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  #51    
Old July 10th, 2017 (5:45 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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As Set floated away with Thoth, the haunter chuckled to himself. The pokemon, though it looked, talked, and acted like a human, couldn’t hide her secrets from him. The torment and self-doubt emanating from her tasted like sugar crystals wafting on the wind. He flapped his tongue in the air as she turned towards the door, getting one last taste of her anguish before he went to his mission.
I like the "tasted like sugar crystals wafting on the wind" description there.

I enjoyed Set and Thoth's banter this chapter, Thoth's more serious personality works in line with Set's more unpredictable nature. Thoth's reaction to Set getting the guard's pants was the most amusing. Looking forward to more of the prison break in!
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Old July 16th, 2017 (11:17 AM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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I'm glad you liked Set and Thoth. I intend to write more of their shenanigans in the future, if the end of that chapter was any indication. In the meantime, here's the second part of the prison escape. I feel like I'm treading on thin ice here... I'm flying by the seat of my pants right now. I hope I can get through this alright and then get to the story arc after this one.

Chapter Twenty-Six

After what felt like an eternity, huddling on top of the toilet seat and staring at the stall door, the tablet strapped to Seven’s wrist vibrated. A message flashed on the screen, simply saying, “I’m in. Limited access, but it should work.”

Claws clacking against the screen, Seven replied, “Track my progress, ping me if a patrol’s coming, and deactivate security devices in my path. Two pings if you need time.”

In reply, Thoth wrote, “Wait one minute. Guards passing outside your current position.” As Seven read the message, she could hear the footsteps stomping against the concrete floor just outside the bathroom. They quickly faded into silence, but Seven waited the full minute before opening the door.

The way deeper into the prison proved even more arduous than Seven feared. Long, narrow, snaking corridors that gently sloped down guarded the cells deep below ground. Sight lines extended for a hundred feet, without a single shadow to hide in. Thoth stopped her numerous points along the way to crack firewalls on cameras and deactivate daemons guarding alternate servers. Each time, Seven had to huddle against a wall and hope no guards would pass by, and each time, at least one pair of guards, walking shoulder to shoulder, would round the path and walk towards her. Each time, she made herself invisible, clambered up the walls, and pinned herself against the ceiling, sucking in her gut so she wouldn’t bump the hats the officers wore. More than one hat brushed the fur on her belly, but none of the guards noticed the slight twitch on their heads.

And each time, the illusion came up more slowly, the invisible straps bound her tighter, the unseen knives loomed closer, and more phantom needles plunged into her arms and legs. Even with her invisibility banished and sight returned, the tight, close walls reminded her too much of the cell. Each breath caught in her throat, and her arms trembled. She dreaded the too-familiar twinge on her arms as the tablet alerted her to the next ordeal.

“No,” she muttered with each breath. “I won’t. Go back. Never. Won’t go. No cage. I’m human. A person. Won’t. No.” Step by plodding step, her words grew less coherent until each breath was a wordless snarl. The deeper she went, the dimmer her sight became. The lights overhead couldn’t keep the darkness at bay. Scalpels prodded her along the path, straps pulled her onward. Tongs picked at her teeth, tweezers pried her eyes open, ghostly liquors crept along her veins, leaving trails of burning fire and icy cold she could trace with a finger.

Then she felt a twinge in her throat. Seven’s eyes widened in recognition. Above all other pain she suffered in the dark operating room, that one cut the deepest.

“No,” she hissed. “I’m done being a test subject, I’m done! You don’t have any more power over me, professor! You’re dead, I’m alive, and you can’t hurt me!”

But the pain kept coming. She could feel the tendons in her throat part around a scalpel as it sliced through her adam’s apple. Tiny metal hooks wriggled into her vocal chords. Knowing what came next, Seven frantically rummaged in her hair and wrenched out the first object her hands grazed. It was a bag of beef jerky. She jammed the whole bag in her mouth, not even opening it.

One by one, she felt the cords in her throat get sliced away. Each cut brought a muffled scream as jolts of pain shot up her neck like spiked bullets. Forty-seven slices, that’s how many it took to slice through the bottom, followed by six injections into the severed area, then forty-two above the hooks. This time, she could feel the part of her, her lost vocal cords, dangling on the ends of metal hooks as the professor eased them out of her throat with his own hands.

Then came the part she hated the most. The pain subsided as the new cords were stitched into place and smeared with a warm, soothing jelly. Then she heard the words.

“Say your name,” came the whisper in the dark. “Go ahead, speak.”

The words caught in her throat. Tears streamed down her face, and searing pain clouded her sight, but the words came all the same.

“I’m Subject Seven,” she said.

“Good,” said the professor’s hoarse, quiet voice, reaching her ears from beyond the grave. “Now you can speak just like us. Now you will be more useful to us. Aren’t you happy?”

Seven shook with sobs, but she couldn’t help herself. All her ‘humanity,’ not even a gift, but an added feature, forced on her through needle and scalpel. And yet, she felt the words “Thank you” pass her lips, as soft as a caress on the cheek, as painful as a white-hot brand pressed into her flesh.

“Get up.” Dimly, through the professor’s words, she saw the same message on the tablet. Its dim, harsh light tapped on the darkness like a finger against a pane of glass. Staring at the screen, she stood up and growled at the voice in her head.

“You’re dead. You’re dead and I’m free.”

“Free?” She could see the professor’s gentle, mocking smile and feel his thick, pudgy fingers brush through her hair. “Freedom is a lie. We’re all frogs in the bottom of a well, looking up at a thin sliver of sky. Any frog that thinks there’s anything more, that scrapes its fingers raw climbing the slick stone walls, that starves itself reaching for that sky, that heaves itself over the side, finds another set of walls, another circle overhead.” The professor in her memories shrugged, and his grin widened. “It’s a bigger well, and maybe you can’t see the sides yet, but it’s still a well, and you’re still at the bottom.” Then invisible bullets punctured the vaporous image before her. Red mist streamed from the holes, and his smile bled across his face. “Get going. Another patrol is coming.”

She blinked. The image was gone, and instead, she was staring at the tablet. Those last words flickered before her, and she heard echoes of the whisper as she read them again and again.

Footsteps brought her back to her task, loud and heavy against the cold concrete floor. This time, while invisible, she sprinted towards them, making only the tiniest shuffling sound with her padded, silent shoes. If the guards felt a breath of wind as she flew over them, they dismissed it as a draft and kept walking without a single glance back.

The last minute of her descent went smoothly. During her hallucination, Thoth had hacked everything ahead, and Seven moved quickly enough to avoid the next patrol. Once down to the main facility, she ducked into a laundry basket and watched her surroundings.

The real Stonebough, the one buried beneath a mile-high hill of concrete and steel, held only forty-one prison cells. Reserved for truly dangerous criminals, whose crimes were filed on reports thick enough to crush them to death, these cells had the highest security the state could provide. Each door had encrypted digital locks, whose passwords changed at random intervals, each area had security cameras with submachine guns mounted beneath them, and each cell had vaporous green barriers on all four sides. The bare cells had floors of steel, and the prisoners weren’t trusted with a mattress, let alone chairs and a table. A hole in the middle of the floor, about three inches thick and rimmed with barbed wire, served for a toilet, and a greasy brown stain marked where their food was dumped.

The prisoners, two or three to a cell, huddled in their cramped confines, clothed with just enough skintight white fabric to offer some semblance of decency. Every single one of them had vacant, gaunt, hollow-eyed faces that stared absently in no particular direction.

Officers and their pokemon patrolled the floor. Each block of four cells had a pokemon circling each cell and two officers on standby in chairs at their center.

Luckily for Seven, two factors worked in her favor. One, each block of cells was split off by a giant steel wall, necessitated by all the weight pressing down on the ceiling. As a result, each group of cells was isolated. Wide double-doors with encrypted locks and fiberglass windows connected each cell. Two, the patrols, with a wide variety of pokemon, moved at different speeds. With correct timing, she could silence the guards and pokemon before they noticed anything amiss.

Seven waited outside the first area, staring through the window until she saw a gap in their patrols. She tried the knob, but it was still locked. Grimacing as the opening vanished, she hurriedly typed orders on the tablet.

“I was busy making sure those cameras wouldn’t kill you,” Thoth answered. “The first door will be tricky, but the rest will be quick.” Then, a minute later, “Okay, ready.”

Seven had to wait three more minutes for another opening, but this one gave her even more time. She flung the door open, slipped between two cells, and hit both officers from the side. Before they could turn and shout, she slammed both their heads together. One slumped in his chair, but the other struggled in her grasp. With one hand, she reached for the pokeballs on their belts and recalled their pokemon, and with the other, she pinched the man’s jugular. He clawed at her wrist, hard enough to draw blood at first, but gradually, the man’s hands fell to his sides and his chest went slack.

Seven checked the other doors quickly, one opposite the one she just entered, and the other to the right, both leading to other blocks of cells. Neither set of patrols noticed anything. Then, turning back to the cells, she considered the green barriers walling in each cell. She brushed her fur against it and felt it burn to a crisp as every atom of hair that entered the electromagnetic field got fried by a stream of electrons flitting through it.

“Can you turn off the cells?”

“Not without alerting the whole facility,” Thoth answered. “I could reroute the power, but that would take days.”

Seven shrugged and typed back, “I have a better idea.”

She went back to the door she opened and studied the hinges. Then she called out Ra.

“Burn through the hinges,” Seven told the torkoal. Ra grunted, and a plume of smoke shot out of the holes in its back. Flame shot out of her mouth in a tiny blue stream, searing steel like a welding torch. But even though the steel turned white hot, it refused to melt.

With a grunt, Seven wrenched on the door. The combined heat and stress snapped the hinge in two, leaving the door hanging loosely on the other hinge. Ra and Seven repeated the process, and with a high-pitched squeal, the door’s electronics popped out of the wall.

“Careful with that,” Thoth warned with a flurry of pings. “If you disconnect the lock, it’ll set off alarms.”

“I need the door,” Seven told it.

“I can’t imagine why, but if you want it that badly, cut the fifth red wire from the top and the third black from the bottom at the same time. You’ll have four seconds to bind the ends together. After that, you’ll have your door.”

Seven took out her knife and rummaged through the exposed electronics. She counted the wires twice before taking the two wires between her fingers. With a single deft motion, she sliced both wires, pressed both ends together, and had Ra melt them together.

“Perfect,” Thoth said, “But I still don’t see how it’ll help.”

Using the butt of her knife, Seven smashed through the fiberglass. Large jagged shards clattered across the floor. The remaining hole was just large enough to crawl through.

She approached the first cell. Only one man sat in this cell, a man so huge he took up enough space for two. Muscles the size of bowling balls, bulging beneath drawn, pasty skin, twitched as the man regarded Seven. His stare was expressionless, but a small smile touched his lips. His long, lanky hair hung in matted clumps around his face, but Seven could still recognize the Vice-Admin for Mad Hax, a bruiser known as Blacksmith.

“Giovanni sent you?”

Seven turned the door up-side-down and pushed it into the barrier. Sparks hissed and crackled off of it as the barrier parted around the metal.

“Mind the edges, they’re hot and covered in jagged glass.”

Blacksmith’s shoulders were almost as wide as the door, but he wriggled through without a scratch. He stood, brushed off his pale, hairy legs, and looked down at Seven.

“About damn time someone made it this far,” he said flatly. “Make sure you don’t psyduck this up.”

“I won’t,” Seven replied. “But before we move on, I have a favor to ask of you.” She took the pistol from one of the guards and handed it to him. Without looking at it, Blacksmith turned off the safety and cocked the gun.

“By Giovanni’s orders, your former Admin, Mad Hax, is not to leave this place alive.”

“And you’re worried that he’ll kill you before you kill him.” Blacksmith chuckled dryly. “Smart man.” Then he paused and frowned. After a minute, he jammed the gun into his loincloth and said, “You can count on me, sir.”
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  #53    
Old July 17th, 2017 (4:28 PM).
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I like the part where Seven was hallucinating about her professor mentioning she wants freedom like a frog in a pond. Usually one would use birds flying for freedom, I don't see that used with frogs too often.

The part where she was able to pass through the guards was a cool scene, though a part of me wonders if you can add a bit more reaction to the Pokemon before Seven was able to recall them. Otherwise, things seem to be going fine so far for her though I believe she'll face other obstacles soon.
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Old July 23rd, 2017 (1:13 PM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Hi guys.

I moved yesterday. It was a bit hectic and a bit tiring, considering I have a frickin' lead weight for a table. But hey, at least I'm on schedule for my writing, and it feels so damn good being on my own, finally. I'll go on a little trip Tu-We, but hopefully I'll still keep up the pace on my writing. I intend to churn out half a chapter today... or maybe even a whole one. Fingers crossed.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Over the course of two grueling hours, Seven breached the remaining nine walled areas, took out eighteen officers and sixty-one pokemon. She didn’t bother cloaking for any breach, instead waiting for a gap in the patrols before darting in, knocking the officers on the head before they could turn towards the black blur in their peripheral vision, and either capturing or knocking out their pokemon.

A nidorino dodged the capture beam and lunged towards a door, but Blacksmith caught the pokemon in a headlock and twisted hard enough to snap its neck. The burly man checked his arms for puncture wounds and kicked the corpse into a barrier, where it vanished in a plume of white smoke and a shower of sparks.

“Good thing I didn’t lose my touch,” Blacksmith said with a deep, booming voice brought down to a low whisper. Before Seven turned away from him, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him grab his gun and check the clip. Another click told her he did something more than put the clip back, but she couldn’t be sure what.

Another time, a noivern caught the sound of her footsteps and let out an ear-splitting shriek. It was just as unexpected for the guards in the room as it was for Seven and her growing gang of Rockets. Suppressing the urge to cover her ears, Seven yanked the gas mask out of her ears and slipped it on. It muffled the noise enough for her to charge forward, kicking one guard in the gut and grabbing the other by his adam’s apple. With a twist, she brought the thin, wiry man to the ground and left him there, choking on his own throat.

She wrenched two pokeballs off his pocket, one of which recalled the noivern, and the other a vigoroth. The other officer reached for his radio, but two grunts grabbed him by the arms and slammed his head onto the floor. Blood trickled from his nose as he lay still.

The noise brought two more guards in, one from each door. The doorknob to her left twisted first, and before the door was halfway open, she wrenched the man through the doorway and leapt past him, scrambling for the second guard. That woman, a stocky, tall, officer, reached for her pistol. Just as she pulled the trigger, Seven brought one leg in a high kick, knocking her hands aside. The bullet caught a charging machoke in the left arm, and it fell to the floor with a grunt. A spray of blood spattered Seven’s uniform and mask as she leapt onto the woman, twisted around her shoulders, and brought her down to the floor, one leg trapping her right arm, and the other pinning a knee into her stomach. She groaned in pain as Seven tightened her grip, and gasped when she smacked her temple with the butt of her own pistol.

Turning back towards the previous room, she saw that the crowd of sixty grunts, led by Blacksmith, made short work of the three remaining guards. The guards lay on the floor, grunting in pain or unconscious. They were stripped of radios and shoved through the door after they released the grunts in the one room.

Seven turned back towards the room she leapt into. This room, though guarded just as heavily as the others, only had one cell, and that cell, half the size of the others, only had one occupant. A thin stubble of hair covered his scalp in uneven patches, and dark brown scabs showed where he had torn his hair out. His face, sunken and hollow even in the best of health, looked skeletal, with skin drawn tight over his huge, pointy cheekbones and chin. His sockets appeared empty unless he looked directly into the light, and eyebrows so thin they seemed nonexistent completed the image of a grinning human skull.

Mad Hax’s hands twitched when he saw Seven approach. His voice was weak and raspy, but he still sounded suave as he said, “Didn’t think the Don would let a rookie on a high profile mission like this. Where’s Fisher? I’d like a word with him.”

“Fisher isn’t here.”

Hax’s eyes narrowed. “Dekkard, then? I guess this would be a fine proving ground for him.”

Seven held back a grimace as she saw the man, slumped on the floor, bleeding out of fifty holes in his chest, holes she put there herself.

“I’m the only one.”

Mad Hax glanced around Seven, through the door she had opened, at the crowd of Grunts milling outside the door. Even in the back of the crowd, Blacksmith stood out above the rest. His eyes met Hax with a blank, level stare.

“Ten of the best tried busting in here. They made it into one of the rooms before they tripped an alarm on the door and brought every guard in this anthill down on them. Then Giovanni sends one rookie down here, and you slip in and free everyone without a single alarm going off. How’d you do it?”

Seven considered her words carefully. “I hacked what I could, and worked around what I couldn’t.”

Hax grinned even harder, and his eyes sparkled like black diamonds in his deep, shadowed sockets. “It’d take a high quality porygon to crack through this cyber security, and we lost our only upgraded version in the last raid. Giovanni may be powerful, but even he can’t get his hands on a Silph Up-Grade in six months. Let me guess, you’re using Thoth?”

Seven nodded, and Hax spat into the hole in the floor.

“A piece of garbage. That trash would take five minutes to a camera on the way down, and patrols pass that way every ten minutes.”

Seven’s tablet beeped, and the message “I heard that” blinked at her in big, bold script.

Hax sighed and leaned back, kicking one foot up onto his knee. He stared up at the ceiling and said, “I’m done beating around the bush. Are you going to kill me now, or does the Don want the pleasure himself?”

Seven felt herself tense, but the words Admin Colson coached her through came readily to mind. “Kill you? We can’t afford to, not now.”

Hax cackled, which sounded all the more deranged as it bounced off the walls and formed an echo-like interference pattern, as if his voice were a tuning fork struck on an anvil. “Don’t give me that crap. Giovanni doesn’t tolerate failure, and I psyducked up big time. Just put a bullet through me so I can stop rotting in this hell hole.”

Seven waited for his laughter to die and his attention to return to her face. Then she said, “Have you heard of the White Knights?”

If Hax had eyebrows, they would’ve been bunched up against his eyes. “I think I heard the guards speak that name once or twice.”

“They’ve been causing trouble, lots of it.” Seven counted off her points on her fingers. “They’ve burned down the Golden Magikarp casino, trashed two pokemon smuggling rings, beat fourteen Grunts to death and injured six others, raided four warehouses, and stole a couple dozen pokemon from a drop zone. They’re popular with the public, and they don’t negotiate.” Seven made herself stare into those sunken eyes, each like an abyss. “Giovanni is only giving you one chance to redeem yourself, and he only does so because his back’s against the wall. It’s do or die time, Admin Hax.”

As Mad Hax puzzled over her words, Blacksmith brought over the door. Seven held it up to the walls, and Hax stared in wonder as the barrier parted around the metal.

“It’s so stupid it’s genius,” he said. “The others tried hacking them, but the security on these things is airtight. You couldn’t slip a one through those firewalls point first.”

“Come on,” Seven said, motioning through the broken window. “And mind the edges.”

Hax leapt through and rolled up onto his feet with a flourish. He got a few claps from the Grunts gathered around the door.

“Thank you, thank you,” he said, bowing to the crowd. “And for my next trick, with my lovely new assistant… what’s your name?”

“Steven,” she told him.

“Steven,” he said, rolling the name on his tongue. “Steven, would you mind telling us how you plan on getting out of here? As much as I’d like to think we’re home free, there’s a mile of concrete above us, they could drop a lake on us at any moment, and unless nobody noticed a mountain of corpses, we still have all the outside guards to deal with.”

“Outside and inside,” Seven said. “We’re not killing anyone today if we can help it.”

“Going the pacifist route? That’s no fun.” Even so, he grinned. “But it’d make for an excellent headline: incompetent police force let all the worst criminals escape. No police or civilian casualties. There’s a story to get commissioners sacked.”

The Blacksmith stepped forward, shoving Grunts aside like blades of grass. “I’m sure you have a lot to chat about, sir, but we need to get out of here.”

“Right, right,” Hax said irritably. Then his eyes darted to the pistol sticking out of his loincloth. “Give it here.” His command cut the air like a knife. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, he handed him the gun, grip pointing towards him, and the former Admin took it. Seven felt a cold knot twist in her stomach, but she forced herself to keep a calm face as she strode towards the door.

“Let’s head back,” she told them, “But first, put on as many uniforms as you can manage. It may buy us time if you’re spotted.”

“You should’ve had them doing that as you were coming here,” Hax pointed out. He tsked at her. “You won’t be an Admin anytime soon if you make sloppy mistakes like that.”

Seven frowned at him. “Would you prefer to take the command?”

Hax laughed and held a hand to his stomach. “No Steven, you dug your grave, now you can dig yourself out of it.”

Seven shrugged and turned away from him. She felt her back prickle, but she refused to turn around, in case Hax decided she was acting suspicious and shot her right then and there. She led the way up the slow, circling ramp that wound its way through the concrete fortress. She ranged out a few hundred feet ahead and signaled when she was sure there weren’t patrols waiting. Oddly enough, they went half an hour without seeing a single guard. Seven’s stomach sank as she realized that there would be only one reason for those halls to be empty. Patrols ran down as regular as clockwork, with a flurry of randomly generated patrols to make planning around them more difficult, and they ran no matter the time of day. Even lunch breaks didn’t disrupt the flow of guards through the hall.

“We have to run,” she told them. “They’re getting ready to flood the halls.”

“And drown their own men?” Blacksmith asked. “I know they want us bad, but that’s too cold even for them.”

Hax laughed maniacally and pounded his hand on the wall. “They probably assume we killed them all. Honestly, that's what I would've done. He leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. "Looks like you got us all killed. Way to go.”

The Grunts muttered anxiously as Seven quickly typed a command onto her tablet. “Stop the flooding.”

“Can’t. They kicked me out of the system. However, I have an idea. Just hold tight.”

Hax glanced over Seven’s shoulders. She felt herself flinch, but the former Admin didn’t seem to notice.

“If that porygon’s our last hope,” he said dryly, “We’re all psyducked.”
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  #55    
Old July 23rd, 2017 (9:41 PM).
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Hax really doesn't think highly of Thoth, huh. Hopefully Thoth can prove him wrong. =p And not surprising Team Rocket are up in arms with the White Knights if those guys have beaten their grunts to death. Interested in more development of their conflict.
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Old July 30th, 2017 (6:25 PM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Hello everyone. Here's another chapter of Thoth and Set... hopefully you'll find them amusing.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

As Thoth navigated through a labyrinth of firewalls, with anti-malware programs patrolling the circuits like minotaurs, one of the guards, the one without any pants on, lurched to his feet. He walked up to the porygon with a drunken, awkward shamble and looked over the porygon’s blocky body at the collection of screens, each displaying a different camera and audio recording.

“Hey, do you think you could set off the fire alarms?” the guard said with a lop-sided grin. “I want to see how they react.”

“That would be most unwise,” the porygon answered. “Plus, the alarms aren’t integrated into their security network. I’d have to approach each one and hack them directly.” The porygon turned and glared at the guard. “Would you get out of there? The master instructed us not to kill any humans, and that will kill him.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” Set said. “When they start to die, it gets really hard to stay inside. It’s like…” Suddenly, the guard’s hands shot up to his mouth. He gagged, and a black bulge worked halfway up to his throat before he forced it back down. “Like that,” the guard continued. “Like eating a neon tube while it’s on.”

Thoth stared at him. “Please tell me you weren’t stupid enough to actually try it. I calculate a ninety-four percent chance that you did, but I’d like to give you the benefit of that six percent doubt.”

The guard shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the…” He covered his mouth again, but this time, the black bulge reached his mouth. He bent over and vomited, and black fog billowed out of his mouth. A grin split the gas, followed by two eyelids opening, and then hands reached out and flexed their skeletal, slender fingers.

“Whoops,” Set said, “Time’s up.”

“Another four seconds, and he would’ve been dead.”

Set grinned. “You worry too much. So, are we done yet? I’m getting bored.”

“Well, all the prisoners are out of their cells, but now we have to get them out of the prison.”

“Can’t we flush them down a toilet?” Set asked. “That’s how I got out of a prison once.”

Thoth turned back to the screens and said, “I’m not even going to ask.”

Then the phone ring on one of the consoles. For the first ring, Set and Thoth stared at it. Then Thoth darted towards it, dropping everything else.

“Muk,” the porygon said, “It’s a video call. I can’t fabricate a full visual conversation like this.”

Set’s eyes darted around the room and stopped at the two guards crumpled on the floor. He swooped over to the guard with his pants on, shoved himself down the man’s throat, and stood. Humans were such fragile and precarious shells. It felt like trying to balance two giant stacks of porcelain dinner plates on his tongue.

“I got it,” Set said, lumbering over, arms outstretched to catch himself on the consoles.

“It’s not going to work,” Thoth said. “We have a two percent chance of success.”

Set chuckled. “That’s two more than zero.” He sat down and stared at the impending call. “Tell me what to say, got it?”

Thoth sighed. “I invoke the destiny bond,” he said. “Do not psyduck this up, got it?”

Set’s body, not the fleshy one but the nebulous gas buried in the man’s chest, went cold as a buried corpse.

“Got it,” he answered woodenly.

With that, the conversation started. Porygon whispered a greeting, and Set repeated it back at the corporal.

“What can I do for you, Corporal Mathers, sir?”

“Have you noticed anything unusual in the server room?” the stocky, bearded man asked. “There’s some unusual activity on the servers.”

“No sir, nothing that I can see.”

“Well go check!” he barked. “And put Todd on the phone, I need to have a word with him.”

Set glanced nervously at Thoth, and then quickly said, “Yes sir. I’ll go get him.”

The haunter moved the officer’s body to the corner and forced himself up the officer’s throat.

“That’s Todd,” Thoth said, gesturing towards the pants-less officer.

Set went in. The body felt colder than last time, and he already had that fluttering feeling in his gut. With a sinking feeling of dread, he realized that this body hadn’t recovered from his last time piloting it.

He didn’t bother going for the pants. His control over human hands was too clumsy, and he had no time. Clothed only in underwear below the waist, Set sat the human in the chair and faced the camera with the stillest face he could manage. The haunter felt some dismay at seeing a faint grin on Todd’s face in the upper right corner of the chat, which showed his side in miniature.

The corporal frowned as Set adjusted the seat. “What the hell happened to your pants?”

Thoth thought of an answer, and Set stumbled through the reply. “The – the belt buckle broke, sir.” He swallowed, feeling an acrid taste at the back of his mouth, both for human and pokemon. “My pants wouldn’t stay up, so I left them.”

The corporal stroked his beard. “Well, at least you didn’t leave your station. I suppose what you did was acceptable.” Then the man’s expression hardened. “However, I cannot excuse your continued absence. Come to my office after your shift so we can have a more thorough discussion on the subject.”

“Yes – yes sir.” Set forced himself to keep his hands at his sides. Wisps of vapor crept up the man’s throat, but he had just barely enough control to keep them down. “I’ll go straight there.”

“And for god’s sake,” the corporal added, “Get a new belt first. Got it?”

“Ye–” That last word was one too many. In a rush, Set was forced up the Todd’s throat and out his mouth. The man slumped off the side of the chair, leaving Set alone, facing the corporal in a live video chat.

“Psyduck,” Set said, and hit the end call button.

Thoth darted over to the computers, whirring and buzzing like an overheating toaster oven. Set, meanwhile, stared at his hands, which trembled like guttering candles.

“How long do I have left?” Set whispered. Thoth ignored him, and he repeated his question, again and again, louder each time until his voice rose to a yell the porygon couldn’t ignore.

“Be quiet please,” Thoth said, voice cracking with the sound of static. “I’m trying to do a lot at once. They’re opening the floodgate and sealing the doors to the lower levels.”

Set laughed, but he felt no joy in it. “You can’t even give me a number? Just tell me how long I have left.”

For another minute, Thoth grappled with the computer network, sliding through firewalls and tampering with software, but then the porygon turned away.

“I’m too slow,” it said with a dull, leaden voice. “The water’s already starting.”

“Well, tell them how to get out,” Set replied.

“There’s only one door, and it’s four inches of steel. It would take Ra four hundred and sixty two hours of continuous application of heat with only fifty percent waste to melt a hole large enough for them to crawl through, and they have two.”

“Flush them down the toilets then. That’s how I got out of a prison.”

Thoth gawked at him. “You flushed yourself down a toilet? You do realize where those go, right?” The porygon shuddered, its sleek polygonal angles rippling with static.

“It’s really fun,” Set said. “I got myself locked in the same prison again just so I could do it again. Well, that time, they caught on, so it was rather… uncomfortable… when am I going to die?”

“We don’t have time for that. Water’s already running down the ramp. If we don’t seal off the vents, they’ll all drown.”

“You mean you don’t have time.” Set shrugged and grinned anxiously. “The way I see it, I’m dead anyways, so who cares?”
“Will you be quiet please? I’m using up all my processing power to calculate potential routes of escape.”

“Just tell me how long I have left, and I’ll stop bothering you. Hell, I think I even have an idea.”

“You do? Tell me!”

“Nuh-uh!” Set said, waggling a finger in Thoth’s face. “How long do I have left? Is there a way that I can not die?”

Thoth frowned and said, “I lied.”

Set blinked. “What?”

“I lied. I tricked you into thinking you would die so you wouldn’t screw anything up like you did with the keycard. It raised the probability of this mission’s success, which had dwindled into single digits thanks to you.” Thoth paused, and its eyes went out of focus as it ran a complicated string of calculations. Then it said, “I’m sorry, and I hope you can forgive me.”

Set’s mouth curled upward, and a tremendous laugh boomed out of his chest, echoing off the metal walls like deranged ravings within a mental asylum.

“Holy muk, that has got to be the best prank I have ever seen? You used my own destiny bond to make me do whatever you wanted!”

Thoth frowned at him. “This isn’t the reaction I calculated. I thought you would be mad.”

“Mad? That was genius!” Set slapped a hand on Thoth’s back and cackled. “I thought I was good, but that was absolutely cold-blooded! I had shivers going down my spine the entire time!”

Thoth inched away warily from Set. “You don’t make any sense.” Then it shook its head. “Never mind that, what is your idea?”

Set laughed for a few moments, struggling to get his breathing under control. Then he said, “That second time, the toilet slammed shut behind me, hard. No air could get in, so the water stopped moving. I got stuck in the toilet-s u-bend.” Set grinned sheepishly and said, “I can’t swim, and those pipes tingled like these walls. I was down there a whole week until someone had to use that toilet.”

Thoth shuddered again, but then it processed Set’s suggestion. Then it had an idea, and with a thought, it pulled a thin silver disc out of its chest and pushed it towards Set.

“Get that to our master,” Thoth said. “But that’s only going to slow the water down.”

Set smiled again. “Then you will have time to open those doors, right?”

Thoth shook its head. “Not even close. I think they got a few porygon, and they’re keeping me far away from that door.”

“Then flush them.”

“Don’t be an idiot, humans can’t fit down a toilet, and they can’t stay submerged longer than a few minutes. Heck, there’s only one pipe in the whole facility big enough to fit them…”

Thoth’s eyes widened, and it darted back to the computers.

“You thought of something?” Set asked.

“Get that disc to him, now!” Thoth shouted.

“And then?”

If Thoth had a mouth, it would’ve grinned hard enough to split its face in two. Instead, it danced and spun its arms and legs in dizzying circles to show its joy. “Then we flush them down the world’s biggest toilet.”
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Old July 31st, 2017 (4:19 PM).
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Set's definition of fun is on the odd side, especially when it comes to toilets. I admit a part of me wasn't unsure of the toilet jokes due to you doing toilet humor in SoulSwitch's last chapter too, but huh looks like there is going to be something involving flushing toilets that is important, hmm. Also I like that Set was humored over being tricked with using Destiny Bond.
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Old August 2nd, 2017 (7:25 PM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Spoiler: Message from the Author
I feel like I've outdone myself this chapter. It was hella fun to write, and it feels so good to bring another story arc to a close, or close to it. Curious? Go on, give it a read.

As to all the sewer humor I've been writing lately... I guess my mind's been in the gutter

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Once Seven finished the long list of instructions Thoth sent to her, no mean feat since it was a solid block of letters, Set arrived with a disc in one hand. Seven called out Ra, stuck the disc on his forehead, and watched as it vanished into his skull with a flash of white light.

“You do realize that torkoal can’t swim, right?” Hax asked with a mocking smile. “Did you get some floaties for it?”

Seven walked past him and drew the eyes of all the Grunts. “Find all the vents along this hallway. My torkoal will seal them up.” First, she gave Set the pokeball carrying her magneton. The haunter grinned at her and whisked the ball away up a vent. Next, she called Horus, giving the noctowl new orders. With a hoot, Horus left his perch atop a guardhouse and flew towards the city. Then Seven sprinted down to the cells. The torkoal slid on its belly behind her, bouncing off the walls like a hockey puck.

She frowned at the missing door and ordered Ra to seal the two doors beyond that cell. The torkoal, using the move it learned from Thoth, spat gobs of mud out of its mouth, and seared them into place with a jet of flame. Once it cooled, Seven gave the seal a quick rap. It felt solid as stone.

“Wow, genius, let’s seal ourselves in with mud. What could possibly go wrong?”

Hax examined the seal and chuckled quietly. Seven said with a snap in her voice, “Could you let me do my job?”

The former Admin raised his hands defensively. “Hey, I’m not trying to stop you. I’m just amused at how badly you botched this. Giovanni will not be pleased.”

As Hax mentioned the boss’ name, he raised one fingernail to his chin. The point of the fingernail, razor sharp like a knife blade, drew a bead of blood, but he didn’t seem to notice.

The sound of trickling water made her look back down the hall. A small stream tumbled into the room and washed up against the blocked doors. Ra gave a high-pitched whistle, like a tea kettle, as water washed against its legs.

“We don’t have time for this,” Seven said, picking up the torkoal by the edges of its shell and carrying it to the dry side of the hall. Even that far from the coals burning in its belly, she felt her fingers sting.

“If you find a bar of soap, let me know,” Hax called after her. “I’d like to be squeaky clean when I call on the devil, and they haven’t given me a bath in a month.”

As she passed BlackSmith, who covered one vent with a foot and stretched to touch a second with his hand, she felt tempted to remind him of the task she set for him, or better yet, do the deed herself. Instead, she clenched her hands and approached a vent on the opposite side of the hall. She felt that all of Hax’s snarkiness was just a front, a way of making her drop her guard. If she showed even the slightest hint of betrayal, he’d kill her and anyone else in his way with his bare hands, even Blacksmith. She needed to know her subordinates would obey her, or she would never be an Admin.

Once Ra finished sealing up the vents closest to the cells, where water already formed a puddle an inch deep, Seven walked up to the Blacksmith. He slid aside without a word, so loose and limber that she couldn’t imagine any anxiety or anger in his bulky frame.

As Ra worked, the water picked up pace. At some vents, she had to have bundles of clothes piled up so Ra wouldn’t drown in the rushing stream. Water rose towards them, inch by inch, but once they were three quarters of the way up the ramp, she noticed a drop in the water pressure at her feet. Once the last vent was sealed up, the water gurgled fitfully for another minute before the hall fell silent, save for the splashing of Grunts wading in the deeper end of the hall. Seven called Ra back to his pokeball and stared up, towards their only escape.

“You do realize that we’ll run out of oxygen pretty quick, right?” Hax asked with a smooth, innocent smile on his face. “It’s less painful than drowning, I suppose, but there are easier ways to die.”

Seven ignored him and typed into the tablet on her arm. “Vents are sealed.”

“Greet,” came a hasty response. “Hold tights, am bus getting pipes switched.”

An edited message, with the spelling corrected, followed it a second later, but it did nothing to ease the sudden stir of anxiety, like hornets buzzing in her chest, at the thought that her life depended on a malfunctioning porygon. However, she forced the illusion masking her face to maintain perfect composure.

Hax still sensed her unease. “I’d say that this hare-brained plan of Steven’s has run full course,” he said to the Grunts, gesturing towards the lake threatening to swallow them all. His voice echoed over the water’s surface and made it ripple. “Giovanni trusted him to do his job, and he failed. Therefore, it falls upon me, Admin Hax of Team Rocket, to punish him.”

With a flourish, he drew Blacksmith’s pistol from his loincloth and pointed it at her. Before she could react, he pulled the trigger, and the gun clicked softly. Hax only had time to give the faulty gun a perplexed stare before a shard of fiberglass split his spinal cord in two. A tiny shard, shining red with Hax’s blood, jutted out from his belly button. With a gurgle, Hax dropped to the floor and clutched at the glass sticking out of his back.

Blacksmith wiped the blood off his hands on his loincloth and circled around Hax, pressing his back against the wall as he passed the dying Admin.

“Well done,” Seven told Blacksmith as he came within strangling distance of her.

He nodded slowly and said, “Word of advice, I follow Giovanni’s orders, not yours. Forget that, and you might end up like him,” he said, jerking his head at Hax’s corpse. He had died giving Seven the middle finger and had it propped against his chin so it would stay upright even in death.

“Noted.” She looked down at her tablet, and to her relief, the porygon said that everything was ready.

“Time to go up,” Seven told the Rockets. “The plan is to escape out the pipes pumping water into the prison. Once we’re out, a small team will head for home and return with a full convoy. Any questions?”

Silence answered her. With a nod, Seven led the way up the hall, to the source of the flood. Where there was once a bare concrete wall, two doors swung out, revealing a gaping black cavern large enough for Blacksmith to crawl through. Sloshing sounds echoed out of it, along with a high-pitched, keening wail of a motor losing the fight against air pressure. Robbed of its means of displacing air, the motor lacked the strength to compress the chamber’s air any further than atmospheric pressure, and therefore ceased to push water into the prison.

Her tablet vibrated, with an especially long message from Thoth, which read, “The city used to rely on an underground sewer treatment facility. It had an especially large tank, for preventing floods from overwhelming their system. However, as the population rose, the old system couldn’t keep up. They built a new sewer system, but they connected it to the old one so they could divert excess waste to the old system. Once the new system was perfected, they abandoned the old one, and it became the emergency flood system used by Stonebough Prison.

However, the connection between the two systems remain. By using the emergency systems in reverse, I can divert the excess water in the old sewer into the new one, letting you escape through the old sewers. Tell Hax that I’m not a piece of garbage, will you? Oh wait, he’s dead.”

What drew her attention next, however, was a metal grate in front of the hole, made of criss-crossing metal bars half an inch thick. The holes were just big enough for Seven to squeeze a fist through.

“You didn’t mention a grate,” Seven told the porygon, and accompanied it with a picture. She refrained from typing ‘you piece of garbage’ as an afterthought.

“That wasn’t in the schematics,” Thoth said. “Do you see any means of prying the bars free?”

Seven called Blacksmith over and had him inspect the bars. “Despite my name,” the man said without a smile, “I’m no expert on metal.” He gave a bar an experimental tug. “However, I can tell you this muk’s going nowhere without some extra muscle.”

She called out Ra, but the torkoal, already exhausted from sealing up the vents, could do little more than dry the bars. The thought of smashing through the bars herself came to her, but she angrily shoved it aside.

“Have Set bring back the magneton,” Seven told Thoth.

“It’s not optimal,” Thoth replied, “And Set isn’t back yet, but I’ll have it done.”

As Seven finished reading this, she heard a gurgle. Water splashed through the grate, soaking her feet. A steady trickle ran from the base of the pipe.

“I think one of the seals broke,” Seven told the porygon.

“Then I’m going to need the magneton,” Thoth said. “I was planning on escaping first and then accessing the sewer’s computers, but if the first seal broke, it’s only a matter of time before the cells get flooded and the officers escape, telling those upstairs that the flood system isn’t working. I can access it from here, but once they figure out what’s happening, I’ll be under attack, and they’ll open the doors and come after you.” That message was followed by another. “I’m sorry. Either way, you’ll be cornered.”

Seven felt her heart sink as she weighed her options: arrest, and imprisonment for the rest of her life unless she managed another escape, or freedom, at the cost of her humanity. Even if she could maintain her illusion, the men would look in askance at the twig-like figure punching through metal even Blacksmith couldn’t bend, but power that strong coursing through her hands would tear her fragile illusion like wet toilet paper.

But then, she thought of a simple, elegant solution.

“I can break the pipes,” she told Thoth. “Get everything ready for our escape.”

Then she looked at the Rockets milling before her. “Everyone,” she said, loud enough for them to hear, “I order you all to turn around. Do not look this way until I tell you to.” She paused, and added, “I am about to use something that Giovanni wishes to keep secret.”

That convinced them. As one, they all turned their backs to her and placed their hands over their eyes, even Blacksmith.

Satisfied, Seven dispelled her illusion and focused on her hand, making it throb with her power. When it felt ready to explode like a grenade, she punched at the grate. The bars bent like string cheese before her hand even touched them. The squeal of dented metal rang through the hall and sent a shiver through some of the Grunts.

Wiping sweat out of her eyes, she punched again. And again. Over, and over, making the entrance cave in on itself, until finally, one of the bars wrenched loose. More followed with each punch. Once the opening was clear, she donned her illusion, which felt so much heavier from her fatigue. She craned her head to hear down the pipes. The pump still whirred, but it no longer screeched and groaned with pent-up water.

“You may turn around now.”

When those Rockets turned, and she with them, they all saw freedom, hidden beyond the cringing, broken-toothed cavern. Without another word, Seven was the first through, flashlight in hand lighting the damp, echoing path, and a flood of Rockets followed close behind her.
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Old August 3rd, 2017 (6:40 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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Quote:
However, the connection between the two systems remain. By using the emergency systems in reverse, I can divert the excess water in the old sewer into the new one, letting you escape through the old sewers. Tell Hax that I’m not a piece of garbage, will you? Oh wait, he’s dead.”
I admit, I chuckled at that part. Blacksmith killing Hax was a cool scene, though.

Seven punching the bars in her true Zoroark form was a risky move with all those Team Rocket grunts, but seems to work in her favor in the end. Looks like this arc is about to wrap up soon!
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Old August 5th, 2017 (2:37 PM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Chapter Thirty

Thoth stared at Steven’s last message in confusion. Its processors worked furiously to unveil every potential meaning behind those words. “I can break the pipes.” Did he have a tool that the porygon didn’t know about? Or was he making sure Thoth got away despite his capture? Either way, Thoth knew the only path to take involved fighting his way out.

“We must get to the west gate,” Thoth told Set and the magneton. “There, Horus can disable the guard towers, and we can fly right over the walls. Set chuckled. The magneton sent a faint radio signal that Thoth took for an affirmation.

“Magneton, you’ll stay front and center. Nonlethal attacks only. Set, cover the rear. Focus on causing confusion. I’ll concentrate on giving orders and finding the way out. Let’s go.”

With a powerful discharge, Thoth fried every computer in the room, reducing them to hunks of molten plastic and metal. The magneton drank the excess power and flung the door open. A cop, planting a breaching charge on the door, got pinned to the wall. Luckily for him, he hadn’t started its countdown. The magneton left him there as it flew into the hall. A crackle of electricity shot from its magnets and coursed down the hall, leaping from man to pokemon. Two dozen fell to the ground, arms twitching, but a sandslash darted forward, claws reaching for magneton’s eyes. Set floated in front of it and sent a whirling rainbow sphere from his hands. When it hit the sandslash’s eyes, it stopped and clawed at the air around it.

A fireball soared through the hall, flying straight towards the magneton. Thoth flew in front of it and surrounded itself with a glowing blue barrier. The fire slammed against it and went out.

As they raced away from pursuit down the other hall, Thoth messaged Steven again. “Please tell Horus to hold position and disable the nearest guard towers at my signal.”

“Alright.” The reply came quickly. “We’re moving down the pipes. It’s a straight shot to the exit point, right?”

Thoth wrenched some processing power away from battle analysis for a moment to review Steven’s situation. Ra couldn’t break them. Maybe they forced one of the officer’s pokemon to help them? Police pokemon are well-trained, taking orders only from their trainer. Maybe if they were confused… no, Set’s with me. How did he do it? Is he lying to me?

A fist flying through Thoth’s peripheral vision snapped him back to reality. With a small discharge, he made the attacker, a scrafty, tumble to the floor. The porygon darted forward just in time to block a crackle of purple thunder. Magneton fired back with a solid sphere of gray light, but the gardevoir teleported away. Instead, the attack slammed into an ursaring and knocked it unconscious.

While they raced through an empty hallway, Thoth answered Steven’s question. The porygon craved information about Steven’s situation, but the fight ahead demanded all its attention. An absol lunged from the shadows, swiping at Set, but the magneton swatted it out of the air with a crackling magnet. It fell with a sharp yelp and didn’t move. Blood trickled from its broken horn.

Farther ahead, Set possessed one of the officers and had their graveler explode. Thoth grimaced as four officers were knocked back by the blast, but a quick scan told it that they would live. In the same officer’s body, Set threw more pokeballs to the floor. A shiftry blew officers and pokemon down the hallway, while a glalie froze the ground beneath their feet.

When Set got vomited out by the officer, the woman reacted quickly, setting her two pokemon on them. Overclocking his processors, Thoth taught himself signal beam while it ordered magneton to incapacitate the glalie with flash cannon. Before the pokemon could react to their new orders, they fell to the calculated attack, and Set put the woman to sleep.

Thoth ran another calculation. At the rate they were heading west, they would arrive at the walls in ten minutes. As they rounded a corner, a wall of officers, wielding riot shields and semi-automatic pistols, barred the way. Better make that fifteen. He decided to contact Horus anyway, giving the order to disable the western guard towers. By the time he looked back, the shield wall had fallen apart, scattered by two confused officers raving about crobat and ariados attacking from above. One officer was down with a bullet through the leg. Blood seeped through his legs, but it missed his femoral artery. Another took a bullet in the shoulder, and despite the wound, fought to pin the two raving officers to the floor.

While they were distracted, Thoth and the others floated over them. The magneton crippled them with a thunder wave before it left. Set cackled loudly as they moved through another empty hall.

“I haven’t had this much fun since the bank robbery!” he shouted.

“Be quiet,” Thoth hissed at him. “We’re not out yet.”

“Don’t be such a spoilsport, Thoth.” Set’s grin widened, and his white eyes sparkled like diamonds. “They’re never going to catch us!”

As the words left his mouth, a huge scythe, glowing with purple miasma, swiped at Set. The blade passed through him, leaving a jagged black tear. On impulse, Thoth fried everything in the darkness of the adjoining hallway with a max-volt discharge. A scyther hit the floor like a sack of grain. A roserade’s cry of pain echoed down the hall, and Thoth fired at it with a signal beam.

Set floated in the air, severed in two pieces that drifted away from each other. As Thoth watched, flakes peeled off and disappeared. The porygon scanned its databases, hunting for any technique that might save Set’s life. Then, it found a move. Pain split.

Throwing all his processing power at the download to hasten it by a few seconds, Thoth stopped itself from thinking of the odds it would work. Once it learned the move, Thoth used it. Its body, composed of electrical signals suspended in plasma, rippled as a jolt of pain shot through its delicate circuits. Meanwhile, the two severed halves pulled themselves together. Eyes and a mouth emerged from the mass in odd places, making his smile impossibly grotesque.

“Wow, I thought I was really gone there,” Set said with a nervous chuckle. “Neat trick.”

Thoth’s own circuitry was in complete disarray. The extremities, housing many of Thoth’s spare processors, were a blue smear in the air, and the red core had cracks running through it. Though damaged, Thoth had enough power left to download another move. Activating the program, the porygon breathed a sigh of relief as a green glow reassembled its peripheral body components and knitted its core back together.

Meanwhile Set had grabbed his eyeballs and stuck them back in their proper place. Adjusting his smile like a human would adjust a coat hangar, Set scrunched up his face into a wobbly smile.

“Mind doing that again? I still feel a bit torn up inside.”

Thoth complied. This time, the burden to his systems was far less, and the damage faded even more quickly. Set flexed his hands, and eerie blue flames flickered out from between its fingers.

“Uh, thanks, I guess.” He chuckled softly and went to help the magneton. It had nicks and dings in its metal plating, and one of its magnets hung limply at its side. Thoth healed it and blocked a boulder before it could scuff the magneton’s freshly buffed body.

As it recovered again, Thoth’s thoughts drifted back to Steven. It asked for a status report, and a few seconds later, Steven told him they were still crawling. Were they keeping the police from opening the doors and dealing with the crowd of Rockets trapped in the lower prison? Or were they really free? Neither explanation made any sense to the porygon. It felt as though he was missing a piece of the puzzle. Mulling it over, Thoth realized the “piece” was the way out. Before it could stop to think, Thoth asked Steven how he broke the bars.

A long silence followed. Thoth jerked his attention back to the fight long enough to paralyze a flareon and heal Set’s charred hands. There still wasn’t a reply when Thoth got wrapped by a vine. Magneton shocked the tangela, which caused electricity to ripple through Thoth, but it also freed the porygon. As it recovered, the response finally appeared.

And it read, “Secret by Giovanni’s order.”

So he did break the bars. And yet, the doubt remained. Perhaps he was still keeping up the charade? But why? He had nothing to gain by letting the four of them escape, and had his freedom to lose. And what would be so important that it would be kept secret by Giovanni’s order? Was it some sixth pokemon Steven had? It had to be.

Satisfied with its conclusion, Thoth consulted the map. They were approaching a set of service doors leading to the western wall. Two officers, a nidoking, and a hariyama blocked the way out. Magneton fried the hariyama, Set put the nidoking to sleep, and Thoth disabled the two officers with a small discharge to their chests.

When they made it outside, Thoth was dismayed to find that the guard were still standing in their posts, attentively scanning the grounds. But Horus was perched in the nearest tower, looking down at them. The guards, though looking, never saw them.

Bullets followed them over the wall, dinging off of magneton’s sturdy body and Thoth’s shield, and passing through Set’s gaseous body. Horus dove down the other side of the wall. Thoth and the others followed, and together, they wound their way through the trees, losing the pursuing police.
Once the clatter and clamp of police boots faded to silence, Thoth led them to the sewer’s emergency exit, in a squalid part of the city populated by low-rent apartment complexes, chain restaurants with broken windows, and rusty warehouses. The exit was blocked by a solid metal door. One tug from magneton tore it free from its rusty lock and hinges. Musty air wafted from the exposed room like a freshly opened grave, and the sensory data made Thoth’s programming prickle. With a grimace, Thoth led the way down. Cracked pipes, rusted, dry, and dusty from decades of idleness, lined every wall and the ceiling.

At the far end of the hall, a round hatch, marked “Emergency Exit,” sat between a dented boiler and a fire extinguisher. Magneton latched onto the hatch’s wheel. Chips of red paint drifted from the wheel as it turned. Squeak by rusty squeak, the wheel crept in a slow circle, until, at last, the hatch swung open.

Light shone. With a wet, squelching plop, Steven Sun tumbled out of the sewer. He and a hundred grunts crawled through five hundred yards of muk that Thoth shuddered to imagine. Five football fields. Just short of half a mile. He and a hundred grunts, drenched in filth that coated abandoned pipes for decades, cheered as old musty air, clean as a mountaintop gale compared to the sewer stench, filled their lungs.

As Thoth was called back into its pokeball, one last thought flickered through his mind. How the hell had he done it?
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Old August 7th, 2017 (5:56 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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Interesting use of Pain Split there, Set was indeed was grateful for that heh. So Thoth doesn't know Steven's true identity. His theory of a sixth Pokemon is close but also so far. I wonder how he and the other Pokemon will react to Giovanni's secret.
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  #62    
Old August 12th, 2017 (12:51 PM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Bruno's back! A new story arc's starting, so buckle your seat belts. Also, Bay, I'm glad you liked the pain split idea. I went through porygon's move list, hoping to find Heal Pulse or something similar and instead stumbled on that move.

Chapter Thirty-One

Bruno never felt so small or so defenseless as when he sat in the police headquarters’ meeting room. Commissioner Mason paced across the room behind the podium, fuming under his breath. The projector cast an image of a newspaper onto the wall. It read: “Stonebough Broken: All the Muk Pours Out.”

The Commissioner stopped in his tracks and turned towards the screen. On the podium was a small stack of newspapers. Mason grabbed a handful, tore it up, and threw the shreds at a garbage can. Most of them settled onto the floor.

“I swear to god,” Commissioner Mason grumbled, “If I had a hundred bucks for every sewer-related pun in the goddamn news today, I could retire right now. I could be on some vacation island drinking pina coladas right now, but instead, I have to deal with this muk.” He chuckled dryly. “Now the papers have me doing it too.”

The Commissioner took a deep breath, and his expression softened. “I don’t blame any of you for this. We threw everything we had at that prison, and they still got out.” He picked up another newspaper and held it up. “Of course, telling the press that isn’t going to make the public happy.”

He pressed a button on the remote, and the article was replaced by a grainy photo of the prison. A fuzzy black cloud loomed on the southern half, punctuated by the occasional red R. Further up, a lone man stood before a sewer grate. Bruno could make out a blob of brown hair.

“Sorry about the resolution,” Mason said. “Frickin’ powerpoint won’t let me use the raw video clip. Hold on a second.”

He opened up a video player on his laptop. On screen, it showed the man, this time with his brown eyes distinct on his plain, clean-shaven face, speaking to the mass of Rockets standing before him. All the Rockets faced the camera, the man turned around, and then the video turned grainy again. White flashes obscured the camera, but for a brief moment, so fast that the image vanished before he could blink, he saw Serena, with long locks of violet and black hair spilling out over the rocket uniform.

Bruno schooled himself to calmness while the rest of the room muttered. Mason held up a hand, a signal for silence, and cleared his throat. “We don’t know why the footage cuts out like that, but at least we got a clear image of the man’s face. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single match.” He rewound the tape and paused it just before it cuts out. “Our porygon have cross-referenced his face with every single photograph we have on file, every single driver’s license and trainer identification, passports and criminal records, everything. We have no idea who the hell this guy is, where he came from, or why he showed up out of nowhere. What we do know is, that guy stormed Stonebough alone.” He put extra emphasis on that word. “Alone, he slipped past a double perimeter of guards, disabled the cameras, slipped past every patrol on the way down to the dungeons, knocked out every single guard posted in the cells before they knew what the hell was happening, and escaped through the psyducking sewer trap that’s supposed to drown them all.”

The Commissioner crushed a newspaper in his fist. His grip tightened as he turned back to the police.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said with a calm, stiff voice like cold iron. “First, we’re going to put more boots on the streets. I know you’re all exhausted from watching the prison, but we’re in crisis mode. The people have to know we’re taking this seriously. Also, we’re going to throw everything at catching this son of a rattata.” Mason grimaced and crumpled the paper into a tight ball. “The cheeky bastard didn’t kill a single cop. Had he done it, I could’ve had him executed and put all this behind us… damn it.” Then he stopped himself and turned back to the officers and gave them a weak smile. “Please forgive me. I couldn’t be happier that none of you died during that fiasco. I’m just… on edge.”

Bruno felt the room spinning around him. His mind raced as he compared blurry image, wearing the Rocket uniform, with the stunning pokemon he met on the rooftop. As much as he wanted to deny it, there was no question. That was Serena. But he couldn’t figure out why. Why would a pokemon work for Team Rocket? Even more puzzling, how could they let a pokemon wear their uniform and act like a human? She even looked human, before the cameras started blurring.

His mind latched onto that outlet. The camera. Maybe it was a trick of the camera, edited to make it look like something else. But why her? Why was she there?

Peter gave him a gentle nudge on his shoulder. Looking up, Bruno saw that the room was already emptying. He rose from his seat, but the Commissioner told them to stay. Reluctantly, Bruno stood at attention and waited for the other officers to file out.

“Peter, Bruno, I’m really sorry to ask this of you,” the Commissioner said. “I know I’ve been working you two to the bone, but it can’t be helped now. You’re the fastest way to find this son of a rattata.”

Bruno felt his stomach twisting itself in knots. He could tell them what he knew and lead them straight to her. He might even lead them straight to a Rocket base. However, he could also hurt her by following her. What if they thought she betrayed them, or what if they forced her to attack the police?

Before he made up his mind, a powerful presence entered his senses, one that chilled him to the bone. Seconds later, the door swung open. The Commissioner opened his mouth to admonish the intruder, but his stern finger-point turned into a low bow at the elderly figure entering the room. He was shaved bald, exposing his wrinkled forehead, but he had a long white beard that fell to his waist.

Behind him was a lucario, far older and more powerful than Bruno, an Elder among his kind. Streaks of gray flecked his fur, and his eyes were pale enough to be called pink. He was also four inches taller than Bruno, and broader in the shoulders.

“Elder Bayron,” Bruno said with a stiff bow. “What brings you to the city?”

“You,” the Elder gruffly replied. “I can sense your imbalance from the Temples. It’s time you left the city.”

As Elder Bayron spoke in his tongue, the elderly man translated. Mason grimaced.

“You can’t take him away now! We’re in a crisis here!”

“You will have a far greater crisis if this one remains for much longer. He has lost his balance. After a few years of meditation, he will be fit to return, but until then, he must leave.”

“A few years!” Mason roared. “I don’t have a few years! I don’t even have a few days! I need a lucario here, or the city’s going to fall into chaos. Absolute chaos. The White Knights are planning their next move, and the Rockets just broke out of Stonebough. There is no time to waste!”

Elder Bayron slammed his fist on a table hard enough to crack the wood. “I will not argue with you. Bruno must leave. Today.”

Commissioner Mason took a deep breath. “Fine. Take him. But in return, get another lucario here within the hour.”

“Not possible. You know our kind don’t fare well in cities.”

Mason studied them for a moment. Then he reached into his jacket and pulled out a glowing blue sphere. Bruno averted his gaze away from it, straining against its seductive pull. Bayron’s arm crept a few inches forward before he returned it to his side.

“Catch the man I’m after, and you can have this,” Mason said.

“You’re really desperate enough to part with it?” Bayron asked. “And for so low a price?”

Mason returned the sphere to his coat. Bruno sighed with relief when the tug on his aura disappeared.

“This city’s psyducked. There’s a war brewing, and just the aftermath of it is going to leave more police casualties and public upheaval than anything in this city’s history. Just look what happened already. You can feel this city’s unrest, can’t you?” Mason gestured at the ruffled stack of newspapers. “They’re terrified, and there is nothing worse for society than a bunch of terrified citizens fed up with their government. If a glowing hunk of rock I can’t use anyways will stop that, then I consider it a bargain.”

Bayron stared at Mason, as if seeing the stone through his coat. Then he said, “You make a tempting offer, but my answer must remain the same. No panic humans can make can ever compare to what we’re capable of. For your sake, we must leave.”

Mason glared at the Elder. “Fine. Just know that I won’t offer it for nearly as cheap next time I need help.”

As the Elder and his human companion left, Bruno dashed after them. Elder Bayron turned and frowned at him.

“Are you that eager to leave?” Then his brow furrowed, and his voice went flat. “Or do you really think you should stay here?”

Bruno swallowed. His throat itched for a cup of water, but he made himself speak. “I think I already know where to find the one they want.”

Bayron raised an eyebrow at him. “Go on.”

Bruno hesitated for a moment. Bayron’s pale pink eyes burrowed into his head and saw the roiling tempest of aura within. He could feel Bayron’s gaze, feel Bayron’s hackles rise as he studied the aura, and feel the beating of his own heart as he struggled to find words. Then he told him everything about Serena.

Bayron listened impassively. His eyes slid back and forth as Bruno’s aura whipped and fluttered like a flag caught in a gale. Once the tale was told, Bayron took a step closer, pressed his nose into the hair on Bruno’s forehead, and inhaled deeply.

“Hmm, I thought so,” he said as he backed away. Bruno caught a hint of a smile on his face. “So that’s what got you unstable, eh?” Bayron ran his fingers over the spike on his chest and tapped the tip while he thought. Then he let out a breath. “Alright, I’ll let you stay.” Before Bruno could get too excited, he added, “You have two days. Offer Serena asylum at the Temple. There, even Team Rocket couldn’t reach her, not if they broke their whole strength on our gates. If she accepts your offer, you will remain at the Temple until further notice.” A sparkle lit up Bayron’s eyes, and he chuckled. “You’ll have plenty of time to get to know her.” Bruno flushed, but Bayron’s smile vanished, and his voice turned hard as stone. “But if she refuses, you are to return immediately. Not after two days, immediately. Do you understand?”

Bruno felt his chest swell up with confidence. He grinned and said, “There’s no way she’d turn down that offer.”

Bayron’s voice cracked like a whip. “Do you understand?”

Bruno flinched and quickly said, “Yes Elder.”

“Good.” Bayron turned to leave, but he stopped. “Be careful around her,” he called over his shoulder. “If her soul is really as powerful as you say, then she could… she could…”

“Could what?”

The Elder chewed his lip. “Just be careful around her, and follow my instructions to the letter. Also, keep Peter close. Whatever you do, don’t leave his side, even for a second.”

“I won’t,” Bruno said quickly. “Have a safe journey back to the Temple.”

Once he was sure the Elder was out of earshot, Bruno cheered, ran back inside, and told Peter that they could stay. He left Serena out of his story.
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  #63    
Old August 12th, 2017 (7:27 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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I take it only Bruno noticed Seven's true appearance when everyone was watching the video? I was about to say he probably should let Peter know if that's the case, but then again he probably don't want Seven to get in trouble.

Bayron the elder Lucario, huh? I swear, this is like the third time you named a character after me, hahaha. But anyways, that's nice of him to give Bruno a chance to convince Seven to seek asylum. I have a feeling it won't be as easy as Bruno thought it would be, though. Also, interesting Lucario has some influence over this city's police force there.
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Old August 19th, 2017 (6:20 PM). Edited August 27th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Don't expect that to be the last homage to you, Bay. I'm lazy when it comes to names, and using yours is quite easy :D

Anyways, I don't think it takes a rocket scientist (or a Rocket scientist) to figure out that nothing will go as Bruno hopes. As for the Lucario, I'm not sure how much I plan to get them involved at this point, but I'm almost certain they'll show up again, especially your namesake.

Also, I'm thinking about doubling my idiot factor by starting a third fic. Yes, a third. I have this awesome idea burning away at me that's begging to be written. No legends, no big pokemon, emotionally crippled protagonist, all sorts of fun stuff. Knowing me, I'll probably have a chapter written tomorrow, or even tonight. It'll probably become a regular part of the cycle, but for now, who knows?


Chapter Thirty-Two

The sleek, airy uniform of an Admin, with a gold-lined R glittering on her right shoulder, felt like a second skin. With it on, she could almost forget about the fur underneath.

Her living quarters, which had once belonged to Hax, had been refurbished at her request. Taking cues from Giovanni, Seven had the room lined with tall, leafy ferns. However, she kept them short, so the bright lights overhead would shine directly on her. The original flooring, a dull black wood, had clacked against her claws every time she walked barefoot, so she had it replaced with a lush brown carpet.

The main room had her desk, made of lily white wood that once matched the floor, a plush leather chair that molded itself to her body, and a similar but smaller seat for guests. Behind her desk, another door led directly to her bedroom, furnished with a similar desk-seat combination and a soft, plush bed. She kept a night light next to the door, an LED that wouldn’t burn out for a hundred years.

From the computer on her desk, Seven examined a heavy digital stack of reports and forms, ranging from expense reports of her new army of Grunts to mission debriefs regarding the latest raid on White Knight facilities. She leaned back in her chair, smiling at the bold, black numbers showing surplus cash income from all the stolen assets of a weapons warehouse.

A knock came at the door. From her computer, Seven saw Admin Fisher standing outside her door, leaning against the opposite wall and looking up at the camera. With the press of a button, her door opened, and Fisher entered.

He looked around. “I see you’ve redecorated. Good. I always hated that wood, damn stuff wouldn’t stop squeaking. He left it in so nobody could sneak up on him.”

Seven wondered how much guile Fisher concealed beneath his headstrong personality. She sat up and asked, “What did you come here for.”

Fisher gave her a small smile. “I thought I’d check up on the new Admin. The first week can be rough.”

“All my operations have been successful,” Seven said warily, “And I have finished reorganizing all the Rockets I rescued into tactical groups and outfitting them with the equipment I stole.”

“Sounds like you have everything under control, then?” he asked. His eyes drilled into hers, and they carried a hint of the smile on his face.

“Yes, definitely,” Seven said.

“Good! Then you have time to take off, don’t you? I need a drinking buddy, and someone has to show you how Admins celebrate.”

Fisher held his hand out. Seven felt a strong temptation to take it, to accept the gesture of acceptance, but his approach felt too coy for her tastes.

“I would prefer not to,” she said, edging back in her seat. “I may have no problems on hand, but I still have duties to attend to.”

“You don’t have anything to do yet,” Fisher said with a wry smile. “Not until the war with the WK gets cooking. Come on, it’ll be good for you.” He leaned close and made his voice a hoarse whisper. “Good practice at pretending to be human.”

“I don’t need any practice,” Seven said with a scowl, “But I guess I’ll go.”

“Great! I know a great bar, and it’s no fun drinking alone.” He eyed the empty belt at her waist. “Bring some weapons. It’s a rough neighborhood, and the fights are part of the fun.”

The bar was called Mechanical Dreams, and it had a bright yellow neon mareep bounding over the name, flashing in ionized green sparks. The bar was flanked by alleys obscured by shadow. Hidden figures loitered in the darkness and glared at the two Admins as they passed.

Inside, the bar was packed with rugged men and even tougher women, nursing beers and chatting with their table cliques while warily eyeing the other patrons. Gazes turned away from Fisher as he casually strode straight for the bar. They took two seats near the middle, which was deserted in favor of the close-walled corners.

“The usual, Fish?” the bartender called, with a tall mug of frothy ale in one hand. At a nod from Fisher, the bartender set it down and turned towards Seven. “And for you, sir?”

“What he’s having,” Seven said with practiced calm. She took a sip of the ale, fearing a powerful, bitter flavor. While it wasn’t appetizing, Seven found she could swallow it without a grimace. Before she realized it, the mug she tipped over her mouth was significantly lighter, and her head thrummed with a pleasant, light buzz.

Without warning, her illusion flickered. She frowned into her empty mug and focused on honing that image. The mild intoxication made using her power feel like wading through a knee-high swamp, with mud clinging at her feet and a chill creeping over her skin.

Fisher caught her staring into the mug and asked, “Want another?”

“I better not. I need to concentrate.”

A flicker of unease flashed across Fisher’s eyes. “If you need to leave, just say so. Don’t risk getting exposed.”

“I’ll be fine,” Seven said hastily. “Just a bit of air, that’s what I need. I’ll be right back.”

Seven walked out of the bar and took a deep breath of the balmy night air. The smell of sweat and beer hung like wet rags over her mouth. She examined the alleyway, and after a glance at the well-lit streets, walked into the darkness. People edged away from her. She kept a wary eye on them, occasionally catching the glint of steel in the faint lamplight from the streets, and had her own hand on a knife at her waist.

A pair of scuffling boots raced towards her, but the moment she flashed her blade, the steps twisted and vanished up a wall. The brick walls around her were pitted. Though they made easy handholds, Seven remained on the ground, where the shadows hid her. Her form wavered like a dying candle, but in the dim light, her facsimile of humanity held just enough realism to prevent second glances.

The deeper into the alleyways went, the fewer faces she saw, and the darker the alleyways became. The scalpels loomed around her, but the faint pinpricks of starry light kept them away. Her head pounded, and it took all her concentration to keep her feet moving forward without breaking her disguise. Eventually, she came across a block of broken buildings, far south of the bar, where wood rotted away and the streets crumbled to gravel. Caved-in walls formed a rough lean-to. After checking that no one was inside and that the walls would hold, Seven crawled inside, let her disguise fall, and rubbed her aching temples. Her tongue felt bloated, and buzzing filled her ears.

After five minutes, Seven’s headache receded. Use of her power came clumsily, but she could hold a proper illusion. She thought about leaving, and was about to stand when a shadow filled the only exit. Seven reached for her knife and flipped the blade open.

A familiar, unintelligible voice growled at her. Seven peered closer, and her throat dried up when she recognized the lucario. He held up a piece of paper, but Seven couldn’t see the ink on the paper. She took a flashlight out of her hair. Bruno squinted in the harsh beam of light while Seven read the message, “May I come in?”

“Go ahead,” Seven said reluctantly. She stealthily hid her blade, hoping that the pokemon didn’t notice in the dim light.

Bruno sat across from her, hunching beneath the leaning wall, and wrote another message. For a whole three minutes, he scratched his head and scratched out lines of writing, tearing out the messy pages and crumpling them up each time he ran out of space. Then, writing on the front and back of a single page, he poured out a single, frantic note. The words were smudged in places, but what Seven could read made her breath catch in her throat.

“I know you are being forced to work for Team Rocket, and I can help you. I want to help you. So please, I’m asking you to trust me. There’s a place with others like me, a place where Team Rocket could never approach even if they wanted to. There’s many more lucario, and each one can sense a person’s aura like I can. If anyone wanted to hurt you, they’d never make it to the front gates.”

She flipped the note over with trembling hands. It went, “I know this is a lot to take in at once, and I’m sorry I can’t give you more time to think it over. The Elder told me I have to leave in thirty-six hours, and I can’t refuse him. I can give you until tomorrow night. Meet me back here, at the same time, and I can get you out of the city, to a place where you will no longer have to be their slave. A place where you can be yourself.”

Seven re-read the message, mulling over the implications of more lucario, and more powerful lucario. Then she handed it back to him.

“I will be back, if I can. But you better go, they’ll start to wonder if I’m gone too long.”

That was all the encouragement Bruno needed to leave. Once he was gone, Seven prowled the area, searching for any sign of Grunts. They were alone.

As she walked back to the bar, she wondered wildly about the offer, her brain darting from thought to thought like a dragonfly. She hadn’t seriously considered leaving Team Rocket, not after watching Seamus get his brain matter sprayed across a plastic tarp, and even then, she had nowhere else to go. Now, there was this Temple, a sanctuary from the dangerous, duplicitous world she inhabited.

At the thought of having a home where she would no longer have to hide, she almost lost her grip on her illusion. But then, the final words of that message came back to her. A place where she could be herself. He saw her as a pokemon. They all would.

She thought about her new office at Rocket Headquarters, the sleek uniform that waited for her on her bed, the computer that gave her unlimited digital freedom, the small army of Grunts that would heel like dogs at the snap of her fingers. The nightlight, her eternal flame in the darkness, glowed in her mind.

The Mechanical Dreams came into view. Jaw set, Seven walked up to Admin Fisher, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “I need to have a word with Giovanni. The sooner, the better.”

He turned towards her and said with a small laugh, “Are you sure we don’t have time for one more?” But his eyes were sharp as daggers, ready to stab into the chest of the nearest man.

Seven met the steely stare and said, “There’s work to be done.”
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  #65    
Old August 20th, 2017 (9:49 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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Fisher's "Good pratice at pretending to be human" line at Seven there, geez way to be smooth there. At least he was considered if Seven were to blow her cover while they were out.

Looks like Seven is a bit conflicted whether to be a Pokemon or still continued her work as a Rocket. Giovanni's reaction should be interesting.
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Old August 27th, 2017 (7:00 PM).
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His reaction would indeed be interesting. Too bad I decided to skip that part. However, this should be pretty interesting.


Chapter Thirty-Three

A small, black-clad team of elite officers gathered in the back lot of the police station. Each man was accompanied by a full team of pokemon, from agile and quiet sceptile to bulky and powerful poliwrath, and they all, pokemon and humans alike, helped load a small armory into the beaten, nondescript vehicles gathering rust in the open lot.

Bruno felt his stomach flutter as he loaded an MK-27 automatic assault rifle into the back seat of Peter’s dingy brown car. They both agreed that taking the police car to the pick-up zone would be sheer stupidity, but Peter insisted on having a full armory installed in his dented back trunk, with grenades in the cup holders, extra ammo clips in the glove compartments, pistols in the side of every door, and Reason in the back pocket of Peter’s pants.

Everyone listened to Reason, including Rockets. It helped that Reason was a 1200 pound hunk of metal that could turn brains into milkshakes with a flick of its thoughts. Commissioner Mason had been extremely reluctant to let go of Reason, it being the police’s chief source of intelligence, but the lure of drawing out the mystery Admin gave Mason enough reason to give Peter Reason. The Commissioner was so fond of making puns around the metagross’ name that the humor spread through the police force.

“There’s reason enough to bring Reason,” Peter told Bruno as they loaded a bazooka under the back seat. “And if Serena finds it scary to see Reason, I’m sure we can get her to see reason.” He gave Bruno a wide smile. Peter’s soul glowed like a light bulb, a steady flow of light that never wavered and gave off a gentle heat. His gentle soul was completely at odds with his rugged sleeveless brown jacket, torn jeans, soot-smeared face, and a temporary feraligator tattoo baring its fangs on Peter’s right bicep.

Bruno wrote “Please don’t make jokes at a time like this,” and had Peter read it.

For his part, Bruno went with only a belt to carry his notebook. He felt strangely cold and exposed without a police vest to keep the wind from whipping through his fur.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” He looked around at the other squad cars in the lot, all of them loading up their own miniature arsenal. “You just seemed tense. Relax. We’ve got special ops behind us. We just need to get her to the police escort, sneak around or fend off anything the Rockets throw at us, and get her to the lucario waiting at the edge of town. Serena can tell us how to catch the new Admin, the lucario get their stone, and she gets the protection she needs.” Peter put a hand on Bruno’s shoulder. “I know you’re nervous, but we’re throwing everything we got at this operation. We got this.”

Bruno smiled uneasily at him and wrote another note. Peter read it and said, “Exactly. Odds are they won’t even know we’re coming. And if they do, well, we’ll be ready for them.”

“But what if she’s not there? What if they catch her?” Bruno’s next note read.

“Stop worrying about the what-ifs and do your job. That’s all we can do.” Peter gave him a concerned frown. “I’m starting to think the Elder is right. It might be wiser for you to sit this mission out. You’re too strung up, and we can’t afford to make any mistakes.”

Bruno wavered as he reflected on his inner turmoil. His limbs shook, and clenching his fists was all that kept him from trembling openly. His tongue felt dry and rough as sandpaper. And yet, the desire to find Serena burned in him like a hot coal that refused to burn out no matter how cold and clammy his fur felt.

“I’m the only one that can sense her presence,” Bruno argued. “If she isn’t there, we won’t waste any time finding her. Plus, I’ll know if we’re walking in an ambush.”

Peter grimaced. “You have a point. Alright, get in, it’s time to go.”

Bruno glanced around. All the other cars were on and rumbling out of the lot. A lycanroc waved at him from out of a car window before it veered out of sight around a corner. Bruno leapt into the passenger seat, and the car shot out of the lot like a bullet.

As the police forces drove deeper into the city, they fanned out in pairs to encircle the meeting spot. Peter drove straight for the spot and parked right next to the Mechanical Dreams bar. They went inside and took seats at a booth facing the street. The springy cushions were filled with uncomfortable lumps and squeaked with the slightest shift in body weight. The rancid odor of sweat and alcohol made Bruno rub at his nose.

When an acne-scarred waitress took their order, Peter ordered two beers. Peter didn’t touch his frothy, foul-smelling mug, but Bruno took a curious sip and nearly gagged. His tongue felt as though it were drenched in gasoline. He slowly set the mug down and scanned the room for watching eyes.

“Doesn’t look like any Rockets are here,” Peter said in a low voice. “Do you sense anything?”

Bruno closed his eyes. In the darkness, every person stood out like a flickering candle in different hues. Peter’s steady blue light, almost mistakable for a lucario, sat across from him, while other souls danced in different colors, some shooting off sparks of agitation, most twitching languidly from the alcohol. None gave off the notes of black that marked criminal intent.

Bruno shook his head and brought the mug to his mouth, making sure none of the amber liquid touched his tongue. Then he closed his eyes and widened his search, scanning the area north of the bar. He could feel Serena. Her crimson sun was still far off, but as he watched it, he could see it coming closer.

He wrote the number ten and showed it to Peter. The officer dug his hand into his coat and pressed the button on his radio twice, a press for each five minute interval. Then he cautiously looked into the beer before bringing it to his lips, tipping the mug back, and taking a long swallow. More beer spilled out of the corners of his mouth than got into it, but he still let some of it past his lips.

Peter’s expression remained flat, but Bruno could see his aura flicker with agitation, like a flame with water splashed into it.

“Don’t drink too much,” Peter told Bruno. “You need your senses more than mine, and this stuff’s stronger than it looks.”

“No danger of that,” Bruno wrote back. “I don’t think I could keep any of it down.”

Serena’s aura approached faster than he expected. After a few minutes, Bruno nodded towards the door. Peter left a twenty on the table and casually strolled towards the door while Bruno followed in his wake. Once they were out, they turned into the nearest alley, slunk into the shadows, and broke into a run once they were out of sight from the streets. Bruno led the way. Though the alley twisted and turned like tangled yarn, he deftly navigated the maze of forks and dead ends until they were almost at the collapsed building.

As they rounded a corner and came into view of the meeting spot, Bruno saw six Grunts in a small pack, chasing after Serena like wolves hunting a fox. Each one carried tasers, nooses, and pokeballs. Pokemon ran or flew alongside them. A cacturne hurled a handful of needles at Serena, and she twisted in time to avoid them.

Bruno sprinted ahead. Peter, cursing, followed a few seconds behind them. The pursuit entered an alleyway, and Bruno sensed a fork up ahead. Serena took a sharp right the moment she rounded another corner, while the grunts went straight ahead.

Bruno whipped around the corner, and immediately to his right was another alley, which he raced into. He ran another twenty feet and took a left. Two purple glowing lights hung in the air before him, and as he looked into them, drowsiness settled over his mind like a pile of cobwebs. Stifling a yawn, he knelt on the ground. His legs buckled, and he rolled onto his side.

The last thing he saw before his eyes closed was Serena’s blue eyes, glowing in the darkness, as she dragged him to a van.
***

When Peter rounded that same corner, he saw only a path ahead. Blotchy brick walls stretched out on either side of him, with no sign of Bruno anywhere. He paused for a fraction of a second, searching for him, and then reasoned that the lucario must’ve leapt onto the roof.

Yet, as he ran, doubt plagued him. Even Bruno couldn’t leap two stories and vanish in a single second, and there weren’t fire escapes to make climbing easier. He should’ve heard the scrabble of claw on stone as Bruno vaulted a brick wall, and the rooftops in this section of town were all uneven. Crumbling apartment complexes rose around dingy shops.

But there was no time to stop and think. One of the Rockets’ pokemon, a raticate, spotted him and raced to intercept. He reached for the pokeball and called on Reason. In a blur of metallic blue, one of Reason’s arms shot forward and smacked the rat into the pavement. Only a meaty red paste, like stirred cherry Jell-O remained of the pokemon.

“Find Bruno and help him!” he shouted at Reason.

As the metagross flew over the rooftops, Peter pursued the Grunts. They didn’t seem to notice him, but two more pokemon broke off to attack him, a mightyena and a liepard both loping towards him. Two shots from his pistol caught the mightyena in the chest. It toppled to the ground, shuddered, and fell still as its blood gushed out of its mouth. The liepard dodged three bullets, and as it leapt for him, he decked it in the jaw with his elbow. It clawed at him. One set raked his arm, leaving thin, shallow scratches six inches long, and the other claws harmlessly glanced off his jacket, which was deceptively sturdy despite its shoddy appearance.

The liepard, mewling in pain as its jaw hung loosely in its head, pounced again, but this time, Peter drew a combat knife, ducked, and let the liepard jump over him. As it slid down his back, he stabbed the knife into the liepard. He didn’t bother turning to see if it died. Its shudder as the blade slipped between its ribs told him it would die within a minute, helpless as shock made its legs stiffen.

Peter rushed after them, gaining step by step, but as the Grunts turned to face him, a telepathic message from Reason stopped him.

“Bruno is gone,” it told him. “I lack the data required to track him.”

“What about Serena?” he murmured.

“Also gone,” Reason said. “This was a set-up. Break off your pursuit and regroup with the special ops unit. They were bait to distract you.”

Bullets clattered on the brick behind him as Peter ran back the way he came. At the entrance to the alleyway maze, around the first corner, he saw a path that wasn’t there the first time. Walking through it, Peter found Reason perched on top of a roof, watching the streets below with its cold red eyes.

“What happened here?”

Reason’s words came into his head. “They created an illusion to make this alley hidden. Bruno saw through it and came this way after the target while you and the Grunts went the other direction. Faint residues suggest a ghost hypnotized Bruno. The target dragged him into a van and drove to the west. The trail ends in the main streets.”

Bruno’s notebook lay discarded in the middle of the alley. He wrote a message on one page, tore it off, and left it on the spot where the notebook lay.

It read, “I will rescue you, no matter what it takes.”
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Old September 3rd, 2017 (8:12 PM). Edited September 4th, 2017 by Bardothren.
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Welp, my cough's still clinging to my lungs and my sig is now broken. Just what I wanted to deal with at eleven in the night. Well, it's better than what I'm going to put Bruno through.

On the bright side, I made a couple loaves of bread, a pot of corn chowder, and a psyduckton of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and I don't have work until Wednesday. Expect a Beaten Beater chapter by the end of Tuesday. :D


Chapter Thirty-Four

When Bruno woke, the world felt silent. Not a glimmer of aura sparkled around him except his own. He watched its flickering blue light. Once in a while, a violet spark darted up and popped like a firework, dissolving into tiny black motes.

He opened his eyes. Overhead and all around him, translucent blue light fenced him in a cube twenty feet wide. Clean white covers were pulled over him. The mattress felt cool and soft beneath him, so pliant that even lying on his back didn’t hurt his tailbone.

A table sat next to the bed. A glass of water reminded him that his throat burned as if it were coated in burning gasoline. Without getting up from his bed, he grabbed the glass, greedily gulped it down, and looked for more. A plate of oran berries caught his eye, and though his stomach felt queasy, he crunched the berries in his mouth, sucked the juice, and spat the pulp on the plate.

Another ache at his throat brought a hand up to his neck. His fingers brushed against an unfamiliar, flexible lump. With both fingers, he traced the outline of the object, and a pang of horror kicked up a flurry of violet sparks in his aura. He tugged and tugged, pried at every inch, and even attacked it with his aura, but after five minutes of struggling, the collar remained firmly around his throat.

Bruno, trying to put the collar out of mind, looked around. Beyond the walls was a hazy blue blur, made all the more indistinct by Bruno’s aching head, but he could make out a set of indistinct metal walls around and above him. It seemed too sturdy and bare for an ordinary building, and he shivered at its resemblance to Stonebough prison. The sinking feeling that he was captured made a thin red tendril lash out of his aura, crack at the air above him, and disappear into thin air.

Feeling for the edge of the bed, Bruno swung his feet around, shoved the covers away, and stood on his feet. Sudden vertigo made him sit down. Bitter bile crept at the back of his throat, and his stomach felt as if a pack of carvanha were gnawing at it from the inside. With a deep breath, Bruno heaved himself to his feet, held back a trickle of vomit, and blinked at the lights flashing in his eyes.

He leaned against the bedpost. After a minute of slow, deep breaths, Bruno felt steady enough to try walking. He took one step towards a translucent wall, and then another. The blue wall shimmered as he approached it. He reached out with a hand, gently inching his hand towards the light. When the tips of his fingers brushed against the barrier, searing hot pain shot through his arm, and with a yelp, he stumbled backwards all the way to the bed.

“Don’t try running through it,” said a masculine voice behind him. “You’d be nothing but atoms before you came out on the other side. Here, watch.”

Bruno turned around. Behind the translucent barrier stood a man of middling height, with short-cut brown hair, tired brown eyes, and thin eyebrows. He held a handful of oran berries in a gloved hand. His uniform was white from head to toe, with red trim and a gold-embroidered red R on the right shoulder. Bruno knew it as an Admin uniform and bristled. A snarl rumbled the back of his throat. He probed the air around him, and in every direction, including beneath the floor, but his reach was stopped short by the blue barriers.

When the man saw he had Bruno’s attention, he threw a berry with a slow, underhand toss. It flew high into the air and dropped at eye-level into the wall. In a flash, nothing remained, not even a burnt smell.

“That’s high-energy plasma,” the Admin told him. “Anything organic will get ripped to atoms, but most metals can pass through unscathed. It puts out a lot of electromagnetic radiation, making most means of tracking you ineffective. Also, if I don’t miss my guess, your powers can’t reach me.”

Bruno stiffened. He growled at him, and the Admin smiled ruefully.

“If you have something to say to me, you better write it down.” He held up a pencil and a pile of small slips of paper, set them both on a metal tray, and covered them with a steel lid. The whole bundle was shoved on the floor through the wall. The metal sparked and crackled as it passed through the plasma.

“Careful now, the metal’s a bit hot.”

Bruno gingerly removed the lid. Scratching at the pencil lead revealed it was even softer than the average pencil, no doubt to ensure he couldn’t use it as a weapon. He sourly realized the papers weren’t bound for a similar reason.

He wrote down three questions, set the paper on the tray, and kicked it through. The Admin read them and tucked the note in a pocket.

“For your first question, I am known as Admin Sun. For your second, you are in a Rocket safe-house deep below ground. This cell was designed to contain the most dangerous of specimens. As for the third…” the Admin sneered at him, and his eyes were blocks of ice. “You’re a fool. You think she was forced into doing anything?”

In a fit of fury, Bruno crumpled the papers and pencil together in his hand and flung the ball at the admin. It disintegrated before it got anywhere close to his pristine white suit.

Admin Sun grinned at him. “I’m going to lower the walls around you.” Bruno’s eyes widened in surprise, and he shifted into a fighting stance without thinking. “Of course, I’m not going to give you the chance to escape or to injure me.”

He held up a small remote in his hand. “Here’s how this will happen. You are going to sit on the bed, and stay seated. First, another set of walls will spring up behind me. And then the walls in front of me will vanish.” The Admin gestured upward. “That way, signals won’t get through.”

“If at any point you take a step in any direction, the walls come back up.” The Admin fingered the buttons on the remote. "Also, thisactivates the collar around your neck. It can either give you a powerful electric shock, or I can inject you with a powerful anesthetic.” His grin widened. “There’s also a variant that explodes, but I decided that was unnecessary.”

Bruno ground his teeth. He glared at the Admin for a minute, who simply smiled at him.

“I haven’t had the chance to test this collar yet. I wonder what happens when I tell the collar to give you an electric shock.”

Bruno tugged at the collar. Sweat trickled his forehead, but he ignored the urge to obey.

“Still nothing?” Admin Sun asked. “Fair warning, I think those collars were calibrated for aggron, so there’s no telling if you’ll be conscious after I give this little guy a push.”

Bruno would not let himself give in. He planted his feet and leaned back, ready to convulse onto the back.

“Alright then,” the Admin said, holding a finger over the remote. His finger crept downward, and when it touched, he said “Boink!” and pushed it.

Bruno tensed up, but nothing happened. He looked up in confusion, but the Admin’s smile never wavered.

“Electromagnetic radiation, remember? The remote doesn’t work through the barrier, unfortunately.” He shrugged. “How about this, then? Be a good boy, and I’ll let you see Serena.”

Defy Team Rocket, or see Serena? He wavered at the crossroads of that choice, but he reasoned that she still might be able to help him escape. Standing here would get him nothing. He kept telling himself that as he sat down on the bed and waited.

“Good.” Admin Sun turned around and nodded at the far wall. When he turned back, another barrier rose behind him. Then, with a muffled clap of air, the inner walls fell. The sudden rush of aura stabbed at his eyes, flooding his head with a roiling violet tide. When he opened them again. Serena was standing before him, wearing the Admin’s uniform.

“What the? Where did that Admin go?” Then his brain caught up with his eyes. A cold lump choked him in the back of his throat. “How? Why?” he asked, but to Serena’s ears, they were only barks.

“I’m not giving you another pencil. Not yet, anyways. Instead, I’ll talk, and you can nod your answers. Do you understand?”

Bruno numbly nodded. He started to ask if this was all some elaborate act, and quickly closed his mouth. Another presence, this one black with flecks of silver, tickled the back of his mind, a far quieter presence overshadowed by Serena’s more powerful aura. After a moment, he found the source, a dark patch within Serena’s shadow. A ghost.

“First off, Serena’s a name I made up. I go by Steven Sun. And second, Team Rocket isn’t forcing me to do anything. I am here because I want to be, and I am wearing this uniform, because I earned it. I have men who follow my orders, because I earned it. I have my own room, my own bed, my own computer and books and night-light, because I earned them. My meals are whatever I ask for, because I earned it. Why the hell would I ever want to give that up?”

Every word hit Bruno like a stone. “But Team Rocket uses pokemon!” he shouted at her. “They torture them and use them as tools, just like they are using you!”

His words fell on deaf ears. Steven grinned at him and held up at the remote. “Be quiet, or I’ll give that collar a test run.”

Bruno clamped his mouth shut. After a long pause, Steven said, “We’re going to play a little game. It’s a game I used to play. The rules are, I’m going to ask you a question. Tell me the truth, and I will give you a new pencil and more paper. Lie to me or refuse to answer, and I will take something away. We’ll start with the table. Nod if you understand.”

Bruno nodded. Steven smiled at him and rubbed her thumb over the buttons. “Good. Now tell me, are there more pokemon like you in the city?”

She waited, but Bruno didn’t respond. As he stared in her cold blue eyes and the flickering, chaotic aura behind them, his first impulse was to tell her the truth, to answer every question she asked until he had nothing left to tell. But the thought of Peter, of how he would feel if he broke the trust between them, held him back.

“So, you refuse to answer?” When Bruno didn’t move, she stamped her foot on the floor. Out of her shadow rose a haunter, its huge, slimy tongue hanging out of its wide, gaping mouth. It cackled and waved at him.

“Set, take the table and leave the plate.” The haunter floated forward. Bruno gathered aura in his fists, ready to strike, but Steven’s finger hovering over the buttons made him sit still as the ghost set the plate on the floor and dragged the table to Steven. The Admin nodded, and the first set of walls returned, shutting out the aura. Steven’s black fur and vulpine visage melted into human skin and features.

She held up the table. “You can earn this back by answering questions. Until then, I’ll give you some time to think.”

Once he was all alone, Bruno sat cross-legged on his bed, closed his eyes, and thought of home, replacing translucent walls of plasma with plaster and paint, the bare room with furnishings and carpet, and the isolation with Peter’s warm, kind smile. Tears spilled onto the covers.
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Old September 4th, 2017 (3:27 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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“If at any point you take a step in any direction, the walls come back up.” The Adin Also, this remote activates the collar around your neck. It can either give you a powerful electric shock, or I can inject you with a powerful anesthetic.” His grin widened. “There’s also a variant that explodes, but I decided that was unnecessary.”
Bolded I think is a typo?

So, Bruno in the middle of a set up I expected that to happen. Seven pulling off the "let's play a game" scenario similar to a horror game (though a tamer version of that)? Less so. Bruno's soul must have been crushed after going through that ordeal, although I'm unsure what to make of Seven's behavior there yet.
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Old September 10th, 2017 (7:42 PM). Edited 1 Week Ago by Bardothren.
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Thanks for catching that typo Bay. I'm not sure how that one slipped under the radar. Anyways, it's backstory time! Woo!

Chapter Thirty-Five

Seven resisted the urge to shower. It wasn’t that she needed to. Her fur, though matted beneath the freshly laundered Admin uniform, still smelled faintly of her jasmine soap. But just imaging the Atheros professor’s oily words, his manipulative tactics, and his calm, cold smile, and worse, using those tricks herself, tied her stomach in knots around her heart. She knew it would break her to imitate the professor, but it would break him first.

Instead of showering, she settled for brushing her fur. But as she yanked at knots, her thoughts wandered back to her own days behind a transparent wall, to the helplessness and isolation that weighed her shoulders down like sacks of flour. A particularly troublesome knot struggled against her comb, and with a swift yank, she tore out a tangled handful.

The rest of the evening was spent staring at figures and accounts, planning expenses for her squad, and assigning teams to the tasks Giovanni gave her. Every so often, she caught herself staring off into space, lost in thought. Each time, she growled, shook herself, and typed in a frenzy to compensate for lost time.

As the night progressed, Seven’s mind wandered more. Soon, she found herself staring at the clock as minutes floated by. Her Admin’s quarters were replaced with the bare walls, plasma barrier, and the professor staring at her with a slight, insincere smile on his face. The memories squeezed her chest, and even in the full light of the room, she felt the shadows with their hidden scalpels creeping in. The nightlight was snuffed out. Darkness descended, broken only by the dull, subtle gleam of scalpels and needles as they dug into her flesh.

With a howl, Seven broke the illusion. Shards of darkness rained onto the carpet and shriveled up, consuming themselves until nothing remained. She thought she heard the professor’s faint chuckle as the last shard winked out of existence, and shivered.

Seven’s throat burned, and her arms shook. She groped for a desk drawer, found a handle, and yanked it open. Inside were piles of water bottles and beef jerky packs. She wrenched open a bottle and chugged it flat, and then tore into a bag of jerky and crammed a small handful into her mouth. As she gnawed on the chewy, smoky meat, she thought over what to do. Talking to anyone, even Celeste, was out of the question, and it’s not like they could help her anyways. She couldn’t talk to anyone from Atheros either, since they were all dead.

That was when she thought about their research files. Before she could think it through, her hand darted to the phone and dialed Admin Colson’s number.

“Were copies made of Atheros Lab’s records?”

“Yes,” he answered. “If you want them, you’ll have to trade.”

Seven bristled. “What do you want?”

“Nothing much. It’s a small matter you ask of me, so I’ll make it fair and ask something small as well.” For a minute, all Seven heard was the clack of fingers on keys before Colson said, “Just bring me a bacon and pineapple pizza from the kitchens, got it? And be sure to bring it yourself.”

Colson hung up. Seven stared at the phone for a moment before standing, putting on her uniform, and walking out the door. She stepped into a bathroom and walked out as an ordinary Grunt, a guise more fitting for doing an Admin’s chores, and walked to the kitchens. The moment she asked for the unusual combination of toppings, the chef brought out a whole pizza in a box, already made.

“Be sure that gets to him intact,” the chef said. “He hates it when the toppings slide around.”

Seven carefully held the box level as she walked back to the Admins’ hallway. When she knocked on Admin Colson’s door, it opened at the slightest tap.

“Set it on the floor,” he said without looking up. “And be careful with the toppings. If I wanted my pizza and cheese separate, I’d order it that way.”

Seven sat down and set the pizza at her feet. After a moment, Colson unplugged a flash drive and tossed it behind his shoulder. It fell short and clattered onto the pizza box. Seven picked it up, tucked it into her pocket, and rose to leave.

“Wait,” he said. “I asked you to come in person for a reason.”

With a nervous glance at the door, Seven sat back on his clothes chest and waited. After a minute of typing, Colson turned his chair around. His black hair was tangled and gleaming from sweat, and a thin stubble covered his chin.

“I just want to know why you’re suddenly interested,” he said. “Giovanni would want to know, as well.”

Seven shrugged, ignoring the tension in her shoulders. “No real reason, I suppose. I just wanted to know what they were studying me for.”

Admin Colson leaned back in his chair. It creaked noisily. “If that was all you wanted to know, you could’ve asked that over the phone.”

Seven shifted on her seat and looked down. After some internal debate, she decided that she had to be honest. “I feel… troubled lately.”

“Because of your interrogation of the pokemon you captured, correct?” he asked. A smile touched his lips when he saw Seven flinch. “I thought so. It was remarkably similar to what you yourself went through, and I can’t imagine that you want any reminder of what you went through. So, you’re hoping to find something in those files to help you cope with your situation?”

At a loss for words, Seven nodded. Colson got out of his chair, took the box to his desk, and flipped open the lid. “Hmm, looks like the cheese slid a bit, but I won’t complain.” He pulled out a slice, and the cheese stretched out in big gooey strands before the Admin cut them with his tongue, twining them around and sucking up the grease. “I love my cheese this gooey,” he said around a mouthful, “But it has a bad habit of slipping and sliding.” He swallowed, and held out the box with one hand. “Want a slice?”

Seven shook her head. As she walked towards the door, Colson said, “I wouldn’t count on finding anything helpful. Giovanni and I looked through it. The only reason we’re letting you look through them is because we think there’s nothing sensitive in them.”

Seven returned to her room. It was on the other side of the hallway to the left, farther away from Giovanni’s office. Once she was alone and at her desk, she plugged the flash drive into her computer and pulled up the files. There was a staggering amount of test data from all fourteen test subjects, from pdf checklists to lengthy essays on research result.

She opened the file labeled Seven, and after a second, a flood of file paths popped up on her computer. Confronted by a staggering amount of information, she clicked at random, popping up a few test reports. Some she remembered, such as the intelligence tests and physical exams, and others were hazy memories, such as computer tutoring. She didn’t recognize a few, including a surprising number labeled sleep tests that held a lot of wavy charts.

One tab, labeled as a compilation of studies on her illusions, caught her eye. After a brief once-over of the abstract, she learned that her powers mimicked photons, able to cancel them out by destructively interfering with interference patterns. However, the photons only existed as long as she sustained them and vanished when her concentration slipped. This she knew. However, she didn’t realize that the sounds were real. Stimulating other atoms with her photons creates air fluctuations that can mimic human speech or cancel out other sound waves. They could also trigger photoreceptors like ordinary photons. And unlike her photons, the sounds they made or electrons they displaced were permanent. After thinking it over, she realized that, though Bruno could see past her photons, he still heard Steven’s voice, and he could still be fooled by fake video footage.

While those files were an interesting discovery, they were only a distraction eating up an hour of her night. She closed it out and kept clicking at random, scanning through meal reports and item requisitions before she found the professor’s audio logs.

The moment the professor’s oily voice rang out of her speakers, she closed out the log, clicking rapidly on the X until the box closed out. Ragged breaths caught in her throat, and she caught a flicker of blue from one of the walls.

It took a minute for her to calm down. Steeling herself, Seven gripped the arm of her chair and opened the audio log again.

“Professor Martin, January 29th, 1997,” he said in a clinical, sterile voice.

Seven hit the pause button. Martin. That was his name. It suddenly occurred to Seven that she never knew his name, that he always had everyone simply call him professor. She backed up the recording and played it again.

“Professor Martin, January 29th, 1997. Today, we begin Project Mirage. The ultimate objective of this project is classified information and will not be discussed in audio under any circumstance.” That comment was said with a bit of snap in his voice. “However, it begins with the twelve zorua pups we have received from the Manchester zoo. The highly antisocial species responds poorly to captivity, human presence, and training in equal measure, so the first task is to alter their brain structure, making them more intelligent and more manageable. This will be accomplished by overriding the safety measures on a custom-made pokemon cellular regeneration device and using it to trigger changes on the genetic level aimed to give the zorua humanoid brains. Today marks the first treatment. The subjects will be exposed to the machines for five minutes to check for any negative effects.”

The audio crackled before it ended. Seven stared at the computer screen and felt shock fluttering in her chest. There were others? Why didn’t she remember them? Numbly, she opened the next one and gripped her chair even harder.

“Professor Martin, February 5th, 1997. A week has passed since the first trial. One subject developed a minor brain tumor in the frontal lobe, right above the optical nerve. It’s a troubling sign, but the tumor was successfully removed.

MRIs have revealed minor structural changes, including frontal lobe expansion by twenty percent, the skull expanding by ten percent to accommodate the new brain mass, and the amygdala shrinking by as much as forty percent. The zorua less resemble feral beasts biting at the cages and act more like puppies, calling for attention and behaving with less hostility.

The original plan called for an hour, but the machine is having greater effects than anticipated. Exposure will be limited to half an hour.”

Though she tried, Seven couldn’t remember anything from when she was a zorua, and even her first months as a zoroark were dim, fuzzy memories. Though her mouth felt dry as sand, she left the bottles of water in her desk where they were as she opened the next file.

“Professor Martin, February 14th, 1997. Eight of the zorua are dead. The side-effects were even greater than I imagined. Each zorua has developed, on average, fourteen brain tumors, ranging from grains of rice to baseballs. They metastasize quickly, spreading first to the liver before attacking the heart and lungs. Strokes are also common, caused by the rapid and uncontrolled development of blood vessels in the brain, and have proven to be the most probable cause of death. I have assigned the remaining six subjects aspirin, Micardis, and chemotherapy to battle these symptoms. I have also put in a request for more zorua with the zoo, since I give these six pups together less than ten percent chance of surviving.”

As Seven opened the next audio tape, a feeling of dread like icicles jabbing into her ribs pricked her. She already knew why she didn’t remember any of the others.

“Professor Martin, February 26th, 1997. We are down to two zorua, numbers Seven and Nine. Nine has Stage IV, M3, N1 brain cancer, metastasized to the heart, lungs, liver, and stomach, and is expected to die within the next twenty-four hours. An attempt will be made to preserve its DNA through recombination with ditto cells.”

“Seven is at Stage II, N0, M0, and seems to respond well to treatment. I am redirecting all our resources into keeping that one alive, since yesterday, the last female zoroark in captivity was killed by its mate. The current objective is to raise Seven to adulthood and have her breed another set of subjects. It may confer a genetic resistance to the side-effects of the treatment to its offspring. Though I may not live to see this experiment succeed, I will at least allow a future generation to continue my work.” In a low grumble, he said, “The big-wigs won’t be happy, but there’s nothing else I can do.”

She listened through months worth of audio logs, each one describing her condition. One week, the cancer reached her lymph nodes, and the next, she was given the all clear, only for cancer to swell up in four places at once two weeks down the road. She listened through two years of reports, through a grueling, gradual inclination of her health, before sleep pulled her eyelids down. With a puzzling mixture of eagerness and reluctance, she hit the power button on her computer, blinked as the harsh screen light winked out, and crawled into bed with her clothes on.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago (9:36 PM).
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Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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Ok, so Seven did feel some reluctance when with Bruno last chapter. I admit to forgetting the professor used the same tactics there. Now, the backstory there oh dear those poor Zorua. = < Seven being the remaining test subject is kinda cliche in that that always happen whenever this situation pops up in fiction, but I'm still interested how Seven finding all this out will affect her now.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago (7:09 PM).
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This chapter was a troublesome one to write. For whatever reason, the words just wouldn't come. Ah well, I managed to get it done, and now I have ideas for where to go next.


Chapter Thirty-Six
A pin dropping would’ve been a thunderclap in the Commissioner Mason’s office as Gordon himself, Peter, the intelligence officer Matt, Elder Bayron, and two other lucario sat down at the Commissioner’s table, the humans on one side and the pokemon on the other. Peter felt the Elder’s eyes boring holes into his soul as he gripped his Sudoku book like a holy relic.

The receptionist brought in three mugs of coffee and three cups of tea, set them on the table, and tiptoed out as though the floor were covered in mines. Peter took a long swallow of coffee, ignoring the bitter bite on his tongue.

“This is the outcome I feared,” Bayron said as he raised a cup of tea to his lips. “Bruno has spent far too much time in this city, and whatever happened will only exacerbate his instability. Dealing with him is our top priority.”

Peter’s eyes narrowed. “When you say deal with, what do you mean?”

The Elder bowed his head. “That remains to be seen. However, it is very likely he will have to be… put down.”

Peter’s knuckles whitened as his grip tightened on the ceramic mug. “If you’re going to ask me to kill my partner, then I would appreciate an explanation. What is happening to him?”

“I shouldn’t tell you,” he said. “That secret is the source of our strength and our greatest weakness.” He looked into his mug as he swirled the tea, and took a long sniff of its aroma. Then his shoulders slackened. “You do deserve an explanation. I would appreciate it if what I am about to tell you never leaves this room.”

Matt got up from his seat, opened the door, and gave the Elder a curt not.

“We don’t simply feel the aura around us,” Elder Bayron said. “We absorb it, and make it a part of ourselves, as plants absorb the sun’s rays.” He held up his hand to the sunlight, as if to demonstrate his point. “In a more peaceful setting, it gives us a greater awareness of our environment and augments our powers. But in a city, with all the chaos and tumult of emotion, it consumes us.” The Elder tugged his white robe closer to his skin. “Most commit suicide, but a few go mad and devour the aura around them, like a cancer, if you will. Worse, lucario that go mad emit enough aura that it affects other life-forms around them. If left long enough, a densely populated area can descend into madness.”

Peter swallowed. His stomach sank low enough to hit the floor, and his head swam. He took a deep breath, fingered the pages of his book, and told himself that he would find Bruno. He had to.

“How – how long do we have?” Peter’s voice broke as he asked.

“A week at most.” Elder Bayron frowned. “Five days is more likely. The good news is, he’ll be a lot easier to find once he breaks. The lucario from the Temple would know and provide reinforcements.”

“We have Reason calculating all potential hiding spots,” Mason said. “It’ll take a few days for the results to come in, but once they do, we’ll strike.”

“And in the meantime,” Bayron said, “I will return to the Temple and discuss what to do among my brethren. In the meantime, these two will help you search. They may find Bruno before your metagross.”

The two lucario bowed their heads, and the three officers returned the gesture. Then the one to Peter’s left spoke.

“Are we to be working with that human?” he asked, nodding towards Peter. “He feels unstable.”

“Adam has a point,” Elder Bayron said. A shiver ran down Peter’s back when those wizened red eyes looked into his own. “Perhaps you should take the week off. I know it would be hard, sitting and doing nothing while others do all the work, but you won’t help anyone by being in a disturbed mental state.”

Peter closed his eyes. Fear and grief wriggled around his mind like tapeworms, chaotic and violent as a child’s scribbles. He forced the numbers into his head, digits of one through nine, and placed them in a square in his head, forming the beginning of a Sudoku puzzle. The squiggles, pinned between the numbers, formed a wobbly, writhing grid. Then, one by one, he fit more numbers into place, carefully following the logical induction of Sudoku’s rules. As another number fit into place, the lines straightened out and went still, and each time his concentration slipped and his thoughts went back to Bruno, to an empty seat in front of him, an uneaten donut and untouched cup of coffee left for his absent partner, the silence filling his home, the lines knocked numbers aside and wriggled out of the grid. After what felt like an eternity, he finally had a perfect grid of eighty-one numbers, with all his fear and paranoia pinned in a logical, orderly grid.

Peter opened his eyes. Elder Bayron’s expression hadn’t changed, but his eyes seemed a touch doubtful. “I may be struggling, but I can still be calm. Even now, I’m in better control of my emotions than anyone else in the force, aren’t I?”

The Elder shook his head. “Bruno said much the same, and look what happened.”

“Is there any other choice?”

Peter swallowed another mouthful of coffee while he waited for the answer. He let the bitterness rush over his tongue and stuck the foul tang into his head like pins, driving them into his grid. Keeping that grid, holding that grid, was all he could allow himself to perceive. Anything else would only distract him and bring back chaos.

The Elder drained his glass and said, “You have a point. If Jarem and Kolar don’t object, I recommend that they patrol the city with Officer Peter.”

The lucario on the right, Kolar, said, “If he can maintain his composure, then I have no objections.” Peter quickly compared the two lucario and noted that Kolar had a slightly shorter, stouter muzzle, while Jarem had longer spikes on his wrists and shaggier fur around the collar. Without losing his grip on the grid, Peter examined their faces and memorized them. He squeezed the pages of his book together, and his hand shook from the effort of keeping his grief in check, but he held firm.

“So, we’ll begin today?” Peter asked. He raised his mug to his lips, thinking to calm his nerves with another sip of bitterness, but it was empty. He waited for a few bitter trickles to wet his lips before setting the mug down.

“Now, if you are able,” Bayron said. “We cannot afford any delays.”

Jarem and Kolar rose, and Peter leapt to his feet. With a salute to the Commissioner, Peter followed the two lucario out to the front entrance. They stopped just short of the sidewalk. Peter nearly bumped into them, and walked around to speak face to face.

“Do you have a plan?” he asked them.

“It’s very noisy,” Kolar said. “Is there anywhere more peaceful? It would be best if we stayed in one spot.”

“Is there anywhere that Bruno liked visiting?” Jarem asked.

Peter thought for a moment. A stray thread of anger unwound itself, and he forced it back into place.

“There’s a café on the east side of town, the Honeycomb. That was Bruno’s favorite.”

He drove them to a parking lot around the corner from the café. At first, he studied his passengers and noted that they couldn’t sit still. Some passing cars made them flinch, and they shied away from a few buildings as they passed them by. However, their presence only drew attention to the empty space to his right, so he shifted his attention to the road, checking the license plates on every car he passed and making Sudoku grids out of them.

That was how he noticed his tail. One car, a pristine white Civic, followed them from half a mile out of the police station, maybe even earlier. He flipped his turn signal left and went right, and the car followed him without the slightest twitch into the other lane.

He turned towards a quieter section of town, where a criss-cross of one-way streets formed a cramped maze. He wound a dizzying path past closed meat-packing warehouses and butcher’s shops, darting around corners as fast as he dared with his silver Camry. And yet, the clunker matched him turn for turn. Though it no longer made any secret of its following him, it didn’t try to stop his vehicle either.

“We have a tail,” Peter told his passengers.

“We noticed,” Jarem said. “We don’t sense any hostility from them, but we can’t tell what their intentions are. Will you call for back-up and have them arrested?”

Peter pursed his lips. “They aren’t breaking any laws, and back-up would get here too late if they tried to kill us. I guess all we can do is stop and see what they want.”

He pulled over, and the white car parked right behind them. The passenger door opened, and a person wearing a white mask stepped out of the car. Their jacket, pants, gloves, and tennis shoes were all cheap white material, from the button to the zippers, stitching, and hems. Not a speck of skin or other color showed. In their gloved hand was a white envelope.

For a split second, Peter’s hand gripped the gear-shift, and he almost put it in drive, but with a sigh he kept it in park and rolled down his passenger window by an inch.

“A message for the Commissioner,” the masked person said. A voice filter made their gender indistinguishable. “You may open it, if you wish.”

Before Peter could say anything, the messenger slid the envelope into the car and walked back to the car. The Civic’s engine roared, and the car disappeared before Peter thought to follow it.

“Are you going to open it?” Kolar asked.

“Might be rigged,” Peter said. “C-4 or Anthrax. I’ll have the packages department deal with it.”

Peter turned the car around and drove to the Honeycomb. He almost took the usual booth, right next to the entrance, and instead decided on a corner booth, nestled in between a bookshelf and an empty booth, shadowed by an absence of windows in the back.

The waitress walked over, gave them a warm hello, and gave confused glances at the white robes of the two lucario. They both took tea, but Peter ordered nothing. He didn’t think he could handle the taste of honey at the moment.

Jarem and Kolar started asking him questions. It started as simple ice-breakers, what hobbies he had, favorite foods, how he liked his job, and they gradually worked their way into more painful questions. They asked for stories about Bruno, about his training at the Temple and the days when he was first getting to know his partner, about the training courses at the police academy and their first emergency response.

Peter couldn’t tell if they were testing him or simply making polite conversation as they worked, but he resolved to maintain his grid. When he grew too tired to keep the image in his head, he pulled out his book and finished puzzle after puzzle until he only had a few pages left.

Once the sun was starting to set, after five rounds of tea, a quick lunch break at a sandwich shop across the street, and hours of exhausting conversation, the two lucario stood. Peter’s brain lagged behind for a moment before he paid the bill and followed them out the door.

“We can sense the Elder well enough,” Kolar said as Peter drove back to the police station. “However, we couldn’t find Bruno or the aura he mentioned.”

“There was a presence,” Jarem said, “Something a bit stronger than the rest of the city, but I can only tell that it’s farther west. We should search there tomorrow.”

When Peter dropped off the letter with the receptionist, leaving her specific instructions on how to handle it, the two lucario followed him in. But when he went back to his car, they both took the back seats.

“Aren’t you going to stay at the police station?” he asked.

“Too stressful there,” Jarem said. “And we thought it would be wiser to stay with you. We might sense traces of him if we remain long enough.”

Peter inwardly groaned as he drove them home, set up bedding on the couch, and stared up at his bedroom ceiling, trying and failing to make himself fall asleep.
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  #72    
Old 3 Weeks Ago (10:06 PM).
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Some of the info concering Lucario and aura is cool, but dear over Bruno's situation there. Hopefully it doesn't have to come putting Lucario down. There's also that letter that sounds a bit worrisome, but it could also be false alarm and safe. Peter might have a long several hours with those two Lucario heh.
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Old 2 Weeks Ago (3:03 PM). Edited 2 Weeks Ago by Bardothren.
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Took me long enough to get this done. My brain is fried, and all the hub-bub of the Get-Together hasn't exactly been helping my writing pace, but at least it's done. The next few chapters will be an uphill battle for me until I can get the final arc underway.


Chapter Thirty-Seven

The plate was gone, the bed too. First, Seven took the pillow. Then she took the covers. The mattress went next, and last of all, the frame was removed, leaving him nothing but an empty room with a hole in the middle, which Bruno learned to his horror was his bathroom. The hole was taken away too, covered with a plate welded to the floor. Now, if he wanted to go to the bathroom, he could let it lie on the floor or trust his balance and sense of space to keep him from backing into the wall of plasma. Though the plasma made for an efficient method of waste removal, singed hairs on his tail marked the few times he nearly erased his ass from existence.

After there was nothing left to take away, Seven added things. Hidden beneath the floor was a radio that would make ear-wrenching noises at random intervals, keeping him awake through night and day. The temperature varied wildly, from bone-chilling days to nights hot enough to make his fur wilt. Seven also controlled the lighting, alternating between absolute darkness to eye-burning brightness. She controlled day and night, stretching some to mind-numbing extremes and making others flit by in a heartbeat, and eventually, Bruno lost all grasp of time.

But worst of all were the goddamn puzzles. Meals, once thrown onto the floor, now came in intricate contraptions. His mind, dulled beyond coherent thought, quickly became frustrated with the puzzles, and in fits of rage he would smash them apart. Seven gave him one of those soft, infuriating smiles every time he scooped chunky paste out of the broken puzzles and crammed it down his throat.

Even that did not break him. He stubbornly clung to the image of home, to Peter scribbling in his Sudoku book, to sitting next to him in the antiquated movie theater chowing down on popcorn with real butter, to the thrill of chasing criminals down winding alleys and the feeling of worth and importance every time another lawbreaker got cuffed and stuffed in a police car.

And despite all the assaults to his senses, the prison felt peaceful. A different noise, one clamoring at his soul, had ceased when the plasma encircled him. For the first time in months, he felt as though he could breathe in without choking on it. Thanks to this, despite the mind-numbing noise, lights, frustration and sleep-deprivation, images of home grew sharper in his head, and the deeper he fell into a waking meditative trance, his mind like an oil bubble sliding across a roiling sea.

But as the eternity wore on, Seven spoke with him more and more. Her presence burned him, not the gentle warmth of the sun or even the searing heat of open flame, but the carcinogenic burn of uranium, breaking down everything it touched, twisting it, sowing havoc in every fiber of his being. He could taste it now, so clearly, a disgust with the world, a disgust for humans, a disgust for pokemon, and most of all, a disgust for herself, as thick and vile as sludge on his tongue. The roiling ocean, once raging and pure salt water that his oil-like mind slid over, turned into a noxious, stinking filth that pulled his mind under, mixing it with the tar and reek of Seven’s soul.

Even with the constant bombardment of Seven’s own frustration, even when creeping thoughts Peter abandoning him or having died during a mission without him, his soul refused to waver. What kept him sane was the certain knowledge that if he gave into the despair his soul drowned in, he would never see Peter again.

Seven, on the other hand, found herself slowly losing her grip on her patience. She had already gone far beyond what she had intended, and some deprivations she had inflicted on Bruno were punishments that the Professor had never used on her. Though he had often threatened to take away the toilet when she was acting recalcitrant, he never did. Watching him squat before the plasma wall, inches from destroying himself atom by atom, stung her conscience like a wasp.

As days turned to weeks, Giovanni and the other Admins started asking pointed questions about the efficacy of her methods. Fisher advocated physical torture and volunteered to do it himself if she felt too squeamish, while Colson proposed having a beeheyem dissect Bruno’s mind and save everyone the trouble. Though Giovanni kept sending her gentle reminders that time was short, between the White Knights mobilizing and the police regrouping, along with rumors that the two had plans to work together to take down the Rockets, he left the decision in Seven’s hands. She wished he hadn’t.

Stuck between the mounting pressure from the other Rockets to get results and her growing guilt over inflicting the same torture she endured for years, she broke first. One night, she laid into Bruno with the shock collar, sending volts through his neck for minutes at a time. His eyes bulged, and he fell to the floor. One hand clawed at the collar around his throat, and the other clutched at his heart as it fluttered and faltered under the repeated shocks.

When Seven was done, Bruno clumsily rose to his feet and backed away from her. His eyes were wide with panic, and they darted around the room, as if looking for escape.

“Just answer the damn question already,” Seven snapped. “Just answer, and none of this muk has to happen anymore.”

Bruno shook his head, and for a second, Seven felt a pang of hope. “Is that the answer then, no?”

Bruno kept his head still, and the rage returned. Seven strode forward, and he backed away until his back was a quarter-inch away from the crackling plasma. He glanced back, swallowed, and then kept his eyes on the floor.

“Just one push,” Seven said, “And there’d be nothing left of you but a puff of air.” She grabbed Bruno by the fur on his chest, and he shuddered beneath her grip. “I already know the answer. Yes, there’s more, we’ve seen them lurking around, hunting for you. So just say it already! Are there more of you?”

Bruno closed his eyes. Seven nearly shoved him back into the plasma, but instead, she yanked him forward. He tumbled to the ground. Seven pinned him beneath her and threw punch after punch at his face, bloodying his muzzle and making his eyes swell shut. After five minutes, by which time each punch hurt her more than it hurt him, she got to her feet, wiped her bloody fingers on her shirt, and walked away.

Bruno barked something. Seven turned around, but he hadn’t moved from the blood-stained patch of floor.

“Would you like a translation?” Thoth asked through her tablet. When she nodded, the screen said, “I’ll never tell you anything.”

“Why?” Seven asked. “You have nothing to gain by holding out.”

Bruno looked up at her through one eye that, through its swollen eyelid, peered out through a thin crack.

“I know he’s looking for me. He’ll find me.”

Seven made a point of reading her tablet, as if to tell Bruno that’s how she understood him. Then she said, “He might find a corpse, if I’m feeling generous.” The words made her stomach lurch, but she forced them out.

Bruno chuckled, a weak, raspy sound halfway between human joy and canine barks. “If you were going to kill me, you would’ve done it already.”

But Seven already had a different idea. She remembered the cop that chased her right behind Bruno. If that’s who Bruno meant, then she might find a way to break Bruno’s will by following him and capturing the moment he proved unfaithful. Him giving up, moving on, as he inevitably would, must break Bruno.

So, beginning that night, she looked through Team Rocket’s records, scanning dozens of faces in the police lineup until she found her target, Peter. Name, address, birthday, personal identification, financial and medical records, everything she needed to find her was all within Team Rocket’s databases. The next morning, she took a body camera and audio recorder, and got dropped off by her Grunts at a fast food burger joint two blocks from Peter’s home.

In a nondescript illusion and wearing civilian clothes with a wide-brimmed white hat, Seven ordered a hamburger meal, found a corner seat with a perfect view, and ate the greasy food slowly without tasting it. Once she finished, she lingered an hour longer, taking periodic sips from her soda and never taking her eyes off of the front door. When he stepped out with two lucario behind him, Seven flinched. She debated turning back, but remembering the previous night, the blood dripping from her bruised fingers, Bruno’s swollen eyes and battered muzzle, she made herself press on.

The trio stopped at a café first, and after window-shopping for five minutes at a clothing boutique across the street, she entered, ordered tea, and took a seat as far away as she could from the table with two lucario that still had a good view of the table while keeping the backs of the lucario to her. She sipped her tea, taking care not to block her camera with her arms, and kept a wary eye on the lucario. Their ears twitched, and she got the uncomfortable notion that they sensed her presence. When one of them turned around, she bent her head, hiding herself behind her hat as she took a nervous sip.

The lucario must not have seen anything, because it turned around without a word. Seven followed them out of the café, to a movie theater, then another café, a burger restaurant, and finally, back to their own place. During each transit, seven dashed into a clothes store and swapped out her costume, trading the white hat for one of straw, then she wore a couple hoodies, and she rounded out her disguise collection with a wig, a baseball cap, and a long, fluffy black scarf. She nearly lost the trio a few times, but Thoth hacked into traffic cameras and found them quickly enough.

She heard snippets of their conversation as well, most of it about finding Bruno. She caught one lucario saying that, at this point, Bruno is almost certainly dead, but Peter refused to hear it. He said that if Bruno was still alive, he would’ve snapped by now, and Seven nearly snorted at that.

By nightfall, once Peter and the two lucario went home, Seven was left with a sinking feeling that, although Peter would give up one day, she couldn’t possibly keep tailing him with those lucario around. While mulling over the problem, she thought of a novel solution and chuckled to herself as she got in the car.

The next day, she had every second of the video she recorded downloaded onto a flashdrive, stored a copy on her computer just in case, and brought it, along with two chairs, a table, and a bottle of water and jerky for herself, into Bruno’s room. She started the video and passed the laptop over to Bruno, who sat across from her.

Through the whole seven-hour video, Bruno never said a word or looked away. His jaw tensed, but he gave no other outward sign of emotion. Once it was done, he barked something, and Thoth translated it to, “They’re still looking for me.”

“They were looking for you, I guess,” Seven said as she popped a piece of jerky in her mouth. “The lucario are convinced you’re dead. They said you’d have broken by now if you were still alive.”

“But Peter is still looking,” Bruno said. “I know he’d never stop.” Tears speckled the corners of his eyes, and his jaw clenched tighter.

“He will,” Seven said. “He can’t keep looking forever, and one of these days, he’s going to figure the other lucario are right and move on. It might even happen soon, judging by how they’re spending so much time together.

Bruno’s shoulders slumped, and tears trickled from his eyes. Seven smiled to herself, stood, and left the room, leaving the table and laptop as well. Though it wasn’t a dramatic break, she finally cracked his armor, and with a little more time, Bruno would split wide open.

Her joy was marred only by a burning sensation in her eyes that she couldn’t quite blink away.
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  #74    
Old 1 Week Ago (9:36 PM). Edited 1 Week Ago by Bay Alexison.
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Bruno seems to still trying to get himself together, but probably it won't last much longer if Seven keeps this charade up. To Bruno she may seem proud of herself showing that video to him, but I'm convinced she has lingering doubts of how she'll feel when Bruno finally breaks.
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Old 1 Week Ago (9:00 PM).
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Bardothren Bardothren is offline
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I had an epiphany when writing this chapter. As far as plot went, I was floundering, not really sure where I wanted to take the story next. But then I had this little idea, and it grew into a bigger idea, and next thing I knew, I knew where the rest of the story is going to go. It's funny how the little details, that you never intend to have lasting consequences, can suddenly become the hinges for your plot.

But still, I may be completely off my rocker. Please let me know if I need to head back to the drawing board.


Chapter Thirty-Eight

Peter sat in the chair across from Gregory Mason. The opened letter sat on the Commissioner’s desk, in its own private space next to stacks of reports and complaints. A coffee mug sat atop it, and the paper had overlapping brown circles across its surface.

“So, your only lead for the past three weeks is a ‘resonance,’ as the lucario put it?” The Commissioner tapped the handle on the mug and took a deep breath. “I hate to be the one to say this, but I think it’s time to pull the plug.”

Peter’s fingers clenched the Sudoku book in his pocket, and he shifted in his seat. Only a couple blank pages remained. “If Bruno’s been dead for weeks, as everyone would have me believe, why hasn’t Team Rocket made a move yet? They got all those men back from Stonebough, and all they’ve done is a few petty robberies.”

“I’d hardly call twenty million petty, Peter.” Mason scratched at his beard. “It’s more likely that Team Rocket is waiting for the WK to make the next move. They have a position of power, and they don’t want to risk losing it by moving blindly.”

“That, or they’re waiting for Bruno to crack under what interrogation techniques they’re using,” Peter countered. “They have no idea what lucario are or how many they’re dealing with. Not to mention,” He added, his words dripping with venom, “You know they’d rather not destroy a valuable tool.” Bile crept up his throat, and his hands shook.

Mason scratched at his goatee and leaned forward. “You may investigate the resonance after our meeting with the WK. After that, I’ll need your full attention on whatever our next move will be. Is that understood?”

“Yes sir,” Peter said. His throat felt dry and raw, and his eyes burned. “And we’re going through with our meeting?”

“I don’t see what choice we have,” Mason grumbled. “And it’s not like public opinion can get any worse. They’re sick of all the waiting, and so am I.”

“We don’t need the Knights,” Peter said. “We’ve done just fine without them.”

“That was before the colossal psyduck-up at Stonebough. If we don’t get results this month, the next election cycle’s going to be a muk-show, and we’ll be at the blowing end of the fan. So, we’re working with the WK, assuming their terms are reasonable.”

“And if they aren’t?” Peter asked numbly.

“Then we let the WK raise hell and hope we can take out the Rockets while they’re distracted.” Gregory drummed his fingers on his desk and said, “If you’re lucky, it might be the perfect opportunity to get Bruno back.”

At that moment, the door opened. Elder Bayron, flanked by Kolar and Jarem, stood behind him. They stared at Peter and glanced away when he turned to look at them.

“Elder Bayron, what do you think of working with the WK?” Gregory asked.

“I know little of politics,” the Elder said, “But from what I’ve learned, your course of action seems wisest. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“But who’s their enemy?” Peter said as he stared at the Commissioner. “Seems more likely to me they’d be interested in taking down the government than the Rockets, whatever they say.”

“We don’t need any more enemies than we already have,” Mason said. “If they cooperate, then well and good, and if not, then we better hope they deal with the Rockets first.” He rubbed his temples with one hand and took a long swallow of lukewarm coffee with the other. “Look, I know it’s bad, but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt, and we have no choice but to bluff our asses off and hope it works, or we go flat broke.” He shrugged. “If anyone has any better ideas, I’m all ears.”

The room fell silent for a moment. Then Gregory Mason clapped his hands loudly enough to make a soft echo of applause off the walls. “I think we’ve discussed this enough. Our meeting with the WK is in five minutes, and we better be ready to greet our guests. I’ll do all the talking, unless any of you are asked specific questions. And Peter, please be civil.”

The group exited the room, walked past a line of empty offices and a conference room with four armed officers on standby before entering the adjacent room, a small meeting room with ten chairs and a long wooden table. A fresh pot of coffee, a pitcher of water, and a cooler of colas were set underneath the table’s edge, and bowls of mixed nuts ran down the length of the table. Peter poured himself a cup of water, drained it in one swallow, and picked a few pecans out of the nearest bowl. Commissioner Mason poured himself a cup of coffee, as did the lucario.

The door opened, and a dark-skinned police officer motioned for five hooded figures to enter. Each wore long white robes that touched the floor and round white masks attached to the hems of their hoods. Darkness obscured the eyes behind the holes.

The first to enter was a head taller than Gregory, and had to walk bow-legged and hunch-backed through the door. The second had to stoop, the third grazed the top of their head against the doorframe and hastily adjusted their hood, the fourth walked through comfortably, and the fifth was the shortest, not even coming up to Peter’s shoulder. They seated themselves on the side of the table nearest the door, with the tallest in the center.

“I presume you are the leader?” Gregory asked the shortest. “I’ve seen all your televised speeches, and I must say, I still have no idea what you’re really after.”

The tallest shook their head. “Do not presume,” they said with a soft, deep voice. Physiology is an illusion that blinds us to the truth that we’re all the same.”

The Commissioner blinked and turned his gaze towards the speaker. Though his head stayed still, his eyes darted up and down, taking in the figure’s monstrous height. “My apologies. So, might I ask your name?”

“Names are illusions as well,” said the figure of middling height in front of Elder Bayron. Their voice was a perfect match to the other speaker’s. “We are all brothers, born of the same planet and raised by the same society. Call us what you will, but remember that names divide what is otherwise united.”

“Then I’ll call you Middle,” Gregory said, “If you really don’t mind. Are we here to discuss philosophy, or business?”

The shorter one chuckled, and said, with the same raspy baritone, “We don’t mind going straight to the point. We offer information critical to apprehending key members of Team Rocket, along with our assistance in combating their criminal affairs.”

The shortest chimed in with matching voice. “And in return, we have a few conditions. You’ve already fulfilled one of them.”

The Commissioner’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you want Peter here?”

There was a hint of a smile in Middle’s voice as they said, “We aren’t interested in Peter. It was just the surest way to get the lucario here.”

Jarem and Kolar stiffened, while the Elder said, “For what purpose did you wish to meet me?”

“We were curious,” said Middle. “Team Rocket has taken quite an interest in your kind, more than we expected.”

“Then you know what happened?” Peter said. The Commissioner scowled at him, but the tallest said, “We have eyes and ears all over the city. Very little escapes our notice.”

“What about your other demands?” Gregory asked. He took a sip of coffee, grabbed a handful of nuts out of a bowl, and chewed them all at once. He swallowed and said, “There’s no sense in having this conversation if I can’t accept your other terms.”

“We have two terms,” the taller one said. “First, we want you to cease all investigation into our activities. We can scarcely help you if you’re confiscating the weapons in our warehouses.”

Commissioner Mason grimaced and nodded. “I can deal with you after the Rockets are finished. Next?”

“We want a new law passed.” The shortest figure took an envelope out of his robes and set it on the table. “That contains the details of our proposal.”

Gregory undid the clasp and slid the papers into one hand. As he read through each one, his brow furrowed, his jaw clenched, and he glanced up at the figures. Peter’s thoughts drifted off, and he stroked the pages of his Sudoku book.

“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked. “None of this makes sense.” He filled up his coffee mug and let it sit in his hands. “None of your speeches ever once mentioned pokemon rights.”

“We preach equality for all,” said Middle, “and pokemon are, by far, the most poorly treated brethren on the planet. They have no representation in the current government, have minimal legal protection, and are subject to poorer working conditions without their consent. The pokéball is the symbol of that oppression, and adding a voluntary escape measure, the manufacture of which is thoroughly detailed by the reports you just read, is the first step to true equality.”

Peter’s glanced up. Though the billowing robes revealed nothing of the figures’ emotions, Gregory was fidgeting with his fingers, and his eyes darted around the room.

The tallest figure adjusted his robe and said, “As to why we have refrained from making our intentions clear sooner, we needed political support, and we needed to recruit members to aid in our fight against Team Rocket.”

Gregory shifted nervously in his seat. “But you used pokemon to guard your warehouses. Dozens died in that raid two month ago.”

“They volunteered for the task and knew the risks, as did the humans,” said the shorter.

Gregory snorted. “Can pokemon really volunteer? Can they really understand what they’re fighting for?”

“You’re sitting next to three pokemon that are capable of human speech, rational thought, and intelligence equal to your own,” said the shortest. Peter didn’t move, but he felt uncomfortably aware of the three lucario sitting on their side, wearing white raiment reminiscent of the Knights’ cloaks.

Gregory opened his mouth, but the figure cut him off. “Before you tell me they’re a special case, you should know that many pokemon are more intelligent than they appear, once you bridge the language gap.”

“I take it you have evidence of this?” the Commissioner asked. His voice quivered, and he licked his lips.

The shortest turned towards the others. “If you would be so kind?”

The tallest unbuckled their mask from their robes and pulled the stiff hood back. Underneath was a chatot, ruffling its brightly plumaged feathers. A Bluetooth earpiece stuck out of the right side of its head. Then the figure undid the buttons on the front of its robe. A blaziken, crowned with long white feathers, stared at the humans with predatory blue eyes. A mouthpiece hung from the inside of the robe.

Three more figures, in descending order of height, opened their robes. A scizor, a hitmonchan, and an electabuzz revealed themselves in turn, and each had a chatot partner and a wireless audio connection.

The blaziken spoke, and the chatot translated. “We’ve been speaking to you this whole time, but you could never understand us.”

Gregory Mason paled, and his coffee mug shook in his hand, but Peter felt a strange thrill. He asked, “Are all pokemon as intelligent as you?”

“Not yet,” said the electabuzz, “But more become aware. It won’t be long until we all have the gift of knowledge.”

Gregory shot Peter a sour look and turned towards the hidden figure. “Are you one of them as well? A smeargle, perhaps, or a pikachu?”

The shortest removed their robe. Beneath was a short man, middle-aged, with a gray mop of hair, a beak-like nose, and eyes that glowed in the incandescent light.

The Commissioner relaxed into his chair, but the three lucario stiffened. Kolar stood and backed away from the table. “What the hell are you?” Elder Bayron asked.

The man raised an eyebrow. He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Well, this is a surprise. At least I know why Team Rocket took such an interest in you.”

Peter and Gregory both looked from the man and the Elder. “What’s going on?” asked the Commissioner.

The man smiled at them. “I do apologize for the deception, but I felt it necessary to keep my identity a secret. Well, have a look.”

The human features vanished. In their place was a grotesque mask of patchy black hair, blobs of lumpy pink slime, and misshapen facial features. Two eyes were half-buried beneath the lumps on its brow, the nose sagged over the lips, and one ear had drooped all the way down to the chin. Peter gagged on his coffee, and the mug slipped from Gregory’s fingers. A large brown stain spread across the table, and Jarem scooped up the papers before they were soaked.

“There’s two ways this can end,” the gruesome pokemon said. “Either you can embrace the inevitable change, or it will be forced upon you.” A shiver ran up Peter’s spine as the thin, cracking voice brushed his ears like a murkrow’s feather. Panic settled over him as the thought of pokemon rioting, smashing streets and tearing down buildings, flooded his brain. But then he thought of Bruno, of eating breakfast with him, watching movies, walking on patrols.

Peter opened his mouth, but the Commissioner broke the silence first. “What the hell are you?”

It smiled and said, “I’m what you humans made me, a monster.”

Peter glanced at the pokemon around the room and asked, “Who are you? What is your name?”

It chuckled. “I don’t like names very much, and a monster like me can never be a ‘who’. But I did have a name once. I was Subject Nine.”
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DOCTRINA

"Knowledge is Power."
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