upwards looked a lot brighter, but something was flickering at the end of the other path. A deep, pink light that gradually changed to red, then purple, then blue. It was oddly familiar. Relaxing.

          It reminded her of home.

          "I think the upward path leads outside," she said.

          "I was thinking that," said Vector. "But what's making that light further down?"

          He didn't wait for a response, instead ducking down the narrow tunnel. She swallowed audibly then followed after him. If it weren't for the relaxing sensation the gradual, changing light was giving her she would have asked him to reconsider. The tunnel didn't give them much room, though. Her head was almost brushing the ceiling, causing her to duck down.

          "Don't worry, I'm coming," said Switch.

          The sound of his feathers brushing against the rough wall told her he'd opted to take on his talonflame form. He hadn't been left with much choice.

          As the tunnel wound to their right, someone yelled. Every hair went on end and she froze, eyes searching the tunnel ahead. She thought she saw someone dart out of the way. Someone small.

          Then they yelled again. Constantly. Screaming as they fled down the tunnel.

          Vector scurried along, keeping himself low. It was all she could do to keep up with him. Her breath was coming in heavy bursts, a mix of exhaustion and fear. Finally, the tunnel ended, spreading out into a wide room. The source of the light lay in the form of a rocket-shaped lamp atop a desk, accompanied by computer monitors.

          The lamp, like the light, was familiar. She could see it now. On a desk as she sat beside her friend, working on an investigation. It wasn't possible... why was it here?

          A small, black pokemon floated in the air, its form that of a letter A. Pixel recognised it as something she'd only seen in picture books, but the name of its species escaped her. They darted back and forth, drawing the attention of the other pokemon in the room. Two of them, also small and black, turned their single eyes to look at their screaming companion. An X and an exclamation point.

          "Really, Alarm," one of them said, although it was hard to guess which one since they lacked mouths. "What is it... now..."

          The exclamation's eye widened and the X followed its gaze to the group of pokemon who had barged into their den.

          "Is there a problem?" This voice was female, and Pixel felt her heart leap into her chest.

          The odd light. The lamp. That voice. All so familiar.

          Her hands clasped to her mouth when she saw the familiar pink, feline form float out from beneath the desk, a pair of white-framed glasses clasped in her paw. One lens was blue, the other red. Her pale blue eyes widened with surprise, causing her paw to freeze part way to her head and the glasses to clatter to the floor.

          "Pixel?" said the mew.

          It couldn't be... Pixel shook her head in disbelief. She had to be dreaming? She lowered her paws from her mouth to speak, the lone word alarming her two friends.

          "Retro?"
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            #30    
          Old May 12th, 2017 (12:06 AM).
          Delirious Absol's Avatar
          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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            Join Date: May 2015
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            29 - Retro's Research Facility

            The only sound in the cavern was the gentle humming from the computer fans. Every pokemon had fallen into silence as the two groups stared at each other in bewilderment, albeit Pixel's group were all staring at the pink mew who bobbed in the air before them – Switch with a look of complete and utter shock and Vector with a mixed expression of surprise and irritation. Pixel, however, was close to tears.

            "I don't believe this," she finally breathed out. "We... we've been looking for you and... and you..."

            Retro reached out a paw towards her. "Pixel, I-"

            "All this time you were here." The mawile raised her voice, letting her paws fall to her sides. "You were here and you never thought to contact us?!"

            "And I have a good reason. If you'll let me explain-"

            "Leaf thought you were dead!" Pixel's fur bristled down her spine. "He wouldn't admit it, but I could tell!"

            Retro let out an exasperated sigh and ran a paw over her head. "Pixel, calm down!"

            The look in the mew's blue eyes was not one of anger. Pixel tried to steady her breathing, but her paws were still balled tightly into fists. Vector placed a paw on her shoulder and she felt her body relax slightly. He wasn't looking at her, though. His eyes were still fixed on the mew, and any previous irritation had melted away.

            The little, black exclamation pokemon cleared his throat and his eye flicked around the room at the tense group.

            "Well, I'll go put the kettle on, shall I?" He drifted towards a small, round door at the back of the room.

            Retro breathed out through her mouth and floated backwards into her chair. "Quick thinking, Amp. That should break some ice, I guess?"

            The other two odd little pokemon eyed them curiously before drifting further into the room, allowing Pixel and her friends a bit of freedom to move. All tension had left her body and she moved cautiously towards the mew.

            "So... what are you doing here?" she asked. "What happened to Nano and Chip?"

            Retro's eyes closed and she looked away from her, turning her chair to face her computer. "They... they caught the virus."
            "And you?"

            "That's why I'm here," she explained. "Oddly enough I didn't catch it. I don't understand why at all. But it was safer, and easier, for me to research it. To focus all my attention on it, and to do that I had to separate myself from Cyan Island."

            "But why not tell us?!" Pixel could feel her eyes welling with tears again.

            Retro turned to fix her with hard eyes. "Can you honestly say you would have stayed put up there? Or would you have tried to join me?"
            Pixel's mouth hung open wordlessly. She wasn't sure how to take this at all. Had Retro just abandoned them? She hadn't wanted their help?

            A huge sigh came from Switch and he moved forwards, brushing an unimpressed Vector aside with his wing.

            "I'm sorry," he said. "But this mawile has been looking for you. Not just her, but the entire island, or what was left of it. Would it really have hurt you to contact them and let them know? Because they haven't exactly been staying put and focusing on all their jobs. I mean... I found her in Raster City trying to track you down." He placed a wing on Pixel's back.

            Retro looked from the mawile to the talonflame and back before turning back to her computer. "I never said it was a well thought out plan."

            Clinking and clattering drew their attention to the small door and the little exclamation floated out of it, balancing a tea tray on his head. The cups and teapot jumped about as he tried to keep the tray level.

            "Here we go," he said. "Nothing like a nice cup of tea to calm the nerves, hey?"

            Retro quickly grabbed the tray from him and set it on a low table. There was a small sofa in the room alongside three computer desks and a coffee table, but the pile of papers on the table suggested it was most likely there simply to deter beverages from next to the expensive machinery.

            "Listen," Retro began. "After Nano and Chip became... infected... I didn't know what to do. At the moment one of them – Chip – is in the hospital, but Nano sadly didn't make it. I decided I wanted to focus solely on figuring out this virus. How it works, why it's here and how to get rid of it, so I hid in the Binary Jungle, well out of reach of Cyan Island's circuit. I know I should have told you, but I didn't want you following me." She retrieved a steaming cup off Amp and fixed a pair of worried eyes onto Pixel. "I didn't want to risk losing anyone else."

            Pixel stared down at her feet, letting the mew's words wash over her. It made sense, it really did. But it still hurt.

            "We've been worried sick," she muttered. "We've been searching for all three of you. I thought I might have found Nano in the hospital. So I guess it wasn't her?"

            Retro shook her head sadly. "No. I'm sorry, Pixel. It turned her into a water type. There was no way to even get her there."

            "Why not?"

            "Do you even know how the virus works?" Retro looked up at her, and seeing the blank, unimpressed expression on her face she went on. "If the virus turns a pokemon into a type it's weak against, there's no way to save their life."

            Pixel felt her chest knot and she swallowed a lump that threatened to rise in her throat. Part of her had guessed as much, but having it confirmed as true to her made her feel physically sick. Nano hadn't made it... that poor charmander. She wound her claws together and stared down at her paws.

            "So why did you choose here?" Switch waved a wing at the cavern. "Why set up a new team if you didn't want to involve your current one?"

            "My thoughts exactly," said Vector. He leant against the table and fixed his ice blue eyes onto Retro.

            "I didn't start up the team," she said. "It already existed."

            "Yes, x-actly," said the X-shaped pokemon. "We were investigating the cracks that had taken over the jungle. X-tremely frustrating they are, too. They've claimed two of our members as it is."

            Retro smiled at the little pokemon. "Yes, when I arrived here I stumbled upon this cave. The unown have been a huge help to me."

            A light went on in Pixel's brain and she looked to the three odd pokemon. Unown! That's what they were called. She could almost see them clearly in the picture books she used to read.

            "When we realised I was immune to the virus," Retro went on, "they asked me to help them lead their operation."

            "So you're immune?" Vector looked from Retro to Pixel. "Like Pixel is?"

            "And us as well," Switch told him.

            Vector closed his eyes and shrugged.

            "Wait." Retro rose from her chair and eyed the three of them curiously. "You're all immune to the virus?"

            "X-traordinary!" the unown X exclaimed.

            "I don't understand this," said Retro. "But it's fantastic!" Her eyes went to Vector and she scratched behind her ear in thought. "But... I'm puzzled to your appearance."

            "Look, why don't we all discuss it over some tea?" Amp, somehow, poured out two more cups and nudged them to Pixel and Vector in turn.

            "I agree," said Retro. "It's all a lot to take in."

            "Yeh, I know! I can't bayleef it!" said the unown X. "It's x-tremely onix-pected."

            "Please excuse X," said Amp. "He likes to speak in puns, and most of what he says is total jibberish."

            "Actually, most of what I say is A-class." X closed his eye. "It's only jibberish to you because you never listen."

            "Boys! Stop bickering." Retro shook her head, but her mouth was turned up into a fond smile.

            Pixel couldn't help but smile herself. She relaxed back onto a spare chair and sipped at her hot cup of tea.

            "So." Retro smiled at her and her two friends. "I think we should introduce ourselves now the initial surprise is over? By now you must know that my name's Retro. These three are Amp, X and Alarm." She pointed to the exclamation, X and A in turn.

            Pixel smiled at the unown then nodded to her friends. "These are Switch and Vector. Switch is actually a human."

            "Oh!" Tea sloshed over Retro's cup and she lowered it to the table, reaching for a napkin. "Excuse me, that took me by surprise."

            It wasn't just Retro who'd been taken by surprise. Each unown fixed a wide eye on the talonflame. Alarm had ducked behind the teapot. She peered back out at Switch, her tiny body quivering.

            Switch chuckled. "Then I guess it's a good thing you all haven't seen me change shape yet."

            Retro stuttered a little. "Did... did you become a ditto?"

            Pixel tried to stifle a laugh behind her paw. Even Vector was trying his best not to laugh.

            "No, no. Just a talonflame." Switch raised a claw to indicate his watch. "I'm one of the two who kept switching back and forth, hence my name. A friend of mine designed this watch and it stabilises my form, allowing me to change at the press of a button."

            "Wow." Retro shook her head in disbelief. "I've never seen a human before, actually."

            "And I'd never seen a mew before," he said. "Only in books. Is it true you can learn every move known to pokemon?"

            Retro grinned and adjusted her glasses on her head. "Well, yes. We can. But we have to go through the effort of learning it first."

            "And you can transform as well?"

            "If we know how, yes."

            "We?!" Switch looked like he was about to pass out from shock. He placed his cup back on the table and sat down. "Wow. There's more than one?"

            Retro burst into laughter. "Of course! Where do you think I came from?"

            Switch seemed to blush under his feathers and he picked up his cup, sipping silently as he stared at a blank spot on the far wall.

            Retro turned to Vector now and beamed. "So. What's your story? I've never seen a meowstic your colour before."

            Vector frowned and stared into his cup. For a moment Pixel thought he wasn't going to say anything, but he took in a deep breath to prepare himself.

            "Actually, I had the virus," he said. "Or something... I don't quite know what went on."

            Retro was all ears as Vector relayed his story, explaining what had happened at the Fracture – the explosion, his change in appearance, his experience at the hospital. She'd seemed very surprised and relieved to hear Pixel, Switch and N00b had rescued him, and even more surprised that the hospital was going to such extreme means to obtain a cure. When she heard he could erase the black cracks, the mew and unown exchanged glances and she span her chair back to her computer.

            "You erased them?!"

            Vector looked up at her, his eyes wide. "Yeah. Why?"

            "I've been wondering what's been going on. We've been trying to track them, to follow the paths that have been opened. It's been... strange. In places where there were once villages there's nought but rubble and eggs."

            "The egg shells..." Pixel placed her now cold and half-empty cup back on the table and joined Pixel at her computer. The information on the screen was too complex for her to absorb much at a glance.

            Retro looked up at her briefly. "You've seen them?"

            "Yes. There were a lot of fragments just... lying on the ground."

            "That's because they exploded."

            "Exploded?" Pixel's voice was joined by Switch and Vector's as they rushed to join her.

            Retro nodded and made a 'hmm'. "I can't explain it. Believe me. But..." She rubbed at her temples as she tried to find the right words.

            "It was like they hatched," said X. "They hatched with a 'boom!' then x-ploded again." The two tentacles on his head drooped. "It was awful."

            Pixel stared at the unown with her mouth agape. That explained the blood on the trees.

            "Do you think it's an anomaly from the Fracture?" Vector asked.

            Retro leant on her paws and sighed. "I really don't know. But I'm worried about those eggs. I feel like... they're wrong. Not just wrong because they explode, but because they appeared after the cracks were erased. Much like how when a pokemon is touched by the virus, they change. They're wrong."

            "So the cracks are gone," Pixel said slowly, "but what they touched are contaminated?"

            "Yes. You see, there are two more unown here. K and G. When we were investigating the cracks, Gyro touched one and he turned into rock. K then caught it and began to turn to water, but the both of them have entered a state of hibernation which has stopped the virus' progression and seemingly made it harmless to the rest of us in the process. They were in here with us, but as a precaution I've moved them into their own room out of the way." She glanced to an empty spot in the corner then turned back to the computer. "My theory is if the cracks can do that to pokemon, and if they can distort trees and buildings, then what are they doing to the world in general? They're infecting it. The virus is coming from the cracks."

            "But we found the virus first," said Pixel.

            "Yes, because it spreads. It started at the Fracture and moved along much faster than the cracks." Retro looked over at Vector who was shifting uneasily, his mind deep in thought. "Vector?"

            He looked up at her with a start. Pixel could tell from the look on his face he'd been blaming himself yet again. It stung her.

            "I'm thinking," the mew said slowly, "that if you can erase those cracks... can you erase the virus?"

            His eyes widened and he looked away from her, searching for the right response as the shock of her question overwhelmed him. "I... I don't know... maybe?"

            "Since you're immune to it, you could give it a try? I can take you to Gyro and K."

            The other three unown floated silently behind them, blinking their single eyes as they stared from the meowstic to the mew. Switch was doing the same, equally stunned at Retro's question.

            "I... I'm not sure that's the best idea," said Switch.

            Retro craned her neck round to fix him with a raised eyebrow. "Why not? He's not got anything to lose if he can't catch it."

            The skin above Switch's beak crinkled but he said nothing, instead looking to Vector who let out a sigh and shrugged.

            "Fine, I can give it a go," he said.

            "Wonderful!" Retro rose from her seat with a flourish.

            Switch looked uncertain, like he wanted to say something else. But whatever it was vanished as his phone rang loudly. He gave an irritated sigh and edged towards the back of the room, crouching down as low as he could go.

            "Do excuse me," he said. "I need to change since... well... I can't reach it."

            Safely out of the way, he took on his human form and sat – uncomfortably – beside the entrance to the tunnels. He raised both eyebrows at his phone and answered it.

            "Hey, N00b."

            N00b's voice was frantic, chilling Pixel to the core. "Switch? I'm sorry. I can't find you."

            "We're beneath a mound," Switch explained. "It's covered by cracks so you might not see it."

            "I can't see anything! The whole jungle is buried under those things. I'm sorry, Switch. I really wanted to tell you this in person. Are you with Pixel?"

            "Yes, and you're on speaker phone. I have no choice, I'm afraid. It's tight in here." His voice softened when he heard the lillipup whimper. "What's up?"
            "It's Leaf..." the terrier pokemon choked. "We got out of the car and he kicked an egg shell. He caught the virus, there was nothing I could do!"
            Switch's face fell and Pixel slammed her paws into her mouth, biting down on her knuckles as she tried to stem the tears that flowed from her eyes. She could hear Retro beside her as she wailed out a 'No!' and slumped back into her seat.

            "Did you get him to a hospital?" Switch asked.

            "They wouldn't be able to do anything," N00b explained. "He just... burst into flames."
            Pixel couldn't believe it. She shook her head, backing away from Switch, wanting to put as much distance between herself and reality as she could. Her back brushed against Vector and she felt his warm arm wrap around her, pulling her into him until her face was buried into his chest. She could hear Retro's sobs from the desk beside her, and it only served to worsen her own. Her claws wrapped into Vector's ruff and her body shook as tears flowed down her cheeks and soaked into his fur.

            "I'm really sorry," N00b sobbed. "I'm afraid he's dead." He took in a rattly breath and his voice came out clearer. "I'm gonna take Nybble and Byte back to Spool with me. If you need us... we'll be there. Take care, Switch. All of you. Please."

            Switch was silent for a moment, but she couldn't see what he was doing. She daren't look up. N00b's voice rang out again, shouting Switch's name. Finally, the human answered.

            "Don't worry, buddy. We will. Drive safe. Land if you need to."

            She heard the phone cut off. A ruffle of feathers as Switch returned to his pokemon form. But she didn't look up.

            'If the virus turns a pokemon into a type it's weak against, there's no way to save their life.'

            Vector brushed a paw over her back and she clung tightly to him as she gave in to her tears, a low wail coming from deep in her chest.

            Nothing they could do.

            The virus had claimed one more.
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              #31    
            Old May 15th, 2017 (6:56 AM).
            Delirious Absol's Avatar
            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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              30 - Heartache

              The cavern had fallen into silence. Retro had retired to her room to be alone, leaving Pixel and her friends to find their own rooms. The unown, Amp, had led them down the narrow tunnel quietly, leaving Pixel at her door. Before he left, he quickly gave his condolences and promised he'd be back soon with something to eat.

              She had no appetite.

              The room was small, its décor consisting of nothing more than a neatly made bed and a dusty chest of drawers with a mirror hanging above it. The window was misted over with dirt, making it nigh impossible to see outside. It wouldn't have surprised her if these rooms had been here long before Retro had moved in. Maybe the unown had lived with other pokemon who had unfortunately contracted the virus, but she had no desire to ask.

              She gave the bed one small glance before she returned to the door, slipping out into the corridor. Unlike Retro, she didn't want to be alone, and she hated the thought of her poor friend being alone at a time like this. The mew had taken the same tunnel to get to her room. All she had to do was check which one it was.

              As she passed by the room across from her, Vector shifted towards the door, his blue eyes wide with concern. He didn't say anything, however. Just watched her as she passed by his door. She resisted the urge to throw herself into his arms again, instead wrapping her arms tightly around herself. She needed to find Retro. She had to know she was okay. As she moved further down the tunnel she could feel his eyes on her back but she tried her best to tune it out as she glanced through the next few doors. The rooms were empty.

              Retro's room was situated towards the end of the tunnel, a soft light coming through the one clean window in the whole tunnel. She could see the mew's pink form huddled up on the bed, her face pressed into a pillow that she had clutched tightly in her arms. The window above the bed was also clean with a clear view of the jungle floor where she could see ferns waving gently in the breeze.

              A few muffled sobs were audible through the door, stabbing Pixel like daggers. She bit her lip to stifle her own tears and pushed the door open.

              "Retro?"

              The mew's sobs paused as she looked up at her with tear-filled eyes. "Pixel?"

              Pixel stood staring at her for a heartbeat then closed the door behind her. "I'm sorry. You... you can't be alone..."

              Her voice choked off and she diverted her gaze around the room. The soft light was coming from a stack of colourful cubes on her desk. A strange lamp she'd never really understood since it seemed to make everything look the wrong colour.

              Retro pushed herself up on one arm while still clutching the pillow in the other and fixed her large blue eyes on the mawile.

              "I can't believe it," she choked out.

              Pixel shook her head sharply and scooted over to her, joining her on the bed. "Neither can I..."

              Retro deposited her pillow beside her and let her head rest on Pixel's shoulder. The mawile looped a paw around her and hugged her tight, her eyes drifting once again to her desk. There, facing the bed, was a photo frame. The same picture as the one Leaf had in his bedroom. The mew was floating behind him with her paws clasped over his eyes, the both of them laughing. She could almost hear it as her mind went back to that day, long before the virus appeared.

              Retro's small voice drew her attention back to her. "I never got to tell him, you know."

              Pixel felt her heart would break and she ran her small paw over the mew's shoulder. She'd known. It had been obvious to her.

              "Before I left with Nano and Chip," Retro went on, "I wanted to tell him how I felt. But I was worried it might damage things. He was one of my best friends, and I didn't want to just leave it in the air like that."

              "That's understandable," said Pixel. "And you couldn't have known." Her voice choked again and she wiped a tear away from her eye.

              "No." Retro took in a ragged breath and wiped her paw across her face. "Just promise me something, Pixel?"

              The mawile tried to look down at her, but her muzzle brushed her pink ear instead. "Hmm?"

              "Don't put it off like I did."

              "What do you mean?" Pixel loosened her grip slightly so she could see the mew's face.

              Retro shifted so was sitting up and leant back against the wall, holding the pillow to her chest. She wiped at her eyes and face to dry them and took a steadying breath. It was a relief to Pixel to see she looked more settled now, but her nose scrunched up slightly as she stifled a fresh flow of tears.

              "I've seen the way you and Vector look at each other," she said. "Even though you've only been here a little while and I don't know him well at all, I've known you since we were hatchlings. It's obvious. I know that virus is running rampant, it's a dangerous world right now, but don't leave it. You'll both regret it."
              She hugged the pillow tightly and let herself fall sideways as she curled up into a tight ball. Pixel watched her, her words stinging at her chest. Fresh tears stung her eyes and she looked away from the sobbing mew.

              "You shouldn't be worrying about me right now." She scooted closer to her and ran a paw over her ears.

              Retro discarded the pillow and pulled her down into a crushing hug, letting her tears soak through her fur. Pixel fastened her arms around her and joined her, sobbing between her ears.

              ...

              Vector twiddled his thumbs together, his eyes going back and forth from the door. Switch's feathered form was huddled up on the bed, breathing softly as he slept. Vector had refused to go to his own room. He didn't trust himself. He knew he'd likely go looking for Pixel even though he knew she'd gone to see Retro. They both needed time to themselves, but he was worried sick.

              The recent events hurt him as well, but what hurt him even more was knowing she was hurting. He wanted to hold her, to comfort her. To make everything better, but that wasn't remotely within his power.

              But there was something he might be able to do...

              If there was any way he might be able to stop this happening again, then...

              He stared down at his paws. Those same paws that had erased those cracks.

              'I'm thinking... that if you can erase those cracks... can you erase the virus?'

              Retro's question ran through is mind, and not for the first time. The more he'd thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. And the more he thought about what Pixel and her friend were going through, the more he wanted to try it.

              He couldn't make everything better, but if he could help provide any hope that this virus wasn't the be all and end all, then he'd do that. Even if it killed him.

              And with the effect erasing the cracks had on his body, then it very well might.

              He rose to his feet and shuffled towards the door. No sooner had the catch clicked open, Switch lifted his head and fixed two, small yellow eyes onto the back of his head.

              "Vector? Where are you going?" His voice wasn't the slightest bit pleased.

              "Don't ruffle your feathers," Vector grunted. "I'm just going to find those two unown." When Switch didn't answer he turned his head to look at him. "The ones with the virus."

              Switch's eyes widened slowly as a look of realisation crossed his features. "You can't be serious?"

              Vector turned away from him and stepped out of the door. Rustling feathers followed after him as Switch's talons scraped and skittered over the floor.

              "Retro isn't in any state to let you in there," Switch told him.

              "I didn't say I was going to ask her."

              Switch clicked his beak together in frustration, but he didn't stop following after him as he checked each of the rooms they passed. The windows weren't clean enough to see clearly inside, but Vector could tell they were empty save for the sparse furniture. Each room was closed off by a steel door that sported a lock the likes of which he'd never seen except in history books. Ones that needed a metal key to open, rather than a card and reader.

              Once he reached the end of the tunnel, he could hear Pixel and Retro's conversation. Well, not all of it. Some of it was lost behind the door. He tuned it out and kept pressing forward. Surely all the rooms couldn't be empty? This was the only tunnel out of the main cavern besides the one that lead to the kitchen.

              As he checked the final room he was about to give up. Maybe he'd not seen through the windows clearly enough to spot the two unown? But that thought was shattered when he spotted two shapes propped up against the left wall in a room that had nothing more than a bed and set of drawers situated beside each other. With a new energy, he tried the handle.

              Locked.

              A frown twisted his features and he stood back from the door, preparing to blast it open with a counter attack.

              "Wait." Switch lay a wing on his shoulders and the meowstic stood aside. "You don't want to smash it open. Let me try."

              "What can you do?" Vector asked. "You go human in this place you'll break your neck."

              "I have my ways."

              "What, you gonna burn it down?" Vector folded his arms and snorted. "Might as well have just let me bust the lock off. It would have been less messy."

              "I was going to pick the lock with a talon," said Switch. "But if you really think blowing the door up is going to win you some brownie points then go ahead."

              Vector waved a paw at him and looked away, his eyes going to the door three rooms down. Closed. He couldn't hear their conversation from here. Good. He didn't want to get caught up in it.

              The only sound that reached him was the scraping of Switch's talon in the lock. It twanged away at something inside, something that sounded like a spring. After a few moments it snapped. A soft chunk made his ears stand on end and he looked back at the door and the rather jubilant talonflame.

              Switch threw the door open and gestured with his wing. "Voila!"

              "Well done." Vector struck his side with a paw then went inside.

              "I think that was sarcasm," said Switch.

              "You can think what you want."
              The two unown lay against the wall. The G's body looked like stone, while the K was almost entirely water, its form preserved in what he could only describe as frozen time. The very tip of its tentacle had a water drop hanging from it, motionless, while beneath it was a puddle that he felt if he touched would be solid.

              "I really don't think we should be here, Vector," said Switch. "Not while Retro is like this."

              "As sad as it is that Leaf died, Switch, the virus is still out there taking lives." Vector looked over his shoulder at him. "Besides, you're the one who unlocked the door."

              "Only because I didn't want you blasting it off its hinges."

              Vector shrugged and looked back down at the unown. "Believe it or not I'm more accurate with counter than you think."

              The meowstic crouched down before the two unown. Close up they appeared to only be sleeping, which was technically the case. He didn't know much about unown, but they could hibernate quite deeply. So much so their bodies just... stopped working. It was an odd way to think about it. To stop working sounds like they basically died, but that wasn't the case. It was a form of stasis. Like every other pokemon, unown were mortal – the virus was clear enough evidence of that – but they had this weird ability to just sleep away time.

              It might be described by some as a form of time travel, but in real time. However, for the unown, they'd go to sleep then wake up again over a hundred years later.

              That would certainly explain the locks and rather old fashioned look of the place.

              He had a million questions he wanted to ask about it. How did they wake up? Did someone have to wake them, or did they just know? How old were they really? (Physically, not chronologically).

              It would all have to wait.

              He held out one paw, staring down at his pads as he flexed his claws. He couldn't deny he was apprehensive. There was a distinct possibility this wouldn't even work. Even if it did, it could kill him. Every time he removed one of those cracks it just worsened his condition. Made him weaker. The same went for the moves he knew. Every counter or mirror coat was just one step further to never waking up again.

              But he wasn't doing this for himself. Not any more. He was doing this for Pixel, Retro, and every other pokemon who was either suffering the virus or worried about their loved ones.

              If he hadn't designed that bomb, if he hadn't come up with the stupid idea to set it off inside the Fracture, none of this would have happened.

              He placed his paw on the body of the unown G, cold stone penetrating his soft pads.

              Crack!

              The stone vanished in a flash, similar to how the cracks just vanished. The unown's single eye flew wide open, fixing on the meowstic's face. The unown flew into the air, circling above them as it darted around the room, shouting something that fell on deaf ears.

              Vector was exhausted.

              He fell sideways, holding himself up with a trembling arm. Warm blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth which he weakly wiped away.

              Switch said nothing. He moved closer to him, looking from him to the unown then to the one still frozen in time.

              There were more voices now. Retro and Pixel, and the other unown as they bolted into the room, only to be forced back out by the mew. But Vector didn't process what they were saying. He just sat staring at the poor unown K.

              So the doctors were right. He did have the cure.

              A heavy lump rose in his throat as he realised there was no possible way he'd survive long enough to deliver it to everyone.
              __________________
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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
              Upcoming fanfics for 2017! System:Reboot
              Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
              'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
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                #32    
              Old May 16th, 2017 (11:35 PM).
              Delirious Absol's Avatar
              Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                31 - Experiment

                Cracks zigged, zagged, ducked and wound throughout the towns and small cities at the northern end of the Backbone Mountain. Hertz watched the Marowak silently as he paced back and forth, muttering things to Mirror who repeated them back as he jotted them down on his computer tablet. Bootstrap was particularly interested in the cracks – where they came from and what exactly they did. Hertz couldn't say he was interested. His feelings on the matter were deeply rooted in fear. Those things contaminated whatever they touched. That much was proven by every pebble, wood or other solid object the marowak tossed at them. They glided through, coming out the other end shrouded by that strange jibberish that rose into the air like steam.

                But the gallade's mind was elsewhere. Focused on locating that meowstic. He was beginning to wonder if he was clutching at straws. If hunting him down was no more fruitful than tossing rocks at those anomalies. Regardless, he'd sent Sample and Mono on the hunt. How they travelled towards the rogue drifting continent was up to them. He'd tried all he could think of, even going so far as to ask a mental health patient to help him.

                He mentally face-palmed at that one. That poor girl was in no state to help him. Not to mention her pokemon form was about as good at flying as he was swimming, and that was to say not very. Sure, he could swim a little, but then his body would complain and his paws would go numb, and more often than not he'd have to be rescued by a life guard.

                Bootstrap's cry of surprise drew him violently out of his thoughts and he brought the marrowak and wobbuffet into focus. The pair of them seemed to be cheering.

                They'd found one.

                One of the black cracks that makes whatever touches it disappear.

                Bootstrap rushed to his van and dragged a heavy piece of machinery back out with him. Hertz knew exactly what it was. It was a computer. The monitor was attached to one end, mounted on a detachable frame and connected to the contraption by a cable. A long, winding camera protruded from the other end on a flexible neck which was controlled by the touch screen computer.

                Bootstrap wanted to see what was on the other side of those cracks, and whether or not this would work remained to be seen. They'd already seen what damage these cracks could do to their world. They either shattered things or distorted them.

                The marowak removed the tablet and controlled the machine to move towards the anomaly. The camera flexed up and down until it was level with it, then inched forwards carefully. Hertz wound his paws together as he watched it with anxious eyes.

                Surely, just like everything else, the machine would suffer.

                The long camera reached the crack, and sure enough the neck distorted and twisted. Bootstrap swore under his breath but then his eyes widened and he grabbed the gallade by the wrist.

                "Hertz! Mirror! Look at this!"

                The two pokemon peered over his shoulder at the monitor. There, on the screen, was the camera's footage. Distorted, and virtually unreadable.

                "It's damaged, Bootstrap," said Hertz.

                "Maybe so, but it's got footage of... of... is it a world?"

                "Is it our world?" Mirror asked. "It could just be what it was sending back before it entered."

                Hertz was about to agree, but there was one thing missing.

                "There's no cracks," he said. "It can't be our world."

                Buildings stretched out as far as he could see on the monitor, and beyond that what looked like a mountain structure. It was hard to see since the whole scenery was marred by that strange code. @ signs and ampersands, exclamation and question marks, amongst other things filled the screen in neat rows, changing before their eyes so fast it was almost headache inducing.

                "We can't see anything else," said Bootstrap. "The neck won't work."

                "But it's still something," said Mirror. "I mean... is there a chance that could be the human world?"

                Hertz's eyes widened at the thought. "You mean there might be a way to send them back?"

                It wasn't possible. Was it? That these cracks may actually lead to the human world? His heart was racing. If this was true, then that meant every missing pokemon might be in the human world. All they had to do was let them pass through these cracks. The ones that made things seemingly vanish.

                "I don't know," Bootstrap finally said. "If it is their world... then what if it actually looks like this?"

                Hertz stared once again at the monitor. At that strange code. Those buildings and mountain shrouded in it.

                The image now unsettled him.

                "What if that's where the virus has come from?" As the words left his mouth, the marrowak and wobbuffet looked at him.

                "I was thinking the same thing." Bootstrap looked up at his machine and let out a hefty sigh. "It looks like the Fracture may have done more damage than we initially thought."

                Mirror scratched his head and exchanged glances with the gallade.

                "Do you think..." Mirror glanced back down at the computer. "Do you think it destroyed their world?"

                Bootstrap let out another flustered sigh. "I think it's a very high possibility, yes. But since the crack may have interfered with our computer, we won't know for certain."

                ...

                Pixel was completely and utterly stunned.

                The unown G was still flying around the room, his cries a combination of surprise, fear and joy. Retro was trying to calm him, to get him out of the room to safety, but to no avail. When Switch had tried to herd him out with a large wing, Gyro had just struck him with a flash of light and knocked him back into the wall. In the end, Switch had excused himself to keep the other three unown company in the tunnel.

                The poor unown was completely overwhelmed, and would occasionally dart down from the ceiling to examine his friend. The unown K was still deeply asleep, still formed of motionless liquid.

                And as far as Retro was concerned, still posed a threat to the unown who hadn't been proven immune.

                Vector sat staring at the unown K with a look of bewilderment on his face. His breath was coming in quick bursts and his entire body was trembling.

                Pixel couldn't blame him. Knowing he had this ability the whole time must have come as quite a shock. It had certainly surprised her.

                "Gyro! Please!" Retro implored. "You need to leave this room before you-"

                "No!" The unown paused beside the K and placed a tendril on their watery body, fixing his lone eye on Vector. "Not until you cure her, too!"
                Retro's paws were clasped tightly over her mouth, but as they watched Gyro, waiting anxiously for the virus to take hold once more, nothing happened.

                Retro lowered her paws, her blue eyes impossibly wide. "You... you're immune now?"

                Gyro looked up at Retro, then at his tendril, seemingly unaware he'd been touching his contaminated friend. He snatched it back then stared at it in bewilderment.

                Retro turned her attention onto Vector, who was now staring at his paws with a look that matched the unown's perfectly.

                "I don't understand," Retro muttered. "Maybe you just can't have this virus twice? Getting over it leaves you with the ability to fight it off?"
                Pixel wound the hem of her scarf around her paws, not taking her eyes off the two unown. "I don't..."

                As her voice trailed off, Retro looked down at her. "How did you find out you were immune, Pixel?"

                "I was grabbed," she said. "By what I thought was a virus victim. They were slimy and grabbed my ankle with a tentacle."

                The mew's eyes went from Pixel to Vector, but her question was still aimed at the mawile. "And nothing happened to you?"

                "No... I was fine."

                Retro made a thoughtful noise and scratched her ear. "I wonder if this has anything to do with you? Vector?"

                The meowstic snapped back to reality at the sound of his name. It took a moment for recognition to register in his eyes as he processed the mew's question.

                "What?" He raised an eyebrow. "You think I made her immune?"

                Retro shrugged and looked down at herself. "Well, I really don't know. I found I was immune myself, so it's not impossible that Pixel is too. So I didn't think much of it. But seeing Gyro touch someone with the virus and come back clean, after only having it himself a few minutes ago, makes me wonder if you're carrying some kind of antibody."

                Vector stared at his paws again. The look on his face was clear he wasn't disagreeing with Retro, but it was certainly hard to believe.

                A soft tap at the door drew their attention and the small form of Amp bobbed before the glass.

                "I have an idea!" he said, loud enough to be heard clearly.

                Retro floated towards the door. "What is it?"

                "Vector can remove the virus, right?" Amp began. "So if he were to touch me, then I touched K and came back clean, we'd know if he acts as a sort of vaccine. If I catch it, he can wipe it away."

                Retro shook her head slowly, then more dramatically and screwed her eyes shut. "No! What if you become a type you're weak to? Like bug or dark? I can't allow that!"

                "Calm down, m'lady!" Amp exclaimed. "There's eighteen pokemon types! I could become one of fourteen more if I don't stay the type I am now! The odds are hardly against me."

                Retro was silent, hugging her arms across her chest as she stared at the door, no longer looking at the exclamation. Pixel didn't know what to say. Part of what Amp had said made sense, but at the same time it was a huge risk, and they'd lost a close friend already.

                "I agree with him," said Vector. "It's a risk, but it's worth it."

                Retro craned her neck to look over her shoulder, her eyes narrowed dangerously. "What?"

                Vector didn't look up at her. Instead he was still staring at his paw. "I don't know why I'm like this. I don't understand this ability. Why I can remove cracks and wipe the virus. But if I can save lives by acting as a vaccine then we need to know that. Don't we?"

                Retro didn't say anything, but the look of anger had left her face.

                "We've already lost a good friend today," he went on. "If there's a way to prevent losing more lives then I'm willing to try it."

                The room fell into silence again. Retro looked like she wanted to say something while she warred with conflicting emotions of anger and relief that there might be a solution. The silence was only broken when X joined Amp at the window.

                "I would also like to be a part of this x-periment!"

                Retro looked back at the door then sighed. "Okay. But... be careful. If anything seems wrong, then back out."

                Before she'd finished her sentence, the door opened and the two unown flew into the room, followed by Switch and a very nervous Alarm. The little A bobbed beside Retro's shoulder, her body trembling as she watched her two friends take on a massive risk.

                Amp went first, letting Vector touch what one would assume was his head, then X. They stood beside K together then looked at each other.

                "Ready?" Amp asked. "We'll do it on three!"

                "That makes things x-tremely tense. I think it should be random."

                Amp let out a flustered sigh and rolled his eye. "Fine. Be as random as you like."

                "No... wait!" Switch stretched out a wing to stop the unown, but he was too late.

                X struck the K with a tendril. Every breath in the room froze, throwing it into complete silence. Amp's eye widened with surprise as his own tendril froze in mid-air, but the X's body stayed as oily black as ever.

                "Oh wow," said X. "I'm okay. I honestly did not see that one coming."

                Amp let his breath out and closed his eye, letting his 'hand' touch the K's side.

                Nothing happened.

                "I don't believe it." Retro slumped to the floor as every muscle in her body relaxed. "They're okay."

                Switch's beak was hanging open. "Amazing... I..." He rubbed his head with his wing and slumped to the floor.

                Pixel's heart was pounding. She turned her attention to Vector who was staring at the unown and shaking his head.

                All this time the doctors had been right. Somehow, in some way, Vector had an antidote.

                The trembling little unown A bobbed towards him, sliding her body under his arm. He glanced down at her just as she darted away from him to quickly touch her contaminated friend. Her scream pierced the room, making everyone leap to their feet and Retro to let out a distressed yell.

                Nothing.

                A stood beside the K, her body shaking entirely as she stared at her right tendril.

                "Good grief, Alarm!" Amp exclaimed. "You almost gave me a premature heart attack!"

                "Yes, that was x-tremely unnecessary," said X. "Look what you've done to Retro. She's gone as pale as a froslass."

                Retro sobbed into her paws then took in a long, trembling breath as she looked back up at her friends.

                "I don't believe it," she said again. "There's an answer."

                "I'm not so sure," said Switch. "Something doesn't add up. The unown might just be immune."

                "They can't be!" said Retro. "There are too many cases of pokemon catching this virus. For three to be immune out of five makes no sense."

                "But thinking back, Leaf touched him." Switch nodded to Vector. "I so wanted this to work, but I've thinking back to see if we'd missed anything. We had. He carried him."

                Pixel felt her heart sink. "He's right. When we first got Vector onto Cyan Island, he was unconscious and Leaf tried to carry him."

                "And you didn't remember this before?!" Retro took a calming breath then shook her head and looked at the unown. "I don't know... the evidence is right there..."

                "It might just be a coincidence," said Switch. "Unless it only works while he's awake?"

                Switch didn't sound like he believed his last statement, but something deep inside Pixel's mind believed it. Or maybe she just wanted to. It was rather farfetched, but so was the idea that one pokemon alone could erase the virus and delete the cracks.

                "Well..." Retro floated back into the air and made for the door. "At least... we know... none of us can catch it."

                The rest of the unown darted after her, muttering words of concern. But Gyro stayed behind, looking from the door to his frozen friend and back.

                "Wait!" he shouted. "What about K?!"

                Pixel moved towards Switch as he held the door open, but the both of them paused to look back at Vector, still sitting on the floor and eyeing the contaminated unown. She placed a paw on her chest as she felt something flutter inside her and tried to suppress it. Now wasn't the time.

                "Vector?" she said.

                His ear flicked back to them but he didn't look up.

                "Are you coming?" Switch asked.

                "Just give me a minute," Vector said.

                Switch nodded and stood aside to let Pixel past. Once in the tunnel, Switch looked down at her and sighed.

                "I really want to believe he's got some kind of vaccine," he said. "But it doesn't make sense that Leaf caught it."

                "No." Pixel wound her scarf around her paw then followed after the talonflame. "I don't understand it either."

                ...

                When the door clicked shut, Vector didn't so much as flinch.

                It didn't make sense. Was the world becoming immune to the virus on its own? There was no evidence to support that. The world was crumbling under those cracks. New pokemon got the virus every day. Towns and cities had been vacated. Sectioned off as contaminated areas. Even if exposure to a virus victim made one immune it didn't make sense. He'd heard of doctors catching it simply for not being thorough enough in avoiding it. Tears in hazmat suits. Problems with decontamination showers. Touching a contaminated suit. Or just walking home and... catching it from the very ground.

                It didn't make sense.

                He needed to find out somehow. In some way. But he couldn't do it himself if he was unconscious... could he?

                The unown G was still waiting. Watching him silently, his eye flitting from him to his friend and back.

                Finally, Vector let out a long breath as he pushed himself up. He still felt weak. His chest was still rattling.

                "If I collapse," he told the unown, "go and find the talonflame and tell him to throw me at the cracks."

                The G's eye flew wide open. "What?"

                "Just the talonflame. Don't tell anyone else."

                Gyro made a gesture that Vector took as a shake of the head. "No. No, if you're going to faint then leave her! She's fine. She'll be fine..."

                "I want answers." Vector wheezed slightly and leant against the wall. "Is there another way out without being seen? One he could fit through?"

                The unown looked to the window and Vector followed his gaze. A mucky window not much bigger than him. Switch would have problems squeezing through that even in his pokemon form.

                But he might be able to get through it before he passed out. If he was quick. If he could even make it.

                "Open it," he said.

                The unown hesitated, then nodded. When he turned his back, Vector stooped to place a paw on the K.

                Crack!

                "What?!" The K's eye blinked open and she flew into the air. "Krikey! I'm k-k-kold!"

                What she said didn't even register in Vector's head. He could barely see where he was going. He was aware of the K flying around him. Aware of the tone of her voice that dropped from excitement to worry. Aware of Gyro by the window asking him over and over if he was okay.

                Of course he wasn't okay. He'd barely reached the window when the ground started to give way. He tumbled over the windowsill and landed in a crumpled heap in a bed of ferns.

                The last think he noticed was the web of cracks above him, their ultraviolet light almost blinding as his world went black.
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                  #33    
                Old May 19th, 2017 (12:56 AM).
                Delirious Absol's Avatar
                Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                  32 - A Risky Plan

                  "You absolute idiot!" Switch snapped. "What were you thinking?!"

                  Vector wasn't in the mood for his tone. His head hurt, and he groaned as he placed a paw above his eyes. Had he hit his head on something? He couldn't remember.

                  "Where am I?" he mumbled.

                  "Your room," said Switch. "The unown have been bringing berries into it by the bucket load for the past hour."

                  Vector ventured to open one eye. Switch was crouching as a talonflame beside five heaping plates of berries. Bucket load was clearly an over-exaggeration.

                  "How long have I been out?" he asked.

                  "Oh, I don't know." Switch rolled his eyes. "What time did you decide to jump through the freaking window?!"

                  "It's not like we're miles up off the ground!" Pain radiated through Vector's head again and he placed a paw back over his eyes. "Give me a break. I was doing an experiment."

                  "Seeing if you could bounce?"

                  "No! Trying to find out if I need to be conscious to erase those cracks!"

                  Switch's beak snapped shut and he stared at the meowstic for a moment. The silence drew Vector's eye onto him and he sighed.

                  "What was the result?" Vector asked.

                  "They were all still there," Switch told him. "A small net of them just below the window. They curved up towards the sky which was how I was able to drag you out without touching them. I was too worried to really process that you fell through them if I'm honest."

                  Vector clenched his teeth together as he pushed himself up. "So that answers it then."

                  Switch rushed to the bed and adjusted the pillow so the meowstic could lean back against the wall.

                  "That explains why Leaf caught it," Vector went on. "I have to be conscious, don't I?"

                  He found a plate of berries deposited on his lap and absently picked one from it.

                  "I guess so." Switch shrugged then let out a sigh. "Things just keep getting more and more complicated."

                  "I'd say they're getting simpler, but whatever." Vector took a huge bite from the sitrus berry and grimaced at its sour flavour. "I mean... we now understand why Leaf caught it when Pixel and the unown didn't." He looked at Switch, now crouching on the floor, out of the corner of his eye. "And we know that even if humans do eventually catch it that you won't."

                  Switch made a thoughtful noise and gazed at the top of the wall. "Good point."

                  "But it's not just being unconscious that causes it to fail," said Vector.

                  Switch snapped round to look at him again. "What do you mean?"

                  "I remember seeing those cracks above my head," Vector explained. "It's very vague, but... it seems to be if I'm in the process of passing out then it won't work."

                  "Oh, I don't understand that at all," said Switch. "I don't even understand why you need to be awake either, but there we go."

                  "Neither do I," said Vector. "And I guess we'll never know."

                  He finished off the sitrus berry then chose his next one carefully, selecting a maranga from beneath a heap of pecha berries. As he took a bite out of it, finding it much more pleasant, he turned his attention back to the talonflame.

                  "Who else knows what happened?"

                  "No one," said Switch. "Gyro told me you'd demanded he only tell me, so I kept it to myself. Pixel and Retro have no idea, and Gyro told the rest of the unown to keep it under their metaphorical hats." He paused. "X found that very amusing. I think he might be stringing it into a new pun."

                  "Well, you need to have some humour these days or you'd just cry."

                  Vector tried to push himself up but Switch leapt to his feet and shoved him back down with a wing.

                  "Where do you think you're going?"

                  Vector blinked at him. "I was getting up."

                  "Not a chance. You need rest."

                  Vector closed his eyes and pushed his wing aside. "I have stuff I need to do."

                  "Oh really?" Switch's beak crinkled into a frown. "Like what? Force yourself to faint again?"

                  Vector stared into Switch's livid, yellow eyes then shrugged. But before he could say anything, Switch waved him off.

                  "K is beside herself right now," he explained. "When she found out you curing her caused you to black out she genuinely thought you'd died! She blamed herself! Of course I didn't tell her it had anything to do with that because I wanted to put her mind at rest, so I had to tell her it just makes you rather tired and you overdid it. Not quite a lie, but I'm still not happy about it. However, there was no way I was going to tell her that curing the virus and erasing those cracks is slowly killing you!"

                  Vector narrowed his eyes into a leer and his words came out slowly, laced with a warning. "I never told you that."

                  "No. But when you told me you were dying I just strung the two together. The evidence is all there, Vector. And to be perfectly honest, until we can find some way to do that without it draining your life away, I think you should stop." Switch turned his tail on the meowstic and strutted to the far end of the room where he lay down against the wall.

                  Vector was silent as he stared at the talonflame, watching as Switch tucked his head beneath one of his large wings. It was too much to ask. Retro and Pixel wouldn't be the only ones to lose family or close friends, and they certainly weren't the first. Other pokemon would experience that heartbreak, or already had. What the world needed was hope. Hope that there was an end to all this. No, he couldn't quit now. Too much was at stake.

                  "I can't just stop," he said.

                  "Why not?" came Switch's muffled voice.

                  "Because the world is suffering and for some reason I can neutralise it."

                  "Well I'm not happy that we rescued you from doctors who planned to risk your life to find a cure, and you're now doing the exact same thing!" Switch snapped his head back up, the feathers along his neck erect like red daggers. "We saved your life and now you're just going to throw it away by saving part of the population?! There's no way you're going to survive long enough to get the antibodies to everyone, especially not if wiping two pokemon clean causes you to pass out with exhaustion!"

                  Vector stared back down at the plate of berries, his appetite wiped out as he tried to control his temper. Switch's words had struck a raw nerve, but the human had a strong point.

                  There really was no point. He needed a better plan.

                  "No," he said flatly. He pushed the plate to the side and slipped from the bed, giving the talonflame one last sideways glance as he made for the door. "I guess you're right."

                  ...

                  Pixel moved through the tunnel, feeling a lot better after a nap. She was hoping to find Vector and Switch and make sure they were okay and as she reached their room she found the door open. The bed was unmade but empty, and she spotted the dozing talonflame curled up in the far corner, his head buried beneath his wing. A small smile played at her lips and she pulled the door to quietly.

                  When she strode into the main cavern the only pokemon there were the unown, busying away at their computers. The newly revived K and Gyro were hovering by the coffee table sipping cups of tea, nattering quietly amongst themselves. They looked up when she entered with smiling eyes.

                  "It's so nice to meet you!" said Gyro. "We never really got a chance to introduce ourselves, did we?"

                  "No, we didn't." Pixel smiled back and clasped her paws behind herself. "I'm Pixel. The two friends with me are Switch and Vector."

                  "Oh, Vector's the one who has the counter virus?" Gyro asked.

                  "Yes, that's him. Retro's been calling them antibodies but... I guess it doesn't really have a name."

                  "Well, it doesn't matter." Gyro closed his eye. "I think you already know this, but you know... manners and all that. I'm Gyro and this is K."

                  The K beamed. "So totally awesome to meet you! And I love your scarf, so kool!"

                  "Thank you!"

                  Pixel absently fondled her scarf as she looked around the room at the unown. So far it was only Gyro who she hadn't picked up an odd vocal trait from. Even Alarm screamed from time to time, which she guessed earned her the name (or nickname) the others called her. She found herself wondering if there'd been more unown living here before the virus hit, or if their group had always been relatively small. Nevertheless she didn't want to ask perchance it was a bit of a sore spot.

                  Her eyes went to the tunnel leading out and she wondered if maybe Vector had passed through here. She hadn't seen him anywhere else in the cavern.

                  "I'm sorry, but I'm looking for Vector," she said. "Have you seen him?"

                  "Saw him a bit ago," said Amp. "He went outside."

                  "Outside?" She placed a paw on her chest and looked back to the exit tunnel. "Did he say where he was going?"

                  "Oh yes, I made sure to ask. He said he wanted to go on the roof," said Amp. "I didn't question why. I mean, it's just a grass mound. It hardly has much of a view. Especially at this present moment. It's mostly just cracks and twisted tree stumps."

                  "Yes, it's hardly x-traordinary," said X. "I would describe it as x-tremely dull and somewhat..."

                  "Distressing?" Gyro offered.

                  "I can't pun that," said X. "Give me time to think of something and I'll get back to you."

                  "Stuck for a pun?!" Amp chuckled and quickly tapped at his computer keyboard which brought up a password locked computer diary. "Please excuse me while I document this momentous occasion!"

                  A smile spread across Pixels face and she let out a small laugh. After quickly thanking the unown she zipped through the tunnel until she ended up at the fork. The path that led upwards had a little light trickling down it which grew brighter the further up she went. Eventually she found herself standing amongst lush, vibrant grass, the odd corrupted code rising up towards the canopy. Most of the mound was free from those cracks, but they criss-crossed and zig-zagged above them like a huge galvantula web.

                  Sitting atop a rocky crag was Vector, his eyes trailing over the cracks with a look in his eyes that Pixel couldn't quite place. It might have been sadness or general weariness. She couldn't deny she was rather fed up with how the world was herself. The world she'd known her whole life was breaking away, and if it continued much longer her whole race might end up extinct... unless they could get the cure. Even then who was to say the cracks wouldn't slowly consume them, reducing their world to nothing?

                  It wasn't until she pulled herself up onto the crag that Vector noticed her, a look of surprise filling his blue eyes. She smiled at him and leant back on her paws.

                  "You looked lonely," she said.

                  That look of surprise melted away to be replaced by a small smile and he copied her, leaning back to look up at those strange cracks.

                  "It's sad isn't it?" he said. "I was hoping to come up here and find it like Luma Island, where I could lie back in the grass and look up at a sky free from all of..." he waved a paw, "this."

                  She watched him stare down at his own paw looking thoughtful for a moment before he clenched it into a fist and let it drop back into the grass. Her eyes followed it, fixing on the steam-like code.

                  "Even if you did erase them," she said, "it wouldn't be much different. You'd still see all this code."

                  He nodded but said nothing, his eyes drifting to the opposite trees. Twisted trunks corkscrewing into the ground, jagged lumps where limbs were once attached, patches of sky visible between shattered branches and ultraviolet jagged lines.

                  "I don't really see the point any more," he said.

                  She looked up at him, her violet eyes wide. "What do you mean?"

                  "Let's face it. There's no way I can erase every trace of the virus and cracks while giving everyone in System this... antibody or whatever it is. And who's to say it's not travelled overseas to the Analog Islands?"

                  That thought had never really hit her before, but now it did so. The sheer notion that this horrible incident might not be contained to System made her sick. Pokemon hadn't even been allowed to leave System for fear of carrying this condition over to the Analog Islands, or further. She'd never considered it could simply go there itself.

                  She hunched forwards and hugged herself, the trees before her eyes unfocusing as her mind went elsewhere.

                  "Don't worry about it, Pixel," said Vector. "I have a plan."

                  She looked up at him with a start. "What? A plan?"

                  He nodded. "Yes. I... think we might be able to kill this virus at its source."

                  She felt her eyes widen and every strand of fur slowly go on end as the realisation of what he was telling her manifested in her mind.

                  "The source?" She shook her head slowly. "Tell me you're not seriously thinking about going into the Fracture?!"

                  "I actually am." When she was about to object again he raised a paw. "Just hear me out. If it originated there, then the source of those cracks might be there. If I can erase them, maybe I can erase the source of it. Which, in theory, would destroy all cracks and any further progression of the virus."

                  "But... pokemon might still have the virus after. It would still be contagious. It would still spread."

                  "They're quarantined. Any further progression can be controlled. Until we can get the cure to them anyway."

                  "So you're saying you'd go into the hospital ward and erase the virus from every patient?"

                  His shoulders went slack and he let out a long breath. "I honestly don't know. But I want to give this a go."

                  Pixel stared down at her paws, a rising dread growing in her chest. "Vector... no one has ever come out of the Fracture. They've sent in drones..."

                  "I know all that. But no one has gone in there with this... condition... before, have they? Or an immunity to the virus. What if I – or we – can go in there and come out completely unscathed?"

                  "I can't erase the cracks like you can. And when the unown touched the virus they didn't erase it either."

                  "Exactly. It didn't effect them." He turned his blue eyes onto her, warm despite their icy colour. "What if the Fracture works in the exact same way? You could walk through that distortion like it were nothing but air."

                  She continued to stare down at her paws as his words washed over her. It made perfect sense, and as absurd as it sounded it was their best shot. If they could indeed destroy the virus at its source then it might save millions of lives in the long run.

                  "Okay." She let out a breath and nodded. "We'll talk to Retro. Maybe she and the unown, even Switch, might be able to help."

                  A soft smile spread across his face and she couldn't help but return it.

                  The initial shock now over, her body relaxed and she let her paws fall back onto the grass. Her right one brushed against Vector's and she felt his paw twitch, hesitating for a moment before he moved it over hers. Her arm tingled as her fur stood on end and she looked down at their interwoven paws before looking back up at him and meeting his warm eyes.

                  Her conversation with Retro came rushing back to her, throwing everything into perspective. The mew wasn't wrong. She had developed feelings for him, but everything that had been going on had stopped her from really acknowledging it. Now they were about to enter the Fracture. If things went wrong, she wouldn't get another chance.

                  In one swift motion she scooted closer to him and caught his lips in hers. She heard his breath catch in his throat as his body went tense, but it was only for a moment as his free paw moved up her arm and around her shoulders, pulling her into him as he deepened the kiss. His claws brushed over her jaw and cheek as he moved her long fur back from her face.

                  He paused for a moment to take in a shaky breath, then released her as his paw went to his chest. The warmth from his eyes had vanished to be replaced with worry and he wound his claws into the grass.

                  "I'm sorry," he said.

                  Pixel was still feeling rather breathless which caused her voice to waver as she asked, "For what?"

                  "I... cant..." He paused to take in another shaky breath. "I've fallen for you, but I..."

                  Pixel's heart was racing as she sat waiting for him to finish. She didn't know what to say, or what to expect. All she knew was the word 'but' rarely brought anything good after a positive statement. Her eyes wandered to the trees, once again taking in the state of the world. But nothing prepared her for Vector's eventual statement.

                  "I'm dying..."

                  Her heart lurched into her throat and she snapped her head round to look at him, her mouth hanging open wordlessly.

                  "I didn't want to tell you," he said. "I was hoping that... we might find a cure and it would get rid of this... whatever it is." He lifted his paws then let them fall back into his lap. "Every time I use one of those stupid attacks it left me with, or erase those cracks, or even the virus, it weakens me."

                  Pixel's eyes flitted left and right as she took all this in. It explained so much. His fainting spells, coughing up blood, his desperation and crankiness to find a cure. How had she not noticed? Tears stung her eyes and she looked away from him, one paw resting on the ground as she fought the urge to get up and walk away. Despite how she felt there was no way she was going to leave him now.

                  "That's why I want to go to the Fracture," he said. "I don't think I would survive erasing many more cracks or helping victims, but if I can erase it at its source then it might get rid of all of it, even if it costs me-"

                  "No." She balled her paws into fists in her lap, but she didn't look up at him. "Don't talk like that."

                  "Pixel, if I can help this world I will, even if it costs me my life." He took in a ragged breath and wiped a paw across his eyes. "It's my fault it ended up like this and I want to put it right."

                  Those words stung her almost as much as his revelation. She looked up at him and frowned. "It's not your fault. Who's to say the virus wouldn't have eventually leaked out anyway?"

                  He seemed to consider this for a moment then shrugged. "Nevertheless, I'm going in and I'm going to find the cause of all this and hopefully destroy it."

                  It was a ridiculously reckless plan, but everything he'd said made sense. The virus came from the Fracture, so whatever was causing it should be inside there, and if this 'antibody' could destroy it then it might just save their world.

                  Hopefully after that they could focus on trying to cure him.

                  She really wanted to see this through. Even if their friends refused to help him, even tried to stop him which she knew he'd ignore, there was no way she was letting him go in there alone.

                  She pursed her lips in thought and leant back on her paws. "Then I'm going with you."
                  __________________
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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
                  Upcoming fanfics for 2017! System:Reboot
                  Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
                  'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
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                    #34    
                  Old May 22nd, 2017 (8:29 AM).
                  Delirious Absol's Avatar
                  Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                  Call me Del
                     
                    Join Date: May 2015
                    Location: UK
                    Age: 32
                    Gender: Female
                    Nature: Quirky
                    Posts: 285
                    33 - System Going Down

                    "No!" Retro retorted. "Absolutely not! It's too dangerous!"

                    This had been the mew's response for the past ten minutes. Since the second Vector had approached her with his idea she'd begun to panic, pacing back and forth while the group of unown and Switch followed her with their eyes.

                    Vector leant against the wall beside the door, his arms folded and his mouth turned into a frown. Pixel knew all too well that no matter what Retro said, he was determined and she wasn't going to stop him. The reason he'd run it by her wasn't only just in case she wanted to help but also because her teleportation would have been a quick way to reach the Fracture. If she weren't going to help him then he'd walk if he had to, and Pixel would walk with him.

                    "None of you are going to the Fracture," Retro said, punctuating with a hard glare right on Pixel and Vector. "You know full well even drones haven't made it back out of that city!"

                    Vector simply shrugged. "If you're going to ignore my facts, then fine. But I'm going."

                    "'Fact' is a very naïve way of wording it, Vector," said Retro. "Since you don't know for a 'fact' that you, or Pixel, will survive passing through the Fracture's wall."

                    "Well, since I'm dying anyway I've nothing to lose, have I?"

                    Those words struck Pixel like a blade and she placed a paw over her chest, diverting her gaze to a blank spot on the wall. Retro was stunned speechless but recovered quickly and finally sat back down.

                    "It's still no reason to be so reckless," she said. "Especially not without testing to see if it would work first."

                    "And how do you plan to test it?" he asked. "Create another much smaller fracture you can stick your paw into? Because you can do that with the cracks and we all know the outcome."

                    "What worries me," Retro began, "is that you can erase the cracks and the virus. Exposure to whatever antibodies you're carrying only makes us immune to the virus and those cracks. Despite being immune the effects are very different. You might survive passing through to the Fracture, but we might not!"

                    Vector shrugged again and kicked back from the wall. "Fine. I'll go alone."

                    Pixel watched him as he moved into the tunnel, then gave herself a sharp shake before following after him.

                    "Vector, wait!"

                    He looked back at her, then his attention was drawn back into the room as the computer monitors flickered off, the monotonous whirr from the fans dying down into silence. Every light blinked out, plunging the cavern into darkness.

                    "What on earth?!" Retro zipped past them, followed by the unown.

                    "What's going on?" Pixel cried as she ran after them.

                    "I don't know!" Retro called back.

                    The mew took the exit to the top of the crag where she darted around in the air, searching the sky for an opening in the cracks. Something was very wrong. Pixel couldn't quite put her paw on it, but something was different.

                    "If you want to go through it, it's no use," said Switch. "The gaps are too narrow."

                    "I'm not trying to go through it," said Retro. "I'm looking for a wide enough space beyond it. Ahah!"

                    The mew vanished in a flash, reappearing as a pink speck beyond the canopy between two black cracks. Despite how far away she was, they could hear her yell of surprise clearly.

                    It was followed by a deep rumble through the earth, growing with intensity until the very trees shook. Pixel was thrown off her feet, landing hard against Vector and Switch. The unown floated behind them, holding the larger pokemon steady as the ground continued to shake.

                    Pixel clutched onto Vector for dear life, her violet eyes wide as she searched the sky for the mew. But there was no sign of her. What was going on?

                    ...

                    It had all happened so fast.

                    N00b had to bring his car to a nose-dive, the front wheels hitting the tarmac with such force it almost threw him from his seat. But there was no time to be worried about any damage to the car. He was more worried about what he'd just witnessed.

                    First, a massive crack appeared out of nowhere, zigzagging its way through the sky towards the ground like an ultraviolet lightning bolt, narrowly missing the nose of his little car. The surprise caused him to lose control of the vehicle has he pulled it up over the crack and down towards the ground rather quickly. His eyes never left the anomaly. He'd seen it take out one of the transmitter posts, warping it into an elaborate knot. It had struck down several buildings before causing an explosion somewhere deep inside Meta City.

                    He'd got his answer quite quickly. Every light blinked out. Every transmitter across System stopped flashing.

                    That crack had taken out System's main control deck. The results alone were enough to tell him that the back-up controls had been wiped out already, leaving all of System to rely on one building to operate every single communications and electronics service across the region.

                    As he was processing this, Nybble let out a terrible shriek. N00b whipped his head around to follow the emolga's terrified eyes and what he saw caused his heart to lurch into his throat.

                    Far in the distance was a floating speck, one of the three drifting continents but which one he couldn't make out. Right now, it was falling. A massive island twice the size of Meta City, plummeting towards the ground.

                    All communications and electrical circuits had been cut off. That meant all three of the drifting continents were no longer held up on their invisible circuits. All three were crashing to the ground, and the damage was going to be catastrophic.

                    ...

                    Hundreds of eyes watched in terror as Luma Island dropped down towards the ocean.

                    Wave City was one of few cities that still operated towards the north of System, carefully dealing with shipments to and from the Analog Islands. The city had experienced a couple of virus outbreaks but being so close to the shore hadn't experienced the worst of the cracks.

                    However, Burst stood amongst the inhabitants of Wave City as he watched his home plummet towards the water. He didn't have enough time to fully process what was happening. Like everyone else, he was trying to turn and run, flapping his wings to give himself momentum into the air.

                    The island struck the ocean, the roar of the water growing in intensity as a huge tsunami rose up into the air, lifting the cargo ships with it. The wall of water crashed back down and engulfed the shore, destroying the villas on the cliff face and spreading out over the city.

                    The staraptor screamed as the water hit him, his voice joining hundreds more before he was engulfed in the tsunami and dragged backwards towards the ocean.

                    ...

                    N00b led the emolga twins down the streets of Spool City. It was much different than when he'd left. The sky was almost filled with black cracks, but fortunately it hadn't been closed off. That had filled him with a little relief at least.

                    As he turned into the familiar alley way, a deep voice drew his attention to the trash cans where a trubbish was peering out at the small city.

                    "What's goin' on?" Kurg asked.

                    N00b paused beside his trash can and tried to catch his breath. "One of the cracks has taken out the main control deck," he gasped out.

                    Kurg raised a brow. "Seriously? Aww, man!"

                    "I need to see if Connor's okay. I'll speak to you later."

                    The lillipup turned and dashed down the alley, but the heavy plopping sound behind him told him the trubbish had left his home to follow after him. N00b struggled to move the heavy manhole cover blocking his only access into Connor's home. A low, involuntary whimper rose from his throat as he pawed at it helplessly.

                    Byte appeared at his right side and stuck his claws beneath the heavy sheet of metal, his eyes scrunching shut as he strained to lift it free. Kurg joined his side and stuck a tentacle beneath it, lifting it almost effortlessly.

                    "You country pokemon ain't got no city strength?" the trubbish snorted.

                    Byte merely gave him a sideways glance before following the lillipup into the sewer.

                    Kurg pulled the cover back into place and dropped down beside the small group, creating a deep, echoing clang as he hit the grate.

                    "Thanks, Kurg," said N00b.

                    The trubbish shrugged. "Ain't nothin'."

                    The group walked in silence over the metal grate, Nybble covering her muzzle with her paws to block out the worst of the smell. Fortunately it wasn't a long distance to the next manhole which was conveniently located right beneath Connor's home. The emolga took in a deep breath when they broke through into clean air.

                    N00b's heart sank as he discovered not a single flicker of light came from Connor's dark computer lab. The only light was the failing sunlight that came in through the dusty windows.

                    "Connor?" he asked.

                    The pikachu's small form appeared in the doorway beside a worried-looking Diode.

                    "What's going on?" Any hint of bitterness had left Connor's voice to be replaced with worry.

                    N00b rushed over to him and threw his paws around his neck, almost knocking him over. The answer died in N00b's throat as he burst into tears, his small body shaking with heavy sobs.

                    "Hey, N00b," said Connor. "Tell me what's going on. And who are these pokemon?"

                    N00b couldn't answer. Everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours now completely overwhelmed him.

                    He felt a paw touch his head and he looked up into the warm, smiling face of Snippet.

                    "Well, look at you," she said. "At least your back safe 'n' sound, hey? And you gone an' brought two new, adorable friends with you. And little Kurg, too!"

                    N00b took in a ragged breath and let his forepaws fall to the ground. "I didn't have much choice. I'm sorry."

                    "Oh now, don't you go sayin' sorry, you poor thing." The leavanny tutted a few times before continuing. "You go an' sit down an' tell us everythin'. Diode's gonna help me with the oven so I can make you's all some soup an' tea. Go upstairs now. It's comfier up there."

                    N00b followed after Connor, keeping his head low and taking steady breaths to avoid bursting into tears again. The room the pikachu led them to was a warm sitting room that had a sofa and two arm chairs stationed around a glass topped coffee table, and a television mounted on the wall.

                    Snippet strode through a door that led into an adjoining kitchen, all the while talking in her thick accent.

                    "Shouldn't be too long now, boys. Diode's pretty quick on firin' up the old oven. Helpful one, thissun. Connor couldn't fry an egg with his electricity, could you, boy?" She chuckled as Connor rolled his eyes. "Guess tha's whatcha get for not practicin' more, hey? But no bother, he's a sweet kid is Connor."

                    She strutted back into the room and placed a tray with seven glasses and a jug of juice on the table. As she poured it out into the glasses, she went on;

                    "In all the years I had you boys here there ain't been one proper fight between yous. Yous been like my own kids. Proper sweet. Can't say I'm not worried sick 'bout Switch, though. Now we can't even contact him 'cos the electricity's gone an' cut out."

                    Kurg accepted a glass and cleared his throat. "That's 'cos one o' them dumb cracks has shot out the control deck. That's what N00b told me anyway."

                    Snippet looked up at him with a start. "Really? Tha's not very considerate is it?"

                    "I don't think them cracks really think 'bout what's considerate."

                    "No." N00b let out a sigh and pushed himself upright. "We saw one of the drifting continents fall after the power went out."

                    Nybble whined loudly and covered her eyes with her paws. "Why?! First we lose Leaf. Now our home."

                    Byte pulled his sister into a hug. "I know. Just be glad we weren't still on it."

                    Snippet looked around at them and covered her mouth. "Oh, my dears!"

                    "It just fell from the sky." N00b stared down at the floor and shook his head. "What's happening to our world?"

                    ...

                    No alarms. No lights.

                    Hertz rushed through the hospital amidst the other doctors and nurses, their panicked voices drumming on his ears as they worried over the quarantine and life support systems.

                    There was no other option. They had to evacuate the building.

                    Bootstrap caught up to Hertz with Mirror on his tail. "What's happened?"

                    "The electricity has been cut off," Hertz explained.

                    "That much is obvious," said the marowak. "Do you know why?"

                    "No one knows why, at least not yet. There's been no possible way to get a message to us. We don't even know if its temporary."

                    "Well we need to think of something and fast. Hundreds of pokemon are relying on the life support systems."

                    Hertz fired him a sideways glare. "Until we get some electricity to securely run both the life support and quarantine systems there is nothing we can do. If one doctor steps paw inside that room and leaves without disinfecting themselves then we're all at risk."

                    The marowak's eyes widened with surprise. "So there are even doctors locked back there?"

                    Hertz gave him a grave nod. "Yes."

                    "Then what do we do? We can't just leave them there! They're clean!"

                    "What we do is we go back to my original plan to find a cure. And as it so happens I had a meowstic in my custody who had suffered the virus but survived it. He may very well provide some kind of solution to this problem." Hertz paused as he took in the marowak and wobbuffet's confused expressions. "Unfortunately he was kidnapped. I have two of my best tracking him down, and I plan to join them."

                    Bootstrap threw his paws wide. "Why didn't you say anything about this?!"

                    "Well, as it must be said, my methods were rather... controversial. But desperate times call for desperate measures." Hertz clasped his paws behind his back and looked at both pokemon in turn. "Now I guess it's time for me to ask you whether you want to join my own little investigation into the virus and help me retrieve this potential cure?"

                    ...

                    A loud screech filled the train's cabin as the wheels ground against the rails while the driver tried to bring the train to a safe halt under the violent shudders that threatened to throw the train off its tracks. The machine had been propelled along with the momentum its speed had provided while the passengers sat in darkness, their screams rivalling with the shrill sound of the wheels. Sample clasped his paws over his ears but it only dulled the break's screeching and the wails from the wartortle beside him. Finally he lurched forwards, propelled from his seat as the train finally came to a sudden stop. At some point the shuddering had ended and he felt Mono tense as the pair of them braced themselves for another earthquake. Instead, a dull flicker came from above them as the emergency lights kicked in, powered by a back-up battery.

                    The two pokemon looked around in bewilderment, their expressions matching those of every single other pokemon on the train. The windows were pitch black, the tunnel outside also plunged into darkness.

                    "We are sorry to announce," came the driver's voice over the intercom, "that the train has lost power. Please move in an orderly fashion to the nearest emergency exit."

                    While the driver repeated himself, Sample pushed himself up and exchanged glances with Mono. Her fluffy ears twitched with worry and she moved along into the crowd, slipping out of the nearest door.

                    The tunnel was crowded and unsettlingly dark. A few pokemon managed to bring up the torches on their phones, chasing away some of the darkness and clearing a path to freedom. Unfortunately, Mono and Sample didn't possess such phones so they found themselves following a group of teenagers in the direction the driver – a hitmonchan – pointed them towards. Apparently it was the fastest way out of the tunnel, and would take about ten minutes to walk.

                    "What do you think happened?" Mono finally asked the exploud.

                    Sample grunted and pulled out his pocket computer. His confusion was only increased when he discovered there was no signal coming through to him.

                    "I've no idea," he said. "And I can't check either."

                    Mono huffed and looked away from him. "Maybe it's the tunnel. See if you can get a signal outside."

                    Lights off. Earthquake. Signal dead. Something had happened and he was convinced it had something to do with those dangerous cracks.

                    The train hadn't been going far. It would have dropped them off at Batch City, the closest they could get to the rogue drifting continent. There they had hoped to find a flier or two who could take them to the island – and hopefully this time not be met with a violent end. He brought up a handy map he'd downloaded, which unfortunately was no longer picking up his GPS. If his guess was right, they were towards the end of the tunnel that joined Batch City Station. Beyond Batch City were a couple of large towns before they ended at the derelict cities, which he knew would be cordoned off with yellow tape.

                    Hopefully the fliers wouldn't mind breaching those boundaries for a little extra cash.

                    "My feet hurt," said Mono.

                    "Stop complaining," grumbled Sample.

                    "I have you know I ain't as young as I used to be!" Mono snapped back. She looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "What are the odds of you carryin' me?"

                    Sample stuffed his computer back into his pocket. "Slim to none. Stop your whining and walk."

                    Mono snorted as Sample sped up and trotted to keep up with him. She started ranting but he tuned it out, focusing instead on the light ahead of them that grew the closer he got to it. Before long, the teenagers in front of him switched off their torches and began to trot towards it with a cheer. Ten minutes had been a bit of a generous guess from the train driver. Before long he was stood outside, looking up at the station before him. The platform was almost bare save for those who had just arrived in the city. Those waiting for the train had their faces set with confusion. Sample guessed a lot of those waiting had left the station to return home. He was guessing every pokemon who had arrived at this city, not counting himself and Mono, actually lived here or in one of the surrounding towns. Ordinarily, pokemon would be intent on moving away from the dangers the Fracture posed to the northern cities, but unfortunately not everyone could afford that luxury. Not to mention the southern cities no longer had the capacity to accommodate them.

                    "So we look for a flier?" Mono asked, slightly breathless.

                    Sample made a non-committal grunt and retrieved his computer. Still no signal. He frowned at it and looked around at the station. Something hadn't quite registered when they'd arrived, but every single light was off. Every single billboard was blank. His eyes fell on a greying simisage stood outside a shop, pulling down the shutters over its windows.

                    "Oi!" He trotted over to the green monkey pokemon who looked up at him with a warm smile.

                    "Oh, hello there!" The simisage's voice wavered with age. "I'm sorry but I've had to close for the day."

                    "I've noticed. What's going on here? Why are all the lights out?"

                    "All I can assume is the power has failed," the shop owner explained. "Everything is out. We can't even get any news to find out why. It just went, see. Did your train fail too?"

                    "Aye, it did," said Mono. "Wonder what's happened?"

                    Sample watched the wartortle move away from him to the platform's edge then looked back at the simisage.

                    "No idea, eh?" The exploud shrugged. "Well, thanks for your time anyway." Just as he turned away he remembered the fliers and looked back at the green monkey. "Oh! Where's the nearest flier depot?"

                    "Just outside the station, but I doubt they'll be available if they can't answer their calls."

                    Sample grit his teeth together as he tutted then quickly thanked the simisage once more. A loud yell came from Mono and the two pokemon span towards her. She stood staring up at the sky, scratching her ears with her claws.

                    "What's the matter now?!" Sample boomed.

                    "I... I can't see the drifting continent."

                    "Well it has gone rogue! Look harder!"

                    "I am!" Mono snapped. She looked back up at the sky, turning on the spot as she searched desperately. "Thing is I can't see either of 'em. Not Cyan or Luma."

                    "Luma would be out over the sea by this point," the simisage offered helpfully.

                    Sample grabbed Mono by her paw and tugged her after him. She gave a yell of disapproval which he ignored as he dragged her down the stairs, allowing her to half-stumble behind him. Once outside he spotted the flier depot, clearly marked by its pidgeot logo, and made a beeline for it. Mono scurried behind him, almost running on all fours.

                    Unfortunately, like the simisage had said, the depot was closing.

                    Sample grabbed the nearest pidgeot by the wing. "Wait! We need you."

                    The pidgeot sighed and rubbed his head feathers. "I'm sorry, but our transmitters aren't working. We have to close."

                    "But we need to reach Cyan Island," he said. "Government business."

                    The pidgeot looked down at the exploud's offered badge and raised an eyebrow. "You haven't noticed?"

                    "Haven't noticed what?" The frustration in Sample's voice was merely met with another raised eyebrow.

                    "It's come down." The pidgeot stared at Sample's shocked face. "Where were you when it hit? The whole city trembled!"

                    Sample looked down at Mono and let his badge drop to his side. Cyan Island had crashed? Did that mean Luma and Magenta had as well? One thing would be for certain. If the meowstic was aboard, he wouldn't have survived that.

                    And with no signal, he couldn't let Hertz know the bad news either.

                    ...

                    Pixel stared up at the sky, barely breathing as she desperately waited for any sign of Retro. Switch, Vector and the unown were also silent, none of them wanting to make a sound perchance they missed any sign of the mew. It felt like an eternity had passed since the earthquake shook the jungle. Not seeing or knowing what had happened to their friend left her feeling physically sick.

                    Then, finally, a hint of pink appeared above the cracks. In a flash, the mew floated before them, her face twisted with worry. Her eyes were distant as her mind was elsewhere. The words she spoke made Pixel feel like she were stuck in a dream.

                    "The drifting continents are gone."

                    Pixel shook herself as the words registered in her mind. "What?"

                    "They're gone," Retro said. "They fell. I saw... I saw Cyan Island just... drop from the sky. And Luma. It hit the ocean."

                    "Luma Island?" Switch took a step towards her but Retro didn't appear to even notice he'd spoken. "But that means... What about Circuit and..."

                    "I don't know what's happened," said Retro. "They just fell. I tried to get higher to see if I could see Magenta Island but I can't. I think... I think they've all crashed!"

                    She put her paws to her head and slumped to the floor. The unown rushed around her, shouting their concerns. Amp reprimanded them into silence and ushered the mew to her feet.

                    "Come on. Let's get you inside, you need rest."

                    Pixel watched the group of unown lead Retro back into the cavern, their voices fading away to be replaced by the rusting of leaves in the breeze. It felt so surreal.

                    "I had friends on that island," said Switch.

                    It had to be a dream.

                    "How do I know they even made it off?" he went on. "I can't even contact them. This stupid power failure has shot out my phone signal."
                    Pixel balled her paws into fists and screwed her eyes shut, but the tears still managed to leak through. "I've lost my home..."

                    Switch and Vector were silent, but she could feel them watching her. Neither knowing what to say. Despite their presence, she felt lonely. Lost. Helpless. More tears broke free, but she didn't wipe them away.

                    "I've lost my family, Nano, Chip, Leaf... and now my home..."

                    Vector's warm paw landed on her shoulder and she opened her eyes just in time to see him slip away into the cavern.

                    The cavern. Surrounded by black, violet-leaking cracks.

                    She didn't want to even look at them.

                    Screwing her eyes shut, she followed after Vector, not opening her eyes again until she was back inside the tunnel. When she entered the control room she found Retro sitting on the sofa, her paws folded in her lap. That dream-like look had left her features to now be replaced by one of distress.

                    Vector stood on the other side of the table, watching her, his paws flexing and relaxing as he searched for something to say.

                    Like the unown, Pixel just looked between the meowstic and the mew. Retro wasn't even looking at him. Her mind was still elsewhere, warring as she struggled to come to terms with whatever freak events had just unfolded.

                    "Do you want to help me?" Vector finally said. "The offer's still there. I'm going into the Fracture regardless, but you've seen what damage it can do."

                    "X-actly!" said X. "Believe me, you have my help. I want to see that thing gone!"

                    "Me too," said Amp. "I don't know how I can help, but... I'm sure we can think of something!"

                    The other unown were silent, watching Retro as she silently stared down at her paws.

                    "Then let's go," said Vector. "Whatever is inside the Fracture, if we can stop it -"

                    "I'm thinking," she said.

                    Everyone looked round at the mew. She sighed and let her paws fall beside her onto the sofa.

                    "Give me time," she said. "I'll come up with something."

                    "How much time?" Vector spoke oddly softly. "Because it's pretty obvious it's responsible for those islands crashing. They've been flying for centuries. For all three to just crash like that-"

                    "Morning," said the mew. "We'll discuss a plan of action in the morning."

                    Vector watched as Retro left the sofa, vanishing into the small tunnel to her room. When he heard the door close he looked back over his shoulder at Pixel and Switch.

                    "I suggest we all get some rest," he said.

                    As Vector vanished to his room, Pixel wiped a paw over her eyes. Rest... she didn't think for one moment she'd sleep that night. Even though she hadn't witnessed it, she kept seeing Cyan Island crashing towards the ground, her mind living the worst case scenario as she realised just how fortunate they were that no one was on it.

                    But as she looked at Switch a feeling of dread spread through her as it really struck her that the other two island's inhabitants may very well have not been so fortunate.
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                      #35    
                    Old May 24th, 2017 (6:13 AM).
                    Delirious Absol's Avatar
                    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                    Call me Del
                       
                      Join Date: May 2015
                      Location: UK
                      Age: 32
                      Gender: Female
                      Nature: Quirky
                      Posts: 285
                      34 - Glitch City

                      Not a single light penetrated the dingy windows of the cavern. Before everyone had retired to their rooms, the unown had gone around lighting candles to help Pixel and her friends find their way around should they need to. Light flickered in the hallway from the candles that had been left alight, most of Pixel's friends choosing to extinguish the ones in their rooms in favour of sleep. But instead she was lay awake, watching the distorted shadows tremble on the ceiling, cast by her candle's flickering flame that had eaten away at most of the wick, leaving a pool of wax on the stony floor.

                      She had no idea how much time had passed. It was impossible to tell. No power, no clock, no signal to her head set. The entire cavern felt primal, and served as a constant reminder that very soon they may be breaching the Fracture. She couldn't sleep. She didn't want to sleep. Sleeping would just make things happen faster.

                      A soft sound made her ears prick up and she turned her head to look at the doorway. The familiar shadow with its pointed ears bounced past just before Vector's white and black form flashed into view, only to vanish again into the shadows. For a moment she wondered if it was actually morning. It wasn't unfeasible that the jungle would block out most of the early morning light, but she brushed the idea aside. The cavern was much too quiet, and she couldn't help worrying the meowstic was trying to put his plan into action alone.

                      She pushed herself up and crept out of the room, following Vector's trail into the main room. Part of her expected him to not be there so she jumped slightly when she saw him huddled in the corner of the sofa, his blue eyes fixed on her.

                      She ventured over to the sofa and sat against the arm of the chair opposite him, pulling her feet up beneath her.

                      "Can't sleep?" she asked.

                      He shrugged and looked away from her. Silent. As silent as the very room they sat in.

                      From here she couldn't even hear the soft snores from their sleeping friends. No hum from the computers. If she listened hard enough she could just make out the crackling from the candles on the table beside them. The flames seemed to give Vector's white fur a flickering, pale orange hue.

                      "I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn't joined Bridge." His voice made Pixel jump and her eyes snapped back up to his face. "If I'd just stayed home. Would any of this have even happened?"

                      She waited patiently for him to elaborate, but he was silent again, just staring at the candles as he hugged his knees to his chest, both his tails fastened tightly around him. He looked scared. Not that she could blame him.

                      "You can't keep blaming yourself," she said.

                      He shrugged again. "I have my reasons, Pixel. Just like I had my reasons for joining them, and it all went horribly wrong."

                      "It was an accident..."

                      She looked down at her paws as she toyed with the hem of her scarf. He'd already heard it before and even though she thought it was helping, his stoic expression told her it wasn't. He already knew it was an accident, and accident or not, it didn't change anything.

                      So she decided to change the subject. Something that wasn't about the Fracture. Something to take both their minds off what was soon to come.

                      "What did you used to do?" she ventured. "Before you joined Bridge?"

                      He took in a long breath and leant his head back against the arm of the sofa. "I was a recluse."

                      She looked up with a start. "What?"

                      "Like I said. I rarely went outside. I spent all day playing games and messing about with mechanics."

                      "Why? Because of your allergies?"

                      "That played a part." He ran a paw through the fur between his ears and sighed. "I didn't exactly have an easy time at school. Kids would tease me because they thought I was weird. If they weren't mocking me because of my interests they were making fun of my markings." He caught the confused look in her eye and aimed a thumb behind him. "Those stripes across my back are normally dark blue."

                      Pixel's eyes widened with surprise and she nodded her understanding. She'd assumed he had those stripes because of the virus but she decided not to mention it.

                      "Did you ever go to school in the city?" he asked.

                      "No, it wasn't easy for us. Someone would fly up onto the island every day."

                      He snorted and looked back at the table. "You're lucky."

                      There was a long pause between them, and Pixel found herself mirroring him as she hugged her knees into her chest. It was a long time ago, but she remembered those lessons with the little floette. Five times a week she flew up onto the island by pidgeot. The class was small, made up of the nine pokemon that were of a close age to Pixel. She loved those lessons. Times spent laughing with Retro, Leaf, Nano and Chip while the floette good-naturedly told them to pay attention.

                      "I really wanted friends," said Vector.

                      She looked up at him again, but his eyes were distant, reflecting the candlelight.

                      "Instead it got to such a degree I couldn't bring myself to go back to school," he said. "I had to be taught at home. By the time I was to apply to college I couldn't do it. I stayed home and taught myself. Hours and hours spent on a computer learning robotics, mechanics. Reading about engines. Staying up all night playing games and talking on forums with pokemon who had the same interests as me. Pokemon who couldn't see what I look like..."

                      Candlelight reflected off tears in his eyes. She wondered if he even knew he was talking to her any more.

                      "Then the humans arrived," he went on. "No one wanted them here, and I sympathised. It wasn't their fault, they're not here by choice. Those poor creatures were desperate to get home, back to a world where they fit in. If there was anything I could do to help I would do it. So I started designing things and discussing them with friends I'd made but never met. None of my ideas worked, but they got the interest of a pokemon named Raw. I chatted with him for a few days and he invited me to join his team. He wanted to meet me..."

                      "And... you did?"

                      He glanced up at her, meeting her eyes briefly. "He was the first pokemon to not even comment on my stripes."

                      "And I'm sure he won't be the last." Pixel gave him a warm smile. "Plus, you have friends now. You've got me, Switch, Retro, N00b..."

                      A smile spread across his lips. One that lit up his entire face. She couldn't help but smile back and for a moment everything felt fine. The mission was wiped completely from her mind for just that moment, then it all came rushing back. The falling islands. Leaf. The cracks.

                      "Pixel, are you okay?"

                      She looked back up at him and forced a smile. She wanted desperately to keep those memories at bay.

                      "I'm fine. Just... I kinda wanna take my mind off things, you know?"

                      He nodded stiffly. "I get that."

                      She released her knees to lean back on the arm of the chair and clapped her paws together.

                      "I know! After all this is over, what do you want to do?"

                      His eyes went distant and he diverted his gaze to the wall. "Pixel, I don't think I-"

                      "No!" She caught him in a glare and shook her head. "We're not thinking like that. Let's say everything is going to be okay. The Fracture is gone, the virus is gone. What do you want to do?"

                      He stared back at her and as the initial alarm left his eyes she felt her glare melt away. It was such an intense stare but it didn't make her feel uneasy. She wasn't sure when she'd stopped feeling uneasy. His two tails twitched then flopped over the side of the sofa as his eyes searched her. Whatever he was looking for she didn't know. To her it was just a simple question but maybe he'd not thought that far ahead?

                      Switch wanted to see the Analog Isles.

                      She wanted to get her investigation team back together.

                      Maybe Vector had no plans. Maybe he'd felt there was no need to make any.

                      She swallowed a lump in her throat and was about to apologise when the meowstic clambered towards her and caught her in a kiss. He trailed a paw over the fur on the back of her head and neck, and she wrapped her arms tightly around him, relishing in his closeness. When he pulled away, he nuzzled her cheek and pulled her into him.

                      She felt herself relax in his arms and she buried her face into his soft fur.

                      When he spoke, his voice came out as barely a whisper. "I want to be with you."

                      That lump rose back into her throat, bringing with it a choked sob as the very thoughts she'd been trying to shut out came back like an avalanche, creating a massive barricade that chilled her to the core. She snuggled into him, hiding her face in his ruff as his paw brushed slowly up and down her back, but it couldn't soothe away the rising dread and uncertainty that only intensified with every second that ticked by.

                      ...

                      It was still dark when Pixel next opened her eyes. At some point she'd fallen asleep but she had no idea how long for. The candlelight gave enough light to go by and she found herself still lying in Vector's arms, his blue eyes locked onto hers. He brushed a paw over her cheek and gave her a weak smile.

                      "How long have I been asleep?" she croaked.

                      "You were asleep when I got here," came Switch's voice.

                      Her spine stiffened and she craned her neck around to see Switch huddled in his talonflame form by the tunnel's opening. A quick glance around the control room told her everyone was awake but her. Retro was sat in her computer chair, sprawled over her desk with a mug of juice. The only real activity came from the unown who busied about the room gathering supplies together.

                      "We were going to wake you both soon, actually," Switch went on.

                      Pixel pushed herself up and leant back against the sofa beside Vector. "You're gathering supplies?"

                      "Yes," said Retro. The mew turned her chair to face her. She looked like she hadn't slept a wink. "I was thinking about it most of the night, what Vector suggested. And I've decided I agree with him."

                      Vector's eyes widened with surprise.

                      "We do need to stop it," Retro went on. "And if there's a chance he can erase the problem at its source then... then stopping him would be wrong."

                      "So we're going to the Fracture?" Pixel asked. "All of us?"

                      Retro nodded sullenly.

                      "When?" asked Pixel.

                      "As soon as you two are ready to go. We've been busy for the past..." The mew rubbed at her temples and sank into her chair. "I don't even know what time it is..."

                      "We might have an idea once we're out of this tunnel," said Switch. "My guess is it's daylight."

                      He didn't look up at any of them. Just huddled in the tunnel's mouth with his feathers puffed out. Pixel didn't know what the reason was, but if she were to guess it would either be recent events or just being uncomfortable being underground. He had been forced to spend most of his time as a talonflame simply due to size constraints, and bird pokemon weren't exactly cut out for living underground.

                      "Well, I'm ready now," said Vector.

                      Pixel's heart lurched into her throat and she looked around at him.

                      "To be honest, I just want to get this over with," he said.

                      She clasped a paw to her chest and looked away. It was happening now. Soon they would be at the Fracture, and the thought of what might happen, the sheer uncertainty of it all, filled her with dread.

                      "Don't be so hasty," said Retro. "I do have requirements, and if you want our help you need to follow them."

                      Vector stared unblinkingly at her and his paws balled into fists. Nevertheless, he didn't say anything.

                      "When you go beyond that wall," Retro said slowly, "you take a wireless communicator with you. That way, all being well, we can stay in contact."

                      "Communications are down," Vector said with a flash of his canines. "Or did you forget that?"

                      "Oh, I didn't forget." She reached into her bag and pulled out a large lump of plastic. Rectangle, like a very blocky phone with a chunky antennae. "This is a walkie talkie. I have three, and they all work together. You are to take two in with you, just in case one gets damaged."

                      A hint of confusion spread over his face as he stared at the device. The mew's revelation of owning such an outdated technology had taken him by surprise, but such things no longer had that affect on Pixel. Retro had always lived up to her name.

                      "Fine," he grumbled. "I'll take your 'walkie talkie'."

                      "Good!" Retro floated off her seat and bobbed towards the tunnel. "If Pixel's ready, we'll leave."

                      Pixel stared after her for a moment before sliding off the sofa. Vector was already on his feet and he fastened his paw around hers. It made her feel a little more at ease.

                      "How are we getting there?" she ventured to ask.

                      "Teleport," said the mew. "I can't get us all there in one go, however. Moving blindly would be a disaster. I might land us amongst all those cracks, so we'll have to go with caution." She glanced back at them over her shoulder. "It might take a while."

                      Switch ducked aside to let Retro pass then twisted awkwardly around to move into the tunnel.

                      Light was already visible at the end of it, the sun's golden rays flowing through the jungle's canopy and lighting up the various flora. Crack after crack competed against the sunlight with its ultraviolet glare, several new threads warping tree branches and distorting the thick ferns and vines. A large branch lay across their path just outside the outcrop's cave.

                      "I feel like it gets worse with every passing second," said Switch.

                      He spread his wings out in a stretch, causing his spine to pop and he let out a long sigh.

                      "Well, hopefully soon this will all be over," said Retro.

                      She looked up at the canopy and turned on the spot, searching through the trees and humming to herself in thought. Finally she nodded and turned to address the group.

                      "If you're ready, we're going to begin teleporting. I should warn you if you've not done it before it might make you a little sick."

                      There was a flash of pink and Pixel found herself engulfed in a large bubble along with the rest of her friends. There wasn't much time to process it as the world distorted around them, then vanished briefly before it appeared once more. More trees. More jungle. A pause as Retro calculated her next move.

                      Switch groaned and leant back against the bubble, his wing feathers pressed over his face. The mew gave him a sympathetic smile before she moved them on, and the world distorted again.

                      ...

                      The sun had moved across the sky by the time they reached the Fracture. Trees and cities had made it very hard for Retro to navigate her teleportation around the cracks. Despite being immune to the virus none of them had wanted to take any risks with the cracks. They worked in a different way and fear of the unknown had encouraged them to proceed with caution.

                      Once freed from the bubble, Pixel stepped forward and looked up at the wall of static. It was surrounded by those cracks. They were thicker than she'd ever seen them, slicing through trees and buildings that had long since been destroyed by them. The very ground itself looked like it had been sliced to bits. Deep, violet grooves ran through the ground like a web making it look like chunks of earth were merely floating in a void. She cautiously stepped over one as she made her way towards the wall of static.

                      Numbers raced up the wall, changing so quickly she could barely take it in. It was just like the distorted code that rose up from those egg shells, only much denser, hiding whatever lay beyond the Fracture's wall.

                      "Don't be so hasty!" Retro appeared beside her and thrust the large walkie talkie into her paws. "I want to double check these work first."

                      Switch, now in his human form, removed his hand from his head to take the second one. All colour had drained from his face and hadn't returned quite yet.

                      The mew warped a few feet away and spoke into her handset. Static crackled from Pixel's device, followed by Retro's voice.

                      "Can you hear me?"

                      Pixel felt a smile spread across her face and she pushed the large green button before replying. "I can hear you."

                      "Good." The device crackled for a moment, then, "Switch? You didn't answer me."

                      "I can hear you loud and clear," he mumbled.

                      Pixel was pleasantly surprised she could hear him coming through her handset as well.

                      Retro warped back and looked at each of them in turn. "I can't deny I'm worried sick. But I wish you all the best." She paused and fumbled with the handset. "Go save our world."

                      X darted over her shoulder and stopped in front of her face. "Yes, and please! Be x-tra careful!"

                      Amp let out a long groan and bobbed in a way Pixel assumed meant he was shaking his head. "Puns at a time like this, X?"

                      "I was being x-tremely sincere, actually."

                      Pixel smiled at them then took Retro's paw in her own. "We'll try our best. But should anything happen, please find Nybble and Byte. I'm worried about them."

                      "Oh, yeh," said Switch. "They'll probably be with Connor by now. If you go to Spool City and look for a trubbish named Kurg, he'll show you where his hideout is."

                      Retro narrowed her eyes and frowned. "Don't talk like this."

                      Pixel gave her paw a squeeze then stood back and faced the wall of static. She gave one last look at the mew and unown, then looked up at her two friends. Vector fastened his paw around hers and gave her a reassuring nod.

                      Switch smiled warmly and slipped the walkie talkie into one of his trouser pockets.

                      "Let's do this together," he said. "On three. One... two..."

                      They stepped through the wall and immediately Pixel could feel her fur standing on end. A low hiss reached her ears and everything turned black. But she could still feel the ground beneath her feet and Vector's paw fastened over hers. She still kept walking.

                      Then light.

                      Light was leaking down above them, through the static wall that expanded over them like a dome, criss-crossed with a thick net of cracks. Surrounding them lay a city in ruin. Buildings with their roofs caved in, crumbling skyscrapers sliced through with cracks, vehicles discarded beside the road and against walls where they'd been tossed by the explosion, twisted and bent lamp posts, blank billboards, and in the distance a warped antennae no longer blinking its light.

                      Desolate.

                      A loud crunch startled Pixel so much she squealed. She span around just as Switch lifted his foot off a splintered piece of hollow metal. A wing broken free from a body that resembled a small helicopter.

                      "It's one of the drones," said Vector. His voice and that crunch amplified just how silent it was in this place. Not even a breeze drifted through it.

                      "They didn't get very far, huh?" said Switch. He turned to look back at the wall and reached out with his hand. "Well, there's no going back now. This is rock solid."

                      Both Pixel and Vector copied him, the cool surface penetrating her fur. It felt just like a stone wall. She swallowed drily and stood back from it.

                      "We should let Retro know we're through at least." She lifted the walkie talkie to her mouth and pushed the button. "Retro, we're through."
                      Silence. Nothing but silence.

                      Her heart sank and she looked up at Switch. "I don't think I'm getting through to her."
                      A look of concern creased Switch's features and he pulled out his own device. He barked a few 'hellos' into it, receiving nothing back. With a sigh, he stuffed it back into his pocket.

                      "Unfortunately, it looks like that wall cuts off all communication." He scratched his head and looked back down at the damaged drone. "That would explain why those drones didn't get very far."

                      Pixel followed his gaze along the static wall. A few feet away lay another two drones and what looked like a camera.

                      Vector placed a paw on her shoulder, drawing her attention back to him. "Since we can't get back out, we might as well do what we came here for then."

                      Switch had picked up the drone and was turning it around in his hands. He looked over at the two pokemon and quickly placed it back on the ground.

                      "I guess you're right." He trotted after them and folded his hands behind his head.

                      With every step they took, something seemed strange. Pixel wasn't sure if it was just an illusion created by the unsettling element of the place, but there was something really not quite right. She scanned her eyes over the passing buildings, eyeing the windows. Some still had paper signs behind them advertising games and movies that were long outdated. This was a city frozen in time.

                      "Wait... guys..."

                      Switch faltered behind them and they stopped to look back at him.

                      "What?" Pixel asked.

                      "The door..." He pointed at the skyscraper beside her.

                      When she turned to look, a gasp escaped her throat. The door was gone. Just a wall of stone with the building's number placed beside where the door was meant to be.

                      "I thought something looked weird," said Vector. "Why would the door be missing?"

                      "I don't know." Switch moved closer to them, tracing his eyes over the buildings. "I keep thinking I can see something moving, but... it's the doors!" He span to look back at the skyscraper. "They're moving!"

                      Pixel followed his gaze and her jaw dropped. The door was back, right at the edge of the building. She shook her head and moved backwards, her eyes locked on that door. With every step she took it moved, and not consecutively. It either leapt a few feet back and fro from the number, or vanished entirely. It wasn't the only one either. Every door around them either moved with every footstep or just warped randomly along its wall.

                      "I don't like this at all," said Switch.

                      "Neither do I," said Vector. "But like you said, there's no going back. We need to find this source and erase it."

                      "I know. I know." Switch fastened his hands back behind his head and began to whistle a cheery tune as he strode along beside them.

                      Vector narrowed his eyes at him. "What are you doing?"

                      "This place is really giving me the creeps," he said. "I thought I'd at least try to add a bit of cheer to this awful silence."
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                        #36    
                      Old May 26th, 2017 (12:32 PM).
                      Delirious Absol's Avatar
                      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                        Join Date: May 2015
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                        35 - Missing Number

                        No amount of time spent in this place could get them used to the changing doors. It was just too eerie. Each time one moved set Pixel on edge. She didn't understand how Vector could just tune them out like he did. He just kept walking, scanning his eyes over everything they passed, searching for something that none of them even knew how to identify.

                        They had to move slowly, keeping one arm outstretched since on several occasions they'd reached an invisible wall that had forced them to walk into the road or take a different path entirely. It had given rise to a lot of confusion as the invisible walls didn't make much sense. They just appeared, like solid invisible buildings in the middle of their path or jutting out from one of the stone walls.

                        In the short time they'd been there, Switch had changed from whistling to humming, but his voice wavered with nerves which only served to unsettle her further. She wound her scarf around her paws while she tried to spot anything that might key them in as to what they were actually looking for.

                        Vector stopped abruptly in his tracks and his ears stiffened.

                        "Do you hear that?" he asked.

                        Switch immediately stopped his humming, plunging them into silence. The three of them stood there, straining their ears against nothing.

                        "I'm sorry," said Pixel. "Maybe you imagined-"

                        "Shh!" Vector placed a paw on her arm and inclined his head on one side.

                        A sob. Pixel's heart leapt into her throat. It was very quiet. Almost inaudible. If it weren't for the city's unusual silence they would never have even heard it.

                        "Do you think there's someone in here?" she whispered.

                        "I don't know." Vector released her and slowly moved across the road, following that heart-wrenching sob. Before he even reached the other side, the sound faded. He crossed his arms and grunted. "Great."

                        "I don't know if I want to follow it, if I'm honest," said Switch. "I think it's fairly safe to say no one's alive in this place."

                        Another sound reached their ears. An explosion, or the build up to it. Pixel braced herself for an impact, but before the noise could even reach a crescendo it stopped, followed by that sob.

                        Vector scurried over to the sidewalk and vanished around the bend. Pixel shook her head in disbelief and followed after him. There was no way she was losing him in this place. Switch's heavy footsteps resounded after her, unusually loud. Part of her wondered if they should even make any noise in this place. If something was alive there was no saying it was on their side. Making a sound would only give them away.

                        When she found Vector again he was standing in a square. Empty market stalls lay scattered around, the wooden structures splintered and sticking out in dangerous, jagged points. A strange form lay against one of the stone walls. A pokemon, or what used to be one. The lower half of its body had turned to stone, but the upper part still resembled a throh in every way. Lying before him was an egg.

                        Vector stared at the throh, his jaw hanging open as though he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. He took one tentative step towards him and cleared his throat.

                        "Raw?"

                        The throh turned his neck stiffly but when his eyes landed on the meowstic they widened with a mixture of fear and surprise.

                        "Vector?" He shook his head slowly. "What... what happened to you?"

                        Vector flexed his paws as he stared at the other pokemon then glanced away. "It's a long story. Where's everyone else?"

                        "I don't know," said Raw. "That bomb didn't hold out long enough. Something triggered it. We all got... tossed into the air and when I finally landed I was transformed into this." He gestured to his grey lower half. "Right here it's just me and Sprocket."

                        Everyone's eyes went to the egg.

                        "Poor kid," said Raw. "I just can't watch this any more."

                        Vector took a step back as the egg began to glow, pushing Pixel towards the wall. Egg shell exploded out in all directions with a deafening roar then froze in the air, the sound coming to a sudden stop. Amongst the debris lay the small form of a pachirisu huddled into a ball with her paws clasped over her head. Her tiny body shook with sobs. There wasn't a single hint of the virus anywhere on her body.

                        Pixel took a step towards her, but Vector held her back. He'd heard it before she did. A sucking sound grew in intensity and every piece of shell flew back towards her into the perfect, unblemished form of an egg.

                        Switch hugged himself and looked around nervously. "Oh, I want to get out of this place."
                        "You and me both, brother," said Raw.

                        They fell into silence again, eyes drifting from the egg to the throh and back. Vector's paws twitched and he took a small step towards his friend.

                        "Raw... I can fix this."

                        "No." Raw stiffly raised a paw. "Save the world first, then worry about us."

                        Vector stuttered with confusion but Raw waved him off.

                        "I don't know what happened after that explosion," the throh said. "But seeing you all white like that is enough to tell me something's gone wrong. You didn't come inside the Fracture with us, did you? Maybe that was a good thing. We clearly made a mistake. But listen... there's a lab. You know there's a lab. I always thought they had something to do with all this. They were meant to be investigating and curing diseases, but they were awful secretive. There's no hacking their systems now, it all got wiped out. But before it did, I got curious and I found something." He looked up at them, locking his eyes onto Vectors. "They were trying to make something. A pokemon."

                        The egg exploded again, the shell freezing in the exact same spot it had before. Sprocket's sobs cut through the silence making Raw visibly flinch.

                        "I didn't find out anything else," he said. "I got too scared to keep searching. The thought of artificially making a pokemon turned my stomach. It saw the end to my hacking days. There are some things better left uncovered."

                        Switch tensed and his face creased into a frown. "A lab?"

                        "Aye." Raw nodded. "Sounds perfectly innocent enough, huh?"

                        "There was a lab where I was staying..."

                        Switch's voice sounded oddly distant. Pixel looked up at him but he stared blankly across at the splintered market stalls.

                        That sucking sound cut through the air, engulfing the pachirisu once more and bringing her sobs to a sudden halt.

                        "Where can we find this lab?" Vector asked the throh.

                        "I had it memorised," said Raw. "It's somewhere near the centre. Keep following the main road and you should reach it. But I must warn you, if it were the lab that blew up I don't know how much of it is left standing."

                        Vector nodded. "All right. We'll get to the bottom of this. You'll get your body back." He looked down at the egg and his paws twitched. "Both of you."

                        It wasn't obvious if Sprocket had heard him, but Pixel really hoped she had. That hearing it would give the frightened pachirisu some hope. They turned away from the two pokemon and Vector gave one last glance back before they rounded the corner back onto the main road.

                        ...

                        There it was. The lab. Its size and appearance intimidating in the ruined city. The roof lay caved in at one end and the wall beneath it had crumbled away. However there was no reaching that end of it as an invisible building blocked their path.

                        "I guess we have no choice but to use the door," said Pixel.

                        "I wouldn't want to walk through a crumbling wall anyway," said Switch. "Who knows whether it'll just come piling down on top of us?"

                        "He makes a good point," said Vector. "But we might have another problem."

                        He eyed the door as they approached it, watching as it slipped along to the left where it eventually stopped beyond the invisible wall.

                        Vector let out a frustrated breath and moved towards it, but the door vanished and reappeared behind them at the far end of the building. Pixel watched it advance towards them as though it was stalking Vector, but when the meowstic looked back and tried to reach it, the door moved back the way it came.

                        Switch stroked his chin in thought. "Hang on, let me try something."

                        Vector looked from Switch to the door as the human paced back and forth. With every step he took the door vanished and reappeared somewhere else on the wall, but not once did it appear directly before them.

                        "It seems to behave differently depending on who's moving," said Pixel.

                        Vector threw his arms in the air. "Oh, this is so frustrating! I'm just gonna blast our way through the wall!"

                        "No!" Switch grabbed his paw and tugged him backwards. "Don't! You've seen the state of it! You might bring the whole building down!"

                        Vector growled through his teeth and tugged his paw back from Switch's hand, but instead of lashing out at the wall he took a steadying breath and brushed his arm down.

                        "Fine," he muttered.

                        He looked the building up and down, searching for another clear way inside. Pixel glanced back at the door perched several feet away from them and took a step towards it. The door slid along towards them. With another step it warped and appeared on Vector's left. Its unpredictable movements were impossible to work with. She let out a small sigh and edged towards Vector, but as she moved the door stopped right before him.

                        He glanced at her and muttered, "Don't move."

                        It wasn't clear if he was talking to her or the door. He grabbed the handle in one paw and shook it, muttering under his breath. The door was locked tight. He raised his paw and brought it crashing down on the handle, shattering it free from the wood and sending it with a deafening clatter onto the concrete where it bounced away behind them.

                        "Subtle," said Switch.

                        Vector didn't so much as look at him. He slipped beyond the door into the laboratory.

                        Pixel and Switch exchanged glances and he waved towards the opening.

                        "After you," he said.

                        She gave him a smile then rushed for the door.

                        Which moved.

                        Her heart sank. It was going to take them forever to get inside.

                        "It's split us up," she said.

                        "Don't worry, I have an idea," said Switch. "But you'll have to forgive me."

                        "Forgive you?" She looked up at him to press for more information but instead she let out a squeak as he scooped her up off her feet.

                        "This is the only way I can think of for us to stay together," he said. "Just pretend we're flying."

                        She fastened her claws into the shoulder of his jacket and looked back over her shoulder at the wall. It was impossible to imagine they were flying. It was nowhere near as smooth. With every step he took she felt herself jostled against his chest. She focused her attention on the door, watching it vanish and reappear randomly. He'd move left and the door would warp several feet to the right. He'd move right and it would move beyond the invisible wall. Back to the left sent it further beyond the wall to stand alone amongst the crumbled debris.

                        It was too risky to take more than one step. If he went too fast they would risk missing the door entirely. After what felt like an eternity, they heard Vector's voice beyond the wall.

                        "Don't move!"

                        Switch froze, clutching Pixel to his body as they both stared at the door two paces to his left.

                        It vanished and reappeared so it was directly in front of them. Vector's blue eyes leered at them from the doorway.

                        Switch didn't wait around to ask questions. He ducked through the door and once inside he set Pixel back down onto the ground.

                        "I'm sorry about that," he said. "I do try to respect boundaries here since, you know... you're not pets like back in my world."

                        Pixel brushed down her scarf and gave him a small smile. "It's okay. You do bounce a lot though."

                        He grinned and folded his arms behind his head. "I've always been told I have a spring in my step." His smile fell and he looked back down at Vector. "So, how did you know where the door would end up?"

                        "Easy," said Vector. "When I walked down this corridor it appeared right before me. I guess, somehow, the building wants me out. I tried it a couple of times and I was going to tell you to wait right where the door appeared. Finding you directly outside it was just a coincidence."

                        "Huh! Impressive." Switch looked back at the open door. "I guess it'll be easy to escape if we need to then?"

                        "I guess." Vector turned away and began marching down the corridor.

                        Pixel and Switch fell into place behind him, eyeing up the walls as they passed. Noticeboards were nailed to the walls, filled with old notes about events long since past, or information on hygiene and diseases. The thought of any viruses or bacteria lying in spilled pots beyond those walls unsettled her greatly.

                        They reached a set of double doors at a crossroads in the corridor. Beyond that door was a large room and on either side of them the corridor stretched out on either side, lined with door after door. Vector took the left one and Switch immediately stopped him.

                        "Do you have a plan?" he asked.

                        Vector looked back at him and shrugged him off. "Yeh. I want to go to the explosion site."

                        "And what if it caves in?"

                        A small grin spread across Vector's face and he laughed. "Are you forgetting I smashed your foot free of rocks? I think I could deflect a cave in."

                        "Yes. You might be safe," said Switch. "But what about us two? We'd be crushed."

                        Vector looked from Switch to Pixel and his smile fell. His eyes softened with worry and he let his paws relax at his side. "You don't have to come with me. In fact, don't. I'll go and explore then I'll meet you back here and tell you what I find."

                        Pixel placed a paw on her chest and looked over his shoulder down the dark corridor. She could see the pile of debris at the end. The faint light leaking in through the crevices in the wall. If that was where the Fracture happened then that might be where the source was.

                        "No," she said. "I'm coming with you. I told you I would. You're not doing this alone."

                        He locked his blue eyes on hers as he searched for a response. There was no sign of anger on his face, but his two tails swished from side to side stirring up the thick dust that had settled after the explosion. Finally they returned to their default position behind him and he took her paw in his.

                        "I can't guarantee your safety," he said. "But I get the feeling you'll just follow me anyway."

                        A small smile played at her lips and he returned it before he turned to advance down the corridor, letting her fall into place beside him.

                        Switch looked around nervously then ducked through the doorway to follow after them.

                        "You're coming too?" Vector asked.

                        "I've come this far haven't I?" said Switch. "I might as well see it all the way through."

                        Unlike the doors outside, the ones along the corridor remained static. Each small window showed nothing but darkness and in the end Pixel gave up trying to see beyond them. They were all locked shut and Vector had no interest in bursting through them. His focus was on the crumbling structure at the end of the corridor.

                        The closer they got to it the more light there was to go by. She could now make out the signs above the doors. 'Berry Treatment'; 'Poisons and Antidotes'; 'Burn Lab'. Then one room caught Vector's attention. 'Evolution'.

                        His brow furrowed and he released Pixel's paw to peer inside. "The wall in here is blown in."

                        "That's not surprising," said Switch. "We're right near the explosion site."

                        "Evolution," Vector muttered. "They were trying to make a new pokemon... I wonder..."

                        He tried the door, but once again it was locked. He braced himself to strike it, but Switch nudged him aside.

                        "I've got this one," he said.

                        He brought his boot down against the woodwork, creating a sickening crack as the wood splintered around the hinges. Another kick saw the door thrown backwards into the room.

                        "There," said Switch. "I thought I'd save you the effort."

                        Vector looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "You could have brought the rest of the building down on us with that little stunt."

                        "And your counter attack would have been perfectly safe?"

                        The meowstic shrugged and slipped into the room, treading carefully around the shattered door.

                        Pixel followed after him, her eyes scanning over the room and taking in the mess of paperwork, crumbled rock, broken tables and scattered elemental stones.

                        "You think this is where they were making that new pokemon?" she asked.

                        "I think it's very likely," said Vector. He lifted a small, round stone out of the debris and turned it around in his paw. "Looks like they were covering every aspect of it too. They even have mega stones."

                        "Maybe they were trying to make a mega meowstic?" said Switch.

                        Vector frowned at him. "Is this really the time to make jokes?"

                        Switch simply shrugged.

                        Pixel gathered up a fallen notebook, sending a few loose pages back to the ground. She flicked it open and glanced over the first page. A large, red 'confidential' stamp was printed right beside the title.

                        "Finding the missing link," she read. "A confusing mystery in evolution."

                        Vector appeared at her side and looked over her shoulder, his eyes scanning over the title. Switch scooped up the torn pages and leafed through them.

                        "Whatever this missing link is, they did thorough work," he said.

                        The room dimmed and warped around them, and Pixel let out a gasp when she found herself standing in a dark room lit only with ultraviolet light. The file was no longer in her paws but the room was littered with papers that in this light seemed impossibly white, and Vector's fur seemed luminous under the light from the dark sky. Something glittered red in the corner and she looked up at a statue of a persian, its eyes blinking from red to green and back.

                        "Where are we?" she asked. "This... this isn't the lab..."

                        Switch stooped to grab some of the papers off the floor. "These are different to the ones you dropped," he said. "This... this is talking about mew."

                        She tentatively grabbed one of the papers and swallowed drily. She couldn't even read the title. It was in some language unknown to her.

                        Vector took it from her and turned it around to view it from every angle. "This makes no sense. What language is this?"

                        "It's a human language," said Switch. He leant over him and pointed at the title, "'The Mystery of Mew – Cloning from a Fossil.'"

                        "Mystery of mew?" Vector repeated with a snort.

                        "I think we're in my world," said Switch slowly. "Back in my world... mew is classed as a 'mirage'. Humans claim to have seen one but... it's been dismissed as a legend. They don't exist."

                        "That's why you were so surprised when I told you about Retro!" said Pixel.

                        "Exactly. But what I don't understand is how they can clone something no one has ever confirmed to exist." He leant back on a dusty table and scanned over the documents in his hands.

                        Pixel and Vector waited patiently for the human to explain, straining their ears to pick up what he was muttering beneath his breath. Pixel found her eyes wandering while she waited. The room looked just like any other lab, but everything was broken. The wall was blown through just like the room they'd been in before. But that persian statue unnerved her. Sitting, staring, its eyes flashing from green to red, looking like it would pounce at any second.

                        "They found a fossil," Switch finally said. "They were trying to clone it from one of its hairs. But where..." He lowered the papers and looked over at the rubble. Then he stood and rushed from the room.

                        "Wait!" Vector bolted after him.

                        Then the room warped once more and Switch froze in the corridor, stumbling to stop himself crashing into the wall.

                        "Well that was fortunate," said Vector. "I don't trust this place one bit."

                        Switch placed his hand on the wall and shook his head. "Me neither. Why were we just in my world?"

                        "If this is where you came through then it kinda makes sense," said Vector. "I think we're closer to your world than we realise. Those invisible walls..."

                        "They're buildings," Switch finished.

                        "Yeh. I kinda worked that out before you took off. You could have got stuck in a wall or something if we came back. We need to move carefully if that happens again."

                        Pixel felt a chill run down her spine at that thought and she shook her fur violently. "I really want to get out of here."

                        "Well, we need to suss this out first." Vector moved back into the room and retrieved the dropped file, flicking it open to the first page. "Finding the missing link," he read. "All pokemon lay eggs and hatch young, but one particular pokemon had confused us for centuries. Kangaskhan. This pokemon, which is only female, always hatches with a joey in its pouch which remains with it all the way through into adulthood and then death, never ageing but seemingly sentient. Why is this? We intend to find out."

                        "So they were researching kangaskhan?" Switch scratched his hair. "Back in my world we see the joey as a symbiotic parasite that every kangaskhan carries."

                        Vector was flicking through the pages, quickly scanning over them. "This says one of their theories is that the joey is actually the male and the two have never separated. Listen to this – 'During mega evolution, the joey leaves the pouch and fights with the 'mother'. This is evidence that somehow the joey can be separated. That it is actually a separate entity.'"

                        "Were they actually running tests on a kangaskhan?" Pixel asked.

                        "Yes. They had a volunteer. I'm just skimming over them, they seem pretty generic." Vector's expression had grown bored and he looked like he was about to put the folder down, but then something caught his attention and his eyes widened. "Looks like they never finished the experiment."

                        "Well, this place did blow up," said Switch. "I imagine a lot of experiments were left unfinished."

                        "Maybe some of the loose pages finish it?" Pixel offered.

                        "There might be. This is dated a week before the explosion," said Vector. "They had removed the joey and were keeping it separate from the kangaskhan to see how it reacted when it was alone. Three scientists were left during night shifts to monitor it and to try to avoid any adverse effects." He looked over at the rubble at the end of the corridor. "And they were doing those tests in the evolution research lab."

                        He tucked the folder under his arm and moved over to the pile of rubble at the end of the corridor.

                        "You don't seriously think they're linked to that explosion?" Switch asked. "It was just a kangaskhan."

                        Vector adjusted the folder in his grip and tried to clamber over the crumbling rocks. Switch gave a heavy sigh and shook his head.

                        "All right, fine," he said. "But if we get crushed..."

                        He shrank down into a talonflame and rose into the air, grabbing Vector in his talons. The meowstic let out a small yelp of surprise but he wasn't in the air for long. He was deposited into the wide lab space and was soon joined by Pixel and Switch.

                        Before any of them could take in the room it dimmed and they found themselves in that ultraviolet world. Another persian statue stared at them from beside the crumbled mound through a pair of blinking eyes. The whole room was filled with large glass cylinders, their surfaces cracked and shattered. Glass littered the floor amongst pools of dried blood that looked alarming under the ultraviolet rays. Above them was a gaping hole where the roof had been blown in during an immense explosion.

                        Switch was shaking from head to foot and he ran a hand through his red and brown hair.

                        "I can't handle this," he muttered.

                        Pixel looked up at him with a sympathetic nod and clasped her paws together as she looked over the room. One of those cylinders wasn't like the others. It was lying in total ruin, sharp shards of thick glass sticking up from the base. She moved over to it and ducked to read the sign just below where the glass would have met the metal.

                        "I can't read this," she said. "I think it's in your language again."
                        Switch joined her and when he read the sign he let out a low groan and rubbed a hand over his face.

                        "Mewtwo," he said.

                        Both Pixel and Vector looked up at him and she wound her scarf around her paws.

                        "I've not heard of a 'mewtwo'," she said.

                        "No, I guess not," said Switch. "Neither have I. I'm guessing, like porygon, it's man-made."

                        "So you humans were creating pokemon?" Vector grunted.

                        "Apparently." Switch stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked over at the state of the room. The rubble. The glass. The blood. The destroyed roof. "But I'm guessing it backfired."

                        The room warped around them once more, bringing them back into the evolution research lab. Tables scattered on the ground burnt and broken, the floor littered with paperwork most of which was singed black, shattered computers and what looked like two beds covered in a glass casing, each one beside the remains of a large ECG machine that lay in pieces on the ground. One pod was cracked while the other looked like it had been blown open as something tried to escape. Pixel wondered if it had been the kangaskhan.

                        "Hey, guys." Switch was looking down at the papers on the table, spreading them out with one hand. "Did you know every pokemon species is numbered?"

                        "What do you mean?" Vector joined his side and took one of the sheets.

                        "This lab. It has every species catalogued and numbered. My world does the same thing, but it varies depending what country you're from. They've highlighted the kangaskhan."

                        Vector narrowed his eyes at the list. "So they have."

                        Pixel peered over his shoulder, noting the arrow beside the kangaskhan's name. "'Missing Number?'"

                        "I guess that's what they were calling the joey." Vector placed the list back on the table and looked back at the two beds. "It's a shame we'll never know exactly what happened here."

                        He moved over to them and pulled himself up to look inside the one that was cracked. His eyes flew wide open and he backed away from it, his paw going to his chest.

                        "Is... is something still inside there?" Switch's voice came out oddly high and his golden eyes went to the cracked pod.

                        "It's the kangaskhan," Vector managed. "What's left of her anyway."

                        Mama?

                        All three of them stiffened and twisted their heads to pinpoint the child-like voice.

                        Mama!

                        But it was impossible. It seemed to be screaming from everywhere at once.

                        Mama! Mama! Mama!

                        The computer monitor beside Switch sparked and the tower lit up, noisily humming to life. The speaker crackled and popped, drowning out the eerie voice, then a recording broke through the static, the words coming out in bursts as the audio cut at odd intervals.

                        'Something's going wrong!'

                        'Nothing's ... wrong. It's fine.'

                        'No, the kangaskhan! ... heart's stopped!'

                        'What are you talking about? She was fine five minutes ago!'

                        '... to the emergency room! Stat!'

                        'What about the joey? I can't ... it! It's gone savage!'

                        'Then leave it! We ... to hurry!'

                        'No! Mama! Bring back my mama!'

                        Banging. Crackling. Shattering glass.


                        The voices in the audio merged together as panic increased, interspersed with banging and screaming from a tormented child. The next comprehensible words were; 'Fire!' 'There's a fire!' 'Get out of here! Now!'

                        Then the audio cut out.

                        Silence.

                        Pixel's breath came in heavy bursts and she was aware of her friends' breathing as each of them stood, motionless, bracing themselves in case something else happened. The broken computer had fallen silent, its monitor no longer sparking.

                        Mama?

                        Everyone's breath froze and their eyes went back to the pods. They now seemed a lot more ominous than they had previously.

                        Pixel took in the shattered casing, the damaged ECG machine with its frazzled wires. The audio played through her mind and she could almost see the chaos playing out in the room. The source of that fire. But what had exploded?

                        Exploding eggs.

                        That blood.

                        Her paws flew to her mouth as she tried her best to block out the image of that kangaskhan joey meeting the same fate as the pokemon that hatched from those eggs.

                        All this was the result of a terrible mistake.

                        The Fracture hadn't just started with that explosion. It had started the day that joey had been separated from its mother.
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                          #37    
                        Old May 29th, 2017 (11:03 AM).
                        Delirious Absol's Avatar
                        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                          36 - Erased

                          No one knew how long they'd been stood, frozen, staring at those pods. The eerie voice had faded away, leaving them stood in complete silence.

                          Pixel just wanted to get away. The audio recording kept playing back in her mind, coupled with the graphic image of the poor kangaskhan joey frantically trying to get back to its dying mother.

                          Things still didn't make sense, but the Fracture had something to do with both worlds. Something that linked them both together. Two explosions, both the result of terrible experiments that should never have been done in the first place.

                          Her spine stiffened as soft rustling reached her ears and she braced herself to flee. The rustling was coming from the shattered pod, growing more static with each burst. Then something leapt out of it, a ball that appeared to be made out of the same substance that surrounded the Fracture. White and grey static filled with a distorted code that moved and changed. As the sphere floated up into the air it shifted shape to an hourglass, then a cone, then a sphere again as it bobbed away.

                          "What is that?" Switch asked. "A pokemon?"

                          "My guess would be the first virus victim," said Vector.

                          He moved over to it slowly and the static blob froze, its form becoming square.

                          "You're the kangaskhan joey aren't you?" said Vector. "They called you Missing Number?"

                          Mama!

                          The child-like voice crackled and popped unlike the previous frantic cry.

                          "I thought so. That explosion trapped you like this." He gestured to the static form.

                          The square's base leaked out to the side forming a backwards L.

                          "Look, I can help you," Vector explained.

                          No! Mama! You killed her!

                          The L span into the air and rushed overhead, doubling back to charge at Vector.

                          Just leave us alone!

                          Violet cracks shot from its body like lightning and Vector was forced to duck as Missing Number shot over his head like a dart, vanishing beyond the crumbling wall.

                          Vector pushed himself up onto his knees and stared after the retreating anomaly, aghast.

                          "Well," said Switch. "Looks like we found the source. A tormented child, or whatever the joey is, stuck in... this... I don't think it can even be explained!"

                          Vector shot over to the debris and vaulted over the mound.

                          "Wait! Vector!" Switch took off after him.

                          "Sorry, I can't lose it!" Vector called back. "I need to erase it, and not just for our benefit but the kangaskhan's as well!"

                          Switch tutted loudly and shrank down into his talonflame form.

                          "I don't want to lose him in here," he told Pixel. "Climb on. We'll chase after him."

                          She scrambled onto his back and clutched his feathers tightly as he rose into the air. Her heart was pounding in her chest. It was all too much to process, and now, as Vector chased after Missing Number – an entity that could generate those horrible cracks – she was really beginning to wish this was nothing more than a bad dream.

                          More questions were forming in her mind now. Was Missing Number the source of the Fracture or simply just a part of it? A living part, sucked into its mess like Raw and Sprocket? Was it really worth fighting this thing if the source was elsewhere?

                          Switch flailed his wings and doubled backwards as he met an invisible wall and Pixel screamed as she almost slipped from his back. Once he regained his balance he threw her a quick apology and turned his sights back on the meowstic.

                          Vector had chased the anomaly into a park where the flickering, warping mass of static threw more bolt-like cracks at him. Unlike the ones that filled the world outside the Fracture, these ones vanished as quickly as they appeared. The damaged, surreal world around them was unfazed by the ultraviolet lightning bolts, the surrounding structures accepting them like a mere breeze.

                          "He can't even get close," said Switch. "If he can't touch it then he can't erase it."

                          "Then what do we do?" Pixel asked. "All my attacks are close range as well."

                          "Then get ready to jump off," he said. "I have an idea."

                          He swept towards the ground and when he was low enough, Pixel released his feathers and landed awkwardly beside a ducklett-shaped topiary.

                          Neither Vector nor Missing Number were aware of her, but she could see them clearly. Vector rolled to the left as another bolt struck the ground where he'd been standing. Back outside, the cracks had no effect on him. But like her he was clearly doubting whether or not they could hurt him inside the Fracture, and finding out just wasn't worth the risk.

                          Above them, Switch hovered in the air, his feathers glowing as an intense heat radiated from his body. Pixel ducked further behind the bush to shelter herself from it, silently willing Vector to get out of the way. He looked up at the talonflame, realisation spreading across his face, and dived to the side.

                          Missing Number let out an ear-piercing shriek as the heat engulfed it, its voice rising and crackling until it began to sound like a speaker bursting with interference. Pixel clasped her paws over her ears to shut out the shrill, mechanical whine, but her eyes never left Vector and the strange, boxy, L-shaped anomaly. More and more violet bolts shot from its body, spreading over the benches, the motionless grass and trees. One of them brushed against Vector's white fur and he let out a yell, then froze as the bolt harmlessly moved through his body.

                          The look that crossed his face was a mix of frustration and relief and he snapped his attention back on Missing Number. His body became as taught as a coiled spring as he prepared himself to pounce, watching and waiting for Switch's attack to subside.

                          That awful cry reached a crescendo and the static body warped. Twisting and shrinking, coiling and growing. Then it exploded out to the sides as the heat dissipated, becoming more solid. Vibrant colours spread across it as the shrill electrical cry filled the air. Two wings appeared at its side as its body took on the form of a bird. Its beak was long and narrow, its wings sharp and jagged and giving off flames. Its long, ribbon like tail spread behind it, almost identical to the long feathers cascading down its back from its head.

                          It threw its wings out to the side and the static cry rose and fell almost melodically, then a new sound joined it. Two electrical pings, followed by a constant static fuzz.

                          Switch landed beside Pixel, his eyes wide with terror. "Did... did I cause that?"

                          The static fuzz rose into a short, buzzing growl, then Missing Number spoke, but this time the words appeared in front of it, marred by corrupted code. Its voice was still child-like, but oddly mechanical. But what stood out the most was its beak never even moved.

                          Thre4t d3tecTed. N3w f0rm t ken. N0w ccessinG dUmp m4trIx

                          Switch's beak fell open. "What on earth is a dump matrix?"

                          dUmp m4trIx cce55ed. CorrUpt3D fil3z wiLL b3 eras3d. DeleTing iN 0N3... Tw0...

                          Missing Number's long beak opened wide and shot out a stream of electricity straight at the topiary. Pixel leapt aside while Switch frantically flapped his wings in a desperate bid to escape. The topiary shattered to pieces and Switch found his legs and tail caught in the spray of electricity. A loud shriek flew from his beak and he crashed back down to the ground with a sick thud.

                          "Switch!"

                          Pixel threw herself towards him and reached out a paw to touch his wing. Immediately he returned to his human form and his eyes went to his watch. The screen was filled with black and white static, dancing over the display like a snowstorm.

                          She shook her head. "What..."

                          "Pixel, move!" Vector threw himself at her, sending them both rolling along the ground.

                          She looked back at Switch, and right where she'd been sitting rose a spiral of flames.

                          Missing Number turned its head and fixed its lifeless eyes on them.

                          D3tect3d r0gue ntIviru5 pR0graM. PR0graM i5 maLfuNcti0niNg. ERR0R. DeleTing...

                          It opened its beak wide in a terrible screech and fired a beam of ice. Vector shoved Pixel to the side then raised his paws, bringing up a barrier of light that deflected the attack back to Missing Number. The blow struck home but all the bird did was shake its head and ready another attack. This one deflected back and struck it in the wing and the bird didn't so much as flinch.

                          "I can't keep doing this," Vector told Pixel. "If I keep countering its attacks we're never going to erase it."

                          "But... I don't know what to do," she said. "All of my attacks are close range."

                          Her eyes went back to Switch, his beak hanging open as he panted with the effort of standing, his legs buckling beneath him as his form switched back to human. Tears stung at her eyes and she retreated backwards, away from the monstrosity that floated before them.

                          "Pixel!"

                          @tt4ck pRovInG inEff3cTivE. Ch4NgIng [email protected]

                          She rubbed a paw across her eyes and sobbed. It felt hopeless. What could she do? How could they possibly fight this thing?

                          "Pixel!

                          The panic in Vector's voice made her eyes snap open. A streak of ultraviolet shot towards her, lifeless eyes fixed on her over a dagger-like beak. She span away from it towards the monstrous bird, her horn arcing upwards to strike it under the chin.

                          Missing Number gave a deafening shriek as it rolled away from her, landing in a crumpled heap on the floor mere inches from Switch.

                          D3tecTed Thre4t inCr3a5E. ShuTtInG D0wN sYst3M

                          Ultraviolet bolts fired from its body towards the sky. The static forcefield over the Fracture dimmed, plunging them into darkness. The only light coming from above them now was ultraviolet, just like the laboratory in the human world.

                          Pixel's heart leapt into her throat and she glanced around them at the dark park, expecting to see one of those persian statues with its blinking eyes. But everything looked the same. The shattered topiary still lay in pieces beside Switch's motionless body.

                          What did it mean by 'shutting down System'? She swallowed drily as she feared the world outside may be much worse than when they entered the Fracture.

                          Missing Number hunched forwards, fixing its eyes on Pixel and Vector. It opened its beak and let out that melodic, static cry, pinging before it ended in a long fuzz that seemed to come from all directions.

                          "We've seen its attacks," said Vector quietly. "It can only go for one of us at once."

                          Pixel felt a small jolt in her mind as his words sank in. One of them at once. That meant she needed to distract it so he could get close to it.

                          If that was the case, then she had to hope she was its next target.

                          She took a deep breath then rushed towards it, keeping herself in its line of vision. It kept its eyes on her and as she turned away turned to follow her and opened its beak wide. Flames spewed from its beak and she ducked, feeling the heat as they coiled behind her. She was close enough to strike it now. As she brought her horn up towards it she could see Vector out of the corner of her eye, rushing at it with his paw outstretched.

                          Its attack stopped abruptly as it turned its head round and screeched, flapping its wings as it leapt aside, narrowly avoiding Vector's paw. Her horn struck its chest and it stumbled backwards, flailing, the flames from its wings licking her fur.

                          She readied herself for another attack. If she could just knock it off its feet, send it to the ground, it would have no time to dodge.

                          The monstrosity's body jerked towards the ground and it let out a panicked shriek. Another scream joined it and Pixel looked down at Switch, his arms fastened around Missing Number's legs. Electricity coursed through his body and his face creased with pain.

                          Vector wasted no time. He rushed at the monster and grabbed its wing in one paw. The feathered form retreated backwards, shrinking down into itself. That horrid screech became more and more mechanical, forcing Pixel to cover her ears.

                          Then it cut out into a static fuzz.

                          Mama? Mama! Mama!

                          Light exploded through the ultraviolet, dazzling her eyes so much she had to screw them shut. But it wasn't enough. She dropped to the ground and curled into a ball, clutching her paws over her head.

                          That child-like cry faded away and the light dimmed with it, finally settling at a level that resembled daylight. She blinked her eyes open, and when they adjusted to the brightness she found herself lying in a ruined city with a clear view of the blue sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds that briefly blocked out the sun.

                          A soft breeze whipped through her fur and she felt her lips curl up into a smile.

                          "It's gone," she breathed.

                          Erratic snuffling drew her attention from the sky to Switch who was jabbing at his watch with one of his talons. When his form switched back to human, he scrambled across the floor and crouched beside a blue meowstic lying face down in the grass.

                          Pixel's eyes widened and she pushed herself to her feet. "Vector?"

                          Switch placed a hand on his head and ran it down over his shoulders, brushing over the two dark blue stripes that cut across his back.

                          "Come on, buddy," he whispered. "Don't do this to me."

                          A painful lump rose in her throat as she watched Switch scoop up Vector's limp body in both arms. He lowered his head to his chest and let out a strangled sigh.

                          She clasped her paws together and edged over to him. "Is he...?"

                          "Barely."

                          Switch stood, his legs wobbling as they strained to hold his weight, and hugged Vector to his chest. His golden eyes glistened with tears and he opened his mouth to say something to her, but was cut off as a flash of pink appeared a few feet away from them.

                          "It's gone!" Retro vanished again and reappeared beside them with the three unown floating around her head. "The Fracture's wall! It's gone!" Her eyes went down to the meowstic in his arms and they widened slightly. "What happened? I thought once the virus had gone..."

                          "We'll explain later," said Switch. "He needs help."

                          Retro gave a curt nod. A pink bubble formed around them and in a flash the world warped and reformed at the site of Central Meta Hospital.

                          Pixel's heart sank. This was the last place she wanted to see.

                          The whole street was teaming with pokemon, their frantic voices melding together as they searched through the crowd. More and more of them were gathering onto the street, flooding through the reception and pausing to look down at their bodies with fascination. Bodies they thought they would never see again.

                          Pixel couldn't help but shake her head in wonder. Vector had done it. The destruction of the Fracture erased the virus.

                          "How on earth are we meant to get through here?" Switch asked as he tried to avoid being jostled in the crowd, clutching Vector protectively to his chest.

                          Pixel clutched onto his knee, keeping an eye above her as they passed by the larger pokemon who weren't being too careful with where they put their feet.

                          "Hey!" Switch roared over the din. "Does anyone work here?! We need help!"

                          The pokemon standing closest to them looked over at him then stepped aside, watching with curiosity as the human moved through the crowd clutching his unconscious friend.

                          "Any doctors?!" Switch shouted. "Anyone?!"

                          The closer they got to the door, the more rowdy the crowd became. Retro appeared beside Pixel, throwing a bubble over her before a rhydon crushed her beneath his foot. The large rock pokemon looked down with surprise and gave her a heartfelt apology.

                          Before Retro could give Switch the same treatment, two green paws reached out from the crowd and plucked Vector from his grip.

                          Switch's eyes widened with fear and his lip curled into a frown. The crowd parted and several pairs of curious eyes looked between the human and the gallade. One of the three pokemon neither of them had wanted to see. Pixel's heart did a flip and her paws went to her mouth as she stifled a yell.

                          "You wanted a cure," said Switch bluntly. "You were right. He had it."

                          Hertz met Switch's eye then looked back down at the limp meowstic. Shifting him onto one arm, he adjusted his stethoscope over his ears and placed it on Vector's chest. After a long, tense moment, he looked over his shoulder and shouted into the reception.

                          "I need a respiratory doctor in critical care! Now!" He turned back to Switch and Pixel and gave them a solemn nod. "We've got no power but I assure you we'll do what we can."

                          Switch stood watching after the gallade, dumbfounded.

                          Retro peered over his head. "That's the doctor you were telling me about?"

                          Both Switch and Pixel nodded.

                          "I was really expecting him to throw us into prison," said Pixel.

                          She took off after the gallade, dodging through the crowd that filled the reception. The crowd parted as Switch pushed through behind her, allowing them enough space to flow out into the empty corridor after Hertz.
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                          A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                          Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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                            #38    
                          Old May 31st, 2017 (7:12 AM).
                          Delirious Absol's Avatar
                          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                          Call me Del
                             
                            Join Date: May 2015
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                            Age: 32
                            Gender: Female
                            Nature: Quirky
                            Posts: 285
                            Epilogue

                            The rhythmic beeping from the heart monitor was the only noise in the ward. Pixel sat on a plastic chair, slumped forward with her arms folded beneath her on the bed. She'd refused to leave, spending nights sleeping in the hospital waiting room. It had taken two days for the main control deck to be repaired. In the meantime it had been touch and go. The life support machine they'd wired Vector up to had been battery powered, and a raichu had come in to charge it up every couple of hours. Pixel had been certain it was the same raichu they'd fought with only a week or so earlier, but if he recognised them he didn't show it.

                            The mattress shifted and Pixel's eyes fluttered open. A paw brushed her head and she looked up at Vector as he stretched out his arms. His face creased as he flinched and retracted his arms back in towards his chest.

                            A huge smile spread across her face and she propped herself up on her elbows. "Vector."

                            His blew eyes opened and he pushed himself up as he looked around the room. When his eyes fell on her he relaxed and rubbed a paw across his face.

                            "Where am I?" he asked. "What happened?"

                            "After you defeated Missing Number, you... well... we had to rush you to hospital." She watched him look around the room again. "It's Central Meta. You'll be surprised. The doctor who was after you... he saved your life."

                            "Really?" His eyes widened briefly and he looked down at his paws. "So the antivirus has gone... does that mean...?"

                            Pixel nodded. "System is back to normal. Well... there's damage, but those who had the virus have recovered."

                            "Recovered, eh?" He rubbed a paw against his chest. "Then why am I still sore?"

                            "They think the antivirus did some damage. They found blistering on your lungs, but they're trying their best to fix it."

                            He pushed himself up and adjusted his pillow so he could lean back against the wall. Once he was comfortable he yawned widely and took the glass of water Pixel offered to him.

                            "So how is everyone else?" he asked.

                            "Switch is fine. He went back to Spool yesterday, but he wouldn't leave until the doctors assured him you were okay."

                            He chuckled and sipped at his water. "He's not a bad guy."

                            Pixel smiled. "No, he's not. He's been worried sick. Chip's recovered from the virus too and she's with Retro and the unown now. They've gone back to the Binary Jungle since Cyan Island is still grounded. I'm not sure they'll ever get them up in the sky again."

                            "Well, they got them up in the sky centuries ago so there must be some modern technology that can do it."

                            He took another sip of his water then leant towards Pixel to set his glass back on the table. Their eyes met and he raised a paw, brushing it over the long fur beside her face. She let out a happy sigh and leant her cheek into his paw, feeling it trace over her cheek and jaw.

                            "I'm so glad you're okay," she said.

                            He leant towards her but she raised a paw to stop him.

                            "I have some more news for you. I think you'll want to hear this."

                            He raised an eyebrow to prompt her to continue.

                            "Your group, Bridge. They're all alive and are assisting with an investigation in the ruined lab. They've found something they think might lead back to the human world."

                            "Wow." His eyes widened and he gave a small laugh. "That's... that's amazing."

                            "I know. They're keeping quiet about it though so we don't know any real details. I think they want to avoid causing too much fuss perchance it's nothing. Also, some might think it poses a threat."

                            "Then how do you know about it?" He paused and looked around the room before lowering his voice. "N00b?"

                            "Actually... we have Retro to blame for this one. She got curious about the mew cloning experiment the humans were doing. It made her wonder if that's why she was immune to the virus and she decided to go investigating. She stumbled upon Bridge's discovery and was told to stay quiet. She only told us because we were there."

                            "Well... looks like all this has finally come to an end then." He ran a paw over the fur between his ears and sighed. "It's all over..."

                            He locked his eyes on hers again and held them as he brushed his paw over her cheek. Then he leant forwards and caught her in a kiss, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her towards him until she was perched on the edge of the bed. He broke away and trailed small kisses over her cheek and down to her shoulder, then stopped to nuzzle into her fur.

                            "Did they say how long I was going to be in here?" he asked.

                            She shook her head. "No. I don't think they know. But since you're clearly better then... I can't imagine too much longer."

                            He met her eyes again and stroked his paw over her arm. She caught it in her own paw and gave it a soft squeeze.

                            "I really need to get some lunch. Is there anything you need? I'll bring it when I come back this afternoon."

                            He leant back against the pillow and yawned again. "Just something to read." He gave her one of his warm smiles that made his whole face light up. "And yourself."

                            She felt a blush spread over her cheeks and she slipped from the bed and made for the door.

                            ...

                            Hertz looked away from the meowstic's window and turned down the corridor as he flicked over his medical notes. He'd not seen a condition as severe as Vector's before, but he was confident he was making good progress.

                            He passed by Sample and Mono leaning against the wall and Sample kicked back from it and cleared his throat.

                            "You gonna do something about that mawile and her friends?" Sample asked a little too loudly.

                            Hertz looked back at him. "Hmm? No, I wasn't planning on it."

                            "But they broke into the hospital," said Mono. "Not to mention started a rumble and smashed a window!"

                            "While that may be true," said Hertz as he turned to continue down the corridor, "they succeeded in doing what I couldn't. I think saving the world is a good enough excuse for the little inconvenience they caused, don't you?"

                            ...

                            One month later...

                            Pixel stood between Vector and Retro, peering between N00b's ears while craning to see past the pokemon in front of her. The portal looked like a black tear amongst the debris of the laboratory. It leaked an ultraviolet light like those cracks, but allegedly posed no threat. The marowak pacing back and forth before it spoke clearly into a megaphone.

                            "Thorough investigation has gone on beyond this portal and we can confirm that it does indeed lead to the human world," he said. "However, I want you all to know before you go back that your world has also been affected by its own virus outbreak. The city beyond this portal has been reduced to ruin, but we can assure you any trace of a virus is gone. The humans were affected in much the same way as the pokemon were here. Their forms were changed into that of pokemon, but they are now returned to their normal state. How do we know this? Because we asked."

                            A few cries came from the group of pokemon as they retreated back from the nearest humans standing amongst them.

                            The marowak raised his paw and shouted through his mega phone, "Calm down, don't worry yourselves! We already know the virus can't cross the species barrier. The humans were with us way before the outbreak." When the crowd had calmed down, he went on, "Since humans are still pokemon here, we ran a test to see what would happen when they go back. Our volunteer's form reverted to that of a human the moment they stepped through the portal, so we can rest assured your forms will be returned to you very soon. As for the humans back in your world, they are also conducting their own experiments on the other side of the portal, and are eagerly awaiting your return. Firstly, the ones still in comas will be entering first, then those who are conscious will follow."

                            N00b sobbed and looked up at Connor. "Well... looks like you're finally going home."

                            "I know." The pikachu's eyes widened. "I can't believe it."

                            "You sure you don't wanna stay?" asked Byte. "I can teach you some electric attacks."

                            Connor waved the emolga off. "No, thank you. I've been waiting for this day for years."

                            "Aww, I'm gonna miss you, Connor boy." Snippet the leavanny dabbed her eyes with a tissue. "You take care now, okay?"

                            Her eyes flew wide open when Connor span and threw his arms around her waist. Tears shone at the corners of his eyes and he wiped a paw over his nose as he pulled away.

                            N00b shook his head sharply. "No, no! Don't you cry! You're gonna set me... aww!" He screwed his eyes shut as tears trickled over his muzzle and sobbed loudly.

                            Switch leant forwards and ruffled the lillipup's ears. "You know it's for the best, buddy."

                            N00b nodded. "I know, I know. But if you can... you know... visit on holidays and stuff."

                            Switch laughed and turned to Connor, pulling an envelope from his pocket.

                            "If you wouldn't mind," said Switch. "The directions are on there. Please pass that on to my parents."

                            Connor looked from the envelope to Switch. "Wait... you're really not coming?"

                            Switch shook his head. "I've got a life here. Everything my parents need to know is written in that letter." He gave Connor a fond smile. "You take care of yourself, okay?"

                            Connor stared at him for a moment then nodded, returning his smile. "Thank you, everyone. For everything."

                            They watched the pikachu as he went to join the crowd of humans. Wheels rattled over the concrete as beds were dragged towards the portal and guided through to the other side.

                            Diode and N00b snuffled and dabbed at their eyes.

                            "I can't believe this day's finally come," said Pixel.

                            "No," said Vector. "Neither can I."

                            "So Switch, why-"

                            Pixel looked around through the crowd and spotted Switch's retreating form. She quickly apologised to Vector and ran off after him.

                            "Switch!"

                            He stopped and looked back at her.

                            "Why aren't you going home?" she asked.

                            He chuckled and leant back against a tree. "I thought you didn't want me to go home."

                            "I don't," she said. "But that's just me being selfish. It's your home. This might be your only chance to go back. They're going to try and close it after."

                            He shrugged and looked over at the crowd. "To be honest, I see this place as my home now. It's kind of a long story, Pixel, but before I got sucked into this world I was already running away from home. I'd got fed up of life in my town. It wasn't easy. I didn't have any friends. One day I decided to just leave. To go and find myself. I'd managed to make it all the way to Cinnabar Island when that explosion hit. I found myself in this world and at first I wanted to go back, but after a while I made friends. I even made a living for myself. The one thing I do regret though is that I never had a chance to tell my parents I'd made it to Cinnabar Island. Surely they know by now that I was in that explosion, so I sent Connor with a letter to tell them I'm okay. I'm alive and I'm staying here."

                            She looked back at the group of pokemon, the marowak's voice cutting over the noise.

                            "Form an orderly line! An orderly line!"

                            "Besides," said Switch. "I can't break N00b's heart twice. He's already got one human leaving him."

                            Pixel laughed and clasped her paws behind her back. "So what are you going to do now he's going home?"

                            He made a thoughtful noise and gave her a wink. "I think I might join an investigation team. Do you know any?"

                            A huge smile spread across her face.

                            "Hey, guys?" Vector waved at them. "Connor's going home. Don't you want to see him off?"

                            Switch gave a heavy sigh and ran his hand through his hair. "All right. I'll watch him. But get ready to see a grown man cry, okay?"

                            They rejoined the crowd and Pixel stood between Retro and Chip. The buneary gave her a fond smile and looped an arm around her shoulders.

                            The flow of humans walking into the portal caused tears to well up in Pixel's eyes. She wiped a paw across them and looked over at Switch. He'd adopted his talonflame form in an attempt to blend in, but the tears were clear in his golden eyes. She made sure not to miss the small pikachu dressed in a suit slip through the portal. He never even looked back.

                            When every last human was through, the marowak and members of Bridge pulled up a hazard ribbon, cutting off access to the portal.

                            Pixel found herself swept in the crowd on the way out of the ruined city.

                            "Well, this has been an x-tremely emotional day," said X.

                            "You're telling me," said Amp. "I don't think I've cried so hard in my life."

                            "Hmm." Switch folded his arms behind his head. "I'm gonna miss Connor, but I'm happy for him. It'll be interesting to see what this world is like now. All the cases I took on for Luma Island were hate crimes towards humans."

                            "Yeh, they got cast aside," said Pixel sadly.

                            "I can't really remember what life was like twelve years ago," said Retro with a laugh. "What did we do?"

                            "Solved cases that were swept under the rug," said Pixel. "Took on small requests."

                            "Weren't you looking into the human's mew cloning?" Switch asked her.

                            Retro waved a dismissive paw. "Oh, I've dropped that. There's no possible way I can find out if more mew were immune to the virus since they all live in the Analogue Islands, and the virus never made it that far. Since I can't find out any more, I've decided to get an investigation team up and running again."

                            "That's great!" said Pixel. "I was hoping to do that too!"

                            N00b skipped up beside them. "Well first thing's first, you wanna get your island back up in the air, right?"

                            Switch looked down at him with a start. "N00b, I really don't think you should toy with a flying island."

                            "I made a flying car!"

                            "Yes but that island is a lot bigger!"

                            N00b tutted and looked away from him. "You've got no faith in me."

                            Retro laughed. "I'm sure they'll get it back up there somehow. In the meantime I was thinking of going back to the Binary Jungle."

                            Switch grimaced and Pixel hid a smile behind her paw.

                            "Can we find somewhere a bit bigger?" she asked Retro. "Somewhere that could at least accommodate a talonflame?"

                            "Oh!" Retro clasped her paws behind her back and floated up in front of Switch. "Thinking of joining us, are you?"

                            "If you wouldn't mind," he answered.

                            Vector closed his eyes and snorted. "I don't think he would have given you much choice."

                            N00b bounced up and down on his toes. "Well, if Switch is joining, I'm joining!" Diode waved frantically and N00b nodded. "So is Diode."

                            "Well, we need all the members we can get," said Retro. "It's not an easy job. I think we'll be the first investigation team to reform."

                            "Oh wait! I have an idea!" N00b trotted backwards as he talked to the mew. "We can use Connor's old base! I'm sure Snippet won't mind!"

                            "Oh wonderful!" Switch beamed. "We'd have a maid!"

                            "Hey! Snippet's like a mother to me. Don't call her a maid!"

                            Retro laughed again. "If Snippet won't mind, then we would love to use Connor's base."

                            "Excellent!" Switch stretched languidly. "I can fit in there in either form."

                            As they walked on, Vector slipped his paw into Pixel's and she looked over at him, catching his eye. He gave her a warm smile and edged closer to her, turning his attention to the sky. She followed his gaze and felt happiness swell up inside her.

                            No more cracks. They had a perfect, clear view of the sky.

                            "You know what would be nice?" he asked.

                            "Hmm?"

                            "Relaxing in a sunbeam."

                            ...

                            A/N - Whew! I am sorry for slacking in getting this all uploaded. But here it finally is! I hope you enjoyed it =D thank you so much all who have read, and all who left feedback! I really appreciate every view!

                            Fairly soon, I'll be uploading a new 'fic set in the same universe. It's not exactly a sequel, but if you enjoyed this story please feel free to check out my new one which will be titled System:Reboot =D
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