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  #76    
Old October 8th, 2017 (9:54 PM).
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Pokemon having Chatot be their translators I think is a cool idea and makes sense. Everyone in the White Knights being Pokemon explains why they've been going against Team Rocket. Subject Nine's appearance, tho. I thought Subject Nine is gone due to that journal entry mentioning they only have a day left to live, seems that isn't the case. I feel Subject Nine's foreshadowing should have happened much earlier in the story, like during the warehouse incident. There's a chance though you probably left some subtle clues there and I need to check back on those earlier chapters.
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Old October 15th, 2017 (9:05 PM). Edited October 29th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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I put some foreshadowing in since Bay's comment, changing Chapters 17, 18, 20, and 35 to reflect this new plot twist. Thanks for pointing that out Bay! I suppose it'd be nice to have that bit earlier, but honestly there's so much going on in this story at this point that I don't know how I could make it happen any earlier. Some parts may need to be cut out wholesale. Anywho, enjoy!


Chapter Thirty-Nine

Two days after Seven gave Bruno the video of Pete living with two other lucario, she told him her story, everything she could remember of her confinement in Atheros Labs, the surgical procedures and intelligence tests, all the escape attempts that became footnotes in the Professor’s research, and the sweet taste of freedom she felt the instant before the jaws of the Professor’s final trap snapped over her.

At the end, Seven told him about the times she pleaded with humans over internet forums, humans she spent years talking to, befriended, shared secrets and gossip, roleplayed with and discussed the finer points of anime. After each plea, all she received was silence. Some acted as though they never got the message, even after she sent more. Others blew it off as a joke, or called her crazy. As she became more persistent, her contacts erased their accounts and left. That was when she realized that the Professor had counted on humanity’s unwillingness to help non-humans like her, had let her enjoy the possibility of escape before she ran into the brick wall of the human desire to preserve the status quo and their own indolent lifestyle.

Bruno drank up every bitter word the way parched dirt drinks gasoline. His expression went from pleading and tearful while watching Peter drink coffee with the two lucario, to sullen and cold. Palpable rage clung to the air around him. Every time Seven left his cell, her hands shook, and her mouth salivated at the memory of human flesh sliding over her tongue.

Seven avoided long exposure to his presence after gnawing through seven packs of jerky to calm her hackles, but Bruno had already cracked. After that second day, he answered her first question, and more. He described the Temple, a colony of lucario living halfway up a mountain with a handful of human and pokemon companions, and his police training, which started seven years ago when Peter came to the Temple and trained alongside him, and everything he knew of the police system, from the patrol routes to their arsenal, his own predictions for their next moves.

Seven spoke with him through the plasma barrier and recorded his answers. Admin Colson found no deceit, and Giovanni applauded her for her resounding success. As Bruno got a flushing toilet, foam mattress, silverware and a dining table, and internet access, Seven received organic jerky as tender as the eighty dollar steaks she had for dinner every evening.

On the fifth day, Giovanni summoned his Admins. They met in his office, behind locked doors, with a spread of fine slices of ham and cheese to sample, accompanied a bottle of fifty-year Pinot Noir.

Giovanni speared the first slice of ham on a tiny fork, chewed it methodically, and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. “I called you all here because the police and the Knights will make their move very soon.” He gestured at the platter and empty wine goblets and said, “Please help yourselves. Consider this the appetizer to the meal we shall share after we crush them both with the same stone.”

Seven wrapped a slice of ham around a chunk of manchego cheese. The rich, nutty flavor made her shiver with delight as she reached for a second helping. Fisher poured himself a full goblet of wine, Celeste sampled wine and ham in equal measure, allowing one flavor to complement the other, and Colson ignored the spread, instead typing on a keyboard concealed beneath his shirt sleeves.

“The police and the Knights met yesterday,” Giovanni said. “Though I could assume they wished to team up to remove us, I had no way of knowing if they reached any form of agreement. However, this happened today.”

He set a newspaper on the desk. On it read the headline: New Release Function Added to Pokéballs to Thwart Rockets. “To summarize,” Giovanni said, “A law got rammed down Parliament’s throat to give pokéballs an escape option for pokemon, the premise being any pokemon held against its will can escape, and we would lose our means of controlling them.” Giovanni snorted, crumpled up the newspaper, tossed it in a garbage bin, and sanitized his hands. “It’s bullmuk through and through, designed to hide a few truths behind this maneuver.”

Admin Colson chimed in without looking up from his wrist. “The WK are a pokemon activist group, and that law was one of their conditions.”

“Precisely.” Giovanni took a morsel of cheese and savored it, looking at each Admin in turn. “But there’s more. The WK won’t content themselves with this tiny change, not from the way the police are trying to cover up their involvement. This is a first step, and their endgame will not be popular.”

Celeste sipped her wine. “Until they publicly announce their intentions,” she said, “We can’t use that against them. They may take advantage of our presence and police endorsement to push their platform, but they may also wait until the war’s over.”

“True,” Giovanni said. “However, an elegant solution sits in this room.”

Four sets of eyes turned towards Seven. With a nod, she asked, “What are your orders?”

“Infiltrate the WK,” Giovanni said. “What you do after that, I leave to your discretion. You may assassinate their leaders, gather incriminating evidence, sabotage their intelligence networks, or assume the identity of a prominent figurehead and start a scandal. The priority is to demolish them as quickly as possible, understood?”

“Yes sir.”

One slice of ham remained on the platter. She started towards it, but she stopped and withdrew her fork. With a thin smile, Giovanni gestured towards the ham, and Seven took it.

“I will give you four days to get your paperwork in order and transfer Bruno over to Celeste’s care,” Giovanni said. “After that, you will begin your mission. You may take any member of your team and any pokemon in your possession, but in your place, I would take few of each. Too many pokemon or humans will attract attention.”

With a wave, he dismissed them all. Seven went to her room and sorted all the essential paperwork. She assigned personnel to defensive posts and recon, sorted the spoils of her latest missions, and informed Blacksmith that he would be taking over in her absence. Her steak dinner arrived as her stomach made its first rumbling complaints, and she ate with gusto. The bordelaise sauce that accompanied it dulled the meaty flavor, but after spending time with Bruno, she found its tangy, bitter flavor a welcome distraction.

She left her plate on a tray outside the door and went to a private-access elevator. It took her a quarter mile below the city, to an abandoned subway project repurposed by the Rockets. A sleek, magnetic railway connected Rocket bases like arteries, pumping people and supplies wherever they are needed.

Seven took a single car, about the size of a small bathroom, all the way to the detention center that held Bruno. She passed two guards on her way in. Both of them bowed, and one opened the door for her.

A long, narrow room, filled with computer monitors and recording equipment, had a one-way mirror with a view of the facility’s holding cells. A handful of researchers monitored the facility’s lone occupant, noting everything from eating habits to the noises it made. From one of the monitors, Thoth stared out at them and assisted in translations and behavioral computation.

“Hello sir,” Thoth said when Seven entered the room. “No significant changes have been recorded since your last visit. The subject remains compliant.”

A chill settled on Seven’s heart like frost at the word, but she brushed it aside. “I’ll be needing you for another mission.”

The screen flickered as Thoth processed her comment. “Like Stonebough?”

“Similar.”

Electrons jumped as the porygon moved through the screen. Its three-dimensional plasma form floated at eye level in front of Seven.

“I am at your service,” it said. “May I inquire about the mission parameters so I can start risk assessment and optimal strategies?”

“Later,” Seven said. “It’s a confidential mission, and we cannot risk being overheard.”

The porygon followed Seven as she went to Bruno’s cage. She stayed behind the plasma wall. Bruno was looking at his laptop with a glare that told her it he was watching the video again.”

“Good evening,” she said. “Did you enjoy your dinner?”

His eyes darted up. “It was excellent, thank you.”

“Good. I came to let you know that I will be leaving in four days. I have an important mission, and during that time, I will leave you in the care of Admin Celeste. Treat her with the same courtesy you treat me.”

Bruno’s eyes blazed as he said, “Take me with you.”

“Excuse me?”

He walked over to the plasma. His muzzle was a hair’s width from having every electron stripped from its proteins. “I know how to handle myself in a fight, and I can sense aura. Whatever you’re doing, I would be a huge help.”

Seven shook her head and smiled. “You’re a prisoner, and Giovanni wants you to stay that way. What’s stopping you from escaping?”

“This collar,” he said, tugging at the device around his neck. “If I betray you, just push the button and problem solved.”

“You could steal the remote,” Seven countered. “And the range on it is limited.”

“Then make it so the device will go off if I get too far away from you, or something.”

“You could still betray us at the cost of your life.” She gestured at the computer. “You could tell him about this place, and the police would eventually find it and others.”

Bruno picked up the laptop and flung it on the ground. The plastic casing broke into tiny fragments. Wires and silicon chips spilled out of it like guts, and Bruno smashed them all to dust with his feet.

“He left me here.” Bruno’s voice burned, and tears turned his eyes into shimmering orbs of fire. “He left me here and replaced me with two more lucario.” He chuckled and said, “What do I have left but to join up with you?”

Even with the plasma buffer in between them, Seven could feel the raw anger in his voice. The offer tempted her, doubly so since Giovanni would applaud her for turning their captive into a useful pawn, but she shook her head. “The risk is too great. I cannot allow you outside of that cage.”

A shudder ran through the power grid. The lights flickered, the plasma leaked out of its magnetic casing, and Thoth gave an unearthly shriek as its delicate circuitry frayed apart like old rope. Then the world went dark. Thoth exploded in a shower of glittering white fragments that vanished into whatever they touched with a crackle of sparks. The barriers fell. Bruno’s toxic rage warmed her like a radioactive furnace, and the suggestion of scalpels had the deathlike chill of a morgue. Hope swathed her like a blanket as she reached for the flashlight in her hair, but when she pushed its switch, nothing happened.

Sweats and fits of shivering reduced Seven to a shuddering heap on the floor. Her illusion fell apart as the first syringe dug its way into her veins. Moans escaped her lips, and she begged for the darkness to end.

A gentle blue light answered her prayers. She didn’t notice the lessening darkness until her shadow stood out in the light. When she turned back, Bruno stood over her, holding a glowing sphere in one hand. His other reached for her.

Seven’s hand approached his, but in the light, she saw her own hand, covered in black fur, naked of its human illusion. She forced the illusion back in place, pushed herself up with her hands, and stepped away from Bruno.

“I won’t ignore you,” he said. “I won’t leave you in the dark like they did. I won’t betray you, or hurt you, or do anything a human would. So please, let me help you.”

His anger was gone. In its place was a perfume-like sensation of affection and tenderness, like the aroma of a rose garden, gentle and sweet.

After a moment, Seven said, “It looks like I just lost one of my pokemon. I could use a replacement.”

A figure appeared behind Bruno, hidden by his shadow. Seven grabbed for her gun, but in the next instant, the figure vanished, taking Bruno and the light with it.

She was seconds from breaking down again before a Grunt lit a flare. The light it cast ran red bars over her.
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  #78    
Old October 17th, 2017 (10:28 PM).
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Bye bye Thoth, nice knowing you. D= But yeah, Bruno and Seven working together for this mission, this should be a wild ride.
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Old October 22nd, 2017 (8:18 PM).
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I may go back and change the last chapter or this one, depending on the feedback I get from this one. I'm on the fence about how it ends.


Chapter Forty

Peter checked the ammunition in his gun again. He knew it for a nervous tick before the night’s mission, but all the same, the eelektrik wriggling in his gut wouldn’t stop zapping him until he ran his thumbnail over the percussion caps of each bullet in the clip.

“So, you picked up on a trail?” he asked Jarem and Kolar.

The lucario looked at each other, and Jarem said, “Trail isn’t the right word for it. More like an urge. When a lucario does something habitually, a task they deem special, a bit of their aura lingers in the area imbued with that will.”

Kolar added, “Like an alarm clock.”

Peter nodded despite his confusion and asked, “What now?”

“We will follow it and see where it goes.”

The two lucario entered the bathroom, opened the window, and clambered out. Peter leaned out the window as they scrambled onto a fence.

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“Following the aura,” Kolar said. “He went out the same way.”

Peter’s stomach dropped, but he dug his hand into his pocket, pressed his Sudoku book between his fingers, and said, “Keep going. I’ll catch up with you.”

Running out the front door, Peter spotted two shadows gliding across the rooftops. He sprinted after them. Glass crunched beneath his feet and paper fluttered in his wake as Peter ran through the worn-down alleys half a mile south of his home. When the lucario leapt down to street level, he skidded to a halt and fell in behind them.

The alley they entered was too narrow for the two lucario to stand abreast. Kolar took the lead, and Peter, the rear, as they approached a wooden door eaten by rot and ready to fall off its rusted hinges. Jarem knocked gently on the soft wood. Footsteps grated on a gravel floor inside the building, and the door slowly swung inward.

A delphox poked his head around the opening. It smiled for a second, but its eyes widened in surprise when it peered around Jarem. It ran back inside, and moments later, an alakazam opened the door all the way.

The alakazam and Jarem spoke for a moment in grunts and growls Peter couldn’t even understand from emotional context, but he understood when the alakazam addressed him.

“So you are Peter,” the alakazam said in a soft, masculine baritone. He held out his hand. “My name is Preston. It is a pleasure to meet you, especially since Bruno has spoken so fondly of you.”

Peter’s heart lurched as he took the clawed hand and shook it. “You knew Bruno?” He grimaced at his words and hastily added, “I mean know.”

Preston grimaced and opened the door wider. “You better come inside. It is a long tale, and our current company will make it longer still.”

Peter followed the pokemon into the building. A shiver ran down his back as he passed the doorway, as if an invisible, tingling bubble enveloped the building. Despite the crumbling walls, gravel floor, rotten tables, and grimy bar, the building exuded a warm, old-fashioned charisma, as if he had walked backwards in time to a Prohibition-era speakeasy.

Six pokemon sat in stools surrounding the bar, a metang taking up two seats, a gardevoir next to an empty spot, a hypno and a mienshao sat together, and the delphox was behind a blaziken in a white robe. Peter’s mouth went dry at the sight of it.

“You’re from the WK?” he asked the blaziken.

The blaziken turned around, and the two lucario flinched. Kolar whispered in Peter’s ear, “That’s Nine.”

The blood froze in Peter’s veins. He numbly nodded towards Nine and said, “It’s good to see you again.”

“I wish I could say the same,” he replied, “But your presence here was an unexpected… obstacle.” He looked at the two lucario. “I hope you will excuse my current appearance. I’d rather not upset anyone.”

Peter cleared his throat and ran his fingers over the Sudoku book. “Is this some kind of White Knight meeting? If so, I apologize for walking in unannounced. We were following a lead we had on Bruno’s location.” He glanced at Preston. “If you have any information on his whereabouts, I would appreciate it if you would share.”

Preston gestured towards the bar, and three purple discs, hovering level with the tops of the stools, appeared in empty spaces between the seated pokemon. “Please take a seat. Stools are in short supply, so I hope you don’t mind one made of psionic energy.”

Peter’s first step took him towards the seat farthest from Nine, but after a second’s hesitation and a caress of the Sudoku book’s pages, he sat next to Nine. Jarem and Kolar took the other seats, next to the metang and Preston respectively.

A thick glass bottle, ostensibly cleaned compared to its grimy neighbors on the liquor shelf, floated towards Preston. Two glasses followed it like baby duckletts. The bottle opened and tipped itself over the glasses, and a cloudy peach-colored liquid poured into each.

“I would offer you a beverage,” Preston said, “But I’m afraid all I have is homebrewed berry sake, and I don’t know if it is safe for humans.”

Peter glanced at the other pokemon. Each one had a glass in front of them in various states of consumption. “I would like some, if you don’t mind.”

Preston blinked. Another glass glided across the bar, stopped beneath the bottle, and carried its load to Peter. He took a cautious sniff of the sake. It smelled faintly of alcohol and cheri berries. He sipped it, paused, waiting for the flavor to sink into his tongue. Nothing happened. He swallowed half of it, and this time, he caught a faint bite of alcohol, notes of spiciness, and a nutty aftertaste, but despite that, it tasted little stronger than water.

“Thank you,” he said after he drained the glass. “It was good.”

Preston’s brows furrowed. “I see.” He poured another glass, but this one bubbled as it reached him, and its peach color had darkened to solid amber. A single whiff nearly burned every hair in his nose.

“Hold on, I think I got it.” The surface of the liquid stirred, and it lightened slightly. One sip filled his mouth with the wild bonanza of nutty spiciness tempered with syrupy pecha that the first glass had suggested.

“I started this gathering a few years ago,” Preston said as the others sipped their sake. “From my time at the university, I noticed students and faculty going out to bars and socializing. Being what I am, the few times I tried it felt… awkward.” The alakazam cleared his throat and poured himself a second glass. “So, I decided to start my own. In my spare time, I searched for other pokemon with an intellect comparable to my own and a desire for some social interaction.”

“And Bruno was one of those you found?” Peter asked.

“Not exactly.” Preston stroked his mustache with a clawed finger and turned towards Kolar. “Is it acceptable to speak of your home?”

“He already knows,” Kolar answered.

Preston nodded and returned his gaze to Peter. “My travels took me to the Temple. There, I met with the Elders, and they expressed interest in our gathering. They asked me to allow Bruno to attend.”

Peter shook his head. His grip tightened on the glass, he swigged the rest of the sake and held out his hand for a refill. “Why didn’t he tell me? Did you ask him not to?”

“I did not.” The bottle poured out half a glass before returning to Preston’s side. “I do not prohibit anyone here from speaking of it, but the Elders may have instructed otherwise.” He asked Kolar, “Do you have anything to add?”

Kolar shook his head. “I know nothing of this place or of what the Elders had ordered.”

Nine set his glass down with a soft plink and leaned back on his stool. “So that was my mistake. I should’ve realized the Temple had an interest in this gathering before coming here.”

Peter watched him out of the corner of his eye as he asked Preston, “Are you part of the White Knights?”

“No. Nine came here to make that offer, and we were in the middle of discussing it when you came in.”

Peter suppressed the urge to ask their opinion and instead spoke to Nine. “That’s the reason you’re here, then? A recruitment drive?”

Nine closed his eyes and leaned back farther. “Sort of. I had a few other reasons for coming as well.” He stretched, sprung forward, and drank a mouthful of sake. “The second reason is I’m setting off an EMP half a block from here.”

Dead silence filled the room, as if the EMP had just gone off and disrupted all sound. Then Peter said, with all the calm he could muster, “You do realize that is highly illegal.”

“Quite,” Nine said, “Which is why I was rather disgruntled by your sudden arrival.”

“May I ask why you are setting off an EMP in the middle of the city, and that you didn’t inform us in our meeting yesterday?”

“Simple. It’s my first move against the Rockets, and the more people know a secret, the harder it is to keep it. Not to mention, there’d be so much bureaucratic red tape to cross if this got to Parliament that the Rockets would have every legislator hostage before they reached an agreement.”

“You still should’ve told us.”

“And give the Rockets time to set up a countermeasure like the one around this building?” Nine giggled. “You can blame the radical White Knights or the Rockets for all I care. Point is, if all goes well, you’ll have Bruno back by tomorrow night.”

Peter’s heart raced, but he schooled his face into an emotionless mask. “How so?”

“I had a few other reasons for the visit. Aside from warning their metallic member that an EMP would fry every electronic within half a mile of this spot, I also wanted Preston’s help in finding Bruno.” He tapped the gravel under the stools. “I know the Rockets have him in an underground bunker somewhere around here, but without more specific information, I’d never find him. So, once the EMPs disable the shields around Bruno, Preston will be able to find him.” Nine gave the lucario a sidelong glance and added, “Perhaps that would help in your search as well.”

Giddiness bubbled up like carbonation in Peter’s chest, but a lingering doubt iced it over. “Were you really planning to return Bruno?” he asked.

Nine’s eyes stared directly into Peter’s, and his posture straightened. “Of course. Why would I want to keep him to myself?”

Before Peter could think of a reply, Nine glanced down at a watch on his wrist. “It’ll go off any second. Be ready.”

A shudder ran through the walls. A purple membrane bent inwards, like a balloon squeezed by outstretched hands, and bounced back into place. Preston put a hand to his head and sagged forward.

“I found him!” he shouted.

At the same moment, the lucarios’ eyes widened. “We feel him,” Jarem said. “He’s not gone yet, but he’s very close. Elder Bayron will be here in a minute.”

“I’ll be right back,” Preston said. “Make sure to keep the area by the door clear.”

Nine’s eyes widened. “No, not yet. I have a team ready to move. This is our only chance to strike and we can’t warn them it’s coming.”

“You heard them,” Preston said flatly. “He doesn’t have much time. I’m going now.”

“No, wait!” Nine lunged towards him, but Preston winked out of existence. A rank, sweaty, odor filled the space he once occupied, one familiar to Preston’s nose.

A moment later, Preston and Bruno appeared in the room, staggered a few steps forward, and fell to the floor.
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  #80    
Old October 23rd, 2017 (10:01 PM). Edited October 23rd, 2017 by Bay Alexison.
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I admit the ending there seems abrupt, with last chapter Bruno and Seven going to work together and then this chapter you have Preston grabbed him. This could still work if next chapter showcases Bruno and Seven working together and what happened before that alarm, but it's your call how you want certain events be shown and such.
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Old October 29th, 2017 (8:19 PM).
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Happy almost-Halloween! I went back and added a small detail to the end of chapter Thirty-Nine, what I felt was a good compromise between the two endings I debated. And now we see the aftermath.


Chapter Forty-One

This meeting with Giovanni had no tender slices of ham, no pungent cheeses, no aromatic, heady wine. Bitter anger and disinfectant hung in the air. Ferns loomed over Seven like judges in a tribunal and blotted out the lights. Fisher, Colson, and Celeste stood near the door while she sat in front of Giovanni. Dread crushed her like a coat of lead, each fiber of it seeping into her skin and tainting her blood. Chills racked her chest, and a dry ache tickled the back of her throat.

“Let me see if I understand this correctly,” Givoanni said as he pressed another dollop of isopropanol onto his hands and crushed it between his palms. “An EMP was detonated directly above our isolated detention facility, and in the confusion, an unknown entity teleported in, took the lucario, and vanished.”

Seven nodded. Sweat trickled down her neck, soaking the back of her shirt. She shifted in her seat, and her hair got ruffled beneath her clothes, making them bulge out in awkward lumps.

“In addition, all the electronic equipment at that facility, a porygon, and thirty pokéballs were broken beyond repair, and we lost twenty-eight of those pokemon. Six personnel with implants had to be treated, and one died when his pacemaker malfunctioned.”

Seven bowed her head. Her stomach curdled, and the acrid taste of bile burned the back of her throat. “I ask your forgiveness. It was an oversight on my part that allowed this to happen.” She closed her eyes and clenched her hands while she waited for Giovanni’s answer.

The Rocket Boss leaned back and said, “There was nothing to be done. The police would never have the stones to set off an EMP, even in an isolated area, and very few psychics have the power to teleport as much and as far as the intruder.” He stroked his chin. His fingernails rasped against the faint shadow of a beard on his face. “It had to be the Knights, and for them to have the open support of powerful psychics is… a sobering thought.” He looked at Celeste and said, “Have all the other isolated areas abandoned, and move everything into the main blocks within six hours. If it isn’t there by then, leave it, and seal the exits.” To Colson, he said, “Reroute the power going into the auxiliary facilities into the core EMF, see if you can double the output.”

“What about B- the lucario?” Seven asked.

Giovanni shook his head. “We got what we needed, and it’s long gone besides. Let them keep their hollow prize, and let us learn what we can from this defeat.” He studied Seven and asked, “You are immune to psychic interference, correct?”

Seven nodded, and Giovanni smiled.

“Perfect. Then I won’t need to change plans.” He handed Seven a manila folder. “The details about your new identity are in there. Make sure you’re the only one that sees them.” He set a cardboard box on the desk and sliced the tape with a penknife. “You have three objectives while infiltrating the Knights. First, poison their most powerful psychics.” He held up a cologne bottle filled with a clear, bubbly liquid. “One drop of this in their food or drink will kill a psychic, but it won’t harm anything else. Just make sure it’s in something strong, it has a bitter taste.”

He held up a thin black rod. “I also intend to have Admin Colson ‘captured’ as part of this mission. Once he is imprisoned, find a way to give him this. It’s waterproof, shockproof, and heat resistant, so hiding it in food is possible.”

The third item was a small black cube. “Save this for last, when you are about to leave. This is an EMP powerful enough to take out a couple city blocks.” His grin widened. “One might say it’s a taste of their own medicine. It has a thirty minute timer on it, enough for you to get Colson out and return to base. Is that understood?”

Seven nodded. Giovanni gingerly reached for the final item, a pokéball, and set it on the desk. “Your haunter survived its pokéball’s destruction, but you’ll need replacements for the rest of your team. This is Subject Three, renamed Odin. It has been taught moves designed to impede or kill numerous targets and cause severe structural damage. Be careful not to get caught in single combat with this one, many pokemon can outclass it in speed and firepower.”

The pokéball weighed no more than a few ounces, but in Seven’s hand, it felt heavy enough to crush her fingers. She tucked it in her belt next to Set’s new pokéball and took extra caution not to press its release button.

“Also, I had your porygon reassembled using its backup files. It won’t have any memory of the time it spent with you, but it should have all of its software patches. It’ll be on your computer.”

“Will I be receiving any more pokemon?” Seven asked.

Giovanni rubbed more disinfectant into his hands. “Since we’re dealing with activists, it’s best that you pretend not to have any. It will be harder to hide having a full team, but one more could be useful. Take whichever of the Atheros Subjects you think will be most useful.” He looked up at Fisher and said, “Help Seven pick out a proper tool for the job, and offer whatever advice you can. If she fails, you’ll be the next one to try.”

Fisher nodded and walked out the door. After Giovanni dismissed her, Seven rushed after the Admin. While they walked, Fisher told her to keep as few secrets as possible, obey all their commands without hesitation, get a janitorial duty that grants her access and excuses to be in rooms, and never ask for a promotion or more sensitive duties. Seven typed notes into her tablet.

Seven also read through her résumé. She memorized her new name, Allison Caldwell, the outline of her cover letter citing martial arts lessons taken as a teenager and an abandoned major in computer sciences. Another folder held a thick booklet of persona-building details, from place of birth, through three moves, and into attending a local university. There were photographs of the fake person and fabricated family members, along with a short list of personal details for each. In addition, the file contained a wallet with loose bills, a generic credit card, an expired library pass, and a photo of her “mom.”

“Just remember,” Fisher said as they approached the labyrinth of pokemon cages, “If you see a Rocket while you’re undercover, they will not know who you are. They’ll try to kill you, and you better not hold back.”

The rows of plasma cages and their dead-eyed pokemon inhabitants sent a shiver up Seven’s back. She nodded and lowered her head. The metal floor vaguely reflected the bright hues of the pokemon, but the details were smudged out.

“See anything you like?” Fisher asked. “I’d know what I’d pick in your boat, but let’s see what you come up with.”

Seven went towards Subject One, a delphox. The vulpine pokemon stared at her with glazed orange eyes and tapped its claw against its pronged wand.

“A psychic type would be helpful if I’m up against other psychics,” Seven said.

Fisher shook his head. “A psychic like that alakazam would sense it a mile away.”

Seven went down the rows of cages. The dratini was gone, and the tyranitar sat on her belt, but all the others remained. She rejected the reuniclus and solrock as psychics, and the rest were either bulky fighters or house pets. An infernape caught her eye as potential back-up for Odin, but the fourteenth cell made the decision for her.

“This one,” she told Fisher, pointing at the ditto. She lowered the plasma barrier and approached it.

He frowned at the pink blob on the floor. “You’re joking, right?”

She snapped her fingers, and Fourteen fixed its beady eyes on her. “Mirror.”

The ditto expanded and changed color until its front was a perfect replica of Seven’s illusory body. She turned, and the ditto turned with her. Its beady eyes remained in place as the head turned, making it appear as if its eyes slid onto the back of its head. Its back matched hers, and once Seven completed the rotation, the ditto’s beady black eyes sank into the pupils of Steven Sun’s.

Seven raised her right hand and wiggled her fingers. While the ditto’s movements weren’t exact, it mimicked the gesture well enough to pass for human.

“Form-shift, watch.” The ditto shrank into itself and turned into a Velcro-strapped sports watch. Seven wrapped it around her wrist and pressed the Velcro into place. She held it up for Fisher’s inspection.

Fisher poked the watch. “That’s impressive. I would’ve gone for the infernape, but that little guy’s much more useful.”

With her new watch and more advice from Fisher, Seven went back to her room and cracked open a bag of beef jerky. A bottle of water washed it all down. Her computer flashed, and she noticed a beeping icon on her screen. She had turned it off before the meeting, but the porygon sitting in her computer had powered it up.

The box read, “Begin Plasma Transcription?” She clicked on the green checkmark, and the screen crackled with static. Scraps of binary leapt across the screen, and each pixel lit up with headache-inducing arrays of color. Inch by inch, light pressed out of the screen in polygonal lumps, until the new Thoth forced its way into reality.

“Greetings, master,” read a line of white script glowing on the porygon’s flat chest. “My name is Thoth, and I am a porygon of model 3, patch 1.087, with additional unsigned software additions downloaded to my systems.” It blinked at her and said, “These additions are not authorized by Silph Co. Would you like me to delete them?”

“No, keep them,” Seven told it. “Do you remember me?”

“Remember you? No, not at all. I was made from a back-up file with no memory stored, just the software. Am I correct in assuming that you have had a copy of myself before?”

“Yes. It was destroyed by an EMP.”

The porygon’s plasma shivered. “An awful way to go. Is there any danger of such an accident happening to me?”

Seven debated telling it about the EMP stuck in her hair. “It shouldn’t happen again.” Then she asked, “Do you know anything about the mission?”

“Mission?” Its eyes were unfocused as it scanned its data files. “I do have instructions in the boot-up files regarding the infiltration of the White Knights. Is this the mission you refer to?”

“Yes.”

The porygon leapt into the computer screen, and the computer froze for a moment. The fan whirred wildly, and the hard drive crackled. Then the porygon came back out. “I tried finding an optimal strategy, but there are too many unknown variables. I estimate a high probability of failure, at least sixty percent, and completing all three objectives will require a miracle.” Its eyes narrowed, and it added, “You said there wouldn’t be an EMP.”

Seven took a pokéball out of her desk drawer, a replacement for the one broken by the EMP, and called out Set. The haunter grinned at her and waved at Thoth.

“We have another mission,” Seven told Set. “Like the prison, but more dangerous. I’ll be counting on you again.”

The haunter sternly saluted her. A grin cracked its face, the hand went to its ethereal chest, and it wheezed with laughter. Misty black tears fell from its eyes and vanished before they hit the floor.

Thoth looked at the ghost and said, “Make that a seventy percent chance of failure.”
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Old October 30th, 2017 (4:41 PM).
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Oh ok yeah the slight change back in Ch 39 does makes the events unfolding more sense. I thought you could've made Seven react more when Giovanni mentions they won't go save Bruno. Bringing Ditto has a lot of potential of what Seven can do with it, and I think I'll like the upgraded Thoth as much as the original heh.
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Old November 5th, 2017 (9:32 PM).
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I don't usually get a chapter done in two and a half hours, but I wanted this done in time for my usual Sunday posting, and I hadn't even started it until a little while ago. Should be a riveting read all the same :D


Chapter Forty-Two

As suddenly as the darkness descended, light reappeared in a flash. In spite of his fur, the air’s chill made him shiver. He blinked, and his eyes adjusted to the surroundings. The wall in front of him had the same cracked, peeling paint as the abandoned bar his friends met at every month. He turned. The bar had more occupants than seats, most of them familiar faces, but four stood out from the crowd, two lucario, a robed figure that hid its face, and Peter. The lucario and Peter rose from the floor, and one lucario nursed a sore tail.

Bruno’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of Peter. Tears stung his eyes. He ran forward, arms outstretched to embrace him, but the two lucario darted between them, poised to strike. Bruno skidded to a halt on the gravel floor and stared in confusion at them.

Peter shoved them aside and went towards him, but the lucario pulled him back. “Let me go!” he shouted at them. “He’s right there! We got him back, and he’s fine!”

“He is not fine,” Jarem wrote. “He needs to return to the Temple immediately. The tiniest bit of stress could set him off, and there’s no helping him if that happens. Just keep your distance and wait for the Elder to arrive.”

Peter read the paper handed to him and crumpled it up. “No.” Peter’s command had the weight of an iron rod. “You’re only stressing him out more like this. Let me talk to him.”

Kolar eyed him warily. He wrote, “You’re not in a stable state of mind yourself. You may only make things worse.”

Peter’s hand went into his coat pocket. The outline of the Sudoku book made a square bulge in the fabric. “I am perfectly fine, and you are the one making everything worse. Stand aside, or I’ll find a pokéball for you.”

The two lucario flinched. They exchanged some words too quiet for Bruno to pick out, in the tongue of pokemon, and stepped aside. Though they look ready to pounce at a sneeze, they stood by as Peter walked up to him.

His embrace took the chill out of the air. Warmth seeped into him, as though Peter’s soul kindled his own. His calming presence swept away the fears and doubts clouding his head, and tears poured out of him.

“I can’t believe I’m finally back,” he said into Peter’s coat. Though the human couldn’t know his words, he understood.

“It’s good to have you back. I missed you more than I knew I could.” He chuckled, and his grip tightened. “I won’t ever lose you again, I promise.”

Bruno barked in agreement. One of Peter’s arms left the embrace and dug into a pocket. Peter held up a notepad and a pen.

“I have a spare on me, so write whatever you have to say.”

Bruno took the pen. His hands shook, but after a few tries, he wrote, “How did you find me?”

Peter glanced at the hooded figure. “It wasn’t us. The White Knights figured out where you were and arranged for your rescue. Preston was the one that got you out of there.”

Bruno looked back and saw Preston sprawled on the ground, out cold. He bent to feel his forehead. A fever burned Preston’s brow, but he breathed easily.

“Why are the White Knights here? And why are you here? What happened?”

Peter sighed. “That’s a long story. I don’t know how they found out where you were, but the Knights wanted to give you back to the police. They set off an EMP around here.” He shook his head. “I hope nobody got hurt by that.”

“I had the area cleared before we began,” the stranger said. “There shouldn’t be any injuries.”

Peter nodded. “Jarem and Kolar followed some kind of trail to this place, which is how we ended up here.” His face fell. “I wish you could’ve told me about this.”

Bruno glanced at the pokemon seated at the bar. Houdini, Sakura, and Aurum all looked as though they wanted to leave but didn’t dare draw attention to themselves, Jacqueline ignored the exchange and helped herself to the bottle of sake, and Benign watched with an unreadable expression.

“I’m sorry,” Bruno wrote, “The Elders didn’t want anyone to know because they feared it would be stopped.” He paused, and added, “It was to get me acquainted to the city. They thought if I spent time in an isolated area nearby, it’d help me build a tolerance to the city’s aura.”

Peter smiled at him, and Bruno’s chest fluttered. “It’s okay, I’m not mad. It was just startling, finding out you’ve been going to stuff like this for so long without me knowing. I thought we did everything together.” He embraced Bruno again. “And now that you’re back, it’ll be just like before. Together.”

The stranger stood and approached him. Though shadows hid most of his face, he recognized their glossy black fur and fox-like face.

“You look like Seven,” he said. As an afterthought, he wrote it down and showed it to them.

The robed figure chuckled and lifted its hood. Though the general shape and features of the face matched Seven’s, patches of pink goo disfigured its appearance. One eye peered out of a writhing bulge, and half of their jaw dripped off of their face.

“Seven’s my older sister,” he said in the human tongue. “So, is she their captive or their Grunt?”

“She’s an Admin,” Bruno wrote. “Who are you, and what happened to you?”

“My name is Nine.” He touched his face and said, “That last question is a very long story, and one I don’t care to tell.” He held out his hand. “Mind if we shake hands? I’d like to get to know the pokemon I spent half a fortune to rescue.”

Bruno took the outstretched hand. Nine’s grasp had the clammy sponginess of refrigerated pudding on half the palm, and the other half had the tingling warmth of fur. Bruno let go with a shiver. A tiny glob of pink goo clung to his fur, and it didn’t come off when he scraped it against the bar.

“Thank you for your time,” Nine said to the room, “However, I’m afraid I have other business to attend to. Good night, and stay safe. Who knows what the Rockets might be up to right now.”

Nine walked out the front door, and the other pokemon followed after him, Houdini first, then Aurum and Sakura leapt at the chance to leave. Benign left in their wake, and Jacqueline shook the last few drops of out the sake bottle before teleporting away.

Silence fell as Peter and Bruno watched the room clear. Jarem and Kolar tensed, and Bruno eyed them suspiciously.

“They told me you replaced me with them,” Bruno wrote. “They filmed a whole day of you around town with those two, doing everything we used to do.”

Peter’s hands tightened around that note, and he shoved it into his pocket. “We were looking for you. We’ve been looking all this time, and we finally found you. Everything’s going to be alright now, you’re safe.”

“Are we going home now?” Bruno wrote.

“Yes, yes we are.” Tears ran down Peter’s face. “We’re going home.”

Jarem stepped forward. “You need to stay here. Elder Bayron will be here shortly, and he’ll take you to the Temple.”

“The Temple?” Bruno asked. “Why there?”

“You’re too unstable,” Kolar answered. “You’ll go crazy if you spend any more time here.”

Fear caressed Bruno’s throat like the tip of a knife. “Peter will be coming with me, right?”

Jarem and Kolar exchanged a glance. Peter looked at them and asked for a translation, and when he finished reading, he said, “I’ll try to talk the Commissioner into it, but I don’t think so. It’s a tough time for the police right now, so tough that they agreed to work with the White Knights. They even had a law shoved through Parliament to seal the deal.” Peter looked back at the two lucario. “It’ll be for just a little bit, and then you’ll be back. Everything will be fine.”

“And they’ll stay with you?” Bruno asked.

Peter shook his head. “They’d be a big help, but the Elder is taking them back too. They may send others to stay, but it’ll just be until you’re all better, I promise. It’ll be just like old times.”

Bruno stepped back. “No, no, I don’t want to go. I just got back. I want to spend time together, go see a movie, have some coffee and donuts. Can’t we just do that for a day? Maybe that’s all I need to get better, and I won’t have to go back. Please?”

Peter looked around him. “Translation?” he asked. “I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on.”

Jarem and Kolar exchanged a glance. Together, they leapt forward, arms blazing with the power of aura. Jarem aimed a punch at Bruno’s chest, while Kolar grabbed at his throat. Bruno darted back, and his arms lit up with aura. He swept aside Kolar’s grab and rammed his elbow into Jarem’s stomach, driving all his aura and strength into the blow. Jarem doubled over and vomited onto the floor.

Blazing blue light grew into a sphere in Kolar’s hands. He flung it, and Bruno leapt aside, but it curved around and slammed him in the back. Kolar pounced onto him. Bruno grabbed a pointed stone on the ground and drove it into Kolar’s side. Blood gushed out of the wound and spattered onto Bruno’s fur. With a roar, Bruno rolled over, dragging Kolar beneath him, and slammed the stone into the back of Kolar’s head. The lucario slumped beneath him.

Jarem grabbed him from behind and dragged him to the ground. An arm wrapped around his throat, squeezing tight. As his lungs burned, Bruno bucked and drove his waist into Jarem’s gut. His arms jerked, and his grip loosened enough for Bruno to tuck his chin down, and when the arm squeezed again, Bruno breathed in. He clawed at the grip and battered at Jarem’s sides, but he couldn’t get Jarem off of him.

A heavy thunk echoed off the crumbling walls, and Jarem slid off of him. Bruno scrambled to his feet and found Peter standing over the limp body of Jarem with a wooden plank in his hand.

“I don’t know what happened,” Peter said, “So please tell me. We can work this out. It’ll all be okay.”

Bruno stared at the bodies on the floor and at Peter. Suspicion bubbled inside him like baking soda thrown onto acid, warring with the calming sensation that drew him towards Peter like a magnet.

He stepped forward, across the blood-soaked rocks. His foot slipped, and he wobbled, waving his arms to stay upright, but in that moment of vertigo, he imagined what would happen when Elder Bayron arrived and learned that he had stabbed a lucario. They’d never let him leave the Temple. He’d never see Peter again.

Tears stung his eyes as he ran out of the bar. Peter called after him, but his shouts faded into silence as Bruno lost himself in the winding alleyways. Darkness loomed around him, untouched by the dead street lamps standing sentinel over the forgotten streets.

By the time he stopped running, his lungs ached, and his legs gave out beneath him. He stared up at the starry sky. His mind wandered in a numb haze until a soft glow dimmed the stars.

Two figures came towards him, one carrying a flashlight, and both wearing robes. When they got closer, Bruno recognized Houdini. The other, their face hidden in darkness, guided the blind hypno by the hand.

“I didn’t expect to meet again so soon,” the stranger said. He lifted his hood. Nine smiled at him and offered a hand up. Bruno took it. He glanced at his hand, expecting more goop, but his fur was clean.

“I hid a tracker in your fur when we shook hands,” Nine said. “I was hoping to trace you back to the Temple and find a way to steal a lucario from there, but this proves far more convenient.”

Bruno’s mouth hung open in confusion, but before he could say anything, Houdini waved his pendulum. Purple light surrounded it like shimmering fire. Bruno’s eyes drooped, and he tumbled to the ground. He felt himself carried away before sleep took him.
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  #84    
Old November 12th, 2017 (8:36 PM).
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Bardothren Bardothren is offline
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To be honest, I wasn't sure what the heck I was going to put in this chapter... it just kind of wrote itself. It's funny how I can get ideas for stuff later on by flying off the seat of my pants :D

Chapter Forty-Three

Seven, clad in the disguise assigned to her, sat in front of a White Knight recruiter in a dank, dusty coffee shop tucked in a run-down corner of the city. Enough people filled the seats that a jumble of conversations drowned out their own. Blond hair fell past her shoulders, and she wore a lily white jacket, a white t-shirt, and blue jeans.

“So, Allison, why do you want to be a member of the White Knights?”

Seven sipped at her coffee. Though the bitter flavor made her nose wrinkle, she smiled and drank more.

“I want to make a difference,” she said. “The Rockets have been hurting people for years, and the police hasn’t stopped it. Now there’s someone who can, and I want to help.”

The recruiter, a tall, bald man with thin white eyebrows, a huge nose, and droopy green eyes, studied her and the papers in his hand. His brown leather jacket bulged outward, and the zipper stretched to its bursting point.

“It says you took six years of martial arts?”

“Yes sir, my dad wanted to make sure I could defend myself. I can provide training certificates.”

The man shook his head. “Pieces of paper don’t mean squat. You’ll be tested by a combat instructor later in the interview process.” The recruiter’s finger slid across the text as he read. “You have a Mareep and a Pidgeotto?”

“Yes sir. They aren’t that well trained.”

“Could be worse. The Knights have more pokemon than people, so it won’t be an issue.” The recruiter scratched at his eyebrows. “Computer programming? That’d be useful.”

Seven lowered her eyes and said, “I wasn’t that good at it. I know some C++ and HTML, but that’s about it.”

The recruiter shrugged. “You’d be surprised what counts as useful. What matters most to us is a willingness to learn, simply because it’s hard to find anyone with the skills we need.”

Seven beamed at him. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

The recruiter returned her smile. “Good!” He folded up her resume and put it in his pocket. After chugging his cup of coffee, he crushed it in his hand and tossed it at the garbage. The crumpled cup bounced off the front and landed on the floor. Seven rushed over with her own empty cup, picked up the cup on the floor, and put them both in the can.

“Alright, next on the agenda is a tour of one of our facilities. We want you to see what you’re getting into before you commit to anything, since this is a very dangerous job, and a moment of indecision can cost you and other Knights their lives. Are you ready?”

“Yes sir!”

“Good. I have a car parked outside. Take the passenger seat.”

The recruiter opened the door for her and opened the car with his key fob. Two beeps directed Seven to a brown mini van. She got in, buckled up, and glanced in the back. Piles of fliers, posters, and shirts crowded the other seats, and underneath the piles of clothing, a corner of a metal box poked out.

The driver door swung open, and the recruiter clambered into his seat. The engine rumbled, and the van drove at a leisurely pace deeper into the outskirts of town. Tall townhouses with tiny squares of shaggy grass lined the streets, punctuated by a crowd of small specialty shops, barbers, and dentists. However, the occasional broken window and padlocked door suggested that the area had been abandoned, left behind as the Rockets tightened their grip on the city.

Silence filled the car, and Seven felt herself itching to fill it. She resisted at first, and then decided that silence would be more suspicious.

“It sucks, what the Rockets did,” Seven said while she looked at the buildings. “All these people left because they thought Rockets would come knocking on their door.”

“I feel more pity for those that had to stay behind,” said the recruiter.

Seven nodded and kept staring out the window. The van stopped in front of an old meat market with boarded-up windows. The recruiter stepped out, and Seven followed him inside.

“So, it’s through here?”

The recruiter walked past the counter towards the back entrance of the shop. A rusty cleaver sat on the wooden counter, and shards of fiberglass from the display cases littered the floor.

“If we were too easy to find, the Rockets would attack,” he said. “Thus, it’s necessary to make sure they don’t find us.”

A flicker of shadows was the only warning she had. Two hallways branched off from the main room of the meat market. Out of them sprang five men and a woman wearing Rocket uniforms. They rushed towards her, brandishing knives, batons, and fists. Seven reacted on instinct, grabbing the first fist that flew at her, pulling it forward, and pelting the man in the throat with the heel of her palm. He fell to the floor and made strangled choking sounds.

Two more grabbed her wrists. She twisted her arms, broke their grip, grabbed their wrists, and pulled them into each other. They fell in a tangle of limbs. Seven aimed a fast kick at their ribs.

Fiberglass crunched behind her. She ducked aside before a baton slammed into the back of her head. She heard rushing air as it flew past her ear. She raised her arms to parry the baton, but one of the men on the floor grabbed her ankle. She fell sideways as the baton slammed into her temple. Though the blow stung, she stayed conscious. She rolled over a Grunt on the floor and sprang to her feet.

Seven had two pokéballs on her belt, and four more tucked in her hair. She almost reached for Set, but instead, she grabbed the Mareep. She called it out on the counter. As she was about to give a command, a knife pressed against her throat. She flinched as cold steel brushed her skin.

Then, just as quickly, the knife was gone. When she turned around, the six attackers had taken off their Rocket uniforms. Underneath were the padded white robes of the Knights.

The recruiter patted her on the shoulder. “That was the physical exam,” he told her. “Sorry for making it so sudden, but we need to know how you handle a crisis.” He helped up the man on the floor that was still gasping for air. “You did better than I thought you would.”

Seven swore at herself. She had planned to understate her abilities, but her brain scrambled to work around it. “I’d still be dead.”

“True, but that’s to be expected when you’re that outnumbered. Come on, let’s get you some robes.”

Seven rubbed at her throat. Looking closer at their knives, she saw they were practice blades, dulled on both edges. The batons were made of hard rubber, the fiberglass on the floor had the edges smoothed out, and the rusty cleaver had a shiny sliver where the rusty edge was smoothed out.

“Wait, so, I have the job?”

“Yeah kid, you pass with flying colors. You’ll need more combat training, but you’ll be ready to go toe to toe with Rockets in no time.”

He walked down the hall to the bathrooms. Seven almost followed him inside, but she stopped and stared at the men’s sign on the door.

The recruiter poked his head around the doorway. “It’s in here. Come on.”

Seven went inside. The recruiter walked up to one of the urinals and pulled on the pipe at the top. It popped loose, and the whole urinal fell to the side, revealing a hole just large enough to crawl through. The recruiter went in first. His jacket caught on the edges of the wall, but with some wriggling, he got his girth inside. Though Seven appeared much skinnier, her hair, bulging with all the contraband clipped inside of it, snagged on the wall. With a quick jerk of her head, she pulled it free and tumbled into a brightly lit room. One guard stood next to a metal detector, and another sat behind a conveyor belt with an x-ray scanner. Both wore the plain white masks of the White Knights. The room was cramped, with no way to walk around the detector, and only two feet of ceiling space over the eight-foot tall contraption.

“Make sure you don’t have any metal on you. Take your shoes off and put them on that belt, along with any bags, wallets, et cetera.”

Seven’s stomach sank. They had expected a metal detector, but she had counted on a way to walk invisibly around it. Now, her options were to crawl over the conveyor belt, which wouldn’t support her weight, or jump blind over the detector. Worse still, she had to make sure her hair, weighed down with all its contraband, didn’t hit the ceiling or the detector during the jump.

“Alright, gimme a moment.” She took off her shoes, and set them on the conveyor belt with her pokéballs. Her feet thanked her. The shoes, designed for human feet so they could pass through an x-ray, chafed at her toes and wobbled around the heel. With bare feet, she’d land silently on the metal floor on the other side. All she had to do was make the jump.

In an instant, Seven shrouded herself in invisibility while she made the illusion walk forward. Though darkness closed around her, she held the image of the metal detector and the ceiling, envisioned herself twirling through the air, arcing through the slender gap, twisting her back, flipping forward, landing on her feet, and standing straight. Like thread through a needle, she fit through the gap. Letting out a breath, she melded the illusion onto her and grabbed her belongings.

The recruiter threw his jacket onto the conveyor belt. Underneath, he had one of the WK t-shirts from the van. He had a far slimmer frame than the jacket suggested, lean with a touch of muscle. After donning the jacket, he slid a flat white mask over his face waved for Seven to follow.

“Allison, you’ll start out in training. It’ll mostly be combat, or maybe some programming if it looks like you’ll be useful there. You have a room assigned to you. They aren’t labeled, but you’ll know it by a picture of your face on the door. Once you get there, you’ll find a bottle of white-out on your desk and robes on your bed. Paint over the picture, hang it back on the door, and always keep your mask on while you’re here. There are no individuals here. Individuals act for selfish reasons, commit crimes, and game the systems society creates. Only by abandoning self-identity can we unite for the greater good. Is this understood?”

“Yes sir,” Seven said.

“Good. Your room is just down that hall,” he said pointing down a corridor lined with doors. “I have a file to report, but I’ll meet up with you once I’m done.”

With that, he strode to the left and vanished around a corner. Seven walked past the doorways, each the same as the last, until she found one with Allison’s face hanging from a thumb tack.

White robes, padded at the shoulders, elbows, and wrists, sat on a freshly made bed. She threw off the jacket, shirt, pants, and underwear, all part of her disguise, and set them folded next to the door. The robes, despite their baggy appearance, clung tightly to her fur. The white mask refused to fit over her face. Either it had to tilt at a ludicrous angle to fit the contour of her face, or, if balanced precariously on its nose to mimic a human flatness, narrowed her field of view to two tiny holes. Instead, she tucked the mask into her hair and made an illusion of it over her face.

Thus disguised, Seven turned her attention to the photo she had set on the desk. She took the bottle of white-out, unscrewed the cap, and poured it out onto the photo. With the brush, she spread it around until every speck of color disappeared. The white-out, still soggy, smudged her fur when she tried to pick it up.

A few minutes later, a knock came at the door. The recruiter, recognizable only by the bulge his jacket made beneath his robes, nodded at her.

“Good. I’ll take that photograph. It’s the contract you make to have no identity, nothing that marks you as any different from any other Knight. You are no longer Allison, but a Knight among many. Live by that code, and you’ll never stray from the path of good.”

Seven nodded and handed him the photograph, which was still slightly damp. He dropped it in a Ziploc bag, sealed it up, and tucked it in a pocket beneath his robe.

“Your training begins now,” he said. “Welcome to the White Knights.”
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  #85    
Old 4 Weeks Ago (6:05 PM).
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Peter and Bruno's reunion was sweet only for it to be short lived. Nine taking Bruno away doesn't sound too good.

Seven's interview with the White Knights there looks intense, don't know if I can handle sudden combat like that haha. Wonder if the White Knights's training will be different from Team Rocket's.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago (9:10 PM).
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Chapter Forty-Four

Ensconced beneath an empty suburbia on the city outskirts, buried deep in the land abandoned when the Rockets terrorized the public, Nine’s main headquarters, carved out of sewer systems, old subway lines, and maintenance shafts, busied itself with the imminent attack on Team Rocket.

Nine oversaw it all, giving orders for the acquisition of weapons and recruits, drafting battle plans with his officers, and collecting funds and information from a network of supportive citizens moved by his speeches.

Nine’s public office, at the heart of the Knights’ facilities, was engineered to match every facet of his doctrine. The room was a perfect circle, without a single shadow cast by the parallel light pouring out of the ceiling. All furniture, from his desk to the pots, widened at the base, and chairs forewent the conventional four-legged design for a single fat stump. Even his desk had no room for legs beneath it, and the drawers could only be opened together, with the bottom one sliding across the floor. The floors and walls were white concrete, and every surface of the room, the plants included, matched in color. The constant uniformity made the room disconcertingly blank, and some Knights stumbled on furniture they couldn’t see.

Nine studied the profile on new recruits that the white-masked man handed him. Seven folders were tucked inside a plastic binder, each labeled with a randomized string of numbers. Each document had names, gender, and age redacted, to such a degree that even the length of the original content could not be surmised. And yet, despite the white-washing of these profiles, that randomized number remained necessary for management of the Knights.

“It is unfortunate that we all have unique capabilities,” Nine mused to the man standing before him. “It would be better for everyone if we were all the same, but it’s an impossibility borne of an imperfect world. Failing that, one would hope that we could all at least share the same capabilities, but in evolving to fit into a society, different classes emerged to address early civilization’s different needs. Thus, inequality in aptitude became a genetic disposition that has endured beyond the point they became a hindrance to cooperation.”

The recruiter bowed his head. A bit of his bald scalp showed above his mask before he hastily pushed it back up. “We shall try our best to overcome these difficulties.” He cleared his throat, and continued, “No progress can be made if we simply assume a thing is impossible and never attempt to challenge that assumption.”

“Aptly put,” Nine told him. He leafed through the profiles. “Did anyone stand out to you?”

“The third one has experience in a Pokémon Center,” he said. “I believe you were interested in that, were you not?”

“Yes,” Nine said. “In the coming days of strife, medical professionals will play an invaluable role in our fight against the Rockets. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

“Of course, sir.” The man paused, and added, “The fifth one’s a good fighter. Took out half of our men and got a pokemon out before they got her at knifepoint.”

“Half? It’s a team of six, correct?”

“Yeah. She – my apologies, I mean they were caught off guard, but they reacted quickly. None of the testers suffered permanent injury.”

Nine found the appropriate folder and read through it. Nothing in her history seemed unusual, and her resume suggested any number of uses.

“Stressful situations can bring unexpected results out of people,” he said.

“We’ll train them carefully,” the recruiter said. “In time, they may be a great asset in the field.”

At the end of the file is the whited-out photograph. He kept them to fit with his doctrine of uniformity and sacrificing personal identity, but they left a distasteful bulge in the folders.

As he closed the folder, a glint of black caught his eye. Looking closer at the picture, Nine saw a glossy black hair embedded in the white-out.

“Do you have anything else to report?” Nine asked.

“No sir.”

“Then you may leave.”

Once the door locked itself behind the recruiter, Nine peeled the hair out of the white-out. Four inches of glossy black hair curled up on itself. The hair nagged at Nine as something out of place, too short and too long all at once, and uncomfortably familiar.

With a letter opener, Nine eased the crumbling ink off the photograph until the recruit’s head of blonde hair was exposed. His skin tingled, and the blobby mess of his chin bubbled with excitement.

“No, hold on,” Nine told himself. “It might be my own hair.” But even as he said it, the thought that his hair happened to get buried suggested that the hair had to get stuck in while the white-out was wet eroded at that possibility.

Then he considered his security. Though she could maintain illusions indefinitely, Seven couldn’t slip anything metal past his detectors, and the baggage went through a thorough inspection. He checked the file, and found a complete list of her belongings, down to the discarded clothing and their contents, along with the x-ray images. From an old, battered stick of lip balm to every card and photograph in her wallet, nothing appeared remotely suspicious.

Frowning, Nine put the files away and left his office. A few turns away, an elevator requiring keycard access sat at the end of a long hall. Two Knights stood at either side of it, with thick padding built into their robes and assault rifles at their sides.

Nine’s mushy flesh writhed, and out of its depths, a card oozed out of his wrist and into his right hand. He nodded to the two guards, inserted the card in the reader, and took the elevator down. Only the softest of whirring sounds broke the silence as he traveled miles below the city’s surface.

The elevator slid to a graceful stop, and the doors snapped open. White-cloaked figures rushed across the hallways, darting in and out of rooms with tablets and engineering equipment. Nine inspected the rooms as he passed, poking his head into rooms full of pokemon center healing machines, isolation chambers with bed-ridden pokemon, and rooms crammed with biomedical assays.

As one of the Knights passed him, one with a silver pin on his shoulder to designate him as head of R&D, Nine snagged his shoulder. “Any progress?” he asked.

“Only steps backwards,” they replied bitterly. “Two more died, and all of them complain of headaches no matter what we give them.”

Nine nodded. “Do what you can for them. It’s unfortunate, but sacrifice will be necessary to bring about the world we seek.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“Yes. I need to speak with Bruno. Have the room cleared, and make sure there’s no recording.”

The Knight looked up from his tablet. Though the robes revealed nothing, Nine knew that the infernape and chatot beneath those robes must be giving him confused frowns.

“As you wish, sir. I’ll notify security immediately.”

The Knight sped away, and the uneven swish of their robes hinted at an inhuman stride. Nine went into a few of the rooms. Sweating, pained faces stared blankly at him as he asked if there was anything he could do to help them.

“End it,” one whispered. “The voices, too many voices.”

Nine shuddered, asked after an increase in the sedatives, and went to the bunker at the end of the hall. Thick steel doors with another keycard terminal and two Knights blocked the way in. After showing his ID and inserting it into the reader, the doors crawled apart with loud clanking noises. Pneumatic pistons popped and hissed, and electric motors whined.

Four Knights greeted him on the other side. Each had an arsenal worth of weapons strapped to their robes.

“As requested, we are vacating the room,” one of them said. “We will be waiting outside the door in case you need us.”

Nine thanked them and asked, “Has he been fed recently?”

“Just gave him his lunch half an hour ago,” another guard answered. They fidgeted on their feet and said, “I hate to ask this of you, but could I have a short break? My mind feels foggy, like I’ve got a bad cold or something.”

“Take however much time you need,” Nine said. “I would not want you getting sick because you worked too hard.”

“Thank you sir,” the Knight said with a bow. “I’ll come back as soon as I’m better. Shouldn’t take too long.”

Before he could think to ask more, the Guard ran off and disappeared around a corner. The other three walked past him and stood with the two by the door. With a shrug, Nine walked in, and the doors closed soundlessly behind him.

The bunker had concrete walls, floor, and ceiling. In the center, a hazy blue plasma barrier encircled a furnished space with a table, two chairs, and a bed. An empty plate and a fork sat on the table next to the morning newspaper and a laptop.

Bruno, sitting at the table, looked up from the laptop and scowled at him. “Here for more samples?”

“No, I have questions.”

He closed the laptop. “Fine, just get it over with.”

Nine walked up to the translucent barrier. A part of him urged him further forward, into the light, into oblivion. Just another step, and even his monstrous body couldn’t put him back together.

Instead, he held his ground an inch away from the barrier. “Was Seven planning to infiltrate the White Knights?”

Bruno’s eyes widened, and he looked away. “I wouldn’t know. They never told me anything.”

Nine smiled. “I already found her.”

Bruno stiffened, but he kept his face impassive. “Why would I care? She kept me in that hellhole.” He glanced at him and asked, “Are you planning to kill her?”

“I don’t,” he said. “But the Rockets probably will.”

“They won’t,” Bruno said with a shake of his head. “She’s an Admin.”

“They’re using her,” Nine said. “And when they’re done with her, they’ll throw her away like the tool they think she is. You know how the Rockets treat pokemon, and why should they treat her any different?”

His words drove a wedge through Bruno’s mask. A grimace twisted his mouth, and his hands clenched into fists. “I don’t know anything,” he said flatly.

Nine stroked the patchy fur on his arms as he considered his next words. “She and I, we were both put through hell,” he said. “We were experimental weapons meant to assassinate the leaders within the Rockets’ command structure. From an early stage, we endured genetic modification that plagued us with tumors. I died, and I was brought back by being fused with ditto cells, only to suffer more tests. Seven underwent medical treatments to become their perfect assassin, from vocal cord implants to adrenaline injections and muscle enhancements. They taught her how to slip past security and incapacitate key targets, all with the hope of using her.” He laughed bitterly. “I suppose working with the Rockets seems like the best way to strike back against the system that tortured her, it’ll only get her killed in the end.”

Nine leaned far enough forward that he could feel the hairs on his muzzle frying in the plasma. Bruno hesitantly met his eyes, and he rubbed at one of his ears.

“I, on the other hand, am using what I endured to help all pokemon.” He gestured towards the door. “Want to know a secret? Every Knight you’ve ever seen is a pokemon.” He waited until Bruno’s eyes widened. “Around half of the Knights are pokemon in disguise, with chatot to speak for them. More pokemon every day become sentient, because I tweaked every healing machine in the world.” Nine glanced around the room, as if to assure himself no one was listening. “The same experiment to make us smarter, I perfected and wrote into a software update for every pokemon center. I also acquired a few machines and healed any pokemon I can find.”

Nine cleared his throat. He smiled at Bruno, who stared at him with rapt attention. “So, Bruno, please tell me everything you know about Seven so I can help her."

Bruno tripped over his own tongue in his haste to tell everything. It was less than he had hoped for, since Nine didn’t share any details with him, but the little he knew lined up with an infiltration at this time.

When he got back to his office, Nine called HR and had Seven put under tight surveillance, and another call to security tightened access to all lab facilities, weapon repositories, and VIP rooms.

He took out the file and held the scratched photo in his hands. The beaming blonde-haired face of Amanda looked up at him behind a reflected sheen of light.

“Your move, sister.”
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Old 3 Weeks Ago (8:40 PM).
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Man, writing this chapter felt like ramming my head against a metal door. At least it's finished. Might be all the food I've been stuffing myself with thanks to Thanksgiving. Also, I made truffles with cherry-flavored ganache, and they're fantastic.


Chapter Forty-Five

Under the cover of her illusion, Seven released Thoth in her bedroom. Though she couldn’t see it, the porygon spun in the air in front of her, searching for any optical signals. The crackle of plasma traced its invisible movements.

“No light detected,” the program said. “Where am I?”

“We’re on the mission, in my quarters within the White Knight compound,” Seven said. “You can’t see anything because you’re invisible right now.”

It spun to face the sound of her voice. “By creating a field of photon transmitters, I presume. I never knew Team Rocket had that kind of tech.”

“There is a computer in front of me,” she said. “Can you get in without a trace and find the cameras in this room?”

Thoth moved up to the computer and touched it. “Yes sir, I will begin immediately.”

When the porygon phased into the computer, Seven released the illusion and put one over the screen. After a moment, Thoth said, “All done. I have reprogrammed the camera in your room to play simulated footage.”

“Good. It will only need to be for a moment.” Seven took two more pokéballs out of her hair. Set and Number Fourteen looked around at the room and settled their gaze on her. The haunter circled around her, examining her new appearance, while the ditto bunched itself up into a ball and stared with its beady eyes.

Seven removed the false mask and made Allison’s face appear. “Fourteen, mirror.”

The ditto writhed and bubbled until it matched her height. Swirling around her, the pink mass etched the features of Allison Caldwell, wearing the hooded white robes. As Seven strapped the mask onto Fourteen’s face, Seven reflected that the identical, concealing uniforms made hiding in the crowd trivial.

“Your mission,” she told them, “Is to stay here and make it appear as though I am doing my programming work while I am searching the building. Fourteen is incapable of speaking and cannot be touched. If anyone finds out I’m gone, make sure word of it doesn’t leave this room. Got it?”

Set nodded eagerly, while Thoth typed affirmative on the computer. Fourteen stared without a twitch. Seven went to the computer and held the tablet strapped to her arm by the monitor.

“Can you provide mobile support?”

“Within a half a mile radius,” came the response on her tablet. “Any further, and you’ll have to find a terminal connected to this system.”

“It’ll do. Your top priority is making sure everything on this end goes perfectly. I’ll be back in four hours. Three quick knocks followed by a long one, that’s my signal. Have the cameras distracted within five seconds.” Seven examined herself in the mirror and tweaked the illusion, adding two inches to her height and a touch of bulk to the robes. “Are there any cameras in the hall?”

“Two,” Thoth answered using the computer’s speaker. “Do you want them both disabled?”

“Yes, but only when the hallway is clear.”

“It’s clear now.”

Seven slipped into the hallway and went into the nearest bathroom. After five minutes, Thoth edited the recordings so it would appear as though she came from a different room, went to the bathroom, and went off into the compound. In the meantime, Seven checked the inventory clipped to her hair. The bottle of poison hung behind her ear, with the cap tightly screwed shut. The tiny black EMP sat against her neck, where it wouldn’t get jostled around, her emergency rations stayed near the end of her hair, pressed against her back by her robes, and the tyranitar’s pokéball was clipped over her right shoulder. On her belt, she had a knife and the black rod for Colson, when he arrived.

On her tablet, Thoth pulled up a map of the compound, taken from the network archives. A single floor sprawled out over a mile of abandoned suburban tunnels and construction projects, with exits and storage space poking out above the surface in old warehouses and boarded-up businesses. Thin tendrils of tunnels snaked into the city proper, connecting little dots of territory. Seven wondered if one of those had been the warehouse she had raided under Admin Fisher, but the map had no street labels, only a compass and generic Warehouse C titles over each room.

With nothing more informative than “Barracks B” and “Storage Site A” to guide her, Seven peered into every open room she came across. The White Knights had shooting ranges, padded combat rooms, cafeterias, computer rooms bustling with monitors and cables, and countless storage rooms crammed with wooden crates. Whenever she could, Seven popped a crate open and found dried rations, stockpiles of bullets and guns, spare robes, construction supplies, posters and other propaganda, and the odd cluster of Pokémon Healing Units, but never any caches of pokéballs.

At a cursory estimate, Seven guessed the White Knights had somewhere around eight thousand members, a troubling figure that doubled the size of the Rockets’ ranks. However, even in the combat rooms, she didn’t see a single pokemon anywhere. Trainees battled with weapons or hand-to-hand without the assistance of pokemon, and the shooting galleries only had bullets flying at human mannequins. Despite the healing units, there wasn’t a single pokemon in sight, let alone the alakazam.

As she passed a rank of Knights striding down a hall, a thought struck her. Anything could hide beneath those masks and robes. For all she knew, she could’ve passed the alakazam by a dozen times. With a deep breath, she collected her thoughts and realized that a pokemon as large as an alakazam, even concealed beneath bulky robes, couldn’t hide its size.

“Any way to track psychic types?” she typed into the tablet while she walked.

“No,” Thoth replied. “I’ve tried searching all camera footage, but I haven’t seen a single pokemon at any point in the last three months.”

Seven frowned. Nothing added up, not the fact they took her pokemon after the second day, not the healing machines in storage, nor the complete absence of pokemon in combat training. Where were all the pokemon?

In her distraction, she almost missed the narrow hallway hidden in shadow. Seven stiffened and walked past without turning her head. Once she was out of sight of the four guards stationed at the elevator, she stopped and typed into her tablet.

“That elevator wasn’t on the map.”

“There’s a sophisticated lock on that door, with a strong firewall keeping me out,” Thoth said. “You’ll need to find a keycard for that lock if you want to get down there.”

Seven studied the map. A few turns away, at the map’s center, was a room labeled “Center Office.” From the general orientation she got on her day one tour, she remembered that the room belonged to the commander of the White Knights.

A few turns later, she found the office. Thoth found a camera and brought up footage on her tablet. On his desk, tantalizingly out of reach, was the keycard.

When the man glanced down to open up his desk drawers, Seven concentrated, grimacing with the effort to duplicate an object seen through a camera in its real world location. After a few seconds, a copy shimmered into view, and the real card vanished. Sweat beaded down her face when she realized that all he had to do was turn it over to see it as a fake. Even looking at it through her screen, she could tell it was a fuzzy sham at best, appearing real only at a glance.

Her breath caught in her throat as she waited for the man to look at his keycard. Agonizing minutes passed as he typed on his laptop, made a phone call, and stood to leave. Without looking down, the man fumbled for the card, fingers brushing past the invisible card, and finding the sham. His fingers closed around the fake and tucked it in his pocket. She let out a breath, and stiffened when he went towards the door. In a heartbeat, she was wrapped in darkness, heart pounding in her chest and skin teased by the points of scalpels as he walked past her.

Still invisible, Seven told Thoth to rig the cameras, threw an illusion over the doorway, and rushed inside. Taking deep breaths, Seven staggered up to the desk and grabbed the real keycard. She put it in her pocket, but Thoth made the tablet vibrate.

“I can imitate the keycard’s signal,” it said. “You can make an image of a keycard, right?”

“Yes,” Seven typed back. “We should leave this one here, in case he notices he’s missing his keycard.”

“Interesting,” Thoth typed back. “You’re not using any tech I can sense. The manipulation of that many photons would require pure black-body interference, equipment to process incoming and outgoing electrons, and light sources to perfectly imitate in real time the desired optical output. In addition, you’re did this remotely, without any access to the targeted area. The only logical conclusion I can think of is that you’re using a pokemon, a psychic of some kind. But that leaves the problem of another psychic detecting it. None of this makes sense.”

“Focus on the mission,” Seven told Thoth, “And leave that to me.”

“But I can’t properly project mission outcomes if I don’t know all the variables-”

“Then do the best you can. That information is classified.”

After a moment, Thoth said, “Understood.”

Wrapping herself in the image of the commander, Seven approached the four guards at the end of the hallway. As the thought of a password crossed her mind, they stepped aside, granting her access to the terminal. She conjured an illusory keycard and pressed it into the slot while Thoth sent it a false signal. The terminal’s green light lit up, and the elevator doors opened.

During the descent, Thoth said, “The signal’s getting too weak. I won’t be able to reach you.”

“Then I’ll find a computer down there.”

“That won’t work. The system is completely isolated, otherwise I would’ve found it while I was in the commander’s office. Whatever’s down there, even his private computer can’t touch it.”

Cold realization washed over her like a bucket of ice water. “Then how the hell am I getting back up there?”

The tablet flickered, and the words “Holy muk” appeared on the screen before the connection with Thoth died out.

A minute later, the elevator stopped. Seven held her breath as the doors slid open. Clad in her illusion, she calmly walked out into the hallway and glanced back at the elevator. She heaved a sigh of relief when she saw it didn’t demand a keycard to head back up.

Throngs of robed figures rushed through the hallways and gave her quick nods as they passed. One Knight walked up to her and bowed in greeting. “Good to see you again, sir. There’s nothing new to report, and the conditions of the test subjects, though poor, have remained stable since you were last here.”

Seven froze up, but after a moment, she remembered watching recordings of their commander speaking. Clearing her throat, she made an illusion to imitate the man’s deep, soft voice.

“Thank you. Are their any changes you think need to be made?”

The figure paused, and worry slithered over Seven like a boa, ready to squeeze her ribs to powder. He said, “The bedsheets are getting a bit dusty. Perhaps they should be washed.”

“See to it,” she said.

The Knight started to leave, but he turned back and asked, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Seven shook her head. “No, I just wish to observe.”

“Yes sir. Let me know if you need anything.” With that, he ran off. Seven watched, and the shifting of his robes with each stride nagged at her mind. It seemed incongruous, as if the man’s shins were too long and the knees came up to where his hips should be. Looking around, she saw more peculiarities, hulking figures that nearly reached the ceiling and midgets with oversized heads.

As she walked down the hall, sweating beneath an illusion of command, Seven felt a familiar sensation brush her mind, a heaviness and bitterness to the air. She followed it to another door flanked by four guards. Without her keycard, she wouldn’t get past them, but even this close, she knew what she would find beyond the door.

Leaving Bruno’s door for later, Seven turned away to explore more of the White Knight’s secret operations.
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Old 2 Weeks Ago (10:45 PM).
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Quote:
“It is unfortunate that we all have unique capabilities,” Nine mused to the man standing before him. “It would be better for everyone if we were all the same, but it’s an impossibility borne of an imperfect world. Failing that, one would hope that we could all at least share the same capabilities, but in evolving to fit into a society, different classes emerged to address early civilization’s different needs. Thus, inequality in aptitude became a genetic disposition that has endured beyond the point they became a hindrance to cooperation.”
That sounds awfully fishy there...

Huh, so Ditto cells huh? Guess that explains how Nine is here now. Yeah, I think it's mention in a previous chapter the puropse of those experiments to make them Pokemon assassins.

Speaking of Ditto, when that Ditto took Seven's place there I'm reminded of the Ditto sidequest in Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon haha. I can imagine the White Knights checking Seven but then the fake Seven goes "Di..too?"

Quote:
Anyways, Cold realization washed over her like a bucket of ice water. “Then how the hell am I getting back up there?”

The tablet flickered, and the words “Holy ****” appeared on the screen before the connection with Thoth died out.
Best reaction from Thoth there.
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Old 2 Weeks Ago (8:37 PM). Edited 2 Weeks Ago by Bardothren.
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I have no knowledge of anything UltraSun/UltraMoon, and I am peeved that such a side-quest exists, for I could be accused of ripping off of it when I am wholly innocent of that act.

Also, comic relief chapter, starring everyone's favorite duo! Hooray!


Chapter Forty-Six

Thoth, who was running simulations of an amateur coder to finish Seven’s assignment, brought up the video footage of the hallway outside the door. The White Knights’ commander rounded a corner and approached the room.

“Holy muk,” Thoth said. “It’s him. He’s coming.”

Set drifted out of a wall, turned up-side-down, and stared at the computer. “Who’s coming?”

“Their commander! He must have figured everything out somehow. No, that doesn’t make sense, he’s alone. He must suspect something. Anyways, we’re screwed. I don’t see any way out of this. If we had some kind of device to simulate her voice, we could insert it in the ditto, but ditto can’t speak, and the moment it tried, we’d be found out for sure.”

Thirty feet of hallway remained between the commander and the door. Set’s eyes lit up, and the ghost chuckled to himself.

“This is no time for jokes!” Thoth hissed. “We need to think of something fast.”

“I’ve got a perfect idea! It’ll work for sure.”

Thoth glanced at the door. “Fine, we’ll go with your plan, but first, you have to make a pact.”

“A pact?”

“You know how to use destiny bond. Use it on me, and swear that you won’t mess this up. If anything goes wrong, you’ll be destroyed. Got it?”

A smile split Set’s face in two. His cackle dimmed the lights and made a chilly wind swirl through the room.

“Don’t you remember? You already tried that trick on me.”

“I – I did? Shoot, I should’ve accounted for past versions of myself. Did you at least do it right last time?”

“Nope! I got barfed out of a human without any pants on, and we got shot at by dozens of police officers.”

Thoth’s clock speed dipped as he took in the absurdity of that comment. “I’m really glad I don’t have any memory backups.”

The commander was a few steps away from the door handle. “Whatever you’re going to do,” Thoth said, “Do it now!”

The lights went out, and the computer’s monitor turned off. The computer itself, buried beneath the desk, stayed on. Thoth watched the room through the camera, which still had power.

“Good thinking,” Thoth said. “A bit silly, when you get down to it, but this way, I can simulate Allison’s voice.”

“That wasn’t me,” Set said.

“Wait, it’s not?” Thoth scoured the systems for digital control of the electrical systems and found the power to their room disabled. “The commander’s doing this, but why?”

From the hallway cameras, Thoth saw the commander looking at a black tablet. No, not black – a live video feed of Allison’s room.

“I don’t get it,” Thoth said. “Is he trying to see how he’ll react?”

“Well, shouldn’t we open the door?” Set asked. “That’s what a normal person would do.”

“Yes, but he might ask questions, or try to engage in a conversation. What do we do then?”

“I still have my idea,” Set said. “Come on, let me try it out.”

“We shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. Just wait and see if he goes away.”

Set’s eyes glittered in the darkness as he beamed at the computer. Thoth checked the video feed, but Set was invisible to the cameras. “You told me I couldn’t mess this up. So, I’m not going to mess this up by sitting around and making us look suspicious.”

“No, Set, stop! We can’t risk it!”

A wet gurgle came in reply. And then Set, with Allison’s voice, said, “Huh, this feels weird.”

“What the hell are you doing? Don’t open that door!”

“I’m reaching for the doorknob,” Set said in a mocking tone.

“I command you to stop!”

“My fingers are on the doorknob.”

“Are you listening to me?”

The door jerked and rattled. “Huh, it’s locked.”

“Oh thank God,” Thoth said. “Alright, now we can stay put and wait until he goes away.”

“Hey, is anyone there?” Set shouted at the door. “The lights are out and my door is locked. Can anyone get it open?”

“Keep it down!” Thoth hissed at him. “You’re going to get him to come in here!”

“Is Team Rocket attacking? Should I kick the door down? Hello? Anyone listening? I’m a little stuck in here!”

“Don’t make me come out there and zap you!”

With a click, the lights came back on, and the monitor lit up. The commander turned away from the door and walked back down the hall.

“Wait, that’s it?”

“What’s it?” Set asked.

“He’s gone.”

“Aww, I wanted to try out my new trick. Feels squishy, but I kinda like it!”

“What feels squishy?” Thoth looked out of the monitor. The ditto, disguised as Allison, stood by the door. “Where are you?”

The ditto turned, grinned at him, and waved. “In here! This is way better than possessing a human. I can do whatever I want to the innards, check it out!”

Fourteen’s chest split open in a horrifying array of purple tentacles, dripping with green mucus. Then the flesh curled up on itself and seamlessly formed the Knights’ robes.

“This is no time for games,” Thoth said. “Seven’s trapped in a restricted access area of the facility, and I need to get down there so I can get her back up that elevator.

“I can find her quick enough,” Set said. He scratched his head with one hand, and the fingers sank into Fourteen’s skull. “I can probably bring you through the vents.”

“You shouldn’t stray too far. There are psychics in this facility, at least an alakazam, maybe more, and we have no idea where they are. If you get too close to them, you’ll raise the alarm.

“If I was a gengar, sure, but I’m too small for them to notice. Trust me, it’ll be a cakewalk.”

“We can’t risk it,” Thoth said. “Also, the lower levels vent themselves separately from this facility. To access their vents, we would need to leave, find wherever the vents are on the outside, and navigate them without raising an alarm. It would take too long.”

“We’ll go down the elevator.”

“Not possible. There are four guards stationed at the terminal, at the end of a long hallway. There’s nowhere to hide.”

Set grinned and stretched his face. Fourteen’s blobby flesh stretched like hot tar.

“I’m hiding right now.”

“My records show that the commander is the only one on this level with permanent access to that area. Anyone else has to have his permission for a temporary visit.”

“Then we’ll go disguised as him. Simple!”

“Simple? We already did that. Do you think the guards wouldn’t notice that their commander hadn’t gone back up when we walk up to them?”

“Probably not, but do you have a better idea?”

Thoth checked the simulations he ran of the most probable means of getting down there and found all chances of success in single digits. Set’s ludicrous plan had a whopping twelve percent chance, if they waited for the next shift of guards.

“This is going to be suicide,” Thoth said.

Set roared with laughter. “Suicide? I can’t die, and if you kick the bucket, they’ll just make a new one. Hell, I don’t think you can kill this blob either. I’ve been in here long enough to kill a dragonite, and this thing isn’t even tired.”

“You can still be destroyed,” Thoth said.

“True, but you can’t die if you’re already dead. Seems like fun, crossing over to the great beyond and all that stuff humans say happens to you after they die.”

“You don’t mind at all?”

“Nope!” Set grabbed his head and twisted it up-side-down. The flesh knit itself back into place, leaving a hairy collar around his neck, eyes where his mouth should be, and a waxy stump for hair. He waved his arms around and took a few dizzy steps forward. “Hey, look, I’m doing a headstand!”

“Stop that, we’re getting off track.” He brought up pictures of the commander on the computer. Without having to worry about facial features, Fourteen made a passable attempt at imitating the image, except it copied the exact dimensions and had the commander’s silver badge on the wrong shoulder.

Set, now stuck in a body ten inches tall, jumped and waved at Thoth from the floor. “Wow, you would not believe all the insane stuff that happens in this body when it changes!” Set called in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “This thing’s cells ate themselves!”

Thoth flipped the image and had Fourteen match it. Then he had Set make Fourteen expand. After some effort, the ditto bubbled up, and a life-sized commander, garbed in his robes of office and hidden behind the plain white mask, pinched and poked at the flabby folds of the robes.

“What else do you think I can make?” Set asked. “Ooh! I could be Giovanni!”

“Change it, and I will electrocute you.”

Set held up his hands. “Hey, I’m joking. Put away your zappy things before someone gets hurt.”

Thoth sighed and checked the hallways. The commander was back, and he was already halfway down the hall.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Thoth said with a groan.

Set chuckled and asked, “What is it? Is the commander back?”

“Yes.”

With a giggle, Set looked around the room. “Should I try hiding under the bed, or are we going to clobber him over the head?”

“Are you seriously rhyming at a time like this?”

Set crossed his eyes, and blinked. “Oh, sweet! I wasn’t even trying for that, what a feat!”

“Just do something, he’s by the door!”

“At the door, or before?”

“No, a little bit off. And stop rhyming, it’s bringing up search results for Wordsworth on my browser. He stopped by another room. Hold on, I’ll check his tablet.”

Thoth inserted himself into the computer and jumped into the cameras. From there, he latched onto the tablet and examined the screenshot. It read, “Thoth, are you there? Please disable the cameras in the hallway so I can get back in.”

Pure shock rattled the porygon’s CPU. In its confusion, it overrode the cameras, replaced the footage, and informed Seven. She transformed, walked into the room, and stopped dead when confronted by the commander.

“So, you made it back? Aww, we did all this for jack.”

Seven stiffened, plucked a knife from thin air, and plunged it into the ditto’s chest. The knife slid out of the goopy flesh and hit the floor.

“That’s Fourteen,” Thoth said. “We were about to come down the elevator for you, and speaking of, how the heck did you get out?”

“The security’s one-way. I didn’t need the card down there.”

Thoth’s inner screaming made itself manifest through a brief flicker on the screen. Then the program said, “At least you made it back before anything else happened.”

Seven’s eyes narrowed. “Did something happen while I was gone?”

Thoth explained the commander’s appearance and the black-out. By the end, Seven was sitting on the bed, rubbing her temples with one hand.

“He knows about the Mirage project and suspects I’m here,” she said. “That’s the only explanation.”

“I have no data on that project.”

“Nevermind. For now, we have to lie low. I’ve learned as much as I can, and once Admin Colson gets here, we can plan our next move.”

Thoth glanced at Set, who was juggling his own feet and ears torn off of the commander disguise, and decided not to predict how long this mission would take.
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Old 1 Week Ago (9:15 PM).
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In all honesty, I'm not sure how this chapter turned out. My brain's too fried at the moment to read it over, so I'm gonna post now and fix things later if I hear back or go back tomorrow feel instant regret.


Chapter Forty-Seven

Nine studied the door to Allison Caldwell’s room before turning down the hallway. Allison pulled the doorknob, but it wasn’t the wild, desperate yanking he had expected. No, it was a tamer testing, accompanied by curious, mildly concerned questions. No light shone in the room. He had taken careful pains to make sure even the computers and cameras wouldn’t provide the slightest glimmer of light. And yet, the occupant of that room remained calm in absolute darkness.

Shaking his head, Nine dismissed Allison as a decoy and ran through the list of recent recruits. Questions nagged his thoughts. Why use a decoy when he might have never known? Did they want him to suspect that Seven was here? Did he just tip his hand by making such an obvious test? A shiver shot through his gelatinous flesh, and an eye darted towards Allison’s door as he turned a corner.

Wandering through the hallways, Nine considered his questions. The Professor had been careful to keep all information on him separate from the lab’s main files, and he had been the only one aware of his existence. Did Giovanni somehow wring the truth out of him before he died, or find his hidden bunker? And even having all that, how did he find Nine in the first place? The only time he had revealed his identity was to the police.

His thoughts snapped back to that meeting, and those present. Commissioner Mason, Officer Peter, and three lucario – the latter had no reason to help Team Rocket, and Peter had plenty of reason to hate the Rockets. If Gregory was a Rocket mole, it would certainly explain the police bungling at Stonebough.

The thought drew a drooping frown on his face. It’s entirely possible the police could stab him in the back if that were the case, and all they’d need for an excuse is the illegal use of an EMP.

His hand reached into a pocket and closed around some lint. Poking around, he found that his keycard for the elevator was missing. He remembered grabbing it, but his agitation made him think he could have forgotten it.

Striding quickly, he returned to his room and found the keycard on his desk. With a sigh of relief, he pocketed it and decided to pay the labs a visit. If one of the subjects – no, volunteers recovered, he could end this farce.

When he arrived at the elevator, a set of guards fresh on the shift parted and bowed. With a swipe, he was descending. Thoughts gnawed at his mind, and he ground his teeth. The flesh on his chest bubbled like boiling tar, and the illusion under his robes dispersed. With some measured breaths, he hardened his flesh and rebuilt the image behind the mask. Layers put a safety net beneath a careless slip.

The R&D Director approached him the moment the doors opened. He hastily bowed and asked, “Back so soon, sir?”

Nine stiffened. Reflex almost made him say he hadn’t been down, but he strangled the words in his throat. Instead, he said, “There is little that requires my attention above.”

The director nodded. “Would you like to speak with Bruno, sir? He just had his afternoon meal.”

Nine nodded. “I have some new questions. Perhaps this time, I will learn something of use.”

“Very well, I’ll have everything prepared.”

A minute later, Nine walked through the thick metal doors, crossed the empty floor, and stopped in front of Bruno’s cage. Plasma crackled, and the floor vibrated beneath his feet. Bruno sat in front of an empty plate and stared blankly at a computer screen.

“Are you having a pleasant day?” he asked.

Bruno’s eyes slid up to meet his. He shrugged and asked, “Yours?”

“Quite vexing, actually. I have quite a few problems on my mind right now, one of which is that Seven somehow got down here.”

Bruno flinched, and his eyes widened. A grin spread across his face, and his eyes shone in the plasma. Nine noted with satisfaction that the surprise was unfeigned.

“Here in this room?”

Nine chuckled. “You’d know better than I.”

Bruno’s smile wavered, but he bounced in his seat. “You’ll never catch her. She slipped past a whole prison guard at Stonebough, and she’s slipped past your security too.”

“I wonder about that,” Nine said. “The Stonebough incident strikes me as odd. Why did the police activate the flooding system? They had the firepower to take them head-on at the gate. Instead, they sealed the prisoners in and gave them the perfect cover for their escape.”

“Police officers would have died stopping the breakout,” Bruno answered, “And there’s no guarantee that they could stop them.”

Nine shrugged. “I suppose there’s no real proof there. I’m more interested in how Team Rocket figured out that I know about the Mirage Project.”

Bruno opened his mouth, but Nine talked over him. “There are only four groups of people who know about the Mirage Project. Professor Martin is dead. Team Rocket has the files from his public computers, but I doubt they found his private stash. The Justice Committee could only be more tight-lipped about their military secrets if they had their mouths sewn shut. And last, there’s me and the few police officers I told in utmost secrecy. Now, unless they thought a traitor or a Justicar leads the White Knights, they have to know I was involved, and the only five living beings that know my secret are Commissioner Mason, Officer Peter, Elder Bayron, and the two lucario Jarem and Kolar.”

Bruno flinched at the second name and growled at the last two. Nine studied his reactions before continuing. “The lucario have no love for Team Rocket and its pokemon as tools agenda, no other police officer knows of the meeting, and the room was checked for bugs and psychic tampering before the meeting. That leaves two options.”

Bruno’s hackles rose, but he stayed silent. Nine said, “Peter has too little influence, which leaves the Commissioner as the most probable mole. Do you disagree?”

The lucario frowned for a moment. “How do you know they know about you?”

“They left a trap, a single hair, pointing at a single person. To test the theory, I turned out the lights, and nothing happened.”

“If they already knew about you, why lay the trap?”

Nine sighed and took a step back. “I’m missing too many pieces. Nothing fits. No explanation I can think of explains their behavior. Their motive is clear, they want me gone, but all their actions at this point don’t represent a clear plan. Do they simply wish to keep me on edge? Are they trying to screen their real intent?”

Bruno closed the laptop. He walked up to the edge of the plasma and asked, “What are you trying to do?”

“In the long run? Make a world where everyone is treated equally. But for now, I’ll settle for getting Team Rocket out of the picture.” Nine studied Bruno’s cold, distant expression before saying, “Enjoy the rest of your day. I have much to think about.”

On his way back up, he asked his R&D Director for a copy of the security footage for the floor. Back in his own office, he began the arduous task of studying hours of footage sped up fifty times until he caught flashes of his own image. He followed Seven as she meandered through the underground, poking her head into storage closets and treatment wards. When she approached Bruno’s door, she stiffened and glanced at it out of the corner of her eye.

Nine suspected she had known what lay beyond that door, but through that plasma, she shouldn’t be able to sense anything. He hadn’t. But then again, he had felt an odd pressure in the area from time to time. He made a note to have the plasma barrier inspected and brought up the security footage for the upper levels.

A study of the hallway by Allison Caldwell yielded fast results. Of the handful of times other people left their rooms, one room had been left twice, with no one coming in. The person’s route through the compound led straight to his office.

Cross-referencing the room with identity and attendance records revealed no anomalies in his recent behavior. After considering alternatives, such as a doppelganger using the room, he concluded it was another decoy. But then, why have two decoys? Was she testing him?

The footage of his room proved oddest of all. He saw clear evidence of the illusion that made him forget his card, when his card vanished and a fuzzy duplicate appeared next to it. Yet, after two minutes, the original card reappeared, as if it had never been taken. Questions flew across his mind, a jumble of hows and whys. With a growl, he scattered the questions and returned his attention to the footage in the hallway. Seven paused outside his door for ten seconds and moved on. Sure, she could make an illusion of the card that could fool the guards, but it wouldn’t get past the card reader.

Nine’s rumination was interrupted by a phone call. A glance at the ID told him it was his Chief of Security. He cleared his throat to lessen the weary croak in his voice and said, “Do you have anything to report?”

“Yes sir, I have excellent news! Remember that convoy that we were tipped off about? Admin Colson was overseeing it personally. We have captured him and his whole team alive.”

The swarm of thoughts returned, each one passing in an unintelligible blur. Gripping a desk drawer, Nine took deep breaths until his heart steadied and asked, “What have you done with them?”

“They are imprisoned in plasma cells in the northern sector. We have a koffing on standby if you wish to have them killed.”

The clamor of thoughts broke his illusion. Blobby pink flesh oozed onto his desk, and he sagged into his chair. All the while, his brain processed plan after possible plan revolving around Admin Colson’s presence. Another decoy, a conduit for Seven’s orders, a saboteur, nothing quite fit with Seven’s current behavior. Killing him would put an end to whatever plans Seven currently had, at the cost of his one potential source of information.

“You are to keep this between us,” Nine said. “But we are currently facing some serious issues in your security.” The man took a sharp breath, and Nine hastily added, “Nothing that I hold you accountable for. These are errors on my part.”

Even through the phone, Nine could sense the man picking his words as if he were picking the patches of thin ice he trod. “What kind of issues?”

“There is a mole among the White Knights, one capable of creating illusions. I fell for one of their decoys. I don’t know who or where they are, or what their plan is, but I am certain they will attempt to contact or free Admin Colson.”

“Should we kill them all?” he asked.

“Kill the other Rockets, but leave the Admin. Tighten security around him, and put Mr. H on his guard. Also, I will not be visiting his cell. If I approach, detain me immediately. Is that understood?”

“Y-yes sir,” the man stammered. “But, should I tell the guards on duty? Word would spread if they got orders like that.”

Nine grimaced. “Just tell Mr. H. He’ll handle it.”

He hung up and went back to the security footage, with thoughts swirling in his head like hot volcanic ash.
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  #91    
Old 6 Days Ago (10:34 PM).
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“Nope! I got barfed out of a human without any pants on, and we got shot at by dozens of police officers.”

Thoth’s clock speed dipped as he took in the absurdity of that comment. “I’m really glad I don’t have any memory backups.”
Indeed you're better off not having those memory backups, Thoth.

Set's "you can't die if you're already dead" he has a point with him already being a ghost and all. The next part with Fourteen not exactly getting the commander's image right I chuckled.

Quote:
His thoughts snapped back to that meeting, and those present. Commissioner Mason, Officer Peter, and three lucario – the latter had no reason to help Team Rocket, and Peter had plenty of reason to hate the Rockets. If Gregory was a Rocket mole, it would certainly explain the police bungling at Stonebough.

The thought drew a drooping frown on his face. It’s entirely possible the police could stab him in the back if that were the case, and all they’d need for an excuse is the illegal use of an EMP.
Quote:
Bruno opened his mouth, but Nine talked over him. “There are only four groups of people who know about the Mirage Project. Professor Martin is dead. Team Rocket has the files from his public computers, but I doubt they found his private stash. The Justice Committee could only be more tight-lipped about their military secrets if they had their mouths sewn shut. And last, there’s me and the few police officers I told in utmost secrecy. Now, unless they thought a traitor or a Justicar leads the White Knights, they have to know I was involved, and the only five living beings that know my secret are Commissioner Mason, Officer Peter, Elder Bayron, and the two lucario Jarem and Kolar.”

Bruno flinched at the second name and growled at the last two. Nine studied his reactions before continuing. “The lucario have no love for Team Rocket and its pokemon as tools agenda, no other police officer knows of the meeting, and the room was checked for bugs and psychic tampering before the meeting. That leaves two options.”
Next chapter you Nine figured out about the EMP incident, but I think that bolded paragraph probably isn't totally needed since you later have him repeat it to Bruno later. Either way though, wonder what's going to happen with the Commissioner there.

With Admin Colson being captured, sounds like Seven and the others will have to hitch up a new plan there.
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Old 2 Hours Ago (9:40 PM).
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Hmm... you may have a point about the repetition. I'll think about it.

Chapter Forty-Eight

Commissioner Mason took a long, greedy swallow of his coffee. Staring into the murky, swirling liquid, he debated adding a draft of vodka from the bottle in his inside coat pocket. He glanced at Peter, who sat to his left and stared hollow-eyed at the table and cradled an empty mug in his hands.

Across the table, Elder Bayron read the morning’s newspaper. A lucario sat on either side of him. The Elder claimed that Jarem and Kolar had been sent back after last night’s incident, but these looked no different to him.

“All things considered,” Bayron said, “That could have gone far worse.”

Peter’s mug hit the table with a loud clank. In a low, ragged voice, he said, “I had that situation under control. If Jarem and Kolar hadn’t butted in, Bruno would be back safe and sound.”

The Elder shook his head. “I do not know for certain. I agree that they acted too hastily, but at the same time, I felt Bruno’s aura. He was teetering over the edge before he was attacked. Now… I fear whatever containment field holds him is the only thing standing between this city and an apocalypse.

Gregory Mason took his mug and turned around. A mug of coffee sat on the small table behind him. With his back to the rest of the group, he slipped a shot of vodka into his mug and topped it off with coffee. The cocktail of alcohol and caffeine dulled the edge off the headache sawing at his synapses.

“Let’s suppose Bruno’s let loose out of the city. What exactly would happen?”

“I don’t know.” Bayron lowered the newspaper and grabbed a cup of tea. “It depends on what he wants, and how many living beings are around him. Likely, the city will be destroyed.”

Mason grimaced and swigged more laced coffee. The half-empty bottle in his coat tugged at him. “Is there any way of stopping that from happening?” He gave a half-hearted chuckle and added, “I don’t think Parliament would appreciate losing their constituents.”

His eyes met Bayron’s for a heartbeat. Inscrutable red eyes burrowed into his brain, scavenged the squishy tissue for the thoughts floating in his mind. With a jerk, he looked down at his coffee and found the mug empty. This time, he emptied the bottle before pouring in coffee.

“There are two recorded instances of a rogue lucario. During both times, low population density allowed us to contain the threat and cover it up as a natural disaster. Here, with this much aura gathered in one spot, every lucario in Temple standing together couldn’t stop him.” Bayron closed his eyes for a second and said, “Not even the stone would tip the scales.”

Mason sipped his coffee. The thin, cloudy coffee had a gratifying kick. “So, we have to find and neutralize Bruno before Team Rocket thinks of using him as some kind of nuke. Wonderful. Any chance of finding him?”

“Bruno’s trail disappears at a spot where we suspect Team Rocket reclaimed him.” Elder Bayron added a dollop of honey to his tea and stirred it in with a spoon. “There’s no way to find him from there. Our only option is to wait for him to reappear and neutralize him.”

“You’re not even going to try to help him?” Peter said. Despite the fire in his eyes, his face was as impassive and calm as carved marble.

The Elder shook his head. “I am truly sorry that it must come to this, but millions are lives – perhaps all life on this planet, hangs in the balance. We have tried helping others in the past, and every time, more died. You know what must be done.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way. I can still help him. I know it. That was Bruno I was talking to, not some monster. Leave me and him alone for a few minutes, and I’ll have him right as rain.”

“We cannot take that risk.”

“Peter, I have to agree with the Elder,” Mason said. “I know you want to save your partner, but our obligation is to the people of this city. If one must die for the sake of everyone, even if it was me, or my wife, or anyone else, I’d pull the trigger myself.” He held up his coffee mug and said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Peter glowered at him and sank into his chair. “This could have all been avoided.”

The Elder turned back to the Commissioner. “Is there any chance the White Knights could help us? They already found him once, and they may be able to do it again.”

Mason felt an eyebrow rise and lowered his face to hide it. “I don’t think so. After last night, I’m willing to be that the Rockets beefed up their security.” He perked up when he remembered a report an undercover agent gave him. “I just got a report this afternoon from an operative of mine. It seems that Colson, their technical Admin, is heading to a new facility with an escort of elite Grunts. With luck, he might lead us to where they’re holding Bruno.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to capture this Admin?” Bayron asked. “I could delve his aura and find Bruno’s location.”

Mason shivered. He breathed through gritted teeth and said, “There’s a risk that the Rockets would move Bruno after they learn that Colson was captured.”

“On the other hand, his mission might have nothing to do with Bruno. If so, we can’t let the chance to capture him slip by.”

The office floor turned to brittle ice beneath his feet. Each pace forward felt as though it could drown him. He took a breath and steadied himself with another gulp of coffee. Sometimes, the only way to find the cracks in the ice is to step on them. “With Stonebough prison still under renovation, we don’t have anywhere secure enough to keep him. If this delving takes less than four hours, we could make it work, but otherwise we’d have to track him and hope for the best.”

The Elder tilted the newspaper towards him. “Perhaps the White Knights could assist us. They may have somewhere we can store the Admin while the delving is underway.”

The snap of ice echoed across his mind, and the ice tilted beneath his feet. Time to backpedal.

“You have a point. With so many lives at stake, we can’t afford to leave it to chance. I’ll contact the White Knights right away and see what they can do. Is there anything else we need to discuss?”

The Elder handed a lucario his cup, and it set it in a garbage can. “I would like to stay here,” Bayron said. “I’ll make sure lucario are here at all times so we’re ready the moment Bruno gets loose. With luck, we may confine the damage to a small area.” He picked up the newspaper and bowed towards the Commissioner. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must rest. City life is quite taxing.”

The lucario opened the door and escorted him out. Peter started towards the door, but with a gesture from Mason, he sat back down.

“Is this about my behavior?” he asked. “If so, then I apologize and will control myself better in the future.”

Gregory noted that Peter’s right hand shook inside his coat pocket, where he kept the Sudoku book.

“You need to keep a tighter leash on your anger, but that’s now what I need to discuss.” He glanced at the door, got up, and quietly locked it. He tipped the mug to his mouth, but only a thin trickle passed his lips. He grabbed his bottle, shook it, and left it in his pocket.

“I’m worried that we can’t trust the lucario.”

Peter flinched. Muscles in his face twitched as he ground his teeth, and he sat straight as a battering ram, but he stayed silent.

“I know what the Rockets want,” he said. “Giovanni wants power, and his Grunts want him to have it. He won’t get his power if he kills everyone. But what do the White Knights want? They claim to want equality, but they could just as easily want us all dead. Their leader is a failed experiment. It has every reason to hate us. I don’t know if the lucario are going along with it or are deceived by their propaganda, but I do know that they have more reason to side with the Knights than us.” He cleared his throat. “They are pokemon, after all.”

Peter glared at him, but his voice was soft as down when he spoke. “Did you really just suggest that we could trust Team Rocket more than we could trust the Knights?”

Mason’s grip tightened on his empty mug. He set it on the table, folded his hands, and said, “I trust the Rockets to serve their own interests. They get nothing by uprooting the government that profits them. The pokemon, on the other hand, are treated as pets and tools. They would have a lot to gain by replacing us.”

Peter shook his head. “You have no idea. They aren’t pets and tools, they’re partners. We live side by side, working together, supporting one another. There have always been intelligent pokemon, and we’ve gotten along for hundreds of years. Why be afraid now?”

“They played nice with us because they knew they couldn’t win. Now that there’s more of them, they might decide they’re sick of working with humans and want the world for themselves.”

“Listen to yourself. Do you have any idea how paranoid you sound?”

Mason’s head ached, and the alcohol made his tongue stiff. “Just tell me what the lucario want. Then I’ll start trusting them.”

Peter stared at him and squeezed the Sudoku book. “They’re purpose is to watch over the aura and keep it in balance. Wars and conflict cause ripples that can damage the environment. Is that what you’re looking for?”

Mason studied his officer, but he knew that trying to ask anything more would be useless.

“Yes, thank you.” He nodded and gave a faint smile. “That makes sense. Sorry for putting you through the wringer like that, it’s been a stressful few days, with the White Knights showing up and using EMPs. I just needed a little reassurance.”

Peter relaxed and smiled back. “I understand, sir. It’s been a rough few days for me as well. Try to get some rest, and let’s get ourselves an Admin.”

With a chuckle, Mason dismissed Peter. Once the door was closed, Mason’s smile vanished, and he sank back into his chair. He dissected the tidbit Peter gave him and liked none of the conclusions he reached. Cities were full of conflict. It happened anytime you crammed enough people together in a confined space. Combined with the fact that lucario suffered in cities, due to the chaotic aura, it hinted at the unpalatable possibility that human genocide would appeal to them.

Tapping his empty bottle, he reached for a phone, called his contact in the White Knights. Once done, he left the building and wandered until he found a café in the busiest part of the city. Surrounded by the clamor of businessmen on calls and people ordering coffee, Mason made a call to the Justice Committee, the branch of government that handles weapons development and military forces, and asked if they had anything that could solve his lucario problem.
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