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Old June 23rd, 2018 (2:31 AM).
Delirious Absol's Avatar
Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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    Join Date: May 2015
    Location: UK
    Age: 33
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    Nature: Quirky
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    Chapter Fifty

    The black market seemed a lot larger from Annie's current angle. She waddled through the crowds, holding her wings out at her sides awkwardly as she stretched up to her full height in a bid to see just a little bit higher. Only a couple of days ago, she'd borrowed Waveform's computer to do a little research on the extinct pokemon archeops. Allegedly it was meant to be around four foot seven inches tall. She wondered if that was either an over estimation, or from nose to tail, because she certainly wasn't standing four foot tall. The top of her head didn't even reach the decidueye's ribs.

    "Grumble all you want," said Waveform. "You're the one who overslept and forgot to take your pills."

    Annie bit her tongue and looked up at him with a frown. "I wasn't grumbling."

    "You were, I heard you."

    "That was my stomach." Annie fluffed out her feathers and looked over at the market stalls. "I'm hungry."

    "Then you should have eaten your soup."

    "It was gross! Like slimy slop!" She threw her claws into the air. "Besides, who has soup for breakfast?"

    Web loomed over her and looked up at Waveform, who met the skuntank's gaze with a frown.

    "Someone's clearly woken up on the wrong side of the nest," said Web. "Come on. Let's do what we came here to do then go and get something to eat."

    "Yes," said Annie. "Some proper breakfast. Good breakfast. Cereal or pastries or something." She shot Waveform a leer. "Not slop."

    With that, Annie waddled through the crowd, shouting 'excuse me!' and 'oi! Watch the tail!' at the larger space pirates. One would have expected her to be stamped on, but the market's occupants threw her concerned or worried looks and stepped aside.

    It was almost impossible to find what she was looking for. Somewhere in the market was a pokemon who specialized in 'distributing news'. Unfortunately, the species name wasn't one Annie was familiar with. When she'd asked N0ize for a description, he'd merely shrugged and said, 'I dunno. He's a bird.'

    "Bird," Annie muttered to herself. "Feathers. A bird. With feathers."

    As she strolled on, scanning over all the tables, the sentence lost all meaning and became more of a habit. The surrounding pokemon threw her questioning looks, but she wriggled past them and craned her reptilian neck as far as it would go. One of the tables was crowded, and plastered with posters. Some of them looked like wanted posters. Why would there be wanted posters for space pirates amongst… well… space pirates?

    She narrowed her eyes at one, and a mawile leered back. Fifty thousand credits. How much was that in Sinnohan money?

    The crowd parted just enough to reveal the vibrant body of a feathered pokemon. They were considerably smaller than Annie. Small enough to scurry around the table, shouting loudly and gesturing with a bright blue wing. Unlike most space pirates who wore a belt around their waist, he had a small pouch strapped to his scaly, right leg. Although it looked much too small to fit anything in. Atop their black head was a tuft of feathers that looked like they'd been chewed away, resembling a mangled musical note.

    Annie's eyes widened. A bird. With feathers. One she did actually recognise from a book she'd been forced to read called 'Perappu Says'.

    She strutted over to the stall, forced herself between a rhydon and a scyther, and placed her wing claws on the table. Her eyes went to the posters again and she tugged one free and stuffed it unceremoniously into her bag. The vibrant bird paused mid-sentence to cast her a curious glance. He froze with his wing still spread, and his hooked beak flapped open and closed like a beached fish.

    "I think you're who I'm looking for," said Annie. "Do you specialise in 'sending out information'?" She raised her claws for air quotes.

    The bird didn't say anything. He continued to stare at her, still unwilling to lower his wing. His eyes then went to the top of her head, and Annie found herself drowned by a large shadow. She craned her neck around to look up at Waveform.

    "So you found him," he said. "Pretty good for someone who hasn't a clue what a chatot is."

    The parrot pokemon blinked and finally folded his wing neatly at his side.

    "Well," he said. "I guess we're even, since I have no idea what you are."

    "I'm Annie," she said. "I'm guessing you're… wait… I've got this." She scratched her chin with a claw and looked up at the ceiling.

    "Name's Hatter," said the chatot. "Pulse City's very own Information Acquisition and Distribution Entrepreneur. And I'm afraid I have quite the queue so you'll have to wait a while."

    Annie's lip curled and she pulled her head back slightly. "A what?"

    "It's all fancy talk," said Waveform. "He's a spy."

    She let out a long 'ohh'.

    Hatter strutted away, commencing his talk once more. It sounded more like the shouts of someone trying to drum up a sale.

    Annie leant forward and tapped a claw on the table. "Oi! Oi, bird! We can pay you!"

    Hatter turned back to her and fluffed out his chest. "I have a name. Besides, you have to pay me. I don't work for free." He turned away from her and fired a sneer over his shoulder. "Now wait your turn!"

    Annie bristled and cast a glance up to Waveform. The decidueye rolled his eyes and reached into his wing, fixing his finger-like feathers over one of his arrows.

    She reached up her claws and placed them on his wing, freezing him in an instant. His crimson eyes widened for the briefest moment and locked onto hers. She gave him a playful grin and leant back across the table.

    "Oi! Hatter! I ain't done with you!" She reached out her claws and grabbed the chatot by his tail.

    A loud squawk flew from his beak and he flapped his wings frantically as she dragged him backwards across the table.

    The large pokemon surrounding her leapt into action, drawing lasers and raising fists encased in gauntlet-like weapons. Hot beams erupted from the lasers, narrowly skimming Annie's feathers. She leapt aside with a yelp, bringing Hatter up to her face as a meat shield. He screamed as a laser brushed his wing, searing away a couple of primaries.

    Waveform leapt before her, tugging out one of his vines to fire off his arrows, but Annie beat him aside with her wing while clutching the flailing chatot in the claws of the other. As she swung back her free wing, rocks erupted into the air and hovered precariously. Stray laser beams collided with them and evaporated harmlessly, leaving the rocks completely unscathed. The space pirates glanced from the rocks to her, still clutching their weapons.

    "Annie!" Web's voice cut through the sudden silence.

    A column of flames shot over the crowd, narrowly missing Waveform's head. He ducked aside and quickly re-aimed his arrow at the small crowd gathering behind Hatter's unimpressed clients.

    Several of the space pirates span on the spot to aim their weapons at their assailant. Web ducked a brown laser beam then skidded to a halt between Trojan and Zip. The latter let out a nervous squeak and skittered aside to dodge a sparking flurry of electricity. Behind them, Annie could just make out Tracer and N0ize. The delphox had his stick raised, ready to launch another attack.

    "Oh no you don't," said Annie slowly. "I'd drop your weapons if I were you. All of you." She lifted the terrified chatot to her face and smirked. "Besides. I think y'all are gonna like what I've got to tell you."

    Hatter's eyes lingered over the hovering rocks before the archeops. A strange glow radiated from them in a manner the whole crowd deemed threatening. Annie merely smirked at her audience and lifted the chatot even higher. His wings flailed helplessly against her feathers as he desperately tried to right himself.

    "Go on then!" one of the space pirates roared. "What've you got to tell us that involves holdin' our main source of 'secret' information hostage?"

    Annie's eyes widened and she nodded to the chatot. "I ain't holdin' him hostage. I'm borrowin' him."

    Pokemon from across the market slowly trudged over to the crowd, keeping a watchful eye on Annie while their paws clutched their holstered weapons. While many pirates less inclined to get involved made for the exit, a lot more watched from a safer distance, as taut as coiled springs.

    Waveform ducked towards her slightly but he didn't take his eyes off the frightened and angry space pirates. "Get to the point."

    "You see. I'm here to make a difference." Annie gestured with the flapping pokemon still clutched between her claws, and placed her other wing on her hip. "Where I come from, pokemon don't eat meat. Gotta say that sickened me when I found out about it. Could one of you nice space pirates please tell me how exactly you fish them up?"

    The crowd became a mixture of twisted sneers and frightened eyes. One of the gruffer looking ones - a sandslash with icicles for armour - looked her in the eye.

    "We use nets." His raspy voice created a fine mist in the warm air. "Electrified nets to stun 'em."

    "Hmm. Seems rather barbaric." Annie glanced up at the ceiling and stroked her chin with a claw. "Don't they scream?"

    The sandslash shrugged, as did most of her audience.

    "We cancel out the noise with earplugs and headphones," a female voice explained.

    Annie snapped her attention back to the audience, spotting the speaker immediately. A yellow and black head poked above the smaller members of the crowd. Ampharos, if she guessed correctly. An electric type.

    Electric nets.

    So they trapped the fish, electrocuted them, and couldn't even hear their screams? She glanced down at the parrot in her grasp. He stared back out at the crowd, drooling slightly. Well, at least he'd stopped flapping about.

    "Yanno what?" She turned back to the space pirates. "I think I need to introduce you to someone. Oi! Little fish!"

    The crowd fell silent as mechanical creaks rose into the air. Pokemon leapt aside as Zip slowly crept through the crowd, cautiously watching them as though he was scared they were going to pluck him from his bowl and swallow him in one bite. Looks of disgust and anger crossed their faces, but no one said a word.

    "Go on," Annie told him. "Introduce yourself to these nice space pirates."

    "Erm." Zip released his controls and turned in the water to look at the sceptical audience. "I'm Zip. Annie rescued me when I escaped from a fishery."

    Those angry looks melted away as the crowd stared back at Zip. Jaws went slack, while others tensed and looked away.

    "We don't like being eaten," Zip told them. "I tried to beg for my life while a scyther tried to cut me up. But he wouldn't listen. Or couldn't, through his huge headphones. I was lucky enough to escape with my life."

    The space pirates looked on in stunned silence, although a couple of them broke away to move into the market. The ampharos had turned deathly pale. She span on the spot and vomited audibly onto the floor. The sandslash leapt aside with a squeak.

    "I'd never even spoken to a land pokemon before then," Zip went on. "I didn't think anyone would listen. Then I met Annie and the rest of my friends, and they showed me not all land pokemon want to eat me! In fact, they want to help me!"

    The small crowd exchanged glances, muttering amongst themselves. The ampharos looked back up at Zip and wiped a paw across her mouth.

    "Are you going to help me?" Zip asked them.

    "I… I used to be vegan." The sandslash diverted his gaze to the wall. "But money got pretty tight, you know?"

    "I don't know if I can handle this," said the ampharos. "I need a lie down."

    Annie placed both wings on her hips and frowned. "You can have a lie down when you've told me why y'all are actin' like you didn't even know fish could speak!"

    "I-it's not like we didn't know." The ampharos couldn't even look at her. "In my job, we're told not to speak to them. To not even listen to them. We're given equipment that cancels out their voices. You see… they tell us the sound of a dying fish pokemon is deafening, and that they're persuasive and will lure us into the water. So we have to protect our ears."

    Annie creased her muzzle. "Sounds like a load of baloney."

    The ampharos shrugged weakly and looked away. "It's protocol."

    "Ba-lo-ney!" Annie crossed her arms and looked at the rest of the crowd. "So. Whatcha all gonna do? Help us out, or keep on fishin'?"

    A few of the remaining space pirates turned angry again, and a gabite flexed his claws as he sneered at her.

    "Is that why you're here?" he scoffed. "To bring this little runt along and convince us to stop eatin' meat?"

    Annie shrugged and shook her head. "That's not the only reason. It ties into my big reason, see. You know that mayor who bosses us all about? She's the big cheese around here, right?"

    "Not here she ain't," said the gabite.

    "No?" Annie looked up at Waveform who shook his head. "Oh, fair enough. But she's mayor of System. She makes the rules. She tells you that you can eat fish, so you eat fish. Well… she's the reason I'm here. Not here in Pulse City, but here in this weird, polluted place you still call System. Air is rancid. Pokemon don't get along. You fly around in these fish-shaped ships, yet you happily eat them off your plates! Well, what if I told you it ain't all roses and wildflowers?"

    The angry pirates returned to looking stunned. And somewhat confused.

    "You see, that mayor of yours pulled me right out of my own time-line," Annie went on. "'Course, I weren't happy there. I spent my days sat in a cell changing form back and forth. Sure, Socket gave me magic pills and I can stand before you as an archeops rather than yo-yo-ing like some kinda circus freak. Then we've got some monster flying around destroying cities. What part of this sounds like a conspiracy to you?" She stretched out both claws to make her point, Hatter swinging like a pendulum. "I show up, monster shows up. This is her doing. What is she up to exactly?"

    "Wait a minute." The gabite was oddly talkative. "You're tryin' to tell us that Socket pulled you from another time-line? How exactly did she do that?"

    "She used a Time Onion," Annie said flatly.

    The dragon rolled his eyes and looked back at the rest of the space pirates.

    "I think this bird's got a screw loose," he said.

    "She's a jackin' archeops!" Trojan shouted from behind them. "Aren't they meant to be extinct? Use your brains!"

    Annie looked out at the space pirates and grinned widely. The looks of confusion and anger had melted away once more, replaced instead by fear and realisation.

    "You got a bone to pick with anyone, pick it with Socket," she said. "I'm gonna go and spread this message throughout System." She nodded at the dazed chatot. "We'll see what colour that mayor really is."

    The large rocks she'd been holding in the air rained down like an avalanche, shaking the market's foundations. The pirates ducked and raised their paws as dust trickled from the old rafters.

    Giving Waveform a pat on the back, she hopped over the rocks and strolled towards the exit, letting him sandwich Zip between the two of them. The crowd parted, keeping their eyes on her and her odd, aquatic friend. A few of them muttered amongst themselves, aiming leers at the archeops and drawing their weapons, but they didn't pursue. Too stunned by her story, unnerved by her ancient power, or wanting to avoid accidentally killing their 'bringer of secret news and high-paying jobs'.

    "Well," she said as she rejoined the rest of her crew. "I don't know about you lot, but I think that went rather well."

    "Are you insane?" Tracer gasped, flashing a glance back towards the muttering crowd. "You're going to start an uproar."

    "Of course," said Annie. "That's part of starting a rebellion. First everyone gets angry about something, then they rebel!"

    Tracer let out a groan and placed a paw over his face. "What are you doing?"

    "Starting a rebellion," Annie said, pointlessly.

    "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm kinda curious," said Widget.

    "That makes most of us." Trojan looked down at Annie's claws. "What exactly do you plan to do with that pirate?"

    "Get him to spread a message," said Annie. "All he has to do is tell each and every city in System exactly what Socket is up to."

    "But we don't know what she's up to," moaned Tracer. "We don't even know why she dragged you out of your own time-line."

    Annie looked up at him and shrugged. "So? She wants to stick me back in a lab. She likely unleashed that monster thing. I'd say she's not a very good mayor, wouldn't you?"

    "But without any evidence-"

    "I'm evidence!" Annie thumped herself in the chest. "Besides. You're a detective, right? If you want more evidence, get researchin'. We'll show the whole of System what a rubbish mayor this Socket is."

    Tracer stared down at her, his paws and ears twitching. For a moment, she thought he'd broken into a sweat. N0ize erupted with deep laughter and smacked the delphox hard on the back.

    Widget looked between them then locked eyes with Annie. "Rubbish mayor, eh? I've been saying that for years."

    ...

    Outside was sheer madness. Tentacled beasts clambered up Meta City's mechanical trees, electricity dancing from their bodies and striking the terrified pokemon below. The streets were swiftly emptying as pokemon fled back to their homes, or from the city altogether.

    Socket watched, her mouth wide open in a silent scream, as the mechanical trees failed under the beasts' attacks. Yellow air flowed in from the outskirts, billowing in a victory dance over the trees' defeat. Electrical monstrosities clambered over buildings, attaching themselves to air filters and dangling from street lamps.

    BackDoor.

    That notorious android had to have something to do with this.

    Socket tore herself from the living nightmare and brought up her holoscreen. Before she could even dial out to BackDoor it began ringing, the dancing cartoon phone filling the screen.

    She clenched her teeth together and answered, silently willing it to be a useful call and not a panicked Meta City resident.

    Yobi's panicked face appeared before her, his ears trembling and his paws free from any tinkering tools.

    "M-Madam Mayor," he sputtered. "I… I think-"

    She raised her paw to silence him. "I am assuming you've seen what's going on outside?"

    "Yes," he said, trying to gather himself. "I think-"

    "Is it that disobedient creation of yours?" she demanded.

    Before he could answer, she dialled out to BackDoor. The screen split in two, ringing away. Yobi glanced sideways as though he was trying to see the dialling animation. A painful five seconds passed before BackDoor graced the segment with his grinning face.

    "Socket!" he laughed. "What can I do for you?"

    The gothitelle waved a paw towards the window, and the hoopa's eyes went to the scene. His face split into another grin and he clapped his mitten paws together.

    "I see those Ultra Beasts have made themselves right at home!" he said.

    Yobi's face paled, and Socket's ribbons stood on end.

    "This isn't their home!" she snapped. "What are they doing here?! Why have you let them out?!"

    "Me?" BackDoor feigned innocence and placed a paw on his chest. "It wasn't me who did it. It was Zero Day."

    "Zero Day can't open dimensional gates," said Yobi. "I didn't program that ability into them."

    "Well, it was them." BackDoor drifted upside down and tucked his paws behind his head. "I watched them do it."

    "If you watched them do it, then you could have stopped them," said Socket.

    BackDoor shrugged. "I wasn't gonna get in the way of those creatures. I watched them fry any porygon z that tried."

    Yobi leant forward on his desk, looking in BackDoor's direction. "So Zero Day were destroyed?!"

    "Not all of them." The hoopa yawned. "They've split up into little groups."

    Yobi fell back into his seat and his jaw went slack. Socket looked from him to the android and back.

    "I'm getting the impression this is unexpected behaviour?" she said.

    "Yes…" Yobi scratched behind his ear and glanced away from her. "I'm not sure what's going on…"

    "BackDoor." Socket snapped her head back around to the android, still drifting upside down with his eyes closed. And was he humming? She frowned and folded her arms, tapping her claws along her fur. "I want you back in Meta City. Round up these creatures before they destroy everything!"

    BackDoor cracked one eye open. "You want me to deal with your problem?"

    "Is it beyond your capabilities?" she asked. "You can open these gateways. We can't."

    "No can do, love."

    Socket's spine stiffened and she stared at the android, aghast. He chuckled at her expression and closed his eyes again.

    "I won't go anywhere near those things," he said. "I don't want my circuits fried."

    Socket seethed and she took a step towards the holoscreen. "This city is swiftly being destroyed! I demand that you do it!"

    "Really?" BackDoor's eyes snapped open and he stared straight at her, chilling her through to her bones.

    A deep humming filled the room and she felt herself being dragged backwards. She looked over her shoulder, straight into spinning ultraviolet mist. Then another opened beside her, then another at the far end of the room. She felt her ears dragged towards the ceiling and her eye went to yet another spinning below her ceiling fan. Each portal tugged at her, increasing in intensity. She span to grab hold of her desk, but every joint in her body felt like it was being pulled apart. A shrill scream escaped her throat and she reached across her desk to secure her grip.

    "What are you doing?!" she screeched at the holoscreen. "Close them! Close them, now!"

    She heard BackDoor yawn loudly. "No. I think I'll leave them right there."

    "Okay!" she gasped. "Okay, you can leave the ones in Meta City! We'll have Zero Day close them! Just… get these things out of my office!"

    "Alright, alright, fine." He sighed and one by one each of the portholes closed with a nauseating sucking sound. "Well, I think you've learned your lesson."

    She looked over her shoulder at BackDoor's jovial face, contrasting wildly with Yobi's stunned silence.

    "Zero Day are the ones that did it," said BackDoor. "So they can deal with it. Not. My. Problem." He waved, an action submerged in a mask of innocence. "Bye bye!"

    His half of the screen blinked out, allowing Yobi to take over it. Socket stared back at the raichu, her chest still heaving as she tried to calm her blazing nerves.

    "I don't know what's going on." He answered her unasked question. "Zero Day can now open gateways, and BackDoor's behaviour… I think they might be out of control."

    Socket smoothed down her fur and leant back against her desk. Her eyes flit around the room, checking for any remaining pockets.

    "You don't say?" she said. "What could have caused that?"

    Yobi shrugged and looked down at his desk, absently running one paw over his arm. "I… I don't know. But I think we might have to shut them down. Postpone our plan until we've got them back under control."

    "Postpone our plan?!" Socket gasped.

    "I'm afraid so." Yobi glanced back up at her then back at the table. "If they're out of control, then they pose a threat to System, and to us."

    Socket tapped her foot on the floor and looked over her shoulder at the window. Those electrical creatures. The rapidly discolouring air. She could already smell it drifting through her air filter. She reached across her desk to switch the filter on before turning back to Yobi.

    "How do you plan on doing this?" she asked.

    "I can create another virus," he explained. "One that can deactivate every android in the BackDoor network. If I had more time, I could create one that would give me remote access and direct them back to me, which would save time in rounding them up. But a program like that is complex… if you're wanting a faster approach-" He looked up to see Socket's nod. "Then I'll need to deactivate them and hunt around System to find them. Collect as many as I can and re-program them back to factory settings."

    "That could take months, if not years. How about just one Zero Day model?"

    Yobi scratched behind his ear and 'hmm'd'. "I suppose I could do that, but it might be a little more complex. I'd need to get it to just one model, and that won't be easy. Maybe if I just hunted one down-"

    "Then do it quick," she said. "I want to leave this place before it gets any more toxic."

    ...

    Defrag leant back in her seat as she sipped a steaming cup of tea. Both feet lay across her desk and one of them bobbed back and forth to the deep beat of the music blaring from her computer's old speakers. As another tune cut through it, her eyes snapped open and tea sloshed over her chest. She yelped and placed the tea down with a clatter, reaching first for the box of tissues before grabbing her phone. She shot Tracer's name a venomous glare then answered it.

    "Yes, Tracer?" she muttered as she dabbed at her fur.

    "Are you all right, Defrag?" he asked quickly.

    "Yes, just a little wet." She paused and narrowed her eyes. "Why? Shouldn't I be?"

    "Oh no, you just sound stressed. Anyway, I have a little job for you."

    She sat bolt upright, kicking her feet back to the ground. "A job?"

    "Yes. Could you please contact Surge?"

    Her heart plummeted and she sank back into her seat. "I thought she had a job with the mayor?"

    "That's exactly why I need you to contact her," he said quietly. "Tell her we'll pay her double what Socket is. All I need her to do is find out exactly why Socket wants a human, and if she's responsible for that monster."

    "Plural."

    "Pardon?"

    "I said plural." Defrag retrieved her keyboard and turned on her screen. Meta City News was still loaded, filled with ominous photos. "There's been an outbreak of monsters in Meta City. They're draining the city's electricity supply by attaching themselves to the air filters."

    She could practically hear Tracer gasp and stutter as he struggled to find words.

    "The infestation is bad, too," Defrag went on. "More and more monsters are showing up by the hour. It's only a matter of time until those trees give up and Meta City shares the very same air as us."

    "Have they…" He paused to clear his throat. "Have they found out where they're coming from?"

    "Yes. Apparently they're coming through some kind of porthole," Defrag explained. "They've also found the remains of destroyed robots in that very same area. Something from the old Porygon line, they believe. But it's difficult to tell which exactly from the burnt and melted remains. Socket has said they were sent in to try and close the porthole secretly, so as not to create an uproar, while her scientists deal with the threat. She claims to know nothing about it, but that there seems to be an outbreak of dimensional gateways opening across System and letting in what she's dubbed Ultra Beasts."

    Tracer was silent as he took this in.

    "You still want me to contact Surge?" Defrag asked.

    "Socket obtained a human," he said. "A human that claims to be from a different time-line. And you're telling me she's calling these anomalies 'Dimensional Gateways'?"

    Defrag scrolled through the interview. "That's what it says here."

    "I have my doubts," said Tracer. "Contact Surge and ask her to keep an eye open. Quiz her on everything she knows. Call her back to the office if you need to."

    "Fine. I'll do just that."

    "Tell me exactly what she says," he went on. "And if you find out anything else, tell me. Don't delay."

    "You got it."

    "Take care, Defrag. Let's hope those things in Meta City stay there." He hung up.

    Defrag let out a long sigh and let her arm flop over the arm of her chair. The article stared back at her, depicting a clear image of one of those strange, electrical monsters.

    More desk work. And, by the sounds of it, Surge would get all the fun.

    She lifted up her phone and dialled the zigzagoon's number. As it rang out, a soft scratching sound filled the office. She turned in her seat to face it, the phone still pressed to her ear. A shadow passed beyond the mucky window. Probably some little goon looking in again. She frowned and turned away, but it moved once more. Jagged limbs stuck out in an almost perfect star shape. It hovered there for a moment, then turned and took off towards the sky.

    Defrag stared at the window, her heart racing. Her mouth hung open as she tried to catch her breath.

    "…Hello? Defrag?"

    Surge's voice snapped her back to reality and she took a few deep breaths to steady herself.

    "Oh, Surge. Sorry… I…" She shook her head sharply. "Bad connection."

    Surge was quiet for a moment. "Are you sure you're all right?"

    "Yes." Defrag turned her chair fully from the window and brought up the Meta City News main page. "I'm just ringing to pass on a message, really. Tracer has a job for you."

    "Well, that couldn't have come at a better time." Surge chuckled dryly. "I've just been fired from my old one."

    Defrag felt her heart sink again and she released her computer mouse. "I'm not sure how much use you'll be then. He wants you to spy on Socket and see what she's up to."

    "Explain."

    "You've probably heard about this already, but apparently strange 'Dimensional Gateways' are opening across System, releasing monsters into our world."

    "Oh. That." She chuckled again. "I know all about that, hon."

    "Seriously?" Defrag raised an eyebrow. "What did Socket hire you for?"

    "To take out that nuisance Hunter. He's been all up in her plans lately." Surge laughed again, but it didn't sound remotely jovial. "And so have I. You even seen the news? Check out the wanted posters."

    Defrag hesitated for a moment, then opened the news site's Most Wanted link. There, right at the top, were Hunter and the rest of Wildcard Gamma. But beside them was a smiling picture of Surge. All of them were wanted for fifty thousand credits.

    Defrag bit her lip and leant back in her seat again. "What did you do?"

    "Let's just say I know everything about these 'Dimensional Gateways'." Surge paused, and Defrag thought she heard her smile. "So… what do you need to know?"
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    A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
    Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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      #52    
    Old June 30th, 2018 (6:29 AM).
    Delirious Absol's Avatar
    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
    Call me Del
       
      Join Date: May 2015
      Location: UK
      Age: 33
      Gender: Female
      Nature: Quirky
      Posts: 345
      Chapter Fifty One

      Floating cities drifted by on the horizon as Wildcard Gamma moved swiftly through the inhabited areas of System Sky. Macro leant on the dashboard, struggling to keep his eyes open. He yawned widely and watched one of the cities draw closer to his ship. Which one it was, he had no idea at this distance. But it wasn’t their destination, that much he knew.

      The clatter of a mug appearing beside him snapped him out of his daze, and he looked down at a steaming mug of coffee.

      “I really think you could use some sleep,” DL told him as she released the handle.

      He took the mug in both paws before it slid off the dashboard to meet an unfortunate fate on the cockpit floor.

      “I’m not sleeping until we’re back in civilization,” he told her.

      “We are.” She placed her paws on her hips and frowned. “So get some sleep. You’re of no use to anyone the state you’re in now.”

      “Coffee and some fresh air and I’ll be right as rain.” He sipped at his coffee and immediately regretted it as it burnt his lips. He set it back down quickly and whisked a paw across his mouth. “Besides, I’m not going to sleep while Ultra Beasts are wreaking havoc in my home.”

      “It could take months to sort this out!” she gasped. “Get some rest.”

      He waved a paw at the windows and looked at her pointedly. “We’ll get my ship somewhere safe, then I’ll sleep. ‘Kay?”

      The pachirisu rolled her eyes and gazed out of the window. “Fine. But this macho attitude of yours isn’t doing anyone any favours.”

      “Macho?” He narrowed his eyes as he took another - more cautious - sip of coffee.

      “Yes. You think you’re stronger than you are.” She picked up a tray he’d failed to notice and made her way out of the cockpit. “You’re just another pokemon like the rest of us. And, just like the rest of us, you need sleep.”

      Macro watched her go, still clutching the hot coffee in his paws. With a sigh, he turned back to the window and slowly sipped his drink.

      The cockpit was oddly quiet. Anchor had gone for a lie down, and Matrix had decided to take a break and play some video games in his room.

      Macro didn’t like to leave the cockpit empty, but DL was right. He did need sleep.

      He placed his mug carefully on the dashboard, then let his head fall onto his arms as he sprawled across it. As soon as he closed his eyes, all he could see were distorted monsters. Blurry shapes that manifested into otherworldly creatures. Then that screaming bamboo face filled his vision. Its unearthly voice wailing through his mind.

      His eyes snapped open again and he found himself trying to catch his breath. That beast had got to him. It was enough to make him miss his fiery nightmares.

      A light paw fell on his shoulder and he glanced to the side, meeting DL’s gentle face. The warmth in her eyes chased away those frightening cobwebs and he lifted his head slightly to get a better look at her.

      “I can take over in here,” she said. “Go on. Bed.”

      “You know,” he said as he pushed himself up. “That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.”

      “Glad to know I’ve got through to you.”

      She stood aside as he clambered off his chair, then immediately pulled herself up into it.

      “I might only nap for an hour or so,” he said. “I don’t think we’re too far from Cyan City.”

      “Take as long as you need.”

      She didn’t even look back at him. Somehow, that stabbed at his chest. He shook it off and reached into his pouch for his computer. At least he could get some reading done and catch up on things before letting sleep take over. Clear his mind.

      As he left the room, he looked down at the screen. It was already lit up, showing the main page of Meta City News. His breath flew out of his lungs and he staggered into the wall. Wide, frantic eyes lingered over the screen as he tried to take it in.

      Strange, black and white creatures clambered over buildings and the mechanical trees. Their bodies discharged electricity, engulfing those unfortunate enough to get too close. The headlines claimed they sucked electricity out of anything that produced it. The mechanical trees were twisted and broken beyond repair, allowing putrid air to enter Meta City.

      His computer clattered to the floor, landing with the screen face up. Still broadcasting the horrific news. He slid down the wall but before he hit the floor he found himself caught in DL’s arms. She lowered him to the floor and sat down beside him, her entire body trembling. But somehow she managed to maintain her composure as she read over the nightmarish news.

      “They’re going to be everywhere, aren’t they?” she said. “It makes me wonder how many there are, and how dangerous they really are.”

      Macro’s eyes flitted towards her, but words failed to form. What did she mean? Surely those pictures alone showed how dangerous they are? Hadn’t that jellyfish killed other pokemon? That strange bamboo monster almost took out Wildcard Gamma!

      The antenna behind her ear began to flash sporadically and her eyes went distant. Macro felt his heart sink, but the blank look in her eyes was fleeting.

      “I’m getting a message,” she said.

      “Ignore it.”

      His voice came out strained, and he stared at her, silently pleading. But she took no notice. She just stared down at his computer, not seeing it, as she retreated into her own head.

      No. He wasn’t having any of this BackDoor nonsense. Not on top of everything else.

      His breath came in quick, shallow bursts and his eyes flickered towards the back of her head. He could stop it. He could stop BackDoor’s interference with his life. All he had to do was flick that switch.

      He raised a trembling paw towards the base of her skull.

      “It’s not off BackDoor.” She released him and reached for the computer. “Where’s the jack cable?”

      Macro let his paw fall weakly onto his lap and he leant against the wall, watching DL as she scrambled around the cockpit. His head rolled back, stopped only by the cold wall, and he let out a strangled sob. Had he seriously tried to do that? To switch her off? She was a living pokemon, just like him. It was monstrous to even consider it.

      Tears stung his eyes, threatening to leak out, and he clasped both paws over his face to stifle them. Or hide them. He felt too weak to hold them in.

      “I’ve found it,” said DL. “I just have to download some data.”

      Her words barely registered. He raked his claws over his face and took in a few deep breaths, but nothing could shake that dark cloud. That horrible realisation he’d just tried to get rid of her. Switch her off like some machine. He didn’t even know what damage that could do now she had her memories. Would she lose them? Revert back to a mindless computer? It didn’t bare thinking about.

      Silence filled the cockpit, the only sounds his frantic breathing. He cracked his claws and peered through them. DL sat beside him with the jack lead in the back of her skull. The other end was in the bottom of his pocket computer. Her antenna flickered rhythmically, but she appeared as alert as ever, watching the screen patiently. Then she lifted a paw and removed the jack lead.

      Macro lowered his paws and stared at her with his mouth open. He took a few breaths to steady himself, and she looked up at him with a smile.

      “Done,” she said. “I think you might appreciate this.”

      “I thought you… I dunno… went dormant when you had a jack cable in?”

      She shrugged and retrieved his computer. “You’re usually downloading things to me at the time. I guess it’s different when I’m downloading data to a computer.”

      He took another deep breath and pushed himself up, but he still felt weak. Guilty. Wretched.

      “What did you do?” he asked.

      “I got a message from Solgaleo,” she explained. “He sent me a data file containing information on all the Ultra Beasts. He called it an UltraDex.”

      Macro sank back against the wall.

      Solgaleo…

      Solgaleo could send her data?

      Of course he could. He’d been contacting Macro for days prior to reaching the Dead Glacier. Through dreams, sun-like images, and through a message on his computer no one else could see.

      Macro grit his teeth together and screwed his eyes shut, letting out a strangled sob.

      “Macro, are you okay?” DL asked.

      He shook his head violently. “I… I thought it was BackDoor. I tried to switch you off…” His voice trailed off, but he dared not look at her. “You’re not just some machine, DL. Especially not to me. I don’t know what got into me. I… I’m terrified.”

      He heard her shift, every movement tearing at his heart as he pictured her leaving the room.

      “I think everything’s got on top of me,” he choked out. “What’s happening to my home?”

      DL scooped an arm under his and gently lifted him to his feet. He opened his eyes and looked down at her, but she wasn’t looking at him. It pained him. He’d done it again. He’d hurt her.

      He closed his eyes again and leant against her as she walked him from the cockpit.

      “I’m sorry,” he choked. “I’m a real-”

      “If you call yourself a jerk I’m gonna pour that coffee over your head.” She shook her head and sighed. “It’s understandable you’d be scared, Macro. I could easily have been assaulted by BackDoor, and if it did do anything… untoward… to me, then I’d want you to switch me off.”

      “I will never do that to you.”

      “If it was to save my life, or yours, or anyone on this ship, I’d want you to.”

      Macro stiffened and glanced at her. But she still wasn’t looking at him. She stopped outside a door and he realised they’d reached his room. A quick flick of her paw opened the door and she steered him inside.

      “Get yourself settled down,” she said softly. “I’ll be back shortly with a cocoa.”

      He watched her leave, then climbed onto his bed, sitting hunched on top of his duvet. He didn’t want to climb under it. Didn’t want to sleep. His mind was a swirling mess and guilt still gnawed at him.

      He looked around for his computer, but it was nowhere to be found. Maybe DL still had it? He sighed and leant back on his paws, looking up at the bare ceiling. Those wiry monsters were still clear in his mind, dragging down the mechanical trees and causing havoc in Meta City. He hoped desperately the city would be okay. He might not care for Socket, those monsters were mainly her fault, but there were still innocent pokemon living there. Innocent pokemon having their lives ruined by rampaging Ultra Beasts. Creatures they knew nothing about. Creatures that couldn’t be controlled or communicated with.

      And it was all linked to BackDoor.

      His mind went back to DL and he grimaced, trying to force the guilt away. But it was no use. It ate away at him.

      The door hissed open and DL strolled in carrying two steaming mugs. A familiar, spicy smell filled his room as the door closed, trapping the steam inside.

      “I made us occa cocoa.” She gave him a small smile. “I thought it might help you sleep.”

      He took one of the mugs, not taking his eyes off her. She set the other one on his bedside unit then perched on the edge of his bed.

      “Scooch,” she said.

      His mind whirled with a new kind of confusion but he obeyed, edging along enough to allow her to sit beside him. She adjusted his two pillows against the wall and leant back, reaching into her pouch and pulling out his computer.

      “What are you doing?” he finally asked.

      “We’re going to look at this stuff Solgaleo sent us,” she explained. “He said it might help us to put things into perspective. Especially as we’ll be rounding those Ultra Beasts up.”

      She loaded up the file and a little animation played across the screen. Some kind of blue and silver ball spun in the centre of the screen before it split in two like doors opening. A list of names filled the screen, each one numbered from one to eleven. The top one was Nihilego, which Macro instantly recognised.

      “Let’s start with this one.” DL tapped the creature’s name and brought up a new display.

      This one showed the creature in a little box, which changed at regular intervals to display it in different positions. Beside it’s picture was it’s typing. Rock and poison. Just like a pokemon, it had it’s own type.

      Macro leant over her shoulder to read the description.

      ‘Nihilego, also known as ‘Symbiont’, is an Ultra Beast that resides in a dimension called Deep Sea. It produces a neurotoxin to control other creatures, making them do its will. It can also control inanimate objects. Creatures and objects under its control often react in a violent way, but this is believed to be the creature’s way of defending itself. It will often resort to violence if it feels it’s suffering.

      ‘When it’s not reacting in a volatile manner, it behaves in a very innocent manner. As it drifts around in its own environment it moves in an almost hypnotic fashion. It cannot survive for long outside of toxic air.’

      “Sounds like it would be right at home in Proxy City,” said Macro.

      “It also might explain its volatile manner while it was flying around System Sky,” said DL. “But it makes me wonder how long it can survive outside of toxic air, given it was in System for quite some time.”

      Macro shrugged. “Even though they cleaned up the air, we’re still polluting it. Maybe it was enough to sustain it for a little while.”

      “Maybe.” She sipped at her cocoa then tapped on another name. “Let’s look at this one.”

      The next Ultra Beast looked like a large, muscular insect. The one following it was a lot more feminine. Macro wondered if they were from the same world, despite the different location names. When they got to the next one, Macro almost spilt his cocoa.

      That electrical beast. The one he’d seen in the news report. Its name was Xurkitree. With a name, its existence seemed a lot more solid.

      Xurkitree. An electric type, from a dimension called The Lightning Plantation.

      ‘It energises itself with electricity, preying on anything that produces it. Although it prefers non-organic sources. As such it’s a common sight around electrical plants in its home world.

      ‘It stands like a tree, with all five limbs pressed into the ground as it searches for electricity. It often draws lightning to itself in this position. The inhabitants of The Lightning Plantation sometimes tame them to use them as lightning rods, diverting lightning away from vulnerable areas.’

      “Tame them?” Macro gasped. “They didn’t look like they could be tamed from those photos.”

      DL shrugged. “Do you look good in all your photos?”

      “Well… I… erm…” He stuttered and sipped at his cocoa. “I like to think I do.”

      She chuckled and turned her head to look at him. “Shall we keep looking over this list? Or do you want to try and get some sleep?”

      “I still don’t think I can,” he said, although a yawn betrayed him.

      “Want me to read them to you?” she asked. “Then you can at least close your eyes.”

      He shrugged and shuffled down against his pillow. “Sure.”

      She opened up the next Ultra Beast, but the image made him sit up again. That bamboo creature… he’d only seen its head, but he recognised its face instantly. The rest of it was huge, sporting two cannons floating at its sides.

      Steel and flying type. Apparently lived in a place called The Crater. It made him think of the moon, riddled with craters from meteor impacts. With those cannons, he wouldn’t be surprised if it made them.

      “Celesteela,” said DL. “Despite being a steel and flying type, it draws nutrients from the soil like a plant. It can also create large roots, anchoring itself in place. Its cannons fire out various debris, from iron to fire. It’s been known to burn down entire forests. It shoots a flammable gas from its cannons to propel itself through the air for high speed flight.”

      Macro clutched his mug tightly to stop his paws from trembling.

      “C-can they… tame that one?” he asked.

      DL placed a paw over the screen, blocking out the text and photo. “It doesn’t say. But… there’s no reason why not, is there?”

      Macro looked away from her, fixing his attention on the door.

      “Look, at least we know its weakness now,” she said.

      “Yeh. Steel flying type.” He clutched his mug close to his lips. “I can’t do anything to it.”

      “No, but Anchor can. And so can I.”

      He turned to look at her again, catching a reassuring smile.

      “Tomorrow, we’ll land somewhere and try out those Z-Moves,” she said. “Meanwhile, get some rest or you won’t be joining us.”

      He sighed and returned to his pillow, shuffling down so his shoulders were resting against it. He quickly downed the remains of his cocoa then handed the mug back to DL.

      She slipped from the bed and gathered up her own mug. The bed suddenly felt really cold, despite the warmth lingering behind where she’d been sat.

      “Do you want me to leave your computer?” she asked.

      “Please.” He diverted his eyes from hers. “I might need it.”

      She nodded and placed it carefully on the night stand. Then she turned to leave his room. The door opened, but she paused in the doorway and looked back at him.

      “I’ll be in the cockpit if you need me,” she said.

      He watched the door close, leaving him feeling very cold and alone. But at least she wasn’t annoyed with him. That gnawing guilt had been swiftly expunged. With a sigh, he shuffled under his duvet and rearranged his pillows. A soft scent wafted up from the one DL had been leaning against. It smelled just like her. A soft sweetness hidden beneath the lavender from the ship’s shower. It warmed him from the inside. Enough to make him want to run after her.

      He bit back the urge and tucked the pillow beside him, turning his back on it. But it was still there. He stared at the wall, trying to ignore it. But he was convinced it was getting worse. It was oddly soothing…

      As he closed his eyes, he found himself rolling over, snuggling into the pillow. Before he knew it, he was sound asleep.

      ...

      Annie burst from the Moonlight Lounge, still clutching the dazed chatot in her claws. A loud laugh escaped her and she turned to shout over her shoulder.

      “I thought that might motivate you!”

      The rest of her crew were mixed amid the riled rabble that pursued her down the street. Lasers fired left and right, widely missing her as the space pirates intended to slow her down more so than actually hit her. Something whizzed over her head, slicing through the air, and she ducked with a squeak. A silver disk bounced ahead of her, rolling down the street on its serrated edge. An arrow lay discarded behind it, the sharp point of its feather blunted where it had struck something solid.

      She trampled over it and glanced back at the crowd. Waveform had caught up with her now, notching another feather onto his vine. Widget’s brown tail bobbed up and down behind the decidueye as he ran in circles, throwing his weight around to knock the faster pirates back into the mob. Those less fortunate to land on their feet were trampled beneath those bigger than them, creating a trip hazard to slow the space pirates down.

      “Not too far now,” said Waveform. “Keep running.”

      Annie laughed and picked up her pace, speeding around a corner onto the docks. Adrenaline fired through her veins, and her lungs felt fit to burst. It was fabulous.

      The colourful hulls of the ships filled the docks, as did the colourful forms of many more pirates. Bright eyes widened as the mob followed the maniacal archeops, fixing on the angered faces and the frantic feathers clutched in her claws. The irritating chatot decided to dig his hooked beak into her claws between desperate cries for help that were drowned out beneath the enraged voices that filled the street.

      Annie made a beeline for her pyukumyuku ship, and her smile widened when she saw the pokemon waiting around it. Web and Zip stood behind N0ize, the incineroar’s nonchalance contrasting wildly with the fear in the other two’s eyes. He stood with his arms folded and flashed her a single canine in a playful grin. Another pokemon stood a few feet away from him, leaning on a bollard. A magmortar, his right arm decked out with a flashy cybernetic canon. His eyes were locked on Annie and Waveform, occasionally going to the bird flapping in her grip. Blue, white and yellow feathers drifted around her feet as she rushed towards her ship, but not without another glance over her shoulder.

      “Y’all might wanna think about what I said!” she roared.

      More lasers fired, more items were thrown, another arrow went whizzing over her head to impale another disk into the immaculate hull of a lanturn ship. Some pirate was going to be very upset about that.

      Annie skidded to a halt before N0ize and lifted Hatter up high above her head. His beak aimed for her eye, reaching just shy of it. The archeops didn’t so much as flinch.

      “Alright, listen!” she snapped at the oncoming mob. “I’m gonna take off with this parrot, and y’all are gonna let me!”

      The mob didn’t stop running. Some of the bystanders abandoned their leisure to intervene, trying to hold some of the angry pirates back. Others decided to join in, rushing at her from the street only to be held back by a gunk shot from Web. Lasers and elemental attacks whizzed over the heads of the living barrier, skimming Annie’s ship and narrowly missing her feathers.

      Widget cut through the barrier of pirates, landed at her feet and turned his back on her. “Get on your dumb ship, human!”

      “Come on, Annie.” Web placed a paw on her shoulder and steered her to the door. “We’re not wanted here.”

      “They just want to eat me,” Zip said weakly.

      Annie didn’t budge. The goldeen’s mechanical feet clambered up the tinny door into the ship behind her, and he paused at the doorway.

      “Hurry, before they add archeops to the menu!” he cried.

      “Flambeed parrot, anyone?” Annie waved Hatter at the crowd. “Because mark my words, I’ll plunge him into one of your laser attacks!”

      “What?!” Hatter screeched. “Are you crazy?!”

      “Yes.”

      N0ize strode to her side and shoved her backwards. A stray laser nearly clipped his ear, singing the fur at the tip, but he didn’t appear to notice or care.

      “All right, I think we’ve had enough here, don’t you?” he said.

      The magmortar abandoned his post against the bollard and cut her off from view, aiming his cybernetic canon at the mob. A deep, pulsating noise filled the air, followed by a beam of electricity. It flew out of his canon with a deafening screech, causing those closest to him to cover their ears and flinch back. The mob was brought to a halt as the beam flew over their heads and punched a neat hole a billboard atop a casino. The beam blinked out as rapidly as it had started, plunging the docks into silence. The damaged billboard teetered backwards then crashed down onto the roof with an almighty clatter.

      “I think we’re all better’n this,” N0ize rumbled. “Get yer fuzzy asses back to Moonlight Lounge, you drunkards.”

      “She’s taking off with Hatter!” came a very squeaky voice from deep within the mob.

      Other voices rose up to join in, each stating their concerns for the chatot. A majority of the concerns were more about needing him to run a few errands or pay their rewards, which Annie thought was a little unfair.

      The magmortar raised his cannon again, and the voices all cut off simultaneously.

      “Yeh?” N0ize spat towards the lanturn ship then fixed a leer on the crowd. “You ever thought she might have good reason?”

      “Bounty hunter!” someone cried. “She’s a bounty hunter!”

      “Waltzing in here for that jackin’ mayor!” said another.

      “I don’t work for no mayor!” Annie put her paws on her hips and flinched as Hatter dug his beak into her scaly leg. “I thought I made that clear in that… Mooney… Loungey place.”

      Waveform backed towards her, keeping his arrow notched. Tracer came from the other side, watching the mob over his shoulder with his paw clutched over his stick, which was partially buried in his tail. He ducked his head as someone let out an electric attack, and the sparks bounced off an innocent bollard, shattering it on impact. He looked over at Annie, wide-eyed, and opened his mouth to speak, but a loud shout from the crowd cut him off.

      Trojan bolted from amid the group, eyes filled with fire. Tracer seemed to relax momentarily and he looked up at the scrafty.

      “Where did you get-”

      “Get on the ship!” Trojan’s roar had been aimed at Annie.

      He bolted past her, knocking the detective off balance, and clattered up onto the ship, causing it to rock precariously. Tracer stumbled backwards, steadying himself against the lanturn ship.

      “Come on, Annie.” Waveform placed a paw on her shoulder and backed towards the pyukumyuku. “We’re leaving.”

      Annie didn’t even look up at him. Her attention was still fixed on the angry mob.

      “I have you know I don’t work for the mayor!” she said. “I’m trying to stir all you pirates up into a frenzy! One day, that mayor will be gone and we’ll have ourselves to thank!”

      She thudded her chest with her claws, Hatter swaying unceremoniously. His face had turned a little pale beneath his black plumage.

      “Lies!” one of the pirates shouted.

      This was enough to stir up the others. They pushed back against the barrier of pirates, not so much as flinching as the magmortar raised his railgun cannon once more.

      The pyukumyuku flared to life, its tinny hull rattling like a can of coins.

      “Annie!” Web poked her head out of the door. “Come on! We’re leaving!”

      N0ize chuckled and shook his head, while Tracer fidgeted his paws together. He brandished his stick and aimed it into the crowd.

      “Time’s running out.” He sent out a flamethrower, singing the fur of a purugly. “I hope you’ve got a backup plan other than spouting another monologue!”

      Web looked back into the ship, stepping aside to let Waveform on. Trojan had sat himself down at the steering controls, muttering curses as he stared at Annie’s back.

      “Do we have a backup plan?” Web asked. “She won’t move.”

      “I’m on it! Don’t nag me.” Trojan lifted a paw and struck The Big Red Button.

      A white, sticky mass shot out of the pyukumyuku’s nose, stretching out like a set of claws. Annie was on a ramble about mayors and fishes, much to the confusion of the space pirates since it had stopped making any coherent sense. The gooey claws fastened around her waist, plucking her from the docks.

      A small yelp left her throat as the stretchy mass shot back towards the pyukumyuku’s nose, dragging her deep within its confines. The last thing the crowd heard as it snatched her on board was:

      “This is mutiny!”

      Trojan grimaced and looked back at Web and Waveform. The pyukumyuku rose from the docks, sending the two off balance. Zip’s metal claws screeched over the surface as he slid backwards into the skuntank’s arms. She made sure the goldeen was securely locked in place then settled herself into her seat.

      “I don’t think she liked that,” said Zip weakly.

      “I have to agree,” said Waveform. “I feel it was a little discourteous.”

      “I don’t really care,” said Trojan, rubbing the back of his neck with a grimace. “She was causing a jackin’ ruckus. We coulda been killed.”

      “Murder is illegal, even in Pulse City,” said Web. “The worst that could have happened-”

      “Is monslaughter,” said Trojan. “I reckon some got trampled to death in that mob and it’s all her fault. I have every right mind to keep her in the cargo bay until we reach… I dunno…”

      “Wave City,” said Zip. “She told me we’d go to Wave City and talk to the water types.”

      Trojan leant on his paw and frowned at the blackness ahead. “Right now, I couldn’t care less.”

      Banging came from beneath them, shaking the seats. The scrafty grit his teeth together and fought back the urge to stamp his foot in response.

      “Anyway, she can stay there for a while,” he grumbled. “I need to cool off.”

      “Can’t she get out?” Web asked.

      “’Course not,” said Trojan. “What kinda jackass leaves a cargo bay door unlocked? That’s just askin’ for trouble.”

      “Then someone should go and get her.”

      Waveform glanced back down the ship then made his way towards the captain’s seat. Before he could lower himself into it, Trojan looked up at him and froze him in place with a glare.

      “Then I vouch you do it,” he said. “’Cos if I see her, I’m gonna pluck her feathers out.”

      Waveform’s face paled and his eyes flit left and right. He cleared his throat and lowered his scarf from his metallic beak.

      “I speak for all avians when I say please… don’t do that.”

      “She ain’t avian. She’s human.” Trojan waved a paw, brushing off Waveform’s crimson leer. “Go get her. Then use your scarf to gag her.”

      “What’s got your gogoat?” Web snapped.

      Trojan scoffed and snapped his head around to face her, flinching with the momentum. “I got trampled! Trampled! I ain’t ever been so freakin’ humiliated!”

      Web’s jaw dropped and she rose to her feet.

      “Sit down!” Trojan snapped, watching as she slumped back into her seat. “Worst thing was that shamus saw everything. That look of concern on his wretched face, fighting back as he got swept away. Like I wanted his help…” The scrafty yawned and leant back in his seat, spotting Waveform still watching him. “You gettin’ her or what?”

      Waveform shook his head with a sigh and turned towards the cargo bay. The little hatch was built into the floor, right at the back of the ship. He pulled it open and leant his head inside, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Something small crashed back and forth, bouncing off the walls and squawking insults. It turned and shot towards Waveform, startling the decidueye back onto the ship. A loud hoot escaped his beak, much to his dismay, and he watched the chatot bolt from the hatch and crash into the ceiling. He fell back through the hatch like a stunned chick.

      Waveform clambered down, scooping Hatter up under one wing. He spotted Annie lying in a tangled sprawl a few feet away. She writhed beneath the sticky mass, fixing her eyes on him.

      “A little help here?” she asked.

      Waveform deposited Hatter and scrambled over to her. The pyukumyuku’s ‘innards’ were still fastened around her small frame. He grabbed at them in his paws and tugged them free. They weren’t so much sticky as they were gooey and difficult to latch onto. Once he’d prised them free, Annie staggered to her feet and shook out her dishevelled feathers. A few yellow ones fell free, joining a goopy mass of them on the floor. Waveform shook a couple from his paws then wiped them down on his chest.

      “Thank you,” she said. “Now I need to speak to the designer behind this ridiculous yet genius idea and request they never use it on me again.”

      He gave her a curt nod and gathered up the stunned chatot. Fortunately Trojan had installed a ladder, making climbing out of the cargo bay relatively easy. Once they were back on board, Annie marched to her seat and flopped back into it, kicking her talons up onto the dashboard.

      Trojan fired her a sideways glare and smirked. “You’re the one who requested a pyukumyuku.”

      “Yeh, that was genius.” She scratched some goop off her shoulder and grinned at him. “Do that to me again and you’re fired.”

      “Where do you want our hostage?” Waveform asked.

      She turned to look at him and frowned at the parrot cradled in his right wing.

      “Do we have a cage?” she asked.

      Waveform’s beak fell open and both Web and Zip gaped at her wordlessly.

      “What?” Annie shrugged. “Back in my world, we sometimes keep birdies in cages.”

      “Well we’re not in your world,” said Trojan. “A cage is a prison cell.”

      “Then… set him in a corner somewhere until he wakes up.” Annie yawned and leant her head back in her seat. “I’ll give him my request later. Then we can discuss how much we can pay him.”

      “Pay him?” Trojan scoffed.

      “We don’t really have much money, dear,” said Web. “We can’t pay him.”

      “Then we make money.” Annie reached into her pouch and pulled out the poster she’d claimed from Hatter’s stall. “There are a couple of guys we can round up. They’re worth a pretty penny.”

      Waveform took the poster from her and unravelled it. “Hunter? His bounty’s gone up again.”

      “You know this mawile?” Annie pointed a claw at the wanted poster.

      “Not personally. But there’s not a pokemon in System who’s managed to get so much as close to arresting him. You think we can catch him, you’re living a pipe dream.”

      “What about the other one then?” She tapped the sheet.

      He turned it over, revealing the second target. “Surge? What did she do?”

      “Sounds like you know her then.”

      “We’ve done a job or two together,” he said. “Split the reward, although she always left with more so I stopped bothering. Sounds like she’s got her paws dirty in government secrets.” He looked up at Annie and cleared his throat. “Much like us, I guess.”

      She waved a wing at him and turned away. “I ain’t no government secret.”

      Purple streaked across the sky like a dart and she leant forward, straining to make it out. She wasn’t alone. Trojan stared at it too, frowning at the anomaly.

      “Is that a shooting star?” she gasped. “Didn’t think they were purple.”

      “That ain’t no star, we ain’t high enough,” said Trojan.

      “What is it then?” Annie nudged him. “You got a telescope?”

      He beat her claws away and urged the ship forward. “No I ain’t got no telescope. Shut up while I try to get us closer.”

      “You seriously think we can catch it in this…” Web waved at the ship’s walls. “This… hunk of-”

      Trojan and Annie both glared over their shoulders.

      The skuntank cleared her throat and smiled. “Hunk of fantastic design?”

      “The engine I bought might not be the latest model.” Waveform sat in his seat and secured himself in. “But I can assure you we can at least catch up with that creature.”

      “Creature?” Annie looked back at him. “You think that’s a creature?”

      “Is your vision not as good as mine?” Waveform asked. “I can make that out clearly. It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

      Annie squinted at it. “It just looks like a purple blob to me.”

      “Wait for it,” said Trojan. “We’re getting up to five hundred and fifty miles per hour here. If I were to guess, that thing is flying closer to four hundred.”

      She clapped her claws together and bounced in her seat. “Oh! This is getting exciting!”

      “I’d like to ask what you expect,” said Trojan. “But given random creatures have been showing up, I’m gonna hazard a guess this is one of them.”

      “I think you might be right,” said Waveform.

      “Well, we’re gaining on it quickly,” said Trojan. “And it appears to be slowing down.”

      “What do you plan to-” Waveform’s voice cut off with a grunt and he keeled forward in his seat.

      Hatter shot over to Annie and landed on her shoulder, screeching in her ear.

      “You crazy moron! What do you think you-” He trailed off and looked out of the window. His tiny eyes widened like saucers and he clutched her head with both wings. “What on earth is that?!”

      “Hang on a sec…” Annie grinned widely, brushing the chatot aside. “It looks like an onion!”

      The odd, purple creature turned its bulbous head back towards them. When it spotted the ship, it flicked its long tail and tried to speed up.

      “Are you jackin’ serious?” Trojan leered at her. “What kind of freak-ass onions did you used to eat?”

      “The ones that came on my plate,” said Annie. “Can this hunk of fantastic design go any faster?”

      He muttered under his breath and pressed the ship onward. It gained fractionally in speed, drawing them closer to the fleeing creature.

      “What do you expect us to do when we get close to it?” Web asked, somewhat apprehensively.

      “Simple.” Annie kicked her feet up again and leant back, almost sending Hatter to the floor. “We catch it with that goop thing you used on me.”

      “I have to say,” said Waveform. “This creature doesn’t look much like the celebi I’ve seen in drawings.”

      “Neither does Annie’s archeops form,” said Zip.

      “Exactly,” said Annie. “So let’s hurry up and catch that Time Onion.”

      Web pointed a claw at the blob. “You actually want to catch this?”

      “Yep.”

      “Without knowing for certain that this is a celebi?”

      “Yep.”

      “And hold it in this ship?”

      “Yep.”

      Web shook her head and let it fall into her open paws.

      “I got a question.” Trojan turned fully in his seat to face her. “Are you crazy?”

      “I’ve already answered that question once today.” She yawned again and glanced down at The Big Red Button. “I guess that’s the one you use to set it off? Or… it deposits the ship’s engine like in those daft films I watched as a kid.”

      Trojan leant defensively over the button. “I’m not having some unknown creature on this ship.”

      Annie looked back out of the window. The creature was in plain view. A violet body with a long, reptilian tail. Its bulbous head had some kind of needle-like appendage sticking out of it, yet its arms and legs made its appearance oddly cute. It looked quite like a pokemon, except one she’d never seen. Although that was hardly a feat given she’d not seen all that many. Nevertheless, it did look onion-like in an odd not-quite-an-onion kind of way.

      Maybe it was a red onion?

      She scratched her nose and looked back down at what she could see of The Big Red Button. She hadn’t seen how far Innards Out could reach. And with Trojan guarding the button like a mighteyena with a bone, she only had one chance to get it right.

      Her eyes flew to Hatter, cowering on her shoulder, his beak hanging open as he stared at the blob’s purple bottom.

      “Hmm…” She ran a claw under her chin and glanced up at the ceiling.

      “She’s plotting something,” whispered Zip.

      Closer now. Still out of her own physical reach, but the creature’s head kept turning back and its bright eyes kept widening whenever it saw them.

      Annie reached up and grabbed Hatter, eliciting a squeak from him. Then she tossed him at Trojan’s face. Flapping wings and scrambling talons sent the scrafty reeling back in his seat, roaring profanities. She leapt across the dashboard and struck The Big Red Button. The white goopy mass lurched out of the ship’s nose much faster than the ship could physically fly. It engulfed the creature full on, swallowing it up in the stretchy, claw-like tendrils. It then retracted back into the ship with just as much speed as it left.

      A grin split Annie’s face and she leant back into her seat, kicking her talons back up onto the dashboard.

      The ship fell silent. All eyes were on her. Hatter perched on the back of Trojan’s chair, clutching the scrafty’s cheek in both wings. Trojan didn’t seem to care. His expression went from terrified to angry in the blink of an eye, and he exploded from his seat, sending Hatter flapping over to Web.

      “I told you not to press it!” he roared.

      Annie wagged a claw at him. “You never, ever tell someone not to press a red button. It makes it even more tempting!”

      “But now we have a strange, potentially dangerous creature on the ship!”

      “No we don’t.” She rose to her feet and strolled towards the hatch. “It’s Annie’s Time Onion. By the way, it’s dark down there. Does anyone have a torch?”

      ...
      Tracer and Widget watched the pyukumyuku ship surge into the horizon, its movements ungainly and sporadic. The mob had died down now. Pokemon returned to their previous endeavours, or boarded their ships to leave Pulse City. Tracer had held back perchance any had tried to pursue the human, but so far the only ships that had left the dock had gone off in other directions.

      “We’re not going after her?” Widget asked.

      “Oh, we are.” Tracer stubbed out his cigar on the remains of the shattered bollard and thrust his paws into his trench coat pockets. “I just don’t want her to think we’re giving chase.”

      “She gets much further out, we’re gonna lose her.”

      “I wouldn’t worry about that.” N0ize’s voice startled the two detectives.

      Tracer looked over at the incineroar, leaning against the hull of their alomomola. The magmortar was still with him, feverishly polishing his railgun appendage.

      The incineroar flashed a grin. “My ship could track her no problem. Got sensors that can pick up ships hundreds of miles away.”

      Tracer choked on his own spittle while Widget almost fell over on his haunches. Tracer strove to regain his composure and tried to mask his surprise behind clearing his throat.

      “I’d like to ask how you got your paws on such equipment,” he began, “given the distance most top government ships can reach is only a couple of hundred miles.”

      N0ize maintained his grin for a painfully long, silent moment, causing Tracer to sweat under his coat.

      “That’s classified,” said the space pirate.

      Tracer’s ears sank and he nodded sullenly. “Well, we hate to disappoint you, but-”

      “We’ve got our own ship,” said Widget.

      “What?” N0ize nodded behind him at the alomomola. “This pink thing? Little girly, ain’t it?”

      “It’s not girly!” Widget yapped.

      “It is a little girly,” Tracer told him.

      “All right, fine.” Widget rolled his eyes. “It’s girly. But it flies, and it has two bedrooms.”

      “Not really enough room for little you if your boss and I each get a room, is there?” N0ize folded his arms and smirked.

      Widget’s tail went limp and his jaw went slack. He looked between the incineroar and Tracer, fixing the latter with pleading puppy eyes.

      “I’m not so sure what makes you think were taking you with us,” said Tracer. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your help-”

      “He helped?” Widget asked.

      “-But I think we’re okay from here,” Tracer finished, blatantly ignoring his small companion.

      “You’re kiddin’ me, right?” N0ize scratched inside his ear and flicked away what Tracer desperately hoped wasn’t a flea. “You get me all involved with this human of yours and you expect me to just go away quietly? I got questions, fuzz. Besides, I really wanna see how this all plays out. She caused quite a stir here. I reckon she’ll cause even bigger stirs down on System Ground.”

      The incineroar’s face split into an even bigger grin, flashing one of his sharp canines. The magmortar looked up from his railgun and frowned between the space pirate and detectives.

      “So… where’s she goin’ next?” N0ize asked.

      Tracer shrugged. “No idea. But she appears to be heading in the direction of Meta City.”

      “She lands there, she’s got a death wish.” N0ize nodded to the other fire type who returned to his polishing. “She’s gonna need a little backup.”

      Tracer’s heart sank. So both pirates were wanting to squeeze themselves onto his ship? Things were starting to feel a little cozy. And somewhat dangerous.

      “Thank you, gentlemon,” he said. “But we’ll be taking our leave now.”

      N0ize laughed while the magmortar rolled his eyes.

      “You hear that, Cyph3r?” N0ize nudged the magmortar with his elbow. “They think they’re just gonna leave us behind!” He fixed Tracer in a leer decorated with a grin to make it even more menacing. “I think not, fuzz. You need backup. This has gone too deep even for you. With Socket, and with Pulse City. You turn away from us, you’ll leave yourselves vulnerable to a whole host of enemies waiting to tear you limb from limb. Those pokemon you cheezed off in Moonlight Lounge? They’ll recognise you, and they’ll come for you. It also won’t be long until Socket realises you’ve turned tail on her, helpin’ the human raise a rebellion against her, against meat eaters, and whatever else sparks her fancy. ‘Cos let’s face it, she’s a tickin’ time bomb of disaster waitin’ to happen. And I wanna see it! So get your two fuzzy tails onto my sharpedo and we’ll head on out to tail that human you’re so fixated with.”

      Tracer stared at him, open mouthed. Widget gave a pained whimper beside him, his brown eyes fixed on the alomomola. Tracer counted off his list of crimes. Failing to apprehend Annie, more and more willingly with each fail. Selling a government ship. Assisting in causing a scene. Partnering with space pirates. Now he was going to abandon his ill-gotten ship to hot tail it across System with a pair of space pirates who only wanted to see the mayor fall off her high horse and all of System to go into an uproar.

      All for the sake of fun.

      Fun or not, two large pokemon backing him wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

      “Okay. We’ll go with you.” He pointed a claw at N0ize’s chest. “But I’m in charge.”

      The incineroar threw his head back and laughed heartily. “Of course. This is your little mission after all. We’re just hired paws.”

      N0ize met Tracer’s confused gape with yet another grin and moved away around the other side of the alomomola. Tracer followed after him with Widget in tow.

      “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” the eevee muttered.

      Tracer said nothing. But oh how he wanted to agree.

      Sat in the docks, dwarfed by the alomamola, was the stout form of a sharpedo. Painted along the side of it was a word Tracer never wished to repeat. N0ize stood beside its jaws and beckoned him on board.

      “We board through its mouth?” Widget’s voice didn’t hide his disgust.

      “I guess so,” Tracer muttered.

      “Goin’ off the size of it, you and I will be bunking in the cargo hold,” the eevee snorted.

      As they stepped forwards, the ground lurched. Voices rose into an uproar, and Tracer turned slowly with a sinking feeling deep within his gut. Surely the human hadn’t actually left a ‘ticking time bomb of disaster’ somewhere deep within Pulse City?

      “Tracer…” Widget’s voice wavered.

      The delphox followed his friend’s eyes towards the tall buildings in the distance. Towering over them was a creature he’d never seen before. Tall, slender at the top and wide towards its shoulders. The rest of it vanished beyond the buildings. Then there was the scream. An unearthly scream coming from that very monster. Two canons sat at either side of it, and it lifted one, aiming it towards the heart of Pulse City. Towards them.

      “Get on the ship!” Widget yapped.

      He turned tail and Tracer followed after him. They dived after N0ize, and the shark-shaped ship’s jaws snapped shut behind them.

      Cyph3r was already at the controls, pulling the ship out of the docks. Tracer stared from the window, his eyes locked on the glowing cannon.

      “What is that thing?” N0ize asked, his voice wavering uncharacteristically.

      Tracer shook his head slowly. “I regret to say I’ve no idea.”

      A flash split the sky as the cannon fired into Pulse City. Then a sound like thunder. An explosion of green and ruin.
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        #53    
      Old July 7th, 2018 (1:37 AM).
      Delirious Absol's Avatar
      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
      Call me Del
         
        Join Date: May 2015
        Location: UK
        Age: 33
        Gender: Female
        Nature: Quirky
        Posts: 345
        Chapter Fifty Two

        Macro woke up in a tangle of sheets with his face still buried into his pillow. At some point he’d flipped over, dragging the pillow with him. He propped it against the wall and rolled onto his back to reach for his computer. A faint trickle of light came through the window, but it wasn’t enough to gauge what time it was.

        Eight thirty in the morning. He’d slept right through the breakfast alarm.

        He groaned and unwound himself from his sheets, hastily remaking the bed as a final decision to not climb back into it. Then he grabbed his belt and scarf and made for the door.

        His sleep had been somewhat dreamless, and he’d needed it. The immense grogginess that filled his head was something he’d become accustomed to after a good night’s sleep. After a strong coffee and a pile of steaming pancakes to clear the cobwebs away, he’d be good to go.

        He yawned widely and paused to poke his head into the cockpit. Matrix leant back in his seat with his over-sized headphones on, nodding along to some music Macro could only faintly make out. A loud clatter came from the kitchen and Macro slipped into it, spotting Cookie doubled over by the oven. He swiftly mopped up what looked like caramel, muttering to himself about being a klutz, while DL silently set the table. She beamed when she spotted Macro, causing him to flush under his fur.

        “You’ve got a late start,” he said.

        “I know. I requested it.” She turned back to Cookie and stooped to help him mop up the sticky mess. “I thought you could all use a lie in.”

        Stomping feet thundered down the corridor and Anchor exploded into the kitchen. He grabbed the doorway and stared inside, his chest heaving. He looked over at Cookie and DL, eyed the set table and the steaming stove, and immediately relaxed.

        Macro grabbed his seat and sank down into it. “I appreciate the thought, DL, but your message clearly didn’t reach the rest of the crew.”

        “I did leave a note on the door for anyone who got up early.” She rung out the wet cloth into the sink. “Matrix is obviously the only early riser.”

        As though on cue, the ribombee buzzed over Anchor’s head and landed gracefully in his seat.

        “I trust you slept well?” DL asked Macro.

        “Like a log.” He yawned again and leant his groggy head on his paw. “Is there an ETA on the coffee?”

        “Coming right up!” Cookie straightened and grabbed the cafetiere from beside the stove. “I’m a little out of sorts this morning, so please forgive me if it’s a little weak.”

        Macro poured a coffee for himself and Matrix then took a sip from his mug. It was a little weak. He frowned slightly but let it slide, settling back in his seat.

        Cookie clenched his paws over his stomach, eyeing Macro curiously. “So it’s okay? Thank goodness.”

        Matrix sipped his coffee and spoke without looking up. “It could have used an extra minute.”

        The slurpuff stuttered and looked over at Macro again.

        Macro cracked an eye open. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

        Cookie waddled back to his stove and busied himself over various sticky sauces.

        Anchor slumped down beside Macro and poured his own mug. “Someone either slept like a king, or is just desperate for a coffee this morning.”

        Macro said nothing as he sipped his drink, feeling it warm every nerve. He watched DL assist Cookie, muttering things to him that had some kind of placating affect on the jittery slurpuff. Her thick tail was held in a neat curl over her back as she moseyed back and forth, and the warm light from the fluorescent bulb highlighted every subtle curve of her body. Her gentle smile and chocolate fondue eyes only added to the warmth and peacefulness she seemed to radiate.

        “Cap’n?”

        Macro blinked and looked away from DL to meet Anchor’s raised eyebrow.

        “Did you hear me?” he asked. “I said we’re only fifteen minutes away from Meta City. Is that our next destination?”

        Macro almost spilled his coffee. A few drops sloshed over the side as he tried to steady it, peppering the table with little, dark spots.

        “I thought we were headed to Cyan City,” he said. “When did we-”

        “Don’t worry, we’re not going to Meta City,” said DL. “I spoke to Matrix last night. We agreed it might be a good idea to scope out the damage these Ultra Beasts are doing.”

        “What?” Macro fixed wide violet eyes on hers. “But I thought… aren’t they actually in Meta City?”

        “Yes, but we can get a feel for that in the outskirts,” DL explained. “You can still see the mechanical trees from the outskirts, right? So we’ll be able to see the Xurkitree’s behaviour for ourselves. Rather than reading up and absorbing mindless propaganda.”

        “It would have been nice if you’d run it by me first,” said Macro. “I mean, with everything that’s going on right now - even space pirates are after me! - it’s not safe for us all to just go down into the outskirts.”

        “Not to mention our bounty’s gone up.” Matrix nonchalantly sipped his mug while thumbing over his computer screen.

        “What?” Macro stared, dumbfounded at him.

        “You did know that, right? Fifty thousand credits?” Matrix turned his computer so Macro could see it. “Not just you and Surge. All of us are wanted now. Fifty thousand big ones. Except Cookie.”

        “Not a space pirate,” Cookie chimed from the stove.

        Macro blinked as it all came back to him, and his mug clattered to the table. He tugged at the fur on his head and groaned. “That complicates things even more!”

        “Come on, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We were all wanted ‘mon anyway. How does this change things?”

        “A bigger price attracts more bounty hunters,” said Macro. “And no space pirate is gonna sniff at fifty thousand, let alone the opportunity to claim it three times over!”

        Matrix shrugged and dragged his computer back to himself, holding his mug in one paw as he continued reading over the recent news.

        “We’ve been asked to turn these beasts in,” said Anchor. “I say we not let this mishap put us off.”

        Macro narrowed his eyes at him. “Mishap?”

        “Aye. I mean, would you let it put you off getting the rest of DL’s memories?”

        “I might proceed with some caution.”

        “Since when did you use caution?” Anchor choked back a laugh. “You show up guns blazin’ no matter what the situation.”

        Macro turned away from him and clutched the hot mug to his chest. “This is different. Space pirates now want me, there are strange alien beasts destroying cities, and we’ll be right in the thick of the action from both the beasts, thugs and Socket’s goons!”

        “And if there are any space pirates down there,” said Matrix, “you can add ruffians to that list.”

        DL chuckled and popped a plate of pancakes in the middle of the table.

        Macro eyed them, suddenly void of his appetite. Nevertheless, he grabbed a couple and dropped them onto his plate. If he was going to go with DL’s bonkers plan, he was going to need his strength.

        “So who’s going down into the outskirts?” Anchor asked.

        “I was thinking we could discuss that.” DL pulled up a seat beside Macro and placed a hot pan of chocolate sauce before him. “Like Macro said, we need to be cautious.”

        “And none of us have practised these Z-Moves,” said Macro. “I sense a problem there already.”

        “We’re not going to fight the Ultra Beasts,” she said. “We’re gathering data. We need to get them home, like Solgaleo said.”

        “And what if one attacks us?”

        “Beat it back and run. Just don’t hurt it.”

        Macro stuck his fork into his pancakes as the screaming face of Celesteela filled his mind. ‘It’s been known to burn down entire forests.’ Blazing trees receded into burning buildings and he shook his head sharply to dislodge the onset of another flashback.

        “You alright, Cap’n?”

        He met Anchor’s concerned face and returned to his pancakes, stuffing a forkful into his mouth. He barely tasted it.

        “I’m just not ready for this,” he said.

        DL reached for his paw, then retracted back, her eyes going distant. Then she reached for the chocolate sauce and spooned a ladle-full over her plate.

        “Look,” said Macro. “We’ll go. We’ll scope it out. Spend no longer than an hour, two hours tops. But someone needs to stay on the ship with Matrix as back up. Because if something happens to me, Wildcard Gamma has to keep going.”

        “Nothing is going to happen to you,” DL told him. “You’ll stay in touch, and if you need us then we’ll swoop in.”

        “Wait!” Macro raised both his paws and looked at each of his crew members in turn. Even Cookie had stopped what he was doing to listen in. “Am I going in there alone?!”

        “Of course not!” Anchor spat. “I won’t allow it!”

        “That’s exactly what I want to hear from my second in command.” Macro spooned more pancake into his mouth.

        “But if it’s information you’re gathering,” said Anchor, “might I suggest you take someone small? Easier for you both to hide.”

        Macro looked up with his fork still in his mouth. His eyes wandered from Anchor to Matrix, taking in his tiny form. The ribombee wound his antenna in his paw, glancing between Macro and Anchor. Then he glanced towards the end of the table and Macro followed his eye to DL.

        The pachirisu shrugged and leant back from her empty plate, almost spotless save for some chocolate streaks.

        “If you need me to go with you, then I’ll go,” she said. “I’ve actually still got all that information Solgaleo sent me saved in my brain.”

        “That sorts it then,” said Anchor. “Since she’s basically a walking Ultra Beast Encyclopedia, then take DL.”

        Macro sank into his seat, fixing Matrix with a pleading look.

        “Don’t look at me,” said Matrix. “I’m the only one who can use the navigation system. Do you want Wildcard Gamma to veer off course and leave you stranded?”

        No. Macro didn’t want that.

        He looked back over at DL as she wiped chocolate from her pink nose. She gave him a reassuring nod, but it didn’t serve to alleviate his nerves.

        If anything, knowing he was going to be taking her down into the outskirts, System’s single-most dangerous place outside of Pulse City, only served to fuel his fighting spirit.

        ...

        The Time Onion didn’t put up much of a fight. Since Annie and Waveform had untangled the thing from the ship’s innards, it had gone from wriggly to placid quite quickly.

        The pyukumyuku trundled on across System Sky in the vague direction of Wave City, but Annie didn’t particularly care about that. She was more intent on getting the creature to talk, or move, or something.

        She sat it back up on her knee, but its head lolled pathetically onto its shoulder, weakly tickling her with its antennae thing. It had three of them, and an odd wheezy noise kept coming from them. Sometimes musical, sometimes whiny.

        “I still think that’s how it communicates,” said Web.

        “I still think it ain’t no celebi,” said Trojan.

        “Neither of you are being helpful,” Annie said, somewhat calmly. “Either make a Time Onion to System-glish Dictionary, or find a clear picture of a real celebi and then we’ll talk.”

        “System-glish?” Zip laughed, blowing a stream of bubbles from his gills.

        The creature wheezed again, then struggled to lift its head. Its head was rather ungainly compared to its tiny body. If it kept lolling dramatically, it would fall off her lap sooner or later. Not to mention its body was sticky. Like a dried, thick sweat that made it easy to grip but repulsed her at the same time.

        “I think this onion might be off,” she said. “Does someone else want to hold it?”

        “Not really,” said Waveform. “My feathers still feel gammy from the last time.”

        “Is it slimy?” asked Zip.

        “Not so much slimy as sticky,” Annie answered. “I feel like if I chuck it at the wall, it’ll cling to it.”

        Web placed her paws on her hips. “You’re not chucking it at the wall.”

        “Like jack you’re gettin’ the walls sticky,” said Trojan. “We don’t even know if it’s toxic.”

        “I say chuck it, right back out the window,” said Hatter. “That thing ain’t right!”

        Annie turned the creature to face her and stared down at it. More wheezing. It didn’t even open its mouth. It kept it tightly closed, and its glazed eyes drooped as it stared blankly at her feathered chest.

        “What’s wrong with it?” Annie asked. “Looks fine to me.”

        “You’re kidding, right?” Hatter gasped. “Not only is it monstrous and alien, it’s clearly dying!”

        “Dying?”

        “I didn’t want to say this earlier, dear,” said Web. “But I think he might be right. I don’t think that’s a celebi. It’s got to be one of those creatures that have been showing up. It’s alien and clearly doesn’t belong here.”

        “Huh.” Annie frowned at it. “Well, let’s make it better then ask it how it can get me back home. Right?”

        “Back home?” Zip glugged to the top of his bowl. “You mean after the rebellion, right?”

        “Nope.” Annie continued to stare at the creature. “If this guy can get me home, I’m off.”

        “But-”

        “You can lead your own rebellion,” she said. “Once I’m gone, you’re in charge, little fish.”

        Everyone fell silent, staring at her open-mouthed. Eyes were either narrowed, or in the case of Zip, wide and frightened. She looked around at the cockpit, clutching the limp creature in her claws.

        “Why y’all starin’ at me?” She waved a wing to get their attention. “Hello? Did someone freeze time?” Her eyes snapped back to the creature. “Was it you, Mister Time Onion?”

        Web let out a sigh and Trojan shifted in his seat, tearing his glare away from her.

        “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’,” he said.

        “Well I do have something to say!” said Web.

        “Save it for later,” said Trojan. “Let’s just get our asses to Wave City.”

        “Not so fast.” Annie returned to staring at the ‘Time Onion’. “If this little guy really is sick, then we need to get him better. Can we do that in Wave City?”

        “It has some of the cleanest air in System,” said Waveform. “Doctors often recommend it for those with asthma or chest infections.”

        “But the air in System Sky is clean, too,” said Web. “Probably cleaner than on the ground where there’s pollutants. If this creature had a breathing condition, it should be clearer up here.”

        “It’s also thinner,” said Waveform. “Which makes it harder to breathe.”

        “It doesn’t mean you can’t,” said Web. “And we’re lower down than most space pirate vessels fly right now. Not to mention our air filters and life support systems.”

        “Which are feeble at best,” muttered the decidueye.

        “I reckon it’s the atmosphere,” said Trojan. “It’s alien to this world and can’t breathe our air. It’ll be dead before we hit the ground.”

        “That’s no good!” said Annie. “It can’t get me back home if it’s dead!”

        She adjusted her grip, but the creature lolled back in her hands. It’s eyes were screwed shut and its breathing came in shallow bursts. There was only one thing for it. She had to resuscitate it. How did they do it in the movies again?

        A lightbulb went off in her mind and she lay the creature across her lap.

        “I have to issue mouth to mouth!” She leant forwards towards the creatures tiny mouth.

        A firm paw grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back before she could even position herself properly.

        “Don’t be so foolish!” Waveform growled in her ear. “We don’t know what stuff is coating it’s body! It might be toxic!”

        “Toxic…” Annie turned away from him and stared out of the window. “Toxic… toxic…”

        Trojan muttered under his breath and looked away from her. “She’s off on one again.”

        “Toxic.”

        The lights below them blurred into a cacophony of colour as her mind went to that word. ‘Toxic’. She mulled it over, tasting it, trying to figure out where it fit in her reality.

        Sticky creature. Possibly toxic. Toxic meant poisonous. Death.

        Reality snapped back into focus and she turned in her seat to face Trojan.

        “Get us back home,” she said.

        “Home?” he scoffed. “You think I can time travel now?”

        “Not my home. Your home.” She pointed a claw at the window. “That yellow, mucky place with the poisonous air.”

        Trojan stared at her, his lip curled up at one side in a confused sneer. A look of realisation crossed Web’s face and she nodded.

        “I think I understand,” she said. “I’m not sure it will help the little creature, but it’s worth a shot if we’ve no way of getting it back to its own world.”

        “Exactly,” said Annie. “I want to help this Time Onion. It’s my only chance to get home.”

        “I don’t believe for one minute that air can help anybody,” said Trojan. “But if you think so, we can give it a shot.”

        The ship lurched so the nose was pointing downward, and sank at a steady pace. As Annie clutched the little creature, it wheezed musically. Four notes, two high and two flat. Out of rhythm, but an unusual sound nontheless. As though its head was some kind of primitive pipe organ attempting to play a melancholic tune. In, out. In, out. Her eyes wandered to the long proboscis-like appendages on its head.

        “We’ll land in about five minutes,” said Trojan. “Think the little guy can hang on that long?”

        “I don’t know,” said Annie. “But I think you might be right about the air. That noise it’s makin’… I think it’s trying to breathe.”

        “Do you want me to check it’s not got any obstruction?” Web asked. “You know, from the innards-out stuff?”

        “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that.” Annie turned it so she could examine the protrusions. “I don’t believe it breathes through its mouth. It seems to be breathin’ through these things.”

        Web stood and relieved Annie of the creature, then settled back into her seat as she checked over its proboscis.

        “Why, you really are a sticky little fellow, aren’t you?” she said. “Well… if it’s not the slimy stuff from the innards-out, then let’s hope your theory is right, Annie, and it’s the air.”

        “Me too.” Annie tucked her hands behind her head and leant back in her seat. “Because if it’s not and it dies, then I guess I’m stuck here.”

        “Well the longer you’re stuck here, the more I’m gonna kick your lanky ass,” said Trojan. “And don’t think I’m scared of your ancient power, ‘cos I aint.”

        “What did I do to warrant you kicking my ass?” Annie asked.

        “You serious? You jackin’ serious?!” Trojan span in his seat and waved a paw at Zip.

        The goldeen slumped in the bottom of his bowl, resting his head on his fins. He wouldn’t look at either of them. Small bubbles rose from his gills to fizzle away on the surface.

        “I’ll leave you to think about it,” Trojan said, turning back to his controls. “I need to focus on landing this wreck before I end up killin’ us all.”

        The ship jerked and levelled out again. The crumbling rooftops of Spool City spread out before them, bouncing out of view as the ship leapt over them. It then came to a crashing halt in their back garden.

        Annie flew forwards in her seat, throwing out her claws to catch herself on the dashboard. She shoved herself back into her seat and shook out her feathers.

        “Whew!” She turned to look at the scrafty. “Might I suggest seat belts?”

        Trojan sneered and rose to his feet, then stomped towards the door. It fell open with a clatter, and the ship immediately filled with the putrid, polluted air.

        The creature’s wheezing lessened slightly and its breathing became more desperate. Its head expanded and contracted as it sucked up air through its three proboscis.

        “Goodness!” Web gasped and looked up at Annie. “I think you were right!”

        She rose to her feet, cradling the creature in her arms, and raced from the ship.

        Annie stood up slowly and exchanged glances with Waveform. The decidueye narrowed his eyes slightly and gestured for her to leave ahead of him, then turned to Zip. She paused in the doorway to look back at him crouching before the goldeen, shrugged, then clambered from the ship.

        Web stood in the back garden, beaming from ear to ear. The wheezing had faded out completely, replaced with loud gasps reminiscent of someone breathing frantically through a straw. The creature’s eyes were open, although still hooded. It stared blankly at the sky, its mouth slightly open.

        “Look!” Web turned to Annie. “This horrible air has revived it! Who would ever have guessed this deadly air that can even kill steel types could actually give life to something?”

        Annie peered over her shoulder at the creature. Its pupils focused onto them and it looked at each of them in turn.

        Web cradled it in her arms like a hatchling and smiled. “You might be the only creature that can survive in this place.”

        It blinked a couple of times and opened its mouth again. “Where am I?”

        Its mouth didn’t move with each word. Annie thought the voice had only happened in her head. She blinked at the creature, wondering whether or not she should actually answer, when Web did instead.

        “You’re in System, honey. Where are you meant to be?”

        “Ultra Metropolis.” It blinked again. “Why am I here? What happened? Who are you? What are you? Where’s my trainer?”

        “I don’t think we have all the answers,” said Web. “But we can help you. Can you tell us what you are?”

        “He’s a Time Onion,” said Annie. She stretched out her claws and flexed them. “Gimme!”

        Web steered the creature protectively away and asked again, “What are you?”

        “My name is Poipole,” he said. “The same as every other member of my race.”

        “So you’re not a Time Onion?” Annie asked.

        “What’s a Time Onion?” he asked.

        “She thinks you’re a celebi,” explained Web.

        The creature shook his bulbous head slowly. “I’m a poipole.”

        Annie snorted and wiped her claws on her feathers. “So you can’t get me home?”

        When the creature didn’t answer, she folded her wings and frowned at him.

        “That’s disappointing.” She turned and headed towards the house. “I’m going to go and get a shower. I feel oddly sticky.”

        The house was as cold as outdoors, as was the water. The open shower fixed to the top, left corner of the bathroom sprayed yellow water over her feathers, the walls and the floor. The drain gurgled a few times before refusing to take in any more water, creating a puddle in the concave tiles surrounding it. Annie clawed at her feathers until most of the goop from innards-out and the poipole’s sticky body were off her. She never liked feeling sticky. Or wet. But a shower was the lesser of the two evils.

        As she strained her feathers dry, her stomach growled. Having no watch or clock nearby she had no idea whether or not it was even meal time. Regardless, she was hungry. Hungry and tired. A quick snack and a good long sleep sounded absolutely delicious. She stomped through the pooling water and strutted out into the hallway, her claws leaving little wet patches as she hopped down the stairs. Droplets of water still fell from her feathers, spattering the wall and peeling woodwork. She was too busy watching where she put her feet, enjoying creating perfect prints on the dry wood, to see where she was going. As she landed on the final step, her snout found itself buried in fluffy, warm, white feathers.

        “I think we need to have a little chat.” Despite the calmness in his voice, there was a warning note that didn’t settle well with her.

        She pulled her head back and looked up into Waveform’s crimson eyes. His face was as calm as his voice, yet somehow he seemed a lot bigger.

        Annie raised an eyebrow and inclined her head on one side, taking him aback ever so slightly. He’d tried to mask it, but she’d seen it.

        “Oh?” she said. “What about?”

        He glanced over his shoulder at the voices coming from the kitchen. Muffled and incoherent. Then he turned back to her and frowned.

        “’What about’,” he scoffed. “Get upstairs. We can’t talk here.”

        He span her around with his wing and nudged her forwards, causing her to stumble on the steep steps.

        “But I’m hungry,” she whined.

        “You can eat later. This is more important.”

        “Hardly.”

        She tutted and hopped back up the stairs. Her wet prints were already fading away. When they reached the top, he steered her towards her room and followed her inside, closing the door behind them silently.

        Annie looked from her still unmade bed to the decidueye and raised an eyebrow again.

        “Couldn’t we talk somewhere else?” she asked.

        “I’m afraid we lack a meeting room, and I don’t really want to make a scene in the kitchen.” He tucked his wings under his collar and stared down at her like a teacher scolding his pupil. “I think we need to go over your recent actions.”

        “What recent actions?” She spread a wing towards the window and grinned. “All that awesome?”

        “Awesome?” Waveform spat. “You think what you did in Pulse City was ‘awesome’? First you tell a detective and some space pirate crony everything about your ‘plan’ and where you came from, then you kidnap another space pirate who, by the way, is still cowering on the ship. Don’t even get me started on your malicious handling of him, either. I know I don’t think much of space pirates. My job is to round them up and turn them in, but I can’t turn a blind eye on you waving him around by the tail! Then you go and upset Zip. The little fish you’ve adopted and promised - blindly - to rescue him and his kind from being turned into meat.”

        He paused and she stared up at him, unblinking. He took a breath, unfurling his wings to cross over his chest, and leant back against the wall.

        “I know I backed you,” he said. “I thought you had a good premise. Sort out the mayor, free the water dwellers, clean up the outskirts. No more toxic air. Give those living in unfair persecution a voice. I liked it. But seeing all this… I honestly don’t think you’re capable.”

        She finally blinked. Silently.

        “You’re no captain,” he went on. “A captain doesn’t behave like that. A captain cares about their crew. The ship goes down, they go with it. You know as much about being a captain as you do about being a pokemon. You go around looking like one, but you can’t play the part.” He waved a wing-paw at her soggy form then tucked it away again. “I think you need to take a good look in the mirror and tell me if you really, truly believe you can handle this.”

        “I don’t got a mirror.” She took a step back and glanced over at the yellowed wall and lop-sided drawers. “Besides. I got this, believe me. Everything is going fine.”

        “It’s not going fine! We’ve got a terrified space pirate holding his breath on your ship, and a depressed goldeen in the kitchen. Not to mention that creature you’ve abducted and the fact we’re back exactly where we started. Back in Spool City breathing toxic air. If it’s bad for Webber I can’t imagine how bad it must be for you. You weren’t even born here.”

        Annie folded her arms and stared sideways at him. “If we didn’t come back here, that little creature would have died.”

        “You only wanted to save it because you thought it was a celebi.” He met her stare and narrowed his eyes. “If you knew it wasn’t what would you have done? Sent it back out into the atmosphere?”

        “Of course not. I’m not a monster.”

        “Says the human swinging a chatot around by the tail.”

        “Look!” She raised her wings and flexed her claws. “I’ve got tiny hand-things here. And no one gave me anything to put him in. How was I meant to carry him?”

        “Carrying is not the same as swinging around. Nor is threatening to kill him.”

        She let out a low groan and trailed her claws down her face. Anger bubbled up inside her like an overheating pot of stew that she fought desperately to put a lid on.

        “Fine!” she snapped. “You think it’s so easy being captain, you take over.”

        “I’m not saying it is easy being captain. Quite the opposite. And I’m not taking over.” He crouched down so he was level with her, and placed a paw on his knee. “I’m just saying you need a bit of a reality check here. You need to think things through more. Apologise to Hatter, give him your request and let him go. And don’t worry about paying him, I’ll deal with that.”

        She cracked her claws to peer at him. “You can pay him?”

        He shrugged a shoulder, and she thought she saw him smile. There was that lid.

        “I thought you said we had no money,” she said.

        “Like I said, don’t worry about it.” He paused and trailed his eyes over her. “Now. You’re well out of your element here. And from what I can gather from your back story, you’ve not had much chance at freedom. I hope our little talk has made you realise you’re going about it the wrong way. You might think you’ve got a crew behind you with this rebellion, but if you keep behaving like this, before long Web and Trojan aren’t going to back you. Web used to be a pirate, and I wouldn’t blame her if she accused you of giving them a bad press. That stir you caused in Pulse City will have done more damage than good. As for Trojan, you can only push him so far before he snaps.”

        “So I gotta apologise to them too?”

        Waveform nodded.

        “Alright. I’ll do it.” She tried to move past him, but he stretched out a wing to block her way. “Do you want me to apologise or not?”

        “I’m not done.” He gently scooted her back in front of him. “You have to learn to walk before you learn to run. You’re not going to make a good space pirate or rebellion leader if you don’t know how to act like you actually belong in System.”

        “But I don’t belong in System.”

        “That’s why I said ‘act’. Now…” He grabbed her claws in his paw and held up her left wing. “No bird goes around looking like they’ve just rolled in a thorn bush.”

        She furrowed her brow and pouted. “Hey! I have you know I just showered.”

        “Yes, and I’m going to guess you squeezed your feathers dry rather than shaking the water off. Am I right?”

        “Maybe.”

        Waveform released her and placed his wing back across his knee. “Do you know anything about birds, Annie?”

        “They have feathers, lay eggs and fly.” She folded her wings and puffed out her chest. “They also evolved from dinosaurs.”

        “And you are…?”

        “Annie.”

        He slapped his paw onto his face. “Yes, but not quite what I was going for here.”

        “I’m an archeops,” she said. “Evidence to prove my point.”

        “Yes, a prehistoric bird that scientists believe were weak fliers. But that’s not to say they couldn’t fly. You appear to really struggle in that area, and if the way you treat your feathers is anything to go by then I think we’ve figured out why.”

        Annie raised her wing to examine it. The blue and yellow feathers lay in a haphazard fashion, still sodden with water.

        “Archeops weren’t just tatty-looking birds?” she asked.

        “Well, you’re feathers are primitive but they don’t look like those of a dodrio. I’d say you could likely fly given the chance.”

        “Wow. I’d really like that.” She grinned widely. “You gonna show me how?”

        “First thing’s first, you need to learn a little feather maintenance.”

        “What? Preening?”

        “Exactly.”

        “But…” She frowned again. “But I don’t have a beak.”

        He merely shrugged. “I don’t think you need one. Just… comb your feathers with your teeth. Knit them together, get them into the right position.”

        “Huh.”

        She turned her reptilian head towards her right wing and frowned at the long, blue feathers. Then she grabbed them in her teeth and dragged them through, pulling off odd strands and spluttering as she tried to avoid swallowing them.

        Beside her, Waveform grimaced. “Stop! Stop.”

        She looked up, flicking out her tongue to remove the coarse, blue strands. Waveform didn’t look her in the eye. He was too preoccupied with the mess she’d made of her already messy feathers. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his beak above its armour.

        “I guess I’m going to have to show you,” he said.

        She shuffled around so she was facing him and stared up at him expectantly. He raised his own wing and opened his beak… then hesitated. Instead, he cleared his throat and lowered it again.

        “I think you’d learn faster if I used your own feathers,” he said.

        “Hang on.” She raised her claws. “You asked me what I know about birds. I just brushed over it. Perappu Says told me birds engage in… what did he call it?” She scratched her chin and looked up at the ceiling. “Mutual preening.”

        Waveform’s cheeks flushed and he fell back from her. “What…! How do you expect chicks to learn?”

        “I ain’t a chick,” she said. “I’m technically an adult. And Perappu Says made it pretty darn clear that mutual preening is a mating ritual.”

        “What-?”

        “No offence… but I ain’t interested in that.”

        Waveform cleared his throat again and swiftly regained his composure. The surprise in his eyes hardened into seriousness and he folded his wings neatly, uniformly.

        “If you want to get into the technicalities,” he said, “it is an affectionate thing. But also between friends and hatchlings. If you want to learn to tidy yourself up and fly, you need someone to teach you.”

        “What about Web?”

        “Web isn’t a bird.”

        “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.”

        He narrowed his eyes and fell silent for a moment until he had her full attention.

        “Do you want me to teach you or not?” he asked.

        Her wings fell limp at her sides and she slumped. “Fine.”

        She turned her back on him and let him take her left wing in his.

        “Just don’t cut me with that metal thing on your face,” she said.

        “It’s no more serrated than my beak is, don’t worry.”

        “Then what’s its purpose?” she asked.

        He said nothing, taking two of her longer feathers in his beak and running them through. All she felt was a tug, and she watched as they smoothed out and knitted into place. He did this a couple more times until he was satisfied.

        “See?” He said without looking up. “Now you try.”

        She shrugged and turned to her other wing. He didn’t release her, working away at her ‘primaries’. Another word coming back to her from her childhood books. She tried to copy him, getting much better results and less strands in her mouth. She wasn’t sure whether or not still being wet from the shower was helping, but it certainly looked smoother. Like when you wet your hair to smooth down the frizzy strays.

        When she felt the cold metal brush her skin, she froze and snapped her head around to face him. He had his eyes closed, combing through the smaller feathers over her arm. She’d always been anxious of hair dressers nicking her with their deadly scissors as a child. But his precision felt more like a metal comb. She relaxed herself and returned to her work.

        She was barely half done when Waveform released her and stood up. She looked from him to her wing, noting the tidy display of blue and yellow feathers.

        “I think you get the idea.” He turned to the door. “We’ll try flying tomorrow morning. I’ll be back shortly with some breakfast for you.”

        “No, I’ll come with you.” She tried to follow him, but he pulled the door shut before she could leave, wedging himself between the frame.

        “You’ll wait here,” he said. “Give everyone a chance to cool down. I need to relieve Trojan from watching your captive. Be grateful I came here to talk to you instead of him.”

        “That bad, huh?” she asked.

        He nodded then gestured to her bed. “Get some rest, then we’ll all sit down and have a little chat.”

        The door closed behind him, and she stared at the bare, stained wood. Oh well. A good rest did sound like a grand idea. She hopped onto her bed and finished straightening her feathers out before clambering under the musty sheets.

        ...

        As Wildcard Gamma dropped slowly towards the ground, Macro could make out more and more of the run-down rooftops of Spool City. The worn streets looked a sickly brown through the heavy smog, darkening to a black as his ship dropped a little lower.

        DL stood beside him, her breathing noisy through her filter mask. He checked it was fastened properly around her antenna and then gave his own a second check over. It was more of a nervous tic. For the first time, he’d be taking DL onto System Ground. A place she’d not walked since her memories were taken away. A place she’d probably never seen with her own eyes, never even smelled, never once experienced except maybe for the faint smog one could see on the skyline from one of Meta City’s skyscrapers.

        It tied his stomach in knots.

        He steadied himself onto the neon ladder and nodded for DL to join him. She clambered down until she was almost beside him, and he looked down at the ground below. He could feel her trembling. Heights? Anticipation? Maybe memories she’d not told him about? The entire ladder shook and he reached out a paw to pull her into himself, just in time for the neon bars to drop noisily towards the outskirts.

        Wind whipped past his ears, blowing his long fur up over the goggles of his mask. DL screwed her eyes shut, cowering into him and clutching the ladder so tightly he could see her knuckles through her fur.

        Before long, they were on solid ground. He offered his paw to help her down, then looked up and down the street. They’d been dropped just shy of an alley. If it weren’t for the fact they were in Spool City, he’d have thought it an ideal hiding spot. But the trash cans were often teaming with trubbish and garbordor, and the drains were perfect lurking spots for grimer and muk as they spied on their rivals’ turf.

        He lifted his paw to activate his visor, but it was held firmly in place. He glanced down at DL’s white paw still clasped around his. She wasn’t looking at him, instead anxiously eyeing the buildings before them. Windows blocked off by curtains and wooden boards. Walls plastered with posters of wanted space pirates, both recent and long since captured. Several of them were for himself, some dating back to the days where he was only wanted for ten thousand credits.

        It might only have been a mere couple of weeks, but those days felt long gone.

        “She really doesn’t like you, does she?” said DL.

        Macro stared back at a poster of himself, frowning at his sneer. “No. She doesn’t.”

        He steered her away from the space pirate montage and led her towards Meta City. His heart was in his throat, pulsing nauseatingly. He could see the skyscrapers dominating the skyline. Tatty rooftops backed by a pristine white, tinted yellow with the Spool City air. But beyond that he knew they were white. He’d seen them. He’d been there.

        Deep voices reached his ears and he froze, straining through the green tint of his mask. He’d still not activated his visor. Spool City was unfamiliar to him. Unlike Proxy City, not many of Spool’s inhabitants had hired him, so he’d had no reason to walk its streets.

        The voices rose into a crescendo of shouts. Gang war, most likely. Nothing he wanted to be a part of. He ducked though a narrow alley and came out on the other side. He crouched against a boarded-up wall and wriggled his paw from DL’s grasp. A quick flick of his ear piece and his visor flashed before his eyes. Maps. Maps was what he wanted. It took a moment to find it, but an outline of Spool City from the sky overlaid his view of the buildings. He let his paw relax to his side, where it was immediately snatched up by DL.

        He restrained himself from looking at her, instead straining his ears to pick up those voices. They’d gone. All he could hear was the wind, and the flapping of hundreds of posters. Loud, papery flaps. Loud enough to drown out a quieter voice.

        He straightened up, bracing himself to move, but no sooner was he back on his feet something wet slapped him across his mask. He beat it aside and stood back, watching as a damp poster for Giga Impact fluttered in the wind, torn right across the dates. Neatly. Something wasn’t right. He stood back and looked up at the wall, taking in all the posters.

        All of them flapped around noisily. Damp. Torn. Not untidily, either. Each cut was perfectly straight. Angled. Slices were cut out, littered along the damp sidewalk and plastered on the road. Every single poster had been sliced with the precision of a blade. And it wasn’t just the posters either. The wall beyond it had also been sliced. Sliced like butter.

        His eyes flew across each one, taking it in. Trying to fathom what in System could have done it. Various pokemon rolled through his mind. Pawniard and bisharp? Their claws weren’t sharp enough to slice through brick or stone. Neither were skarmory, or scyther. Scizor could take out chunks, but not slices.

        Something zipped past behind him, whipping up the air. He spun on the spot, searching the empty streets. On the other side, a curtain fluttered. He caught the flashing eyes of a dark furred meowth, before the curtain fell back into place. But they hadn’t been watching him. He wasn’t even sure they’d seen him.

        He grabbed DL’s paw and ducked back into the narrow alley, not taking his eyes off the vacant street.

        Whatever it was whipped past again, in the same direction. Small. Glinting in the dull light. Then, like a flash, it was gone.

        DL pressed herself up against him, fixing her terrified eyes on the street. Her breath came in quick bursts, and a couple of times he thought she was about to say something.

        Then they saw it again. Retracing its footsteps. Slower. Slow enough to just make it out.

        A small creature, far different from any pokemon he had seen before. Papery, but its limbs glistened in the weak sunlight. It turned away from them, zooming out of view.

        Then he heard a scream. A blood curdling, terrified scream.

        He instinctively fastened his arms around DL, pulling her into him. Her entire body trembled and she buried her face into his scarf. His heart was racing. He scanned the street, straining his ears, but nothing else came. No creatures. No voices. All he could hear was the fluttering of the posters.

        One thing was for certain. They couldn’t stay here. Not unprepared. If these were more of those Ultra Beasts, they needed to know exactly what they were and come back with the tools to deal with it. He took a steady breath and licked his dry lips as he removed one paw from DL to reach for his pouch.

        Light footsteps exploded into the alley on his other side and he moved his paw from his pouch to his laser. He snapped his head around to spot the ruffian, but instead what he saw was a slender lopunny, her head covered with a filter mask. She stood with her back against the wall and something sparking in her right paw. He glanced down at it. A taser. Then back up at her. She’d spotted them. Her eyes went between the two of them, then over at the silent street. She lifted her free paw and gestured for them to join her.

        Macro grit his teeth together, unseen beyond his mask, and shook his head slowly.

        She lifted her paw to gesture again, more urgently this time.

        Macro kept one eye on her and grabbed the butt of his laser, slowly dragging it from its holster. She watched him carefully, then took a step towards the alley mouth. Both her paws rose to her chest, still clutching the taser, but it was a defensive pose. Not a threatening one.

        Then she wasn’t a ruffian. Or if she was, she wasn’t a very good one. He met her eyes, a pale rose colour, lit up with fear. A fear he’d not seen since he was a child, reflected in the eyes of his friend. A fear elicited by a monster.

        It stunned him, as though he’d been shot through the chest. He released his gun and relaxed his hold on DL, falling slightly against the wall. The lopunny lowered her weapon and tiptoed around the garbage towards him. She lowered her head to his, keeping both eyes on the vacant street.

        “It’s not safe here,” she whispered. “Come with me.”

        Macro stared up at her, narrowing his eyes with confusion. There was something about that voice…

        DL pulled back from him and took his paw again, guiding him after the lopunny. The lopunny paused occasionally to look around, her long ears slightly raised. Then she ducked out of the mouth of the alley, turning a sharp right. Macro followed after her, keeping at DL’s side. His paw found his laser again, and he searched the walls for any sign of damage. The further they followed the stranger, the more posters were torn. Ominously flapping in the wind, like the clapping of an invisible audience. It chilled him.

        The lopunny stopped beside a rundown building, and Macro paused to take it in. She fumbled with a set of keys, too many for one lone building. The building had no sign. It stood between a boarded-up shop filled with sliced up posters. On the other side was a club that looked like it hadn’t been frequented much in years. One thing about the lopunny’s chosen residence struck him. Painted across the wall in scarlet paint were the words ‘shove off shamus’.

        Macro’s mouth went dry.

        The lopunny finally got the door open and stood aside, ushering the space pirate inside. He frowned up at her, but lurched forwards as DL dragged him after her. The lopunny was on his back in a flash, shoving him into the building. As she slammed the door, Macro spotted one of the creatures zipping past the window. If it had seen them, it didn’t show any interest. A neat clipping from one of the posters drifted down like a fallen feather onto the street.

        Macro turned back to their rescuer and folded his arms. “Mind telling me what a detective is doing saving my ass?”

        “Oh, I think that’s fairly self explanatory,” said the lopunny.

        She unbuckled her mask and pulled it over her head, shaking her ears into place. Then she fixed her rose coloured eyes onto his.

        Macro’s jaw almost struck the floor and he staggered back, groping for a chair. Failing to find one, he slid down against a desk. DL crouched beside him to try and drag him back to his feet, but his legs wouldn’t obey. He stumbled over his words, unable to take his eyes off the rabbit pokemon.

        “Digit?” he gasped out.

        DL snapped her head around to look at him, then spun to face the lopunny.

        “Long time no see, Hunter.” The lopunny kicked herself back into one of the office seats and set her mask on her desk. “But it isn’t ‘Digit’ anymore. I go by Defrag now. Welcome to Spool City’s little undercover detective agency.”
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        I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

        A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
        A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
        Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
        Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
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          #54    
        Old July 13th, 2018 (5:26 AM).
        Delirious Absol's Avatar
        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
        Call me Del
           
          Join Date: May 2015
          Location: UK
          Age: 33
          Gender: Female
          Nature: Quirky
          Posts: 345
          A/N - This is a day early, as I have to proof read the special episode for Monday, and it's quite long! Also... I'm just super excited to get this chapter up, followed by The Wonderland Episode ;) Chapter Fifty Four will be posted next Saturday as usual!

          Chapter Fifty Three

          It was all Macro could do to stare at the lopunny. Sitting there, staring back at him, was a former member of his crew. A pokemon who’d left him because he was ‘too reckless’. The very pokemon who’d left him feeling wounded and heartbroken. And now she was living in Spool City, as a detective, rounding up ruffians and space pirates.

          He snapped his jaw together and flashed a canine as he tried to lever himself up on DL’s offered arm. A pointless expression since Defrag couldn’t see his face.

          “So what’s this?” he asked. “Trying to reform yourself? Gotta say, I didn’t think a former space pirate could get a leg up in law enforcement.”

          “You just need to know the right pokemon.” Defrag turned her chair to face her desk and idly tapped at her keyboard. “Some offer you the chance to reform yourself.”

          “And Socket is fine with that?” he spat.

          “Socket doesn’t know I used to work for you,” she said. “Fortunately for your crew, after your little fiery feat only your face was plastered all over System Ground. I managed to get away from that by the skin of my teeth.”

          DL lowered her head to his. “What’s she talking about?”

          “It doesn’t matter.” He took the pachirisu’s paw and made for the door. “Come on, we’re heading back.”

          “Oh it does matter.” Defrag span her chair around and flicked one of her long ears over the back of it. “So you go and drag another girl into your little exploits and refuse to tell her anything? Typical.”

          “Just drop it, Digit!”

          He flashed a snarl at her, keeping his free paw on the door handle. His heart was hammering in his chest as he tried to mentally shake off the flashbacks. Defrag’s demeanour softened and she looked between the two of them. DL struggled in his grip and he became aware he was almost crushing her paw. He relaxed his grip and fired her a sideways glance.

          “Sorry,” he muttered.

          “Huh. Would you look at that.” Defrag crossed one leg over the other and twirled back towards her desk. “I assumed you enjoyed causing trouble. I guess I was mistaken.”

          He stared at the back of her head for a moment, trying to piece everything together. Things hadn’t ended well. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been calling him every name under the sun. Now she had him in a detective’s office, and she wasn’t even watching him.

          A smirk tugged at his lips and he secured his grip on the door handle. “You’re not a very good detective, are you? You’re just gonna let me go?”

          “Not exactly.”

          He twisted the handle and tugged, but it wouldn’t budge. His eyes snapped back to it and he tried again, jerking it up and down in a vain attempt to jiggle the door open.

          “I’ve locked it.” She turned back to him and ran a paw over one of her long ears. “You really think I’m going to let you go when that creature is still out there?”

          “Alright. So you’ve got me.” He shrugged. “Forty thousand credits standing in your office. But I have you know, I am armed.”

          “So what? So am I.” She shrugged. “But I know for certain you’d never shoot a girl. That’s the only noble thing about you.”

          Every hair along Macro’s spine stood on end. “Only noble thing…” He narrowed his eyes at the lopunny and pointed a claw at her. “I saved your life!”

          Defrag rolled her eyes. “We all know why you saved my life, little mawile! But you don’t go around saving lives. You’re a criminal, not a hero.”

          “I’m not gonna stand here and take this.” He reached into his belt for his gun and aimed it at the door.

          “You damage that, you’re paying for it,” said Defrag.

          “Look, I don’t need to redeem myself to you,” he said. “And I ain’t payin’ for a manky door. I’ve got a job to do, and right now you’re stopping me from doing it.” He tapped the door with the nozzle of his laser. “Open it, or I’ll blast it off its hinges.”

          Defrag watched him curiously and flicked her ear again. “What job have you got here in Spool City? A deal in black sludge? Poison barbs? Some ruffian owe you a favour?”

          He let out a bitter laugh. “Not this time, sweetheart. I’m gettin’ rid of those beasts.”

          Her eyes widened briefly, but she quickly regained her composure. “Really? You? Fighting those bladed monsters? I’ve watched them cut pokemon down. What could you possibly do?”

          “Find out where they’re coming from, for one thing.” He glanced towards DL and let his gun fall to his side. “Given what we know about it, any chance you can tell me which one it is? Might dictate which laser I use.”

          “Easily,” said DL. “I read about each one in detail last night.”

          DL had both Macro’s and Defrag’s attention, the latter with a look of surprise.

          “There’s only one that fits a bladed description,” said DL. “It’s name is Kartana. Steel and grass type. It can cut through metal and rock with its limbs, but is so light it rivals gastly in weight.”

          “So if we face it head on it turns us into sashimi.” Macro flexed his claws over the butt of his gun and looked back at the door. “Not one of us has a type advantage against that thing. I guess we’re relying on fire power. Ground laser it is.” He loaded up his ground type module with a flick of a claw.

          “Interesting.” Defrag tapped her claws over her folded arm. “You appear to know a lot about these things. Now I’m even more reluctant to let you go.”

          “Well, if you don’t let us go, we can’t round them up,” said Macro. “And I don’t really wanna stay. You’ve got one more chance to open the door.”

          Defrag pursed her lips together, not taking her eyes off him. He sighed and lifted his gun to the door again.

          “Don’t shoot,” said Defrag. “I’ll let you out. But only if you tell me why you’re really here, and how you know so much.”

          “I told you. I’m rounding up those beasts.”

          “So you’re trying to be a hero? Trying to fight something that is clearly much more powerful than you? If your little friend is right, then those things can cut through you as though you’re nothing.”

          “I’m aware of that! I ain’t goin’ in there unprepared,” he said. “I’ve been told to do this.”

          “By who? The Mayor?”

          He snorted and tucked his gun away. “No. You’re kiddin’ right?”

          “Then who?” Defrag asked. “Did someone in Spool City hire you?”

          “Gotta be honest with ya, my first port of call wasn’t actually Spool City. I was headin’ for Meta City to look at those electric beasts. Find out what the damage is, and where they’re comin’ from.”

          “I can tell you all of that from right here.” Defrag twisted back to her computer and tapped at her keyboard, bringing up a news article. “They’ve traced their origin back to some strange porthole in one of the back alleys. From that evidence alone, it’s pretty obvious they’re not from this world.”

          Macro darted to her side and leant on the desk, skimming over the information. It was all there, detailing the porthole complete with its swirling mist. There was no picture to prove its existence, but he didn’t need one. Neither did DL or the rest of Wildcard Gamma.

          “That sounds exactly like the one Switch came through,” said DL.

          Macro nodded silently.

          “Who?” Defrag looked down at them and frowned. “You’ve seen this porthole?”

          “Not this one exactly.” Macro pushed himself back from the desk. “But if there’s one in Meta City, there might be one in Spool n’all. I say we find it.”

          “And then what?” DL asked. “How do you suppose we close it? You know they pull us in!”

          Macro sighed and let his paws fall at his sides. She was right. They couldn’t close them. He looked back at her and shrugged his shoulders.

          “But at least we’d know where it is,” he said. “Easier to track down and get those creatures back home.”

          “All right!” Defrag rose to her feet and placed a paw on her hip. “I want to know exactly what’s going on. If it weren’t for seeing those creatures with my own eyes, I’d think you were pulling my leg! If you know something, you tell us. System has a right to know.”

          Macro chuckled and folded his arms. “Why exactly?”

          “So the Mayor can do something about it!”

          “The Mayor is the reason it’s happening!” Macro threw his paws wide. “If System needs to know anything, it’s that!”

          Defrag’s jaw dropped and she stared down at him, dumbfounded. Her eyes narrowed slightly and she shook her head.

          “What are you talking about?” she asked.

          “It’s a long story, I ain’t got time.” He nodded to the door. “Open that or I’ll whip out my old, tried and tested method.”

          “Nutshell it,” she said. “Then I’ll open the door.”

          Macro took a deep breath and placed a paw over his mask. “Okay, fine! But you better keep it to yourself. I don’t wanna be responsible for a rebellion.”

          Defrag merely nodded.

          “Socket is tryin’ to tear open time and space,” he began, “in a bid to find a new world to settle in. But only the rich will get a look in. She’s gonna leave everyone else - the poor, the criminals and the space pirates - right here to suffer in all this rot.”

          Defrag stared down at him, meeting his eyes. Her expression was unreadable, and he braced himself for a string of accusations. His paw went back to his laser and he cast a fleeting glance to the door.

          “I believe you,” she said.

          He snapped his head back around to face her and his jaw fell open. She believed him? Had he heard that correctly?

          She shrugged. “What can I say? I’ve come across some information recently that’s left me rather sceptical of Socket. I won’t go into details, but you telling me she’s responsible for these creatures… I can’t doubt that.”

          “So workin’ for the law hasn’t changed your opinion, eh?”

          Defrag turned back to her desk and reached beneath it. A sharp click came from the door. Macro drew his laser and crept over to it, straining his ears to hear outside.

          “I’m not letting you go alone,” she said. “If there really is a porthole somewhere in Spool City, I’m going to help you find it.”

          “Sure,” said Macro. “You go one way, DL and I will go the other.”

          She let out a single laugh. “I might not be afraid to hunt around Spool City alone, but there’s safety in numbers. From what I’ve heard, there are two of those beasts. Three of us versus two of them? I think we’ll have the upper paw.”

          Macro turned back to her and leant against the door, folding his arms. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

          “Let me tell you somethin’, sweetheart,” he said. “It took four ships and a small army to take out one of those… Ultra Beasts. That’s their name, all right? They come in many shapes and sizes. This one was all tentacled. You probably read about it.”

          “I did.”

          “Well. Wildcard Gamma, three other ships, a small army… and it took out two ships. One creature took out two ships! So don’t underestimate these things.”

          “Given one destroyed an entire city, that’s not all that difficult to believe,” she said. “So wouldn’t it make more sense to stick together?”

          “Wouldn’t make an ounce of difference.”

          “I think it would.” She frowned down at him and inclined her head on one side. “Now. Tell me, where did you find out their name? Or is ‘Ultra Beast’ something you space pirates have coined? ‘Cos it sure isn’t on any websites.”

          “I ain’t got time to explain.”

          “Nutshell it.”

          Macro rolled his eyes and threw his paws in the air. “Fine! Socket’s pesky creation named ‘em. The thing she’s got opening these portholes. Can we go?”

          He jabbed a thumb towards the door and turned on his heel, tugging the door open. Putrid air assaulted him instantly, permeating the mask. He did his best not to cough, and frowned up and down the empty street.

          “Sure is quiet, huh?” he said. “Don’t like it.”

          “No one wants to come outside because of those beasts,” said Defrag. “The sooner we find out where they’re coming from, the better.”

          “Well, if no one wants to come outside then it gives me less oppression to deal with.” He stepped out into the street, keeping his gun cocked and ready. “I’m surprised something part grass type is willing to stick around in all this pollution.”

          Defrag stepped out beside him and locked the door. “If they’re not from this world, who’s to say their typings work the same way ours do?”

          “No clue.”

          Macro moved away from her, ushering DL beside him. The only sounds were the flapping of torn posters and the breeze stirring litter along the gutter. He paused beside the alley they’d previously lurked in, straining to see through to the other side. That’s where they’d seen the creatures. Were they still there?

          One of the trash cans rustled and wobbled. He aimed his laser at it and took a step back. The lid cracked open, revealing the yellowed eyes of a tired trubbish. They widened and fixed on his laser, then vanished back into the trash can. The lid clattered closed behind him before teetering towards the floor. The trubbish reached out a tentacle to grab it and tugged the lid back in place with a loud clang.

          “Already terrorising the locals, I see?” Defrag stopped beside Macro and nodded towards the end of the alley. “That’s where they’ve been seen the most. If you’re going to find those beasts, that street is your best bet.”

          “I’d rather find their way home first,” he said. “That way we can herd them towards it.”

          “But what if it’s that way?” DL nodded towards the street. “If they’ve been seen there the most, they might be sticking close to their way home.”

          “And willingly stay in System?” Macro snorted. “I’m gonna bet they’re lost. But if you both believe we should check there first, then by all means.”

          He strutted along the alley, hopping over fallen trash bags that Defrag managed to tiptoe around with ease. The parallel street was just as quiet. It chilled him.

          He looked up and down it, the fur on the back of his neck standing on end. The fluttering of the posters sounded like a thunder clap. To his left, a drain gurgled noisily for a good, long minute before fizzling out to a trickle.

          “Cap’n?” Anchor’s voice resounded in his ear. “How are ya gettin’ on?”

          “We’re still in Spool City,” Macro said back quietly. “Apparently they’ve got their own little Ultra Beast invasion.”

          “Really?” said Anchor. “What about Meta City?”

          “Meta City can wait a while. They already know where their porthole is. I’m gonna search out this one.”

          “Alright. Keep me posted.”

          Defrag and DL looked at him expectantly. Macro shrugged and gestured with his laser to get moving. He gave the noisy drain a wide berth and cast a quick glance down another alley. Everything was so quiet. It was like a ghost town. If it weren’t for the curious eyes peeking through windows, he’d think the place were deserted.

          Killed off by the kartana.

          He swallowed dryly and looked up at the sky. Just through the smog he could make out Wildcard Gamma. A huge shadow casting a wave of reassurance over him.

          The kartana could cut through steel. They were as light as a gastly, if not lighter. But how high could they fly? Could they cut down Wildcard Gamma?

          He tore his eyes off the ship and focused on moving forward. The wind was picking up again, stirring the posters beside him. He looked over at the street at a sliced up billboard, no longer playing its club animation. Wind whipped past his face and he stood aside, catching the glint as something sharp darted through the air. A few black strands of fur drifted after it before vanishing into the wind.

          Defrag and DL joined his side, each of them clutching their own laser. The three of them cast their eyes around them as the wind picked up again.

          “Duck!” shouted Defrag.

          The trio crouched to the ground and a shrill whistle cut the air as another kartana swept overhead, narrowly missing his horn.

          “They’re too fast!” said DL. “We can’t fight them like this. We need to slow them down!”

          “Got any electrical attacks that can do that?” Defrag asked, firing a blind stream of fire in the direction of the kartana.

          DL shook her head. “I’ve not tried.”

          “Now is as good a time as an-ahh!” Defrag ducked again, raising her paws over her head.

          There was the sound of metal against metal, and when Macro opened his eyes he spotted the nozzle of her laser bounce across the tarmac. Defrag looked down at her ruined gun then looked after the kartana.

          It was doubling back, its limbs outstretched like wings. Paper thin, glinting in the dim light.

          “Step back,” Macro said, rising to his feet. “I’ve got this.”

          He fired his gun, sending a stream of dirt towards the kartana. The attack struck the ground, creating a geyser of mud and tarmac. The kartana rose higher into the air, dodging the attack with nimble grace, and arced over his head towards the rooftops.

          “You’re going to bring the city down!” Defrag snapped.

          “Shut up and let me do my job!” Macro rounded towards the kartana and fired off another beam.

          He didn’t know if it was his attack or the Ultra Beast, but the chimney slid from the roof and clattered to the floor in a shower of brick and mortar.

          Macro wiped his paw across the goggles of his mask and strained to see through the dust cloud. He could still hear it, slicing through the air as it danced around him. He caught a glimpse of it and aimed his gun, but it vanished before he could pull the trigger. Then again, to his left. Then his right.

          There was more than one.

          His heart sank and he took a step back towards his allies. Defrag with her fire laser down. DL with nothing but a water and grass laser, neither of which could do anything to the kartana.

          It was just him. One small mawile against two… no, three… four? Ultra Beasts that could slice through steel.

          “There’s too many,” he said quickly. “We’re gonna have to bail.”

          He pushed the button on his ear piece just as one of the kartana zipped towards him. He spun aside, firing his laser blindly. The creature zig-zagged away from him, spinning off balance in the air. He’d just clipped it.

          “Cap’n?” came Anchor’s voice.

          “Send down the ladder,” said Macro.

          He ducked again then looked up into the air. The ladder wasn’t coming down on their street? He grit his teeth together and grabbed DL’s paw. Then he turned to Defrag.

          “Move it!” he barked.

          He took off down the alley, pushing DL ahead of him. When they got to the alley mouth, his eyes went instantly towards the ladder. He almost threw DL at it before diving after her. Something flashed to his right and his eyes flew wide open. His gun clattered to the floor and he brought his paws to his chest, catching the kartana’s limbs in his paws. His back struck the floor, knocking the wind out of his lungs. He kicked his feet into the air and threw himself backwards, throwing the kartana over his head. Then he brought his horn up in an arc, smacking it square across the body. The sharp Ultra Beast flew back the way it came.

          Macro wiped his bleeding paws onto his scarf, retrieved his fallen weapon and turned back to the ladder. DL was still waiting at the bottom of it, her eyes wide and frantic. Defrag stood beside her front door, fumbling in her pouch for her key card. But she didn’t take her eyes off him or DL.

          He clenched his paws into fists to stem the bleeding and bolted for the ladder. He shouted at DL to get on, throwing a paw at her to make his point. He could hear that whistle of air being sliced, growing in intensity. Crouching, he threw himself at the ladder, reaching for it.

          The whistle stopped, and he was knocked to the ground. He heard his laser skitter across the tarmac.

          “Macro!” DL dropped from the ladder.

          The kartana was on him, but it felt no heavier than a large sheet of paper. He tried to take a breath, bracing himself to launch it off him with a swing of his horn. But his breath cut off as his entire mouth filled with metallic blood. Then he felt it shift. A searing, hot pain as it pulled its limb free from his body.

          DL picked up his laser, aiming it at the Ultra Beast. He watched her, pleading with his eyes. He opened his mouth to shout ‘no’, but all that came out was a strained gag.

          She fired, blasting the creature from his back in a spray of dirt. It seared across his body, and he screwed his eyes shut. Everything hurt. It hurt to breathe. He could feel blood pooling in his mask as it looked for a way out, clogging up the filter.

          The last thing he saw was DL and Defrag rushing to his side before his world went black.
          __________________
          I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

          A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
          A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
          Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
          Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
          Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
          'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
          Reply With Quote
            #55    
          Old July 16th, 2018 (2:36 AM).
          Delirious Absol's Avatar
          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
          Call me Del
             
            Join Date: May 2015
            Location: UK
            Age: 33
            Gender: Female
            Nature: Quirky
            Posts: 345
            A/N - Here it is! A semi-canon special. Crack-fiction, if you will. Prepare for some craziness!

            I have a few specials planned, but not all of them are canon. This one isn't 100% canon, but it gives you a glimpse into Macro's psyche. Unless there's a demand for me to post all specials (including the Serebii Fanfiction Forum exclusive Christmas special I did last year) then I won't be posting the non-canon ones here. Please let me know in a review.

            (I do not own Alice in Wonderland or Pokemon! I just love them both and threw them together in a glorious crack-fic frenzy!)


            Special Episode - Macro in Wonderland

            When Macro opened his eyes, everything was dark. Cold, damp grass tickled his paw pads, and dew soaked through the fur of his stomach. Somewhere nearby, there was water. The sea? A lake? It swept back and forth, gently lapping some unseen land. He blinked his eyes a few times, allowing them to adjust to the darkness, before pushing himself to his feet. His head hurt. His body hurt. What had happened?

            He smoothed out his scarf and looked up at the sky. Stars. Twinkling and… moving? Their patterns were erratic, but they cast a dim glow down onto his surroundings, reflecting off miles and miles of water. He looked down at his feet, hidden among long grass. But all around him was water. What little island he was standing on, it wasn't much bigger than himself.

            "Oi!"

            His head snapped back up, meeting a pair of angry, glittering eyes leering at him from the water. The head was both avian and reptilian, flashing two rows of sharp teeth.

            "If you're gonna cry that much, at least warn a girl first!" The bird thing pulled a wing from the water, yellow feathers dripping wet. "Look what you've gone and did!"

            Macro blinked down at her. An archeops? Weren't they extinct? Where on earth was he? He looked around again. What he'd mistaken for stars were a swarm of volbeat and illumise desperately fleeing the water. They gathered in the branches of trees stretching up from the lake, or congregated in roots that expanded above him like the roof of a splendid, ancient, underground palace.

            "Where am I?" His voice came out hoarse and he coughed into his paw. "Where are my friends?"

            "Friends?" the archeops scoffed. "You mean there's more of you crybabies?"

            "Annie!" A skuntank paddled towards her, and it took a moment for Macro to realise she was riding on a huge book. There was a grinning cat on the cover. "Oh, thank goodness you're okay."

            "I'm fine! Just a little wet." The archeops blinked at him before climbing aboard the skuntank's book-boat. "So what's your story, shorty? What made you cry so much?"

            "'Shorty'?!" Macro spat.

            The archeops merely nodded.

            "All right. Well… I don't remember." Macro looked down at the lake and shook his head. "I really haven't a clue."

            "Really? 'Cos it looks to me like you've been put through the ringer." She paused and lifted a claw. "Actually, that ain't a bad idea. Anyone got a mangle? That aughta get us dry quick."

            The skuntank frowned at her. There were now two other pokemon on her book. A scrafty and a small, purple creature Macro didn't recognise.

            "A mangle's a bit old fashioned, ain't it?" said the scrafty.

            "I am not being squeezed through a mangle!" Macro rubbed his ribs. "I already feel like I've got a chest infection. I ain't adding broken ribs to that list."

            "Spoilsport." Annie folded her wings. "All right then, plan B. Stand aside, we're gonna climb aboard and run in circles 'til we're dry."

            Something white fluttered in the distance, snatching Macro's attention from the archeops. A fluffy, blue and white tail vanished beneath the water, sending his heart into his throat.

            "DL?" he gasped.

            "Eh?" Annie snapped her head towards him, half on and half off the little island. "I said 'circle'. I suggest you start runnin' too, else you'll never get dry."

            "No, I'd rather not," said Macro. "I need to get off this island and catch her before she drowns."

            "There's no way off," said Annie. "You'll be swimmin' for days."

            "Good thing I can swim then, ain't it?" He put one toe in the water and grimaced. "Wow, that's cold."

            Before he could drop his entire weight onto one leg, the entire water surged. He let out a squeak as something hidden beneath the surface dragged him across the lake and away from the island. He glanced back, wanting to scream for help, but Annie and her friends were busy running in tight circles around the rapidly shrinking island. He turned back to face where he was going and screamed. The water moved down, away from him like a waterfall. Before he could fully process his potential demise, the water launched him over the edge and he landed flat on his face on a cold, tiled floor.

            "What in the world?" He pushed himself to his feet and rubbed his sore nose. "This is not a good day."

            Somewhere, a door slammed. He spun on the spot to locate it, taking in his surroundings. Wherever the waterfall had launched him, it wasn't a beach or a river bed. Black and white tiles stretched out before him like a chessboard. The entire hallway was filled with doors - huge, towering doors - and at the far end was a red curtain. With all those doors, finding which one had slammed shut would be nigh impossible. And there was no sign of DL. He looked back up, but all he saw was a ceiling. No water. No waterfall. And no way to reach it even if there were. The hallway was bare save for a small, glass table. Well, given the size of the hallway, it looked small. It actually towered over Macro's head. Through the glass, he could see a lone key.

            "Well, that's a bit rotten," he muttered. "Guess it opens one of these doors. But there's more than one way to get that key down."

            He reached for his laser and gasped. His paw fastened around nothing. He twisted to check his belt, grimacing at the effort. Two holsters and nothing in them. Where on earth were his lasers?! He'd never felt more exposed.

            He groaned and turned away from the table to the doors. He wasn't even going to try and climb it. Maybe the doors weren't even locked? He trotted to the nearest one and groped for the doorknob… except it didn't have one. He craned his neck back to look up at it, seeing if it had been placed mockingly out of his reach. But it hadn't. There was, in fact, no doorknob. Just a keyhole. He muttered under his breath and checked another door. Same result.

            So all the massive doors held their keyholes well out of his reach, and the key was placed atop a huge table. He was beginning to feel very claustrophobic. He absently rubbed his chest, giving the hallway a disheartened glance. Then his eyes fell on the curtain. He half-ran, half-skidded down the hallway towards it and wrenched it aside. A door! A normal-sized door! A mawile-sized door! With a doorknob! He grabbed it in both paws and twisted. It didn't budge. He jiggled it a bit. Nothing. Then he saw the keyhole just below the doorknob.

            "Drat!"

            He spun on the spot to face the table, now seeming so far away. Still tall, still holding a key. And there was no way he could reach it.

            "Somewhere," he said, "a sadist is laughing."

            He strutted over to the table, keeping his eye on the key. There had to be some way to get it back down. As he stared at it, it began to grow closer. And… smaller? Before he knew it, he was staring down at the table, hunched over in the now minuscule hallway.

            "What is happening?!" he roared.

            "Oi!" Annie's archeops face poked through the tiny door. "Would you keep it down? I'm trying to hold a chess tournament in here!"

            He stared at her, aghast. A small draft stirred his fur from the open door. Oh, how he desperately wanted to bolt through it. But there was no way he'd fit now. He couldn't even fit his paw through.

            "Sod your chess tournament!" he said. "I'm stuck in here!"

            She made a thoughtful noise and inclined her head on one side. "You clearly didn't take me calling you 'shorty' very well, did you?"

            He flashed a canine and growled. "I'd rather be short than folded up in this corridor like a deck chair! Get help!"

            "Sorry, can't," she said. "But before you go cryin' again, take this. It might bring things back down to size a bit."

            She tossed a wing into the air and vanished back through the door. Something small and round bounced along the floor to stop at his hip. He stared down at it and his heart sank.

            An onion. Attached to it was a gift tag that read 'eat me'.

            He picked it up in his claws, and its skin crunched under his touch.

            "You have to be kiddin' me?" The thought of eating the thing whole, and raw, made him briefly consider remaining stuck in the hallway. But it was getting hard to breathe. "Oh well. You only live once, huh?"

            Given it was much too small to faff around with peeling, he tossed the whole thing into his mouth and swallowed it like a tablet. Then gagged.

            "All right," he choked. "Maybe next time, just peel the wretched thing."

            He deeply hoped there'd never be a next time.

            The walls began to grow, as did the doors. And the glass table.

            "Oh no. I'm not letting this chance get away."

            He pushed himself to his feet and swiped the key in his left paw, then bailed towards the red curtain. As he lowered the key, it jerked in his paw and he snapped his head down towards it. A klefki struggled in his grip, its eyes closed tight as it struggled to pull the key free.

            "Hey!" he snapped. "Let go! I'm using this!"

            "But it's mine!" the klefki wailed.

            "I'll give it back! Now let go!"

            Macro snatched the key back, sending the keychain pokemon rolling away from him through the air. He turned back to the door and realised with a sinking heart that he was still shrinking. He stood on tiptoes, jammed the key in the lock and twisted. The door swung away from him, revealing a lush garden. He tossed the key back towards the klefki and raced into the open air.

            "I'm free!" he shouted. "I'm free!"

            Long grass tickled through his fur as he raced between manicured flower beds. Bugs hummed in the air and the sweet smell of nectar filled his nose. Tall flowers swayed from side to side, almost looking at him. In fact… they were. The large faces of vibrant coloured florges stared down at him, frowning.

            "Rowdy little bug, isn't he?" one of them asked the other.

            "A bug?" said another. "He has no wings, and too few legs. I'd say he's a weed."

            "Oh yes," said a pink florges. "Much too ugly to be a garden flower."

            "Yes, a common weed," said the second one.

            Macro glared up at them. "Excuse me?"

            "Oh." The first florges lifted her arms to cover her mouth. "I think we offended it."

            "Worry not, dear sister," said the third one. "I'll call for the weed spray."

            Macro knew when he wasn't wanted. He turned and raced through the flower beds towards the trees. The manicured beds gave way to a field dotted with sparse woodland and fruit baring trees. Huge mushrooms rose up on either side of him, florescent in the dim light. Amongst them, a thin trail of smoke rose into the sky.

            "Well, I think I'm far enough away from the psychotic flowers." He sank to his bottom with his back against a mushroom. "I think I need a rest to figure this out. Now… what did I eat last?"

            "An onion, I'm guessing."

            Macro waved a paw. "Well, aside from that. What could have caused this trippy dream?"

            "What makes you think it's a dream?"

            Macro was about to answer when words froze in his throat. He craned his neck around to spot the speaker. Atop one of the smaller mushrooms sat a small, green bug pokemon. The sewaddle stared back at him, holding a hookah pipe in one little leg. He blew a stream of smoke from his mouth, that formed a huge question mark above his little head.

            "Worm?" Macro gasped.

            "I know not of this Worm," said the sewaddle. "I'm a mere, humble caterpillar." He took a long drag of his hookah then frowned at Macro. "Now, what in the world are you?"

            "I'm a mawile," said Macro. "Come on, Worm! You know me!"

            "I do not know you, and you didn't answer my question." Worm narrowed his eyes. "What… are… you?"

            A sickly green question mark flew at Macro's face. He coughed and wafted it away. "I told you I'm a mawile! A space pirate! A rogue of the skies! Did you hit your head or somethin'?"

            "My head is fine." Worm returned to his hookah. "It is yours that is not."

            Macro hissed through his teeth and folded his arms, scanning the mushrooms for any hint that Worm might have ingested something that sent him loopy.

            "All this aside," said Macro, "do you know where my crew might have gone? Or where I am? Like… what city is this? Where in System are we?"

            "I did not say we could shove the matter aside," said Worm. "As for where we are, we are amongst mushrooms."

            "I can see that. What city?"

            Worm took a long drag of his hookah and slowly breathed out a stream of smoke. It formed a huge heart in the sky, then deformed into a grinning hoopa.

            "I haven't a clue," he said.

            "You don't even know how we got here?"

            "Oh, I know how I got here," said Worm. "I woke up this morning on this mushroom like I do every morning. As for you…"

            "I feel like I fell." Macro rubbed his ribs. "Or something punched me."

            "'Fell' is more likely," said Worm. "That happens when you go tumbling through rings and wormholes."

            Macro frowned and looked over at the mushrooms. Lots of them had holes in. With bite-marks. Was Worm being jokingly literal?

            "I don't recall any rings, or wormholes," said Macro. "I just woke up in a lake."

            "That explains why you look wet."

            "Exactly." Macro paused. "But I haven't a clue what happened leading up to all this!"

            "Maybe you hit your head."

            Macro reached up and rubbed beneath his goggles. Then he straightened them out. His head didn't feel sore, so he could rule that one out. Right?

            "You look concerned," said Worm. "Let's see if we can figure out why you are clearly having memory loss. Recite 'How Doth the Little…' for me."

            Macro raised an eyebrow. "Eh?"

            "No, not 'How Doth the Little E'!" Worm took a huge drag on his hookah. "Try again."

            Macro wound his scarf in his paws, fixing the sewaddle in a violet glare. All the bug pokemon did was stare back, nibbling the end of his pipe. Macro let out a resigned sigh and threw his arms in the air.

            "Fine. 'How doth the little krookodile improve his shining tail-'"

            "Wrong!" Worm blew out a huge, red cross. "It has nothing to do with krookodile or tails. Besides, who dragged shiny pokemon into all this? What makes them so special?"

            Macro's jaw dropped.

            Worm turned his nose into the air. "Try again."

            "No!" said Macro. "I am done playing your games! I'm not gonna continue makin' a fool of myself reciting non-existent poetry!"

            "Why not?" A question mark flew from Worm's mouth.

            "Because it's silly! And I have friends to look for. I saw DL, but I lost her and have to search for her in all… all this!" He spread his arms over the field of mushrooms. "And right now I'm a measly what… three inches high?"

            "That is a splendid height."

            "No it's not! I hate being so small! I can't even reach the key on the table! Just get me out of this nightmare and back to normal height!"

            Worm's face turned red and the smoke surrounding him formed lightning bolts. "What is wrong with being small?!"

            Macro stuttered and took two steps back. He'd seen Worm angry before, but this was a whole other form of angry. The bug pokemon's back prickled and his eyes began to glow yellow. Even the milky one with his everstone.

            "I'd say three inches is a very grand height indeed!" Worm exploded in a flash of light.

            Macro ducked, raising his paws over his head, but all that flew over him was smoke and glitter. He looked back up, spotting Worm's face hovering above him. Out of his back sprouted a pair of butterfree wings.

            "What the…" Macro muttered. He rose to his feet and pointed a claw at Worm. "That's not even the right freakin' evolution! If my dreams are gonna be wacko, they should at least get their science right!"

            "Science is nought but a myth," said Worm. "You need to take in what's around you and accept the extraordinary."

            "What are you wafflin' about?!"

            "If you hate being small," said Worm, "then maybe you should turn to the trees?"

            The sewaddle-butterfree fluttered away from him, abandoning his hookah to the mushrooms. The odd contraption slowly sank into the mushroom's cap, leaving behind a gnarly hole. Macro frowned and turned to the trees. His heart sank. Whatever was growing in them, it wasn't apples.

            Onions hung from the branches like baubles, looking as out of place as Worm's sudden wings. Both red and white, growing on the same trees. He sighed and picked up a stone, lobbing it at the vegetables. Two of them broke loose and thudded to the floor, narrowly missing his toes. He skittered backwards, then stooped to grab them. One red and one white. What were the odds? He shrugged it off and shoved them into his pouch.

            "Dunno what he were goin' on about," he said. "But since the last one helped me to shrink back down, maybe these might get me out of some tricky situations n'all."

            ...

            The field of mushrooms felt like it went on forever. Each one cast a neon purple glow, giving the entire stretch an unearthly feel. When Macro finally spotted the roof of a house rising over the mushrooms, he found a renewed vigour. Trotting through the multicoloured stalks, he found his way onto a path and almost skidded to a halt. Just ahead of him sprinted a frogadier, clutching a huge envelope beneath one arm.

            "Jumper?" Macro gasped, taking off after him.

            The frog pokemon ran at such a pace Macro felt his legs might fall off. His breath came out in raspy bursts and he lifted a paw, screwing his eyes shut as he tried to find his second wind.

            "Jumper! Wait!"

            The frogadier looked over his shoulder and 'hmm'd', hopping to a stop. "Are you shouting for me, good fellow?"

            "Of course I am!" Macro stopped before him, placing his paws on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. "Boy, can you run!"

            "That's because I'm in a rush," said Jumper. "So if you could make this quick?"

            Macro looked up at him then slowly straightened up. "Can you tell me where we are? Like… what's going on? Where's DL and the rest of my crew?"

            "We're at the Duchess' house," said Jumper. "And I'm delivering an important message from the Queen. So if you don't mind-"

            Macro grabbed his arm before he could sprint off again. "And DL?"

            "I don't know any DL."

            Macro's heart sank like a lead brick and he released the frogadier's arm. First Worm and now Jumper? No… something was very amiss.

            Jumper nodded to the little house. "I'll be off now, shall I?"

            Macro waved a paw and let him go. The frogadier sprinted at an unbelievable speed towards the door, and threw the letter through the mail box like a ninja star. Then he leapt into the air, bounding over the roof out of sight.

            "Curiouser and curiouser." Macro cleared his throat and ventured towards the house.

            He lifted his paw to knock, then a sharp rap at the door took him by surprise. He stared at it. Did someone just knock from inside? He knocked back, only to get another knock in return. Muttering under his breath, he twisted the handle and pushed it open. Then ducked. A saucepan whizzed over his head to vanish into the mushroom field.

            "What the…?"

            He removed his paws from his head and peered into the house. It was just one room. A large sofa spread out at his left, with a very noisy chingling sat upon it. He wailed with laughter, his bell jingling loudly. Beside him sat a very disgruntled zigzagoon Macro recognised in an instant. But before her name could leave his mouth, someone sneezed and another saucepan soared over his head. He spotted the culprit by the stove. Cookie waddled back and forth, throwing pepper left and right in a bid to season some unseen dish. The cloud of pepper spread to the sofa, causing the chingling to fall into a sneezing fit. Surge refused to look up from her book, frowning at the pages.

            "Cookie?" Macro gasped.

            The slurpuff didn't look up from his preparations. A cloud of pepper wafted from the shaker, sending him into his own sneezing fit. He launched a plate in frustration. It narrowly missed Surge's ear then shattered against the wall, scattering porcelain in all directions. The zigzagoon didn't appear to notice.

            Macro ducked into the house and closed the door behind him. An idea he soon regretted, as Surge looked up from her book and trapped him with her eyes. He swallowed a nervous lump in his throat and reached for his missing laser.

            "What?" he growled. "Gonna kill me?"

            "No." She looked back down at her book. "I might kill this annoying chingling though, if he doesn't stop laughing."

            The chingling rolled onto his back and kicked his tiny legs in the air, erupting into a fit of maniacal giggles interspersed with sneezing.

            Macro gave another glance around the room, and his heart froze in his chest. Something hung beside the stove, something he'd missed. Hanging by its tail was a spoink, missing the pearl on its head.

            "Oh that?" Surge followed his eyes. "We had pearl soup for dinner last night. We'll be having spoink curry tonight. Care to join us?"

            Macro felt unbelievably sick. He backed towards the door, but before he reached it another pan clattered against it just above his head. Then it knocked on the door and poofed away in a cloud of smoke.

            He turned back to Surge and flashed his canines, but she didn't acknowledge it, too interested in her book. "Why in the world are you eating a spoink?!"

            "The Queen permits it," she said flatly. "'Livestock', she calls it."

            "It's cannibalism!"

            "Take it up with the Queen," said Surge. "I'm nought but a Duchess."

            "I think I shall!" He turned to the door and paused with his paw over the handle. "Where can I find this Queen?"

            "Heart Palace."

            That wasn't a name he was familiar with, but it wasn't a world he was familiar with. He licked his lips and spoke without looking back, "Have you seen DL?"

            The already loud laughter increased in volume and mania. Surge leapt to her feet and grabbed the chingling by his tassels, lobbing him towards the kitchen. He clutched onto the spoink's head, dragging the pig pokemon from its nail. Its eyes flashed with life, and it landed on its springy tail and bounced towards the door with the chingling still clutching onto its head. Macro wrenched it open, watching as it bounded away towards the forest which had oddly replaced the mushroom field.

            He didn't wait around for Surge's answer. Instead, he ducked a meat cleaver and fled from the house, slamming the door behind him. The meat cleaver embedded itself in the trunk of a tree with a 'twang!' as it wiggled with the impact.

            "What a crazy-ass place!" he gasped.

            "Certainly."

            He jerked his head back to look into a tree. Sprawled on the branch was a pachirisu, leaning her head on one paw.

            "But here, you might be perceived as the crazy one," she said.

            "DL?" he gasped.

            She watched the spoink hop away into the trees and sighed. "Such an annoying chingling, but he makes a rather handsome spoink pearl."

            "What are you doing here?" Macro gasped. "I mean… what are we doing here? And you didn't drown! Thank goodness."

            She peered down at him and yawned. "Why would I have drowned?"

            "I saw you in the lake."

            "The Lake of Tears?" She shrugged and a huge grin split her face. "Pachirisu can swim, you know."

            He stared at her dumbfounded, then shook his head sharply. "Where are we? Do you know?"

            "We're here." She spread an arm across the forest. "That's all you need to know."

            "Rather lax on the details, DL," he muttered. Then he spoke more loudly, "This is a ridiculous place. How do I get back to my own world?"

            "I think this is a splendid place," she said. "But if you want to get back, I guess you have to take things up with the Queen. She rules this world, not me. I'm just a humble pachirisu."

            "And how do I get there?"

            She pointed to her right. "That way." Macro was about to head in that direction then froze as she pointed to her left. "Or was it that way?"

            He frowned up at her. "Come on, DL. I've no time for jokes."

            She grinned from ear to ear and drifted into the air. Then she leant on her back, flicking her long tail up below her legs.

            "We've all the time in the world," she said. "Enjoy a little madness."

            "Madness? This world is totally crazy! Everyone I meet seems mad!"

            "Oh, we can't help it. We're all mad here." She pointed to herself, then to Macro. "I'm mad, you're mad-"

            "I'm not mad!" he paused then looked up at the canopy. "… Am I? I mean… I've clearly dreamt this place up…"

            "Exactly."

            "But I don't want to be mad!" he shrieked. "I want reality! I've got a girl to save, and a crazed robot to stop!"

            She turned and drifted towards the ground until she was hovering upside-down before him. "So it's all about the romance is it?"

            His entire face flushed and he stuttered. "N-no! It's not."

            Another grin. "Lies."

            If this was DL, she was clearly at the mercy of this crazy world. Maybe they were all imposters? Whatever it was, he had to fix it.

            He pushed her aside and marched through the trees. "Forget it. I'll find Heart Palace myself, and get myself back to reality."

            "If you keep going that way," she said, freezing him in his tracks, "you'll find the Mad Hatter."

            He glanced back at her, then turned to head the other way.

            "And that way leads to the March Hare," she said.

            "Doesn't sound so bad." He kept marching on. "Rather him than some Mad Hatter."

            "You say that now," she said. "But have you ever seen a hare in March?"

            He inclined his head on one side and she chuckled.

            "Of course, this is May so perhaps she won't be quite so mad," she explained, "but I guess you can take your chances."

            A golden ring appeared behind DL and she vanished into it. Macro's jaw dropped as he watched it close up after her. Then it reopened again higher up in the canopy.

            "Oh, by the way." She poked her head out of it. "Are you to play croquet with the Queen today?"

            "I beg your pardon?" he asked.

            "Croquet," she repeated. "She's been sending out invitations."

            "Well I'm afraid I haven't got one," he said.

            DL shrugged then grinned. "Well if you do show up, I'll be there." Then she vanished back into the ring.

            Macro shook himself off and looked left and then right. "Both mad, eh? Well, I guess I'll take my chances with the March Hare."

            ...

            The woodland thinned out into a clearing, where sat a house with long buneary ears. The roof was thatched with fur, and it towered above Macro's head. He ducked by a tree root and placed his paw upon it.

            "I can't enter there," he squeaked. "What if she eats me? I don't know if mawile is on the menu in this crazy place!"

            Then he remembered the onions. He plucked one from his bag, the red one, and stared at it. It seemed a lot bigger than one would have looked had his paws been their ordinary size.

            "If I remember rightly," he said, "it was a white one that made me shrink. So maybe a red one will make me grow?"

            So he took a nibble, and before he knew it, he shot right up in size. The trees looked ordinary, the house looked ordinary. But the sudden change felt very surreal. He popped the onion back into his pouch and tiptoed towards the house.

            Voices reached his ears. Laughter, singing, and the clatter of crockery. Thankfully no one was throwing it around. A cute, white picket fence surrounded a long garden, and in the middle of the garden sat a long table. Only three pokemon sat around the table. A delphox, a lopunny and an eevee. The eevee lay sprawled with his head on his paws, snoring loudly, but the other two didn't appear to notice.

            "Digit?" he gasped, eyeing the lopunny.

            But she didn't look up at him. Too engrossed in whatever the delphox had to say. Given his run-in with Worm, Surge and Cookie, he wasn't sure whether or not to be reassured at a familiar face.

            Nevertheless, Macro vaulted the low fence and strolled towards the table. The delphox looked up from his cup of tea and upon seeing Macro almost dropped it, sloshing steaming liquid onto the table. The lopunny let out a cry of distress and reached for a napkin, but the delphox didn't take his eyes off the mawile.

            He flicked his top hat so it was resting between his large ears and shouted, "No room!"

            The lopunny looked up at this and added, "No room!"

            "What are you talking about?" Macro spread his arms wide. "There's plenty of room!"

            "No there isn't," said the delphox, who Macro assumed with a sinking feeling must be the Mad Hatter. "You are imagining it."

            "Definitely imagining it," murmured the eevee. "You are but dreaming. Twinkle… twinkle…"

            Macro pulled up a seat anyway and helped himself to a teacup. The March Hare slapped his paws aside and frowned at him.

            "Do I know you?" she asked.

            Familiar face or not, it wasn't the Digit he knew.

            He looked up at her and shrugged. "I'm beginning to wonder if anyone I think I know here is either off their rocker, or an impostor."

            She scrutinised him for a moment then nodded. "Good answer."

            The table fell into a long, painful silence as the two pokemon continued to stare at him. The only sound came from the snoring eevee who Macro realised had fallen asleep on a plate of scones, and his entire chin and chest were coated with jam and cream.

            Finally, the Hatter broke the silence. "Your scarf needs washing."

            Macro looked up with a start then glanced down at his scarf. He fixed the delphox with a frown. "No it doesn't."

            "It smells."

            Macro flashed a canine. "It's rather rude to make personal remarks, you know."

            "Of course!" said March. "You should know."

            "You're also rather short," said the Hatter. "You should eat more onions."

            Macro seethed silently and picked up his teacup. But there was nothing in it. Instead, all the tea had drained out of a hole in the bottom.

            "Answer me something," said the delphox. "Why is a murkrow like a writing desk?"

            From one extreme to the next. Macro mulled this over for a moment, then wondered why on earth he was bothering.

            "What kind of nonsense is that?" he asked.

            "It's a riddle," said the Hatter. "I am testing your intelligence."

            Oh, so it was an insult. A bit of a back-handed one at that. Macro snorted and discarded the teacup to the seat beside him.

            "I haven't a clue," he said. "Go on, tell me."

            "Can't." The Hatter shrugged. "I don't know the answer myself."

            "The answer is simple." The eevee lifted his head and rubbed a buttery paw over his eyes, smearing the fur back from his chipboard tattoo. "It's because they can both make a few notes, albeit flat, and you can't place either with the wrong end in front."

            March pointed a claw at the eevee and beamed. "Genius!"

            "That makes no sense!" Macro roared.

            "It makes a lot of sense!" the Hatter roared back. "Now shut up and drink your tea."

            A cup scurried across the table to Macro and poured tea from a pink teapot into itself. It seemed to go about it for a good long while. Long enough for the Hatter to check the time on his pocket watch.

            "Do you know what's going on in this place?" Macro asked.

            "What's going on is that Time has stopped working," said the Hatter. "At least for us, anyway."

            Macro decided to brush past that little statement. "I mean where am I? What happened to System? My home?" He paused and continued watching the teapot pour out its endless stream of tea into the tiny teacup. "I mean, it took me ages to find DL and then I lost her again."

            "I like to do that too!" March leant forward across the table all too eagerly. "I check the alphabet every day just to make sure none of those pesky letters go missing!"

            Macro stared back at her, unsure of what to say. The lopunny retracted to her seat, looking all too pleased with herself.

            "What day of the month is it?" the Hatter asked.

            "Dunno," said Macro. "But last I checked, it was the fourth."

            "Just as I thought." The Hatter lifted the watch to his ear and sighed. "Two day's slow. I guess butter just didn't fix it."

            "It was the best butter," said March sadly. "The kind we used to oil the eevee. And he's working just fine!"

            "No he's not, he's sleeping again." The Hatter leant across the table and poured scalding hot tea onto the eevee's nose. "Come on, wake up!"

            The eevee sat up spluttering and wiped a paw over his muzzle. "Oh dear! Did I nod off again?"

            The Hatter said nothing as he checked over his watch. "Typical. Still six o clock, still tea time."

            "Still March," said March. "I guess Time really has stopped."

            Macro waved a paw at the Hatter. "Just get a new watch!"

            March glanced at Macro and wiggled in her seat. Her eye twitched. "I really wanna box your ears."

            "Well, I've had enough." Macro shoved his cup towards the middle of the table, startling a teapot, and stood up. "I need to find the Queen."

            "Good luck," said the Hatter. "We were playing hide and seek with her last…" He checked his watch and shook it. "Oh bother. I don't remember. But we never found her."

            "Nope!" said March. "I spent three days stuck in a tree. Had to eat onions to stay alive."

            "Hmm, no wonder you're so tall," Macro joked.

            March grinned broadly and sipped at her tea.

            "Anyway, I'll be off then," said Macro.

            Hatter said nothing, still shaking and checking his watch. March returned to her tea, staring off into space. The eevee had nodded off again on his 'bed of scones', snoring into a plate of melted butter.

            Macro shook his head and vaulted over the fence, glad to leave the mad tea party behind. Still non the wiser as to how to get to Heart Palace.

            ...

            The woodland spread out around Macro, its trees standing tall like sentinel soldiers. Signs were nailed to the trees, promising to guide him in the right direction. But closer inspections made his stomach sink.

            'This way.'

            'No, this way.'

            'You sure you want to go that way?'

            'Don't listen to him, it's this way!'

            And so on, and so forth.

            He shrugged off the signs and resigned himself to finding his own way, with no idea to how far he'd come, or whether or not he was moving in circles. Thanks to the promise of yet another arrow sign, he was strongly beginning to think so. He could still hear the mad tea party well in the distance, and it greatly unsettled him.

            "I can't seem to put them far enough behind me," he muttered. "There's got to be some way out of these woods. That flippin' Digit. Threatenin' to box my ears." A canine poked out of his lip and he cast a glance over his shoulder. "It's like she knows I won't fight back. But I won't go down eas-"

            Thud!

            Solid wood met face. He staggered backwards, rubbing the side of his jaw.

            "What the-?!" He glared up at a wide, ancient tree. "Where'd that come from?!"

            The hollow trunk sported a mawile-sized door. And right above it, a wide arrow sign pointing down at it. 'Trust me, it's this way.'

            "Really?" he asked the door. "You want me to open you? And what shiny, terrifying delights do you hold, hmm?"

            The door didn't answer.

            Macro sighed and grabbed the handle. To his surprise, it opened freely, swinging away from him. Beyond it was a glorious garden that almost took his breath away. Vibrant flowers and grass so green he wondered if it were an illusion. Until he stepped on it, feeling its soft blades stroking his paw pads. The door slammed and he twisted on the spot towards it. But it had vanished. No tree. No door. No sign.

            A trap?

            He deeply hoped not.

            Oh well. Now he had several directions to choose from. He turned back towards the colourful flowers. Most of them were red, and shaped like hearts. Even the neatly manicured topiaries.

            He shrugged and began heading towards them. "Guess I'll go this way."

            "You sure you wanna head that way?"

            The familiar voice snapped his head up to the air above him. Slowly, bit by bit, a pachirisu began to manifest. First her tail, then her feet. Then her ears. Until gradually, her body met in the middle. She floated on her back, arms tucked behind her head.

            "It's a dreadful place," she said.

            Macro glanced at the bushes and flowers. The lush green grass. Almost baiting him to keep moving forwards.

            "What exactly is it?" he asked.

            "Heart Palace."

            "Then that's exactly where I want to go!" He waved her off and pressed on.

            She drifted along above him, backwards, her tail acting as a rudder. One eye fixed on him and she grinned widely.

            "Have you met the Queen?" she asked.

            "No," he said. "But she can't be as mad as that tea party I've just come from."

            "Oh, I wouldn't say that," said DL. "Compared to the Queen, those two are a real treat. A fine Earl Grey."

            Macro faltered and glanced back over his shoulder. Behind him was just green. Dotted here and there by a spray of red flowers. Beyond that was a flat stretch of hedges.

            "What's back that way then?" he asked.

            "A maze."

            "A maze?"

            "Yep." Another grin. "It's a-maze-ing."

            Puns? Not once did Macro recall DL using puns. He waved her off and kept heading towards Heart Palace.

            "If I see the Queen," he said, "she might be able to get me back to my own, sane reality."

            "And what makes your reality so sane?"

            "Well everyone makes sense for one thing! And Digit doesn't threaten to box my ears. Worm can't evolve, and Cookie is about as violent as a day old hatchling on tranquilisers!"

            "I don't know any of those pokemon," said DL.

            He pointed a claw at her. "And you can't float! Nor… disappear and reappear at will."

            "Really?" she raised an eyebrow. "You sure about that?"

            With that, she grinned once more, and slowly faded away. First the white parts of her body. Then the blue. The last parts to fade were her grin, yellow cheeks and chocolate eyes. They hung around for a few seconds after the rest of her had vanished, leaving Macro feeling greatly unsettled. Once they'd gone, he smoothed out his fur and let out a flustered breath.

            "To Heart Palace it is, then," he said to no one.

            He reached the topiaries, and between them sat an archway. Ivy trailed up it, red blossoms buzzing with life. On closer inspection, he saw a flying mudbray no bigger than his index claw. It rocked back and forth on wooden supports, then whinnied as it flew to another blossom. Shooing a tiny butterfree aside. Which had bread for wings. Buttered bread.

            "What kinda crazy-ass place is this?" he muttered.

            He strolled through the arch and weaved his way along the path between the heart-shaped topiaries. It seemed to stretch on forever, until voices reached his ears. Familiar voices. He followed them into a large courtyard.

            Anchor stood beside a quagsire, both of them waving around paintbrushes laden with red paint. Small trees stood in neat rows on either side of the square, their red roses dripping red paint onto the grass. Macro turned back to the frantically painting pokemon. Above them flew Matrix, wielding a paintbrush much too large for him with very little effort (or enthusiasm).

            All three pokemon sported unusual garments. A long, flat shirt that came down to their knees. Both their shirts and trousers were white, as were their helmets. Each shirt was designed to resemble a playing card in the Hearts suit. Anchor was seven, the quagsire was two, and Matrix was three.

            Macro strolled towards them and eyed the dripping bush. White roses dotted it, each one fated to receive a thick coating of red paint.

            "What exactly are you doing?" Macro asked them.

            "Painting the roses red," Anchor growled all too rapidly.

            Macro cleared his throat and asked, politely, "May I ask why?"

            "Well, you see." Anchor lowered his paintbrush to face Macro. "We were asked to plant red rose bushes. But Three, here," he pointed the brush at Matrix, "went and planted white ones."

            Matrix paused what he was doing to grin at Macro.

            "So if we don't paint them red," Anchor said as he returned to his work, "the Queen will have our heads."

            "Does she have something against white roses?" Macro asked.

            "You could say that," said Anchor. "She's the Queen of Hearts. Hearts are red. So all her flowers have to be red."

            "It's only logical," said Matrix. "Why would the Queen of Hearts want white flowers?"

            "Then why did you plant white flowers?!" Anchor snapped.

            "I got bored," said Matrix. "I wanted to see her reaction."

            "Her reaction is to remove our heads from our bodies!" Anchor sighed and ran a paw over his face, leaving a small smear of red paint on his forehead. "Why can't you just be sensible like Two?"

            The quagsire said nothing, silently painting the roses with all the neatness of an artist.

            "If it were just Three's fault," said Macro, "why are you two worried for your own heads?"

            "Well all three of us planted the bushes," Anchor explained. "So, whether or not we knew what we were plantin', we're all responsible. So we gotta cover up our crimes."

            "Crimes?!"

            "Yeh. Plantin' the enemy's colour."

            "This Queen sounds mighty violent," said Macro, more to himself. "Kinda wish I'd picked the other route."

            "Well you're here now," said Anchor. "So start paintin'."

            Macro found a large paintbrush shoved into his paws. With a shrug, he dipped it into the paint tin and started painting what was left of the white roses.

            A trumpet blast erupted through the square, and the three soldiers dropped their paintbrushes onto the grass.

            "Oh jack, it's the Queen!" Anchor barked. "Quick, get down!"

            The three suits threw themselves face first onto the floor. Macro looked from them to the oncoming parade and back.

            "Get down!" Anchor barked at him.

            Macro sighed and slumped onto his belly, pressing his face into the grass. It seemed like an odd thing to do. Why not just kneel, or bow as she passed? Why lie flat like a playing card?

            Heavy footsteps marched across the square towards them. Then stopped. A familiar voice shouted, "Here! The Queen of Hearts!"

            Macro cracked an eye open to look up at the speaker, but the first thing he saw was a gothitelle standing before them. She clutched an ornamental staff in one paw, topped by a ruby encrusted heart. She gazed around at the rose bushes, each rose as red as the bows that adorned her body. Previously white bows replaced with red ones. Behind her, kitted out like a Queen's Prime Minister, was DL. Macro opened his mouth to gasp out her name, but swallowed it back.

            Socket paced around the rose bushes, a smile on her face.

            "Ahh, my precious rose bushes," she said. "The blooms have really come into their own, haven't they?"

            She paused beside one to sniff it, holding the blossom delicately. A grimace twisted her smile and she released it, staring at her paw in horror.

            "Paint?" she gasped. Then she turned to her entourage. "Paint?!"

            The army stood to attention, keeping their eyes trained ahead of them.

            "Who's been painting my roses red?!" she roared.

            DL pointed a trembling paw at the suits lying face down. Socket marched over to them, eyeing each one in turn.

            "Who are you?!" Socket asked. "Stand at once!"

            The three suits scrambled to their feet, smoothing out their suits. Socket's scowling face leant towards Anchor's.

            "Why are you painting my roses red?" As calm as her voice sounded, it was laced with danger.

            Anchor stuttered and twisted the hem of his shirt in his paws. "You see… your majesty… there was an accident and-"

            "And what?" she asked.

            "Well… you see… we accidentally planted white roses…"

            "White roses?" Socket pulled her head back and narrowed her eyes.

            "Yes, your majesty." Anchor glanced away from her. "I'm terribly sorry. We've been trying to fix it-"

            "In the hopes I wouldn't notice?" Socket tapped her staff on her arm. "I suppose you thought that was noble?"

            Anchor and the quagsire stuttered while Matrix twirled his antenna in his paw.

            The Queen straightened up and opened her mouth so wide Macro feared she was going to swallow them whole. "Off with their heads!"

            The army surged forwards and grabbed the three suits, then marched them from the square towards the palace.

            Socket watched them go then turned to Macro. "And who are you? You don't work for me. You aren't in suit."

            "I'm just a humble, lost mawile," said Macro.

            Socket leered at him, tapping her arm with her staff. "I'm just a humble, lost mawile what?"

            "Eh?" Macro cocked an eyebrow and his muzzle creased with confusion.

            "I said," Socket said, her voice laced with ice, "'I'm a humble, lost mawile what?'"

            Macro shook his head and shrugged. "Nope. I can't work out this riddle, I'm afraid. It could rival the Hatter's riddle about the writing desk."

            "You are meant to address me as 'your majesty'!" she snapped. "Now try again!"

            A vile taste filled Macro's mouth at the mere sound of those words. Surely having to say them would poison him? He took a step back, fixing the gothitelle with a look of sheer horror.

            "Just do it," DL said meekly from behind her. She lifted a paw and sliced it across her throat, making a clear point to Macro what would happen should he fail to address the Queen with her favoured title.

            "I'm just a humble, lost mawile," he said through gritted teeth, "your majesty."

            Socket smiled and nodded once. "Much better. Now… do you play croquet?"

            "Croquet?" Macro's eyes widened as he recalled DL mentioning such a game to him. "But I never received an invite."

            "I am offering you one," said the Queen. "And it is non-optional. You shall join me in a game of croquet, or it will be your head."

            If he declined, she'd probably use his head as the ball. With a nod, he resigned himself to his fate.

            "Excellent!" Socket turned to follow after her entourage. "We will start post-haste."

            Macro exchanged glances with DL, and she lowered her head to scurry after the Queen. With a sigh, he followed behind her.

            ...

            The Queen's Court was bustling with various colourful guests. Amongst them scurried her suits, throwing themselves around the court and bending with all four paws on the ground, arching their backs reminiscent of croquet hoops. Macro barely got a word out before a small doduo was stuffed into his paws. He stared down at it, then looked up at Socket.

            "What is this?" he asked.

            "Your croquet mallet," she answered.

            His brow furrowed and he opened his mouth to retort, but DL stuffed her paw into it, turning his comment into a surprised muffle.

            "And this," Socket stooped to place a togedemaru at his feet, "is your ball. Commence!"

            The gothitelle turned and marched away, clutching her own doduo in one paw. She shouted commands to the other players before vanishing into the thick of it all.

            Macro turned to DL and gestured to the doduo hanging obediently from his paw by its legs. "What on earth is this?"

            "Croquet," she said meekly.

            "With live pokemon? It's barbaric!"

            DL waved her paws and let out a long, sharp 'shh!' She glanced over to where the Queen had vanished then moved closer to him and lowered her voice.

            "The Queen has standards," she said. "Those that don't fit them have their rights removed. Turned into meat or… entertainment." She nodded to the togedemaru who was peering up at Macro over her shoulder.

            The small hedgehog pokemon raised her arms. "We doin' this or not? 'Cos I haven't got all day."

            "Oh… of… of course." Macro readied his doduo behind the small togedemaru and she curled up into a tight ball.

            "Ready!" the doduo barked. "Aim! F-"

            "No!" Macro dropped the doduo, receiving surprised looks from both heads and the togedemaru.

            "What's he doing?" one head asked the other.

            "Not a clue," it replied. "But at this rate, the Queen will-"

            "Sever his head for sure!" The first head trembled.

            "Took the words right out of my mouth," said the second.

            "I'm not doing this," Macro hissed. "You have rights."

            "Hey, I'm just glad I'm not on a sandwich," said the togedemaru. "Now use that doduo and smack me towards that croquet hoop before it moves again! I wanna be on a winning team for once."

            Macro shook his head and turned away. "No. I will not do something so barbaric."

            "Why you…" The togedemaru waved a tiny fist. "Bleeding heart!"

            Macro looked back to find DL, hoping to drag her away from the barbaric game. But she'd seemingly vanished. He let out a sigh and continued on towards the heart-shaped topiaries.

            "Curious fellow, aren't you?"

            DL's voice snapped his head up towards a broad tree branch. He wasn't surprised to find every single blossom was red and heart shaped.

            "DL?" he squeaked. "How did you get up in that tree?"

            "I'm a squirrel." Her answer became redundant as she slowly drifted into the air. "Now. You seem rather perplexed by the Queen's wonderful game."

            "Wonderful?" he scoffed.

            DL merely grinned. "Why don't I introduce you to someone who can put things into a better perspective?"

            He snorted and folded his arms, glancing back at the game. The Queen shouted something in the distance that sounded very much like 'Cheater! Off with his head!'

            "If it gets me out of here," he said, turning back to DL, "then sure. Introduce me."

            She let out a silent laugh and tucked her paws behind her head, drifting backwards away from him. "Very well. Follow me."

            Macro ducked through the bushes, the sounds of the game fading away behind him. Pretty soon, he lost track of the pachirisu.

            "DL?" he shouted. But he got no reply.

            With a sigh, he pressed on. The path weaved through the topiaries like a maze, and he soon found himself running into dead ends. He muttered under his breath and turned one eighty to retrace his footsteps. The path turned sharply to the right, and he let out a squeak as he found himself face to grinning face with the floating pachirisu.

            "Good grief!" He placed a paw against his pulsing rib cage then flashed a canine at her. "What game are you playing?"

            "Just hide and seek," she said. "I'd say 'you're next', but we're here."

            She drifted backwards through a neatly manicured gorse bush (with red, heart-shaped berries) and Macro ducked after her. The thorns snagged his fur as he scrambled through them, shielding his eyes which they seemed intent on scratching out. Once on the other side, he gazed out at a heart-shaped pond which was, surprisingly, not red. Beside the pond sat a snoring talonflame, his head lolling forward against his chest.

            "This is the Queen's mysterious creature," DL explained. "He can tell you everything."

            With that, she did a little back-flip in the air and vanished through a golden hoop. Macro looked from the spot she'd occupied back to the talonflame.

            "Switch?" he asked, tentatively.

            The talonflame jerked his head up, letting out a loud, surprised snort. He blinked his bleary eyes and fixed them on the mawile.

            "You need to keep your voice down when others are sleeping," said Switch. "Otherwise, you're just being rude."

            "Sorry." Macro shrugged and shifted his weight to one leg. "But DL said you might be able to help me."

            "I don't know who this DL is," said Switch. "But he's no friend of mine."

            "She," Macro corrected.

            Switch appeared to not notice. He craned his neck around and started preening his right wing, snubbing Macro completely. The mawile cleared his throat, and Switch looked at him out of the corner of his eye, not stopping his preening.

            "She brought me here," Macro began, "because she thought you might be able to explain the Queen's barbaric game of croquet."

            Switch dropped his wing, letting it fold neatly against his side, and turned fully to Macro.

            "Barbaric?" he repeated. "I'd be inclined to agree with you. A lot of pokemon here have little to no rights. Those that fall into that category are either abused or turned into meat. One such pokemon has met the latter fate many times."

            "Eh?" Macro raised a confused brow.

            "Well… not personally," said Switch. "His family, mainly. One by one. Gone. Would you like him to tell you about his sorrow?"

            Macro's eye wandered to the pond. A fish pokemon? That would have been his first guess. But seeing the spoink, and the croquet game, he decided he couldn't very well just assume.

            "All right," he said, perching on a rock beside the talonflame. "Go ahead."

            Switch cleared his throat and turned his head to the water. "Oi! Mock Squirtle!"

            Squirtle? Ripples spread across the water, drawing closer towards them. The first thing he saw was a long, blue fin, slicing through the glassy surface like a blade. Then two blue paws clutched the bed, followed by a lithe, blue body. Drops of water fell from their fur. No. Not a squirtle at all.

            A vaporeon sat down… rather floppily. Macro recognised him immediately.

            "Floppy?" he gasped.

            The vaporeon blinked his glassy, black eyes. The last time he'd seen them, they'd been filled with mischief despite his injuries. Now… they were filled with sorrow.

            Floppy let out a wistful sigh and flopped onto the rocks, letting his chin fall onto his forepaws.

            Switch inclined his head on one side then nodded to Macro. "I thought you might want to tell this young fellow about your sorrow."

            "Sorrow?" Floppy sighed again. "What's the point. No one cares."

            "Hey!" Macro narrowed his eyes. "I care! Everything that's goin' on in this place? It's madness!"

            "Precisely," said Switch. "Everyone is mad here. Because she's mad."

            "The Queen?" Macro asked.

            "The Queen," Switch and Floppy answered.

            Floppy raised his head and blinked his huge, sad eyes. "Ever since she became the Queen, the world turned violent. Heads rolling, pokemon turned into slavery and meat. All because they don't fit her criteria."

            "And what would that be?" Macro asked.

            Floppy shrugged. "She doesn't have one, really. If she doesn't like you, or you wrong her in some way, she'll have your head. If you're a bird, or a water type, or fall into her 'livestock' category, you're meat."

            "And what of the togedemaru?" Macro asked.

            Floppy shrugged again. "Oh that's obvious. She needed pokemon that roll."

            "Exactly," said Switch. "And all the voltorb she tried to use exploded. Made a jolly mess of the palace grounds."

            "This is insane!" Macro roared.

            "Of course it is," said Floppy. "Because she is!"

            Heavy panting came from the bushes and DL exploded through them. She stood, trying to catch her breath, then looked up at him.

            "There you are," she said. "Come on! The trial's about to start!"

            "What trial?" Macro asked.

            "What do you mean 'what trial'?" DL gasped. "Yours!"

            Macro's jaw almost hit the floor. "What on earth did I do?"

            "No time to explain." DL grabbed his paw and dragged him after her through the maze. "We have to go now!"

            His heart hammered in his chest with every foot step. The maze zipped past him all too quickly, and before he knew it he was dragged through the palace doors to the Queen's court room.

            Socket sat in her throne, high up where everyone could see her. A plump sparksurfer raichu stood behind a podium, leafing through sheets of paper each of which had the Queen's heart motif printed on them. Macro was thrown into a seat before the jury. Various small pokemon filled the jury booth, each one clutching a small black slate.

            "A call to silence!" Socket roared.

            It hadn't been all that necessary. The pokemon in the courtroom hadn't so much as squeaked.

            She fixed her livid eyes on his. "Hunter. You are being tried for stealing something that belongs to me."

            Macro's entire voice turned dry. He stuttered, but she went on, silencing him.

            "You have stolen my tarts," she said. "And for that, I find you guilty."

            "We can't rush just yet," said the raichu. "We haven't brought in any witnesses."

            Socket sat back in her seat and sighed, rubbing between her eyes. "Fine. Bring in the first witness."

            "Calling the first witness!" the raichu roared.

            The double doors were thrown open as a tatty looking archeops scurried through them. She looked up at the Queen and grinned.

            "Yo there, your Majesty!" She flopped into the witness booth. "How can I help you?"

            "Do not address me with such vulgarities!" Socket snapped. "If I didn't need your evidence, I'd take your head!"

            Annie shrugged and kicked one gangly leg over the other.

            "Now then," said the raichu, turning to his papers. "You say you saw Hunter take the tarts?"

            "I never said such a thing." Annie faltered and placed a claw under her chin, glancing up at the ceiling. "Or did I? I don't remember. What day was it?"

            "It was a Friday," said the raichu.

            "Hmm…" She inclined her head on one side. "I don't remember Friday."

            "That's very important!" the raichu shouted to the jury.

            The small pokemon scrambled to write this all down on their slates with their claws.

            "Next witness!" the Queen roared.

            Suits rushed to the witness booth and picked it up, carrying Annie out of the courtroom. She let out a cheer and raised her wings into the air as she was whisked through the side doors into the yard. The entire booth went flying and the suits slammed the doors before rushing to erect a new one. Right before the Mad Hatter strolled in with March and the eevee.

            "Hater," the raichu said slowly.

            "It's Hatter," the delphox corrected.

            "Apologies," said the raichu. "You claim to have dined with Hunter recently? What was his behaviour like?"

            "Rude," said March. "He just invited himself in."

            "Despite us telling him there's no room," said the Hatter. "All unclean with his mucky scarf. Not quite the gentlemon at all."

            "Not at all," added the eevee.

            "So… technically…" said the raichu slowly, "he stole from you?"

            "You could say that," said March. "Helped himself to tea and scones."

            "I never touched a scone!" Macro barked.

            "You did," said the Mad Hatter. "And you got fur in them."

            "That might have been me, actually," said the eevee.

            "Write that down!" the raichu barked at the jury.

            Macro pointed at the eevee then looked directly at the Hatter. The delphox shrugged, before the suits were ordered once again to 'remove the witnesses'.

            "Third witness!" the Queen roared.

            The doors flew open and in marched a figure that left Macro chilled to the core. A mawile… complete with a scar and black scarf. Goggles topped his head, and he frowned at Macro as he took the witness booth.

            "Now… tell me in all honesty," the raichu said to the mawile, "did Hunter steal the Queen's tarts?"

            The mawile said nothing, almost staring into Macro's very soul. Macro staggered backwards, toppling over the jury booth onto the small pokemon. Yelps of protest came from beneath him as they tried desperately to scramble free.

            "Yes," the mawile said flatly.

            "No!" Macro roared. "I didn't steal anything! I rescued them!"

            No sooner had the words left his mouth, the Queen roared "Off with his head!"

            The suits lurched forwards, almost flying at him. A bone chilling scream left Macro's throat.

            "Admit it, Macro," he heard the other him say. "You know you stole them. Whether or not you're trying to be the hero now, it doesn't change the fact you're a criminal. And you know it." The other mawile grinned widely, morphing slowly into a grinning pachirisu. "You deserve this."

            Macro watched, stuttering, through the flying suits, as she rose into the air. Morphing, twisting, into the form of a grinning hoopa.

            "Let's hear it again!" squealed BackDoor. "Off with his head!"

            The suits rushed at Macro with more speed, their bodies morphing like origami. Their forms became more pointed, more knife-like, and Macro realised with horror they were morphing into kartana. A strangled scream erupted from him as their bladed limbs slashed at his body. That soreness in his chest flared up into a full-blown stabbing pain as one of them ran right through him. Red filled his vision. Then a white light started in the centre like a pin prick. It exploded like a star, dazzling him with a blinding white rose. He shut his eyes tightly, clutching the bleeding wound in his chest. He staggered back beneath their wicked blades and rolled backwards onto the floor as he groped for his missing lasers with his free paw.

            Soft ground enveloped him like a mattress. The soreness lessened in his chest as he felt the last of the kartana vanish from him like dust. He blinked his eyes back open. Soft, white light surrounded him, and he found himself looking into Solgaleo's smiling face.

            "Time to wake up," said the lion.
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              #56    
            Old July 21st, 2018 (6:40 AM).
            Delirious Absol's Avatar
            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
            Call me Del
               
              Join Date: May 2015
              Location: UK
              Age: 33
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              Chapter Fifty Four

              Everything seemed to go in slow motion.

              Defrag clutched the ladder rung below DL, firing Macro’s laser at the kartana below. Fortunately they couldn’t fly very high. Once the pokemon were above the rooftops, they were out of the deadly Ultra Beasts’ reach. But that didn’t satisfy Defrag. She kept a watchful eye on them, keeping the laser aimed on their drifting, swooping bodies, while DL tried to steady herself and Macro on the ladder.

              Despite Defrag’s offer, the pachirisu had insisted on carrying him. Defrag had been surprised at the smaller pokemon’s strength. But in a crisis, one can often amaze others with what they can do. They can even amaze themselves.

              The ladder came to a stop and DL scrambled through the hatch, stumbling under the mawile’s weight. Defrag steadied her, gripping the laser in her teeth to free her paw. But DL was swiftly whisked through the hatch by Anchor.

              “What on earth happened down there?!” The granbull gathered the unconscious mawile into his arms, much to DL’s protests. “Steady on, DL! Tell me what - Digit?”

              He spotted the lopunny as she scrambled through the hatch. She looked up, meeting his eyes, watching as the look of surprise melted into a frown.

              “I ain’t got time for this,” he muttered. “He needs help, quick. Matrix! Set co-ordinates for Cyan City. Hyperdrive!”

              The ribombee’s head poked out of the cockpit door before vanishing like a dart.

              “Cookie!” Anchor demanded. “Follow me with your first aid kit!”

              “Roger!” The quirky voice came from the kitchen.

              A dumpy brown slurpuff waddled into the corridor. He did a quick double-take when he saw Defrag, then almost fainted when he spotted Macro. He stuttered a few times, but Anchor dismissed it with his free paw.

              “Hold it together. We need you right now,” he said.

              Anchor stomped down the corridor, stopping at the final room. With Macro in one arm, he scanned the door and marched inside before it had fully opened. DL was hot on his tail, her eyes never leaving Macro.

              Defrag leant on the door and briefly glanced around the sparsely decorated room before looking back at the space pirates.

              “Well he’s a bloody mess.” Anchor fumbled with the mawile’s mask. “At least he’s breathing. What happened down there?”

              “It was the kartana.” DL shook from ear to tail. She clasped her paws to her chest and sank down into a little chair beside the bed. “They chased us. One of them ran him down before we could get onto the ship.”

              When Anchor finally removed the mask, his face paled. Macro’s muzzle was crimson. Defrag’s paws went to her mouth and she backed out of the room. DL let out a whimper and turned away in her seat, covering her eyes.

              “I’d say they did more than run him down,” said Anchor weakly.

              Cookie placed the first aid kit at the foot of the bed and pulled out a full ream of bandages. He nudged Anchor aside and commenced removing Macro’s scarf before trying to stem the bleeding. From what Defrag had witnessed back in Spool City, it would be no easy feat.

              “I daren’t check over the wound,” he said. “I don’t want to disturb him too much. But…”

              The sheets were already soaked with blood. Hopefully it just looked a lot worse than it was.

              “I’m not sure how much help I can be,” the slurpuff went on. “I’d say he needs a surgeon, not a chef who passed a course in first aid with health and safety.”

              He knotted the bandage as tightly as he could then took a step back, wiping his bloodied paws on his berry-stained apron.

              Anchor stared down at Macro for a while then placed a paw on Cookie’s back. “You’ve done what you can. Let’s just hope it’s not too long until we reach Cyan City.”

              “How fast is your hyperdrive?” Defrag asked.

              Anchor looked up at her again with surprise. He’d likely forgotten she was even there. He brushed back his mohawk and replaced his surprise with another frown, before marching from the room.

              “Come on, DL,” he said. “We’ll leave Cookie with him. He knows what he’s doin’. We’ll only be in the way.”

              “No.”

              He looked back at the pachirisu. She’d turned her chair back, and clasped Macro’s paw in both of hers. Her eyes were screwed shut, cheeks wet with tears, and she shook her head to further emphasise her answer.

              “I’m not leaving him,” she said. “I can’t!”

              The slurpuff looked up and gave Anchor a sad smile, still with his tongue poking out. “It’s okay if she stays. She’s not in my way.”

              Anchor nodded solemnly and let the door close behind him. He fired Defrag a leer then marched down the corridor. She faltered by Macro’s room before resigning herself to following the silent granbull. Despite his blood stained paws, he pulled out his phone and held it to his ear.

              “Hi, Jumper?” he said, then paused as he listened to the speaker on the other end. He twitched his claws and Defrag thought she heard him mutter under his breath. “No, sorry. Things aren’t alright. I’ve got an emergency here. It’s Macro. We’re rushing him to Cyan City now.” Another pause. “It doesn’t look good, Governor.”

              Defrag felt her stomach knot and she faltered by the bathroom as Anchor ducked inside with his phone. He wasn’t in there very long. When he came back out, his phone was tucked away and he wiped his wet paws on his chest. He gave her another suspicious scowl then waved her off.

              With nowhere else to go, she ended up in the cockpit. Matrix looked up from his navigation desk, winding an antenna in his tiny paw. He raised an eyebrow at her, then returned to the detailed layout on the screen.

              Anchor fell into a large seat and leant back, frowning out at the world zipping by.

              She looked around at the cockpit and tucked her paws behind her back. “It doesn’t look much different to the old ship.”

              Anchor said nothing, staring silently ahead.

              “What happened to the huntail?” she asked.

              “You should know what happened to it,” he grunted.

              She shifted her weight to one foot, not taking her eyes off him. “I leave and he gets a new ship? Or is it something to do with that raid in Botnet?”

              “Isn’t it funny,” said Anchor, “how whenever you’re around, something bad happens to him?”

              She creased her nose and leered at the back of his head. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

              “The Analogue Isles, saving your hide, he almost died. That weapons raid you took in Botnet City, he almost died. Now he runs into you in Spool and look what’s happened!”

              “How is any of that my fault?! And you were there during that raid! I had nothing to do with it!” She frowned as he glanced over his shoulder. “I’m not the one who almost took his eye out! I’m not the one who set the building ablaze! And I’m not the one who ran him through with that monster, it did that itself!”

              Anchor flashed his canines and turned back to the controls.

              “Besides,” she went on. “Are you seriously telling me nothing like this has happened since I left Wildcard?”

              “Of course not.” Anchor sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “’Mon’s as reckless as he’s always been. Just… I’m a little scared, that’s all. I’ve never seen him like this.”

              “To be honest, so am I.” She shrugged and flopped into Macro’s much smaller chair. “I’ve watched those creatures slice up walls and posters, run down random pokemon in the streets. But I never thought they might…” She trailed off and sighed into her paw.

              “It ain’t your fault, Digit,” said Anchor apologetically. “Anyway, what’s a nice lass like you doin’ in Spool City?”

              “I work there,” she said. “For a detective named Tracer.”

              He snorted and rolled his eyes. “From one extreme to the next.”

              “Anyway. Enough about me. How long is it until we reach Cyan City?”

              “It’ll be another twenty five minutes,” said Matrix.

              Defrag started slightly. She’d almost forgotten the little bee was there. She turned back to Anchor and folded her paws in her lap.

              “Do you think he’ll make it?” she asked.

              “Dunno.” Anchor sighed and brushed back his mohawk. “I’m kinda clutching at straws.”

              “Then why Cyan City, exactly?” she asked. “Isn’t Pulse City closer?”

              “Kinda, but we ain’t welcome there,” said Anchor. “Besides, we’ve got friends in Cyan City. Plus, their medicine is much more effective.”

              “I guess.” She paused and brushed a paw along her ear. “I’m a little surprised you’re welcome there.”

              “Well, I’d tell you why but it’s a long story.”

              “We’ve got over twenty minutes. We may as well kill some time. Take our mind off things.”

              “All right then.” Anchor flashed her a grin. “I’ll tell ya. Kinda lookin’ forward to the surprise on your face.”

              ...

              Annie was feeling rather irritated. She’d managed to sleep through until the mid hours of the morning, and in her scramble for her magic pills had managed to secure her human form. All that time spent pruning her feathers and she was now as bald as a plucked ducklett.

              She pulled her clothes on and stomped down the wooden stairs to the kitchen. Voices spoke in hushed tones and as she rounded the corner, Web turned her head and looked her up and down.

              “Good to see you looking rested.” The skuntank paused and cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve got your jacket on upside down, dear.”

              Annie stared down at herself, then removed her jacket to put it on the right way up.

              “It’s also inside out,” said Trojan.

              Web cuffed him over the head fin and tried to give Annie a reassuring smile. The human let out a sigh and flopped into a chair as she dragged the sleeves back out the right way.

              “What are we doin’ back in this dump?” she asked. “I thought we were in Pulse City.”

              Everyone fell silent and stared at her, mouths agape. She looked back up at them, clutching a sleeve in one hand. Her eyes wandered from each pokemon until they fell on two unfamiliar faces. A ruffled looking chatot and a strange, purple creature…

              She lifted a finger and wagged it at the blobby alien thing. “The Time Onion… it’s coming back to me now.”

              “She serious?” the chatot asked Web a little too loudly.

              Web tried to hush him, but Annie sat back and kicked her boots up on the table. “Yes. It is coming back to me. We found my way home, right?”

              “I’m afraid, dear,” Web said slowly, “that Poipole isn’t a time traveller. He’s not the celebi you’re looking for.”

              “What on earth’s a poipole?” Annie scoffed.

              Both Web and Trojan pointed a claw at the alien’s head, while the chatot waved a wing at him.

              “I already told you,” said the alien. “I’m not a Time Onion.”

              Annie sighed and ran a hand over her face. The previous day was a blur.

              “Anyway, I’ve got a question,” said the chatot. “What exactly do you want with me? First thing I know is some crazy prehistoric bird is kidnapping me, now I’m sat on a table with another extinct species. You draggin’ me into some kind of conspiracy or somethin’?”

              Web looked up, meeting Annie’s eye. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to explain to Hatter what you want with him. Because you didn’t tell us anything.”

              Annie scratched her head as she stared at the chatot blankly.

              “Try to remember, dear,” Web went on.

              Annie shook her head and sighed, throwing her arms in the air. “I ain’t a clue.”

              Her hand brushed something sticking out of her belt pouch and she looked down at a roll of paper sticking out of it. She grabbed it and unfurled it on the stained table top. The grimacing face of a mawile stared out at her, disfigured by an ugly scar. Below his face was a large number. A much more handsome figure. Fifty thousand credits.

              Yes… it was starting to come back to her now.

              She tapped the picture with a finger and looked up at Hatter. “I think I know what I wanted with you. You’re a messenger, right?”

              “I exchange information,” he said. “I only have those posters because space pirates can now get in on arresting the most wanted ‘mon in System. And his girlfriend, too.”

              “Girlfriend?” Annie squinted at the portrait. “Where?”

              “Other side.”

              She flipped it over to be greeted by the pretty face of a zigzagoon. Same price.

              “So let me get this straight.” She frowned across at the parrot. “We arrest these guys, we get… what… a hundred thousand credits?”

              “Exactly.” Hatter grinned. “But you want my help, I want part of that deal.”

              Annie huffed and shoved the poster aside, replacing it with her steepled hands. “I don’t exactly want you for no arrest mission. That’s a little bit on the side to fuel my ship. I want you… to get the pokemon all riled up about eatin’ water dwellers.”

              “Hang on.” Hatter’s grin fell away and the bridge of his beak creased in a frown. “What’s this got to do with arrestin’ some pirates?”

              “Nothing. We can pay you. You just have to spread a little message. The mayor is crazy. She’s having pokemon eat each other, and how far is it gonna go? Is it gonna stop at the fishes, or are they gonna start having marill on toast? Squirtle soup? Slowbro flambe?” She leant forwards and the corner of her mouth tugged up in a smirk. “Grilled chatot?”

              He squawked and leapt back with a flap of his wings, but he quickly regained his composure and returned her smirk with a leer. “They wouldn’t!”

              Annie shrugged and leant back in her seat. “I reckon the fishes thought that too before restaurants upgraded their menu.”

              The chatot glanced from side to side, inclining his head slightly to get a good look in all directions. His movements were jerky, like the birds she’d seen in videos. The kind of action that was often followed by a swift bolt towards the nearest exit.

              “So are you on board?” she asked.

              “How much you offerin’?” His voice was a near-growl.

              Web fixed one eye on Annie. “I want to ask how you plan to pay him?”

              Annie shrugged. “It’s in my head that we can do it.”

              “How?”

              “Dunno.”

              Web groaned and ran a paw down her face. She stood, her chair screeching over the floor. “I can’t handle this. I need a walk.”

              She scooped up the poipole and whispered something to him that Annie couldn’t pick out.

              “I’m comin’ with you.” Trojan fixed Annie in a leer and rose to follow the skuntank.

              The two halted in the doorway and stood aside as Waveform strolled in with Zip in tow. The decidueye looked from the two dark types then up at Annie and Hatter.

              “You could cut the tension in here with a knife,” he said. “Have you apologised?”

              “What for?” Annie asked.

              Waveform’s eyes widened and he stood aside as Web excused herself and slipped out of the door. He glanced back at the two retreating pokemon then marched over to the table.

              “What do you mean ‘what for’?” he hissed. “Don’t you remember our conversation?”

              She looked up at the ceiling and stroked her chin with a finger nail. “Not all of it.”

              “What do you remember?”

              “’A captain cares about their crew. The ship goes down, they go with it.’” She tucked her hands behind her head, not taking her eyes off Waveform’s. A look of surprise crossed his features and he tucked his wings under his collar. “They have a choice, you know. They don’t have to come with me. And neither do you.”

              “Have you told them that?” he asked.

              “No. If they follow me back onto the ship, then I’ll know where they stand.” She stood up, sending her chair skittering over the floor. “Pay Perappu. He’s gonna send out my message to the big cities of System Ground, and we’re off to Wave City.”

              Zip’s large eyes widened and he almost danced on his mechanical legs. “You mean we’re still going?”

              “Of course, little fish. I did make you a promise.”

              As she left the kitchen, she felt Waveform’s eyes on her back.

              “Annie?” his voice froze her in the doorway, and she looked back at him. “I really would tell them. They’re not mind readers, and you still owe them an apology. I explained your actions in Pulse City were rash.”

              “But I don’t remember my actions,” she said.

              He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. They do.”

              She sighed and nodded, then turned out of the front door. There was no sign of Web, but Trojan stood with his back against the wall. A tatty cigarette hung out of his mouth, the sight of which took her by surprise. The same surprise reflected over his face and he quickly removed the foreign object from his mouth.

              “Oh jack,” he muttered. “Don’t say anythin’ to Web, alright? She thinks I quit.”

              Annie shrugged and hugged her arms over herself. “Where is she?”

              “Went to get berries. Need to fill the ship, right?” He put the cigarette back and glanced down the vacant street. “It’s awful quiet. Never used to be like this.”

              Annie was silent as she followed his gaze. All she could hear was the wind, and the occasional puff from the scrafty as he contributed to the toxic atmosphere.

              “I’m under the impression I owe you an apology,” she said. “For… my reckless actions.”

              He waved a paw at her. “Forget it. We can all get a little wild at times.” He removed the cigarette again and folded his arms, letting it hang limply from his claws. “But I gotta suggest you don’t do it again. I don’t wanna get maimed by angry pirates, and Web don’t like seein’ pokemon mauled and swung about. But she’s a mother duck. No sooner you apologise, she’ll be makin’ you nutpea soup and fresh bread.”

              “So you’re both still with me?” she asked. “’Cos I don’t know where Wave City is.”

              He laughed and flicked ash into the gutter. “Of course. Any excuse to get out of this dump. Besides, we need to get Poipole home, right?”

              “I guess.”

              Annie hugged herself as the wind picked up around her. A crisp packet whipped up in the gutter and she followed its lonely trail towards the shops. It was eerily quiet. It had always been quiet in Spool City, as far as she knew. But there were no pokemon on the street. No voices. No faces peeking out of windows.

              She was about to open her mouth to suggest they leave that day, but a shrill squeal reached their ears. Trojan dropped his cigarette into a questionable puddle and turned to follow the noise. Another one sliced through the silence, louder and more clear. Panicked.

              It was followed by Web’s purple shape as she rounded a corner, chasing after Poipole’s floating form. The strange creature fired something from his head. A stream of glistening sludge that propelled like a bullet towards the bend in the road. The creature ducked nimbly as something flew towards him, glistening in the dull light. White and yellow with four limbs stretched out to the side like a plane. It doubled back like a boomerang, aiming straight for Poipole.

              Web shouted at him and dashed towards Annie and Trojan on all-fours, her tail held over her head like a cannon.

              “Get inside!” she barked.

              The creature zipped towards her and she ducked, firing a cloud of smoke from her tail. It engulfed the creature, sending it up in an arc to avoid it.

              “What is that thing?” Trojan asked, stunned into a state of unnerving calm.

              “I said get inside!” Web screamed.

              She charged into him, bowling him through the door. Annie faltered behind them, looking back at the creature as it raced up the side of the wall, slicing stone and sending tiny shards raining down like hail. It pulled itself free effortlessly and launched towards her like a dart. She span aside and it skimmed her arm before crashing into the wall where it lodged like a knife. A flailing knife.

              There was the sound like toothpaste being launched from a tube, and a torrent of slimy purple gunk struck the creature, plastering it to the wall. One of its bladed arms sliced through it, then flailed as it fought to wrestle itself free. Annie felt something soft strike her back and she ducked into the house. She found herself grabbed in one of Waveform’s wings as he whisked her away from the entrance to slam the door shut right as Poipole flew over her head into Web’s waiting arms.

              “Again,” said Trojan, more panicked. “What the jack is that thing?”

              “I don’t know,” said Web. “But I suggest we don’t wait around and find out.”

              “Get to the ship,” said Annie. “It can’t get us in there.”

              “It’s a kartana,” said Poipole. “They can slice through steel.”

              “A what?” Trojan asked.

              “If you get the ship up high enough,” Poipole went on, “it won’t catch us. They can’t fly very high. They use the wind current to glide.”

              “I’ll take your word for it.” Annie herded them towards the back door. “Off to Wave City it is. Let’s head to the ship.”

              “It was slicing up Spool City,” said Web over her shoulder. “Two of them.”

              “How many do you think there are?” asked Trojan.

              “I dread to think…”

              “They tend to hunt in small numbers,” Poipole explained. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were five or six of them.”

              “Okay.” Annie paused by the back door and pulled it open with a flourish. “Run to the ship.”

              Trojan was first out of the door. He bolted towards the pyukumyuku and wrenched the tin door open. At the wave of his paw, the rest of the pokemon scurried out towards it as Annie watched. Web closed up the rear, making sure Zip was ahead of her. She checked over her shoulder and clambered over the ramp into the ship.

              Waveform placed a paw on Annie’s back and led her out into the yard. He gave her a hefty shove and they raced for the ship. Annie threw herself on board and Waveform landed gracefully behind her, tugging the door shut.

              “Not a single one in sight,” he said.

              Annie snorted. “I guess the one that attacked us must still be trying to pull itself free from our new friend’s glue attack.” She turned to the poipole sat in Web’s lap. “I think I’m gonna call you Sticky.”

              Poipole blinked once. “But I’m Poipole.”

              “Not any more.” Annie fell into her seat and crossed her legs at the ankle. “It’s Sticky.”

              Poipole stuttered and shook his head. “Please don’t…”

              Annie waved her hand at the grimy window. “Let’s get this thing in the sky, eh?”

              “I’m already on it.” Trojan pawed at a few buttons on the dash and the entire ship began to shake.

              “Look…” Web pointed a claw at the house.

              One of the kartana glided over the roof, then shot down like a dart out of sight. A second one rose up alongside it, shaking purple globules from its limbs.

              “Hurry up, ship.” Annie’s voice came out oddly calm.

              As if on cue, the pyukumyuku began its lurch towards the sky, bounding over the worn out roof tops. Annie thought she saw a chimney tumble towards the road.

              Waveform climbed from his seat before they’d finished ascending and tugged his black bandana from his belt pouch. “Give me your arm.”

              Annie frowned up at him and raised an eyebrow. “I’m afraid it’s rather attached.”

              “You’re wounded,” he said flatly.

              “Eh?” She looked down at her left arm and her eyes almost popped from their sockets. Her white shirt was dyed bright red from just below her shoulder to her elbow. “When did that happen?”

              “Unless you wish to undress,” said Waveform calmly, “I’m going to have to cut the sleeve off.”

              Annie began to feel a little dizzy. She turned away from the stained sleeve, becoming increasingly aware of a dull ache beneath all that blood.

              “Do as you will,” she said weakly. “I think I’ll just lie down on the floor for a little…” Her voice trailed off as her surroundings became a blur.

              ...

              It was noon when Wildcard Gamma reached Cyan City. Anchor had Macro tucked comfortably on one arm as he clutched the ladder with another, descending down through the city’s open dome. The cold air bit through his fur, and despite being used to it he was worried his trembling would cause him to drop his wounded captain.

              Jumper stood below them by the lake, watching the ladder with his paws tucked behind his back. Beside him was an ambulance, its lights flashing from blue to green to red and back. Once the ladder had descended enough, Anchor dropped down beside him. The frogadier’s eyes went straight to Macro and they almost popped from his head.

              “Good gracious! What on earth happened to him?!” he gasped. “Quickly. Into the ambulance.”

              He stepped aside to allow Anchor into the ambulance where a croconaw relieved him of the unconscious mawile. DL rushed to catch up with them with Defrag in tow, and he heard the ladder flash away rung by rung from Cyan City. Once they were all inside the ambulance, the doors slammed shut and it took off, sirens blaring.

              “What’s happened to him?” the croconaw asked.

              “Stab wound,” Defrag told him before Anchor could even open his mouth.

              That was all the paramedic seemed to need to know as he rushed to his trolley and rustled through the various tools.

              “Will he make it?” DL asked weakly.

              A wartortle placed something over Macro’s claw and stood back to watch the screen on the attached tablet.

              “It’s too soon to say,” she said. “But we’ll try everything.” She turned to the croconaw. “His oxygen’s low.”

              Anchor said nothing as the paramedics busied themselves around the stretcher. When the croconaw placed an oxygen mask over the mawile’s muzzle, Anchor felt his heart sink into his stomach.

              “You could have come in at the docks,” said Jumper quietly. “I told you, you are welcome here.”

              “Well, old habits die hard,” said Anchor. “Thanks for opening the dome for us by the way.”

              “It was scheduled to open now anyway,” said Jumper. “Dawn and noon for optimal sunshine. The trees don’t do as well in a completely closed off climate. It gets too hot for them, and the glass reduces the needed nutrients from the sun. So, are you going to tell me what happened?”

              “I don’t know what happened,” said Anchor. “Apparently some invasive creature ran him through with bladed arms.”

              “Are you sure it wasn’t a pawniard?”

              “It wasn’t a pawniard,” said Defrag.

              Jumper looked back at her and his eyebrows raised slightly. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Are you another of Macro’s crew?”

              Defrag shook her head as Anchor snorted.

              “She’s a former crew member,” said the granbull.

              “I’m a detective, actually,” said the lopunny. “Macro just happened to be in my city while I was investigating those creatures.”

              “There’s been a lot of strange stuff happen recently,” said Jumper. “That attack on Favicon for one. I am guessing it’s related?”

              Defrag’s face creased in a frown. “I’m guessing news of the massacres in Spool City haven’t made it this far?”

              The frogadier’s eyes widened and he blanched. “No…”

              “Typical.” Defrag tutted. “Rich cities don’t care, do they?”

              Jumper regained his composure and frowned, turning away from her as the ambulance came to a halt. The paramedics hoisted the stretcher from its stand and rushed out into the hospital, followed by Anchor and his companions. He only caught a glimpse of the croconaw’s tail as it vanished through swinging doors to the ‘Emergency Wards’.

              Jumper settled himself into one of the many chairs and motioned for Anchor and the others to sit. DL faltered by the double doors, peering through the glass after the paramedics.

              “I’m afraid they won’t let you in,” said Jumper. “Not just yet, anyway.”

              DL glanced from the frogadier to the doors then flopped into the chair beside him. She huddled into herself, staring blankly at the floor.

              “I’m afraid it’s just a waiting game now,” said Jumper. “But I can assure you Macro is in very good paws.”

              “I sure hope so,” said Anchor. “I’ve never seen him like this…”

              DL shuddered and wiped a paw across her face. Jumper glanced towards her and placed a paw on her trembling back.

              “I’m not sure how much help this is,” said Jumper. “But there’s a cafe if-”

              “I couldn’t eat a thing right now,” said Anchor. “I feel like I’ve been hit in the gut by a close combat throwing lucario.”

              Defrag brushed back one of her ears and took in a shaky breath. “A coffee might actually calm my nerves.”

              Jumper looked over at her then at Anchor. The granbull shrugged his shoulders and knitted his paws together.

              “You guys go,” he said. “Take DL. I’ll wait here in case anything comes up. Don’t want ‘em lookin’ for us.”

              Jumper narrowed his eyes with concern. “If you’re sure-”

              “I’m sure.” Anchor waved a huge paw. “Go. Don’t worry about me. It ain’t me you need to be worryin’ about.”

              The frogadier nodded and rose to his feet, motioning DL to join him. She looked over at the door again then clambered shakily to her feet.

              “I-” she stuttered. “I don’t want to leave him…”

              “If you want to wait here, I can bring you something?” said Jumper.

              She shook her head slowly, then violently shook her ears before bolting through the double doors.

              “DL!” Jumper took off after her and skidded to a halt in the hallway. “Oh, DL…”

              The pachirisu sank down against one of the closed doors, the light above it a vivid red. It lit up her white fur like a sunset, and she placed a paw against the blue wood. Tears streaked from her eyes and she sobbed loudly, her entire body trembling.

              Jumper crouched down beside her and placed a paw on her back. She pushed his paw away and screwed her eyes shut, trying to stifle the tears.

              “I don’t want him to die,” she sobbed.

              “Neither do I.” Jumper’s voice came out husky. “But I trust the surgeons here. Come on, trust him into their paws.”

              “I… I didn’t know how dangerous those things were,” she said. “We were only trying to find out the damage to Meta City. We didn’t expect Spool City to… He was trying to get me onto the ship first. Then it…” She looked up and fixed watery, brown eyes on his. “If they’re that dangerous, how are we meant to get those creatures back to their own world?!”

              She broke down again, curling into a ball at the foot of the door. Jumper crouched beside her and gathered her into his arms, guiding the trembling pachirisu back to her feet.

              “Let’s get you sat back down. I’ll get you a drink.” He turned back to the doors to find Anchor watching them, waiting to see if he was needed. He fixed the granbull with a raised eyebrow. “You’ve really landed yourselves in quite the conspiracy, haven’t you?”

              Anchor let out a gruff ‘hmm’. “I don’t think it would have been such a rough landing if we’d gone in prepared.”

              ...

              Blinding sunlight filled Macro’s vision. He flinched back from it and narrowed his eyes, straining to see through it. But it was all he could see. It was everywhere, blanketing his entire body. Blinding. Dazzling. Yet it was warm, not burning.

              A shape formed inside it. A sun shape, solidifying into a face. A face he recognised.

              Solgaleo looked down at him, his face soft and gentle. Yet Macro felt humbled, like he needed to fall to his knees. He became aware he was lying down, unable to move. His arms were paralysed at his sides.

              Solgaleo smiled and he heard his voice coming from every direction at once.

              “Wake up, Macro,” he said. “It’s not your time yet.”

              The light faded out into a soft white, then the white grew with a blinding intensity. His arm suddenly obeyed him and he lifted the heavy limb to his eyes. Solgaleo’s face faded away, replaced by the soft, furry features of a worried pachirisu.

              DL stared down at him, clutching his paw tightly in hers. He removed his other paw from his eyes and squinted into her warm, chocolate ones.

              “Wow.” His voice came out husky and sore. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

              DL’s face split into a beaming grin that rivalled the halogen lighting, and she clutched his paw to her chest. Fresh tears streamed over her damp cheeks and she shook her head slowly.

              “I’m so glad you’re awake.” she said. “I was worried sick!”

              Macro sighed and closed his eyes as the events came back to him. It was like a nightmare, yet he could still remember vividly the sensation of blood flooding his mouth and running out into his mask. The searing pain as the kartana withdrew its blade. He grimaced and lifted his paw to his face again, feeling the oxygen mask covering his muzzle. It was too familiar to the filter mask. He wanted to wrench it off. He fastened his claws underneath it, feeling a slight tug as he tensed his paw. He snapped his head around to it, spotting the drip fastened into his flesh. The sight made his stomach do an uncomfortable flip. In a hospital, strapped to a drip, having just clung onto life… His blood turned cold and he released the oxygen mask.

              “I’m just glad to be alive.” He took in a painful breath and let his eyes close again. “Argh, I feel like someone attacked my lungs with a cheese grater.”

              “The doctors said you’re very lucky to be alive,” said DL somewhat painfully.

              Macro rubbed a paw over his groggy eyes. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a near death experience.”

              He felt tiny claws dig into his paw. “They thought they were going to lose you. More than once. At one point… they really…” She choked back a sob and shook her head violently. “You almost bled to death! It’s only thanks to Cookie’s first aid skills you even made it to the hospital! That kartana sliced open your left lung and severed two of your ribs. It only narrowly missed your heart. If it had been a fraction closer…”

              She trailed off and Macro cracked an eye open. She wasn’t looking at him, instead staring at the foot of the bed. Her paws were still clasped around his, too firmly for him to wriggle it free. But not only did he feel too weak to try, he didn’t want to. Instead he fastened his claws over her soft paw and she snapped her head around to look at him. Her mouth curled down at the sides and she let his paw flop onto the bed so she could wipe the tears from her cheeks. His paw felt oddly cold and he flexed his claws a couple of times before tucking it into his sheets.

              “I’m so sorry,” she choked.

              “What for?”

              “If I hadn’t gone with you,” more tears flooded from her eyes, “then you wouldn’t have had to look after me. You wouldn’t have-”

              “What, you think this is your fault?!” Macro regretted raising his voice and he grimaced. “This isn’t your fault, DL. Whether you went with me or not, those creatures would still have been there tearing up Spool City.”

              “Yes, but I shouldn’t have gone with you. Anchor is much stronger than me. You should have taken him.”

              “It’s still not your fault. I’m the captain. It’s my job to make sure my crew is on the ship in dangerous situations. Or off it, for that matter.”

              “What about ‘look out for number one’?”

              He opened his mouth to reply, but his brain wouldn’t process a response fast enough. He stared back into her eyes, still glistening with tears. Yet they were still warm. He felt himself melting into them, and his paw was desperate to find hers again. He clutched it to his chest, unseen under the sheets.

              “I can’t be a captain without a crew, can I?” he finally said.

              Before she could reply, the door opened and Anchor strolled in clutching two steaming cups of fruit tea. When he spotted Macro he almost dropped them.

              “Wow, Cap’n,” he said, steadying the cups before the tea escaped to the floor. “The docs said you’d be asleep most of the night. It ain’t even ten o’clock yet.”

              “Really?” Macro groaned as he rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. The oxygen mask was growing uncomfortable. “I guess I recover fast.”

              “Yeah? Hold on to that thought.” Anchor turned to DL. “I thought you might want a tea.”

              “Thank you. But… I should probably let Jumper know Macro’s awake.”

              She rose to her feet then stared down at Macro, her paws twitching at her sides. She lifted them back to her chest then headed for the door, gathering her cup off Anchor as she passed.

              Anchor watched her go and waited for the door to close behind him. He turned back to Macro and shook his head sadly.

              “She hasn’t left your side since we were allowed in,” he said.

              “Really?” Macro’s heart fluttered and he watched Anchor stroll across the room to claim DL’s empty seat.

              “Aye,” he said. “Blames herself.”

              “But it isn’t her fault,” said Macro.

              “Sadly she don’t see it that way. But I do. I know you.” Anchor sipped his hot tea then placed the cup on the bed’s little stand. “What happened down there, Cap’n?”

              “Has no one told you?”

              “Two terrified girls have relayed me a story about a bladed Ultra Beast knocking you down and running you through with its arm,” said Anchor. “Apparently you tried to take it on.”

              “That’s true, I guess.” Macro grimaced as he tried to sit up.

              “You stay lay down!” Anchor barked. “I don’t want you comin’ undone!”

              “If they did a good enough job, I shouldn’t do.”

              Anchor placed a heavy paw on his shoulder and narrowed his eyes into a leer. “You stay lay down or I’m sittin’ on yer legs.”

              Macro rolled his eyes and wriggled into his pillow.

              “There’s a good captain.” Anchor took another sip of his tea and kept hold of his cup, warming his paws. “So you tried to take it on?”

              “Yeh. It was fast. Couldn’t hit it.” Macro shrugged his shoulders painfully. “Once I’d angered it, that was it. It wanted blood.”

              “Aye, it got it n’all.” Anchor frowned into his tea. “What were you playin’ at?”

              “I was trying to do my job. Find where they were comin’ from. They’re killing pokemon, and for what?”

              “Your alarm should have gone off when you heard that! Get back on the ship, formulate a plan. Not run in there guns blazin’ like you always do!” Anchor put his cup back down before he accidentally lobbed it across the ward with dramatic hand gestures. “I’ve told you before you’re reckless. Throwin’ yourself off buildings to escape, threatenin’ government officials, jokin’ about blowin’ things up. It’s like you forget you’re mortal! Now look what’s happened…”

              “I know I’m mortal, Anchor.”

              “Then why act like that?”

              Macro said nothing, letting the room fall into silence. He stared up at the ceiling, watching the fan spin rhythmically as it wafted cool air through the ward.

              “I worry about you,” said Anchor. “I might not bail on you like Digit did. I’ve always got your back, you know that. But I worry.”

              “You don’t need to worry.” Macro knew his words were pointless, and the glare from Anchor only served to prove his theory.

              “Of course I need to worry! Look at you!” Anchor sighed and leant back in his seat. “I worry one day I’m gonna lose you, Macro. It frightens me. You’re not just a captain to me, you’re my best friend. No… you’re my brother. And I’m not gonna let you behave like a reckless fool no more. You get me?”

              Macro looked at him out of the corner of his eye. His throat tightened as a lump rose into it, but he choked back the threat of tears. Anchor stared down at him, his large eyes glistening, but his jaw was set with the sternness of a teacher waiting for a naughty hatchling to sit down.

              Macro licked his dry lips and croaked out, “What if the situation calls for it?”

              “Like what?”

              He shrugged. “I dunno. We might all die anyway?”

              Anchor let out a single laugh and retrieved his cup. “All right, sure. I’ll let you have that one.”
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                #57    
              Old July 28th, 2018 (5:30 AM).
              Delirious Absol's Avatar
              Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
              Call me Del
                 
                Join Date: May 2015
                Location: UK
                Age: 33
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                Chapter Fifty Five

                Macro couldn’t help but feel relieved that he’d been removed from the drip. Sat back against a pillow, he sipped at what must have been his third cup of tea that morning.

                Switch sat beside him in one of the many plastic chairs situated around the room, comfortable in his human form. None of the doctors were phased by his appearance. From what little he’d said since he’d arrived, Macro guessed he’d been walking around the entire city featherless.

                Macro glanced at the time on his computer, and not for the first time. Thirty minutes had passed since Switch had walked in, all smiles and sunshine. Yet whenever Macro glanced him out of the corner of his eye, he looked bothered. Sad. Lonely? Whatever it was, he covered it up with a smile or one of his winks and what had been an awkward, fractured conversation about Macro’s ‘recent injury’.

                “Okay.” The mawile sighed and adjusted himself painfully so he could place his half-drunk still piping-hot tea back onto his bedside table. “I have to ask. Why are you walking around Cyan City with your human out?”

                Switch raised an eyebrow and let out a confused ‘huh?’

                Macro gestured towards him with a paw. “This. I thought you’d be staying as a talonflame. You know… since there are no other humans in System?”

                “That’s where you’re wrong.” Switch sipped at his own cup. “There’s one other human in System.”

                Wildcard’s conversation with Solgaleo came back to Macro and his eyes widened slightly. “Oh… Oh yes, there is, isn’t there? They escaped from Socket.”

                “A female,” said Switch. “Apparently she’s also been sighted as an archeops, and she’s not shy about it either. In fact…” He fastened both hands around his cup and leant forward on his knees, staring blankly at the closed door. “I know who she is.”

                “Oh?” It was Macro’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “A friend of yours?”

                “No, but we were both in the same hospital when we first entered System. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to stabilise her form. Only one watch was made, and it wasn’t by a doctor. The only reason I have it is because it turned out to be a failed experiment.”

                “What? And they couldn’t make two?”

                “Didn’t want to.” Switch shrugged. “Besides. This other human is very… mentally unstable. It’s believed to be from her condition. That being unable to stabilise it sent her mad. But… If it was that, it was a very immediate thing. I doubt even with a stabilising watch she’d have been allowed out of her cell.”

                “I think that’s pretty rotten, if I’m honest. How can they be so sure?”

                Switch shrugged his shoulders. “Apparently her form is pretty stable now, somehow. And she punched the mayor.”

                Macro sputtered laughter, sending jolts of pain through his chest. He clasped his paw over it and took a few steadying breaths. When he looked up again, Switch was on his feet, staring down at him with a fearful look of concern.

                “I’m fine,” Macro wheezed. He stifled another wave of laugher, twisting his lips into a smirk. “Just… the thought of someone actually punching Socket really tickled me.”

                Switch slumped back down into his seat and let his face fall into his hands. His floppy red and brown hair fell between his fingers, masking what little Macro could still see of his face.

                “What’s the problem?” Macro asked. “I said I’m fine.”

                “If I’d been there,” Switch muttered, “we could have handled those kartana.”

                “What are you talking about?” Macro spat. “Those things are deadly.”

                “Not entirely.” Switch looked up again but he remained hunched over his knees. “They’re apparently grass and steel type. One overheat from me and they would have been reduced to cinders. No threat to anyone.”

                “You’re talking about killing them? We’re meant to be getting them home!”

                “How?! They can cut through iron!”

                Macro shrugged and looked away, clutching his claws around his duvet. “I don’t have it quite figured out yet.”

                “No, your last attempt to ‘figure it out’ almost got you killed!” Switch paused as Macro flinched at his words. “And where was I? Left here in Cyan City, forgotten about.”

                “You were recovering!” Macro swiftly regretted raising his voice. He screwed his eyes shut and huddled back into his pillow.

                “Well…” Switch stared at him pointedly. “Now the shoe is on the other foot.”

                “What? You’re gonna leave me here? Fly off and try to wipe out those kartana?”

                “Not exactly. I’m going to wait for you to recover and help you wipe out those kartana.”

                “We’re not wiping them out. We’re getting them home.” Macro flashed a canine. “And until you can get that into your thick skull, I won’t tell you a single other thing about this mission.”

                “Too late.” Switch sat back and tucked his hands behind his head. “Your crew already have.”

                Macro’s jaw dropped and he stared back at the human, speechless.

                “So unless you can find a box that they can’t cut through,” Switch went on, “I’m stumped as to how we’re gonna get them back into their own world. Because I doubt they’re going to listen to reason.”

                “We could bait them?”

                “How? Dangle you in front of them like a carrot?”

                Macro visibly flinched and fired Switch a glare. “What?”

                “I dunno, I just thought they might want to finish you off.” Switch winked and looked back at the door. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little bitter that the only time you even bother to come back here is when your crew is dragging you half dead across System Sky.”

                Macro closed his eyes and sighed. It was inevitable Switch would feel that way. How was he meant to explain that Cyan City was the safest place? He’d almost died. His loss could alter history, affect the present in unimaginable, unpredictable ways.

                “I promised we’d get you home,” he said. “You really think we weren’t gonna come back for you?”

                “It was getting that way. But… I kept myself busy.” Switch pulled his computer out of his pocket and scrolled over the screen. “I’ve been looking into where the twins might have been taken, since no one has found their bodies. And the bug types are being rehabilitated and studied in hopes they can get some identity back. So I’ve been assisting there, too.” He glanced up briefly. “It pays well.”

                Macro let out a non-committal grunt. “We were gonna come back. One of the Z Crystals we were given is meant for you.”

                “I believe you.” Switch looked up from his computer and let it fall into his lap. “Just remember I’m more useful to you on your ship than hidden away in this city.”

                “But they’ve needed you, right?”

                Switch shrugged. “I’ve just been making myself useful, really. Helping clean up after that invasion, doing detective work… I’d much rather be trying to get myself back home.”

                “Well, once I’m out of here, we can sort that out, can’t we?” It was becoming a strain to talk. Macro reached for his teacup, claws barely reaching it.

                Switch leant forwards and handed Macro his cup before rising to his feet. “I’ll let you finish resting. I need to get back to the station anyway. Floppy will be wanting his break.” Macro watched him cross the ward and he paused at the door. “Take care of yourself. Don’t do anything foolish. It’ll take a while for those wounds to heal, even with Cyan City’s advanced medicine.”

                With that, he slipped out of the room.

                Macro sighed and sipped at his tea, now almost tepid. He considered downing it, but the effects of three cups of tea and several glasses of water were really beginning to take their toll on him. He discarded the cup back onto the table and carefully swung himself over the edge of the bed. His eye went to the bucket tucked underneath it and his muzzle creased in a grimace.

                No. Not today.

                It might have been a private room, but it wasn’t an en-suite. Not being attached to that drip was a real blessing. It meant he wouldn’t have to drag it after him.

                He dropped to the floor with a grunt and staggered to the door, peering out into the hallway. Switch was already long gone, and the only other pokemon he could see was a cleaner. A minccino. One of the few normal types he’d seen in Cyan City. He wouldn’t stop him.

                Macro placed a paw to his chest and walked as carefully and as evenly as he could to the rest rooms. Fortunately only a stone throw a way. They were as brightly lit with florescent lighting as the rest of the hospital, reflecting off the porcelain with a blinding intensity he felt ashamed to admit he’d grown used to. The biting smell of bleach and floral air freshener meant the minccino had recently cleaned everything until it shone. The yellow slip hazard cone was still situated in the middle of the floor, fortunately not providing a trip hazard.

                He briefly considered resigning himself to the bucket but shook it off. Not when he knew for a fact DL was due to visit him within the next ten minutes. Knowing his luck, she’d be early.

                Every movement was a chore, and the slippery floor didn’t help. He moved at a snails pace to the nearest convenience and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. It was either the lighting, or he looked pale. He couldn’t tell. Sure he’d lost a lot of blood, but they’d given him a transfusion to replace it so that wasn’t an issue. Maybe it was the food? He’d grown too used to Cookie’s cooking or something. He sincerely doubted he was still in shock.

                He grimaced as he turned himself away towards the door, grateful for the automatic flush feature. There was no way he’d be able to stretch for one. Washing his paws was enough of a chore.

                As he paced slowly back into the hall, the smell of cleaning alcohol biting at him, he scratched a claw over his scar. Rose petals wafted up from his paw, or they may as well have done. Everything just smelled wrong. Oh how he yearned for his ship.

                When he staggered back into his room, DL spun on the spot to face him, almost scaring him out of his skin. His chest complained and he pressed a paw against it as he made for his bed.

                DL caught him and helped him back upon it, her face turning from worried to angry in an instant.

                “What on earth are you doing?” she scolded. “I thought you’d gone and left!”

                “I had to use the bathroom,” he grumbled. “Like any normal ‘mon.”

                DL pursed her lips together and glanced down away from him towards the floor. He knew where she was looking and he rolled his eyes, expecting a lecture. Instead, she picked up a plastic bag from the chair.

                “I brought you lunch,” she said. “I know you’re sick of hospital food.”

                “You’re a star.”

                He tried to push himself up, suddenly feeling a lot more alert. She stopped him so she could adjust his pillow and let him sit back against it. Once she was satisfied, she returned to rummaging through the bag. Her tail was held high over her back, ears forward and nose crinkled slightly as she occupied herself with her task. Seeing her like that made him feel warm inside.

                “I know you like your nutpea and occa burgers, but they didn’t have that,” she explained. “They did, however, have nutpea and occa sandwiches. Not quite the same, but-”

                “It sounds great.”

                She looked up at him and smiled, then held out the neatly wrapped sandwich. He took it from her in both paws, meeting her eyes briefly.

                “Do you need me to open it?” she asked.

                “I think I’m okay.”

                She nodded and scooped more items from the bag, setting them on the fold over table the doctors generally reserve for plated meals. From the variety she laid out before him, she may as well have been organising a buffet. Fruit cups, jelly, cakes, sweet bread, cereal bars, and a couple more sandwiches. She caught the baffled look on his face as he sat with his sandwich half way to his mouth.

                “Yeh…” She chuckled and looked over the spread. “I went a little crazy.”

                “Well, at least I won’t be going nuts over the bland food anymore.” He took a bite from his sandwich and nearly swooned.

                She sat in the chair beside him and reached for a sandwich of her own, which from a glance may have been cheri jam.

                “Switch visited today,” he told her.

                “Yes, he said he was planning to.”

                “He’s pretty wounded we left him here,” Macro explained. “I guess I should have called him.”

                “Ideally.” DL stared at her sandwich thoughtfully then took a bite.

                “So you think I did the wrong thing?”

                She shrugged and swallowed her mouthful. “We were busy. I mean… you probably never really found time… a lot has been going on.”

                “Why do I feel like you’re giving me the same explanation you gave him?”

                “It’s difficult,” she said through an exasperated sigh. “We’re meant to be helping him. So leaving him here seemed sensible. He almost got killed.”

                “Exactly.” Macro took another bite of his sandwich. “If he got killed, how would it affect us? Now, in this time-line?”

                She looked up with a start, the surprise marred slightly by a streak of jam across her nose. “What exactly are you worried about?”

                “You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, right?”

                She nodded.

                “If he really is connected to my ancestors, then if something happened to him… what would happen to me? That’s just one example. There’s also issues with System, too. How much of an impact did one human staying in System have on the rest of history? It’s hardly a trivial matter living with an alien species, is it? You just have to look at what the Ultra Beasts are doing to understand that.”

                DL stared down at what little was left of her meal. “I hadn’t really considered that.”

                “Neither had I until he almost got killed.” Macro took another huge bite of his sandwich.

                “I guess we need to be careful, don’t we?”

                The room fell into a heavy silence and Macro felt his appetite being pulled away from him. Regardless, he resigned to finish the majority of his sandwich before discarding the remains into the waste paper basket.

                DL licked jam off her paws and looked from him to the small table. “Which cake would you like?”

                “None right now, thank you.”

                “Okay, maybe later then?” She leant forwards and scooped the rest of the ‘buffet’ into her shopping bag. Her paw faltered over a heavily iced cake and her claws flexed.

                “If you want one, have one,” he said, masking a chuckle.

                She made a thoughtful noise and glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Maybe later.”

                “That’s some restraint.” He tucked his paws behind his head, grimacing with the effort, and leant awkwardly back against his pillow.

                “I was… hoping to share that one with you.” She placed the cake carefully in the bag then looked over at him. “If it hurts, don’t sit like that!”

                “It’s not so much pain as stiffness.” He moved his arms back in front of him and tried to stretch them out, flinching visibly. “It’s my lung and ribs that hurt.”

                “You’re probably stiff from the surgery.” She watched him lean forwards, then she sat up with a start and reached under her seat. “That reminds me, I got your scarf repaired.”

                He looked over his shoulder at her then sat upright again. She pulled his scarf out of another plastic bag and unravelled it. The damage was barely noticeable, save for where the neon blue pattern didn’t quite line up.

                “It got quite cut up in that battle,” she said sadly. “I had it cleaned and repaired. You will barely be able to tell when it’s on.”

                “Thank you,” he said.

                “I guess you don’t want to wear it in bed, but it’s here for when you want it.”

                She folded it neatly and carried it over to the bedside table where she tucked it away in its lone drawer. As she returned to her seat, she eyed him stretching again. Her paw went to her ear and she sat back down, glancing towards the door.

                “I feel a bit awkward offering this,” she said. “But if it’s really bothering you, I can help ease the tension out?”

                He stared at her, but she wouldn’t meet his eye, instead nervously glancing around the room particularly at the door.

                “I know I’ve done it before, but I didn’t have my memories or my personality then,” she said. “So if you think it would be too… weird…”

                “Hey, it helped the last time.” He diverted his gaze to the far wall. “It might help again, so…”

                “Okay. I’ll be sure to avoid your damaged ribs.” She perched on the edge of his bed and reached up to his shoulders. “But if this hurts at all, you tell me. I don’t want to make things worse.”

                He chuckled dryly and rolled his eyes. “Yes doctor.”

                If she responded, he didn’t see it. She fastened her paws over his shoulders and squeezed them together, working into his muscles. His eyes fell shut as he felt the tension being slowly worked out. If anything, it was less the surgery that had caused the tension and more recent events wrecking havoc on his stress levels. Lying in bed for the past two days hadn’t helped matters either.

                “I’m still curious about these markings.” She trailed a paw down his back then lifted it back up to his right shoulder.

                “I haven’t a clue either,” he said. “My mother had them too. She always said it’s cos she thought we might have a pikachu in our family tree. But if that were the case, why don’t more pokemon have odd markings?”

                She let out a small laugh and began working down his back, widely avoiding the left side. “I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned your mother.”

                “Yeh, I don’t like to think about it.”

                “Really? Did something bad happen?”

                He was silent as his mind went back to his childhood, and he hugged his arms around his knees. “She was really sick. She died before I even left school.”

                “Oh, I’m sorry.” DL faltered and he felt her claws brush through his fur as she sat back slightly. “We can change the subject if you want?”

                He shrugged. “I was a jerk of a kid. I just wish I’d done more. Not long after she passed I became a space pirate, for crying out loud.”

                “And I guess that’s when you met Digit?”

                “Yeh.” He paused and cracked an eye open. “What happened to her, anyway? I’ve not heard from her since she showed up to drag Anchor off for dinner yesterday.”

                “She’s still here.” He winced as she dug into his right shoulder and she muttered something about him having a knot. “She’s lurking around the police station. She can’t go very far since she used your ship to get here.”

                The tone in her voice told him he was better changing the conversation. He glanced over his shoulder, but all he could see was the white of her paw.

                “Any news about the Ultra Beasts?”

                “Don’t worry about them,” she said. “Focus on getting better. Then you can go back to worrying and maybe we can even try out those Z-Moves.”

                “That sounds like a plan.”

                “It would also be a good idea to give Switch his when we do. I’m sure he’ll be happy to practice with us.”

                She trailed her paws down his back and he let his eyes close again. Not worrying. It was easier said than done, especially when he knew full well that strange creatures from other worlds were destroying System and killing pokemon. He’d almost added to that list of casualties himself. He took in a deep breath, noting the awful stab in the left of his chest. How long would it take him to recover from that? Would he be going back into battle before he’d fully recovered?

                His mind snapped back to DL, her paws still trailing up and down his back. But it wasn’t so much a massage any more than her claws combing through his fur, starting at his waist where it grew longer to form his skirt then all the way up to the shorter fur around his shoulders. It stirred up odd bubbles in his stomach and he straightened, raising his right paw to grab her left. He twisted to face her, meeting her warm eyes. Chocolate fondue that he could get lost in. As she stared back at him, it made every bubble pop one after the other. She was close enough that he could feel her breath on his muzzle. She slipped her paw out from his and reached up to his face, brushing back a lock of black fur.

                The door flew open and she leapt back from him like a hatchling from a hot stove hob. Jumper strolled into the room and looked from each of them back to Macro.

                “You’re looking much better.” Jumper turned back to DL and gave her an apologetic smile. “Would you mind excusing us for a moment? I have something I’d like to discuss in private.”

                DL muttered an apology and adjusted Macro’s pillow before gathering her bag and trotting towards the door. She paused in the doorway to give Jumper a pointed look.

                “Don’t stress him out with bad news,” she said.

                “Oh, I can assure you it’s good news,” he said.

                “That’s okay then.” She slipped from the room, letting the door close quietly behind her.

                Jumper turned back to Macro and cleared his throat. “She seems rather highly strung.”

                “It was the other way around before.” Macro fell back against his pillow and tucked his arms behind his head, much easier this time. Then he raised an eyebrow at the frogadier. “What do you want, Gov? Is it really good news?”

                “It depends on your perspective.” Jumper leant against the wall and folded his arms. “I am under the impression you are no longer welcome in Pulse City?”

                “No, I’m not. Socket raised the stakes.” Macro narrowed his eyes at him. “Why?”

                Jumper cleared his throat again and diverted his gaze to the window. “Your problem with pirates trying to claim your bounty may be very short lived.”

                “What are you getting at, Governor?” Macro’s voice came out as a growl.

                “One of those Ultra Beasts has set up home there,” said Jumper slowly. “The city is being reduced to ruins.”

                ...

                Huge.

                Immensely huge.

                That’s how that creature was burned into Tracer’s memory.

                Huge. Towering over the buildings. A haunting scream echoing as it blasted the city to oblivion.

                And what had Tracer done? Screamed at them to run. N0ize hadn’t needed telling twice. He pulled his ship away and leapt into hyperdrive, leaving Pulse City and its inhabitants to the mercy of the monster.

                Run…

                Tracer lay on musty sheets, his arm plastered over his eyes. The dull drone of the engine melded with Widget’s snores and a deep rumble he assumed was one of the space pirates. Given he’d shared a room with N0ize not two nights before, he assumed the racket belonged to him.

                The delphox let his arm fall to his side and stared at the black ceiling. Blackness. Nothingness. The space pirates’ choice of decor didn’t make him feel any better. He pushed himself up and slumped forward, all energy failing him. His eyes felt heavy, yet sleep wouldn’t come to him. All he kept seeing was that monster. Mortified at the thought of leaving hundreds of pokemon to make their own escape, or to fight against it.

                He was meant to stop crime. Put the needs of other pokemon first. And what had he done? He’d ran.

                He reached into his trench coat and pulled out a cigar, ignoring the scorning mental voice that followed. What N0ize didn’t know didn’t hurt him. He leant back against his pillow and lit it up, watching as a trail of glowing embers trickled from it to land harmlessly on his warm fur. Well… if he did accidentally light the sheets on fire, at least they’d add some light to the pitch black room.

                A soft yawn came from the floor and Widget’s eyes fluttered open, fixing on Tracer. What dim light his cigar gave off reflected off the eevee’s eyes, amplified by some hidden device, and shined back at him like a pair of tiny torches. Something that only worked in dim lighting, making up for the pokemon’s lack of night vision.

                “Still can’t sleep, huh?” Widget asked before yawning again.

                “No.” Tracer puffed out a ring and lost sight of it as it drifted slowly away from him. “I was hoping this might soothe me to sleep.”

                Widget rolled onto his back and stretched his legs towards the ceiling. “I think you said that about an hour ago, too.”

                So time was going by that slowly? Tracer took another drag and narrowed his eyes at the shadows. He needed off this ship. He needed to know what was happening in Pulse City. But the news hadn’t updated since the previous morning. For all he knew, it had been reduced to a floating hunk of steel and rock. Raining its remains down onto Baud City. As if that city hadn’t suffered enough already.

                He pulled his tablet computer from his inside pocket and checked their progress. The intricate interactive map told him they were flying away from Spool City in a vague northerly direction. Either they were drifting aimlessly, or Annie was on the move again. Fortunately after their fright, they’d picked up her location. She’d been lurking in the outskirts for some unknown reason, and rather than drop in they’d stayed above the clouds and waited for her to make the first move. Unfortunately his computer didn’t tell him where she was.

                He let his arm flop to the bed, where the tablet shone its weak light towards the ceiling. It lit up a portion of his face and cast erratic shadows against the drapes.

                “I need to get off this ship,” he said with a sigh.

                “Aye.” Widget sat up and scratched behind his ear with a hind foot. “I’m gettin’ cabin fever.”

                Tracer swung his legs over the edge of the bed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle between two claws. “If we don’t land soon, I’m grabbing a parachute.”

                “It’ll be a long way down.” Widget grinned from ear to ear. “Count me in. It sounds fun.”

                Tracer let out a bitter laugh and shook his head, looking over at the weak light slowly making its way through the heavy curtain. “I guess it’s dawn.”

                “Guess so.” Widget yawned so wide his jaw popped. “Mind if I open the drapes? I wanna see the clouds again.”

                The eevee rose to his hind feet and whisked the curtain aside. A deep orange glow reflected off the surface of the wide, fluffy clouds, paling to a golden glow at the edges. Tracer had to hand it to the space pirates. They got to see sights like this almost every day. New clouds. New locations. New sunrises.

                He sighed, blowing out a stream of smoke that almost seemed to merge with the dramatic skyscape. A new dawn. Yet sadly, many pokemon wouldn’t get to see it.
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                  #58    
                Old August 4th, 2018 (1:18 AM).
                Delirious Absol's Avatar
                Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                Call me Del
                   
                  Join Date: May 2015
                  Location: UK
                  Age: 33
                  Gender: Female
                  Nature: Quirky
                  Posts: 345
                  Chapter Fifty Six

                  Socket stared out of her office window with a combination of mourning and loathing. The strange lanky creatures sprawled themselves over the mechanical trees and the walls of every building she could see. Every building except hers. A huge, perspex dome surrounded the mansion, cutting her off from the outside world and greatly reducing the invasion of toxic air from the outskirts.

                  Mechanical trees lay bent like bows amid debris from fallen ships. They hadn't even stood a chance, becoming fodder for the electrical monstrosities. Barely a dent had been made in the creatures' numbers. Some of the trees were even broken completely, their innards sparking as the aliens fed from them. But they had no faces to speak of, no mouths to feed with. They used their 'legs', attaching them to the wires and letting the current run up their wiry limbs to fuel the jagged fur that formed their 'heads'.

                  Her gut burned, flooding her body with hatred. It wasn't BackDoor that was solely responsible for this. Sure, the android had opened a gateway to another world, but that was its job. No, it wasn't BackDoor's responsibility. It wasn't her perfect plan that had gone awry. It was that wretched space pirate. If she'd had Download Database, she'd have been able to keep a tab on the gateways. Monitor them. Close them if things looked to be getting out of hand.

                  But no. She hadn't had Download Database. Her connection to the portholes had been fed through BackDoor's own childish rambling and gloating reports. Rather than send the information directly to Download Database, along with every other android in his network, he'd had to report back to Socket himself. A pokemon who rarely went outside. A pokemon who relied on her scientist. A pokemon who only wanted what was best for those who stuck to her law, and that wretched Hunter had wrecked everything.

                  Now she'd had to press her big, red eject button before her plan had even reached completion. Her eyes went up to the cloud of toxic fog slowly darkening the sky to a murky yellowish brown. It wouldn't be long until it penetrated the mansion's barrier.

                  She span towards her holoscreen and flicked it on, her claw automatically dialling Yobi. It only rang once before the sparksurfer raichu appeared before her.

                  "How are you getting on?" she asked before he could even open his mouth.

                  "Time is of the essence, Mayor," he replied. "We should hopefully be out of Meta City by dawn."

                  Socket nibbled her claw and looked over her shoulder at the electrical apocalypse.

                  "That dome is state of the art," he told her. "It's meant to hold back a full blown riot. Not to mention it doesn't even give off a charge. Even a thunderstorm couldn't wreck it. I doubt those creatures will."

                  "But the air…"

                  "Can get through, yes. We still need filters, and for something pretty old it's doing the best it can."

                  "How long before that air poisons us?"

                  The raichu's ominous silence set her fur on end. She leered at him until he finally met her eyes again.

                  "I erm…" He scratched his nose, leaving behind a greasy streak. "I'm working on getting us out of here non stop, but everything is ancient. I can only go so fast."

                  "Go faster."

                  Yobi stared out at her for an uncomfortable moment, watching the gothitelle twitch as her eyes went from the window to the holoscreen. All she could hear from his lab was the dull drone of some hidden machine and Tweak's jingling and chuckling. Finally, he let out a sigh and nodded.

                  "I promise you, we'll be out of here by dawn," he said.

                  She spun back to him with a start. "So it will be ready?"

                  "It might not be perfect, but it will at least get us out of the air. And out of range of those creatures."

                  "I thought you said this barrier was impenetrable to them?" She narrowed her eyes, prompting a response.

                  "I didn't say 'impenetrable'," he said. "I said 'I doubt they can wreck it'. Besides, with all the electricity they're indulging in, I can't see them turning on the mansion in a desperate frenzy anytime soon. Hold tight. Sleep if you need to."

                  Before she could reply, he cut out, vanishing before her eyes. She leant back against her desk and gazed around her office.

                  Empty. Silent.

                  It crossed her mind to call Tweak back from his laboratory assistance, but that may only slow things down. For the first time in a long time, she really didn't want to be alone.

                  ...

                  Macro stared at Jumper, dumbfounded. Had he heard him right? No… surely it was just another nightmare?

                  He pushed himself up against the pillow and fixed the governor in a violet plea. "You're lying, right? Pulse City isn't…"

                  "I'm not lying, Macro," said Jumper. "Most of System is under attack from these monsters. Your crew explained to me about what happened in Spool City, and that wasn't even your target for investigation. You were trying to monitor the chaos in Meta City, which, as we speak, is falling apart at the seams. The only footage we have of Pulse City is a blurred shot taken from a fleeing ship, uploaded to the Underground News, and what we can make out looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland."

                  Macro narrowed his eyes, fighting back tears. But a couple betrayed him and hung around at the corners of his eyes. "Are you trying to hurt me? Pulse City is my home!"

                  "I'm not trying to hurt you!" Jumper gasped. "Of course not. I felt obligated to let you know. It would be deceitful of me to let you go back there without telling you what state it lay in. Hundreds have been killed already."

                  "Hundreds…" Macro flopped back against the pillow and rubbed his paws over his face. "I have friends there. Sure we're a rough lot, and I also had a lot of enemies and rivals. But I still had friends! How am I meant to know-"

                  Jumper raised a paw to silence him. "We don't know for certain who managed to escape and who was trapped, but there's a list of confirmed casualties from those who… witnessed things before they managed to leave."

                  "Any idea which Ultra Beast it is? Which one that done it?"

                  Jumper clasped his paws behind his back and leant against the wall, diverting his gaze to the window. "It has been described as a bamboo cannon with a deathly wail."

                  Macro felt his blood turn cold. Every fur on his body stood on end and he tugged the duvet up to his chest. Unconsciously, he followed the frogadier's gaze, but his mind was on that creature. The same thing that had terrified him. And it had reduced Pulse City to ruins…

                  "I can't handle this, gov." He shoved the duvet off himself and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Every movement caused his chest to complain, but he grit his teeth and pushed through it. "I need a walk. Clear my head."

                  "I can't allow that." Jumper was at his side and placed a paw on his shoulder. "The only activities you're meant to have are your scheduled rehabilitation exercises. If you push yourself too much you're going to hamper your recovery time. Maybe even take a step back."

                  Macro narrowed his eyes. "I thought rich city medicine was supposed to encourage a quick recovery?"

                  "It does, but it doesn't work miracles. You still need rest."

                  "I can't rest with that nightmare of an image floating around my head!"

                  Jumper sighed and released the mawile. "Maybe I told you too soon. I just felt you had a right to know."

                  "No, you did the right thing." Macro leant forward on his knees and stared at the door. He clenched his teeth together and dropped to his feet. "No sense in dreamin' about a home that ain't there anymore, is there?"

                  Jumper watched him as he reached for his scarf, grimacing at the effort to wrap it around his shoulders.

                  "At least let me get you a wheelchair," the governor offered.

                  "I ain't no invalid."

                  "Right now you are!" Even though Jumper didn't raise his voice, it was firm enough to cause Macro to glance at him. "I implore you, please look after yourself. If you want to go out and clear your head, that's fine. We have a means of getting you there, and the hospital has a beautiful garden."

                  "But I don't want others to see me like that."

                  Jumper raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

                  Macro shrugged, painfully, and looked away. "It makes me look vulnerable."

                  Jumper was silent for a moment, but he didn't take his eyes off the mawile. Macro shifted under his gaze, feeling his strength wane with the effort of holding himself up. He took a step back towards the bed just to give himself something to lean on, an action he immediately regretted.

                  "We're all mortal." Jumper's words caused him to look up with a start. "We're all vulnerable for that reason. You nearly died. You're fortunate to even still be here."

                  "It ain't the first time I nearly died. First time, I almost lost an eye. This time, I lost my pride. I've never fallen in battle like that."

                  "You don't need pride. What others think is irrelevant." Jumper gave him a small smile. "Besides, I've been in a wheelchair before. Voluntarily. I did it to raise awareness, and I have to say I enjoyed it. You might find it quite fun."

                  Macro's muzzle creased into a sneer. "This ain't about fun."

                  "Listen here, Macro. The only way you're leaving this room is in a wheelchair. It's in your best interests, and if you keep being stubborn I'm going to encase you in frubbles and bury you in sheets."

                  Macro raised an eyebrow and looked from Jumper's face to the scarf-like foam around his neck. His heart sank. He was in no shape to fight, and he actually didn't want to. Part of him understood the frogadier's concern. He let out a defeated sigh and rolled his eyes.

                  "Fine, get the wretched chair." Before Jumper could reach the door, Macro locked him in a violet glare. "But I'll make you a deal, okay? I only use it when I can't walk no more."

                  Jumper stared at him over his shoulder and he shook his head. "You're a stubborn one, aren't you? Fine. If you want to go down fighting, I'll let you have this one. But they aren't light. You may need assistance. You won't be able to push it yourself in your condition."

                  Macro's lips formed a frown as the image of Anchor wheeling him along lit up in his mind. No… he was meant to carry his crew, not the other way around. What was left of his pride shattered like brittle glass. He forced his dismay to the back of his mind and fixed his eyes on Jumper.

                  "Anchor or DL would be fine," he said. "I doubt Matrix could - or would - do it."

                  "Very well." Jumper gave him a nod and slipped from the room.

                  Macro stared at the door as it closed behind him, his eyes slowly narrowing. No. He wasn't having that. It was the last straw that would break his back.

                  He pushed himself from the bed and walked as steadily as he possibly could to the door. Peering out, he checked the coast was clear. No sign of Jumper or any of Wildcard. It would take too long to get the schematics for the hospital. He'd need to rely on signs, and he didn't even know what floor he was on. From his window, he knew it wasn't the ground floor.

                  He let the door close behind him and turned towards the double doors at the end of the corridor. Using his paw to steady him against the wall, he pushed himself towards them. Only three more private wards separated him from what he hoped was an elevator to the entrance.

                  Unlikely.

                  And he didn't see a single sign for the garden Jumper had told him about.

                  The double doors swung open with ease, a necessity given the number of stretchers whipped through them to emergency wards. But Macro's heart sank as he stared out at a waiting area filled with patients, visitors, chairs and nurses. Two nurses bustled around a small kitchenette making up fresh drinks for the ward, and perched on a chair amongst all the water type pokemon was Anchor. The granbull had his head down as he messed with his computer, a look of pure focus on his face. Macro had no doubts he'd be able to sneak past him.

                  Provided the nurses didn't give him a hard time.

                  He wrapped an air of nonchalance about himself and strut-staggered his way across the room. A convenient nurse passed him, blocking him from the granbull's peripheral vision. But as he reached the next set of doors, a simipour nurse eyed him curiously. She followed him with her eyes as he pushed through the doors, trying his best not to look at her.

                  "Excuse me," she said quietly, so as not to draw attention to them. "I don't think you're meant to be out of your ward."

                  Macro kept going, drawing the nurse after him. A quick glance over his shoulder told him Anchor had looked up but only to retrieve a steaming cup of tea from a marill.

                  "I need some air," Macro said flatly. "Where's this 'amazing garden' this hospital is meant to have?"

                  "It's on the ground floor," the simipour explained. "Just before you reach the cafeteria. But you still shouldn't be walking."

                  "Don't worry, I won't take the stairs." He paused and licked his lips thoughtfully. "Where's the elevator?"

                  The simipour stared at him as though trying to read him, her eyes narrowed slightly. In one paw she held a digital Clipboard, a computer specific to hospitals, and if Macro were to guess his information would be on there amongst the host of other patients she attended to. Either way, he didn't recognise her. Maybe she'd attended to him when he was unconscious? Half dead, clinging to life… The thought made him bite his lip hard.

                  "You're close," she said. "Go through the next set of doors and you'll reach the stairwell. They're right there. Go to the ground floor and turn left. You can't miss the garden."

                  He glanced up at her, noting her flick through the Clipboard's screen. She met his eyes briefly and she nodded to the doors ahead of them. He muttered a quick 'cheers' and guided himself along the wall with his paw. She said nothing as she watched him go. Watching him intensely in case he collapsed.

                  He wasn't going to let that happen.

                  Just as she'd said, the elevators rose up on his right. One was already waiting, and he climbed inside, clutching the rail. The glass chamber gave him a fantastic view of Cyan City. The lush green grass, clean air, happy pokemon. Most of it had been repaired after their clash with the grass types.

                  Pulse City floated through his mind, a ruined mound topped with a wailing monstrosity. He shivered. How long would it take to repair? Would it even be possible? He hoped desperately Jumper's use of the term 'ruins' was a huge overstatement.

                  The elevator came to a smooth stop and let him out on the ground floor. It was oddly empty. He found the garden straight away, on his right. It appeared to be attached to the cafeteria, but just like the hallway it was empty. The cafeteria was a different matter. He could see it clearly through the glass panels that made up the wall, providing diners with a clear view of the garden, complete with its own horsea-shaped water fountain. He could hear its gentle gurgling from where he stood.

                  The doors to it weren't open, but a push of a button made them slide open with a gentle hiss. He soon discovered why it was empty. There was a slight chill to the air. He glanced up, but the dome was still above them. Cyan City sometimes opened it for the orchards. Perhaps noon was one of those times?

                  He hugged his scarf around himself and found a suitable bench, slumping down onto it with a pained sigh. Finally. Some air. Some peace. Some time to mull over what a mess his life had become over the past few weeks.

                  Socket cranking up his bounty. Getting sucked into her twisted conspiracy. Almost dying. Losing his home. He quite literally had the past, and the responsibility for his own present and future, resting in his paws in the form of a lost human. And on top of getting Switch home he had to also find a way to send back a host of dangerous creatures who, from his experience, would no sooner look at a pokemon than kill them.

                  Part of him wished it was all a bad dream. That he'd wake up from a bad night at Moonlight Lounge with a killer hangover. He rubbed the bridge of his muzzle between two claws and groaned. He felt groggy thanks to those powerful painkillers. And exhausted. Maybe he could just curl up on the cold bench and…

                  "Macro!"

                  He looked up, one arm resting on the arm of the bench while the other still rubbed at his muzzle. Anchor raced into the garden with DL and Switch in tow. Behind them he spotted both Matrix and Jumper on the other side of the glass. Not a wheelchair in sight. The frogadier looked sullen. Disappointed. For some reason, that bothered Macro greatly.

                  He grimaced and looked away, straining to push himself back up.

                  "What on earth's got into you?" Anchor asked.

                  "Nothin'," said Macro. "I just needed some air."

                  "Air my ass." Anchor stopped before him and placed a claw under Macro's chin, lifting his face so he could meet his eyes.

                  Macro swiped his paw away, fixing the granbull in a leer. "I said I needed air. I had to get out of that stuffy room and clear my head."

                  Anchor stood back and sat beside Switch on the stone wall around the fountain. DL was the only one who clambered up onto the bench beside Macro. She hugged her tail into her lap, looking anywhere but at her friends.

                  "Look, Cap'n," said Anchor. "We're worried about you. That nurse said you had a warnin' look in your eye. Like if she stopped you, she'd regret it. I know you're reckless 'n' all, but… You can't blow our freedom here, we ain't got nowhere else to go."

                  Macro sighed into his paw. "I weren't gonna hurt her. I just…"

                  "This is about Pulse City, isn't it?" Switch asked, letting his computer fall limply in his lap. "Believe me, I understand how you feel. I lost a lot of friends when the drifting continents crashed."

                  Macro glanced up at him and shook his head sadly. "Friends, home, work… I don't even know who got out. Did Worm? Surge?"

                  Anchor shrugged weakly, not meeting his eyes. "I dunno. But I mean… space pirates bounce back. Once we get them creatures home, it can be rebuilt."

                  "Listen to yourself," Macro groaned. "'Once we get them home'. How? You've seen what they can do! How are we meant to catch them and get them back? Use a huge net?!"

                  He immediately regretted raising his voice. His breath caught in his throat as pain shot through his ribs and he coughed violently into his paw. Anchor and Switch leapt to their feet, while DL spun on the spot and placed a paw on Macro's shoulder. He shrugged her off and waved his paw, taking steady breaths to ease his breathing. A metallic taste filled his mouth. He looked down at his paw and relief flooded him when he saw it was clear of any blood.

                  "Look," said Anchor. "You clearly need to get back to your bed. We can plan how to do this while you're recovering, if it helps. Get the ball rollin'."

                  "But the damage they're causing." Macro wheezed as he pushed himself upright off the arm of the bench. "They need getting out of System sooner, not later."

                  "Exactly," said Anchor. "And we're the 'mon that have been asked to do it. But the more you try to rush your recovery time, the longer it's gonna take for you to get outta here. And, as a result, the longer those Ultra Beasts are gonna be wreckin' up the joint."

                  "He has a point," said Switch before Macro could retort. "Before you got yourself hurt, you didn't have my help. But now you're back here, you do. So your team isn't one 'mon down. We can come up with a plan while you recover, and we'll discuss things with you. Once you're out, we can get straight to work. I suggest we start with the smaller threats."

                  "What would you deem a smaller threat?" Macro asked.

                  "I dunno." Switch flicked his computer and turned it to Macro. A large, clear picture of the xurkitree feeding off mechanical trees filled it. "I'd say these. Off the top of my head, we could bait them. Give them something electrical to chase after. Lure them into their home world."

                  Macro blinked up at the human, absorbing what he'd said. It made sense, and it just might work. But it was still only one Ultra Beast species out of the several that had invaded System. He sincerely doubted an electronic lure would work on the celesteela wreaking havoc on Pulse City. Nevertheless, he gave Switch a weak smile.

                  "All right," he said. "You all work together. Come up with some ideas. We'll iron them out and put them to the test when I can get out of this…" He waved a paw at his surroundings, wanting to say 'cell'. But it was hardly a prison. He let his paw flop to his side and took a ragged breath. "You know what I mean."

                  The look on Anchor's face told him he'd assumed 'cell'. The granbull nodded then gestured to the frogadier waiting in the doorway. "Want us to get your chair and wheel you back?"

                  "No." Macro shook his head, not daring to look at the governor. "I still need some air and space to think. Alone, not with doctors fussing over me. I'll see you later."

                  Anchor raised an eyebrow, a small frown playing at his muzzle. "But how do you expect to get back?"

                  "Same way I got here."

                  "Cap'n…" Anchor's voice was a near-growl.

                  "Look, if I need help I'll ask for it." Macro sighed, feeling his energy draining away. "Just leave me for a while."

                  Anchor opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. His expression softened and he nodded once before ushering Switch after him. Macro watched him go, catching Jumper's eye. But he didn't look as irritated as he had previously. Maybe he'd overheard everything? Macro watched them go, then turned back to the fountain.

                  "You not going with them?" he asked.

                  DL shifted beside him and hugged her tail into her lap. "No."

                  "I thought I said I wanted to be alone."

                  She combed her claws through her tail, watching them vanish into her thick fur. "I don't think you really want to be alone. No one would after something like that." She paused. "No one should after something like that."

                  He clasped his paws together, not taking his eyes off the fountain. Clear water gushed from the horsea's mouth to gather into a pool beneath it. The soft splashing filled the garden in an almost tranquil and harmonious way.

                  "I mean, you've lost your home," DL went on. "Personally, I always thought of Wildcard Gamma as being more of a home, but Pulse City was… It was always a retreat. Somewhere to go to get off your ship."

                  "It was more than that, DL. I used to have an apartment there," Macro explained. "Sold it in favour of living on my ship. But still. That city was home."

                  She was silent, but he could feel her watching him. He leant back in his seat and sighed, raising a paw to his forehead.

                  "A lot's happened recently," he said. "It's hard to get my head around it all. Like… where did I go wrong? When did my life end up such a mess?"

                  "If you're talking about now, I don't think it is a mess," said DL softly. "You've just had some accidents trying to put things right. System's suffering because of Socket, not you."

                  He lowered his paw again and looked down at her. She was still clutching her tail, watching her fur part as she absently combed her claws through it. If she'd intended her words to have a soothing effect, it had worked. But recent events still gnawed at him, making him wonder what he could have done differently. Like if there was any way he could have prevented the attack on Pulse City? Should he have acted to prevent the other human being pulled into everything? Was the fight with the kartana possible to win? He took a deep breath to still his thoughts and closed his eyes, trying to focus on the fountain, but all he could think about instead was the pachirisu at his side. She was innocent in all this. She didn't need to stick with him, yet she chose to. His paw sought out DL's, scooping it from her fluffy tail and bringing it to rest on his knee. Still encased gently in his, he brushed his thumb over her soft fur and leant his head back against the bench.

                  She scooted closer to him, her warm body pressing against his side. Her head fell to rest on his shoulder and she let her other paw rest on his arm. His stomach flipped up a flurry of bubbles, dominating the pain in his chest until he barely even noticed it. That's when another thought entered his head. Another 'what if?'. What if Jumper hadn't interrupted them earlier?

                  He looked down at her, catching a whiff of lavender from the fur between her ears. A scent he'd often wondered why he even bothered having on his ship, but on her it was perfect. Oh how he wanted to re-ignite that moment from earlier. He lifted his free paw towards her, but the image of Pulse City flashed in his mind in a bid to win the tug of war with his emotions. Instead, his paw joined the other around DL's and he nuzzled the soft fur between her ears, letting the lavender consume him and that memory with it. She looked up slowly until her nose brushed his, and he looked back into her chocolate eyes. Warm, inviting… he was desperate to get lost in them. To hold her close. To breathe her in. To forget about the disaster and the pain.

                  He pulled back slightly and closed his eyes. At some point her paw had found the long fur around his face, and he took hold if it and gently pried her free.

                  "Macro?"

                  "I'm sorry," he said. "My mind is a mess right now. I really don't want to hurt you."

                  "Then I won't let you."

                  There was no disappointment in her voice, and he could no longer see her face. She curled up into him again, nuzzling into his shoulder. He couldn't deny his feelings for her, but he didn't want to let his emotions get the better of him and lead him to do something he'd regret. He still had hold of her paw, small, easily nestled in his. He lifted it to his lips and brushed them against her soft fur. She shifted to look up at him, but he kept his eyes closed, dotting her small paw with slow, tiny kisses. After a moment he stopped and nuzzled it before he sank down in his seat, clutching her paw in his lap. She wound her claws between his and snuggled back into him with a small sigh. His strength was failing him again. He could easily fall asleep listening to the fountain, with DL huddled into him.

                  "You know, DL," he said slowly as he let his heavy eyes close. "After everything that's gone on… you're the one part of it all… I would never change."

                  ...

                  Across from the small garden, behind the glass wall, Surge sat watching. Thanks to the angle of the horsea fountain, Macro couldn't see her, but she could see him clearly. Her cup of steaming cocoa was clutched in both paws, hovering just beneath her chin, almost forgotten about.

                  No one from Wildcard Gamma knew she was there. She'd followed their ship into Cyan City fully cloaked, slipping through the dome to hover behind it as it deposited its crew. She hadn't been sure she was going to stick around until she witnessed the fallen mawile being whisked off in an ambulance. With no idea what had happened to reduce him to such a state, she parked her tympole at the docks between Cyan City's less elaborate ships, leaving the cloak up. She'd had to re-jig her appearance slightly, removing her trademark bandana and waistcoat in favour of a small, brown dress and black neckerchief. Fortunately for her, Cyan City had its own share of normal types so no one batted an eyelid at her presence.

                  She'd been unsure how to approach Macro, instead lurking around the hospital's cafe as she tried to work up the courage to catch him or another member of Wildcard. Find out what exactly had happened. Maybe even apologise.

                  But the scene that had unfolded before her eyes left a gnawing feeling deep in her gut. A feeling that left her questioning her own sanity. Her claws fastened tightly around the porcelain mug and it trembled in her paws, spilling sticky cocoa onto the glass-topped table.

                  She'd been a fool. Risking everything for that mawile until she'd landed herself on Socket's 'most wanted' list.

                  She let the mug clatter onto its coaster and stood up, her chair screeching across the tiles. A few irritated glances were flashed her way from the closer tables and she gave those pokemon an apologetic nod before strutting, seething, from the cafe. She passed a lombre at the entrance, and he followed her with his eyes. It wasn't until she reached the square that she realised the walking lily pad was tailing her. There was every chance he just wanted to go to the square, so she ducked into an alley, stopping beside a set of bollards. The lombre was still following her. She leant back against one of the bollards, fixing him with a raised eyebrow.

                  "Problem?" she asked innocently.

                  The lombre's beak-like muzzle turned up into a smirk. "I recognise you. You're that chica, Surge, Socket wants turning in."

                  "Really?" Surge examined her claws. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

                  "Quit with the innocent act, chica," he scoffed. "I know you've been conspiring with that space pirate. Well, he might be protected here, but you ain't. So I'm gonna take you all calm-like to the governor's office and turn you in. That's a nice fifty thousand credits for old Midi here."

                  So the sneaky lombre wanted to make a quick credit, did he? Surge stifled a smirk of her own as an idea manifested in her mind. A way to get the lombre off her back and potentially get herself cleared from Socket's radar.

                  "I'd hardly say I conspired with him," she said.

                  "Ain't what I heard." Midi's muzzle creased and he flashed a sharp canine. "Apparently you gave him government information."

                  "Lies." She pivoted against the bollard to face him fully and folded her arms across her chest. "He hired me, I took the job to win his trust. I've been after that mawile for months."

                  Midi chuckled and fixed her with a look that turned her blood to ice. "Not exactly in the best place to apprehend him, are you? And given the state he's in, I'd say it would be pretty easy right now."

                  A soft laugh rocked her shoulders. "Well. You're not in the best place to apprehend either of us. I'm not a wanted 'mon anymore. I explained my case, and I've been given another chance."

                  "Eh?" A confused sneer tugged at his face.

                  "I have… oh, I dunno… two weeks to catch Hunter and turn him in before the authorities are back on my tail. So I'm lurking about here until I can catch him when he leaves."

                  "Say that much louder and you'll be locked up in our prison," he scoffed. "You ain't much good to me there."

                  "Like I said. I'm not much good to you anyway."

                  "That's a nice story, chica, but I ain't buying it. Socket doesn't give second chances."

                  "I admit my actions weren't completely innocent," said Surge. "But when I explained, at length, what I was actually doing, she let me go on that condition. For Hunter to be at her feet in no more than two weeks. Dead or alive." She chuckled and fixed him with a playful smirk. "And I even get an extra bonus. Double the reward."

                  "Even if he's dead?"

                  "Yup."

                  "Pull the other one!"

                  Surge laughed and pulled her computer from her dress pocket. Fortunately she still had the old email Socket had sent her. He didn't see the date on it, she made sure of that. Socket's signature was all that was needed to convince him. She watched as his eyes almost bugged out of his head.

                  "You ain't lying!" he gasped.

                  "Nope." She popped her computer back into her dress pocket. "Now. I'm at odds here. Given I can't apprehend him, I'm going to need something that will prove to Socket I'm still on the case while cluing her into something she might find pretty interesting. You see, Hunter knows me. He knows I'm hunting him down. If he recognises me, I won't have a chance at catching him."

                  "What you telling me for?" he scoffed.

                  "Because if you help me, I'll give you a cut of my share. Say… ten percent?"

                  "Twenty."

                  "It's ten, or I walk away and do this without you."

                  The lombre met her eyes with a leer, but Surge wouldn't let it shake her. He scoffed and let his shoulders slump. "Fine."

                  "All right." Surge popped her computer back and nodded back towards the hospital. Its tall chopper landing point rose high above the lower buildings. Clean, white and as clear as day. "Hunter stole something that belonged to Socket. Well, kidnapped would be the better term to use. A pachirisu."

                  "That little pachirisu belongs to the Mayor?! I ain't buying this, chica. What would Hunter want with a fluffy pachirisu?"

                  "Hostage," Surge said flatly.

                  Midi's face blanched.

                  "That little Loop is her daughter."

                  Midi's jaw dropped. "That's the kid she adopted?!"

                  "Exactly. Now. Your job in all this is to spy on him," she explained. "You get a photo of them together and bring it back to me. I want proof for Socket that her little pachirisu has gone renegade. I don't know if it's Stokholm Syndrome, but I'm under the impression there's something going on between them. Socket needs to know this."

                  "Let me get this straight," said Midi slowly. "You want me to take photos of a couple of pokemon being all lovey dovey?"

                  "Exactly."

                  "Can I tell you something?" He paused, meeting her eyes again. "I think you might be crazy."

                  "Really?" Surge folded her arms and leant back against the bollard. "How would you feel if someone kidnapped your kid or your wife, or even your niece, and then that poor innocent pokemon fell in love with her kidnapper?"

                  Midi snorted. "Well, since you put it like that. But it ain't gonna be very easy given he's in hospital. I can't very well waltz in there and start snapping."

                  "Take all the time you need. I doubt he'll be leaving this city any time soon."

                  The lombre looked hesitant as he tried to read the zigzagoon's expression.

                  "Look, you take this photo," said Surge slowly, "then ten thousand credits of my reward is yours."

                  That melted away any doubt on the water pokemon's face. She held out a flat, LCD screen camera to him and he took it with a flourish. "You got yourself a deal, chica."
                  __________________
                  I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

                  A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
                  A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                  Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
                  Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
                  Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
                  'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
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                    #59    
                  Old August 9th, 2018 (2:54 AM).
                  Delirious Absol's Avatar
                  Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                  Call me Del
                     
                    Join Date: May 2015
                    Location: UK
                    Age: 33
                    Gender: Female
                    Nature: Quirky
                    Posts: 345
                    Chapter Fifty Seven

                    Wave City was awash with chaos. Strange, blobby creatures drifted above the water, a trail of black mist following their jellyfish tentacles. Water pokemon stood on the shore, firing hydro pumps and water pulses at the invasive creatures. Somewhere deep below the water’s surface, electricity rose to the top and spread out in a blanket of static, illuminating the night sky. Those creatures unfortunate enough to be too close received a nasty shock and their twitching, paralysed bodies vanished beneath the surf.

                    “What’s going on down there?” Annie asked as she peered through the cockpit window at the commotion below.

                    “I dunno,” said Trojan. “And I’m loathe to find out. I say we change our plans.”

                    “We can’t do that!” Zip whined. “We need to get some backup in our rebellion and the water types are our best option!”

                    “I’m sorry,” Trojan scoffed. “But none of us are equipped to deal with these monsters, let alone you.”

                    “They aren’t monsters,” said Poipole.

                    “What’s that, Sticky?” Annie peered over her shoulder at the poipole in Web’s lap.

                    “I said they aren’t monsters,” he repeated. “They’re nihilego. Creatures from a region called Deep Sea.”

                    “Never head of it.” Annie turned to the rest of her crew. “You?”

                    Everyone else exchanged glances and shook their heads.

                    “Of course you haven’t. It’s not part of your world.” Poipole let out a wheeze. “I’m starting to feel dizzy.”

                    Web looked down at him with a start. “Oh… your atmosphere… we rushed off without even thinking!”

                    “Well, given all that mist they’re spewin’,” said Trojan, “if it’s poison, he’ll be all right. Right?”

                    Poipole gave a weak nod. “It is poison…”

                    “Well, I’ve got plenty of that,” said Web. “But I can’t very well flood this cabin.”

                    “Take him to the cargo hold,” said Annie. “Then spray him with it. We’ll be fine up here.”

                    “It ain’t air tight, yanno,” Trojan scoffed.

                    Annie shrugged. “Provided she doesn’t fill the cargo hold with it, we should be fine.”

                    “Easy for you to say,” Trojan muttered. He looked up and fixed her with a sneer. “But what about your buddy Waveform, eh? He’s a grass type.”

                    “I’ll be fine,” Waveform said bluntly. “If it will keep Poipole alive, I’m backing Annie’s point.”

                    “Spoken like a true Number One.” Annie grinned and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder, causing the decidueye to twitch with agitation. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

                    Everyone fell silent and stared at her. She tucked her arms behind her head, watching the battle below.

                    It was Trojan who finally broke the silence. “That don’t even make sense in this scenario!”

                    Annie waved a hand towards the cargo bay door. “Time is of the essence. Take Sticky and spray him!”

                    Web scooped Poipole up and vanished through the hatch into the cargo bay. It fell back into place in a manner Annie chose to decide was not an angry slam.

                    “So what are we going to do?” Zip asked. “How are we going to get down there?”

                    “That’s easy, little fish,” said Annie. “We land.”

                    “Where?” Trojan scoffed, waving a paw at the battle. “The city is riddled with this… what did that runt call them? Nil Leggy or something?”

                    “I believe he said ‘nihilego’.” Annie scratched her chin in thought. “The name rings a bell for some reason.”

                    All eyes were on her again as she wracked her mind. Where had she heard of these creatures before? She watched them curiously, drifting like little, ghostly girls in the air. A torrent of water fell shy of the ship as it struck one of them, only for the creature to retaliate back with a beam of shining stones. They didn’t reach their target, instead peppering the ocean and creating a spray of colour. Along with the electricity sparking over the water and the vibrant lights from the city, it was like a laser light show, awakening the night in a sparkling song and dance.

                    “You’re going to tell us you’re from their world, aren’t you?” Waveform asked slowly.

                    “Nuh-uh.” Annie shook her head. “You see, I did a lot of travellin’ when I were in my own world. Although I didn’t see much outside of four white walls. But they made me do a lot of readin’. Thought it would calm my mind. I probably read its name somewhere, ‘cos I sure don’t recognise it physically.”

                    “Hmm.” Trojan pursed his lips and fixed her out of the corner of his eye. “Anythin’ come to mind about how to fight them?”

                    “Nope.”

                    “All right, guess we’re skirtin’ round ‘em and landin’ somewhere in the middle of the city.” He brought the ship up in a sharp arc and a surprised squeal came from the floor below. “Let’s just hope those things aren’t infestin’ the entire jackin’ place, eh?”

                    As they drifted over the ocean, one of the nihilego let out a spray of tinkling reminiscent of laughter and took off after the pyukumyuku. Black mist trailed from its tentacles and it brought them up to fasten itself to the ship’s hull. The lights flickered and the dashboard lit up briefly before the cabin was plunged into darkness. It swerved sharply to the right, facing the eerily glowing bodies of an ocean of nihilego.

                    “Erm…” Trojan stared at his paws fixed over the steering stick.

                    “What are you doing?!” Waveform roared. “Turn us away!”

                    “I didn’t do nothin’!” Trojan barked back. “It did that itself!”

                    The cabin floor shook as someone struck the floor beneath repeatedly. Trojan cursed under his breath and brought his foot down on the floor in a fit of rage. His lips curled into a sneer and he fought with the steering stick, but instead the ship drifted closer to the nihilego. They raised their waiting tentacles in a mesmerising fashion, stretching them out towards the ship.

                    The hatch exploded open and Poipole re-entered the cabin, making a beeline for the door.

                    “Poipole, wait!” Web followed after him, catching a confused glance from Annie. “He won’t listen to me…”

                    “I have to fight them!” he squeaked. “Or they’ll take over the ship!”

                    “But you’re too weak!” Web cried as he wrestled the door open.

                    “I’m immune to their poison attacks,” he told her. “I’m you’re only chance of you getting free from their parasitic hold.”

                    “Parasite?” Trojan and Waveform spoke at the same time.

                    “They’re controlling the ship?” Trojan stared, slack jawed, at the strange creatures.

                    Web stopped short of the door as Poipole rushed out into the ocean air. She turned back to the cockpit, watching the nihilego with horror.

                    “He’s not going to stand a chance,” she said. “It’s too clean here.”

                    “Let’s just give him a shot,” said Waveform. “If he starts to falter, we’ll find a way to get him back. I’ll fly out and grab him if I have to.”

                    One of the closer nihilego lifted its tentacles, and they began to glow with an eerie light. Before it could unleash an attack, it found itself doused with thick, purple slime. The slime proved too heavy, and it dropped like a boulder into the ocean. The rest of the nihilego turned their attention to something above the ship. The entire ship lurched backwards and the long, stretchy innards out reached up, forming a giant flat hand. It swiped the air, causing Poipole to swerve to the side and enter their field of vision.

                    “Aww, now that just plain ain’t fair!” said Annie. “They’re tryin’ to swat him out of the air like an over-sized bug!” She rose slightly in her seat and waved her fist at the nihilego. “Oi! That’s our trick!”

                    The innards out swung around like a flailing arm, changing from a flat palm to a club to a fist. Poipole dodged each swing, turning to fire sticky goo from the needle-like appendage on his head. Many of his shots fell short, but those that hit home sent the nihilego dropping like stunned flies. The pokemon beneath the ocean surface cottoned on to the creature’s strategy, lighting the water up with electricity to engulf the fallen nihilego.

                    “Yeah! That’s right!” Annie cheered. “Toast them! Toast them like marshmallows!”

                    One of the ocean dwellers rose to the surface, almost unidentifiable amid the chaos. It sent a bolt of electricity right up towards them, striking the ship and causing sparks to fly over the surface. Annie ducked and covered her head with her arms, but a small jolt coursed through her body. She heard grunts from her crew mates and a squeal of pain from Zip. She looked up with a start and twisted in her seat towards his water-filled bowl.

                    “You okay, little fish?” she asked.

                    He opened one eye and fought back his pained grimace with a weak smile. “I’m… I’m fine…”

                    She spun towards the window and waved her fist at the ocean. “Watch where you’re aimin’! I didn’t ask you to toast us, you fools!”

                    “They are watching where they’re aiming,” Waveform croaked. “They see us as a threat since our ship is trying to strike Poipole!”

                    Annie’s jaw dropped slightly. “Ohh…”

                    Poipole dodged another swipe as one of the water pokemon threw a thunderbolt straight at the ship’s weapon. It fizzled harmlessly on the gooey surface, doing nothing to stop its pursuit of Poipole. Another bolt struck the ship, this time causing sparks to fly from the dashboard’s wires.

                    Trojan leapt back with a yelp and stuck his paw in his mouth. “We’re gonna sink if this keeps up!”

                    The ship shuddered and the innards out flopped limply forward. A splash came from below and the ship hung there in the air harmlessly. Trojan grabbed his steering controls and the ship juddered as it drifted backwards.

                    “I can’t call back the innards,” he said. “Whatever they’ve done, they’ve fried it.”

                    “But we’re free, right?” Waveform asked. “Do we have any backup weapons to show we’re not a threat?”

                    “Nope.” Trojan dropped to the floor and opened up the dashboard to reveal its circuits. “I suggest you get onto the roof and start fighting the nihilego. That’ll gain the army’s trust.”

                    The ship shook again and the scrafty cursed loudly as his head struck the inside of the dash.

                    Annie rose to her feet and turned to her crew. “He’s right. We need to climb on up there and start firing our attacks. I suggest you two go first, since you have range to your advantage. As for you-” She turned to Zip and Web cut her off.

                    “You and Zip will stay in here,” she said. “He’s too young and you are not a pokemon at this present time.”

                    Annie looked down at herself then met Web’s eye. “What’s your point?”

                    “You can’t use attacks.”

                    Annie folded her arms and closed her eyes, lifting her nose in the air. “I have you know I punched the Mayor lookin’ like this.”

                    “And I can fight!” Zip snapped. “I can use water pulse. Unlock my legs and I’ll fight alongside you!”

                    Web sank slightly and let out a sigh. “Fine. Punch some jellyfish then. And keep a close eye on Zip. Make sure he doesn’t tumble off the ship or something.”

                    The skuntank marched towards the door and tugged it open. Cold air immediately flooded the cockpit and she twisted her body through the door to climb up the crude ladder to the roof. Annie followed after her, sandwiched between the skuntank and Waveform. The latter had Zip clutched under one wing as he used his other to hoist himself up. Once they were on the roof, another tremor shook the ship.

                    “Whoa!” Annie flailed her arms as she teetered backwards.

                    Web span and grabbed her arm, tugging her back onto the roof. “Be careful!”

                    Annie dusted herself down and looked out at the ocean of nihilego. There looked to be a lot more from her new vantage point. Some were even drifting over the top of the ship, only to be shot down by Poipole’s gunk shot.

                    Waveform set Zip down in the centre of the roof between two of the pyukumyuku’s spines then turned and aimed one of his silver arrows into the fray. It fired off towards the nihilego with a twang, leaving behind a trail of purple stars. It struck one of the nihilego right in the centre of its gelatinous head, engulfing it in a cloud of purple. It sank towards the ocean into a wet, electrical embrace.

                    “Hey, look!” Annie pointed at the electric-firing water types. “They’re turning their attention away from the ship!”

                    “I guess they’ve taken our point,” said Waveform. “Now focus your own attention onto the nihilego.”

                    Poipole shot between them, engulfing an enraged nihilego in sludge. It dropped, clipping the ship and leaving behind a sticky trail.

                    “Eww.” Annie’s lip curled with disgust. “That’s gonna leave a stain…”

                    The small, purple creature zipped away from them to fire his sludge bomb into the chaos. Many of his attacks missed home, but those close enough found themselves struggling to stay airborne. Web joined him, firing sludge bombs of her own. Each one left the tip of her tail with the force of a canon ball. Zip stood beside her, launching water pulses from the opening in his bowl.

                    The nihilego retaliated, launching a barrage of sparkling rocks. They peppered Web and the ship, bouncing off like large hail stones. Web flinched and raised a paw to shield her face, then when she found a break in the attack she fought back with another sludge bomb.

                    All Annie could do was watch. She stood with her arms at her side, watching as the nihilego dodged attacks only to find themselves in the firing line of another. Their tentacles outstretched to try and claim the ship, or grab one of her crew. Tiny stones rained down around them, scuffing the pyukumyuku and tumbling into the water to strike the helpless water types.

                    Waveform nailed one of the aliens right in its flailing tentacle, spearing it with an arrow and sending the creature reeling back in pain. Tinkles and screeches filled the air, rising to a crescendo as the nihilego’s attention was drawn from the city to the giant pyukumyuku.

                    Some of the water pokemon on the docks dived into the ocean, carrying smaller members on their backs. Those who braved to swim though the electrically charged waters were completely unfazed, throwing their heads back to fire at the nihilego at closer range. The ones being carried joined their own attacks, combining to create an even more powerful stream of water. It exploded beneath the nihilego, blowing several of them out of the air. Their bodies rained down, creating an almighty splash that pushed the water pokemon back. Electricity surged over the surface, combining with the spray to give those not immune a rather painful shower. But they shook it off and kept going, water gushing from their mouths with the power of a jet hose.

                    “Keep it coming, guys!” Annie called towards them.

                    She turned back to the nihilego just in time to catch one that had broken free of its assault. She raised her fist to sock it right between its ‘eyes’. Her fist plunged through its flesh, vanishing into its soft insides. The nihilego merely stopped and for a second she was convinced it was staring at her. Grinning. Clearly she’d not hurt it. It raised its tentacles, an eerie glow emanating from the tips. One of them wrapped around her arm, dragging her further towards its body as though it wanted to consume her. A high squeal flooded through her head, followed by the rumble of a million voices. Her eyes widened as she looked back at her own face, hazed as if she was looking at herself through a sheet of purple crystal.

                    Water engulfed it, shattering the illusion and ending the voices. She staggered back from it and watched as the creature blew back from her towards Waveform’s waiting arrow. Annie’s arm was released from it with a soft plop, leaving a hole wide enough for the nihilego’s life fluids to gush from. The creature fell, crashing onto the roof then sliding off towards the ocean. Annie looked up, clutching her slimy fist in her other hand. Zip skittered past her to launch a water pulse into the chaos. Waveform gave Annie a nod and turned back to the battle.

                    “That was a close call,” he said. “I guess you can’t exactly punch them.”

                    “Aye.” Annie shook her fist, sending slime onto the roof of her ship. “It was like punching jelly.”

                    “You might be more use to Trojan,” he said. “Get back inside.”

                    Every nihilego diverted its attention from the city to the pyukumyuku. They drifted around the ship in a circle, waving their tentacles and firing out their sparkling rocks. The pokemon flinched back and Annie lifted her arms to block the attack. Seeing an opening, the aliens moved in, wrapping their targets in their tentacles and taking hold of the ship.

                    Waveform struggled against a nihilego, straining back as it tried to grab his head. The alien jolted and Waveform let out a sneer, staggering back as the creature fell bleeding onto the roof of the ship. He gave it a hefty kick and launched an arrow to free Web from the clutches of another.

                    The numbers were too great, and Annie and her crew found themselves back to back in the middle of the ship’s decorative spines.

                    “I don’t like what they do to your head,” Web gasped. “All that chaos…”

                    “Then don’t let them touch your head.” Waveform fired an arrow right through the centre of one of the creatures, knocking it from the sky.

                    “I can’t help but think we’ve overestimated our abilities.” Web followed his attack with a sludge bomb. “We might very well die here.”

                    “Then go down fighting,” Waveform told her.

                    “Alright. You don’t need to tell me twice.” Annie shrugged and reached up, grabbing a flailing tentacle. She spun on the spot and launched the creature like a shot put right into one of its friends. The two crashed down onto the roof. But they shook themselves off and raced back with even more vigour.

                    “Oh great, you’ve angered it,” said Waveform as he fired off another arrow.

                    It didn’t hit home, however. It found itself buried beneath a nihilego and a pile of sludge. Poipole floated in its place before turning to shoot another nihilego down.

                    Water gushed up from the ocean, sparking with electricity. Two more nihilego found themselves knocked from the sky, only to meet a shocking demise in the charged ocean.

                    The ship shook again, but not due to electricity or attack. The long innards out retracted back into the ship, and the contraption turned so the mouth was facing the nihilego. The occupants of the roof could hear Trojan’s voice above all the chaos, muffled only by the ship’s tinny body.

                    “Take this, suckers!”

                    The innards out shot forward with the force of a bullet, punching one of the nihilego and sending it rocketing backwards like a snooker ball. It crashed into one of its allies, and small cracks shot across its body, leaking out gelatinous goop. Its ally fell unconscious towards the water while the assaulted nihilego tried to shake the attack off. It rushed forward with two others, only to be caught by a downward swatting palm. They struck the charged ocean like raining pebbles.

                    Annie threw her hands in the air and let out a euphoric ‘woo!’ The innards out struck left and right, doing more damage than their combined attacks. Nihilego began dropping like flies, their heavy bodies creating loud splashes in the ocean. Pokemon were blown back from the impact, and many of the water types decided to return to the shore, leaving the ship and Annie’s crew to deal with the threat. Before long, the nihilego were in retreat, their numbers greatly reduced.

                    Annie watched them fly off over the golden ocean, her arms crossed over her chest. In the distance, the sun was rising, adding an orange hue to the electrically charged water. Her crew joined her side, their breaths coming in heavy bursts.

                    “Well,” she said. “I think we saw them off. Good work, crew.”

                    Web let out a loud puff of air. “I’d say. That was a workout and a half. I think I’m ready for some breakfast.”

                    “And I helped too,” said Zip. “Right?”

                    The goldeen looked from Annie’s beaming face to Web’s apologetic smile.

                    “You did great, little fish!” said Annie.

                    “Annie’s right,” Web agreed. “You’ve certainly shown you can put up a fight. We’ll be calling on you again.”

                    Zip fluttered his tail from side to side as he pushed up against the glass, a huge smile taking over his face. “I’ll never let you down! You can count on me!”

                    Poipole shot from the air, hovering before Web. A sharp, musical wheeze came from his proboscis but his face looked very relaxed.

                    “The threat is gone,” he said. “But I think they may return. They will want to avenge their fallen members, or look for survivors.”

                    Annie raised an eyebrow at him. “What? Those things think about stuff like that?”

                    “Of course they do, they’re sentient,” said Poipole. “They knew to take over your ship, didn’t they? To use it against me?”

                    Annie let out a thoughtful ‘hmm’ and looked out at the ocean and the nihilego’s retreating forms. “Then just how much of a threat do they pose to this world?”

                    “A big one,” said Poipole. “They don’t belong here. They’ll ruin this world to make it habitable for creatures like them. Like me.”

                    He floated there, exchanging glances with each of them. Web shook her head sadly and led them back towards the ship.

                    “Oh, I’ve so many questions,” she said. “Let’s get to Wave City. See if we can find somewhere to get something to eat and talk all this over.”

                    They climbed back into the ship to find Trojan sitting triumphantly at the helm, a huge grin on his face.

                    “Did you see that?” he said. “Sent ‘em packin’!”

                    Web gave him a playful grin and flopped into her seat, exhausted. “Get us to the docks, you goof.”

                    Waveform didn’t take his seat. He stood beside Annie, watching the docks grow closer. Water pokemon were still gathered on it, their limbs flailing in the air, all eyes on the ship.

                    “Well, if we were expecting a hostile reception for riding around in a space pirate’s ship,” he said, “then I think we’re going to be disappointed.”

                    “What are you getting at?” asked Annie.

                    “What I’m saying is I wouldn’t be surprised if Wave City offered us a badge of honour.”

                    ...

                    BackDoor sat atop one of Wave City’s tallest buildings. A communications tower dedicated to gaming, news and entertainment. Well, it would have performed that job if its main antenna hadn’t been broken by one of the tentacled Ultra Beasts.

                    A chuckle came from deep within him and he sat back on his paws, watching the Ultra Beasts drift away across the ocean. That pyukumyuku ship had given them a run for their money. They’d been greatly outnumbered, and the combined efforts of Wave City’s aquatic army and the crude weapon of a shoddy-looking ship had taken them on. And that purple blob thing darting about… he didn’t recognise that. But it wasn’t mechanical. He could pick up no signal from it. It was definitely organic. Had it slipped through a dimension pocket without him realising? He found that hard to believe. Maybe it was from one of the pockets he’d left open. Or Zero Day had been doing his job again.

                    He needed to put an end to Zero Day. They were ruining all his fun.

                    The hoopa rose from the roof and looked over the city. Its inhabitants were waiting eagerly for that ship. He could hear their cheers. Their obnoxious cheers. Beating back his wonderful Ultra Beasts didn’t warrant such celebrations.

                    He turned from Wave City and zipped over the rooftops. He needed another plan. He needed more of those Ultra Beasts.

                    A quick scan picked up another of their home worlds deep within Wave City. He started towards it, but then his mind reeled, filling with several new ideas at once.

                    No… he didn’t need those tentacled beasts. What he needed was something new. A bigger toy to play with. He scanned again, picking up three different pockets but none of them were close. They were outside Wave City. The closest one was in the Backbone Mountains. Oh well. It was close enough. Maybe what he found there would be fast. Fast enough to trample Wave City to dust. He’d teach them never to ruin his fun again.

                    BackDoor changed his course, heading towards the mountains and his new toy.
                    __________________
                    I believe in Jesus Christ my Savior. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then copy and paste this in your signature.

                    A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
                    A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                    Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
                    Fancy some Cyberpunk PMD action with space pirates? System:Reboot
                    Other Fics - SWC entry 'Rivers and Waterfalls'
                    'Where else can I find Del?' -FFnet/Wattpad
                    Reply With Quote
                      #60    
                    Old August 21st, 2018 (2:20 AM).
                    Delirious Absol's Avatar
                    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                    Call me Del
                       
                      Join Date: May 2015
                      Location: UK
                      Age: 33
                      Gender: Female
                      Nature: Quirky
                      Posts: 345
                      A/N - Sorry for the delay! I've been busy with family stuff and meant to update yesterday, but it kinda slipped my mind. Saturday should have an update as normal.

                      Chapter Fifty Eight

                      Anchor took a step back as Switch lunged at him with his beak, narrowly missing the talonflame’s aerial ace. He spun on the spot, meeting Switch’s golden eyes as another aerial ace was launched his way. Anchor brought up his fist and struck the talonflame with a feint attack right across the beak. Switch staggered backwards, blinking with surprise. He shook his head sharply and flashed Anchor a wink.

                      “Caught me off guard there,” he said.

                      Anchor laughed and wiped his paw over his chest. “I do have a trick or two up my sleeve.”

                      “You’re supposed to be practising your fire fang,” Switch reminded him. “Given that’s what’s meant to set off that Z-Crystal’s special move, right?”

                      The talonflame nodded to Anchor’s wrist. Fastened in a stone bangle was the sparkling, red Z-Crystal, catching the morning sun’s rays. Switch was right. But they’d been fighting for over an hour, and he just wasn’t getting anywhere with it. Hold it high, Solgaleo had said, and it would turn his fire fang into inferno overdrive.

                      “Should we really be doing this?” DL’s voice drew their attention to the bench she was sitting on. “I mean, Macro isn’t here. We should really be practising these moves together.”

                      “My answer is the same as it was an hour ago,” said Anchor. “Macro can’t be here right now and we need to be practising, otherwise we’ll end up unprepared.”

                      “But the doctor said he’ll be fit to go home in a couple of days,” she said. “Can’t we at least wait?”

                      “I believe his words were ‘he’ll be fit to go back home to his own bed’,” said Anchor. “He’ll need the all clear to be able to fight again. That could easily be another week. I doubt BackDoor will conveniently wait that long. Look what happened to Pulse City! Some of us are gonna need to be able to fight while he catches up.”

                      “Anchor’s right, DL. You saw what happened to him,” said Switch. “If some of us know to activate these moves, it might prevent the same thing from happening again. And it might speed up his learning process and get the ball rolling much faster.” He finished his sentence with a wink. “You in?”

                      DL stared at them for a moment then gave a curt nod. She slipped from her seat and adjusted the bangle around her right wrist.

                      “What about Matrix and Cookie?” she asked. “They should be here too.”

                      Anchor grunted and turned back to the talonflame. “You wanna drag Matrix from Assassin Strike, be my guest.”

                      DL considered this for a moment then shrugged it off and turned towards Switch. The talonflame shifted uneasily and cast a cautious eye at her.

                      “You don’t plan to practice your move on me, do you?” He gave a nervous laugh.

                      “Well, erm…” She looked from Switch to Anchor and twirled the bangle around her wrist with her other paw. “Either, really. I don’t mind.”

                      “Okay, well.” Switch cleared his throat. “I’m not too sure how I feel about being struck with a powerful electric move. You might end up roasting me alive.”

                      “He has a point,” said Anchor. “I’ll be your punching bag. Let’s get you warmed up first. Hit me with your best shot.”

                      The granbull took a step back and spread his arms wide. DL moved around so she was facing him and fixed her eyes on his. He could see the determination in her eyes. A real look of confidence. He’d never seen her try to fight or use her attacks even once. But this was no meek pokemon staring at him. He grinned widely and thumped himself twice in the chest.

                      “Come on,” he said. “Throw a discharge at me.”

                      DL closed her eyes and pursed her lips, an expression reminiscent of a pichu trying to control its electricity. Then her ears stood upright and her eyes snapped back open, all that previous confidence lost in an instant.

                      “I… I don’t know how!” she said.

                      “Eh?” Anchor inclined his head on one side then rubbed the back of his mohawk. “Erm… do you know any attacks? Spark? Thundershock? Tackle?”

                      Her eyes went distant and she stared off into space, but he knew he was checking her database. Then she shook her head slowly and looked back at him.

                      “No,” she said. “I’ve no recollection of ever using any attacks.”

                      “Really?” Anchor stared back at her dumbfounded. “Nothing at all? Why not try again? Just a small jolt or something?”

                      DL closed her eyes again and tensed up her entire body until her fur was on end. Both paws were clasped into fists so tight Anchor feared she might puncture her flesh with her claws. Then she let out a frustrated growl and looked back up at him.

                      “I just can’t do it!” A lone tear trickled down her cheek and she flopped onto her bottom. “Why? I… I guess it’s not in any of the memories I have.”

                      Anchor exchanged glances with Switch, and the pair of them moved over to the pachirisu’s side. Anchor sat down beside her and placed a paw on her shoulder.

                      “It kinda makes sense,” he said. “Those memories of yours only go back as far as… well, your early teen years. Right?”

                      DL nodded bitterly. “But you’d think there’d be something? Pokemon are learning new moves well into their teen years. It’s how you get stronger.”

                      “Yes, but you need something to go off,” Anchor explained. “I don’t know much about electric types, but moves get stronger, right? Little pokemon scratch, then later they’ll really slash with their claws. Tackle becomes take down. Headbutt into head smash. That kinda thing. I guess the same works with electricity.”

                      “It actually makes more sense with electricity,” said Switch. “The current gets stronger, just like the flame in a fire type.”

                      Anchor let out a single laugh. “Well, you would know. Unlike you and DL here, I don’t use special type moves. I’m more of a brawler.”

                      “You both made clear points.” DL gave them a weak smile. “Thank you. But this leaves me with a bit of a problem.”

                      Both pokemon looked down at her silently, waiting for her to elaborate. She grabbed her tail in her paws, brushing her fur absently as she gazed down at it. She took in a steady breath and glanced them out of the corner of her eye.

                      “I’m not sure I want any more of my memories,” she said. “That last disk really hurt me. Bringing all that back, knowing what Socket did to me… what else happened to me? My parents, my home? How did I end up in an orphanage? What exactly happened to me that landed me in that wicked pokemon’s clutches?”

                      Anchor scratched his mohawk again and stared off at the lake. “I… I dunno. But if you want to use your Z-Move then you need to be able to attack.”

                      “Can’t I just learn again?” she asked. “From scratch, like a hatchling?”

                      “You could,” Anchor said hesitantly. “But it would take a really long time, and that’s time we don’t have.”

                      She looked up at Switch, eyes pleading. “How long did it take you to learn? You’re not even really a pokemon, so you have to have learnt at some point, right?”

                      He shifted uneasily and cleared his throat. “It took me months just to get the basics down to a fine art, never mind building on them. But the ability was always there, within me. It’s a case of unlocking it.”

                      “Yeh, but like you said, it took you months,” said Anchor. “We don’t have months, let alone enough time for her to learn discharge!”

                      Switch fell silent and huddled into himself, fluffing out his feathers.

                      Anchor sighed and ran a paw down his face. What a predicament. He hadn’t expected any setbacks like this.

                      “Then I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?” DL’s voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

                      “You do,” said Anchor. “Two choices. You either get your remaining memories back so you can use your discharge attack, and therefore your Z-Move. Or you leave it and don’t…” He threw his paws into the air. “Don’t help us.”

                      DL flinched and squeezed her tail, her paws vanishing into the fur completely. “Then I was right. I don’t have a choice. I’m to help you, and I want to help you. So I need to get my memories.”

                      “Hey, don’t be too hasty,” said Anchor. “You made it clear you don’t want them. Think things over first.”

                      She nodded curtly and rose to her feet. As she turned to walk away, Switch lifted his head.

                      “Hey,” he said. “There are other ways you can help, you know. You need to put yourself first here.”

                      She froze and glanced back at him over her shoulder. “You sound just like Macro. ‘Look out for number one’.”

                      “Well, whereas I can find that mawile rather selfish,” said Switch flatly, “he might actually be right here.”

                      “Part of me thinks you’re wrong.” DL turned away and sighed. “I don’t know. Give me time to think about it.”

                      Anchor sat back on his paws as he watched her walk away, head down, arms limp at her side, and her usually perky tail trailing along the ground.

                      ...

                      Annie stretched languidly as she strolled down the sunlit streets of Wave City. Not a toxic cloud in sight. Clean, crisp, ocean air filled her sinuses and she let out a satisfied sigh.

                      Despite the warm and thankful welcome the human and her team had received, Wave City’s inhabitants still seemed rather jittery. The local pokemon cast her nervous glances, but none of them fled. News of a human had spread across System, not that Annie really cared. Somehow, she’d managed to take her medicine before her archeops form took hold, securing her another day at her full height on steady, human legs with steady, human hands, rather than scurrying around as a clumsy prehistoric bird.

                      Not that she minded the archeops. It was just nice to be herself for a little while longer.

                      All of her team appreciated the clean air. Trojan leant against a shop wall with his arms crossed and he raised an eyebrow at her. The irony of clean air lay between his claws in the form of a cigarette, a clear sign Web was still back at their hotel. Most likely with Zip and Poipole. The purple creature was the only one not happy with the clean air. He’d taken to hiding in the skuntank’s tail in a desperate bid to inhale toxins.

                      Annie paused beside the scrafty and glanced from his face to the smoldering ashes dropping to the floor. “Any joy?”

                      Trojan snorted and flicked the remains of his cigarette into the drain. “You mean making Poipole a bowl like Zip’s? Fat chance. I told you that last night.”

                      Annie shrugged and stuffed her hands into her pocket, glancing over at the docks. Keeping the little creature with them was looking to be almost impossible.

                      “We’re probably gonna have to release him into the outskirts,” Trojan explained. “Although I ain’t too happy about it. He really saved our hides in that fight last night.”

                      “Aye. Those creatures could have overwhelmed us.” Annie rubbed the back of her head and sighed. “Well. Whatever’s best.”

                      “You’re bein’ rather dismissive about it.” Trojan narrowed his eyes at her. “Way I see it is you two are exactly alike.”

                      “Hey! I ain’t no purple slimy blob!”

                      “I ain’t sayin’ you are!” Trojan growled. He let out a sigh and pushed back his head fin. “What I’m sayin’ is you’re two lost aliens. Stuck in a world where you don’t belong. You both need understandin’ types, not to be left to your own devices. That Poipole needs friends. We let him loose in the outskirts, what’s gonna happen to him? You think he’s gonna just buddy up with some other gang?”

                      Annie shifted her weight to one leg and stared off at the ocean. She pursed her lips together, searching for the right response. But Trojan went on.

                      “He also knows what those creatures are,” he explained. “Knows how to fight ‘em. He’s a valuable ally. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really wanna discard him like that. We need to find a way to keep him healthy.”

                      “He seemed quite comfortable in Web’s tail,” said Annie.

                      “Comfy or not, it ain’t a permanent solution.”

                      She scratched her head and frowned at the skyline. Something Trojan had said had really grated on her. She cast the scrafty a sideways glance and stuffed her hands back into her pockets.

                      “You really think I don’t belong here?” she asked.

                      “You ain’t a pokemon, are you?” he grunted.

                      “I kind of am.”

                      “Yeh. An extinct one.” He reached into his baggy skin and pulled out a cigarette pack, frowned at it, then stuffed it back in place. He folded his arms again and raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m right, aren’t I? I know I’m right. You wanna get home as much as Poipole does.”

                      Annie frowned down at him and puffed air out of her nose. “I’m free here.”

                      Trojan shrugged and turned his head to look back at the hotel. “You might feel free, but after a while it might start to feel like a prison. I know I wouldn’t wanna be stuck in some alien world without my own kind to talk to.”

                      “My own kind aren’t very interesting. They force me to read books and watch videos, rather than mingle. And they talk about celery and people named Mark.”

                      He let out a dry chuckle and waved her off with a paw. “Then by all means, go and mingle. I’m just sayin’ you might change your mind after a while.”

                      Annie shifted her weight again and turned away from the Scrafty to look back at the ocean. She’d become oblivious of the other pokemon during their chat, but now she could feel all their eyes on her again. She shrugged them off and marched towards the docks, to her waiting ship. The pyukumyuku still looked rather stained, its glossy black hull marred with neon purple streaks.

                      Waveform sat beside it, his feet hanging over the docks. They were high enough not to touch the ocean, but the spray dampened his feathers and left little drops on his scales. His quiver lay beside him with his silver arrows scattered around, and he held one in his wing paw while his other polished it with a dirty rag. She slumped down beside him, letting her own feet hang over the edge. Immediately the surf peppered her worn boots with water droplets and soaked into her trousers.

                      “I always thought decidueye use their feathers as arrows,” she said. “That’s what I read in a book, anyway.”

                      “I prefer it this way,” he said bluntly.

                      She leant back on her hands to stare out at the ocean, letting the repetitive, steady roar of the tide soothe her. But it did little to remove her recent conversation. Trojan’s words still niggled at her. She stifled a sigh and watched as the tide consumed a smooth rock blocking its path.

                      The decidueye looked up from his arrows and examined her face with his large eyes. “You look bothered.”

                      “Hum.” She inclined her head on one side, avoiding his gaze. “I guess I kinda am.”

                      Waveform returned to polishing his arrows, running the rag along the shaft and over the deadly, pointed nib in an almost obsessive fashion. They sat in silence for a while, the only sounds being that of the ocean waves and the occasional squeak as he polished the arrow to a shine. Annie watched the water lap in towards the docks and feebly reach up towards them, narrowly missing as it retreated back into the surf to be followed by another wave. Frothy surf formed on the surface, some of which clung to the rocks far below the wooden supports. She thought she saw the first signs of wood rot where the damp had got to them. Like her, it wasn’t meant to be there. Slowly eating away at the wood until, if left unchecked, the docks would plunge into the watery depths, dragging unsuspecting pokemon with it.

                      “I’d like to ask what the problem is,” Waveform said, breaking the silence.

                      She looked up with a start, but didn’t look at him, instead gazing off at the horizon. “I feel like there should be a ‘but’ at the end of that sentence.”

                      He shrugged. “Well, I’ll admit I am worried I won’t get a straight answer.”

                      She leant back on her hands and let out a bitter sigh. “I’ve just been told I don’t belong here.”

                      Waveform lowered his arrow and turned his head to look at her fully. She didn’t meet his eye, but a frown creased his features, distorting what little she could see of his beak.

                      “Who on earth told you that?” he asked. “Wasn’t one of the water types, was it?”

                      “No, it was Trojan.”

                      He let out a snort and returned to his arrows, discarding the one in his paw in exchange for another. “I’d take what he says with a pinch of salt.”

                      “Oh, I dunno. It’s left me feeling salty enough.” She dipped the toe of her boot into the surf as it rose up again and flicked it, scattering water droplets as far as she could toss them. “Just like this ocean here.”

                      “Why did he say that, exactly?” Waveform asked.

                      “Because I’m a human. Just like little Sticky, I don’t belong in this world.” She paused. “But unlike him, it’s not killing me.”

                      Waveform paused with the rag held over his arrow, then tossed it to his side. “You’re from System’s past, right?”

                      “That’s what I’m led to believe. But all white-walled cells look alike to me. For all I know, the doctors could have been in cosplay.”

                      “But you turn into a pokemon.”

                      “Yes, I’ve not always done that.” She nodded dramatically. “So I guess that answers your question, yes.”

                      “Then in that case, they’ve tried to get humans home already.”

                      She turned her head to look at him. “They succeeded, right?”

                      “That’s what I’m led to believe.” He shrugged, not meeting her gaze. “But evidence says they failed. Not all humans went back home. But… most pokemon don’t want to believe that. They say it’s a myth. That the Fracture never happened, or if it did that it didn’t happen the way the stories tell it.”

                      “What, they don’t have history books?”

                      “It was allegedly all destroyed.” He picked his rag up again and absently polished his weapons. “But they can’t destroy everything.”

                      “So there’s evidence?”

                      “There’s blood.”

                      Annie paused as a rather gruesome image filled her mind. She blinked a few times and stared at him, questioning. “What do you mean ‘blood’?”

                      He let out a sigh and tossed his rag aside again, but with his arrow this time. It landed among the others with a small clatter that seemed to ring across the docks but it didn’t draw any attention from the dock workers. He gave them a wary glance then pulled one of his legs up to his chest, letting his wing fall over his knee.

                      “I’m going to tell you something you can’t repeat to anyone,” he said quietly.

                      She shrugged and scratched her nose. “I probably won’t remember anyway.”

                      “Oh you will, because I want you to.”

                      He glanced at the dock workers, then at Annie. When she only returned his stare, he tapped the floor beside him. She took the hint and scooted to his side.

                      He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “There’s a group of pokemon out there who strongly believe they’re descended from what humans remained in System. It used to be quite a large group, but it’s dropped in size considerably over the last two hundred years.”

                      “Really? Pull the other one,” she scoffed. “Humans can’t breed with pokemon.”

                      “They can if they have pokemon bodies,” he retorted. “When you’re an archeops you have the biology of one, right?”

                      She blinked slowly. “What do you mean?”

                      He let out a flustered sigh and shook his head. “I’m starting to think this is pointless.”

                      “No, no. Wait.” Annie scratched her chin and looked up at the sky. “So I get feathers. And… my sense of smell gets stronger. Not that good a thing in Spool City, I gotta say.”

                      “So you get my point.” He ran a paw over his armoured beak and fixed his eyes on the horizon. “Anyway. Like I said. Since this group believes they’re descended from humans, then you belong in System like any of them do. Just like their ancestors who chose to stay here. The only difference is, you’re pure blood. To them, you’re gold.”

                      “So you think they’d want me in their group? There’s somewhere I can belong?”

                      “Hah! I’m making it my personal duty you never fall into their paws.”

                      A frown creased her features. “Why?”

                      “Like I said. You’re gold.” He gave her a glance out of the corner of his eye. “You like being free, don’t you? If they got hold of you, you’d end up trapped in their circle. There are a lot of pokemon in that group who want to make their blood as pure as possible. To try and regain what they deem a ‘lost breed’.” He paused as he took in her look of confusion. “There’s been a hammer dropped on this group. They’re not bad pokemon, but they’ve become rabid with this idea. I told you all the written evidence had been destroyed. It had been destroyed years ago by those who were ‘anti human’. Well… ‘anti myth’. Since this group had proven there was something different with their blood, the authorities wanted to disband them. Many were locked up for ‘disturbing the peace’, but like I said. You can’t destroy blood. The anti-murder laws meant that nothing could be done about them. They’d not done anything that warranted being put to death, so their lines continued. Albeit in a very small sense. The only ones left are fanatics.”

                      “And how do you know about them?” Annie asked. “If they’re so small.”

                      “My great grandfather was amongst them,” Waveform explained. “Strongly believed his was of human decent. Roped my grandfather into it and wanted him to marry into the circle to continue on the genes. But he didn’t. My mother, however. She went with my grandfather into the circle and found her place there.”

                      “You make it sound like some sort of cult.”

                      “That’s what I thought it was, if I’m honest.” He paused and ran his feathers over his knee. “I went with her a couple of times, but I wasn’t sure I believed any of it. They were just a bunch of crazy fanatics in my eyes, spouting nonsense.” He paused again and glanced Annie out of the corner of his eye. “Then you came along.”

                      She blinked a few times as she tried to take it all in, putting the pieces together like an elaborate jigsaw with no image to guide by. Then she lifted a hand and pointed a finger at the decidueye’s chest.

                      “So let me get this straight,” she said slowly. “You’re telling me… that you are part human?”

                      “Allegedly.”

                      “And there’s a group of pokemon out there who are also part human?”

                      “Exactly.”

                      She rolled her eyes and turned to fall back on her hands. “Whoa, what kinda crazy world did I fall into?”

                      Waveform let out a long groan. “What I told you was meant to make you feel like you belong.”

                      “But it’s fact, right?” she asked. “Not some tall tale?”

                      “Of course it’s fact.”

                      “And are you gonna take me to this group? Let me see it with my own eyes?”

                      “I told you!” He rounded on her and grabbed her arm in his wing. “If I took you there, you’d never see the light of day again! They’d be fighting over you! A pure human might even break them. They’d be at each others throats!”

                      “Would they?” Annie folded her arms and gave him a pointed stare. “Or is it you doing the fighting? You just don’t want to share the gold that landed in your lap.”

                      A frown twisted his features and he staggered back onto one paw. “You seriously think that?”

                      “They’ve been looking for an answer, haven’t they? And what, you’re not gonna let them know they were right the whole time? I’d say you’re the one being greedy.”

                      “You moron,” he gasped. “I’m trying to protect you! From crazed fanatics, from the mayor, and from nosey detectives! Even psychotic space pirates! And you have the nerve to think-”

                      “Hey, hear me out here.” She raised a hand to silence him.

                      “No, I won’t hear you out! I’m a bounty hunter. My job is to hunt down the next big target that will net me a fortune. Do you know how much I could get for you if I took you to the right buyer? A lot! I can’t even guess the zeroes! And where are you right now? That’s right, you’re free! Sat on the docks in a wealthy city, free as a bird!”

                      “Alright, I get it. But you need to understand where I’m coming from. You’ve basically just told me there’s a jar of candy and you won’t give it to me.”

                      “What?”

                      “I’m not alone. There’s kind-of-humans here.”

                      “Yes, and you’re talking to one.” He retrieved his arrow and returned to polishing it.

                      “So that means if there’s humans here, I don’t need to go back, do I? I don’t need the Time Onion to get me home, because technically I am home.” She sat back on her hands again. “I can be free here.”

                      He snorted. “Then I guess we’ve both learned something new. You’ve learned there’s human descendants, and I’ve learned you don’t trust me.”

                      She swivelled to stare at him and inclined her head on one side. “Would you trust someone who won’t introduce you to your own kind?”

                      He lowered his arrow and met her eyes. “Would you introduce Zip to sharks, just because they were another kind of fish?”

                      “Zip, huh?” She diverted her gaze to the sky in thought. “The little fish. I suppose… I wouldn’t want to be thrown to the sharks either.”

                      “That’s exactly what I’d be doing to you if I took you there. You’ll just have to trust me. Your family here aren’t crazed part-humans. You belong with pokemon who care about you. Like Trojan and Webber.”

                      He scooped up his arrows into his quiver and rose to his feet, tossing it over his left shoulder. She had to crane her neck back to look up at him.

                      “Not includin’ yourself in that little list?” she asked.

                      He turned on his heel to return to the city, not even glancing back at her. “There’s no need to include myself. You can trust the pokemon I trust. That’s all you need to know.”

                      She watched as he strolled away into the city, shedding two long green feathers as he left. One of them drifted over to her and she scooped it up without thinking. A few of the delicate barbs broke away under her fingers, and she trailed one over them delicately to try and neaten them back out.

                      Dry and brittle. She’d always expected them to be soft.
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                        #61    
                      Old August 25th, 2018 (3:07 AM).
                      Delirious Absol's Avatar
                      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                      Call me Del
                         
                        Join Date: May 2015
                        Location: UK
                        Age: 33
                        Gender: Female
                        Nature: Quirky
                        Posts: 345
                        Chapter Fifty Nine

                        “It looks like you’re ready to leave.” The azumarill flicked through her digital Clip Board as she read over Macro’s notes. “The doctor has given you a clean bill of health.”

                        “Oh, finally. Some good news.” The mawile tried to resist grimacing as he pushed himself up against his pillow. ‘Clean bill of health’ clearly didn’t mean ‘no pain whatsoever’. Although it was significantly better than it had been two days ago. “So when do I leave?”

                        The nurse raised an eyebrow at his eager tone. “You can leave today. But not until I give you the doctor’s guidelines.”

                        He sighed and flopped back against the headboard, waving her on with a paw.

                        “He says you’re to take it easy for a few days,” she said, returning to the screen. “Rest, don’t work. Do very little exercise outside of walking, and don’t try to lift anything. Practice your breathing exercises every morning, and take pain killers when you need to. He seems optimistic that you won’t really need them in a couple of days.”

                        Macro stifled a scoff at that and rubbed his ribs beneath his duvet.

                        “You’re to pop back in for a checkup in seven days.” She looked up to lock eyes with him. Warm but as hard as rock. Like a mother scolding a hatchling. “Jumper will be on your back about that, as will your crew. The doctor has warned me how stubborn you can be.”

                        “Seven days. Check up. Gotcha.” He tossed the duvet aside and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “And believe me, ma’am, I won’t be lifting anything heavier than a dinner plate.”

                        “All right. Well, I can see you’re already confident I’m going to tell you you’re good to go.”

                        He paused as he reached for his scarf and goggles to glance the nurse over his shoulder, but she wasn’t looking at him. “I am good to go, right?”

                        “Of course.” She snapped the cover over her Clip Board and looked up at him with a forced smile. “See you in seven days.”

                        She left the room before he could, letting the door swing shut behind her. Macro let out a flustered breath and tossed his scarf over his shoulders, followed quickly by his goggles. After not wearing them for a few days, they felt a little alien and he jigged them about a bit until they felt comfortable in front of his horn. As he left the room, DL almost collided with him in the doorway.

                        “Oh!” She took a step back, her eyes widening momentarily. A warm smile spread across her face and she looked him up and down before meeting his eyes. “I see you’re ready to leave.”

                        “I was ready days ago, they just wouldn’t let me.” He fell into place beside her and turned down the corridor towards the stairs.

                        “They wouldn’t let you because you were critically wounded,” she said flatly. “But I can understand. I wouldn’t want to be cooped up in here either.”

                        “Well, it’s a lesson well learned to not be reckless.” He glanced her out of the corner of his eye. “Is everyone else waiting somewhere?”

                        “Anchor and Switch are practising using those Z-Crystals,” she explained. “Not that they’re having much joy getting them to work. I told them I’d collect you and we’d meet them for dinner later on. Matrix is having lunch in a gaming cafe, but he said he’ll join us later. He also had breakfast there, too. In fact, he’s barely left since we got here. He’s attracted quite the fan base.”

                        Macro tutted. “Sounds like Matrix. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even know what day it is. Don’t expect him to show up at dinner.”

                        “Really?” A look of concern crossed her features. “I told him you were getting out today and he said he’d buzz on over with some breakfast. I’m guessing he’s not been?”

                        “Nope. I had to have porridge again.” Macro stretched, flinching as his ribs twinged. “Gah, I can’t wait to have Cookie’s pancakes.”

                        DL’s lips curled up in a smile. “Cookie’s really looking forward to making them for you.”

                        Macro glanced the elevator as they passed, briefly considering their smooth journey. He shrugged them off and began descending the stairs, already adjusted to a smaller pokemon’s height.

                        “Have you had lunch?” DL asked him.

                        “Nope. When I heard I might be getting out, I decided not to order one. I’m tired of hospital food. I wanna hit one of those fast food vendors.”

                        “In that case, let’s head to the market square,” she suggested. “I spotted a few of them this morning. I think one of them does berry burgers.”

                        “Oh good.” He burst through the door into the lobby, taking some of the waiting pokemon by surprise. “Given this city is filled with water types, I’m gonna guess it’s fairly safe they don’t serve meat.”

                        A poliwhirl let out a squeak of surprise and almost fell off her seat.

                        “I’ve not seen anywhere that might,” said DL quietly, giving the tadpole pokemon an apologetic smile. She trotted to keep up with the space pirate and grabbed the door as he held it for her. “Everything looks like it might be made from locally grown produce.”

                        “That’s a relief.” He took in a breath of fresh air and stretched again, feeling much less sore. “Ahh, freedom. How I’ve missed thee.”

                        DL took a deep breath as well then let out a sigh. “The air is nice here.”

                        He looked down at her, letting his eyes linger on her for a moment before steering her from the hospital. “So… you said something about a burger vendor?”

                        She chuckled and took his arm, leading him down the street towards the square. “I believe it’s near the end of the market. If it’s still there, maybe we could take them to the lake? It was a little busy on my way over.”

                        “I don’t mind busy markets. I lived in Pulse City, after all.”

                        The thought of his former home gnawed at him and he shook the thought away, letting the sunlight pouring through the dome clear the threat of a storm cloud from his mind. When he looked up again, he spotted the market bustling with pokemon. The last time he’d been in Cyan City the market had been closed. With so much activity it looked like a different place entirely.

                        As they strolled through the crowd, various voices and smells struck him at once. Children begging their parents for games or candied fruit, market sellers calling out their wares, the smell of frying fritters and chocolate fountains competing with savoury dishes. Colourful bodies zipped back and forth - hairy, scaly, feathery - brushing against him or skittering out of the way, providing obstacles to duck by. With his tender ribs, it was quite the chore to get through unscathed.

                        When DL came to a sudden stop, she steered him to the side out of the way of a pair of boisterous children on their way to a crepe van. She gave him a warm smile and nodded behind her at a digital menu. Macro finally realised they’d made it.

                        A squat van perched beside the menu while a watchog manned a hot plate of sizzling burgers. The vendor promised a selection of delights, but lacked his favourite occa and nutpea burger. Each one had its own name, but one that stood out to him was The Sunscorched Burger. Chople and lansat dressed with moomoo cheese and a tamato relish. It promised to be the spiciest in System Sky. The customer before him moved aside and Macro eyed the menu once more.

                        Well… you only live once.

                        DL shuffled up beside him, drawing an affectionate smile from the watchog. “I’ll have a Sunscorched Burger please.”

                        The watchog jolted with surprise. “Wow. A sweet girl like you? I guess you like your spices.”

                        Macro reached into his pouch and handed the watchog a ten credit bill. “Make that two. And a large mago juice. Please.”

                        DL twitched her head around to smile at him. A smile that warmed him from the inside. He diverted his gaze to the market place, distracting himself with the hustle and bustle. His eyes fell on a small, round table not too far from the vendor and he nodded towards it.

                        “Fancy saving us a seat?” he asked.

                        DL nodded and moved past him to claim the empty table. She immediately picked up the plastic menu stand and read over it, mouthing the contents to herself. A clatter drew Macro’s attention back to the vendor, and he spotted the large mago juice beside his arm, dripping condensation onto the counter. Whether the watchog was insinuating something or not, two straws lay at lopsided angles against the rim of the glass. The burgers followed, plonked down onto a glossy black tray. Macro scooped everything up and carefully waddled over to the table. DL looked up immediately, her nose twitching as the steaming burger was placed in front of her.

                        He flopped down into the chair opposite her and picked up his burger, spilling relish onto the plate. “I think I’m looking forward to this more than any sane ‘mon should.”

                        Before DL could answer, he took a bite out of it akin to a half-starved tyranitar and an involuntary groan left his throat. The pachirisu chuckled and tucked into her own meal with much less vigour. Just like it had advertised, it was spicy. A pleasant heat unlike the unbearable curry he’d once encountered in Raster City. That thing could have melted a steelix’s hide.

                        “It’s good,” she declared with her mouth full.

                        “Tell me about it. I might come back here for dinner.” He glanced up at her, noting the relish smeared over her cheek. “So. Have you been training with Anchor and Switch?”

                        DL paused mid bite and licked her lips slowly, reaching for the mago juice. She looked thoughtful, diverting her gaze to the market place as she took a long sip through the straw. Finally she glanced at him and shook her head.

                        “Really?” Macro sat back in his seat and a huge glob of tamato fell from the bun and splattered onto his scarf. “Drat.” He swiped it aside and licked the remains off his paw, the heat from the spices making his skin tingle. “Why not? You’ve got a new move to practice too, right?”

                        “Yeh.” She lowered her burger back to her plate but didn’t relinquish it. “I erm… I don’t know how to use any attacks.”

                        “Oh!” Macro almost dropped his burger, but managed to get it back onto his plate rather than down his front. “I hadn’t… considered you wouldn’t know any.”

                        “I think I know them,” she explained. “I just don’t know how to use them. I guess they’re on another memory disk.”

                        He made a thoughtful noise and trailed a claw over his scar, staring at the skyscrapers behind her. “That’s interesting. I assumed they’d just be instinct. You know… like biting and scratching.”

                        “I guess they’re learned behaviour.” She took another bite of her burger.

                        “Then if you can’t use them, I suppose we either have to get the other two disks or find a way to teach you how.”

                        “It might be faster to get the disks.” She shook her head and sighed. “After what happened last time… I wasn’t sure I wanted the rest of those memories.”

                        “You’re speaking as though you’ve decided you want them.”

                        “I feel I have no choice. I’m useless to you if I can’t fight.”

                        Macro’s muzzle creased in a frown. “You’re not useless. You’ve got a gun, right?”

                        “Yes but…” She dropped her burger and glanced around before lowering her voice. “But Solgaleo said we’re to use the Z-Moves to fight BackDoor, right? He gave me one of those Z Crystals. That means I’m expected to use one.”

                        He leant his head on his paw and sighed, absently rubbing under his eye. What were they to do then? He was expected to remain in Cyan City for another week. Retrieving DL’s memory disks would only delay their duties, and he highly doubted the Ultra Beasts or BackDoor would wait for them. He flinched as his eye began to burn and he snatched his paw away.

                        “Okay…” he whimpered. His eye began to stream, leaving a cool trail over his cheek. “Don’t touch the relish and then your eye.”

                        He snatched up a napkin and held it to his face, looking back at DL with his free eye. The pachirisu chuckled and nudged the glass towards him. He picked it up and took a swig, but it only served to make his mouth burn more than it already had been. He let out a laugh of his own and picked his meal up again, keeping the napkin pressed to his face.

                        “Okay, it’s hot,” he said. “I’ll give them props for that.”

                        DL licked what was left of her vanished burger from her paws. “Shall I get us some ice cream? It might help cool you down.”

                        “What?” He frowned again and removed the napkin. “Didn’t you find it spicy?”

                        She shrugged and pushed the chair back as she stood up. “It was okay.”

                        “You’re kidding, right?” He turned his head to follow her as she made her way to the crepe van. “Do you have no taste buds? A bionic tongue?!”

                        She laughed and stuck her tongue out at him as she reached the small queue. Well it certainly didn’t look bionic. He turned back to his burger and challenged himself to finish it. There was no sense in wasting good food, even if it did threaten to burn his mouth away. He caught the watchog’s eye from the van, and the normal type laughed and shook his head before returning to his task of wiping down the counter. Macro thought he heard him say ‘rookie’.

                        To distract himself, Macro pulled out his computer and loaded up the locations of DL’s remaining memory disks. He’d somewhat committed them to memory, but he felt the need to prove himself wrong. As expected, the last two were in the two locations he never wished to step paw in. Botnet City and Meta City. He couldn’t even decide which one was the easiest for him to face. One thing was for certain, he didn’t want to go there before he felt ready to take on Socket’s loyal army.

                        Once his burger was suitably demolished, he reached for his straw and supped up half of the mago juice. It didn’t do much to soothe away the spices. DL appeared beside him and held a cheri and cream crepe before his nose. He took it from her and gave it a hearty lick. There. Spices neutralised.

                        He chuckled and stood up, scooping up the tray with his free paw. “Shall we head to the lake?”

                        “Definitely.”

                        She took the tray from him and placed it on the top of the trash can. The watchog thanked them with a friendly wave which DL returned gladly. Macro gave him a more cautious one and followed the pachirisu out of the square.

                        It wasn’t far to the lake. He spotted the berry bushes surrounding it and a couple of azurill running around them. A few feet away from the playing children was a small row of benches, each spaced enough apart to give their occupants a little privacy. He pulled himself up into an empty one and looked over at the two hatchlings. It left a hollow feeling in his gut as his mind went back to Lossy. Part of him hoped deep down Cyan City would get to the bottom of her missing children.

                        One of the azurill dived into the lake with a soft splash, all but their tail vanishing beneath the surface. The other one laughed and raced along the side of it as they tried to beat them to the other end.

                        “It’s so peaceful here,” said DL.

                        “Aye.” Macro nibbled at his dessert. “Even more so to me now, after my first visit here. Be glad you didn’t see that.”

                        “I am.” She paused as she licked melted cheri ice cream from her paw. “But some good came of it.”

                        “What good? It was a war.”

                        “Well… they got to see who you really are, for one thing.” She glanced him out of the corner of her eye. “Rather than the reputation the media gives you.”

                        “Some of that is self earned,” he scoffed. “Not that I’m happy about it.”

                        She took a bite of her crepe, leaving a streak of cheri on her nose. “You’ve changed a lot since I first met you. That’s definitely a good thing.”

                        “So you didn’t like me when we first met?”

                        “I’m not saying that.” She leant back in her seat and fixed her chocolate eyes on him. “Bad pokemon don’t offer to help others. Saying you were keeping me just to get back at Socket… I don’t think that was your main motive.”

                        “To be honest, it was up until I realised you were a real flesh and blood pokemon.”

                        “Exactly.”

                        Macro stared down at his crepe and ran his free paw over his head. He let out a small sigh and looked over at the lake. “To be honest, DL… you’ve changed me a lot.”

                        “Me?”

                        “Yeh.” He paused, watching the ice cream melt down the side of his crepe. “You gave me someone to care about other than myself.”

                        There was a small silence before she asked, “What about your crew?”

                        He shrugged. “To be honest, I’d never realised I actually care about them either. For years, I was just their captain. You know… Captain of a sky ship with a crew who’s always got each other’s backs, like any space pirate. The hunted Hunter, wanted all over System. I’d never seen my crew as a family or anything. I guess you’ve changed that, too.”

                        He could feel her watching him, but he couldn’t look round at her. Ice cream dripped over his paws and peppered the floor with small, sticky pink puddles.

                        “I want to help you, DL,” he said. “And if that means stepping paw in Botnet City to get your next memory disk, I’ll do it. And if that won’t help you use your electric attacks, then I’ll march into Socket’s mansion and get the other one.” He paused and looked over at her, meeting her chocolate gaze. “But only if you want them.”

                        “What I want?” Her crepe found itself folded back into its wrapping and placed beside her on the bench. “What I want is for everything to be normal… and to just stay here in this city. With you… and the rest of our friends.”

                        He gave a bitter laugh and took a bite out of his rapidly melting ice cream. “I’m afraid life ain’t that easy, sweetheart.”

                        “Then I guess we just need to enjoy it while it lasts, don’t we?”

                        Another splash came from the lake and he looked up at the azurill. Still playing, alternating with diving as far as they could beneath the water. Their life-guard tails preventing them from completely vanishing out of sight. Peaceful. Not a care in the world.

                        “Well, I do have seven days until I’m ‘fit for work’,” he said, forcing a smile. “I guess we could just… pretend aliens aren’t taking over System?”

                        DL chuckled and leant back into the bench. “That’s a rather dark way of putting it.”

                        “I suppose we don’t have to go as far as forgetting everything,” he said. “The media won’t let us anyway. But we could enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.”

                        His ice cream had turned what was left of his crepe into a soggy mess. He considered giving it one last, desperate lick then shrugged it off, tossing it into the trash can beside them. It had left his paws feeling sticky, so he gave them a wipe on his scarf. It needed a wash anyway, still stained with tamato relish.

                        “Right, well,” he said, stretching. “Maybe we should go and find Anchor and Switch?”

                        Before he could rise, DL’s paw fastened around his wrist. “Erm…”

                        He looked down at her, but she avoided his gaze, pawing at her ear.

                        “I kind of claimed you for the day,” she said.

                        His stomach did a flip and he found himself letting out a strangled, “Really?”

                        Her eyes snapped back to his, dragging him into their chocolatey depths. He sank back into his seat and adjusted his paw so he could take hold of hers. The way the sun reflected off her fur with highlights of silver and gold was mesmerising. Part of him wondered what she meant by ‘claimed for the day’ but he didn’t want to ruin the suspense by asking. A smile tugged at his lips and he lifted a claw to wipe the cheri streak off her nose. Her tiny nose twitched at his touch, causing him to chuckle.

                        “I guess I don’t have much choice then, do I?” he said, feigning resignation.

                        “No.”

                        She scooted over to him and brushed her lips against his. He jolted slightly, his heart leaping in his chest and causing him to drop her paw. She snatched herself back, a soft blush dusting her cheeks beneath her white fur. Her eyes flitted away from him and she wound her paws together.

                        “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought that-”

                        He regathered himself and placed his paw on her cheek, gently moving her face back to his. Her eyes widened slightly but all anxiety melted away as he brushed the back of his claws over her jaw. He leant forward and placed a small kiss on her nose, then placed another one on her lips. He pulled back and gazed into her eyes again before letting out a soft sigh as he moved in to catch her in another kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, melting into him, and he let himself forget about everything else. Relishing in the fact that for the first time in years he wasn’t afraid to let himself care about someone else.

                        ...

                        Wet footsteps dragged Surge’s attention from the news report she’d been reading. She blinked away mental images of sparking aliens to focus on the pokemon walking towards her. Midi stopped beside her, dripping water onto the floor where it pooled around the legs of her little, round table. He dropped her camera onto it, encased in a waterproof ziplock bag. It splashed droplets of water around her coffee mug and the remains of a nanab berry cake.

                        “I got them,” the lombre told her. “Took enough photos you could make them into an album.”

                        Surge picked up the bag and removed the camera, oddly surprised it was still completely bone dry. She loaded up the photos and her stomach tightened into knots. Her muzzle stiffened and she forced a nonchalant attitude as she scrolled through what looked like the contents of some sappy romcom.

                        “Good enough for you?” Midi asked. She didn’t look up at him, but she could almost hear the smile in his voice.

                        “Good enough for Socket,” she said. “This should prove a thing or two to her.”

                        “And secure you in her good books?” He folded his arms and frowned down at her. “’Cos I don’t work for free, chica. I expect my side of the bargain whether you get your reward or not.”

                        She pulled her computer from her pocket and began to wirelessly link it up to her camera. “Oh, you’ll get your side of the bargain. I’ll be surprised if Socket isn’t happy to receive this new little bit of information. What else did you find out? Any idea where they’re going?”

                        “He said something about getting her memories from Botnet City.” Midi paused and inclined his head on one side. “Rather dubious. What’s so special about that pachirisu, anyway?”

                        “That’s classified.” Surge didn’t look up at him. Her claw slid over the photos, selecting as many as she could to attach to her email.

                        “Spill,” Midi snorted. “I wanna know what I’m gettin’ into.”

                        “Should have thought of that before you agreed to help.” She shot him a brief leer. “I’ve been told not to breathe a word to anyone, and that includes you.”

                        “Fine. So… how do you think the Mayor’s gonna react to these photos? He clearly ain’t hurtin’ her. Aren’t you worried it’ll backfire?”

                        “Not at all. Socket has the right to know her daughter is currently being wooed by some sleezy space pirate.” Surge glanced up at him. “If you were her, how would you react to this information?”

                        “I don’t need to be Socket to know how I’d react,” he spat. “If some space pirate got his paws on my little girl I’d have him hung, drawn and quartered!”

                        Surge let out a bitter laugh and fixed him with a sly smile. “Then you understand.”

                        Her claw hit the ‘send’ button, and she heard the familiar whoosh as her computer sent the email and its contents to Socket. It also took her confidence with it, but she hid that under a sip of her tepid coffee.

                        ...

                        The entire mansion shuddered, sending Socket to her bottom. She fixed her eyes on the holoscreen and shrieked at Yobi’s face.

                        “What are you doing?!” she demanded.

                        “Don’t worry, it’s normal,” he said.

                        “Normal? We’ve never flown this thing before!”

                        “These engines are pretty old, you know,” he explained. “It’s to be expected. Lifting the entire mansion out of Meta City is gonna take some doing.”

                        Socket cast a nervous glance to the window. Those electrical creatures were still sprawled over anything that still gave off electricity. The smog hung in the sky, thick and heavy and dark. Above them, it threatened to rain. Rain would bring down the smog, filling the very streets with toxins so potent her feet itched at the sheer thought of stepping in it. She was convinced there were even more of those creatures, scrambling around broken and splintered electric trees, and clinging to what remained of the buildings’ lights and air filters.

                        Her own air filter was humming away safely behind her glass dome. The dome had become both a prison and a sanctuary. The creatures had tried to climb it, but their scraggly legs couldn’t grip the smooth surface.

                        Now the entire thing trembled, attracting dozens of the aliens to her mansion. Their lanky bodies tried once again to climb it, with more persistence than they’d previously shown. Tweak filled the office with jingling laughter as he watched them flailing in a desperate bid to access the precious electricity it promised.

                        She snatched her head around to Yobi. “Fine! Get it up. Then get in here and explain things to me. I’m done with talking to a holoscreen.”

                        Deep down she hoped Yobi hadn’t translated her desperate need for company. She gave another fearful glance to the creatures. Deep rivets had appeared in the ground outside the dome as the mansion shook itself free. Concrete sprayed up into the air as the entire building jerked to the side. Socket slid away from her desk, but it moved towards her with an alarming speed. She rolled to the side and watched as it crashed into the far wall, shattering the holoscreen emitter before Yobi could give her an answer.

                        “Drat!”

                        She pulled herself to her feet and rounded on Tweak. The chingling lay upside down against the wall, waving his tiny feet and giggling like a maniac.

                        “Tweak!” she spat. “Pull yourself together! This isn’t a joke!”

                        His laughter stopped abruptly and he fixed his upside-down eyes on hers. “Oh, but it’s just so funny. Like… the mansion is gonna fly. Just like them islands you claim never existed! And what’s funnier? You’re using their salvaged engines to do it!”

                        Socket balled her right paw into a fist. “I suggest you silence that mouth of yours before I do it for you!”

                        He stared up at her and opened his mouth in a wide smile, letting his tongue hang free. She growled and turned to her shattered holoscreen. Unsalvageable. Now she’d no idea what Yobi was up to. Whether or not the mansion could actually get them safely out of Meta City.

                        She looked back out of the window. One end of the mansion’s faux garden had lifted cleanly out of the ground. The entire building still shuddered, although not as violently. The floor levelled out, sending her sprawling face first across the tiled floor. A scream of frustration left her throat and she kicked and punched the ground.

                        “I want things back to normal!” she shrieked.

                        The door flew open and a warm paw fastened over hers. It dragged her back to her feet and she turned to see Yobi’s concerned face. She took a deep, steadying breath and folded her arms.

                        “So tell me,” she began. “Is this little experiment of yours going to fail or not?”

                        “It’s working fine.” He nodded to the window and she turned to look through it.

                        The grounds were level, but she could see nothing of the streets. The aliens slid down the glass and clutched the edge of the grounds feebly before plummeting out of sight.

                        “As you can see, we’re in the air,” said Yobi.

                        Socket ventured to the window. The garden crumbled away to drop into the city miles below, leaving a hefty gap between the dome and the mansion. But there was no way the aliens could reach it now. The air filter hummed in overtime, but soon they would be above the smog.

                        Yobi joined her side and chuckled. “For being thousands of years old, those engines are working a treat.”

                        “I still don’t understand why we hadn’t just installed new, trustworthy engines,” she said. “Whatever my great, great grandfather was thinking, I’ll never know.”

                        “Well, let’s face it.” Yobi turned to her and folded his arms. “Look at System Sky. Those cities float, sure, but can they be steered? Do they move?”

                        Socket stared at him blankly. He was making a solid point, but doubt still gnawed at her.

                        “At least we know these engines were designed to move huge islands,” he explained. “Islands bigger than this mansion. Sure, the controls are clunky. But given it was installed as a huge ‘eject button’, I doubt it was ever expected to actually be used. Given time I might have been able to modify it, but… there are no modern engines designed to actually fly an island.”

                        Socket pursed her lips together and stared out of the window. Not an alien in sight. “So I guess we’re just going to have to trust ‘mythical’ technology to get us through a promising gateway.”

                        “Yes. I’m sorry.”

                        “It doesn’t matter. At least we’re safe.”

                        A beep came from her desk and she moved over to it. Her small computer tablet lay against the wall, a narrow crack adorning its screen. She tutted and attempted to wipe it off to no avail before frowning at the name strewn across it.

                        “Surge,” she growled. “What does she want?”

                        “Beggin’ for her life, probably,” said Tweak. At some point he’d hopped onto her desk.

                        She turned and leant against it as she brought up the email. The words ‘I thought you might want to see this’ were scrawled above a series of photos. Socket’s eyes widened with each one. Macro and DL, wandering around a lush city. Eating together. And…

                        Her lips curled into a smile and she let out a dry laugh, before bursting into fits of laughter.

                        “Is something the matter, Madam Mayor?” Yobi’s voice wavered with nerves and he took a wary step towards her.

                        “Oh no. It’s perfect.”

                        Tweak hopped up onto her shoulder and let out a long whistle. “Smooth isn’t he?”

                        She picked the chingling up by his hairs and dropped him back onto her desk. Then she continued scrolling through the photos until she reached another two lines of text. The space pirate’s next destination, along with a request from Surge that she was still available to help. Pathetic.

                        Yobi peered over her shoulder and his eyes widened like saucers. “So… little Loop got herself a pirate boyfriend?”

                        Socket resisted the urge to slap the raichu in the face with her computer. One crack was enough. “That and Surge begging for forgiveness. She seems to think this will sweeten me up. Hunter’s next destination is Botnet City, looking for the next memory disk. Apparently they’ll be heading there in a week. It looks like our little pirate has been injured.” She let out another chuckle. “Botnet City… that’s bold of him. Those electric types will skin him alive. By any chance do you know which disk that is?”

                        Yobi pulled out his own computer and pawed through its contents. “Its memories date back to her very young childhood.”

                        “More recent ones?”

                        “No. They’re here in your office.”

                        “And where is Botnet’s disk?” she asked.

                        “Botnet Town Hall, just like you asked.”

                        “Arrange to have that disk exchanged with the one here,” she said. “And change its location to Strobe Street Apartment, number forty eight. Tweak?”

                        The chingling looked up from his sprawled position among her pens. “Yes?”

                        “You’re to exchange them. Today. Make sure it’s not guarded, and evacuate that entire block until Hunter has the disk.”

                        “Roger!” Tweak whisked the drawer open and rummaged through it for the disk.

                        “Today?!” Yobi gasped. “They’ll be out of their homes for over a week!”

                        “Not necessarily,” she said. “Knowing that little sneak, he could arrive there as early as tomorrow. Injured or not.”

                        “Then where are you evacuating them to?” Yobi stuttered.

                        “Don’t care. Just get them out of the way,” said Socket. “No one is to touch a hair on that mawile.”

                        A sinister smile crossed her face and Yobi looked up with a start. “M-Madam Mayor, what are you saying? You actually want her to have her memories? I might alert you to the consequences-”

                        Socket waved a paw at him. “Oh, she’s beyond repair already.” She flicked her computer off and held it to her chest. “Besides… these memories might prove to be quite useful.”

                        “Useful?”

                        Socket chuckled, her eye darting to Tweak as he zipped out of her room in a beam of light.

                        “What about Hunter? He’d be a sitting ducklett! You don’t want to take this opportunity-”

                        “No.” A wicked grin split her face and she let out another chuckle, oblivious to Yobi taking two steps back towards her window. “There’s more than one way to hurt him. And once he’s wounded, he’ll be easy prey.”
                        __________________
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                        A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
                        A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
                        Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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                          #62    
                        Old September 2nd, 2018 (2:16 AM).
                        Delirious Absol's Avatar
                        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                        Call me Del
                           
                          Join Date: May 2015
                          Location: UK
                          Age: 33
                          Gender: Female
                          Nature: Quirky
                          Posts: 345
                          A/N - Sorry for the delay. My Asperger's has been giving me a hard time this weekend. I actually worried I'd have to leave it until tomorrow, but I'm feeling a fair bit better now.

                          Chapter Sixty

                          Annie followed her crew into the large auditorium. Eyes trailed over her body, widening with shock and fascination. But any vocalisations were kept quiet, nothing more than hushed whispers. The blastoise led them to the front and motioned for them to sit down facing the audience. He turned to the podium and clapped his large paws together by the microphone, reminiscent of a thunderclap as it rang out from the speakers.

                          “Order!” he roared.

                          The audience fell into silence, all eyes on Annie and her crew.

                          “As you well know,” the blastoise began, “this group of space pirates helped us to eliminate a large threat. A threat that had previously ransacked other cities. One that had grown in numbers! Now I know their captain might look funny. I know she’s drawn many curious looks and scepticism, but they’ve been here almost a full day and no harm has befallen us. I feel it is only right that, rather than turn them in, we hear out exactly why they are here.”

                          He turned to look over his shoulder and stood aside for Annie to approach the microphone. She frowned out at the audience then threw her arms in the air.

                          “Alright, yeh, I’m a human!” she said. “A shape shiftin’ one from the past. A Time Archeops, if you will.”

                          “I thought we were past that name,” Trojan whispered to Waveform and Web.

                          The latter two merely shrugged and hushed the scrafty.

                          “When I first arrived in your time line,” Annie went on, “I found myself in Mayor Socket’s clutches. She wanted to stick me in some lab, but I ain’t no lab experiment. So I escaped and found myself a crew. And I learned a little somethin’.” She lent forwards over the podium. “Your world is a mess. Not only do crazy mayors try to run experiments on innocent, helpless individuals like myself, you actually eat each other?!”

                          A few yelps rang out from the audience, and she could see pokemon shaking their heads or cowering back in fear.

                          The blastoise placed a heavy paw on her shoulder and she met his narrowed eyes.

                          “Not in Wave City we don’t,” he rumbled. “You think we’d eat our own kind?”

                          “What about sharpedo?” Annie asked. “Carvannah?”

                          “Extinct,” he said flatly. “At least in Wave City they are. Just ‘cos you’ve got sharp teeth doesn’t make you a meat eater.”

                          She huffed and turned back to the audience, then lifted a hand to the blastoise. “See? Now my human world is a little different. Back there, pokemon do eat each other, but they ain’t like you. You are more sentient, more aware of right and wrong. Not driven by instinct like they are. I mean, yeh, sure, human world pokemon are intelligent. At least… that’s what I’ve read. They eat each other, they eat eggs, and I ain’t gonna deny it. Humans eat pokemon too.”

                          Gasps spread across the audience and a few pokemon threw enraged questions at Annie. She raised a hand to silence them, but not all of them calmed down. One individual fired an ice beam at her, but she strafed to the side, letting it spread over the back wall. Waveform let out a surprised hoot and swivelled his head around towards it.

                          “I ain’t sayin’ I eat pokemon. But I think, given humans were once in this world, we’ve discovered where this little problem came from. Humans probably missed meat. You were all desperate for food. So pokemon turned to the ocean, turning you lot into victims! I say that’s wrong. That’s like turnin’ on your own family. Just ‘cos you’ve got sharp teeth doesn’t make you a meat eater! We should write that all over System!”

                          “Yay!” Zip cheered, drawing the audience’s attention. Silence washed over the assembly as they finally spotted the goldeen.

                          “You heard it, little fish.” Annie beckoned the goldeen forward. “Now. I found this little guy floundering wounded in a polluted street, desperately clinging to life and the hope he could make it back home. He opened my eyes to this corrupted world. Why… oh why… are y’all eatin’ one another? You know what we call that back in the human world? Cannibalism! I know y’all are different sub species, but y’all are sentient. All the same inside.”

                          “She’s right!” Zip clattered towards the podium, standing beside it so the audience could see him. “I know I can’t walk on land. I’ve had this device kindly made so I can help Annie and my friends make their point. But I can see pokemon here who also can’t walk on land.” He looked over at a small pool at the front of the hall, diverted in from the ocean. Hundreds of eyes peered back at him. “We shouldn’t need to live in fear. Pokemon shouldn’t be fishing us up as a cheap and easy food source.”

                          Mutters came from the pool as the pokemon nodded in agreement.

                          “I know System was desperate once,” Zip went on. “I know we can’t grow fruit trees or vegetables on System Ground anymore. But turning to us for meat just because we ‘couldn’t help in other ways’? We’re not useless! I saw what you all did to stop those nihilego! We’re every bit a part of System as any other pokemon, and we shouldn’t be persecuted just because we don’t have legs!”

                          Cheers came from the audience, particularly the pool. Small fish leapt into the air, splashing and smacking the water with their tails and fins.

                          “Exactly, little fish!” Annie placed a hand on the rim of his bowl and beamed at him before turning back to the audience. “So what are y’all waitin’ around for? I say confront the mayor! Make her notice you are more than just meat!”

                          “Actually.” The blastoise placed a paw on her shoulder again and steered her back from the podium, meeting her gaze with a steely glare. “You don’t need to do that. You even seen the news?”

                          “Huh?”

                          Annie found the sea turtle’s computer thrust into her hand. She stared down at it and her eyes almost bulged out of her head. A grin split her face and she twirled back to the audience.

                          “Oh this is just perfect! Can we get this up on the big screen, please?”

                          “No,” said the blastoise flatly.

                          It was too late. Waveform plugged his own computer into the projector, bringing up the front page of Meta City News. A huge, detailed photo of the mayor’s mansion floating miles above the city, encased in a perspex dome, contrasted a smaller photo of the city itself being ransacked by aliens and toxic smog. A few of the water pokemon screamed, and Annie heard something crumple to the floor with a thud. Someone had clearly fainted.

                          Annie waved a hand towards the photo. “This is your mayor! Bailing on the very pokemon she’s meant to look after, leaving them to the mercy of… of…” She squinted at the photo. “I dunno. Aliens. And poison.”

                          Mutters came from the audience as they pulled out their own computers.

                          “So I say one thing,” Annie went on. “Rebellion! Who wants a mayor like this? Throw her off her high horse! Get shut of this careless, wicked gothitelle and take a pokemon like Zip as your mayor!”

                          Zip almost fell off his mechanical feet as Annie ushered him forwards. The audience cheered and rose to their feet. A few of them started chanting Zip’s name, ushering the others on until hundreds were shouting it. A deep voice called from near the front ‘Down with the mayor!’, filling the auditorium with another chant. Claps and splashes erupted like thunder.

                          “Me?” zip squeaked, his face turning crimson.

                          “Enough!” The blastoise’s voice was barely heard over the chaos in the auditorium. He pulled Annie away from the podium and frowned down at her. “You come along here raving about starting a jackin’ war?”

                          Annie raised a finger to correct him. “Rebellion.”

                          “It’s the same jackin’ thing!” Spittle flew from his teeth and peppered her face. “How do you think System is gonna respond to a speech like that?”

                          “I dunno. But surely water types outnumber the rest? I mean half the world is water.”

                          “It doesn’t matter!” He released her, pushing her back into Waveform’s waiting wings. “I need you lot out of this city. I can’t thank you enough for helping us, but I can’t have you around, risking starting a war! The water types are already at odds with the fire and grass types. You want to literally throw us into the mincer?”

                          “You sound scared,” said Annie.

                          “Of course I’m scared!” he roared. “At the moment, they don’t eat any water pokemon that have legs!” He waved his limbs. “An uproar might upgrade the menu!”

                          “So it’s okay to eat water types so long as it’s just the fish?” asked Zip.

                          “Of course it ain’t okay,” said the blastoise. “But we can’t exactly do anythin’ about it.”

                          Annie looked back at the audience. The smiles on the water types’ faces. The jubilation from the pool. She turned back to the blastoise and frowned.

                          “That’s where you’re wrong.” With that, she turned to steer Zip away towards the emergency door.

                          The blastoise followed them but he didn’t leave the auditorium. Annie gave one last glance back at him. His expression was unreadable.

                          “Did we fail?” Zip asked quietly.

                          “I wouldn’t say so,” said Annie. “I’d say we succeeded.”

                          “How did you get that from what just happened?” Trojan spat.

                          “Easy.” She aimed a grin at the scrafty. “We sowed a little hope.”

                          He raised an eyebrow and let out a confused ‘eh?’

                          “The water types have been gifted a voice.” She tucked her arms behind her head and marched towards the docked pyukumyuku. “All they gotta do now is use it.”

                          “And what about us?” Web asked. “What’s next in your big plan?”

                          “Oh that’s easy.” Annie grinned from ear to ear. “We’re gonna shoot down a flying mansion.”

                          ...

                          Tracer thought his fur would never stop standing on end.

                          He read over the Meta City News article for the third time, hoping that in some way he’d managed to misunderstand it. But there it was, clear as day. A photo to back up the propaganda infested article. Socket’s mansion had risen into the sky, abandoning her home city to the fate of aliens. He’d be inclined to think it were a misunderstanding were there any evidence whatsoever that her army was trying to rid the city of the invasion.

                          But first it was the jellyfish, ransacking cities. More cities followed at the tentacles of a whole host of jellyfish. Pulse City had been reduced to rubble thanks to the onslaught of a seed-bombing cannon. Now there was something he could only describe as ‘live wires’ tearing down Meta City.

                          He lowered his computer and ran a paw over his large ears. “What’s happening to System, Widget?”

                          The eevee wagged his tail, and not in the comical, jovial way that Tracer was familiar with. It was more of a nervous tail-thump.

                          “I don’t know,” he said. “But I gotta say, I only enjoy these scenarios on a big screen. Living one?” He lifted a paw and swiped it to the side. “Whole different story.”

                          “Aye.” N0ize turned around in his captain’s seat and fixed them with a grin. “I’d describe it more like a bad dream. Can’t say I’ve ever found myself without a home to retreat to. Right, Cyph3r?”

                          The magmortar shrugged his shoulders, keeping his eyes on System Sky.

                          N0ize continued to stare at Tracer, pushing his fur even more on end. “You all right, Fuzz? You’re startin’ to look a lot like an alarmed quilfish.”

                          “I’m fine.” Tracer looked back down at his computer but N0ize’s grin was emblazoned in his mind. “I’m sorry you’ve lost your home.”

                          “Ah, forget about it.” N0ize exploded with raucous laughter. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Still tailin’ that human you’re so fixated with.”

                          “How are you getting on there?” asked Widget. “’Cos not gonna lie, I don’t exactly have sky legs.”

                          “We’re landin’ in five minutes, but you wanna hurl, you know where the toilet is.” N0ize swivelled back to the windscreen. “She’s docked at Wave City. We’ll be on ‘em before you know it. Oh wait… hang on a sec…”

                          Tracer looked up again and raised an eyebrow at the back of the incineroar’s head. “Is there a problem?”

                          “I’d say so. Little scoundrel is on the move again.”

                          Widget let out a loud groan and slumped onto his belly.

                          “Calm down, Widget,” Tracer told him. “You’re creating a scene.”

                          “I can’t help it!” Widget whined. “I’m so sick of flying! I’m built to run. Run, I tell you. Run!”

                          He smacked the floor with his forepaws then buried his nose between them. His long ears drooped at either side of his head and he frowned at the floor.

                          N0ize laughed again and shook his head. “Such a drama queen. Well, I guess she’s done whatever it is she came here to do. You wanna check on that, Fuzz?”

                          Tracer trawled through the news sites, but it didn’t take him long to find Wave City atop the live news feed. Video footage started playing straight away, and his eyes widened at every word from the marshtomp’s mouth.

                          ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ the water type gasped. ‘I can’t turn a single corner without fish pokemon braying for their freedom! A small army is on its way into Meta City. I keep saying it’s suicide, just like everyone else. But they just won’t listen!’

                          Tracer looked up, the following words barely registering. Widget had lifted his head again, ears pricked and trained on his computer. N0ize peered with one eye over his shoulder, a sly grin painted on his face.

                          “Looks like she did it then, eh?” The incineroar gave a hearty laugh and swivelled away from them. “Wave City’s in an uproar, just like she wanted.”

                          “I’d hardly say that’s a good thing!” Tracer barked.

                          Cyph3r fixed one eye on him but said nothing. The delphox looked back down at his computer. The interview was still playing out, but the footage had changed to display the fish pokemon and all who supported them gathering in a river, preparing to swim down towards Meta City. They’d be risking ploughing through polluted water, so many of them had been kitted out with special masks that reduced what toxins their gills would otherwise be filtering.

                          No. It wasn’t good at all. With Socket soaring miles above System Ground, Wave City threatening an attack on Meta City and all surrounding fisheries would have a huge impact. And quite possibly a disastrous one. One of the concerns brought up on the screen only solidified his worries.

                          ‘What’s next?” the blastoise roared. ‘The fish rebel and what’s next? All water types thrown into the mincer? Bugs? Grass types? I tell you, she’ll upgrade the menu. It’s been done once before, so what’s stopping them from doing it again just to shut the rebels’ mouths?’

                          “He has a point,” said Widget weakly. “What is stopping them from turning on other pokemon for meat? Berries and vegetables are getting harder and harder to grow in all this toxicity.”

                          “Aye,” N0ize agreed. “It’s all one big, epic fight for survival. I can’t say I blame the fish for getting fed up with it, but eh. Food with a face is gonna argue back at some point, right?”

                          Tracer felt his fur bristle along his spine and a canine poked out from his lips. The combination of N0ize’s flippant attitude and the rising calamity System was facing was seriously taking its toll. Between the alien invaders and Socket’s bailing, Annie’s ploy to start a rebellion was only adding to the chaos.

                          “We need to stop her,” he thought out loud.

                          Widget pushed himself up so he was sitting and frowned at Tracer. “What? Please tell me you’re not wanting to shoot Socket down. Not that I’m complaining, I mean… think about the mess!”

                          “No, no. I’m talking about Annie. The human.”

                          “The lass you’re fixated with?” N0ize cocked a confused eyebrow and waved a paw at the window. “You wanna shoot her down instead?”

                          “I’d rather not, but if it comes to it, it might be necessary,” said Tracer.

                          “I don’t get it,” said Widget. “You went against turning her into Socket because you were worried for her wellbeing, and now you’re willing to take her out?”

                          “Think about it,” said Tracer. “Amongst everything that’s going on, she’s only making things worse. System is practically falling apart at the seams, and most of that is to do with these alien invaders. Annie isn’t from our System, Widget. She might be from a System, but it’s not ours. Just like those aliens, she’s invasive. We don’t understand what the aliens are up to. Can they understand us? Are they sentient? Why are they damaging our world? What if they’re just trying to adapt, and in doing so are restructuring the environment to suit them? They’re trapped here, just like Annie is. But unlike them, we can understand her and she can understand us. Back in her time line, pokemon didn’t eat one another. So, in a way, just like those aliens she is trying to restructure System to her own liking. Therefore, she is a threat.”

                          Widget narrowed his eyes and let out a muffled ‘huh’.

                          “We’ve been studying her.” Tracer looked back down at his computer. Now it was showing footage of Annie’s speech at the assembly. “I’d like to think she’s reasonable, but I’m really not sure. If anything, I’m worried she’s very unwell. Either that, or she doesn’t think through her actions, acting merely on impulse. That would make her closer to the alien invaders than to us.”

                          “I can see where you’re comin’ from.” N0ize stuck a claw in his ear and twisted it back and forth. “To be honest, I couldn’t give a rattata’s ass if we ate meat or not. I like it, yeh. But throwin’ the entire world into chaos for the sake of a bit of fun? I like the fun part, but not so much the chaos. Let’s tail her and shoot that pyukumyuku outta the sky, eh?”

                          Before Tracer could retort, the ship picked up speed and rocketed through the sky.

                          “Hang on a second!” he barked. “I never said we’re shooting her now. I said if it were necessary-”

                          “It is, ain’t it?” N0ize burst into laughter and leant back in his seat.

                          All Tracer could do was stare through the windscreen at the speck on the horizon. He could just make out the pyukumyuku’s decorative spines.
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                          Old September 8th, 2018 (1:50 AM). Edited September 8th, 2018 by Delirious Absol.
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                          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                          Call me Del
                             
                            Join Date: May 2015
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                            Age: 33
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                            Chapter Sixty One

                            The morning sun cascaded down through the glass dome over the lake, reflecting off Macro’s pocket computer. The anti-glare coating was doing little to stop the rays dazzling his eyes. But he read on regardless. In front of him, Anchor charged with flaming fangs towards Switch. The talonflame dodged to the side with a graceful flap of his wings. Switch followed this up by kicking up his leg before launching an aerial ace at the granbull. The pair of them paused to look down at their Z-Crystals, and Anchor let out a huff.

                            “We just ain’t gettin’ this,” he said. “It’s been what… three days now?”

                            “I guess like all moves, they just take practice.” Despite his words, Switch didn’t sound convinced.

                            Matrix buzzed onto the back of Macro’s bench and wound his antenna in his paw. “Aren’t you joining in?”

                            Macro glanced him out of the corner of his eye, then brought up Meta City News. “I can’t. I’m meant to be resting.”

                            “That’s never stopped you before.”

                            The mawile snorted and fixed his attention on the screen. His heart did a small flip in his chest and he struck the top headline. A quick read over the article set his blood boiling.

                            “Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me?!” he roared.

                            Anchor and Switch spun on the spot, almost crashing into DL on her way back from a snack run. One of her ice cream cones deposited cold, pink ice cream onto the floor and Anchor’s right leg. The granbull let out a startled squeal, then cleared his throat as he regained his composure.

                            “Somethin’ wrong, Cap’n?” He ducked to wipe his leg before the cheri ice cream turned into a sticky puddle.

                            “I’d say,” Macro scoffed. “Socket’s gone and bailed on Meta City.”

                            “She’s actually left?” Matrix leant over his shoulder. “I thought she was agoraphobic. She like… never leaves her mansion except in extreme circumstances.”

                            “Well she’s not exactly left her mansion.” Macro turned the computer so everyone could see it. “Her mansion has left the city.”

                            DL’s eyes widened and she dropped her other ice cream. “Is that what he was working on?”

                            “I’m sorry?” Macro lowered the computer to look at her.

                            “There was…” DL wound her paws together and glanced away. “There was this door that was always locked. I saw Yobi go into it a few times when I was meant to be helping him. He’d never let me in, we’d only go to his lab. Every time he came out, he’d be covered in grease. I guess… it must have been some kind of engine.”

                            “An engine that allows you to fly a mansion,” Macro said bluntly. “No engine can control something much bigger than Wildcard Gamma. Very rarely do I see ships larger than mine. It’s playing a risky game. This city we’re sat in? Can’t move. It just hovers. So how, do tell, can an engine fly a mansion?!”

                            DL cowered back. “I don’t… know…”

                            Macro sighed and rubbed his paw over his scar. “I’m not having a go, DL. I’m just confused. This technology… has she been hiding it from us?”

                            “Remember those floating islands I told you about?” Switch asked.

                            “Yes, I believe you called them ‘drifting continents’.”

                            “Well, they could move on a specified path,” Switch went on. “But if you overrode the commands, they could be steered. Controlled, perfectly.”

                            Macro looked up at him and narrowed his eyes. “Then if that technology existed way back then, why don’t we have improved versions of it now? We could probably fly the entire region.”

                            Switch shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve no idea. But you did say they never found any engines in what you believed to be the former drifting continents.”

                            “I never believed they found these legendary islands,” Macro hissed. “Are you trying to tell me Socket’s had their technology stored away in her mansion all this time?!”

                            “I might be,” said Switch. “It’s hard to say, but her mansion is in the air. So either there is improved technology that allows something larger than a ship to be flown, or she has the islands’ old engines.”

                            “But such technology would be archaic,” said Matrix. “Not to mention rusted beyond belief after so many years. How on earth would she get it to work?”

                            “Maybe Socket wasn’t the one who found it,” said DL.

                            Everyone looked up at her, but her eyes were distant. She stared at a tree behind Macro’s bench, pawing at her ear.

                            “That mansion is hundreds of years old,” she went on. “Someone else could have found the engines and installed them.”

                            “So this Yobi was performing maintenance work?” Matrix suggested.

                            “Possibly.” DL cleared her throat and glanced at her friends. “But Socket’s plan has been in the works for a long time. Since before she even adopted me. It’s in this Download Database thing. The reason she adopted me was because she wanted to get her plan in action faster. A younger child would have been easier to manipulate and get on board with her plan, but an older child would mean she wouldn’t have to wait for very long. I was the oldest one there. So you could say that for the three years I was with her, her plan was in full motion. She wanted to find this gateway into a new world to build a new System. And to get there, she would fly her mansion. That way she’d never have to leave her house, never have to risk inhaling toxic air. And she’d have a home, while everyone else would have to build theirs from scratch. I’d imagine Yobi was making sure everything was running smoothly so there were no hitches in her plan.”

                            Macro clutched his computer tightly and hissed. “That gothitelle is about as toxic as all the outskirts combined…”

                            “So how was everyone else gonna get to this world, eh?” Anchor asked. “Does she have ships built for this?”

                            “Only enough for her select elite,” said DL. “Everyone else - commoners, criminals, space pirates - they’d all be left behind.”

                            “Select elite, eh?” Macro scoffed. “So this new would would primarily be made up of psychic, electric and normal types. With a few water types dragged along for food, I’d imagine.”

                            “So all of us would be left here to rot,” Anchor growled. “That’s brutal.”

                            “That’s the job of an uncaring mayor.” Macro rose to his feet. “I think I need a walk. This has really got my gogoat.”

                            “Then you might not wanna hear this,” said Matrix, scrolling over his own computer. “But Quantum City has been destroyed by another Ultra Beast.”

                            Macro’s fur prickled along his neck and he glanced over his shoulder at the ribombee. “Which one?”

                            “Dunno.” Matrix turned his computer to face him. “You tell me.”

                            The photo didn’t show any living creature. All it showed was a huge monument surrounded by rubble. Not an Ultra Beast in sight.

                            “I can’t gauge it from the damage alone, Matrix,” Macro spat.

                            The ribombee shrugged and placed his computer back in his lap, twirling his antenna with his right paw. “Well, it said this huge thing dropped from the sky and destroyed the city. What it’s showing you here is a crater and the thing that landed.”

                            “So these ones arrived in a ship?” Macro took the small computer from the ribombee and frowned at it. “Weird lookin’ ship.”

                            DL looked over his shoulder and made a thoughtful noise. “The picture’s not clear enough. I can’t match it to any Ultra Beasts in the UltraDex.”

                            Macro returned the computer to Matrix and turned away. Such news had done nothing to lift his mood. If it weren’t for Socket’s rotten plan, System wouldn’t have been under attack from Ultra Beasts in the first place. He turned on the spot and waved a paw.

                            “I’ll be on my ship if you need me,” he said.

                            “All right, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We’ll be here trainin’. All that’s got me riled up, I could do with burnin’ off some energy.”

                            Macro silently agreed, gritting his teeth together. Oh, how he’d love to join in with them. He absently rubbed his ribs as he strutted towards the docks. DL’s soft footsteps followed him, but he dared not look back at her. With the mood he was in, he worried he might say something he’d regret.

                            A loud whoosh followed by a yelp of surprise snapped him around one-eighty and his eyes widened as a spiral of flames washed towards the lake. The end of the inferno tapered towards Anchor’s mouth. The granbull’s eyes were wide with surprise, but there was no sign of Switch. The inferno subsided and the talonflame flapped like a dazed hatchling from the scorched floor. Flames trailed over the ground towards the lake, slowly rising as they ate away the grass.

                            “I…” Anchor gasped. “I think I got it to work.”

                            Switch wobbled and slumped to the floor onto his stomach, wings spread-eagled at his sides.

                            “Are you all right, Switch?” Anchor rushed to his side and placed a paw on his back.

                            Switch let out a feeble ‘yes’, reassuring the space pirate.

                            Macro trotted to the lake to join the water pokemon in putting out the remains of the blaze. He grabbed a bucket from the emergency stand and tossed its contents onto the flames. They sizzled before fizzling out, leaving behind blackened grass. His heart hammered in his chest, and he fixed worried eyes on the two pokemon.

                            “Okay.” His voice wavered slightly and he pointed a claw at Anchor and Switch as he strolled past them. The latter was still sprawled on the floor, eyes rolling in his head. “I’ll be on my ship. Don’t burn down the city while I’m away, all right?”

                            “Roger,” rasped Switch.

                            Macro trudged towards the docks, rubbing a paw under his goggles. His mind was reeling. Yet more Ultra Beasts had invaded System, destroying yet another city. In his own attempts to save Pulse City, he’d destroyed another beneath it. Meta City was slowly being reduced to a toxic wasteland, and kartana were tearing up the outskirts. The memory of those bladed beasts made his ribs hurt and he found himself feeling short of breath. He paused to lean against a lamp post and pulled his goggles from his head.

                            “Are you all right?” DL placed a paw on his shoulder.

                            He nodded and gave her paw a soft squeeze before pushing himself on. Once he’d reached his ship, clattering came from the kitchen as Cookie shot to the door and poked his head around it.

                            “Captain!” Cookie’s face lit up with a smile. “Are you wanting some lunch? I’m making chocolate chip pancakes!”

                            “Ring the bell, I’ll see how I feel.”

                            Macro watched the slurpuff duck back into the kitchen, then made for his room. He closed the door before DL could follow him inside, and threw himself onto his back on the bed.

                            “Macro?” Her voice was muffled slightly by the door. “Can I get you anything?”

                            “No.” He let his arm flop over his eyes. “But I’ll call if I change my mind.”

                            “All right. I’ll be helping Cookie if you need me.”

                            He heard her shuffle away down the corridor. With a flustered sigh, he let his arm fall back down beside him and stared up at the ceiling. Five more days. He had five more days before he would be potentially declared fit for work. ‘Potentially’ wasn’t a guarantee. It didn’t sit well with him.

                            Every second he spent lounging around Cyan City was another second Socket was rolling with her plan. Another second that Ultra Beasts were allowed into System. Another second that a city was at risk of falling under attack, that pokemon were being killed, that cities were falling. Another second towards the risk of an Ultra Beast striking Cyan City while he was nothing more than a sitting ducklett.

                            But it wasn’t Socket opening those gateways herself. It was BackDoor. Socket’s androids were scattered over System Sky looking for a gateway into a new, clean world. If they took out the androids, then her plan would screech to a halt. Solgaleo had gifted them a way to stop BackDoor. Anchor had managed to get his Z-Move to work. It would only be a matter of time before the rest of them would get their Z-Crystals under control. However, Macro was in no fit state to fight. Neither was DL.

                            DL… her electric moves could prove to be very useful in this upcoming battle. Androids were riddled with wires and circuits. One jolt and BackDoor would crumple into a sparking, useless scrap heap.

                            Macro sat up straight as his reeling mind slowed to a halt. That was it. If they were going to stop Socket, DL needed to use her Z-Move. But with no knowledge of her electrical attacks, there was no way she could master it. The sooner she got them back, the sooner she could get practising. And by then, he’d be able to fight as well, whether he was given the all clear or not. He flipped himself off his bed and rushed out of the room towards the cockpit. He stopped before the controls and looked over them. A jumble of mess he’d never been able to get his head around. He grabbed the steering stick and gave it a wiggle. Nothing.

                            “Come on, Macro, think!” he barked.

                            His eye fell on a panel beside the stick and he placed his paw over it. The ship flared to life. Another jiggle of the stick made the ship lurch and before he knew it, they were moving backwards.

                            Claws skittered over the floor as DL dashed into the cockpit. She glanced around before stopping beside him, fixing Cyan City with frantic eyes.

                            “What are you doing?!” she squeaked.

                            “Getting your other memory disks,” he said flatly as he loaded up what he desperately hoped was the auto pilot feature.

                            “Without the rest of your crew?” she gasped. “Are you nuts?!”

                            “Nope, I am actually thinking straight.” A surge of relief flowed through him as he found a list of locations logged into the auto pilot. “Thank goodness this is here, ‘cos I don’t know nothin’ about co-ordinates.”

                            “Could you explain yourself?” DL snapped. “Before I’m forced to call Anchor? Or Jumper?”

                            He looked up at her, meeting her chocolate glare. “We need your moves, DL. If you can use your electric Z-Move on BackDoor, it’ll short circuit it. Socket’s plan will screech to a halt, and we can get a jump on her. Stop all this nonsense before it goes any further.”

                            “But what about the rest of your crew? You’re just leaving them?”

                            “They’re in the best place right now. They can practice their attacks, get a head start on them while the two of us aren’t able to train. If they can utilise Z-Moves, they might be able to teach us faster. And even if things are a little slow, three of my crew being able to use them will put us at a huge advantage when we face BackDoor.”

                            “So you’re leaving your crew behind, including Anchor who’s had your back more times than I could even guess, in order to get my memories? Just so we can launch ourselves into battle against a deranged robot?!”

                            “Yes!” Macro fixed her in a violet stare. “With that android flyin’ around out there, Ultra Beasts are being dragged into System and it needs to stop!”

                            “It will stop.”

                            “Yes, after I’ve ‘recovered’! In the meantime, System is under attack and Socket’s army is doin’ nothin’ to stop it! We’ve been tasked to stop this android and mark my words we’re gonna succeed! Now strap yourself in, sweetheart, ‘cos I don’t know what I’m doin’.”

                            DL let out a sigh and shoved him aside, taking over the controls. He watched as her paws flew over them with expert speed and precision. Well… Anchor had successfully trained her. He climbed into his seat, leaving DL to take Anchor’s over-sized chair.

                            “Where are we going?” She still didn’t sound remotely impressed.

                            “Botnet City.” He tucked his paws behind his head and leant back in his seat. “We’ll tick that one off the list first. Then we’ll worry about Socket’s floating mansion.”

                            ...

                            Matrix pointed a tiny paw, drawing Anchor’s attention away from Switch’s attack. The talonflame was already in full swing, but Anchor was rendered oblivious as he watched Wildcard Gamma drifting across the sky, away from Cyan City. His eyes widened and he opened his mouth to shout, but was cut short as Switch’s aerial ace collided with his jaw. Anchor staggered sideways, flailing his arms to right his balance.

                            “What in the world?!” he roared.

                            “Sorry,” said Switch. “It was too late to stop. What distracted you?”

                            “That!” Anchor pointed a claw at the ship. “Macro has gone and left us here! The lunatic!”

                            “He did seem rather riled up,” said Matrix.

                            Anchor locked his eyes on the ribombee’s, but Matrix merely shrugged as he span his antenna around his paw.

                            Switch’s jaw stiffened and he looked from the space pirates to the ship and back. “I’d like to say he has good reason for this, but none of us are bedridden this time.”

                            “Good reason my tail.” Anchor barged past Switch, flames flickering from his jaws. “I’ll drag him back here by his scarf.”

                            Switch fluttered his wings as he struggled to keep up with him. “How do you plan on going after him?”

                            “I’ll see if Jumper has a ship I can borrow. Macro can barely fly Wildcard Gamma so it shouldn’t take me too long to catch up.”

                            “But DL does,” said Matrix. “And she’s with him.”

                            The granbull snorted and fired a glance towards the rapidly vanishing ship. “Then I’ll chase that mawile across System if I have to.”

                            “Have you any idea where he’s going?” Switch asked. “Or why he’s doing this?”

                            “He’s doin’ it ‘cos he’s crazy and got no patience,” said Anchor. “He’s throwin’ himself in harm’s way right after that kartana attack, and I ain’t about to let him do that! As for where he’s goin’? If it’s for DL’s disks, then it’s one of two places. Botnet or Meta. And I’m gonna bank all my credits on it bein’ Botnet. ‘Cos he might be crazy, but he ain’t daft enough to face up against Socket when he’s barely able to fight a hatchling.”

                            Anchor marched across the square, pushing through the crowds towards the town hall. The blastoise on duty cast them a filthy look before he stepped aside. Anchor muttered a ‘thanks’ then stomped over to the Governor’s office. He didn’t even knock. Jumper looked up with a start and was about to dismiss them, but his eyes widened when he spotted the three pokemon.

                            The frogadier lowered his stamp and his face fell. “What’s happened?”

                            “Macro’s high tailed it outta here,” said Anchor. “Left us behind.”

                            “Seriously? But he’s in no fit state to work!”

                            “I know, but he clearly don’t care.”

                            “So he’s just gone, like that? What ever for?”

                            “I have a good, solid guess.” The granbull folded his arms and snorted. “Any chance you’ve got a ship we can borrow? ‘Cos I’m gonna go after him, and I’ll hijack one if I have to.”

                            “There’ll be no need for that.” Jumper rose to his feet and gestured for Anchor to follow him. “I’ve got three government battleships, and you are free to borrow one. Just… please try to bring it back in one piece?”

                            “Aye.”

                            “A battleship?” Switch stuttered. “We’re taking after him in a vehicle of war?”

                            “I personally think that’s awesome,” said Matrix.

                            Anchor faltered by the door and scratched his mohawk. “I’m not entirely sure we’ll be thinking of it as ‘awesome’ when we catch up with him. Mood he’s been in, he’ll fire on a government ship.”

                            Jumper looked over his shoulder at him. “Well I’m afraid I don’t have any other option.”

                            Anchor let out a sigh and waved a paw in defeat. “Fine. We’ll take one. Unfortunately it means we’ll have to give him a heads up, especially if you want it back in one piece.”

                            “I’d rather you all came back in one piece, not just the ship.”

                            Jumper led them out the side of the town hall and towards the docks. Hidden away from the smaller, domestic ships was a neat row of glistening, golden government battleships. Their pointed appearance was intimidating despite their small size. There would be little chance of sleeping on them, and for three pokemon to fit inside would be rather snug. Matrix might have been able to find a corner out of the way, but Switch and Anchor would be shoulder to shoulder.

                            “Given you’re only intending on catching up with him,” said Jumper as he led them along towards them, “It shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. Once you’re back at your ship, I imagine you could deliver mine back in its cargo hold?”

                            “Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Anchor.

                            A small clang rang out from behind him and he span on his heel. Matrix appeared almost out of thin air and bobbed backwards, slightly dazed. He shook out his antenna and pointed a paw.

                            “There’s a cloaked ship here.” His voice wavered slightly.

                            “Eh?”

                            They all stared at the spot, aghast. If it was a cloaked ship, it was a very good cloak. System Sky was as clear as day through it. Matrix vanished back beyond the cloak, humming to himself as he zipped back and forth out of sight. He buzzed backwards away from it and rubbed his chin.

                            “It’s a tympole ship,” he said.

                            “Really?” Jumper’s eyes widened briefly then his snout creased into a frown. “There’s another space pirate here?”

                            “I guess so,” said Anchor, eyeing the invisible ship with admiration. “Must have cost a pretty penny, that cloak. And I thought ours was good.”

                            “So whose is it?” Jumper asked. “Do you know them?”

                            “Not sure, if I’m honest,” said Anchor. “I see a lot of ships. Pirates come and go. There’s new ships being built every day. Has to be, since they can get pretty beat up. Wildcard Gamma is our third, yanno.”

                            “So you’ve no idea at all?” asked Jumper. “No idea who I need to look for?”

                            “Exactly. If they’re a water type, they’d blend in pretty well.”

                            “Then maybe I should stay behind and assist the police force?” said Switch. “Get to the bottom of it.”

                            “Might be the best plan,” said Anchor.

                            “No need.” The female voice made them all jump out of their skin.

                            Anchor spun on the spot, and his expression fell at a zigzagoon’s familiar face. She looked at each of them in turn, her claws flexing at her sides. Itching as they sought out her hidden laser.

                            “Well, well.” Jumper folded his arms and shifted his weight to one leg. “I have to say, I’m a little disappointed such a pretty young girl has set out on a life of piracy.”

                            “I’m not a pirate,” she said. “I’m a mercenary.”

                            “Oh.” Jumper jolted slightly. “How can I believe you?”

                            “Scan me if you wish.” Surge nodded towards her invisible ship. “Now if you don’t mind, I have a pirate to chase after.”

                            “Hang on one stinkin’ second!” Anchor grabbed her shoulder and spun her back towards him. “I ain’t just gonna let you chase after Macro like that! What kinda heartless lass are you anyway? Helpin’ him out then turnin’ on him like this?”

                            Surge’s muzzle stiffened and she swatted his paw away. “I’m doing my job.”

                            “What? Are all mercenaries traitors?”

                            “Someone pays me, I do their job. Macro paid me, so I worked for him. Socket is paying me, so I’m working for her.”

                            Matrix ‘hmm’d’ and twirled his antenna. “Last I heard, Socket was after your head.”

                            Surge flashed a canine and let out a low growl. “She’ll be singing and dancing when I turn him in to her.”

                            “What, you think she’ll let you off the hook?” Anchor growled.

                            “Given how long she’s been after him, yes.”

                            Those words made Anchor’s heart sink. He balled his paws into fists and hot cinders trickled from his teeth. Jumper placed a paw on his arm and ushered him aside. The frogadier’s eyes were trained on Surge, and Anchor spotted a ball of frubbles hidden in his paw behind his back.

                            “Listen, ma’am,” he said. “Wildcard Gamma are under my protection in Cyan City. Whereas you might see this as controversial, I can’t ignore your attempts to harm my good friends. I think I speak for the entire city. So I suggest you come with me, or my entire armed forces will be out here to apprehend you.”

                            Surge let out a bitter laugh. “So you speak for the entire city, do you? If only you knew. I’ve not been working alone here, Governor.”

                            Jumper jolted again, enough for Surge to whip out her laser and back towards her ship.

                            “Stay back!” she barked. “I’ve got almost ever type, and I’ve not come in here unprepared.”

                            “Bragging?” Switch whispered to Anchor.

                            “I’d say,” the granbull whispered back.

                            He shot Matrix a grin and the ribombee nodded, ducking down towards the ship. Surge was too focused on the larger pokemon to notice. She reached beneath her jacket and the ship de-cloaked, revealing the smiling tympole. She took another step backwards and a grimace spread across her face. She looked down at her foot and tried to lift it, but sticky webs held her fast to the docks.

                            Jumper let loose his frubbles, knocking the laser from her paw where it landed harmlessly encased in the foamy mass. Anchor barrelled past her and she let out a wail as she tried to spin towards him.

                            “What do you think you’re doing?!” she screeched. “Get off my ship!”

                            Anchor threw a grin in her direction before following Matrix onto the ship. Switch followed after him, winking at Surge as he hopped past.

                            “Thanks for the sweet ride,” he said. “We’ll be sure to give it back.”

                            Surge seethed and sank to her bottom, clenching her paws so tightly her pads bled. Jumper crouched behind her and tugged her paws towards him behind her back, before securing them with his frubbles.

                            “You’re coming with me, ma’am,” he said.

                            “You can’t hold me for long,” she hissed. “Socket won’t stand for it.”

                            “Oh, I’m aware,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t answer questions.”

                            Anchor burst into laughter as he watched the zigzagoon be steered away, then familiarised himself with the controls.

                            “This is just perfect,” he said. “Not tiny, and it looks like a space pirate ship. Not to mention Surge can’t give chase without it.”

                            “That’s well and good and all,” said Matrix from the navigation dash. “But there’s just one tiny hitch in our plan.”

                            “Oh? What’s that?” Anchor asked.

                            “Macro made it very clear that Surge isn’t an ally, and I’m fairly certain he knows her ship.”

                            Anchor and Switch blinked at him.

                            “Yeh,” Matrix went on. “So it doesn’t really matter what ship we take off in. He’s still gonna shoot at us.”
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                            Old September 15th, 2018 (1:08 AM).
                            Delirious Absol's Avatar
                            Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                              Join Date: May 2015
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                              Chapter Sixty Two

                              Jumper stared across his desk at Surge, his eyes narrowed in a way that greatly unnerved her. His chin rested on his steepled paws, and not a single glint of uncertainty crossed his features. The fact her paws were still trapped in sticky frubbles did nothing to aid her confidence. No way to defend herself. Surrounded on all sides by members of his police force. A quagsire sat beside her with a small lie detector hooked up to a tablet computer. It didn’t intimidate her in the slightest.

                              A large empoleon the frogadier had addressed as ‘Heatsink’ jabbed her in the side with one of his sharp flippers, prompting her to speak. She hissed at him and shuffled in her seat, masking her attempts to remove her restraints as an attempt to make herself more comfortable.

                              “I’ll ask you again.” Jumper’s voice was steady and patient. “You said you’ve not been working alone. Now who were you working with?”

                              “And I told you that would be a breach of confidence,” she replied.

                              “I think you’ve got a lot more to worry about right now than a breach of confidence.” The governor sat back in his seat and rapped his fingers on his desk. “There is a law in this city that no one is to harm pokemon under our protection. I owed that to Wildcard, given they saved this city from a war resulting in famine. Thanks to them, one of the biggest scourges in Luma City’s army has been removed, and while we’re still recovering from the aftermath, we could have ended up a lot worse off if it weren’t for Macro and his friends.” He narrowed his eyes again. “So tell me who you’ve been working with.”

                              Surge’s lip curled up into a smile. Luma City… a place filled with grass types. That Midi was starting to look a little suspicious now. Who’s side was he really on?

                              “You can smirk until the miltank come home.” Jumper shook his head. “It’s not going to help you.”

                              “I’m just thinking,” said Surge, “that you might want to consider that not everyone in this place is on Cyan City’s side.”

                              Jumper raised an eyebrow, and the vaporeon behind her let out a gasp.

                              “Are you saying there are traitors out there?” Jumper asked. “Spies?”

                              Surge shrugged as best she could. “No idea. But I’d take things with a pinch of salt.”

                              Floppy bounced to her side and fixed her with cold, black eyes. “You’d better talk! Because I’m feeling pretty trigger happy right now!”

                              His cold breath frosted over her fur and she grimaced.

                              “I’m not saying anything,” she said. “Not after you let Macro’s goons take off in my ship!” She leered across at Jumper and he sighed, swiping a paw over his glossy desk. “Besides, you can’t keep me here for long. Socket wouldn’t stand for it. She’s hired me!”

                              “You’re right,” said Jumper. “I can’t keep you here for long. Not if Socket did indeed hire you. But I’m afraid this says otherwise.”

                              He pushed a flier towards her. Her face frowned back at her, complete with fifty thousand credits scrawled below her chest. And there with it, her crime. Hacking. No further details, just plain and simple.

                              “Now, allow me to put the pieces together,” he explained. “You’ve shown up here looking… how do I put this? Different from this poster. No bandana, a black dress rather than a waistcoat. And you’ve brushed your fur so much it looks like a transition between zigzagoon and linoone.”

                              She glanced down at her tail, smoothed out yet still ragged, a dead giveaway to her species. Regardless, it took away that rugged look she’d worn for years.

                              “If you indeed are working for Socket,” said Jumper, “then why has she put out a wanted poster for you?”

                              Surge tightened her jaw as she stared back at him. Why, indeed? It was written right on the poster. Socket didn’t like hackers, that much was obvious. But her targets very rarely rose over ten thousand credits.

                              Jumper steepled his paws together again and leant towards her. “You said you’d done some work for Macro. I’m well aware of what DL is. Socket took her memories, made her into a machine.”

                              “Computer,” Surge corrected.

                              Jumper shrugged. “Computers are machines. But you’ve only aided in proving my point with that little statement. I suspect Macro hired you to hack Socket’s databases in order to find out what exactly happened to little DL. Am I right?”

                              She pulled her lips back from her teeth but said nothing. The frogadier was really beginning to get on her nerves.

                              “I think you want to catch Macro in order to make amends with Socket,” he went on. “But I highly doubt that she’ll-”

                              “She’s already wiped my slate.”

                              Jumper raised an eyebrow.

                              “I’ve forwarded her new information,” Surge went on. “As a result, she’s given me a second chance to catch him. Although my payment has taken a pretty big hit.”

                              “I’m not certain I believe you.”

                              The quagsire looked up and nodded. “This says she’s telling the truth.”

                              Jumper examined her from his seat, trailing his eyes up and down her body for any hint of a lie. Surge chuckled and shook her head. Useless. As if she hadn’t trained with lie detectors before.

                              “You heard it straight from a tangle of wires.” She shrugged. “Can you really take the chance in keeping me here, then? If I’m right, Socket might execute you. If I’m wrong… well, you’ve let a wanted ‘mon escape.” A smirk tugged at her lips and she chuckled again. “I’d hate to be you right now.”

                              Heatsink frowned and looked at Jumper, keeping his bladed flipper near Surge’s neck. “Lie detectors ain’t perfect. You really wanna take that risk?”

                              Jumper rubbed a paw over his face and sank back in his chair. “No. Not really.”

                              Surge resisted the urge to grin.

                              “Now, about that pokemon who helped you,” Jumper went on.

                              “If I tell you, what will happen to him?” she asked.

                              “He’ll be locked up here in our cells,” said Jumper. “I can’t say how long, that will take a jury to decide. But if I were to hazard a guess… for attempting to hand a protected citizen over to his death… I’d say fifteen years.”

                              Fifteen years… She’d never even have to look back at Cyan City. “All right, I’ll tell you. His name’s Midi.”

                              “Really?” Jumper’s eyes almost bugged out of his head. “So you’ll happily hand him over to us then? I’ll guess you made a deal and don’t want to follow it through. What did you offer him? A cut of your share? Before Socket docked it, no doubt.”

                              Surge shrugged. “A ‘mon’s gotta get by.”

                              “You’re notorious.” Jumper jotted the name down on his pad. “Heatsink, see Surge to a cell and locate this Midi. I believe he’s a lombre.”

                              Heatsink snorted. “I’ve had dealings with him before. I know who he is.”

                              The empoleon jabbed Surge with his flipper and she slid to her feet. She aimed a glare at Jumper and wrestled with her restraints.

                              “I thought you said you weren’t gonna keep me here!” she barked.

                              “I don’t really want to,” said Jumper. “But your ship is currently AWOL.”

                              She spat on the floor. “Yeh, no thanks to you!”

                              Jumper closed his eyes as he leant his head in one paw and waved the other. “Take her away. I’ll deal with her once her ship has been returned.”

                              “You really think Wildcard’s gonna return her ship?” Floppy asked. “Macro knows she’s after him. If I were him, I’d leave it somewhere. Like the bottom of the ocean.”

                              “Then we’ll find another way to get her out of the city. I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Jumper shooed the other pokemon out of his room. “Go. I need to file all this.”

                              Surge glared at him over her shoulder, but searing cold shot up her spine as Floppy launched an ice beam at her tail.

                              “Keep walkin’,” he growled.

                              She muttered under her breath and turned to exit the office. Trapped between three large pokemon, she stomped after them as they led her to the cells.

                              ...

                              The sharpedo ship grew steadily closer to the pyukumyuku, covering distance at a speed Tracer found difficult to describe. Any second now, Cyph3r would unleash an attack. The delphox’s heart sank. That pyukumyuku looked harmless. The aquatic pokemon the ship was modelled on, however, was packed full of surprises. If you hit one, it would hit you back with twice as much force. Tracer stroked his chin as he wondered how that would be incorporated into a ship built in a criminals’ back yard out of scraps. The flimsy structure looked like it would fall apart if he so much as breathed on it.

                              “All right!” N0ize grinned at his pilot. “We’re close enough. Unleash the torpedoes.”

                              The magmortar’s single paw nimbly flew across the dash, lighting up an array of buttons. Something deep within the ship whirred like a well-oiled motor. It probably was.

                              N0ize chuckled and leant back in his seat so far it creaked beneath his weight. “These oughta punch through that hull like a knife through cheese.”

                              “I think butter would be a better description,” said Widget. The incineroar leered back at him, but he didn’t so much as flinch. “It’s softer,” he added.

                              N0ize grinned from ear to ear and pointed a claw at the eevee. “I like you, little mutt.”

                              Widget snorted through his nose but said nothing.

                              The whirring stopped, followed by a deep roar. Ahead of them, three grinning carvanah whizzed towards the pyukumyuku. The rickety ship dropped several feet before the missiles had a chance to hit, letting them soar harmlessly overhead.

                              N0ize’s face fell and he scratched inside his ear. “Nimble piece o’ junk, eh? Make us swerve up and down and send a barrage. Let’s see if they can dodge that.”

                              Tracer leapt to his feet and dived across the cockpit, grabbing the magmortar’s paw in both arms. He fixed a leer on N0ize.

                              “Is this a game to you?” he barked.

                              N0ize stared back at him and Tracer’s fur stood on end as an electrically charged hum emanated behind him from Cyph3r’s railgun.

                              “What if it is?” the incineroar rumbled. “You want that human threat removed, and I’m just providing pest control.” A grin split his face, chilling Tracer to the core. “If I’m havin’ a little fun doin’ it, so what?”

                              Tracer’s lip twitched as he searched for any reason the pirates should call off the attack. Static was slowly filling his fur, turning him into a bronze brush.

                              “It’s murder,” he said flatly. “Other pokemon are on that ship.”

                              “Aye, criminals.” N0ize grinned again. “We’d be savin’ Socket a job.”

                              “I doubt she’d see it that way.”

                              “What does she care, anyway?” The incineroar threw a paw in the air. “She’s miles above Meta City dealin’ with them alien things. Let’s shoot this human down and put an end to this rebellion. Either way, rebellion or not, I don’t rightly care. I’m just in this for the fun. Hit it, Cyph3r.”

                              The magmortar clubbed Tracer over the head with his railgun arm and a grunt came from the detective’s nose as he crumpled to the floor. Before he could jump back up, that whirring filled the ship again. It swerved up and down, sending a wave of nausea through Tracer’s gut. Although that was more likely to do with the whack he’d received. At some point, Widget had attached himself to the magmortar’s arm. The large fire pokemon waved him off, sending Widget sprawling across the cockpit floor to land in a heap against the wall. Tracer rolled towards the eevee and pushed himself up, wobbling slightly. His ears were ringing. He barely heard the roar as the missiles flew towards Annie’s ship. Twelve of them, soaring towards her in a figure eight. They’d been aimed in such a way the ones at the top and bottom of the attack were curving towards the ship.

                              “They’re not gonna dodge that,” Widget muttered.

                              The eevee pushed himself up and shook out his massive ears. The pair of them watched in horror as the pyukumyuku tried to dodge. At least… that’s what it looked like. The ship swerved to the side and just kept going, turning to face towards them. A long, stretchy arm swung out from its nose, sweeping towards the missiles in an arc. The top most ones were caught in its slimy appendage and knocked towards the ones below it. They exploded on impact, blowing both ships away from each other.

                              The sharpedo shook and keeled backwards. N0ize let out a grunt of surprise and blinked a few times.

                              “Guess it’s got more defences than I thought.” He roared with laughter and struck the dash. “I like it! Send another flurry, let’s see what else this piece of junk can do.”

                              Cyph3r sent out another torrent of missiles. Five more carvanah flew at the pyukumyuku. It swatted aside three of them, but one of the missiles hit its ‘innards out’. The missile exploded, shrapnel striking the ship and its lone weapon. The slimy thing was torn to ribbons, and a huge chunk of it fell with the missiles still wrapped in its gooey fist.

                              If a ship could look surprised, the pyukumyuku managed it down to a T. It turned tail and tried to saunter away to freedom.

                              “We’ve got it!” N0ize barked. “Chase after it!”

                              The magmortar pointed a claw at the dash and fixed N0ize in a glare. The incineroar leant over to see what he was pointing at and grunted.

                              “All out of missiles, eh?” He shrugged. “Guess we’re usin’ our close range attacks then. Full speed and crunch!”

                              “Close range?” Widget gasped. “Oh boy. We’re gonna die.”

                              “You don’t sound very distressed,” Tracer muttered.

                              “I’m running on adrenaline. This is awesome.”

                              N0ize flashed the eevee a grin. “That’s the spirit, mutt. You wanna evolve into a flareon and join my ranks?”

                              “Nope, can’t and don’t want to.” Widget puffed out his chest, flashing his everstone. “I’m awesome just the way I am, thank you very much.”

                              N0ize turned away and scratched inside his ear again. “Such a waste. All right! We’re close enough!”

                              The sharpedos jaws opened slowly, gaining on the pyukumyuku inch by inch. Tracer pulled himself up on the dashboard and fixed wide eyes on Annie’s ship. Were those decorative spikes trembling? How much damage had they done? The thing was about to fall apart. Shredded to bits at the jaws of some deranged space pirate’s vessel. He glanced at each of the space pirates in turn, a deep dread rising within him. He’d made some pretty bad mistakes in his life, but this one definitely took the biscuit. His paw sought out his stick. One dazzling gleam and he was taking over the sharpedo.

                              A flash of green caught his eye and he snapped his head around just as two of the spikes launched from the pyukumyuku on rusted chains. They struck the sharpedo, one spike striking the side of its jaws. The other one smashed through the windscreen, almost impaling N0ize to his seat. The incineroar let out a squeal that didn’t suit his appearance at all.

                              The spike retracted back towards the ship, their rusted chains rattling and creaking. They didn’t quite make it back, dangling behind the ship like a pair of tails.

                              Cyph3r leant over the dashboard towards N0ize and aimed his railgun arm out of the window. It hummed, growing with intensity as the entire length of the coil lit up. Then, a long beam of electricity shot towards the pyukumyuku. Something hidden in that beam struck it, creating a hole in its tail. Shrapnel rained down around it, and the small ship ducked and swerved as it tried to regain balance. Then… it began to descend towards System Ground.

                              Tracer’s jaw dropped as he watched it vanish through the clouds. He swallowed dryly and licked his lips.

                              “What have you just done?” he whispered.

                              N0ize blinked as he tried to gather himself and ran a paw over his ears. “Wretched thing’s busted my windscreen.”

                              Widget’s head appeared on the other side of his lap, his brown eyes livid. “Yeh? Well you just busted their entire ship!”

                              “Just doin’ my job.” N0ize glared at the shattered glass and rubbed his arms. “Let’s turn back and head somewhere we can do repairs. I ain’t flyin’ with a wrecked window. It’s freezin’ up here. All six of my nipples could cut glass!”

                              Tracer let out a growl and retreated to the back of the cockpit, Widget in tow. The eevee sat down heavily and looked up at him.

                              “I think you’re suffering from a rare case of ‘moral dilemma’,” he said.

                              Tracer pulled a cigar from his pocket. N0ize couldn’t exactly complain now the window was smashed. He fixed Widget with an unreadable look and let a lick of flames light the end of his cigar before popping it between his teeth.

                              “What makes you say that?” he asked.

                              “You can’t make your mind up about the girl,” the eevee explained. “Now we have two choices. Find parachutes and bail, or wait for this ship to land and go find her.”

                              “You two ain’t goin’ nowhere,” said N0ize. “It’s your target that busted my ship, so you’re payin’.” He glared at them over his shoulder, a glare that chilled Tracer so much he feared he’d been frozen solid. “You got a problem with that, there are other ways to squeeze the credits outta you. I can think of twelve ways off the top of my head.” A grin. Not a friendly one. “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

                              The incineroar turned away and Tracer’s cigar dropped from his mouth into his lap. Widget looked up at him, his ears slightly drooped.

                              “Man, Tracer… I think we might have just been abducted.”

                              ...

                              “Did you install any parachutes in this thing?” Web desperately clutched her seat while Poipole clung to her back in sheer panic.

                              “No, I didn’t install any parachutes!” Trojan barked back.

                              “Why? Did it just not occur to you?!”

                              “Clearly not!”

                              “I hate to be the one to speak the obvious,” said Annie. “But two of us have wings.”

                              All eyes flew to the human. A sneer crossed Trojan’s face only to be quickly wiped away by fear as the ship swerved towards the ground once more.

                              “Well I also hate to be the one to speak the obvious,” he growled, “but you currently don’t!”

                              Annie looked down at her human self.

                              “Are we gonna die?” Zip squeaked.

                              Water sloshed from his bowl with every stomach-churning lurch.

                              “No we’re not,” said Trojan. “Because I’m gonna fix this bag o’ bolts. All right?” He vanished beneath the dashboard, stumbling as the ship continued to lose altitude. “Someone man the controls!”

                              Waveform pushed Annie back into her seat and took Trojan’s seat. A few tugs of the steering stick and the ship levelled out. Annie’s eyes widened and she removed her hands from her head.

                              “Have you fixed it?” Her bottom left her seat as the ship dropped another few feet. “I guess not.”

                              “I have a question,” said Web. “How does a hole in the tail of the ship affect the engine if it’s in the front?”

                              “It doesn’t,” said Trojan. “The engine’s fine. That blast, whatever it was, removed the rudder and shook up the thrusters that keep us in the air.”

                              “So what are you trying to do?”

                              He pulled his head out and glared at her. “Increase the thrust so we can at least land on dry ground!” Another plummet. He struck his head on the dash and swore loudly. “Everyone shut up and let me work, alright?!”

                              Annie sank into her seat and placed a finger on her lips, just like children are told to do when they’re required to shush. Waveform raised an eyebrow at her then turned back to the controls.

                              “Well if we’re probably gonna die,” said Zip quietly, “I want to thank you guys for helping me. And being a friend. For showing me that other pokemon actually care for us water dwellers.”

                              “We ain’t gonna die,” said Trojan. “Shut your berry hole.”

                              “You’re very welcome, Zip,” said Web. “And ignore him, he’s just as scared as the rest of us.”

                              “I want to thank you as well,” said Poipole. “Other pokemon had tried to shoot at me.”

                              “Well, if we’re all doing the thanking thing,” said Annie, “then I want to thank you all for… erm… doing this rebellion thing. And… dang it, I was sure there was something else.”

                              “Taking you in?” Web helped.

                              “Yes! Yes, exactly.” Annie folded her hands behind her head, but the ship gave another lurch that pushed her to cower in her seat. “I don’t like this. I want off.”

                              “We all want off,” said Waveform. “But that’s not an option. This ship needs her captain.”

                              Annie removed her arms from her head and looked around at her crew. Terrified faces. Except Waveform who looked as collected as he often did. She cleared her throat and sat up straight.

                              “All right!” she said. “Onward to dry ground! We ain’t sea pirates, we’re space pirates! We don’t do the swimmin’ thing.”

                              “I do,” said Zip.

                              “Well… the rest of us aren’t as talented as you, little fish. I don’t like getting wet.”

                              “Seconded,” said Waveform.

                              “Thirded,” added Poipole.

                              “Where’s the closest dry land?” Annie asked.

                              The thrusters roared and the ship levelled out. The hull still trembled like a terrified child, but things felt… firmer.

                              Trojan climbed out from the dashboard and shooed Waveform from his seat.

                              “There,” he said. “That should get us to the coastline at least.”

                              “So it’s fixed?” Web’s eyes narrowed. “I find that very hard to believe.”

                              “It ain’t fixed,” he said. “It’s merely tweaked so we don’t crash and die in the sea. Is that good enough for everyone?”

                              A chorus of ‘yes’ echoed through the cockpit.

                              Trojan nodded and turned back to his controls. “That’s what I like to hear.”

                              The ship trembled and ducked slightly, causing Zip to yelp.

                              “What was that?” Annie asked.

                              Trojan didn’t even look up. “Let’s not talk about it.”

                              ...

                              The beartic leant towards the camera, as close as he could get to the microphone without knocking the camera ‘mon over.

                              “What do you mean it’ll all blow over?!” he screamed at the interviewer. “Between here and Wave City, fisheries have been dragged to the ground! Electricity, scalding water, rocks! Smashed to bits! Pokemon have died!”

                              The interviewer pushed him back so she could get back into the camera shot. The young gardevoir brushed her paw over her head, trying her best not to sigh with frustration.

                              “All wars come to an end eventually,” she said. “Let’s not get System riled up over pointless propagan-”

                              “Pointless?!” the beartic hissed. “The water types are revolting and the mayor couldn’t give a -” Someone managed to beep out the beartic’s language. Most likely an exploud.

                              The ice type was taken away, while the gardevoir returned to the camera.

                              “As you can see,” she said, “the oceans have done a double take. Turning to the land to right the massive wrong made centuries ago, riding on the coat tails of a group named Time Archeops. Will the little goldeen and his friends manage to turn this around? Will fisheries fall? Or will all of System fight back, brining an end to any rights the water dwellers currently have left?”

                              Anchor groaned and closed his eyes. “Switch it off, Matrix. It’s depressin’ me.”

                              “But you don’t eat fish,” said the ribombee. “What’s the problem?”

                              “It’s not the fish that’s the problem, it’s the situation!” Anchor waved a paw towards the dark space ahead. “System’s fallin’. Any other time, I’d be backin’ a rebellion like this. But now ain’t the time! We’ve got bigger fish to fry, if you’ll excuse the expression.”

                              “I will not excuse it,” said Switch. “I think it was in very bad taste.”

                              Anchor sighed and brushed back his mohawk. “Sorry. I’ll try to think of better words to use when my brain is frazzled. Let’s just… focus on catchin’ up with Macro, okay?”

                              The cockpit fell into silence as Matrix stuffed his computer back into his belt pouch. The lone tympole ship trundled along, growing gradually closer to the schooling wishiwashi, while miles below the oceans glowed yellow as the lanturn rallied their masses. Somewhere, another fishery fell, washed away beneath the chaos that the Ultra Beasts were bringing.

                              ...
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                                #65    
                              Old September 23rd, 2018 (2:02 AM).
                              Delirious Absol's Avatar
                              Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                              Call me Del
                                 
                                Join Date: May 2015
                                Location: UK
                                Age: 33
                                Gender: Female
                                Nature: Quirky
                                Posts: 345
                                A/N - Schedule alteration - Saturdays OR Sundays depending on my own schedule

                                Chapter Sixty Three

                                Surge’s tympole ship was fast. Certainly fast enough to catch up with Wildcard Gamma. If Macro had noticed it, he certainly hadn’t acted. His schooling wishiwashi trundled along as nonchalant as a ship could appear.

                                “We’re almost there,” said Matrix. “Either this ship’s cloak keeps us off Wildcard Gamma’s radar, or he just couldn’t care less.”

                                “Or he knows it’s us,” said Switch.

                                “He won’t know it’s us,” said Anchor. “Surge has been following us all across System. Maybe he just doesn’t see her as a threat?”

                                “I’m banking on him not seeing us.” Matrix lazily wound his antenna and glanced over his shoulder at the granbull. “Unless DL’s driving and she doesn’t know how to deal with a threatening ship?”

                                Anchor jolted and fixed his eyes on Wildcard Gamma’s tail. “I thought I taught her how to use the weapons.”

                                “You’re worrying about that?” Switch gasped. “Be glad she’s not firing on us!”

                                Anchor looked back at the talonflame, but before he could speak, Switch flapped his wings in what little space he had available.

                                “Eyes on the road!” he snapped.

                                “Sheesh, calm down.” Anchor turned back in his seat and steered the ship as Macro’s turned towards Botnet City’s blinking antenna. “Anyone would think you were scared of flyin’.”

                                “No, I am fine with flying,” said Switch. “I just prefer to be in control of my own wings.”

                                “I know that feel,” said Matrix.

                                “Well, I’d say it’s about time he noticed us,” said Anchor. “Before he throws himself into danger. ‘Cos I sincerely doubt Botnet’s gonna welcome him with open paws.”

                                “Do most places?” Switch asked. “’Cos I get the feeling not many places welcome you.”

                                “Botnet City is a whole kinda special on that regard.” Anchor reached across the dashboard and launched the tympole’s turrets. “One missile oughta get his attention.”

                                “You’re actually firing on your own ship?” Switch gasped.

                                “Just the one,” said Anchor.

                                “But that’s crazy!” said Switch. “You could kill him!”

                                “Not if I know where to hit. Besides, it’s a secret space pirate language. Single shot fired, then strafe to the side and hold off firin’. Let’s them know you only want their attention.”

                                “Well I still think it’s nuts.” Switch huddled down into his feathers. “I’d bail this ship if I had the chance. What if he fires on us?”

                                “He shouldn’t. Now let me focus.” Anchor reached for the missile button. “I don’t wanna do too much damage, especially since I’ll be the one doin’ the repairs.”

                                ...

                                The closer they drew to Botnet City, the more hollowed out Macro began to feel. Without his crew, he felt very exposed. No sooner had he spotted the blinking antenna in the distance, he retreated to his room. Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind. Given Botnet wasn’t a billion miles from Cyan City, it had taken them less than a day to reach it. Each mile they grew closer to it, the more anxious he became. His yellow fur was damp with sweat and he tossed and turned on his bed, desperate to think about anything else.

                                A violent tremor shook the ship and Macro hit the floor nose first. He pushed himself up, groaning as he rubbed his snore snout, and looked over his shoulder at his closed door. What on earth was that? Botnet’s missiles couldn’t reach this far, could they? Unless he was much closer than he’d initially thought.

                                He sprang to his feet and bolted from the room, fastening his goggles in place as he sped down the hallway. A frantic DL turned the corner before he could stop, and she crashed straight into him, bowling him backwards onto his bottom. He caught her before she hit the ground, her weight knocking him flat on his back. He pushed himself back up and opened his eyes, meeting DL’s. That hollowed feeling seemed to fade away, filling up with something warm and fuzzy. He brushed his claws across her cheek and chuckled.

                                “I think we need a ‘no running’ rule,” he said.

                                She grabbed his paw in hers, but that frantic look didn’t leave her eyes. “It’s Surge’s ship…”

                                Macro clenched his teeth together and pushed himself to his feet. “That wretched zigzagoon sure is a mood killer.”

                                DL followed him as he stomped his way towards the cockpit. “What’s she doing following us?”

                                “Oh, she just wants to kill me is all.” He paused at the controls, noting Surge’s smiling tympole on the camera.

                                “Kill you?” DL gasped. “But she helped you! I thought she was a friend.”

                                “Makin’ friends ain’t easy when you’re in my line of work, sweetheart.” He sighed at the smaller ship and shook his head. “Apparently Socket hired her after I did.”

                                “But she’s wanted as well, right?”

                                “Apparently she doesn’t care.” He nodded to the weapons controls. “Fire back. Blast it into the ocean.”

                                DL clenched her paws together and looked from the controls to Macro and back.

                                “What are you waitin’ for?” he asked. “At this rate, she’ll shoot us down first!”

                                “I can’t do that,” she said. “She helped me.”

                                “Yes, and now she’s trying to kill me!”

                                DL stared at him for a moment, then let her paws relax at her sides. She approached the weapons and her paws flew over the controls.

                                “Maybe we can incapacitate her,” she said. “Knock her weapons out so she’s no threat.”

                                Macro leant on the dashboard beside her, eyes fixed on the tympole as his ship spun around to face it. The familiar whir of Wildcard Gamma’s turrets spinning around its hull filled the cockpit, and he watched a stream of bubbles head for Surge’s ship. It ducked to the side, narrowly avoiding the bombs. Two of them hit its tail rudder, snapping it clean in two. The tympole spun precariously through the sky until it righted itself at Wildcard Gamma’s left side.

                                “Nice shot,” said Macro. “With its rudder snapped, that might slow it down.”

                                “I wasn’t aiming for the rudder.” DL spun the ship around again to face the tympole head on. “I was aiming for its face.”

                                More bubbles launched forth, but the tympole was unable to dodge. The bombs collided with a missile just as the tympole launched one from its mouth. The two explosives detonated, sending a shockwave that blew Wildcard Gamma back several feet. Macro stared wide-eyed at the smoke. There was no sign of the ship. DL’s jaw was slack, her paw still on the weapons controls. Once the smoke subsided, the tympole hovered a good few feet away. Its face was gone, replaced by a hollow, black hole. It made no attempt to go after them. How it was staying airborne, Macro had no idea.

                                “Well, I think that sorts that problem.” He fell into his seat and rubbed his face with a paw. “Let’s just get to Botnet.”

                                DL turned the ship back towards Botnet City’s blinking antenna. “Can you contact her? I want to know she’s okay.”

                                “I ain’t contacting a ‘mon out to assassinate me, DL.”

                                She glanced behind them in the tympole’s direction, but it was well out of their view. With a sigh, she turned back to the controls.

                                “Then if this is the sort of thing space pirates do,” she said, “I’m not sure I want to be one anymore.”

                                Macro leant on his paws, keeping his eyes on Botnet City. That horrible feeling was back, gnawing at his gut. “To be honest, neither am I.”

                                ...

                                Anchor pulled himself out from beneath the dash, choking on smoke. The ship’s filters rattled away in a desperate bid to clear it, but the impact from those missiles had greatly reduced their efficiency.

                                “Good grief, Matrix!” he spat. “What on earth were you thinking launching another missile?”

                                “I was trying to blow back their attack.” Matrix’s voice was weak. “Given you refused to do it.”

                                Anchor wafted the smoke aside, trying to locate the ribombee. His ears twitched and he turned to face the dull buzz of his wings. He thought he could make out his tiny form in the far corner of the cockpit, right beside Switch.

                                “Are either of you injured?” Anchor asked.

                                “I’m all right.” Switch exploded into a coughing fit. He tried to stifle it to say, “But Matrix hit the wall pretty hard.”

                                “I’m fine.” Matrix groaned and his wings buzzed for another split second. “Actually, I think I’ve broken something.”

                                Anchor fought the urge to curse and instead kicked aside the dashboard’s cover. “Great, now we’re stuck here.”

                                “Why can’t we just contact him?” Switch asked.

                                “Because I ain’t been thinkin’ straight,” said Anchor. “Macro might be a reckless buffoon, but he doesn’t normally pull stunts like this. I didn’t wanna risk a thorough ribbing off him, but like a fool I’ve always got his back!”

                                “So we went after him in his enemy’s ship, and fired at him in a ‘secret pirate language’,” said Switch. “Great plan!” He clapped his wings together, wafting up the smoke enough for Anchor to see his golden eyes.

                                “I don’t appreciate the sass, Switch,” Anchor growled.

                                “Then why not contact him now?” Switch asked. “Tell him it was us! Then he might come back and get us!”

                                “Because my computer got crushed in that explosion!”

                                “Mine’s fine.” Matrix winced as he reached into his belt. “I can contact him.”

                                Anchor slumped to the floor and rubbed his temples. Another cough racked his body, making him desperately wish for a filter mask.

                                “Oh wait…” Matrix threw his tiny arms in the air. “The battery is dead.”

                                Switch’s beak fell open and he fixed Matrix with a look that said ‘are you kidding me?’

                                “Any chance the power still works so I can charge it?” Matrix asked.

                                Switch sighed and hung his head. “Maybe I can carry us to Botnet City? It’s not that far away, and my wing has almost completely healed.”

                                “Flying types can’t fly this high,” said Anchor. “Atmosphere’s too thin. You’ll die before we reach it.”

                                He stared blankly at the far wall. The power must have been working somewhere since they’d not dropped towards the ocean yet. One of those thruster ships with the engine in the rear, complete with its own separate power supply. But for how much longer it would last he had no idea. Let alone if it would be capable of charging a computer. He’d probably have to re-route the power to the ship’s computers, and none of those were working. If they were going to get the ship moving again, he’d have to get to work. He sighed and pushed himself to his feet. It was going to be a long day.

                                ...

                                Botnet City. Home to electric type pokemon. A city of entertainment, with its own share of natural greenery. There was very little fruit grown. Most food was imported from towns and cities that could grow it, mostly Gear Village and Cyan City. The air hummed with static, pushing Macro’s fur on end before he even left his ship. He smoothed it back down and glanced at DL who gave him an amused smile. The smile faded away as they checked their weapons and made for the hatch.

                                “I don’t remember much at all about this city,” she said.

                                “Well, I know it quite well,” he said. “So I wouldn’t worry. Sure you don’t wanna wait on the ship?”

                                “No. I don’t want you going in alone. You need backup.”

                                He grimaced but bit back a retort. He’d much rather she was safe on his ship, but he’d already made that clear. “It’ll probably be pretty dangerous.”

                                “I can handle it.”

                                He met her chocolate eyes, the warmth melting him. If there was fear there, she hid it well. He took her paw and pulled her into him, catching her lips in his. Her warm body wove around his and for a brief moment he thought about bailing on the mission altogether. Just taking off to somewhere else in System and starting over. But he couldn’t do that to her, or to System. The world was relying on them.

                                He pulled back from her and took a steadying breath. “Then let’s get this over with, huh?”

                                She nodded, smoothing down her fur.

                                “It says the memory disk is in a safe in the town hall,” he explained. “City Governor’s office. It’ll be a straight in, straight out job. No time to get reacquainted.”

                                “I understand.” She opened the hatch.

                                Macro poked his head out and glanced around. No one was around to see him. No one on the docks, at least not this end of it. His ship was completely invisible to the naked eye, but the cloak drank fuel like water. They’d need to be quick if they were to make it back to Cyan City. He had no desire to tap a government ship for fuel, or use the city’s refuelling station. Such feats would not go unnoticed.

                                They hopped out onto the docks and ducked towards the city dome’s entry point. Unfortunately it needed a code. Fortunately, Macro had that code thanks to the dark underbelly of the internet.

                                Not a pokemon was in sight. No security waiting at the dome. No government soldiers keeping an eye open for invading ships. What was going on? Was Botnet City also under threat from Ultra Beasts and everyone was dealing with that? If so, he desperately hoped he didn’t encounter it.

                                But it was just so… surreal. Not a single pokemon in the streets. Music hummed from entertainment buildings, billboards flashed their animated adverts, the data antenna blinked its red and green lights at regular intervals. But it was broadcasting to a ghost town.

                                “Why is it so empty?” DL asked.

                                “I dunno, but I don’t like it.” He placed a paw on her shoulder and steered her towards the square. “Come on, let’s just hope the town hall is just as empty. It’ll make our job easier.”

                                Part of him worried everyone would be in the square waiting for him. But just like the rest of the city, it was empty. It made the town hall feel miles away, when in fact it was only a few short footsteps. When he reached it, he expected it to be locked. He got his computer out just in case, but the door opened smoothly under his paw.

                                Empty.

                                His jaw dropped. “What on earth is going on here?”

                                His voice came out as a whisper. An unnecessary whisper. But he feared any loud noise might draw out a lurking mob. He tiptoed across the hall to the town hall’s map. The governor’s office was on the ground floor, just like in Cyan City. He paced down the hallway with DL in tow, her thickly furred feet silent on the tiled floor. The both of them readied their guns and crouched beside the closed door to the governor’s office. Macro nudged it open and slipped inside laser first. A soft ringing reached his ears. His wide eyes flew around the room until they landed on the desk. A tiny chingling sat atop it, eating a sandwich much to big for him. His black eyes lit up when he saw Macro and he lowered his sandwich to give him a wave.

                                “Hiii!”

                                DL’s eyes narrowed and she lowered her laser. “Tweak!” she hissed.

                                “Socket’s PA?” Macro sneered. “What on earth are you doin’ here.”

                                “I’m here to relay a message.” Tweak flopped across the desk and picked up a scrap of paper. He cleared his throat as if he was about to give an important speech. “Eggs, paper, ink… Oh wait, this is the governor’s shopping list. Hang on.” The chingling discarded the scrap in favour of another one. “’Relocate the memory disk to Strobe Street Apartment. Number forty eight.’”

                                Macro’s heart felt like lead. His laser faltered and he stared at the grinning chingling, dumbfounded.

                                “’Make it easy’.” Tweak looked up at him, still grinning. “That was my order.” He discarded the paper and winked at Macro and DL. “Have fun! Maybe we’ll meet again.”

                                At that, Tweak vanished in a beam of purple light.

                                Every muscle in Macro’s body trembled. He clutched his laser so tight he almost fired off an accidental ground beam at the wall. He placed it back in his holster and steadied himself against the door. Why that apartment? The wretched gothitelle… what was she planning?

                                “I don’t like the sound of this,” said DL. “Why ‘make it easy’? Is it some kind of trick?”

                                “I’d say so,” said Macro.

                                “Then let’s leave it,” said DL. “I can just relearn my attacks like a hatchling. We’ll get there.”

                                “But you want to know what happened to your parents,” said Macro. “I can’t exactly teach you that.”

                                “No. But I could find out some other way.”

                                “But you wouldn’t know them,” he explained. “They wouldn’t be your memories. Just words from someone else. Didn’t you have friends? Brothers or sisters?”

                                She fumbled with her belt and looked away from him. “I don’t know.”

                                “Then… then let’s get this disk.” Macro turned from the room, keeping his paw on the wall. “Maybe he wasn’t lying about it being ‘easy’.”

                                “I don’t understand why she’s chosen this apartment,” she said. “Do you think I used to live there or something?”

                                “I don’t know.” Macro’s pads began to sweat, leaving marks on the wall. He retracted it to his side, avoiding DL’s eyes. “You said you were in an orphanage.”

                                “I know. Maybe something happened there?”

                                Macro stumbled out into the square, his legs turning to jelly. No, it was impossible. He scoured the skyline for the apartment block, clocking it just beyond the square. Then he grabbed his laser again and motioned the pachirisu towards it.

                                “If anything, she’s getting at me,” he explained. “I don’t exactly have good memories about that apartment.”

                                “Oh?” She turned her head to look at him. “What happened?”

                                “I don’t like to talk about it,” he said, getting a disappointed look in return. “Listen, I’ll tell you everything once we’re out of this place. I just wanna put it behind me. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. And all this eerie emptiness ain’t exactly helpin’ matters.”

                                Strobe Street was just as Macro remembered it. It opened out onto a park which served as the lone apartment block’s garden. Along the street was a club that seemed to exist solely to emulate the street’s name. At night a strobe light flickered in the doorway, making anything that got too close also strobe like a badly executed stop-motion animation.

                                “Well, here we are.” Macro approached the apartment’s door. “Now to see how ‘easy’ he’s made this.”

                                Before attempting to use his computer to hack the door open, he instead stuck his claws in the side and pulled. The door slid open like a well-oiled machine. Macro’s eyes widened and he felt his heart lurch in his chest. So far, things were going ridiculously easy, and he hated it.

                                “We don’t have to do this.” DL’s soft voice placated him. “It’s clearly upsetting you.”

                                “No, I’m fine. We’ll be quick. Quick and painless, like a band-aid.”

                                He didn’t even need to look at the floor chart. He knew exactly where forty eight was. It was on the forth floor, right beside the back stairwell. If they took the elevator, they’d be there in no time flat.

                                He called for it, and it came down smoothly. No rattle. Nothing like a Pulse City elevator. No indication it had ever been damaged. The musical chime as it reached them seemed so loud in the silence that Macro almost leapt out of his fur. DL placed a paw on his shoulder and he flushed, trying to mask his embarrassment.

                                The mirrored interior did nothing to alleviate the crushing claustrophobic feeling. Already he could smell smoke. Smoke that wasn’t there, yet grew in intensity the closer they got to the fourth level. When the doors opened, everything was fine. No smoke. No blackness.

                                He sought out the door numbers, and groaned when he realised they were at the wrong end of the corridor. Forty and forty one.

                                The tiled floor was the one thing that was different since his last visit. No carpet. Nothing that can feed a fire. He rubbed his arms as a chill washed over him, and he tried to beat back an intrusive memory. A crying child’s voice wailed in his mind and he shook his head violently, trying to dispel it. DL gave him a concerned look, and he realised she’d asked him something.

                                “Sorry?” he asked, running a hand over the base of his horn.

                                “I asked if you’re okay?” She paused and pointed at a door. “Because we’re here.”

                                He fixed his eyes on the door. Open. Why was it open? He gave it a push, revealing a plush room. Definitely not as he remembered it. It had previously been filled with black and chrome furniture, belonging to a male. This clearly belonged to a mother and her family. He shrugged it off, relieved that he wasn’t going to be reliving his time here much longer.

                                The disk sat on the dining table, right beside a plush pichu. His heart lurched into his throat and he snatched the disk, turning away from the plush toy.

                                “Got it. Let’s go.” He slipped past DL and out into the hallway.

                                “So it really was easy,” she mused, closing the door behind them.

                                “Too easy,” he said. “I don’t understand it at all.”

                                He held the disk between his thumb and index claw, scrutinising it. It looked like any other disk. He leant back against the elevator’s glass wall and frowned, turning the disk back and forth. It was locked, just like the others. Deep down he worried it had been infected, and that dread was slowly growing. How was he ever meant to find out without putting DL at risk?

                                Once out of the apartment, he was glad to have it behind him. He popped the disk into his belt and walked as quickly as his legs would allow towards the docks. Still not a single pokemon in sight. Where was everyone? Had Tweak hidden the entire electric population?

                                “I’m gonna be honest, DL. I’m worried she’s done something to this disk.”

                                DL pawed at her ear and ‘hmm’d’. “It was rather too easy. But… you did wonder if it was a way of getting to you?”

                                “Right now there’d be no better way of getting to me than hurting you.” He paused beside his ship, realising what he’d just said.

                                She shifted beside him and looked out at the sky. “But… she doesn’t know that, does she?”

                                “I dunno.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe she does? I have been trying to help you, haven’t I?”

                                “Well it would still be criminal.” DL sighed and met his eyes. “You’re going to install it anyway. If there’s a chance at getting my moves back, I want that. But…” She trailed off and looked away from him, clawing at her ear.

                                He took her paw and steered her onto his ship. Once they were back in his familiar cockpit, a flood of relief washed through him. That was it. Botnet City would be miles behind them before he knew it. Back to Cyan City for a drink and a good rest. Unless it was the wrong disk… but after all that, Meta City could wait a day or two.

                                “Let’s set this to auto pilot back to Cyan City,” he said. “Then… then we’ll install that disk.”

                                It was a safety measure. He didn’t know how to pilot the thing, and if DL ended up incapacitated, he didn’t want to be left stranded. She said nothing as she coded in the co-ordinates. The ship flared to life, pulling away from Botnet City. Further away from his nightmares.

                                He pulled the disk from his pocket and popped it into his computer. A message popped up on the screen from Matrix. Probably wondering where he’d gone. That would have to wait until later.

                                The jack lead was tucked neatly away beneath Matrix’s navigation deck. He pulled it out and connected one end to his computer. He had to sit down. His nerves were on fire, making everything tremble.

                                DL took it from him and loaded up the disk, then connected the jack lead to her socket.

                                “It’s easy,” she said. “Matrix just drags everything over. But… promise me something?”

                                He met her eyes as he took the computer back from her.

                                “Just…” She stuttered. “Every memory has had its own fair share of shocks since the second disk. I really don’t want to be alone.”

                                “You’re not alone,” he said. “We’ve never left you alone during this.”

                                She sank into him, and he lifted a trembling paw to her shoulder. Now he understood what she meant. Her claws wound into his scarf, and he looked down at the computer. Such a simple procedure, yet it filled him with dread.

                                “I guess now isn’t a good time to tell you I’m terrified, huh?” he asked.

                                Silence. Claws digging into his chest. He ignored it and dragged all the information from the disk to DL’s internal computer.

                                She went limp, making his heart leap and stirring up nausea. His eyes snapped to her antenna, but it wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. That filled him with relief and he let out a sigh as he pulled her into him. Her concerns about the memories made a lot of sense to him now. If she was old enough to remember what happened to her parents, then she might not take it very well. He knew that feeling. When he lost his own mother, he’d not had anyone to turn to. No family. No friends.

                                The blinking light returned to its normal steady blue glow, and DL came back to her senses. Her claws dug back into his scarf. He trailed a paw over her shoulder and opened his mouth to speak, but her entire body turned rigid. Something collided with his chest, knocking him back into the dashboard. She scurried back from him on her bottom, her chocolate eyes cold and livid.

                                “It was you!” she screeched.

                                Macro’s jaw dropped. “What?”

                                “You! You’re the one who killed my parents!” She pulled herself up against the door, her entire body shaking. Her tail bristled like a brush.

                                He pushed himself to his feet and stretched a paw out to her. “Wait… DL…”

                                “Get away from me!” Electricity sparked from her yellow cheeks, but the sparks trailed behind her and she screamed, clutching a paw to the jack at the base of her skull. She removed the lead and threw it to the floor. “You’re the reason I ended up in that orphanage. You’re the reason I ended up with her!”

                                She turned and bolted down the corridor.

                                Macro sank down against the dashboard, tears pricking at his eyes. It all made so much sense now. Why Socket had sent him to that wretched apartment. Why it had been so ‘easy’. A sob shook his body and he lowered his head into his arms. Tears soaked through his fur and he let out a low whine. DL had lived there. And he’d burnt it to the ground.

                                ...

                                Anchor let out a cheer as the dash hummed to life. He leapt to his feet, smacking his head on the dashboard in the process. He ducked out from beneath it, rubbing at his mohawk.

                                “Looks like we’ve done it, guys!” he called to the back of the ship.

                                Switch scurried out from the engine room with Matrix on his head. The ribombee tapped at his tiny computer.

                                “Success,” he said. “Power is re-routed from the engine, while still providing us with the means to move. The ship now has full power, and Macro still hasn’t answered my message.”

                                “Probably in the thick of trouble,” Anchor growled.

                                Switch opened his beak to speak, but Anchor silenced him with a wave of his paw.

                                “I’ve had enough of your sass right now!” he said. “If you’re gonna keep goin’ on about my bad decisions, you can keep that beak shut.”

                                Switch raised a wing. “I wasn’t going to give you any sass.”

                                “Then what were you gonna say?”

                                The talonflame closed his beak and huddled down beside the door.

                                “Thought so,” said Anchor. “Let’s get this bag of bolts to Botnet City then, and lend Macro a paw.”

                                He sat back in the captain’s chair and steered the ship towards Botnet City. It rocked and swayed as what was left of the tympole’s rudder tail strained to push them on.

                                “I have a bad feeling about this.” Switch keeled forward, turning pale beneath his feathers.

                                “Me too. There ain’t no way we’re gonna make it in time,” said Anchor. “I’d send another message, just in case he didn’t hear it the first time.”

                                “Already well ahead of you.” Matrix popped his computer away and landed on the dash beside Anchor. “Wow, it feels like we’re sailing through the ocean.”

                                Switch dry-heaved behind them.

                                Anchor sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Come on, Macro. Give us a sign of life at least.”

                                ...

                                Fire. So much fire.

                                No matter what Macro did, he couldn’t clear the image from his head. He huddled against the dashboard, staring blankly at the door, watching the blaze in his mind.

                                A little voice cut through the inferno, snapping Macro back to reality. “Captain?”

                                He jerked his head up to meet Cookie’s concerned face. The brown slurpuff stood with a tray in his chubby paws, topped with a pink ice cream smoothie.

                                “I brought you something,” he said. “Since you missed lunch.”

                                “I’m not hungry.”

                                Macro let his paws fall from his lap to his sides. His claws brushed his computer and he looked down at it. ‘Matrix, 2 messages’.

                                “Okay, well…” Cookie shuffled his feet. “If you change your mind-”

                                “I’ll tell you.” Macro picked up his computer and opened the messages, quickly reading over them. “You have to be kidding me…”

                                ‘Hey, Macro. That ship you hit? That was us, you big goof.’

                                He shook his head as he opened the next one.

                                ‘We’ve got it running again, but it sucks. Come get us.’

                                Macro pulled himself to his feet, stuffing his computer into his pocket. So he’d almost killed his own crew. He’d almost lost everything… He bit back a sob and turned to the controls. How on earth was he meant to steer this thing? To find them? How far behind were they now? He checked the messages again. The most recent one had only been sent five minutes ago. That gave him some hope at least.

                                He fired off a message of his own, telling them to look for him. That he was only ten minutes away from Botnet City, in auto pilot to Cyan City. Then he stuffed it back into his pouch and leant back against the dashboard.

                                Cookie was still stood in the cockpit. Macro fixed one eye on him, prompting the slurpuff to speak.

                                “Is something wrong?” he asked.

                                “Yeh. Anchor and the others are in Surge’s ship. I almost blew it up.” Macro waved a paw at Cookie and moved into the corridor. “Do with that what you will.”

                                “DL doesn’t look too good either.”

                                Macro froze in the doorway, not looking back at Cookie. “Yeh well… that’s because I killed her family.”

                                Cookie let out a squeal and dropped the tray. The smoothie glass smashed on the floor, sending ice cream everywhere. Macro didn’t even flinch.

                                “Yeh,” he went on. “I’m a walking wreck. My past always comes back to haunt me. Now I’ve hurt her, too.”

                                He shuffled out of the cockpit towards his room. Soft sobs froze him in his tracks and he looked over at DL’s door. The knife in his chest twisted. He turned and placed a paw on the panel, letting the door slide open. DL lay huddled on top of the duvet, but her ear twitched at the sound of someone entering.

                                “Go away,” she growled.

                                “No,” he said. “Not until you hear me out.”

                                “Go away!”

                                She sat bolt upright as she launched a pillow at his head. It bounced off and hit the floor. He flinched. How on earth did a pillow hurt?

                                “DL, listen to me,” he said. “That day you’re remembering is the worst day of my life.”

                                “Yeh? Well oddly enough it’s not the worst day of mine.” She flopped back onto her bed and turned her back on him. “Yet you’re responsible for both of them.”

                                “It was an accident. A terrible one!”

                                “An accident doesn’t bring my family back, or take this computer out of my head.”

                                “I know. I don’t have the power to change any of that. But believe me, I want to help you.”

                                “And what makes it worse?” She lifted her head slightly and stared at the wall. “I’ve kissed my parents’ killer. The sleazy pirate responsible for landing me in that orphanage!”

                                He clenched his paws so tightly his claws dug into his pads. He let out a choked sob and collapsed against the door.

                                “I had a sister, too,” she went on. “Not even a year old. She also died in that fire. And given I had no surviving family prior to that, I am well and truly alone.” Her voice broke off and she sobbed into her pillow. “Now go away.”

                                “I’m sorry,” he choked.

                                “I don’t want to hear it. Now leave!”

                                “No! Please, just listen to me!” He sank down to the floor. “I’m not some murderous monster!”

                                DL didn’t answer, but he could see her body shaking as she sobbed silently, curled tightly into a ball. She clutched her thick tail like a comfort blanket. All he wanted to do was scoop her into his arms and comfort her, hating the pokemon who’d done this to her. He screwed his eyes shut and swiped the tears away with the back of his paw.

                                “You must have noticed other pokemon call me Hunter,” he said. “Well, truth is that was never my real name. It was some dumb alias I adopted from the first group of pirates who took me on.”

                                “What’s that got to do with anything?” she spat.

                                “Everything.” He paused and wound his paws together. “Hunter died that day.”

                                She wiped her eyes with a paw, but she didn’t look back at him. Her ears pricked up, that was enough to spur him on.

                                “You see, Anchor and I took a job in Botnet City,” he said. “Was a weapons raid, someone had tipped us off that Socket had links with a guy who made explosives. Government weapons are like gold in Pulse City, and I was their main supplier. Things never went easy, but I couldn’t turn my nose up at one guy making them in his apartment.

                                “When we got there, getting in was easy. Simple hack job, broke the door. Same old, same old. His apartment were empty though, and filled with chrome and black furniture. I remember that little detail clearly. Stuffed in his bedroom, or what would have been his bedroom, was a lab full of explosives. We grabbed all we could as quick as we could and made to leave. Three sacks between us. Anchor carried two.

                                “What we weren’t expecting was to run into a heavily armed, almost entirely cybernetic electabuzz in the hallway. No sooner he saw us, he was swinging his mechanical arm about, slicing at me with leaf blades, throwing water shurikens. All stuff electabuzz aren’t meant to know. But in this day and age, it’s hardly surprising. So we fought back. Dropped the bags, well Anchor dropped his bags, I kept mine on my shoulder and fired my laser with my free arm. I was aiming for his bionic parts. ‘Take them out, he can’t do anything.’ They weren’t impervious to my ground lasers, but they kept bouncing off and hitting the wall. Left horrible scuff marks, and some blew chunks in them. That’s where part of the disaster happened.

                                “You see, Anchor was relying heavily on his fire fang. Trying to get in close-”

                                “Don’t you go blaming him for the fire!” DL hissed.

                                “I’m not!” Macro snapped. “Like I said, it was an accident! Anyway, he couldn’t hit the guy with his fire fang. So he tried his gauntlets. Good thing he brought them along, because a few thunder punches and he shorted the electabuzz’s main weapon arm. So he retaliated back with a thunder punch of his own. Met Anchor’s gauntlet head on. Sparks flew and hit the exposed wires. They overheated and ignited, sparking all along the corridor and burning through the paint. That’s when I decided to bail. Fired one more ground laser at his legs and ran.

                                “I thought Anchor was behind me, but he wasn’t. He was still fightin’ that electabuzz. He had Anchor cornered against the wall. So I fired again, blowing the electabuzz back. I kinda caught Anchor in the blast. Injured his leg. He grabbed one sack of the explosives and limped after me. But that electabuzz weren’t down for the count. He got back up and fired off his other, weaker limb. So I panicked. I fired back and the lasers hit. Water and ground. It’s so ironic that they caused a blast that ignited the bombs. Nails flew everywhere from that sack, along with sparks, igniting newly exposed wires. The wall and floor caved in, and that guy’s room collapsed. I fell right through to the floor below, but Anchor didn’t come with me.

                                “He looked down at me. Asked if I were okay. I weren’t, I’d landed on a sack of explosives that thankfully hadn’t blown me sky high. But fire were everywhere. Another explosion came from outside and shook the building. There went the rest of the guy’s work. Thankfully not taking the whole place down with it. I told him to find the quickest way out and take it, I’d do the same.

                                “When I looked around, I were sat in a smoldering pile of rubble. And it was growing quickly. I had to get out, but the window was blocked off by wood and steel. Wires sparked right by it, lighting up whatever they touched. So I turned and ran for the door.

                                “That’s when I grew aware of alarms blaring. Pokemon fled from the apartment. I had to duck back into the room and wait for them to clear. No sense being caught and accused for it all. The floor above me was ablaze now. There was no runnin’ to the rooftops and waitin’ for Wildcard Beta. No waitin’ for Digit to send down the ladder. No waitin’ for Anchor to bail me out. I grabbed the sack of explosives and tried to find the most fire-free route.

                                “It weren’t easy. It spread fast along the wires. Fuse boxes exploded. The alarm went off, plunging the place into silence. All the screams were outside, so I guessed everyone had got out. That gave me a lot of freedom to find my own way without getting caught. I tell you, there’s little as frightening as clambering through a blaze with a sack of explosives. But I weren’t leaving it behind to blow up in the blaze. Noble or foolish? I think it were the latter. Place was already falling to bits.

                                “But when I got to the second floor, the stairs were blocked up. Hot fire licked at my fur, reminding me if I climbed through it, I’d go up with the bombs. So I had to find another way. I tell you, I’ve never been so scared. I never admitted it to Anchor either. Or Digit. As I climbed along a blazing hallway looking for a window, I heard crying. A little kid crying, not an adult. It froze me. I realised I wasn’t the only one still in there. Pokemon were trapped.

                                “I kicked the door down, not wanting to fire off my laser again. It took more than one kick, too. Three hits and I was in, and greeted by thick smoke and intense heat. They’d been two floors below the blast, yet bits of ceiling and furniture lay about the place where it had fallen through. Flames licked down like stalactites. It were like some fiery cave. The crying was louder, and I spotted two pokemon under all that rubble. A raichu, and the tail of a female pikachu. It didn’t take a genius to work out the both of them were dead.” His voice broke off and he took a steadying breath. “I’d never witnessed that. But I tried to shut it out, find the crying child. I took the room to the right, climbing over a fallen beam. The tiny room was in a better state than the other one, but smoke billowed down from above. And there, standing in a cot-bed screaming for his parents was a pichu.

                                “I grabbed him under one arm, told him we’d get out of there. He kept asking where his parents were, but I wouldn’t let him see the mess. I couldn’t. I dropped the sack, grabbed my laser, and blasted a hole into the next apartment. The entire place could’ve come down, I don’t know what I was thinkin’. I suppose seeing your own mother lying dead does weird things to your head. You don’t want anyone else to experience the same, especially not a kid barely two years old.

                                “I grabbed the sack again and, with the pichu under one arm, climbed into the next room. I checked the window - too high up. If we jumped, we’d both die. I needed to get down another floor. So I ran for the door, but before I reached it the floor began to give way. Flames erupted up from it like a flippin’ volcano. I back-pedalled to the window and took another look out. Grass. The park. Teaming with pokemon. Was it really worth jumping two floors?

                                “I had no choice. I dropped the sack, grabbed the kid in both arms, and threw myself backwards out the window. I heard screams. Yelps of surprise. But I missed the grass by a good way, landing in a pond. I rose up sputtering, nudged aside by a water dweller. The seaking stared at me, questioning. I apologised. Told him I had to run, and could he get the kid to shore? The pichu shouted for me, but I left him. Clambered out and ran as fast as I could out of the park.

                                “If anyone gave chase, I’ve no clue. But they knew I were responsible. I wouldn’t have been worth forty thousand credits if no one knew. But that’s when things really fell apart. Digit told me I were crazy. She left the next day. And I made the decision to scrap Wildcard Beta. Hunter’s trademark huntail would fly no more. That were its last mission, and one I desperately wanted to forget.” He took in a trembling breath and stared at the window. “But I can’t. I don’t think I ever will.”

                                DL shuffled on the bed, briefly glancing up at him. “More than twenty pokemon died in that blaze.”

                                “I know.”

                                “I’m glad you thought to rescue Cogs, but that doesn’t make up for it.”

                                “I know.”

                                She sighed and rolled back to face the wall. “No one ever mentioned Cogs’ mysterious rescuer. Or the seaking. All I know about it is he somehow survived and made it outside when his parents didn’t. He kept saying it was a pirate, but no one believed him. Thought it was just childish babble, or that he was traumatised. He ended up at Botnet City orphanage, taking one of the few places left, while I ended up in Meta City.”

                                “I don’t expect recognition, I started the flippin’ thing.”

                                “Loop spent years hating Hunter for what he did,” said DL.

                                Macro looked up at her, but she still had her back to him.

                                “Now I don’t know,” she went on. “I want to forgive you, but I don’t think I can. Not right now.”

                                There was that twisting knife again. He leant forwards on his knees and buried his face into his arms.

                                “I’ll stay here until we get back to Cyan City,” she said. “Then I’m going my own way. I’ll get that last disk somehow, but I won’t be accepting your help anymore.”

                                He lifted his head again and wiped fresh tears from his cheeks. “I have escape pods.” His voice wavered.

                                “Huh?”

                                “I have escape pods,” he repeated. “You may as well use them. I’ll be scrapping this ship after all this is over anyway. This will be the last job I ever take.”

                                “What are you talking about?” she scoffed.

                                “I’m saying Wildcard is over. I can’t take this anymore. Living in fear and pain.”

                                “Now you’re trying to be a martyr?” She gave a single, dry laugh. “I’d say you’ve brought it all on yourself. Now leave.”

                                He pushed himself to his feet, anger burning inside him. He flashed a canine in her direction and scanned the door open. “You want that pod or not?”

                                “I’ll take it. I guess getting it back doesn’t matter since you’re ‘scrapping this ship’.”

                                He stomped from the room and let the door close behind him. His throat tightened as he repressed a sob and pushed himself towards the cockpit. Right before him flew a huge tympole, struggling to stay airborne. It looked like it had just done a lap of Wildcard Gamma and was preparing to do another one. He muttered under his breath and pushed the button for the cargo hold. The wishiwashi opened its jaws, swallowing the tympole whole. It closed again behind it, and he turned to head to the cargo hold.

                                Before he reached it, a disgruntled granbull threw the door open.

                                “What in the world, Macro?!” he snapped. “First you take off, then you take forever and a day to spot us? Or were you just watchin’ for… Good grief, are you all right?”

                                Matrix landed on Anchor’s shoulder and leant forward to examine Macro. “Your eyes are all puffy.”

                                “DL’s leaving,” said Macro. “She’s taking one of the pods.”

                                Anchor’s jaw dropped. “What happened?”

                                Macro moved across the loot room to the far side, where two small escape pods waited. There were two on either side of the ship, each one resembling a tiny part of the schooling wishiwashi. The little blue fish were big enough for two pokemon of Anchor’s size to comfortably sit in.

                                Switch shuffled behind him, watching his every movement. “You two looked so happy back in Cyan City. What could happen in only a day?”

                                “Remember that fire back in Botnet?” Macro asked Anchor. “Well apparently her parents lived in that apartment.”

                                “You’re kiddin’ me?” Anchor scoffed. “So you got her memories then?”

                                “Yep. And Socket made it real easy for me by vacating the entire city, and relocating the disk to the very apartment number all of that started in.”

                                “The vindictive little…” Anchor clenched his fists and seethed. “So now she’s leavin’… Guess it’s some sneaky way of Socket gettin’ her alone, huh.”

                                Macro froze with one paw over the escape pod’s panel. He hadn’t considered that.

                                “Then there’s no way she’s going alone.” He turned to face his crew, and his eyes fell on Switch. “Could you… would you go with her?”

                                His voice cracked again, and he bit back fresh tears. No, not in front of his crew.

                                Switch nodded his head. “Of course. Anything.”

                                Macro took a steadying breath and moved away from the pod. “Look after her then. Make sure Socket doesn’t get her wicked paws on her.” His voice broke off and he slumped into the wall, wiping away fresh tears.

                                ‘If DL still wishes to obtain Loop’s memories, then by all means find them… But be warned that chasing down these disks will result in pain for the both of you.’

                                The memory of Solgaleo’s words caused a dry, strangled choke to escape his throat. If he’d known exactly what pain they’d have caused… would he have still gone after them?

                                “Go and lie down, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We’ll sort this out.”

                                Macro waved a paw over his shoulder and slumped to his room. Exhausted, beaten and sore. Fresh tears continued to fall long after he heard the escape pod rattle away.
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                                Old October 6th, 2018 (2:15 AM). Edited October 6th, 2018 by Delirious Absol.
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                                Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                Call me Del
                                   
                                  Join Date: May 2015
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                                  Part Five - Terror

                                  Chapter Sixty Four

                                  It had taken BackDoor several days, but he found it. Just what he was looking for. A powerful pocket in time and space, one that radiated promise. The other ones he’d found had paled in comparison, throwing out large and impressive Ultra Beasts that hadn’t held up to the hoopa’s standards. None of them had listened. None of them could speak. Or if they could, they didn’t speak any language he knew.

                                  Hopefully whatever resided on the other side of that pocket would be able to understand him.

                                  He removed the hoop from his left horn and span around in a quick, wide circle. The pocket opened instantly, glowing golden around the rim. The ultraviolet mist pulsed with energy, flickering and strobing off the hoopa’s metallic shell. Something moved in the mist, growing larger until its shadow took shape. Huge wings spanned out from its long body, its movements similar to that of a seviper. Then it lurched forwards, bursting from the pocket in a flash of ultraviolet light.

                                  BackDoor keeled backwards, keeping his eyes on the creature. It was like nothing he’d ever seen. Grey and black with red highlights, ornamented with what looked like a solid gold harness over its neck. Each wing split into three. No legs to speak of, just spikes along the side of its body. And it didn’t even flap its wings. It just floated there. Staring at him through a pair of tiny, red eyes.

                                  BackDoor let out a thoughtful noise as he swerved to the side to get a better look at the creature. It copied him, keeping its eyes on his. But as it moved, its body seemed to distort as though it didn’t quite belong in System.

                                  “Not like the others,” he said. “You’ve got a funny mist trailing you.”

                                  “What did you call me here for?” If the creature had a mouth, it didn’t open it to speak.

                                  BackDoor jolted with surprise, then broke into a gleeful giggle. “Oh boy! You speak!”

                                  “Of course I speak,” the creature hissed. “Now what did you call me here for?”

                                  BackDoor shrugged. “Oh, just fun. I’m bored. Bored of looking for a new world for this world’s mayor to flee into. So I’ve been playing with Ultra Beasts.”

                                  “Ultra Beasts,” the creature repeated. “What are Ultra Beasts?”

                                  “What you are, of course!” said BackDoor. “Weird creatures from another world.” He mused for a moment, looking the creature up and down. It distorted again, and he thought he saw a leg. “No idea what to call you though.”

                                  “I have many names,” the creature said. “Griseous, The Altered One, The Banished Beast. Some even call me Giratina.”

                                  BackDoor waved a mitten paw. “Then I suppose I should come up with something better. But I’ve just been throwing guesses at these other beasts. Most recent one I named Assembly ‘cos it were made of bricks that stacked one by one when it appeared. Thought it were never gonna stop. So… what do you do exactly? Other than… change shape, clearly.”

                                  The creature hissed again, but BackDoor couldn’t tell if it was out of anger, frustration, or just because ‘why not?’

                                  “I distort things,” it said. “Distort time and space to my own liking. If that destroys worlds, then so what?” It twisted its head around to take in its surroundings. “I’ve been stuck in the Distortion World for centuries. I’m not familiar with this world. What is this place? It’s so empty. Did I destroy it?”

                                  “System Sky.” BackDoor swerved onto his back and tucked his paws behind his head, keeping both eyes on the creature. “Miles above System Ground. Floating cities, flying ships… you know the math. So… Distorting things, eh? I like it. I think I’ll name you Distortion.”

                                  The creature seemed to think about this, then shrugged. “Show me this ‘System’.”

                                  Before BackDoor could reply, the creature dived at him. A grey mist surrounded the android’s body, and he let out a mechanical scream as something invaded his processors. After the mist settled, he rubbed his eyes. The creature was gone, yet he could still feel it around him.

                                  “Oi!” he yipped. “Where’d you go?”

                                  ‘It’s hard to move in this world of yours.’ The voice hissed inside his head. ‘So I’ll use your eyes and body as my own. Move.’

                                  BackDoor grinned and let out a chuckle. “Kinda like Symbiont. All right, where do you wanna go first?”

                                  The creature didn’t answer. Instead, BackDoor found himself plummeting towards System Ground.

                                  ...

                                  The little shuttle rattled towards the ground, losing altitude at a steady pace. Switch, having never controlled such a vehicle, left everything up to DL. But he really wished the machine was in his own hands. He cowered beside her, feeling every small movement she made against his feathers. Oh, how he wished he could just get out and fly. Carry her with him and get them both to safety, to leave the tiny wishiwashi escape pod to crash down on the mountains far away from them.

                                  The Backbone Mountains were growing closer, their snowy peaks rising out of the clouds. As the shuttle slipped through them, mist surrounded it briefly before the ground came into clear view. DL dragged the steering stick towards her, levelling them out. The wheels touched ground and it lurched, bouncing along the uneven surface until it came to a smooth and steady stop.

                                  She took in a shaky breath and brushed the fur between her ears out of her eyes. “Here we are.”

                                  Switch grunted and shifted uneasily. “Sheer mastery of mechanical wings.”

                                  “Let’s move. I’m itching to get off this thing.”

                                  She clambered from her seat and shimmied past him to the door. He didn’t hesitate. As soon as he was standing on sturdy, rocky ground, he spread his wings wide and embraced the open air.

                                  “Oh boy!” he said. “Fresh, mountain air! No ship! No cities! Oh, what freedom feels like!”

                                  DL shuffled away from him and he snapped his eyes back open, fixing them on her back.

                                  “DL?” He gave a little flutter to catch up with her. “Where are you going?”

                                  “Getting a better view.”

                                  Her eyes were still red and puffy. She cast them down the mountain slope to the village below. It wasn’t one Switch recognised. But after a thousand years, things can change drastically. She looked up and let out a trembling sigh.

                                  “I’ve no idea where Meta City is from here.” Her voice wavered and she pawed at her ear.

                                  Switch tucked his wings in at his sides and looked over at the vast landscape. “If it’s still in the same place it was in my time-line, I could fly you there in a couple of days.”

                                  DL lashed out at a small rock with her foot, sending it skittering down the side of the mountain. Then she fell to her bottom and let out a frustrated groan.

                                  “I’ve no idea where it is!” she snapped. “Besides, it’s not like I can just waltz in there and have her hand me the disk back, is it?”

                                  “We weren’t expecting it to be easy,” he said.

                                  She toyed with a few stray stalks of grass growing through the cracks in the rocks. “I have no memories of my family. Just that they’d died in that blaze. I wasn’t even there, Switch. I was at a friend’s house, we were studying. Then I saw the news… saw the flames in the distance…” She wiped a paw over her eyes and wailed. “Why did he do that?!”

                                  Switch settled down beside her, keeping his wings to himself. He wasn’t sure whether or not she’d appreciate a bird-hug, and he wasn’t willing to risk upsetting her further.

                                  “Listen,” he said. “I don’t know all the details. Just what little Anchor could tell me before he went to get you. But… as terrible as it is, it was an accident. He didn’t do it to be vindictive.”

                                  “But it’s the principle!” she snapped. “Why fire off weapons in a freakin’ apartment building? And while there are pokemon living in it… asleep?! So many died in their sleep!”

                                  Switch closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I guess it depends on who fired the first shot.”

                                  She scoffed and looked away. “That sounds like something he would say.”

                                  “I don’t agree with firing explosive weapons and lasers in an occupied building,” said Switch. “But for the sake of self defence… what was he meant to do? Just let the guy kill him?”

                                  DL looked up at the clouds and blinked back tears. “No… but he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” She paused and toyed with her belt. “Neither of them should. I don’t think anyone even knew someone was manufacturing bombs in the building.”

                                  “Those could have gone off even without Macro’s help.”

                                  DL visibly flinched at his name. “Don’t talk about him. Stop talking about him!”

                                  Switch raised his wings and nodded. “Okay. Okay. Let’s… let’s just get to Meta City. Get that disk back.”

                                  She sobbed heavily and her head fell into her paws. She huddled up, wrapping her tail tight around her legs. “I’m sorry…”

                                  “What for? You’re hurting. I’d understand if you threw rocks at me.”

                                  “No… I shouldn’t be lashing out at you.” Her shoulders shook and she choked back a sob. “I’m torn… between the way Loop feels for him, and the way DL feels for him. Loop hates him, but she’s me. They’re both me.” She looked up, fixing tearful red eyes on his. “Have you any idea how confusing that is for me?”

                                  Switch swallowed and licked his beak, diverting his gaze to the horizon. “No… I really don’t. But it sounds like torture.”

                                  “It’s like I’m being torn in two.” She wiped her eyes on her arm. “I just want to get those memories back. Maybe then… maybe then I can sort out my head.”

                                  “Well…” He shuffled, ruffling his feathers. “You might not be DL anymore. You should prepare yourself for that.”

                                  “At least I won’t be torn in two.”

                                  He was silent for a moment, gazing down at the village below. What do you say in these situations? He couldn’t very well tell her to just pull herself together.

                                  “Shall we head to Meta City then?” he asked.

                                  “No, I want to just sit here for a while.”

                                  He nodded and stood up, spreading his wings wide. “Do you mind if I take a quick flight? I could do with a stretch.”

                                  “Do what you want.”

                                  He looked back down at her, ready to tell her he’d only be a minute or two. But her head was back in her arms, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. No. He couldn’t leave her. He sat back down and ventured a wing on her back.

                                  “I can’t get… Loop’s hatred… out of my head,” she said. “The image of those flames glowing in the dark… the venom she felt when she heard it was Hunter… I even remember some of the drawings. Horrible, vengeful drawings of Wildcard Beta shot out of the sky. Then Gamma when he upgraded it. Just burning…”

                                  Switch’s mouth went dry. “Would it help if you just saw him as part of the catalyst that started the fire?”

                                  “No. Because I just keep seeing him as the blazing torch.” She lifted her head to take a breath. “I want to forgive him, but I can’t. Because he’s the reason all this happened. That day, my life was set to end. And it ended in Socket’s claws. It never would have if that fire hadn’t happened.”

                                  “Yes, but he’s trying to help you get your life back,” Switch explained. “See it as some kind of surprise redemption. A way of him fixing something that… from what Anchor’s told me, he just can’t get over?”

                                  She shook her head sharply and hid it back in her arms. “I can’t… It’s too hard. I’m warring with five years of pent-up hatred. That’s not something only a mere couple of weeks can fix.”

                                  “But you got to know him. Before you got those memories back, did he seem to you the kind of pokemon to deliberately hurt others?”

                                  She said nothing. Just silently kept her head hidden in her arms. With a sigh, Switch rose to his feet again and spread his wings.

                                  “I’ll be back in a minute or so,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.”

                                  Silence.

                                  He gave one last glance at her before rising into the air. All the tension and emotional weight left his body the higher he rose into the sky. Then he let himself drop, swooping down the side of the mountain. A flick of his wings brought him up again until he levelled out, gliding over the village. Sparse greenery surrounded it. Where once there was a forest, there was now a large mall. Flickering lights competed with the antenna. What was left of the river coalesced in a mucky lake. A huge, chrome water wheel churned the lake towards a factory he guessed either filtered it out, or used it as some kind of ‘green fuel’. He turned his tail on the unsightly mess and returned to the mountain, taking in the clean air and what was left of the woods that had previously dotted the mountain side.

                                  Something roared above him and he froze mid-flap to turn his head towards it. A large, black and green object hurtled towards him. He let out a squawk and flapped his wings frantically, flying backwards before turning tail and skyrocketing towards the ground. The object rushed past him, blasting him with hot air. He dropped, landing in a crumpled heap mere feet away from their escape pod.

                                  An almighty crash followed the anomaly, then a earsplitting screech as it came to a halt over the jagged rocks. He pushed himself up, groaning with the effort. Oh, his poor body. That would leave a bruise. He tucked his wings into his sides and looked over at what had just knocked him out of the sky.

                                  A ship, shaped like a pyukumyuku. A space pirate ship?

                                  DL poked her head out from behind the escape pod. He hopped over to her and followed her gaze to the ship.

                                  “Thank goodness you’re alright,” he whispered to her.

                                  She shook her head and shushed him, pointing him towards the ship.

                                  The door clattered open, and a disgruntled scrafty staggered out of it. He gave the contraption a kick, denting the tin sides. He hopped backwards clutching his foot in both paws and cursing loudly. A skuntank followed him, tailed closely by a figure that caused Switch to let out an involuntary yelp. A human girl, dressed in stereotypical pirate clothing. She folded her arms and frowned at the ship, looking it up and down. A decidueye joined her side, sandwiching her between a goldeen in a goldfish bowl, held up on mechanical legs. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he’d have thought someone were telling him a crazy bedtime story.

                                  “Well, it got us over the ocean at least,” said the skuntank. “Otherwise we’d all be swimming to shore.”

                                  “I wanted it to get us to Meta City,” the scrafty grumbled. “Now we’re stranded in the mountains with no way to get any repairs!”

                                  “I can harvest some scraps,” said the decidueye. “You lot can camp out here and enjoy the clean air.”

                                  The human sniffed a couple of times then looked up at the sky. “Oh yeh! They sky’s not yellow here.”

                                  “No, it’s not, dear,” said the skuntank. “Because this mountain is actually out of bounds. We’re not even supposed to be in it.”

                                  “Aye,” said the scrafty. “Rumour has it Socket’s goons wait at the bottom and shoot anyone who tries. A barrier surrounds the place. Dunno what good it does. Photos surface from time to time on conspiracy sites.”

                                  “Drones,” said the decidueye as he counted his arrows. “I think I’m set. I’ll be back by sunrise.”

                                  They watched the decidueye fly away down the side of the mountain.

                                  “So what do we do?” asked the goldeen. “Camp in the ship?”

                                  Switch ventured from his hiding spot and cleared his throat. The rag-tag group looked up at him with identical expressions of surprise. For the scrafty, it melted into rage. The others, however, didn’t seem to know what to make of him.

                                  “Who are you?” the scrafty snapped. “One of Socket’s soldiers here to kill us?”

                                  “No! I don’t want to do anything to you.” He neatened out his wings and smiled. “I was wondering what happened to your ship?”

                                  The scrafty snorted and opened his mouth to shout something else, but the skuntank silenced him by pushing him back into the ship. There was a clatter as he stumbled backwards over the ramp.

                                  “We were shot down by space pirates,” she explained. “We’re actually not in the pirate trade.”

                                  “We’re a rebellion!” the goldeen quipped.

                                  “That’s right, little fish!” said the human. “Time Archeops, here to fix System!”

                                  The skuntank waved her paws and shushed her. “Don’t just go announcing that to strangers!”

                                  “Why?” the human asked. “It’s how you spread a rebellion.”

                                  Switch cleared his throat again and took a cautious step towards them. “A rebellion? Against Socket?”

                                  “The very same,” said the girl.

                                  “And might I ask… Time Archeops?”

                                  The girl nodded again.

                                  “Are you… like me?” He raised his talons, displaying his watch.

                                  She stared at it curiously, raising an eyebrow. “Why would I be like a watch?”

                                  He pushed the button, expanding out into his human form. The skuntank staggered backwards, dropping a small, purple creature onto the ground. It shot into the sky, keeling away from him. The girl stared at Switch, aghast, while the goldeen let out a very boyish ‘Cool!’ In contrast, a ‘What the jack?!’ came from the ship.

                                  The girl pointed at him, ignoring the frantic squeals from her skuntank companion. “So let me get this straight. You’re a human too?”

                                  Switch folded his arms and winked. “Exactly. And did you get pulled through a golden ring?”

                                  A look of disappointment crossed her face and she slumped back against the ship. “Dang it! I thought I were the only one!”

                                  “The name’s Switch.” He offered a hand to her.

                                  She stared at it, then looked up at him. “What kinda name is that?”

                                  “One I adopted when I came to System. What’s yours?”

                                  “Annie.” She took his hand and shook it, then wiped hers down on her top. “So you turn into a bird? So do I. An archeops.”

                                  Switch’s jaw dropped. “I’ve heard of you.”

                                  “Well I ain’t heard of you.”

                                  “You were in a mental ward.”

                                  She smirked and spread her arms wide. “Well not any more! Annie is flyin’ free!” She glanced a the ship and her arms fell to her side again. “Well she was.”

                                  DL shuffled over to Switch’s side, winding her claws together. She looked over the pokemon and Annie, taking each one in. Annie stared down at her and stroked her chin.

                                  “Who’s the squirt?” she asked.

                                  DL stuttered, then reached for her laser. But she didn’t draw it. “You said you’re heading to Meta City?”

                                  “We were,” said Annie. “But we crashed, see?”

                                  “Well… what if we offer to help fix your ship?” DL asked. “You can use parts from our pod. Then… could you take us with you?”

                                  “Hey! Little squirt’s in on our rebellion!” Annie grinned. “What about you, Switch? You in?”

                                  “What, me?” He sighed and threw his arms in the air. “Oh, what the heck. Macro was gonna go and knock Socket off her high horse anyway. If it’ll get me home, count me in.”

                                  The scrafty scrambled back out of the ship and pointed at Switch. “You said we can use your pod for parts?”

                                  “Yeh, be our guest,” said Switch. “It’s rather small for us all to fit in, and it rattles.”

                                  “Sounds like it’ll do the trick then.” He nodded towards the small, lone wishiwashi. “That it? I’ll go help myself.”

                                  The skuntank looked at each of them and caught the purple creature as it drifted back down towards her. “That’s rather generous of you. Although I’m not complaining about breathing clean air. It’s much better up here than in the outskirts.” She tucked the creature beneath her tail then let it fall across her back. “Do either of you want to help me gather lunch? I think that will be a good chance for us all to get acquainted.”
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                                    #67    
                                  Old October 10th, 2018 (2:20 AM). Edited October 10th, 2018 by Delirious Absol.
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                                  Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                  Call me Del
                                     
                                    Join Date: May 2015
                                    Location: UK
                                    Age: 33
                                    Gender: Female
                                    Nature: Quirky
                                    Posts: 345
                                    Special - Widget

                                    N0ize grumbled to himself as the air buffeted him through the cracked windscreen. Cyph3r didn’t appear as bothered, casually steering the sharpedpo ship through System Sky with the intention of finding somewhere to stop for repairs. Besides the incineroar’s grumbling, the ship was silent, the only other noise the unsettling rattle of the engine.

                                    Tracer sat huddled in a corner beside Widget, the latter toying with a laser module that had rolled out of a small cupboard. The door still hung open, shaken off its catch after the battle with the pyukumyuku. Tracer eyed the module cautiously as though it might set off an array of attacks should the eevee bop it any harder than he already was doing.

                                    The delphox shifted uneasily, glancing around at the wrecked ship. His eye wandered to a fine crack in the ceiling and he opened his mouth as though to query how long it had been there. Instead, he stood up and dusted down his trench coat.

                                    “Pardon me,” he said. “I’m going to use the rest room.”

                                    “Back of the ship.” N0ize waved a paw behind him without even glancing over his shoulder.

                                    When Tracer had vanished out of earshot, the large incineroar finally twisted in his seat to look over the back of his chair, his eye going from the rest room door to the eevee still batting the laser module between his paws.

                                    “Might I ask,” N0ize half-growled, “what a fine rogue like yourself is doin’ hangin’ around with a posh city shamus like him?”

                                    Widget cocked an ear and glanced at the space pirate out of the corner of his eye. “Why not?”

                                    “You’re a criminal, ain’t ya?” N0ize asked. “You have that air about ya. Not many ‘mon could just venture into Pulse City like you did and pawn off a government ship without even flinching at the sheer thought of the consequences.”

                                    Widget shrugged and watched the laser module skitter from his right paw to his left. “I don’t really care for Socket. So why wouldn’t I sell off her ship in favour of a better disguise?”

                                    N0ize roared with laughter and struck a large paw on the dashboard. “That’s what I mean! You ain’t some cold blooded detective, kid. You’ve got ‘shady’ written all over ya.” He gathered himself and wiped a tear from his eye with one claw. “So. Spill it. What landed you workin’ with the fuzz, then? You payin’ back for your transgressions? Or just tryin’ to not lose your tiny life?”

                                    Widget lifted his head to look him in the eye. He’d stopped batting the module back and forth, holding it under his left paw. Before Annie’s ship tore a hole in his window, he’d been keeping Tracer and Widget around out of curiosity, but since then his demeanour had changed. Part of Widget thought he blamed them for the human’s actions. No… he fully thought that. The space pirate had threatened them, and the eevee wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to spill his life story to a ‘mon who’d threatened his friend.

                                    He looked back down at the floor and recommenced idly swatting the laser module back and forth.

                                    N0ize twisted back towards the window and tutted. “Fine. You don’t have to tell me nothin’, I was just curious.”

                                    Widget rolled his eyes.

                                    “Can’t blame a ‘mon for bein’ curious,” N0ize went on. “I just don’t see the fascination in stickin’ around a ‘mon who could just as easily trade you in for some credits.”

                                    Although… Widget frowned at his paws. It might actually change the space pirate’s opinion of his friend. Help him see Tracer in a different light. He looked up at the back of the incineroar’s head, then cast his eyes over to Cyph3r. If the magmortar was interested, he didn’t show it. Moments ago, they’d been trying to shoot down another ship regardless of the lives on board. Now all they cared about was repairing the damage done to their ship, even if it meant wringing the two detectives from ear to tail to get a single credit out of them.

                                    Widget ran the scenario over in his mind. Telling them his reasons for sticking with Tracer might actually serve to be a decent experiment. See if the two space pirates actually had a heart between them.

                                    “All right.” His voice drew the incineroar’s eye back to him. “I’ll tell you why. But it’s a long story, so you might get bored.”

                                    N0ize shrugged and tucked his paws behind his head. “We’ve got time. It’s a long way to the Analogue Isles.”

                                    “Analogue Isles?” Widget squeaked.

                                    N0ize grinned from ear to ear.

                                    Widget cleared his throat and regained his composure. “Fine. But you’re putting my entertainment skills to the test here. Want me to use shadow puppets?”

                                    “Do whatever you want.” N0ize waved a paw and turned back to the windscreen. “But I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, or mockery to my intelligence.”

                                    Widget chuckled and turned his attention back to the module. Then he began relaying the events of his life.

                                    ...

                                    I was a sickly pup. Always had my mother worried and doctors running back and forth. See, I was born with a rare degenerative bone disease, and an immune system that even the clean air of Meta City could wreck havoc on. Somehow, I managed to survive until I were twelve years old. But things weren’t looking to get any better for me.

                                    One day, the doctor made a house call for the last time. He took one look at me, ran some tests, then pulled my mother aside for a ‘private chat’. Well, I might have been on my death bed, but I could still hear a pin drop. I remember it clearly. Four words that reduced my mother to tears.

                                    “He won’t see dawn.”

                                    After he’d gone, mother cried. Silent tears rushing down her face as she told me everything would be okay. Lies, but I appreciated it. Then she vanished from the room. I could hear her on the phone, talking to her friend. I knew her friend. He was round in a heartbeat.

                                    I was exhausted. I barely remember his visit. Tracer, a delphox from the outskirts. I always remembered the smell of his cigars as he told me stories when mother had to work. Kept by my side, making sure I had everything I needed. This time, there were no such stories. He helped her bundle me into my wheelchair and pushed me out of the house. I didn’t see much, my eyes were too tired, and I could barely move my head. But I remember seeing her pink ribbons fastened around the handle as she wheeled me along Meta City’s streets. Silently walking beside Tracer as he puffed on his cigar.

                                    “Where are we going?” I managed to ask, voice barely a whisper.

                                    “To someone who can help.” That was all she said.

                                    I should have seen it coming. Being shoved through Central Meta Hospital’s rotating doors, and the chaos that followed. Staring eyes, my mother arguing with the receptionist and the doctors. The looks on their faces as they tried to calm down a crying and screaming sylveon. Then they did it. They took me away, leaving a nurse furret and Tracer to comfort my rapidly calming mother. I remember her tearful eyes, watching me as the doctors whizzed me away on a stretcher. Tracer placing an arm over her shoulder, whispering that everything would be okay.

                                    Lies.

                                    I don’t remember much after that. Everything went dark as various pokemon rushed about me, fastening things to my body. The next time I opened my eyes, it was bright. Unbearably bright. Something was very different. I could breathe freely. No breaths followed by a racking cough. No coughing up blood. No chest pain. The air smelled - tasted - felt clean. I took a few deep breaths as I blinked the dazzling light away.

                                    The first thing I saw was the face of an ursaring staring down at me. His lips were pulled down in a frown until he saw me come to. Then he beamed from ear to ear. A happy beam. One that said whatever they’d done appeared to be a success.

                                    “Welcome back,” he said. “It’s been a long week.”

                                    A week? I tried to push myself up, something I’d not been able to do in over a year. For some reason, I felt like I could do it. But my limbs still wouldn’t obey. They felt heavy, tired, sore.

                                    “What happened?” My voice was oddly stronger, despite the croak from being asleep for so long.

                                    A nurse rushed to my side, holding a cold cup of water to my lips. She wouldn’t let me gulp it down. I had to take steady sips while she instructed me to be careful in case I made myself sick.

                                    “You’ve had very complex surgery,” the ursaring explained. “It will take a long time for you to recover from it, but when you do, you’ll be stronger than ever.”

                                    I frowned. “What surgery? Mother couldn’t afford any surgery…”

                                    That’s right. Brush aside any misconceptions you have about ‘rich ‘mon livin’ in the cities’. Rich city medicine is exactly that. Expensive. Not available to all. It doesn’t matter if you live in the city or the outskirts. Living in the city is basically paying premium prices for clean air and healthy food. Mother worked six days a week in a bakery, selling fresh baked goods to commuters. Once her stock was out, she closed up shop. It were enough to get by. The surgery she’d wanted me to have… it cost almost half a million credits. We didn’t have that kind of money.

                                    “Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything.” The ursaring pulled up his Clipboard and sat down heavily beside my bed. “You’ve suffered from a degenerative bone disease your entire life. The first thing we had to do was replace your entire skeleton with a biologically safe mechanical one. Lightweight, but you’ll notice the difference. All your muscles have been structured to it, but due to them being underdeveloped, you’ll need a lot of rehabilitation to get used to moving with it. The next thing we added were filter valves to various main arteries and your heart. These will remove all toxins, bacteria and other nasties from your blood stream, given you lack the white blood cells to deal with it. A lot of damage had been done to your lungs, so they’ve been enhanced to state of the art biomechanical implants that can filter out the air. The final addition is an everstone. The drawback to all these medical procedures is that you definitely won’t be able to evolve. But evolution isn’t everything.”

                                    I blinked, speechless. They’d basically turned me into a cyborg. It was what my mother had wanted and more. There was no way she could have afforded all that.

                                    The doctor lowered his Clipboard and smiled at me. A warm smile. “It might sound like a lot to deal with. But it’s saved your life. You’ll live to see… oh… a good seventy or so more years yet.”

                                    “What about my mother?” I asked. “We can’t afford this.”

                                    “It’s been dealt with, don’t worry.” The doctor rose to his feet. “She’s waiting to see you, actually. She’s visited whenever she could, and her friend, too.”

                                    He left the room, stepping aside to let someone in. But the look of surprise on his face told me something was amiss. The pokemon that stepped inside wasn’t my mother. It was Tracer, and he didn’t look happy. Probably because the ursaring took his cigar away and waved it at him in a silent scold. The delphox watched him leave, then plonked himself down in his seat.

                                    “You’re looking well,” he said.

                                    “Where’s my mother?” I asked. “He said she was waiting-”

                                    Tracer waved a paw to cut me off. “She’s had to work today. So I’ve visited in her stead.”

                                    “But I’ve just woken up! I thought she’d-”

                                    “It was unexpected.” Tracer reached into his inside pocket for a cigar, then froze, frowning at the ‘no smoking’ sign. He sighed and let the tin fall back into his pocket. “Widget, I don’t want to be the one to tell you this. But your mother has to make a lot of money very quickly. So she’s working every chance she can get.”

                                    “A bakery reels in nutpeas,” I said. “And pokemon only want to eat when they’re hungry.”

                                    “She should really tell you all this. Not me.” Tracer placed a paw on my shoulder and a look of surprise crossed his face. But he didn’t say anything about it, just reached into his pocket for his computer. “So what story do you want today?”

                                    The fur bristled along my spine and I flashed a canine at the wall. “Forget your dumb stories!”

                                    “Widget!”

                                    “They don’t matter!” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “I’m not even supposed to be alive right now! I should be dead, but they’ve turned me into some cyborg freak!”

                                    “It was your mother’s request.” Tracer’s voice was like a calm amongst a storm, yet it just kept raging.

                                    “We couldn’t afford it! And now she’s not even here!”

                                    “She’s not stayed away out of spite,” said Tracer. “You’re everything to her, and seeing you deteriorate has been hard! After your father left-”

                                    “Don’t you dare mention him.”

                                    Tracer lifted his paws. “Okay.” He was silent for a moment, twiddling a cigar he’d absently pulled from his pocket between two claws. “But look at it this way. Once you’re out of here, you’ll be able to help your mother out.”

                                    “When will that be?”

                                    “Given your enhancements, you might make a speedier recovery than any ordinary pokemon.”

                                    “Okay. How long would an ‘ordinary pokemon’ take?” He’d stood up. I could barely turn my head to look at him. All I saw was his pocket and bushy tail swaying anxiously behind him.

                                    “I’ve no idea,” he said.

                                    Holding my head up even a fraction was too much strain. I flopped heavily back onto my pillow, and it hurt. I groaned and tried to bury my face into the pillow.

                                    “So where does she work now?” I asked.

                                    Tracer was silent for a moment, chewing on the end of his cigar. “The bakery. It’s doing well.”

                                    Lies.

                                    “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll tell your mother you’re awake, and awaiting rehabilitation exercises.”

                                    “Why can’t she come herself?” Something was up. I could smell it. Hear it in his voice.

                                    “I told you. She’s very busy.”

                                    Before I could press him any further, he left the room.

                                    ...

                                    The next two weeks went by slowly. Doctors pushed me into rehabilitation, getting me to push against weights to build up my muscle strength. Once I was able to move my legs slightly, they had me walking on a slow treadmill to build up the strength in my legs. They held me over it in a harness, more as a safety precaution in case I lost balance or collapsed.

                                    Between rigorous exercises, Tracer visited. I never saw my mother, not once. But I smelled her if Tracer moved fast enough. Wafting from his fur amongst the tobacco smell. There’s no fooling my nose. It wouldn’t have surprised me if something were between them, and I still don’t know to this day. I’ve never asked, and I don’t want to either. They were good friends, I knew that much. He kept saying she had to work, but something was definitely up. She wouldn’t have just abandoned me to the hospital, sending her friend to visit in her stead.

                                    One day, when I were standing properly on all four legs, I told him that. I shouted at him. Threw myself at him and tackled him to the ground. I don’t know what got into me, but I do know I’d had enough. I wanted to see her. To know she was okay. To let her see for herself that I was okay. He grunted as he lifted me off, struggling to move me. With the knew skeleton and all those enhancements, I was about three, maybe four times the weight of an average eevee.

                                    “Widget, listen to me,” he said.

                                    “No!” I snapped. “You’re lying! Since you first visited me two weeks ago, all you’ve done is lie! You think I can’t smell my own mother on you? If she can’t visit me, then how can she visit you?!”

                                    “She needs to visit me,” he said.

                                    “Why?!”

                                    “Because she sold her house and business!” Tracer flashed his canines, then sighed into his paws. “I’m sorry… I didn’t want to worry you…”

                                    I stared at him, speechless. All I could do was blink as I took in his words. She’d sold everything? Everything, to pay for my life?

                                    “I’m so sorry, Widget,” he went on. “But can you see why I didn’t say anything sooner?”

                                    “No.” I couldn’t even look him in the eye. “No, I can’t. You should have told me! Where is she now?”

                                    “Living with me.”

                                    I blinked again, staring at his face. Mouth pulled down in a frown, eyes watery.

                                    “Why?” I asked. “We live in Meta City…”

                                    He shrugged and leant back on his paws. “She can’t afford to. And she needs to live somewhere. I offered her a room until she can make enough to rent a house in Spool City.”

                                    Spool City… I really was rendered speechless this time. There was no way she could survive in Spool City. The air there was toxic even to steel types. A fairy type wouldn’t survive a year.

                                    I had to get her out.

                                    I fixed Tracer with a leer, the fur bristling down my spine and turning my tail into a brush.

                                    “You should have told me,” I hissed.

                                    “You’re right.” He pinched the bridge of his muzzle in two claws. “I should have. I’m sorry.”

                                    “I don’t want to hear it.” I swished my tail, pulling my ears back. A deep, threatening growl left my throat. “Go. I don’t want to see you again.”

                                    His eyes widened and he lifted his paws towards me, but I lunged at one, grabbing it in my jaws. I bit so hard I tasted blood. He snatched it back, cradling it against his chest.

                                    “Widget,” he gasped. “I know you’re upset, but… I can’t do that-”

                                    “I said go!” That’s when I tackled him. Knocking all the wind out of his lungs. He rolled into the hallway, and he stared back at my glaring face as the door swung shut between us.

                                    That was it. No more visits from the detective. No more word from my mother. No one knew where she was except me. Holed up in Spool City with an old friend, breathing toxic air. All while I recovered in the hospital until one day, they finally discharged me.

                                    No one to pick me up. No one to take me home. A young eevee, not quite into his teenage years, sat in front of the hospital, the sirens of ambulances coming and going blaring in his ears.

                                    Alone.

                                    I choked back a sob and pushed myself to my feet. I didn’t really know the city, yet I managed to find my way back. The little house beside its bakery. The shop was boarded up with a renovation sign in the window. ‘Soon to become a bistro’, it promised. The house with its little yard and picket fence had a young rattata playing in it, kicking a ball against the wall. He didn’t look at me. But the sight of him playing there, in my old garden, made me feel very… very alone.

                                    As I idly sauntered through the city, I found myself at the gates separating Meta from the outskirts. Spool City was the one sign posted, the exact one my mother had moved to. Two pidgeot stood on guard, their beaks encased with metal sharper than their own beaks, their talons kitted out with cleavers. Even their wings had wicked claws to ‘give them an extra edge in battle’. They didn’t look happy to see me.

                                    “Where do you think you’re off to, kid?” one of them asked.

                                    The other clicked his plated beak in a manner that was very threatening, and for a moment I thought about running back home. Only I didn’t have a home to run back to.

                                    “Looking for my mother,” I said. “She’s moved to the outskirts.”

                                    “Leaving behind her whelp?” the first one snorted. “I find that hard to believe.”

                                    “Look, kid,” said the second. “Any who move to the outskirts… stay in the outskirts. So that means…” He pointed a wing at me. “You shouldn’t be living here.”

                                    “I didn’t move to the outskirts,” I retaliated. “I’ve been in the hospital for the past four months!”

                                    The pidgeot exchanged glances and the second one muttered, clearly not intending me to hear, “Couldn’t even afford it. Had to sell up, eh?”

                                    I bristled from head to tail, but all he did was roll his eyes and laugh.

                                    “Go on.” The first one stood aside and waved a wing to the gates. “Go find your mother. But be aware, you move there… you don’t come back. We don’t want their filth trampled all over our streets.”

                                    “What about the detective?” I snorted. “He comes and goes.”

                                    “Some ‘mon have special passes,” said the second. “They know our routine. We can’t let just anyone frolic back and forth as they please, can we? We’d be overrun with scum. Now off with you.”

                                    Muttering under my breath, I passed through the gate, but not without firing a leer at the two pidgeot over my shoulder… meeting one off the second, harsher guard.

                                    The putrid air from Spool City assaulted me immediately. Yellow and disgusting, hovering over the buildings like a dense mist. I instinctively coughed, but I didn’t need to. It didn’t get to my chest, but the smell alone made me feel sick to my stomach. I crept along the wide road, Proxy Boulevard, eyes drifting over the buildings. I had no idea what I was even looking for. No address to go off. Someone moved out of an alley ahead of me and I immediately felt lighter. Another pokemon. Someone I could ask for directions.

                                    I skipped towards the squat pokemon. A trubbish, rifling through the gutter and pulling out various pieces of indescribable garbage. It popped one in its mouth and my stomach churned. I swallowed back the urge to be sick and put on my best face, strutting confidently towards the poison pokemon.

                                    “Excuse me?” My question drew surprised eyes from the trubbish, which narrowed into slits. “I’m afraid I’m a little lost. Do you-”

                                    “I’d say!” the trubbish scoffed. “You look way too manicured for this hole. You want Meta City, do a one-eighty, kid.” He twirled a dripping limb in a circle, prompting me to go back the way I’d come.

                                    I frowned and shook my head. “Oh, I’m not going back. My mother moved here, and I’m looking for her. She’s living with a delphox called Tracer.”

                                    At that name, the trubbish’s mouth dropped, then snapped shut again as he growled. “That detective scum?!” He fired off a string of profanities that had me backpedaling up the street. Then he threw his arms back and launched a flurry of slime globules at me.

                                    I leapt to the side, narrowly dodging two of them. The third struck me in the face and I fell into a sprawl on my back. Hard. The impact took the trubbish by surprise, long enough for me to clear the gunk from my eyes and see him lurching towards me. I sprung to my feet and threw myself at him, knocking him back into the alley. We rolled in a tangle of limbs until we crashed into a wall. The impact cracked a few bricks, sending debris raining down on us.

                                    The trubbish struggled free of my grip and pushed himself up. He fixed his eyes on me, a wary glare, as I climbed back to my feet. Save for a few dirty scuffs and a slimy face, I was reasonably free from any injury. The trubbish, however, sported a nasty tear in his side. Blood and goop leaked into the alley and he pawed at it helplessly.

                                    “You…” He flashed two rows of jagged teeth. “What are you? Some kinda super eevee? A runt like you shouldn’t be able to tackle like that!” He turned and scrambled from the alley. Then paused and pointed a greasy limb at me. “You’ll regret this, runt! We’ll all be after ya!”

                                    I snorted, sending a slime blob to the floor, and turned on my heel. Since I was in the alley, I might as well go through to the other side. Give the trubbish a wide berth. The alley ended at another road, narrow in comparison to the boulevard. It was dotted with boarded up buildings. A few houses stood looking vacant, although I spotted a dark-furred meowth in one window. No sooner had I seen them, the blind flew across, separating us.

                                    One little house seemed to stand out from the rest. It stood between a shop selling general wares and a club with a neon sign. The animation was somewhat jarring, the image glitching at random intervals. But it got its purpose across, and was one I’d be staying well away from.

                                    There was no telling who was in the house, but it seemed rather out of place between a shop and a club. As though whoever lived there might actually own either business. I was about to turn my tail on it when the door opened. A delphox strolled out, his trench coat billowing in the light breeze. He clutched a cigar in one paw and his filter mask in the other, but he dropped the latter to the ground in favour of lighting up his cigar. His eyes almost bulged from his head when he spotted me, and his cigar dropped from his claws into the gutter to be washed away in the thick, brown muck. A small look of remorse crossed his face, then he looked up at me again as I plodded towards him.

                                    “Well…” He cleared his throat. “I will admit I was actually on my way to Meta City look for you.”

                                    “Don’t bother,” I said. “Where’s my mother? I’ve come to take her back.”

                                    “She doesn’t have anywhere to stay in Meta City,” said Tracer. “And neither do you.”

                                    “Then we’ll live in an alley until we find our feet!” I looked around at the yellow smog, torn posters, filthy drains. “Living in Meta’s streets is better than the hovel you’ve got her holed up in!”

                                    Tracer narrowed his eyes and reached for another cigar. “This ‘hovel’ is one of the cleanest buildings in all the outskirts.”

                                    I snorted and opened my mouth to retort, but he cut me off with a wave of his paw.

                                    “Unlike most homes,” he said, “it has a working air filter.”

                                    “Yet here you are in the streets unwilling to wear a mask,” I snorted. “It’s little wonder you’re alive!”

                                    “You aren’t wearing a mask yourself, Widget.”

                                    “I don’t need one,” I said. “I’ve got my own filters, thanks to my mother selling everything to pay to have it done! Now let me see her and take her home, before I take her by force!”

                                    I rushed at him, but something jammed my limbs. The trubbish’s sludge bomb? I looked down to find I’d been lifted off the ground. Tracer held out a paw, his eyes glowing with the same purple light that encased my body.

                                    “I don’t want to hurt you, Widget,” he said. “Not while you’re still recovering. But mark my words, you assault me again and you’ll meet a force to be reckoned with.”

                                    “What? Proxy Prison?” I spat.

                                    “If you’re lucky.” He dropped me to the ground and I grunted with the impact. “I’ll let you see your mother, but she won’t be going back.”

                                    “Why not?”

                                    Tracer sighed and puffed out a stream of smoke. “I suppose you’ll see for yourself.”

                                    He twirled with a flourish and threw open the door to his office, letting in the putrid air. I followed after him, acknowledging the air filter in the wall before me. Useless, given the front door couldn’t even keep the air out. It rattled as one half of it worked in reverse to clear the room of bad air.

                                    I glanced around at what appeared to be an office. A little desk stood to my left, and before me lay a worn out sofa.

                                    Tracer motioned for me to follow him. Another door led deeper into the house. A kitchen stood on my right as he led me up the stairs to the second floor. Four doors, one open leading to a bathroom. Given the size of the house, I guessed one of the remaining doors led to a storage closet. He threw open one of them, leading into a sparsely decorated room. A floral scent washed over me, a real blessing after the stench of outside. I spotted the culprits atop a desk. Small, colourful bottles filled with perfume. Sprawled on the bed was a sylveon. My mother.

                                    “Pebi,” said Tracer. “Look who’s here.”

                                    She lifted her head, and her blue eyes lit up when she saw me.

                                    “Mum!”

                                    I skipped across the room onto the bed, nuzzling her soft fur. Her ribbons surrounded me, pulling me in for a hug.

                                    “Widget.” Her voice sounded wheezy, freezing me solid. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay! I’ve not seen you on your feet since you were eight years old.”

                                    I pulled back from her, looking her in the eye. The whites were yellowed, and her fur didn’t feel as soft as it used to. My eyes went to her face and I grimaced. Just on the corner of her lip was the start of a nasty growth. I backed away from her, then snapped my head around towards Tracer.

                                    “She’s sick!” I roared.

                                    Tracer sighed and slumped against the wall, avoiding my eyes. My fur bristled like a brush, but before I could go on, my mother placed a ribbon between my shoulders, drawing me back.

                                    “The air does that here, Widget,” she said. “It’s toxic. It’s no friend to fairy types.”

                                    “Then why did you move here?” I growled.

                                    “For you,” she said. “I needed to sell everything just to make half of what the hospital wanted.”

                                    “Half? Then where’s the other half coming from?”

                                    She looked over at the desk and I followed her gaze to the perfume bottles. Tiny little bottles strained from what flowers she could get her paws on. What little System Ground had to offer, unless she’d turned to one of the floating cities in System Sky.

                                    “Let me do it,” I said.

                                    “What?” she gasped.

                                    “Let me do it,” I repeated. “You won’t make nutpeas in this dump. Pokemon in Meta City would pay much more, and I can help make it too.”

                                    “That’s very kind,” she said. “But they won’t let you back in.”

                                    “Then I’ll find a way in!” I leant towards her, brushing my nose against hers. “Please, let me help. Maybe we can make enough they can treat you, too, and we can go back to our old home and lives.”

                                    She sighed and her head fell back against the pillow. “Okay.”

                                    My heart sank. Her eyes were closed, chest heaving, breath wheezing. I shook my head and backed off the bed onto the floor.

                                    “There’s a box under the desk,” she said. “Take as many as you need. See what you can do.”

                                    I dived under the desk, groping for the box. Beside it was a bag. A little errand bag that smelled as much like perfume as the rest of the room. I stuffed it until it was fit to burst and tossed it over my back. Then I bade her goodbye, nuzzling her cheek before I fled the room. The house. Onto the street.

                                    Then I broke down into tears, slumping onto the mucky street, nose almost in the gutter.

                                    “You won’t get past the sentries. I’ll walk you.” Tracer’s voice made my spine tingle.

                                    I snapped my head up towards him, then clambered to my feet. Legs trembling. Fur bristling.

                                    “You!” I growled. “You dragged her into this city. Offering her a home in a city filled with poison!”

                                    “I offered what she needed,” he said. “Somewhere safe, off the streets. Meta City don’t let pokemon live in the streets. They’re all turfed out into the outskirts.”

                                    I looked away from him, canines still bared as I tried to process it all. “Then how did she get like this? You have an air filter!”

                                    “That one is not on me,” he said. “I’d often find her room empty. So I’d go and look for her in the only place I knew where to find her. Arguing with the sentries to get back into Meta City so she could visit you.”

                                    My legs felt weak. I trembled from ear to tail as I desperately tried to suppress tears. But they betrayed me, running down my cheeks towards the ground.

                                    “I need to help her,” I sputtered. “I’ll pay it all back and more! I’ll save her. If the hospital can save me, they can save her! Right?”

                                    I looked back at him, pleading. He nodded.

                                    “Come on,” he said. “I know a way in.”

                                    He fastened a filter mask over his head, then led me through the streets. He finally stopped close to Meta City, in a dank and smelly alley. It ended at a brick wall coated with outdated posters.

                                    “So where is this magical entrance?” I asked.

                                    “Right there.” He nudged a manhole cover with a foot, and it slid aside. “Drop down and turn left. Keep going. At the third manhole, come back up and you’ll find yourself in an alley with an underground cafe.”

                                    “Underground?” I repeated.

                                    “It means ‘secret’,” he said. “The cafe is just a guise. Even Meta City isn’t free of crime.”

                                    My canines poked through my lips but I couldn’t look at him. “Then why didn’t my mother use this?”

                                    “I wouldn’t tell her about it, and neither would you if you had any idea what that alley is like. A pretty fairy type like her wouldn’t get out unscathed. The sheer thought turns my stomach.”

                                    I shook my head and sighed. Noted. I was about to climb into the sewers when something hit me. I looked back at him, examining what I could see of his face through the mask. Just his eyes, tinted green by the lenses.

                                    “If you’ve lived here for so long, why aren’t you sick?” I asked.

                                    “I take precautions,” he explained. “But it doesn’t mean I wont get affected by this air one day. Now go. Before someone sees you.”

                                    I nodded and dropped into the sewers. Before I could call back my thanks, the lid clattered heavily back into place. I remember that day clearly, as I scampered over the metal grate towards Meta City’s underground cafe. That day changed my life forever.

                                    As I came back up, I found myself face to face with the cafe. The pokemon that sat around it had a strange air about them. They all looked rough, and not exactly Socket’s chosen Meta City types either. Secret mutterings filled the air - about Socket, about the outskirts. It was to be my first port of call.

                                    I went inside, embraced by the smell of coffee and baked goods. The zangoose behind the bar nodded as I entered, then his eye went to my bag.

                                    “What’ve you got?” he asked, intrigued.

                                    “Perfume,” I said. “My mother makes it. I’ve come to sell it.”

                                    “Here?” he scoffed.

                                    I shrugged. “I don’t know where. In an alley somewhere, I guess.”

                                    He sniffed then moved closer to me, sniffing again. “You’ve come from the outskirts. Use our sewer?”

                                    I nodded, growing wary. My fur was bristling and not out of anger.

                                    Then the zangoose grinned and let out a laugh. “A little kid? All right. I can let you sell here. It’s not as if you’re selling home-made explosives.” A chuckle. “They might go off and bring the whole place down.”

                                    He opened the latch beside the counter and led me into the back. It was filled with long tables, each one a stall. Pokemon sold everything from smuggled berries to weapons and biological enhancements. One pokemon, a zoroark, sat on a chair tattooing a scrafty’s arm. So anyone really could get in through the sewer. If I knew about it, then most of the outskirts probably did. How had Socket not got wind of it?

                                    I took the table offered to me and laid out the perfumes neatly. Then I waited for the sales.
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                                      #68    
                                    Old October 10th, 2018 (2:22 AM).
                                    Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                    Call me Del
                                       
                                      Join Date: May 2015
                                      Location: UK
                                      Age: 33
                                      Gender: Female
                                      Nature: Quirky
                                      Posts: 345
                                      For the past two weeks, every day was the same. Gather the perfumes, head to Meta City, set up the stall and wait. Sales were relatively slow. Some days I made fifty to a hundred credits, while others I made none. The average was around twenty - the price I charged for one bottle. As I sat mulling over my prices, wondering whether lowering them might attract more sales, a gruff voice drew my eye.

                                      I looked up to see a gabite standing before me. One I’d seen a few times. Both his fins were mechanical, or shrouded in gauntlets. It was hard to say, but they sported wicked claws. Claws like daggers. I’d heard a few pokemon refer to him as Iron Claw, but he’d never shown an ounce of interest in my humble little stall. I hadn’t picked up what he’d said amongst all the racket the market created, but he was looking right at me. A smirk tugging at his lips. Then he turned fully to face me and approached my stall. Each step purposeful and confident. I instinctively retreated, eyes going wide and bugging from their sockets like an alarmed goldeen. He rammed his fins onto the table, those daggers gouging into the wood. Each little bottle hopped and some skittered backwards off the stand. I leapt to catch them, but a couple missed my paws and shattered on the stone floor.

                                      I snapped my head up towards him and narrowed my eyes, flashing a canine, but he just laughed.

                                      “Some little runt selling perfume?” He shook his head and dragged his claws free from the table. “Wow, this market just gets lower and lower. You ain’t gonna make scotch sellin’ that. Just leave, let the real business ‘mon take over this stall.”

                                      I kept one eye on him, trying to mask my tremble as I pushed the bottles back into place.

                                      “You hearin’ me, kid?” he growled.

                                      “Oh, I hear you.” I sat back on my haunches and tried to give him as confident a look as I could muster. “I’m just not leaving.”

                                      His lip curled, flashing his sharp teeth. His two other cronies stepped forward beside him. A bagon and a druddigon. The latter flexed his claws then balled them into fists.

                                      “Trash his stall,” Iron Claw told them.

                                      The spiky dragon leapt forward, his paws striking the underside of the table. Colourful bottles went flying, shattering against the wall and raining down floral and berry scented shards. Before I knew what was happening, I’d thrown myself at the druddigon. His jagged scales scraped the fur back from my skin, but I didn’t care. A full body tackle sent him bowling backwards, causing Iron Claw to leap aside with a surprised squeak. The entire market flew into an uproar, pokemon abandoning their stalls to avoid the rolling bodies. Stalls toppled, wares scattered onto the ground. The druddigon’s claws dug into my shoulders, lifting me off him. The strain at my unexpected weight reflected in his eyes, and I struggled, using it to my advantage. Before I landed on him, I turned the drop into another tackle, knocking the wind right out of his lungs.

                                      A flash of purple fire skimmed by back and I looked over at the bagon. Much smaller, but just as nasty. My hind feet struck the druddigon’s gut, eliciting a grunt, as I propelled myself towards the smaller dragon. Fire seared my fur, but I dived right through it. I couldn’t stop. Gravity kept me going until I struck him hard in the face. His skull bounced off the floor and he lay limp as I landed beside him. Every hair on my body stood on end amongst bloodied and singed patches, and I stood breathing heavily, the only sound in the suddenly silent market, and leered up at the gabite.

                                      “You wanna end up like those?” I growled, nodding to the unconscious dragons. “Or are you gonna clean up the mess?”

                                      He followed my fleeting gaze to the ruined market stall, a look of hesitation crossing his face. Those claws flexed with a similar noise to the skeleton I hid inside my body. I wasn’t exactly going to tackle him with those blades adorning his limbs, but he didn’t need to know that.

                                      He fixed me with a yellow glare, then threw his head back and laughed. Roaring laughter. Then he looked right back at me.

                                      “You’ve got guts!” he said. “So what’ve you had done, then? What makes a runt like you so freakin’ powerful you can take down two of the best pirates in Pulse City?”

                                      I said nothing, keeping him locked in a leer. He just smirked.

                                      “Seriously?” he went on. “You can tell old Iron Claw. You like… completely cybernetic or somethin’?”

                                      Silence. I narrowed my eyes, bristling from ear to tail.

                                      “I see.” He chuckled. “So, what’s a runt like you doin’ sellin’ perfume? With moves like that you could be sellin’ so much more.”

                                      I spat with disgust and took a step backwards. “Like what?”

                                      “Like yourself.” He waved a paw at me. “Sell your skills, boy! I could pay you big!”

                                      I gave a snort of derision and lowered myself to the ground, threatening an attack. Iron Claw raised his paws but he didn’t move away. No fear in his eyes.

                                      “Hear me out,” he said. “I could pay you five hundred credits per day! Plus commission for each job you help me with. Even more if you take out one of my enemies!”

                                      “You wanna hire me as a murderer?!” I roared.

                                      “Not ‘murderer’.” He flexed two blades on each paw for air quotes. “No, I can do that perfectly fine myself. I just need you to detain them. Pokemon get pretty nasty when I go stealin’ their wares. I’m a merchant by trade. I steal weapons and sell them in Pulse City. You’ll get so much more than you will sellin’ prissy perfume in this market, boy. Anythin’ you steal and sell yourself, you keep. Add that onto what I’ll be payin’ you and you’ll be livin’ like a king!”

                                      I stood, slack-jawed, staring at the dragon type. That made the average twenty credits a day I’d been heading home with look like nutpeas. Five hundred a day, minimum, could help my mother much faster. It was an attractive offer… but working for a space pirate?

                                      “I’ll do it,” I said. “But only until I’ve made enough to save my mother.”

                                      The gabite jolted and his mouth turned into a confused frown. “You’re sellin’ perfume… to save your mother?”

                                      “Yes,” I said. “She’s sick in the outskirts.”

                                      “And I just trashed it all!” He threw his paws into the air and fell to his knees. “Oh, I feel like such a fool!”

                                      Lies.

                                      The smirk on his face was enough to prove that. Hidden behind his bladed claws. He was winning no prizes for acting.

                                      “Well.” He clambered back to his feet and placed his paws on his hips, glancing over his fallen comrades. “I don’t suppose you’ve got any berries to revive my crew, have you?”

                                      I shook my head and he tutted.

                                      “Pity. I’m runnin’ low.” He reached into his belt and tossed a small money pouch towards me. “First errand, go buy me some berries. Once these fools are back on their feet, we’ll head to my ship.”

                                      And that’s how I made the first step towards the worst decision of my life. It started with buying berries.

                                      ...

                                      Iron Claw’s ship was immense. One of the few pirate ships that wasn’t based on an aquatic pokemon. The huge rayquaza wound through System Sky, each one of its many windows allowing a clear view of the dark vastness beyond. I’d never been so high up. I was fascinated. Amid the blackness, stars glittered in the distance. The flickering antennae of the floating cities flashed blue and green below. Higher up than even the cities. The world below looked tiny. From this height I could even see the huge, vast whiteness of the Dead Glacier emerging beyond the mist.

                                      “How high up are we?” I gasped.

                                      The bagon working the navigation controls didn’t even look up at me. “About a few thousand miles, I’d say.”

                                      My mouth moved silently as I repeated those words in my head. The fleeting thought that the ship could easily fall and kill us all crossed my mind, but it did nothing to quench my excitement.

                                      The bagon’s name was Vittles. An odd name. Almost as odd as the druddigon, who’d adopted the alias Winder. Not one member of Iron Claw’s crew, even himself, had names typical of System. It suited both him and his ship down to a T. I was clearly the first. An odd ball amongst a group of dragons.

                                      And oddly enough, I wasn’t remotely scared. It thrilled me with excitement. No longer confined to System Ground, free to roam the skies and earn enough money to help my mother.

                                      I dropped down from the dashboard and turned to the druddigon pilot.

                                      “So where are we going again?” I asked.

                                      “Magenta City,” he growled. “Sit down.”

                                      I nodded. “Safety first. Gotcha.”

                                      A quick scout of the cockpit and I spotted a spare seat beside the navigation deck. As I hopped up into it, Vittles finally looked at me. A fleeting look I couldn’t read. Displeasure? Haughtiness? Gas? I ignored it and tried to work out what the pictures on the navigation screen meant.

                                      Iron Claw marched back into the cockpit, gnawing at a large fish bone. “Almost there, then, eh?”

                                      He tossed the bone into the corner of the room and fell down into his seat, but not without firing a grin in my direction. His long, metal claws flexed and I found myself wondering if they were an enhancement or just a weapon he constantly wore, much like one might wear a scarf.

                                      “So what are we going to Magenta for?” I asked, tail wagging.

                                      My eye went to the window again, spotting the large, floating city and its trademark volcano in the distance.

                                      “I just gotta pick up some stuff,” said Iron Claw. “You should know full well Magenta City creates the parts for Socket’s weapons and ships. The city is filled with fire types, after all. They’re pretty good at melting and melding steel.”

                                      “And where do they get the steel from?”

                                      Iron Claw grinned wider. Not a friendly grin, but I kept my cool.

                                      “Raster City,” he said.

                                      “The outlands?” I squeaked.

                                      “It’s the only place with steel types, boy!” The gabite laughed and swivelled back to face the window. “What they can’t mine in their tiny, floating city, they have to buy! None of these floating cities are old enough to have created their own supply of ore! So why not buy shed exoskeletons from the pathetic steel types for nutpeas? I like their level of thinkin’.”

                                      I hopped from the seat to join his side. “So we’re buying weapon parts and selling them on?”

                                      All three dragons turned to look at me with equal, unreadable looks. Did they all have gas?

                                      “Buy them?” Iron Claw scoffed. “No, boy. We’re just takin’ then. Then we’re gonna sell ‘em at Pulse City’s Black Market and make a fortune.”

                                      “Same old same old,” said Winder.

                                      “I get the impression you’ve done this before,” I said slowly. “A lot.”

                                      “Aye.” Iron Claw tapped his temple with one of his blades. “You don’t get to be the wealthiest space pirates in System overnight.”

                                      “So… you know what you’re doing?” I narrowed my eyes.

                                      Another grin split Iron Claw’s toothy maw. “That’s right, boy. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

                                      Those words and that grin sent a chill through my tiny body. I finally managed to read his expression. This was a dragon with a plan, and I was fairly certain it involved me.

                                      As we drew closer to Magenta City, the heat permeated the ship. The rayquaza lined up perfectly with the docks, turning to allow us all out through its hatch. It was dark, the dead of night, but guards peppered the docks either manning the turrets or standing armed and waiting.

                                      Yet somehow, they didn’t see us.

                                      Iron Claw was out first, ducking behind a metal shipping crate. Then he was gone. Winder shoved be from behind, sandwiching me between himself and Vittles. We followed his lead, scurrying across while trying to stop our claws from clacking on the wood. I don’t know which of us it was, but one of us scuffed our claws a little too harshly, drawing they eye of a heatmor.

                                      The chunky fire type readied his laser and moved away from his post, scanning the shadows silently. A long tongue of flames flicked out at intervals, lighting up his surroundings like a torch. But every ‘mon knows heatmor don’t need much light to go by. He spotted us before he even reached the crate. Lifted his laser. Aimed.

                                      “Take him,” Iron Claw whispered into my ear.

                                      “What?” I whispered back, too harshly.

                                      The heatmor’s eyes widened and his claw tightened on the trigger. Then he crumpled into a silent heap.

                                      I caught Iron Claw’s eye in the distance, unimpressed, disappointed. He curled his deadly claws, ushering us on. Quick. I sidestepped the heatmor, giving him one last glance. Blood pooled around him, dripping between the wooden slats into the glass dome below. The metallic tang struck my nostrils, turning my stomach and I screwed my eyes shut, scurrying after Vittles while wishing desperately this was just a dream. Or that my eyes had deceived me.

                                      I’d never considered space pirates to be killers. They were just outlaws, living outside Socket’s rules. A faction that grew from the hatred of using water dwellers as meat. Although the trend went well beyond that, attracting the lowlifes who only wanted to get off System Ground and make a living in the crime scene. But killing? I’d hit the nail on the head when I’d scoffed at Iron Claw wanting to hire me as a murderer.

                                      I made a mental note to book it once we got back to Meta City.

                                      The roads wound through shadowy streets lit up from the fires on the volcano. Each footstep warmed me to the core as heat from the lava seeped through the stone. During daylight it would be a lovely place to bask, but knowing what had just happened on the docks took all the loveliness out of it.

                                      Iron Claw finally stopped beside a factory. Smoke billowed from its chimney, sucked straight up through a vent in the dome and ejected into the atmosphere. Yet the smell of metal and smoke still filled my nostrils.

                                      “It’s here,” he said, nodding to a door. “Locked tight from the inside.”

                                      I stared up at the door, cast iron set in a stone wall. There was a small window allowing us to see inside. It lead into a wide corridor filled with boxes and trolleys.

                                      Iron Claw shooed me aside and my ears twitched at the sound of metal screeching across glass. He ran his claws around the window, slicing the glass like butter. He caught it skillfully and set it aside against the wall.

                                      “All right, boy. Let’s see if you can handle this.” He turned his eyes on me. “Wiggle in there and let us in, eh?”

                                      I looked between the dragon and the window, my eyes briefly going to his wicked claws. Well, I wasn’t willing to find myself on the receiving end of them, so I hopped up to the window and gripped the edge. The remains of the glass cut into my paws between my pads, but I ignored it. Mechanical skeleton creaking and groaning with the weight, I hoisted myself through and landed heavily on the other side. A quick check of my paws showed blood trickling between my toes. I gave them a sympathetic lick then turned to the door.

                                      “It needs a code!” I hissed.

                                      Iron Claw’s face appeared where the glass was and frowned down at me, but I was too busy frowning at the code panel beside the door.

                                      “It also needs a paw print,” I added.

                                      “Then bash it,” Iron Claw’s voice rumbled.

                                      “Bash what? The panel?” I scoffed.

                                      I shook my head and sighed. Then launched myself at the panel before Iron Claw could finish giving me a response. I heard something about ‘bashing the door, you moron’ as I struck the panel a second time. It splintered and cracked, revealing its wires. I grabbed them in my paws and tugged, wrenching them free. The panel went dark and something clicked. A lock. I gave the door a shove and it swung outward on its silent hinges.

                                      A smile tugged at Iron Claw’s unimpressed face. “Nice job. Get a little tackle-happy there?”

                                      The dragons shoved past me and left me to follow them down the corridor.

                                      It was dark and dingy, and stunk of oil and grease. Yet the floor felt smooth and dry. Wherever the steel was melded, it was clearly confined elsewhere. The heat grew more and more intense the further we ventured into the building. Not even a sniff of a pokemon was nearby, yet I could hear something. Something heavy, banging, as machines whirred away. Yet it was completely empty. As the corridor turned off into the main part of the building, it became more apparent why. I glanced through a window, noting huge mechanical shapes lumbering back and forth. Mechanical arms hoisted up crates to place on a conveyor belt, and as they moved along yet more mechanical arms and bulky implements sealed them shut with a whole lot of hollow banging. So they had machines doing their work for them. But surely they’d be ‘monned? Not left to whir away at their own jurisdiction?

                                      I caught up with Iron Claw, keeping my eye on that door. “I guess we should be wary of a machine uprising, huh?”

                                      He fired me a frowning glance and turned sharply away from the factory. He paused by a door and wagged a claw at it.

                                      “Metal,” he said. “Can you handle this, runt?”

                                      I snorted, wanting to retaliate with something along the lines of ‘I’m a normal type, not a ground type like you!’ but after what I’d already witnessed, I dared not rub him the wrong way. Instead, I set my shoulders and launched myself at the door. My muscles roared as I struck it, bouncing off like a pebble from a metagross’ hide. I landed on my paws, claws scraping the tiles as I skidded along them. Then I threw myself at it again. Iron Claw roared with laughter as I was deflected a second time and grabbed me by the tail before I could skid back around the corner. Those metal blades cut into my skin and I tried my best not to grimace.

                                      “Calm yerself,” he purred. “I’ve got this.”

                                      He turned back to the door and threw his right arm into the air. Sand whipped up around him and flew at the door. It looked just like sand, yet it sliced through the metal like his claws did flesh. I couldn’t help but wonder if anything could stand in this dragon’s way. The door was reduced to scraps in an instant. He stepped over the remains like they were nothing and surveyed the room.

                                      Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes, each one labelled with the weapon parts they contained.

                                      “Grab ‘em,” he told his crew. “As many as you can. Then, if no one stops us, we’ll come back for more.”

                                      Winder placed one crate atop another and grabbed both in his chunky arms. Vittles, however, could barely manage one. He staggered after the druddigon, stumbling on the metal scraps. His eyes widened as he steadied the crate then waddled away towards the exit.

                                      Iron Claw narrowed his eyes at me. “Guess I can’t expect you to carry one, eh, quadruped?”

                                      I snorted and grabbed one of the crates by its bindings in my teeth. A quick toss hoisted it into the air and I stepped beneath it, letting it fall onto my back. It was heavy. Much heavier than me. I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who heard the hissing of my mechanical joints with every strain that seemingly small gesture took, but Iron Claw nodded his approval.

                                      “Not just a small fry, eh?” He chuckled and grabbed two crates in his arms before leading me from the storage room. “I think I could get a lotta use outta you, boy. Even if you are a soft-hearted runt.”

                                      The trip back to the docks was about as uneventful as they came. It made me wonder how easy space pirates had it. That was until we reached the docks. The pokemon working there had found their slaughtered companion.

                                      Iron Claw merely tutted and led us a little further along. Yet more cargo crates provided a convenient barrier between us and the dock workers. But it was further along from the ship. Iron Claw tapped the bagon on the shoulder, drawing his eye.

                                      “Drop the box,” he whispered, “and go and get the ship. Bring it closer.”

                                      The small dragon didn’t even complain. I wondered why as I looked between him and the dock workers. Even the police ‘mon had shown up now. A typhlosion trailed by a flareon. After witnessing that sand tomb, a confrontation would hardly be anything the gabite couldn’t handle.

                                      My eye went back to Vittles as he scampered away from the cargo crate. His hide shifted colour and in an instant he’d vanished from sight. My jaw dropped. What kind of enhancement was that?!

                                      Iron Claw said nothing, keeping his eye on the two police ‘mon. Sirens began to sound out over the city as yet more police threatened to show up at the scene. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Winder shaking his head.

                                      It seemed to take forever, but before any more pokemon showed up at the crime scene, Vittle’s crate rose into the air and the bagon appeared slowly behind it.

                                      “Follow me,” he said.

                                      The little bagon scampered over the docks towards the ship, where he vanished once more behind its cloak. Iron Claw gave me a shove in the tail with his foot and I took off after the small dragon. Winder followed close behind while Iron Claw covered the rear. That was when the voices reached our ears. That flareon was quick.

                                      No. There would me no more casualties. I had this one.

                                      I tossed the box towards the ship then tackled the flareon to the ground. The wind left his lungs in a hiss, then he struck the floor hard on his back. A quick belly flop left him stunned and dazed. I swivelled in the air and returned to the box, tossing it onto the ship. Vittles ducked with a squeak and turned his head towards the box as it crashed into the other… three?

                                      I turned my head back to see Iron Claw standing over the flareon. Blood shimmered on his claws as a flame thrower lit up the sky, flying from the typhlosion’s mouth. A small army of fire types rushed the dragon, fists blazing, bodies lit up with flames.

                                      By the time they reached the flareon’s corpse, the ship was already in motion. Iron Claw leapt at it and hung from its door as it left the docks, tossing the remaining crate ahead of him. I instinctively moved it to make way for the sand dragon, not getting a single thanks in return. Instead, he stood in the open doorway, watching the docks. Laughing.

                                      “Another job well done!” he said, turning back towards me. “Glad to see you took initiative there, boy! Get some rest. You’re gonna need your strength once we reach Pulse City.”

                                      Pulse City? Well, I should have expected that. Guess I wasn’t escaping any time soon. I nodded and turned towards the rear of the ship.

                                      “Take the third room along!” Iron Claw told me. “If I want you, I’ll holler!”

                                      He laughed again, marching towards the ship’s cockpit. I gave a glance back at it, not spotting any of the dragons. Then I trudged along towards the room. It wasn’t until I was inside that I finally let my ears droop and my tail fall between my legs. I slumped to the floor, landing nose-first in dust. The only thing that could pass as a bed was an old mattress thrown into the corner of the room, right next to a pile of dirty sheets in desperate need of a laundrette.

                                      I didn’t touch any of them. Instead I took the opportunity to examine my paws and tail. Both needed a good clean up before they got infected. Not that they could get infected. All those enhancements to my body filtered that out, but still… I sat grooming them while I ran over the events in my head.

                                      Iron Claw’s ruthless slaughters, the whole raid on that factory, his careless grabbing of my tail in his bladed claws… did he even have a moral compass? If I hadn’t tackled that flareon… would he still be alive? We’d have probably been on the ship before he even reached us. Why did I do that?

                                      I spat out a clump of dusty fur and turned my eyes to the window. Dark. We’d left Magenta City and were back in System Sky’s vast blackness of night. I clambered to my feet and looked out. In the far distance I could see the twinkling lights of another city, unknown to me. I didn’t even know which way was north from this height. Was it Pulse City? No… surely the nose of the rayquaza ship would be pointing towards it by now.

                                      Pulse City…

                                      I could only imagine such a place. Hopefully once we were out of it, we’d head back to System Ground. I didn’t even care where. I just wanted to get away from these space pirates. No pokemon should have to die for the sake of credits. I wasn’t even too sure I wanted the dragon’s blood money.

                                      Little did I know that was all set to change before we left Pulse City.

                                      ...

                                      Pulsing music reached my ears as the ship pulled into the docks. I’d been sleeping, and somehow was really grateful I was even waking up. I’d been fighting off sleep, but thankfully the dragons had left me well alone. I scrambled to my paws and looked from the window. Huge neon signs lit up shop and club fronts, some flickering erratically as their bulbs struggled to stay lit. The music wasn’t so much a melody as a concoction of various themes and rock music blaring from the various bars and colourful entertainment billboards.

                                      I scrambled from the room, following Iron Claw’s bellowing voice towards the cockpit. He stood by the exit hatch, muzzle creased into a frown as I approached him.

                                      “Grab a crate,” he said. “We’re already late.”

                                      “Late for what?” I asked around the crate’s bindings.

                                      Iron Claw watched as I tossed it onto my back. Again. It hurt a lot more this time, I think I’d pulled something.

                                      “Late to meet Worm,” Iron Claw spat. “He’s messaged me three times since we left Magenta. Pulse City is gagging for weapons and we’re supplyin’! Get a move on, runt. Follow Winder and make it fast. All of ya!”

                                      I staggered off the ship beneath the weight of the crate, desperate not to drop it. The space pirates gathered around the docks watched us curiously, claws twitching as some considered interjecting. As I strolled by with one on my back, balanced like a spinning plate, they seemed to reconsider. Wary looks passed between them as they watched the tiny eevee and his big box. I could almost hear their brains whirring as they tried to process whether what they saw was true or a facade, but not one wanted to find out.

                                      Good. I was in no mood to fight.

                                      I caught up with Winder and Vittles, then cast a glance back to the ship. Iron Claw was still making sure it was secure before grabbing his own crates off the docks.

                                      “Why do you put up with someone like that?” I asked the two dragons.

                                      Winder cast me a wary glance while Vittles glanced back and cleared his throat.

                                      “Simple,” he said. “You seen those things on his claws, right?”

                                      I nodded.

                                      “Well… we don’t wanna get on the receivin’ end o’ them.”

                                      “Besides,” said Winder, “it pays. Now shut up talkin’ and keep on walkin’.”

                                      He nudged me with his foot and I had to teeter to keep the crate from toppling to the ground.

                                      The long road ended at a huge building with ‘market’ in neon letters above it. As we sidled in, a throh barrelled past with his own crew in tow. A rather rag-tag group of misfits trailed by a small, runty mawile in a scarf much too big for him. He caught it under his feet and tripped into me, almost causing me to drop the crate. Winder stopped beside me, catching it on his flank. He shot the mawile a filthy look to the back of the head as he returned to the large fighting type, and nudged the crate back in place until it was balanced.

                                      “Watch where you’re goin’,” Winder hissed.

                                      “He bumped me!” I squeaked.

                                      “I don’t care. You break the contents, it’ll be your hide!”

                                      I deeply hoped he wasn’t speaking from experience. I tried my best not to cower and instead put on a brave face, following the two dragon types through the market’s crowds. A low table spread before us ‘monned by a sewaddle I could only assume was Worm.

                                      Winder dropped his two crates onto the sewaddle’s somewhat bare table, drawing the bug pokemon’s confident stare.

                                      “We rustled six crates,” said Winder. “Iron Claw’s on his way.”

                                      “No he ain’t, he’s here.” Iron Claw dropped his own crates beside Winder’s and peered at the bug pokemon over the top of them. “I think you’ll be satisfied.”

                                      “Go on then,” said Worm. “Bust ‘em open, let’s see what’s inside.”

                                      The arrival of the crates had already drawn quite the audience. Iron Claw brandished his claws and sliced the bindings open. The crates took a bit of prying to loosen the nails, but once one was open, Worm clambered up the side and poked his tiny head over the rim.

                                      “Oh ho ho!” he crooned. “Laser modules! Now we don’t get too many of them!”

                                      There was cheering from the surrounding pokemon, along with clapping paws. I found myself shoved aside as larger pokemon scrambled to the table. It all became quite a blur and I stepped back, away from the table and out of the crowd.

                                      Once Iron Claw’s exchange was done, he returned to me and gave me a nod.

                                      “All sold,” he said. “Couldn’t have done it without ya.”

                                      “Really?” I growled, ears drooped, shoulders slumped.

                                      “What’s that look for?” Iron Claw flashed his sharp teeth. “You climbed through that window, boy! None of us coulda fit through that!”

                                      I snorted and looked away from him. Fully aware of his claws. Part of me waited for him to slice away, but instead he just laughed.

                                      “Wanna see what we earned today?” He slammed something onto my head.

                                      I flinched, body locking up. But instead, a visor flashed before my eye. A large number appeared on it, and my eyes slowly widened as I realised what I was looking at.

                                      Seven thousand and five hundred credits.

                                      “That’s your share,” said Iron Claw. “Bet ya wouldn’t have made that sellin’ perfumes in Meta City’s underbelly, eh?”

                                      I shook my head, stiffly at first, then more energetically as I turned to look back up at him.

                                      “No! I would not!” I said. “I… this is really from grabbing those weapons?”

                                      “Aye.” Iron Claw curled his fists into his hips and smirked down at me. “And a little extra for nailin’ that flareon. We coulda got a lot more than that if we’d grabbed more crates. This is the life we lead, boy. You in?”

                                      The images of that bloodied heatmor and the poor flareon crossed my mind once more, but I shook it away, letting it fade into nothingness. My mother came back to the front of my mind. More than seven thousand credits. Just ten more errands and we could afford a place back in Meta City. We could afford to get her well again.

                                      I nodded as a grin split my muzzle. “I’m in.”

                                      ...

                                      More than a month passed by. Some errands fetched far less than the raid we’d performed in Magenta City. Iron Claw steered well away from that area of System Sky, and for good reason. It would be heavily defended for a while as the fire types kept a look out for his trademark ship. Instead, we visited Meta City’s underbelly for the chance of the odd weapon popping up. We’d do weapons raids in other areas such as Boolean City, or visit Binary’s entertainment district for a gambling session (or a stroll around, in my case). We’d drop in on Raster City to raid metal scraps and ore - some pokemon in Pulse City used them to make their own weapons and doohickeys (although admittedly they were a bit shoddy…) All odd jobs that very rarely brushed seven thousand credits.

                                      Most days were spent idly flying around System Sky, or gambling in Pulse City. Well… the dragons gambled. I’d either sit with them or skulk in a corner with a drink Iron Claw had cheerfully bought me before returning to his games. Even if I’d been offered to join in, I wouldn’t be risking my hard earned credits. They were for my mother, not throwing away.

                                      At night I’d check my balance, watching it slowly creep up. It didn’t help that on the quieter days - which were often - Iron Claw didn’t even pay me the five hundred he’d promised (and there was no way I was confronting him about it…) We needed a plan. A big plan. I’d not spoken to my mother in weeks, and I was growing anxious. Twenty thousand credits wasn’t going to get us a home. It was barely enough to get her well. Another ten thousand, maybe. At least I could give her that but… she’d still be living in the outskirts. She’d just get sick again.

                                      I sighed and let my paw flop to my side. A small stream of dust rose from the mattress and I rolled over to face the empty room. Less dusty. No luxuries. Every credit I earned was set aside for my mother. For some reason, Iron Claw kept feeding me. He fed us all. Part of me wondered if he set a little savings aside for keeping his crew.

                                      Since that stunt in Magenta City, he hadn’t killed anyone again. That was a plus. Maybe space pirates weren’t all that bad?

                                      The ship came to a halt and I heard the gabite bellow for us all to get a move on. I cast a quick glance from the window and felt my stomach do a turn.

                                      In the distance was Socket’s mansion, the System flag waving high above the rooftops. Mechanical trees stood tall along the streets just beyond the docks, silent sentinels in a night-shrouded city.

                                      But just as one would expect, Meta City was not quiet. Pokemon bustled back and forth, oblivious to the cloaked ship. What on earth were we doing back here? Even if we visited the underbelly, Meta’s docks was not the place to park.

                                      I left the room, a million questions forming in my mind, but they all retreated back into forgotten files as I stared up at the gabite. A huge grin split his face and he tapped his arm with his wicked claws.

                                      “Got a little job for you, boy,” he purred. “Nice and easy, like.”

                                      I glanced out of the open hatch then shrugged. “Go on.”

                                      “Hospital raid,” he said. “Get in there, grab some medicines, and meet us back here.”

                                      “What do you need medicines for?” I asked, meeting his eyes.

                                      “Pulse City,” he said. “They pay out the nose for medicine, boy! Dunno if you’ve realised, but weapons have been a little dry lately. So I thought why not raid some medicines? Could easily land you, oh… I dunno… fifteen thousand credits per run?”

                                      My jaw almost hit the floor.

                                      That was it. I left the ship, keeping my wits about me. Iron Claw had his head screwed on straight. He might stand out like a sore paw pad, but me? A normal type in Meta City? So long as the dock workers didn’t see me suddenly appear out of thin air, then they wouldn’t suspect a thing.

                                      It weren’t far to Central Meta Hospital. The huge, white, sterile building was exactly where it’s name said it should be. The centre of Meta City. A fair trek from the docks, but without pokemon casting suspicious glances my way it didn’t take long to get there. What did take a while was finding a way in. Sure, I could walk through the A&E reception, but to stroll into wards? Into locked storage cupboards? Now that part wasn’t going to be easy.

                                      One would think.

                                      I managed to get into the wards with all the ease of a haunter through a brick wall. I’d only been a space pirate for like, a month, but I had pick pocketing down to a fine art. I’d snagged guns, pocket computers, credit pouches and all sorts from space pirates and commoners alike. I’d been caught once. By a machoke who’d taken an extreme dislike to me taking his computer. I’d received a black eye that day, made a whole lot more sore by the tattoo I’d had done two days prior. Courtesy of Iron Claw in order to make me look tougher. He had a friend do it ‘for free’. Coupled with a bruise it smarted my paws off, but I learned a valuable lesson. Be more careful.

                                      So as a janitor passed me by, I craned my head back to spot a set of keys hanging by his tail. The little minccino didn’t feel a thing as I grabbed the keys from his belt, snipping through the leather loop with my sharp teeth. Perfect. Keys was what I’d need to get into the storage cupboards.

                                      I paused by a map, tucking the keys into my belt pouch. Muttering under my breath ‘storage, storage’ I managed to find a promising area between Intensive Care and MRI. I adjusted the rucksack over my shoulders and followed the orange corridor around until it spat me out in the red area. Intensive Care. Computers beeped in the distance, monitoring heart rates. A young meowstic stopped me on the way, glancing between myself and her Clipboard.

                                      “Who are you here to see?” she asked. “I don’t recognise you.”

                                      “I just arrived,” I said. “I’m here to see my dad.”

                                      Lies. She narrowed her eyes at me then looked back at her Clipboard.

                                      “I don’t believe we have any eevee here,” she said. “Or any of your eevolutions.”

                                      “That’s because he’s a meowstic.”

                                      The look on her face was one of disbelief. I simply shrugged.

                                      “What is his name?” She stared intensely down at her Clipboard, scrolling with an index claw.

                                      “I don’t know it,” I lied.

                                      She looked back up with a start and opened her mouth to speak, but I cut her off.

                                      “He never let me call him by his name. I don’t even remember my mother using it. We all had to call him ‘Dad’. It’s a habit, see. It was to get me, and my little brother, saying ‘Dad’ first. You know what dads are like, right?”

                                      The look on her face was unreadable. It wasn’t working. I’d have to do something, and fast. I glanced down the corridor behind her, into the waiting room. Bustling nurses. This wasn’t going to be easy.

                                      “I can’t let you in,” she said. “I’ll have to call security.”

                                      I muttered under my breath, ‘Oh jack.’ She reached for the microphone on her scarf but before she could do anything, I leapt at her, fastening my jaws around her throat. I cut off any yelp she intended to let out, and we tumbled down an empty corridor. When I let go, she’d fallen unconscious. I scooped up the Clipboard, noting the male meowstic’s name. It definitely wasn’t Dad. I scooted it aside and sat her up, then looked around.

                                      A grin split my face. The storage closet!

                                      I grabbed the keys and leafed through for the card that would open the door. Every janitor would need to get in at some point, surely? Each one failed. Well, I wasn’t busting it open this time. Not in a hospital full of pokemon who might hear or see me, or both. I spat the keys back out and turned to the meowstic. Still unconscious.

                                      Around her neck was her name badge, hidden under all that fur. I snipped it free, getting some of her fur in the process. Then I flashed it at the storage closet’s card panel. It clicked open and I stifled a cheer. The card key found its new home in my pouch, just in case I needed it to get back out. Sure, I wasn’t a meowstic, but it looked official at first glance.

                                      The storage closet was full of medicine. I removed the rucksack Iron Claw had given me and began stuffing it with all sorts from saline solution to needles. Concentrated berry concoctions, pain killers… it was all here. Once I was done, I left the cupboard and kicked the door shut. I considered giving the meowstic her badge back and changed my mind. The less evidence I left, the better. At least the minccino’s keys looked just like dropped keys, and took the suspicion from me.

                                      I sauntered back the way I came, retracing my footsteps back to the docks.

                                      Iron Claw laughed jovially as he went through the medicine bag. “Well done, boy!”

                                      I puffed out my chest. “All in a day’s work, Captain!”

                                      He snorted. “I told you to cut that out.”

                                      I shrugged, watching as he tossed the bag back into the cockpit.

                                      “So,” I said. “With that, I’m closer to saving my mother. Reckon we can pay her a visit and transfer it?”

                                      “I thought you were waitin’ until you got seventy thousand.” The dragon didn’t even look at me.

                                      “I was, but… I’ve been thinking…” I cleared my throat. “If we can get things started, at least she’ll be in a hospital. Then… I might make enough to get her a small apartment at least-”

                                      “No.”

                                      “No?” I raised an eyebrow. “But I’ve earned it! I can do what I want with my wages.”

                                      “Really?” Iron Claw stood up and frowned down at me. “What makes you think I’m even payin’ you?”

                                      “I’m sorry?”

                                      “You were sellin’ perfumes back in the underbelly, right? Floral. Berry. Had ‘sylveon’ written all over it.” He chuckled. “You really think I’m payin’ you to take care of some fairy?”

                                      My jaw went slack. I didn’t know what to say.

                                      “Hit a nerve, eh?” Iron Claw asked.

                                      “My mother isn’t just some fairy,” I said slowly. “She’s my mother, and she saved my life! It’s my job to save hers.”

                                      “I ain’t payin’ you to take care of some fairy, boy.” He chuckled and kicked the bag further into the cockpit.

                                      “Yes you are, and you know it.” I rose to my own feet, leering up at the gabite. “You told me I’d make more money here than I would selling perfumes. Now let me rescue my mother!”

                                      Iron Claw spread his blades and took a step back. “Then transfer it. You’ve got your visor, use it.”

                                      “You never told me how…”

                                      I brought up the visor, keeping one eye on the sand dragon. A sinking feeling spread through my gut. Blank screen, just numbers, no option to transfer. I searched it frantically, but it was just the amount, and the bank’s name ‘PCB’.

                                      “How?” I growled.

                                      Iron Claw chuckled and folded his arms. “You can’t, boy. Restrictin’ your use stopped you accessin’ it and sendin’ it off to some fairy.”

                                      I flashed my canines and lowered my head, an uncharacteristic snarl rising in my throat. “Then what have you been paying me for?!”

                                      “I haven’t been paying you!” Iron Claw roared back. “It were a lie! Keep you keen, use your size and that strength you’ve got! You’re a tiny runt who fits places we can’t, and a normal type?” He waved out at Meta City. “Blends right in. And, if in the process there’s one less fairy in System? Bonus!”

                                      A huge, childlike roar left my throat and I flew at him, knocking him backwards. He rolled head over tail before launching me from the door. Claws sliced my flesh, but I didn’t care. I stood back up to throw myself back onto the ship, but he leapt out like a dart. His huge frame barrelled into me, sending me across the docks. Pokemon scattered. Screams filled the air. Mine joined them as sharp claws cut into me, raking over my body.

                                      Vittles and Winder joined him on the docks and a little hope filled my chest. But it was expunged when I saw their faces. Their leers. Their snarling teeth as Iron Claw stood back up and waved towards me.

                                      “Go on,” he said. “Finish him off. I’m done.”

                                      They were on me like rabid mutts, fists striking my ribs and jaws snapping over my ruff to throw me across the docks. I tried to fight back. I got in a few tackles, even a take down. But those heavy wounds to my body bled freely, painfully, draining me of my strength. Eventually, I had to flee. Flee before the police showed up. They did. They tried to stop me, but not with accusations. I didn’t want to speak to them. With what little energy I had left, I fled, leaving bloody paw prints on the streets.

                                      The two dragons didn’t chase after me. I didn’t look back. I’ve no idea if they were even apprehended. They probably fled.

                                      I’ve no idea how I even left the city. I managed to get out into the outskirts, somehow, where I finally collapsed in Spool City on some filthy back street.

                                      Sore. Beaten. Bleeding. I could feel the warmth pooling from my nostrils as I let my eyes close, letting my breathing slowly level out. Then I heard footsteps. Slow. Approaching. Whoever it was could finish me off for all I cared.

                                      They stopped close to my muzzle, and I could feel whoever it was staring down at me. When they didn’t speak, or move, I finally cracked an eye open. The blurred features of a delphox stared back at me, briefly coming into focus before I finally let it close again. A dry chuckle left my throat, but I couldn’t think of any words.

                                      He spoke first. “Scourge of the skies.” His voice was wrought with disappointment. “Oh, what your mother would think of you.”

                                      I chuckled again. “I was doin’ it for her.”

                                      “I know.”

                                      I took in a deep, trembling breath. “So what are you gonna do to me? Turn me over to Socket?”

                                      I heard him take a deep drag of his cigar. “No.”

                                      I was rapidly losing strength. Every single word I tried was becoming a chore.

                                      “I deserve it,” I said.

                                      “Oh, I know. But what kind of friend would I be if I did that?”

                                      Friend? I laughed bitterly.

                                      “Then what?” I asked. “Turn me into my mother?”

                                      He stubbed his cigar out on a damp wall then scooped me into his arms. I remember thinking ‘typical’ before everything finally went black.

                                      ...

                                      I woke up in the same bed my mother had occupied. It smelled like her. The whole room did. Even a few perfume pots still stood on the table, waiting for the son who never showed up to collect them. It tasted bitter. I buried my face into the pillow, trying to lose myself in pleasant memories of games and bedtime stories back in a clean, Meta City house. I even thought I smelled her baking.

                                      The door opened and I looked back, expecting to see her, but all I saw was Tracer with a cigar between his teeth. His eyes widened with surprise and he removed it, the smoke curling from his claws as he flicked ash into the hallway.

                                      “You’re awake,” he finally said. “It’s been two days.”

                                      My claws dug into the duvet. The last time I’d seen my mother she could barely get off the bed. Where was she? Tracer seemed to read my question before I could bring myself to ask it. His muzzle turned into a frown and he sighed, glancing to the dingy window.

                                      “I’m afraid… you’re mother passed away,” he said slowly. “Two weeks ago.”

                                      Tears pricked my eyes and I screwed them shut, shaking my head. “No. No, I won’t believe-”

                                      “Widget…” His voice cracked and he took another deep breath. Then a drag on his cigar, more to calm himself down. “I’m sorry. I did all I could to help her.”

                                      I took a deep breath myself, which shuddered with the threat of sobs. “I believe you.”

                                      Surprise crossed his features again and he folded his arms, eyeing me up. “Good. Because… I was very fond of both you and your mother.”

                                      Past tense? Of course. I sobbed into my paws, body shaking. Still sore and bound with bloody bandages.

                                      “What happened, Widget?” his voice was soft.

                                      I looked up again, blinking back tears. “I… I wanted to help her. So badly. These pirates, they…” My voice trailed off and I wiped tears from my eyes with a paw. “They tricked me. Lied to me. Used me.”

                                      “They’re space pirates,” Tracer said flatly. “What on earth were you doing trusting space pirates?”

                                      “I was desperate,” I said. “I saw the money we made in the first raid, and I guess… I found hope.”

                                      “In the wrong place.”

                                      I grimaced. “I’m aware of that. They wouldn’t give me so much as a single credit.”

                                      He took another long drag of his cigar. I finally cracked an eye open and looked at him. He was staring straight back at me.

                                      “Then why not help me round them up?” he asked. “I’ll pay you. You can turn your life around rounding up space pirates and criminals.”

                                      “Are you serious?” I asked. “What about Socket?”

                                      “Let me deal with Socket.” He placed his cigar back between his teeth and turned from the room. “Get some rest. I’ll bring you some lunch.”

                                      ...

                                      The entire cockpit fell silent as Widget finished his story. The laser module he’d been batting back and forth rested under one paw. He could feel N0ize looking at him over the back of his chair, but it wasn’t a leer. Wasn’t a glare. Not even a look of amusement.

                                      The incineroar sighed and brushed his ears back. “What were you doin’ trustin’ old Iron Claw?”

                                      Widget shrugged his shoulders. “Like I said. I thought there was some hope there, to save my mother.”

                                      “He’s all lies.” N0ize turned back to the cracked windscreen. “Even space pirates can’t stand him. There were a little celebration when that fancy bounty hunter Waveform finally turned him in, and all his crew with him.”

                                      Widget chuckled. “Yeah, Tracer was sore about that. He’d wanted to turn him in himself.”

                                      “And you?”

                                      “Didn’t care.” Widget shrugged again.

                                      N0ize craned his neck around to look at him. “So… I guess that tattoo of yours ain’t so much a fancy look than it is a painful reminder?”

                                      “Oh, it’s a reminder.” Widget swatted the module to his other paw and met the incineroar’s eyes. “That someone can turn their life around for the better.”

                                      The space pirate’s eyes widened and he turned away so quick his seat squeaked. Widget thought he saw him wipe a paw across his face.

                                      “Well, thanks for the story, pup,” he said. “Let’s focus on gettin’ to the Analogue Isles, eh?”

                                      Tracer stepped back into the cockpit and looked between the three pokemon. The smell of cigar smoke clung to his fur, but if N0ize noticed he didn’t say anything.

                                      Tracer looked back down at the eevee. “Did I miss something?”

                                      “Not really. Just some old boy talk.” Widget grinned from ear to ear and swatted the module into the air towards the delphox. “Catch!”

                                      ...

                                      A/N - For those who remember Iron Claw's name, he did evolve into a garchomp post-Widget. And yes, he's the very garchomp Macro had a run-in with where he almost lost his eye.
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                                      Old 4 Weeks Ago (6:31 AM).
                                      Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                      Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
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                                        Join Date: May 2015
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                                        Chapter Sixty Five

                                        The dinner time bell rang out through Wildcard Gamma, snatching Macro out of a dreamless sleep. He cracked an eye open and licked his dry lips. Dinner. Why didn’t he feel hungry? He shifted against his pillow, feeling the sticky wetness against his cheek, then it all came back to him.

                                        DL. Those memories. That fire.

                                        He let out a groan and pushed himself up, running a paw over his scar if only to wipe away some of the stickiness. The entire room seemed to stink. How long had he been in there? He staggered from the bed and made a bee-line for the shower. Hopefully that would make him feel a little better.

                                        Anchor turned the corner from the cockpit and did a double-take.

                                        “Cap’n!” he said. “I was just comin’ to get you.”

                                        Macro mumbled something incoherent as he opened the door to the bathroom.

                                        “Groggy, huh?” Anchor asked. “Yanno… Switch contacted me.”

                                        Macro paused in the doorway, not looking back at the granbull.

                                        “They’re safe on System Ground,” Anchor explained. “Found some ‘mon who can help them. So… they’re not alone.”

                                        “Pirates?” Macro’s voice cracked.

                                        “Well… yeh, actually,” said Anchor. “Sort of.”

                                        That was all Macro was willing to hear. He let the door close and switched on the shower, letting the lavender water wash away the previous night.

                                        Lavender…

                                        He reached for the switch and changed the setting without even looking at it. The scent of the water gained a citrus zing and he slumped against the wall, sliding down onto the floor. It wasn’t until he opened his eyes again he realised he was still wearing his scarf.

                                        Muttering under his breath, he tore it off and tossed it towards the sink where it landed in a citrussy puddle.

                                        Pirates…

                                        Macro leered at the scarf, watching as the water sloshed over it. Pirates hadn’t been what he’d wanted to hear. Space Pirates weren’t good pokemon. He should know. But… they did also hate Socket. And right now, all he wanted to do was pin her down and shove his laser in her face. That vindictive gothitelle had gone too far.

                                        He pushed himself back to his trembling feet and switched off the water. Everything ached. He had no idea why. What had he done to ache so much? He gathered up his sodden scarf and wrung it dry as he stood beneath the fur drier. For much too long. By the time his scarf had dried, his entire body resembled a cutiefly hatchling. He tried to smooth out the static to no avail as he made for the cockpit.

                                        Then faltered.

                                        Everyone was in the kitchen, talking. The smell of pancakes danced before his nose, its efforts doing nothing to swindle him. In fact, it made him feel sick. He sighed and turned his back on the kitchen, taking his usual seat in the cockpit.

                                        A seat that felt too small without DL’s slender body taking up part of it. He’d instinctively pushed himself up against the right arm, and the space beside him felt so bare. A lump rose in his throat and he forced himself into the centre of the seat, kicking his feet up onto the dashboard.

                                        It felt so wrong.

                                        Anchor’s heavy footsteps drove away any desire to let himself cry any further. Macro cracked an eye open as the granbull fell heavily into his own seat, still clutching a pancake. Or… was that a pancake sandwich?

                                        “Thought I heard you come in here,” said Anchor. “Not hungry this mornin’?”

                                        “No,” said Macro.

                                        Anchor gave him a sympathetic look, but rather than voicing his concerns, he took a bite out of his breakfast and turned back to the controls.

                                        “We’ll be back at Cyan City in about half an hour,” he said. “Took a detour so I could check on Surge’s ship. Wanted to make sure it wasn’t traceable, and unfortunately it is.”

                                        “What does that mean?” Macro asked. “Is she followin’ us?”

                                        “Fortunately, no,” Anchor explained. “Jumper’s got her locked up. I just wanted to make sure Socket wasn’t tracing her. I destroyed the chip and chucked it. So if she had been tracking us en-route from Cyan City, she isn’t any more.”

                                        “Fantastic,” Macro spat.

                                        “Cap’n…” Anchor’s expression softened and looked at Macro face on. “She’ll come to her senses. Give her time.”

                                        Macro stared blankly ahead, watching Cyan City’s dome draw closer. Time… with all those Ultra Beasts being released into System, he wasn’t even sure how much time they even had. His accident had cost them dearly, as had his expedition to Botnet City. If they were going to stop Socket, he had to box up his emotions again. He scratched beneath his horn and sighed.

                                        “Forget it,” he said. “Let’s just get this training done and go after BackDoor. I’ll deal with Socket later.”

                                        “I think you mean we will deal with Socket later,” said Anchor.

                                        “Sure.” Macro let his eyes close and tucked his paws behind his head. “Of course I did.”

                                        Anchor clearly knew he hadn’t meant that at all. Boxing up his emotions wasn’t going to be easy.

                                        ...

                                        The Analogue Isles sure were chilly.

                                        Tracer hugged his trench coat around himself as he stood on Beta Docks, watching Cyph3r and N0ize work away at their ship. The sharpedo’s windscreen was still shattered as the pair were more interested in the damage dealt to its jaws. Apparently the close range attack weapon was more important than ‘keepin’ a little grit outta your eyes’.

                                        “You know,” said Widget, “there was a time I often wondered why I never visited the Analogue Isles during my rogue days.” He glanced up at the yellowed sky. So yellow it could make the air in the Meta City Outskirts look like a haven. “I take that all back.”

                                        “Well.” Tracer tapped his claws on his arm, wishing deeply he’d thought to stock up on cigars before they took their little trip to Pulse City. “We’ll be out of here soon enough, don’t you worry.”

                                        The delphox glanced around at the docks. It was hard to see much beyond them, the smog was so thick. Oddly enough, he could see the coast line of the mainland quite clearly. Wave City’s towering skyscrapers stood out on the skyline, and their lighthouse spun its light periodically in their direction, almost beckoning him to jump in the ocean and swim for shore. But he knew full well if he tried that, Cyph3r would snipe him with his railgun. And he’d already witnessed the magmortar in action to know he would not miss.

                                        The incineroar lifted his head and fixed his no-nonsense eyes on Tracer and Widget. “Got a problem here.”

                                        “Oh?” Tracer cocked an eyebrow. “Ship lose a tooth?”

                                        “Don’t mess with me, fox, it ain’t cute.” N0ize folded his huge arms and leant back against the sharpedo. “Those spikes clean knocked out the jaw’s bracer. Gonna need a new one, or we ain’t flyin’ anywhere.”

                                        “How, may I ask,” said Tracer, “does one missing key element to your ship’s weapon prevent us from flying?”

                                        “No torpedoes,” said N0ize. “We’re out. If Sharkie here can’t bite, then we can’t defend ourselves.”

                                        Tracer sighed and ran a paw over his face. He caught Widget staring up at him, and once he’d got his attention, the eevee mouthed ‘Sharkie?’ then stifled a giggle.

                                        Tracer turned back to N0ize and raised a paw in a shrug. “What do you want us to do about it?”

                                        “I need you to go find me a bracer,” said N0ize.

                                        “Why can’t you do it?” asked Tracer. “It’s your ship.”

                                        “Because I can’t leave her here unattended, and I’m not gonna leave you two here watchin’ her. You might hop in and bail for all I know.”

                                        “He knows us so well already,” Widget muttered. “I’d say somethin’ about it being sweet, but it really isn’t.”

                                        Tracer pretended he hadn’t heard him. “Well, I’m afraid neither of us know what a bracer is.”

                                        “Shops do,” said N0ize. “And correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought I said you two are payin’. So go get buyin’.”

                                        “Really?” Widget asked. “You’re trusting us to go and buy you a part for your ship, yet you won’t leave us waiting by it? What makes you so sure we’re gonna come back?”

                                        Tracer’s heart sank. Well, there went that escape plan before he’d even fully thought it out. He made a mental note to buy the eevee a muzzle.

                                        “Well, let’s think about that.” N0ize had his back to them again, hidden inside ‘Sharkie’s’ jaws. “I don’t know how much you’re aware of this, but the Analogue Isles have their own Kraken.”

                                        Widget swallowed audibly and looked up at the delphox. “I think he means one of them jellyfish things.”

                                        “Oh, it ain’t a jellyfish.” N0ize looked back over his shoulder at them and grinned. “Good luck out there, fuzz.”

                                        Tracer hesitated for a moment, staring at N0ize’s back hunched over his ship. With a shake of his head, he turned and made his way deeper into Beta City.

                                        “I don’t like this,” said Widget. “It isn’t fun anymore. I wanna go home.”

                                        “You and me both,” said Tracer. “I’m beginning to think taking on this mission to round up Annie was the worst decision I ever made.”

                                        “Really? ‘Cause I think that part was pretty cool. My gripe lies in heading to Pulse City.”

                                        “Yes, remind me again why we went there?”

                                        “To sell Socket’s ship and buy a new one, so we looked the part,” explained Widget.

                                        “Oh yes.” Tracer rubbed at his ear and sighed. “I’m still not sure how to break that news to her.”

                                        “Given how it ends, I say don’t.”

                                        Tracer snorted and reached for a cigar… which wasn’t there. He muttered under his breath and paused to take in his surroundings. Was it his imagination, or was the smog getting worse? He deeply wished he’d not left his mask on the government ship.

                                        “Well, I don’t know about you.” Widget spoke oddly quietly. “But I don’t see a single shop anywhere.”

                                        “Never mind shop, I don’t see any buildings,” said Tracer. “It’s all docks and boxes.”

                                        “Deeper we go then.”

                                        Widget skipped on ahead, and Tracer caught up with him before he lost him in the smog. Eventually they came to the end of the docks, their feet finding tarmac as they arrived on one of the roads. The painted stripes and presence of stationary lorries reminded Tracer of how backwards the Analogue Isles were. The high roads taken by hover vehicles hadn’t made it this far, meaning the ground was very much separated into pedestrian and traffic areas. For sake of rules, the two pokemon moved off the road to the concrete sidewalk. Not that there was a single moving vehicle taking up the road.

                                        “Here are all the buildings.” Widget squinted up at them. “What’s left of them anyway.”

                                        Tracer finally tore his eyes off the stationary lorries to take in the skyscrapers. Huge chunks had been torn away, windows were smashed in, and doors were pulled clean off their hinges. Whatever had attacked them had left no debris on the ground. All the evidence of an attack was above their heads, as if something had swooped down and just eaten a piece of a building before flying off elsewhere.

                                        Tracer’s stomach tightened into knots. Given the creatures coming through, was it really unbelievable that one might take a liking to sampling System’s various architecture? He reached for his stick and turned to head back to the docks, keeping one eye on the missing bricks above them.

                                        “Nope,” he said. “We are not staying around here, Widget.”

                                        “But we need to get the bracer,” the eevee whined.

                                        “Forget the bracer. We can get it somewhere else.” Tracer began to make his way back to the docks. “With all this smog and the evidence of an attack, it just doesn’t feel save here. Add to that the missing pokemon, and I think we have a recipe for potential death and demise.”

                                        “Huh, that would make a pretty good video game, actually.” Widget skipped to keep up with him. “Guess we’re gonna have to fly in an unprotected ship then, eh?”

                                        “Yes, and I think you should be the one to break the news to our new friends.”

                                        “Why me?”

                                        “Because you’re the one with the silver tongue.” Tracer paused and glanced down at him. “And the unbreakable skeleton.”

                                        “All right, fine,” Widget sighed. “I’ll be the bringer of bad news. Man, I should have been born an absol.” He paused and looked around, one paw in the air. “Wait… where are we?”

                                        Tracer followed the eevee’s gaze. With all the smog, it had been difficult to gauge how dark it was. But it was suddenly very dark. The eevee’s voice echoed slightly, and Tracer reached behind him for his stick.

                                        “We appear to have inadvertently entered a building,” Tracer explained.

                                        “Funny,” said Widget. “I was convinced we were heading back the way we came. But I suppose it is pretty hard to navigate here, given I can’t see six feet in front of me let alone the stinkin’ sky.” He turned one-eighty and froze again. “How do we get out? I can’t see a door.”

                                        Tracer turned on the spot, keeping his stick raised and ignited. It did little to light their way, reflecting off the glossy black walls and thick clouds around them.

                                        “What kind of decor is this?” he scoffed. “Who in their right mind would paint their walls black?”

                                        Widget chuckled and glanced back at him with a smile. “Remind me to tell you about this liepard I once knew.”

                                        Tracer shook his head and moved towards one of the walls. He placed his paw upon it and nodded to Widget to do the same.

                                        “Come on,” he said, “we’ll use the wall as a guide. We’re sure to find a door sooner or later.”

                                        “I can’t even see any furniture,” said Widget. “Why do I get the feeling every pokemon here just packed their bags and left?”

                                        Tracer didn’t answer. He felt eyes on his back, boring into him. A chill ran down his spine and he lifted his stick higher in a desperate bid to light up further into the dark building.

                                        “Yo, Tracer, you listenin’?” Widget craned his neck back to look at him.

                                        Tracer kept his ears fixed forward as he scoured the building. That feeling of being watched didn’t leave him. Wherever he turned, it was on his back, unwilling to face him. Taunting, enjoying his fear.

                                        “We’re not alone,” he muttered. “Move it, Widget. We need to find that door!”

                                        Widget nodded and turned, moving as quickly as he could along the wall. Tracer followed behind him, almost stumbling over the eevee’s tail in a desperate bid to find the nearest door, window, or breakable wall.

                                        “Do you not feel it?” he gasped.

                                        “Of course I do,” said Widget. “I’m just not a quaking wreck like you are.”

                                        “I think ‘claustrophobic’ is the term you’re looking for,” Tracer growled.

                                        “Nah, that’s not what I was goin’ for. I was goin’ for that thing where it’s so dark you think someone’s watching you. All psychological. Keep tellin’ yourself that and you’ll be fine.”

                                        Tracer let out a long breath but he refused to lower his stick. “Yes. Yes, I think you might be right. I’ll try to calm down.”

                                        It was easier said than done. That feeling followed him, dragging every hair down his spine on end. He warred with the desire to look back and check his own tail, to search the dark for a face. Everywhere he looked he thought he saw a face. Icy eyes glowing in the distance that would vanish no sooner than he look at them.

                                        Widget let out a couple of gasps and leant against the wall slightly. “I’m not finding that door.”

                                        “We’ve probably not gone the entire way around yet,” Tracer explained, his voice barely a whisper.

                                        “I dunno. I felt a corner a little while ago. Surely we didn’t go that far into this building, right?”

                                        Tracer glanced back over his shoulder, spotting those eyes again. Several. They vanished one by one, moving away from him. No… he wasn’t mistaken. He really was seeing eyes.

                                        He raised his stick and let out a flame thrower, lighting up the glossy black wall.

                                        Bricks. The entire wall was formed out of bricks. Black bricks, uniform, not a window in sight. As for the floor, it was concrete. And tarmac. There was even a curb.

                                        His mouth went dry and he cleared his throat. “Widget… I’m about to tell you something, and I don’t want you to freak out.”

                                        “All right. Shoot.”

                                        “We’re not inside a building at all.” Tracer looked back up again and prepared his stick for another flamethrower. “We’re inside a living creature.”

                                        “What? Pull the other one!” Widget scoffed. “How on earth does one just saunter into a living creature?”

                                        His voice echoed wildly throughout the building, making Tracer flinch and pull his ears back. Each and every brick snapped around one by one, revealing row upon row of icy blue eyes. Each one trained onto the two pokemon, lighting up the smog with a pale blue hue.

                                        Widget’s ears drooped and he fell onto his haunches. “Oh snap…”

                                        Tracer took a step back, struggling to focus on one pair of eyes. He kept his stick trained, ready to fight back.

                                        “I’m open to suggestions, Widget,” he said.

                                        “I’m just gonna do what I’m good at,” said the eevee. “Bust my way outta here by force.”

                                        He turned and bolted, crashing into the wall. His mechanical skeleton whined with the impact as he was launched backwards by an invisible force. Tracer aimed his stick at another wall, throwing out a flamethrower. It fizzled out before it could so much as lick the surface.

                                        “Protect,” he muttered. “So these things fight like us pokemon do, eh?”

                                        Widget pushed himself back up and flipped onto his feet, shaking out his ruff.

                                        “Then we fight back like pokemon,” he said. “Sooner or later, it’s gonna give up or faint.”

                                        Tracer let out a breath and readied another attack. “I like your optimism. Let’s hope you’re right.”

                                        He threw his stick forward, expelling another flamethrower. This one struck home, heating up the bricks until they lit up with a pinkish glow. The eyes span back away from the attack, protecting the lifeform’s vulnerable surface. Yet it made no noise. Expressionless. No scream, no wince… nothing.

                                        Then there was a creak. Not from any vocal chords, but from the structure itself as it shifted. Tracer aimed his flame in the direction of the noise enough to light it up, but the glowing eyes did most of the work for him. Beyond the eerie glow, he spotted a long pillar of slender bricks pushing against the ground. Daylight leaked in beneath the creature, bringing with it murky smog.

                                        “Is it fleeing?” Widget asked all too eagerly.

                                        Tracer said nothing, keeping his stick raised. There was every possibility they’d strolled inside it by accident, but it could just as easily have been a stealth attack. A way to trap its prey. But if its prey was fighting back, maybe it didn’t think it was worth it?

                                        The base crashed back down to the floor, shaking the ground. Rubble flew towards them faster than Tracer could raise his arms. Widget hissed with pain as the jagged rocks struck his flesh, then he shook out his ears and bared his canines.

                                        “That’s it!” the eevee roared. “Now I’m mad! Prepare to taste pain, villain!”

                                        The small pokemon rocketed towards the creature’s walls, striking it with such force the eyes almost seemed to flinch. They span away from him, the bricks whipping harmlessly at his fur. A few cracks spread across the surface, and the entire structure lurched, rising up onto four spindly legs. That’s when Tracer heard it. A deep, mechanical groan that resembled a roar. Every single eye turned red, reflecting off the glossy surface. It flew into the air and aimed the nearest wall above their heads.

                                        “Widget, move!” Tracer roared.

                                        The pair shoulder-rolled to the side, dodging the creature’s attack.

                                        “Heavy slam?” Widget whined. “Aww, man! I’ve been wantin’ to learn that since I got this skeleton put in place. But would they teach me? No. Why? Because I’m little!”

                                        “This is no time to be envious, Widget,” said Tracer. “This thing wants us dead.”

                                        “Yeh, and we’re still inside it.” Widget cleared his throat and looked up at the delphox. “Why, exactly, didn’t we roll out into the city to safety?”

                                        “Not enough room or time. We’d have been flattened.”

                                        Tracer aimed his stick and waved it, creating a blue wisp of flames. They struck the creature, lighting up a burn across the surface. It jerked away from them, scraping along the ground like claws over slate. Rubble flew in their direction, but Tracer was able to throw up a protect in time. Widget, however, took the attack head on. He narrowed his brown eyes and threw himself recklessly at the creature. More cracks appeared in the bricks as the eyes spun away from the impact.

                                        A roar.

                                        Another rear up into the air.

                                        “All right, this time, let’s roll out of the creature!” Widget barked as he took off past Tracer.

                                        The delphox turned and tucked his stick away, launching himself through the rapidly narrowing gap. The beast fell to the ground with an almighty crash, clipping his bushy tail. He yowled and tugged it away, tearing the fur and skin from the tip. But there was no time to examine the damage. The eyes flicked around so they were on the outer surface, lighting up the smog with a nightmarish red glow.

                                        “Yup.” Widget’s tail slumped down behind him. “I know when I’m beat. Let’s book it.”

                                        Tracer scrambled to his feet and raced after the eevee, moving away from the monster. It clattered up onto its spindly legs and trotted after them. The sight would have been comical if it weren’t for the massive threat it posed. Widget ducked into an alley and Tracer squeezed in behind him, dodging overflowing trash bags and haphazard trash cans. Sticky slime coated up to his ankles as he clambered through unidentifiable sludge to come out of the other end. There was no way it could follow them through there. But it did mean they ended up even more lost than they had been previously.

                                        “This way!” Widget took a sharp right.

                                        Tracer didn’t need telling twice. He scrambled after the eevee, trying in vain to ignore the pulsing pain in his tail. The wounded limb found its way into his paws, rendering balancing a difficult act. Through the smog, he could just make out a tall mast. The decorative flag that marked Beta City’s docks. His heart lurched into his throat, and he released his tail to catch up with the vanishing eevee.

                                        N0ize looked up as the pair raced towards him. He opened his mouth to speak, but Tracer waved him off.

                                        “Get back in the ship!” he roared.

                                        “What’s the problem?” N0ize asked. “Run into that Kraken?”

                                        “You could say that.” Widget glanced over his shoulder.

                                        All eyes went to the hulking monster as it crushed its way between the buildings. N0ize’s jaw dropped and he ushered Cyph3r onto the ship. The two space pirates rushed ahead of the detectives, but not before the magmortar fired a shot at the creature. The railgun’s hidden bullet struck the brick surface, punching a hole through it and bringing the beast to a halt.

                                        The ship’s door began to close before Tracer was even fully on board. He scrambled between the door, clutching his tail in one paw. Sticky blood clung to the fur of his paws and matted his tail, but he was more interested in the creature. It hadn’t completely stopped. It reared itself up for an attack, crashing back down as the ship rose into the air. Rocks rained down towards them, striking the ship’s hull harmlessly.

                                        “Huh.” N0ize scratched his nose. “Persistent thing, ain’t it? It ain’t what were described to me, either. How many are there?”

                                        “That wasn’t the Kraken?” Widget gasped. “What on earth was it then?”

                                        “Got me,” said N0ize. “Thing they described to me were some black dragon with a mouth in its gut. Eats buildings.”

                                        Tracer’s mind went back to the huge chunks missing from the buildings. That explained the distinct lack of pokemon. They’d likely fled, or met a horrendous fate.

                                        N0ize looked down at the detective and frowned. “What on earth happened to your tail, fuzz?”

                                        Tracer gingerly touched the wounded tip and hissed. That was going to need some quick treatment. Maybe even a course of antibiotics. Goodness knows what got into it as he scrambled through that alley.

                                        “Here.” N0ize reached into his dashboard and pulled out a black scarf with a neon green trim that closely resembled the chipboard tattoo around Widget’s eye. “Get it bandaged up. It’s enough you’re gettin’ grime on the floor, never mind blood. Now… dare I ask if you got that bracer?”

                                        Tracer’s muzzle creased into a frown and he turned his attention to binding up his skinned tail tip.

                                        “No, we didn’t,” said Widget. “We were kinda pre-occupied with that monster.”

                                        N0ize scoffed and swivelled on his chair, kicking his huge feet up onto the dash. “Well, good job we patched up the broken one then, eh?”

                                        “What?” Widget squeaked. “How’d ya do that?!”

                                        N0ize grinned from ear to ear over his shoulder. “Gotta love duck tape.”

                                        ...

                                        Cyan City looked no different. Macro wasn’t sure why he’d even expected it to, they’d only been away for two days at most. Maybe it was merely the awareness that Surge was held captive in the city, giving him a sense of unease.

                                        Heatsink, Floppy and Torrent stood at the docks waiting for them, the dome wide open to greet the huge ship. Once it was inside, it closed behind it narrowly missing the wishiwashi’s tail rudder.

                                        “’Bout time you came back!” Floppy barked as Macro clambered off his ship. “Had Jumper in a right worry.”

                                        “I can look after myself.” Macro regretted the words no sooner than they left his mouth.

                                        “Really?” Floppy appeared rather taken aback, his ears almost pulled back against his head. “And what about your assassin, eh? We’ve got her apprehended behind bars, and I’m gonna bet every credit I own that you had no clue she was even here!”

                                        “Come off it, Floppy,” Heatsink scolded him. “If she’s as good as her reputation says, of course he wouldn’t know she was here.”

                                        The vaporeon glanced back at the empoleon then fixed a pleading look on Torrent. The quagsire diverted his eyes to the glass dome and began whistling a nonchalant tune.

                                        Floppy sighed, turning back to Macro. He cocked an eyebrow as he looked between him and his ship. “Where’s the pachirisu?”

                                        Macro said nothing, moving aside so Anchor could clamber off the ladder. When the silence had gone on for longer than ideal, the granbull cleared his throat and gave Macro a sideways glance.

                                        “I’ll tell you everythin’,” he said, “so long as you lend me a paw draggin’ what’s left of Surge’s ship outta the cargo bay?”

                                        “What’s left of it?” Heatsink’s beak fell wide open. “What happened?”

                                        “Long story,” said Anchor.

                                        “But we can tell it in five minutes,” added Matrix.

                                        “Come off it!” said Anchor. “You just want to get to the arcade.”

                                        The ribombee didn’t look up from his computer. “You know me so well.”

                                        “Go then,” said Anchor. “These kind pokemon will help me, while you burn out your retinas with another VR game.”

                                        Matrix buzzed over their heads towards the city.

                                        The police force’s eyes lingered on Macro for a moment, then moved past him towards Anchor as he fumbled around Wildcard Gamma’s jaws to open them. Macro gave the granbull a nod, then left his ship at the docks and went straight to the police station. He wanted to get to the bottom of what was going to become of the zigzagoon. Part of him wanted to make sure she stayed exactly where she was, that way he’d know she wasn’t tailing after him. But there was also the unnerving possibility she’d break free and hunt him down while his back was turned.

                                        He marched into the town hall, giving the blastoise on duty a curt nod and receiving one in return. Jumper’s office door was wide open and he looked up with some surprise.

                                        “Macro!” he said. “I saw your ship coming in but I didn’t think you’d come-”

                                        “So what’s gonna happen to her?”

                                        “Who?” Jumper glanced over the mawile’s head to the door then back at him. “Surge?”

                                        “Yes.” A lone canine poked out between his lips.

                                        “Well…” Jumper cleared his throat and motioned for Macro to take a seat. “I have you know that while she stays here in my custody, no harm is to befall her.”

                                        “So she’s still here? Then you won’t mind me havin’ a little word with her.” Macro turned to the door.

                                        “Wait!”

                                        Jumper’s voice froze him in the doorway.

                                        “Macro, I need to tell you something,” he said. “She wasn’t working alone here, so if you’ll take a seat, I can tell you what I know.”

                                        Macro looked back at the frogadier over his shoulder. So she wasn’t working alone? Cyan City suddenly felt a lot colder. He silently marched over to the offered chair and climbed into it, prompting Jumper to explain himself with a look.

                                        “I don’t know what’s got into you,” said Jumper, “but I won’t have you just marching about like that, like you own the place.”

                                        “I had a bad trip,” said Macro. “I don’t really wanna talk about it. And knowin’ she’s here, causing problems-”

                                        “I understand that.” Jumper gave him a sympathetic nod. “But like I said, she wasn’t working alone. We’ve got the conspirator locked in another cell, so he won’t be causing any issues for you. But I can’t say the news hasn’t caused a little unrest. I’m not sure how many pokemon are going to be willing to hand you over to Socket here now, and I’m trying to hammer down some laws. Hopefully having this individual locked away will make a statement. You and your crew did save this city, and I expect a little gratitude from my citizens.”

                                        Macro sighed and rubbed his scar. “And she caused that?”

                                        “She was a catalyst,” said Jumper. “But I am given to understand she contacted Socket while she was here. Sent her some information.”

                                        Macro looked up slowly and narrowed his eyes. “What kind of information?”

                                        “From what she told me, it was evidence that DL was in this city. Apparently Socket was meant to have shut her down.”

                                        “Then she lied to you.”

                                        “Lied?”

                                        “Yes. Lied.” Macro slid from his seat. “Surge was the one who revived DL, so I don’t know why she’d have told her that. I reckon she’s up to somethin’, and given Socket’s stuck a price on her head it gives me a bad feeling. Let me speak to her.”

                                        “You think you can get the truth out of her?”

                                        “Don’t know. But I can try.”

                                        Jumper nodded and followed Macro out into the square towards the police station. Due to the pleasant weather, the doors were wide open.

                                        “You said you had a bad trip,” said Jumper. “Did you manage to get what you were looking for?”

                                        “Oh, I got it all right,” said Macro.

                                        “That’s good.”

                                        “Depends on your perspective on ‘good’.”

                                        Macro stopped by the cells and folded his arms, waiting for Jumper to unlock them. But the frogadier stared down at him, mouth agape.

                                        “You gonna let me in?” Macro nodded at the door.

                                        “Macro, what happened?”

                                        The mawile waved him off. “I said I don’t wanna talk about it.”

                                        “Macro…”

                                        “Socket screwed me over!” Macro snapped. “Made it very easy. Turns out that memory disk made DL very aware of who I am. You ever hear about what happened in Botnet City?”

                                        Jumper’s mouth flapped open and closed like a goldeen gasping for air. He snapped it shut then cleared his throat, diverting his gaze from the steaming mawile.

                                        “I am so sorry…”

                                        “Forget it.” Macro waved a paw then crossed his arms again, leaning heavily against the wall.

                                        The frogadier scanned him into the room then stood aside. “I’ll be waiting right here if you need me.”

                                        Macro said nothing, marching into the cells. Most of the glass cells were empty save for a few miscreants. They fixed leering eyes on him as he strolled past them, scouting out the zigzagoon. He found her huddled against the back wall of her cell, and her pale brown eyes lifted up to his as he paused in front of it.

                                        A dry chuckle left her throat and she shifted so she was sitting more casually. “Here to bail me out?”

                                        “Not on your life,” he scoffed. “At least if you’re here, you’re not gonna be pointing a laser at my back.”

                                        “Pity. We’d make a pretty good team.” She folded her arms and glanced behind him. “Where’s your shadow?”

                                        Macro clenched his jaw and rapped the glass to drag her attention back to him. “Forget about DL, it’s me you’re talkin’ to. What information did you send to Socket?”

                                        She sighed and looked back at him. “Did that little frog send you in here to do his work for him?”

                                        “No, I’m here because my latest memory rescue plan went a little too easily.” He leant forwards so his nose was almost touching the glass. “And I have a sneaky suspicion you had somethin’ to do with it.”

                                        “What makes you think I had a paw in it? You’re the one who stole Download Database.”

                                        “And you’re the one who crawled in over your head taking on my job to hack into Socket’s computers which - lo and behold! - she found out about. Now you’re tryin’ to save your skin. Am I right?”

                                        She stared back at him, unreadable. “You make it sound like you’re the reason I’m scrambling for my life.” A smirk tugged at the corner of her lips. “Feeling a little guilt there, cutie?”

                                        He flashed his canines and hammered his right paw onto the glass, creating an almighty clang. The zigzagoon’s fur stood on end slightly, but she tried to hide it by keeping her eyes fixed on his, unshaken.

                                        “Just answer my question!” he barked.

                                        She sighed and shifted her weight against the wall. “Good grief, no need to yell. Fine, I did send her some information. I thought I should let Socket know, given she’s DL’s adoptive mother, that her daughter was all good and well in Cyan City.”

                                        Macro’s jaw went slack. “How did you know about that?”

                                        “It was all over the files I hacked,” she explained.

                                        “And you never thought to tell me?”

                                        “It was irrelevant given the circumstances.”

                                        “It was incredibly relevant!”

                                        “How? Because she included her daughter in some nightmare of a scheme? Come on, Macro. The only important facts were that she turned a living being into a computer. Whether or not she was adopted was completely irrelevant.”

                                        “If System finds out their Mayor turned her own ‘adopted daughter’ into a mindless computer, she’d be thrown out of power for sure!”

                                        “Bit late for that, hon. She’s already bailed on System, leaving us fighting an alien invasion. Which, let’s face it, you came out of pretty badly.”

                                        He flashed another canine but shrugged off her comment, turning to leave the cell. “So… you ratted out her location. I guess that wasn’t what twigged Socket off into basically giving me that memory disk.”

                                        “Just gave it to you, huh?” Surge leant forwards on her knees, scanning the area behind Macro again. “Hmm… I’m guessing that went pretty badly too then? Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here barking at me.”

                                        He froze and looked back at her. Clearly she was hiding something. He could tell by the way she nervously combed her claws through the fur on her head. He narrowed his eyes and stifled a low growl.

                                        “What did you send her, Surge?” He tried to keep his voice as calm as he could, but a small snarl still slipped out as he said her name.

                                        “I already told you.”

                                        “I’m beginning to think it was a little more than just a phone call. I also hear you weren’t workin’ alone.”

                                        “Okay, you got me,” she sighed. “I had a little spy take some photos.”

                                        A chill ran down his spine and he fixed her in a violet glare. Words failed him.

                                        “Let’s just say,” she said slowly, “that Socket is pretty aware of you two.” Another smirk. “All snuggled up on the bench by the lake-”

                                        Macro’s paw flew to his laser and he fired straight at the glass. The green beam seared his fur as it ricocheted off it and struck the cell behind him. It bounced back and forth down the corridor like some crazed, out of control laser show until it struck the door, leaving an ugly black mark wherever it had hit. Panicked voices erupted from the criminals as they scrambled around their cells. His shoulders rose and fell as he tried to calm himself, and he let his laser clatter to the floor.

                                        Surge let out a bitter chuckle. “Pity the glass is there, huh?”

                                        He caught her eye just beyond the seared glass.

                                        The zigzagoon shifted and a smirk crossed her muzzle. “I’d rather die at your paws than Socket’s.”

                                        Macro was speechless. His legs trembled so much he had to lean against the wall to stop from falling over. It wasn’t meant to be a head shot. Just a warning shot. But the position of that mark, if the glass hadn’t been there, he’d have shot her head on. He finally sank to the ground, retrieving his discarded weapon.

                                        “What’s going on in here?” Jumper strolled between the cells, eyeing the burn marks on the glass. Then his eye fell on Macro’s laser and his face fell. “Macro, really-?”

                                        Macro popped his laser back in its holster. “Let’s just say I found out exactly what I needed to.” He gave Surge another glance before moving past the governor.

                                        It had been her. She was the reason Socket had tricked him into taking that disk. It had been some elaborate ploy to get DL out of his paws, and whether or not Surge knew the severity of the situation was irrelevant.

                                        But it had been intended. Socket had wanted to split them up. She’d wanted them both vulnerable. DL out of his paws and an easy target, and as for Macro…

                                        He stared down at his laser. One shot. That was all it would have taken to kill Surge in the heat of his anger. Yes… Socket had wanted to break him, and she’d succeeded.
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                                        Old 2 Weeks Ago (2:58 AM).
                                        Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                        Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                        Call me Del
                                           
                                          Join Date: May 2015
                                          Location: UK
                                          Age: 33
                                          Gender: Female
                                          Nature: Quirky
                                          Posts: 345
                                          A/N - Given I was posting from my laptop which hasn't saved my password for this forum, and I've forgotten it, I didn't post this update last weekend.

                                          If you are reading, please like this post. I'm trying to work out whether or not it's worth still posting my writing here. I'll post until the end of this story, but out of all the places I post, this website at the moment appears to be the weakest reader-wise.


                                          Chapter Sixty Six

                                          Macro's head was spinning.

                                          He lay on his back, one arm over his eyes, as he ran over everything in his mind. Everything from the beginning. From the moment they found DL all the way to his breakdown in front of Surge. Why? Where had he gone wrong? When he found the pachirisu? Or the moment he trusted Surge to help them? Space pirates weren't meant to trust others outside their own crew, and even then they were meant to keep them at arm's length. He wasn't one to trust so freely. Not usually. But recently…

                                          He grimaced, screwing his eyes shut. All it had brought him was pain. One foot wrong, and everything fell apart. No… where he'd gone wrong was in Binary City. That mission he wished he'd never taken. That one mistake that had Socket panting for his life. He should have just turned himself in, given himself a chance to explain everything. But instead he'd fled like a coward. Not even given anyone an apology. Not even the pichu he'd saved.

                                          "You need to drag yourself out of this hole." The voice made Macro's spine stiffen. "Because it's exactly where she wants you."

                                          He lifted his arm and glanced to his right. Taking up most of his room was a huge white lion, his mane radiating a soft light that seemed to brighten up the dinginess Macro had locked himself in.

                                          "What…? Solgaleo?" Macro pushed himself up onto one arm. "What are you doing here? Who let you in?"

                                          The huge lion merely smiled. A smile that lifted some of the weight off Macro. He pushed himself up and positioned himself against the headboard. He rubbed his eyes to remove the grogginess and soothe the heavy bags beneath them.

                                          "I'm here because you clearly need someone," said Solgaleo. "I can't deny what's happened isn't crushing, Macro, but you really need to look at the bigger picture."

                                          "What? System?" Macro lowered his paw to look at him. "I wanna ask what this world has ever done for me?"

                                          "You live in it." It was a simple answer that made the mawile sigh. "So do your friends. Don't let the pawful of bad pokemon drag you down. There are a lot of pokemon relying on you right now. Even if they don't know it."

                                          "But why me?" Macro whined, leaning his head back against the wall. "I'm in no state for this. I almost got killed!"

                                          "A lot of good pokemon have died in the past by trying to stop the bad ones."

                                          "Yeh? Then what happened to them?"

                                          "They're with me."

                                          Macro looked up with a start, fixing wide violet eyes on Solgaleo's warm blue ones.

                                          "I chose you for a reason," Solgaleo explained. "You're against Socket, you refuse to eat meat, and you want to save DL. To top it all off, you helped Switch. That human is a hero, and one your distant relatives are very close to. You're descended from someone gifted the power to make a difference."

                                          "Yeh, but did he kill hundreds of pokemon in a fire?" Macro growled.

                                          "That was an accident."

                                          "Accident or not, I did it! And look where it's got me!" Macro spread his paws wide. "I have a huge price on my head, and I hurt someone I truly care about. I killed her family!"

                                          "And she knows it was an accident." Solgaleo paused, fixing his calming eyes on Macro's. "You even went out of your way to save that little pichu. In his eyes, you're a hero."

                                          Macro's eyes welled up and he tore them away to wipe at them.

                                          "You are not a bad pokemon," said Solgaleo. "You're one of few space pirates fighting for the greater good, despite what mask you hide behind. I want you to use that good, and put an end to this mess."

                                          "And what will you do?" Macro asked flatly.

                                          "I'll be working through you."

                                          Macro's eye went to the Z-Crystal around his wrist. Was it sparkling? If it was, it was brief. Enough to catch his eye.

                                          "You will never be alone, even if you feel like you are," said Solgaleo. "I'll be right there, like I have been this whole time." He reached out and tapped the Z-Crystal.

                                          Macro chuckled and shook his head. "And only a couple of weeks ago, I was a common criminal."

                                          "Even pirates can become heroes," Solgaleo said with a smile. "Now get out there and make a difference."

                                          "But what about DL?" Macro's voice broke slightly at her name.

                                          "She's safe. But you need to get to her quickly. Not just her, but the pokemon she is with all need their Z-Crystals."

                                          "What?" Macro's jaw dropped. "She… she's found them?"

                                          Solgaleo smiled again. "Funny how things work out, isn't it?"

                                          With that, he slowly faded away. But Macro's room still felt much brighter and warmer from the lion's presence. He kicked his legs over the edge of his bed and clambered off it. All grogginess had faded, and with it the threat of a dull headache. In fact, he felt a lot better than he had in years.

                                          He hopped off his ship and made a beeline for the lake. Anchor and Floppy were engaged in sparring practice while Matrix 'watched' from a nearby bench. The granbull looked up when he spotted Macro and his eyes widened.

                                          "Cap'n!" He grinned. "You're lookin' a lot better."

                                          "Aye," said Macro. "Turned out all I needed was a little pep talk."

                                          Anchor stared at him wordlessly as he tried to process what he'd said.

                                          Macro looked down at the vaporeon. "Aren't you meant to be with the rest of the police force?"

                                          "Yeah." Floppy rolled his eyes. "But Jumper said, given Switch is away, I'm to take his place in sparring practice."

                                          "We have Matrix." Macro waved a paw at the ribombee.

                                          "Matrix has already burned out his use of the Z-Crystal," the ribombee said, not looking up from his computer. "And he doesn't want to be a tiny punching bag."

                                          Macro tutted and shook his head.

                                          Floppy inclined his head on one side and his eye went to Macro's Z-Crystal. "So I guess you're joining us then?"

                                          "Yeh, I am." Macro clenched his fist and looked at each of them. "Now show me how to use this thing. Faster I learn, faster we can stop Socket and get these Ultra Beasts back home."

                                          "That's what I wanna hear!" Anchor grinned widely and held his bracelet over his head. "Now, I've only managed to do this like… twice. But just like Solgaleo said - you hold it over your head just before you perform your attack. But… it ain't as easy as it sounds."

                                          "I don't really get it," said Floppy. "Like I said, I've been appointed 'Official Punching Bag' while work is slow. But those moves look super tough. I'm a little sad I've not seen it in action, yet at the same time a little bitter I can't try it myself."

                                          Anchor laughed. "Ah, don't be like that!"

                                          Macro's heart sank slightly. He looked from the granbull's Z-Crystal to his own. The pink crystal reflected sunlight even from deep within it, contrasting with the fairy type symbol it bore. So it wasn't going to be easy. Well… he'd keep practising until it became easy. System was relying on Wildcard Gamma and their unsuspecting allies. Even if it meant he'd have no sleep for a week, he was going to keep on trying.

                                          "All right, well… I'll give it a shot." He flexed his claws and turned to his friends. "Brace yourself, Floppy. I'm comin' at you."

                                          "What?" Floppy's black eyes shot wide open. "Why me?"

                                          "Because you said you've been told to be our punching bag, now get ready."

                                          Matrix chuckled. "I'm just glad it's not me. Otherwise I'd be wishing I'd gone with Defrag to grab a donut."

                                          "Defrag?" Macro stiffened and looked at Anchor. "Digit's been joining you?"

                                          "She's stuck here and pretty bored, Cap'n," Anchor explained. "She's been sparring with us since Switch isn't available anymore. Kinda as a favour so we'll give her a lift back to System Ground."

                                          "All right." Macro shrugged and turned back to Floppy. "You ready?"

                                          He lifted his paw into the air then leapt towards Floppy, spinning his horn around like a windmill. Floppy braced himself, lowering his head as he ducked to dodge. Macro opened the jaws to grab the vaporeon by the tail, but before he could make contact, his body lit up with a pink glow. Floppy's black eyes reflected a sparkle Macro couldn't see, and his jaw dropped open as the mawile picked up rapid speed. Before the vaporeon could jump out of the way, Macro crashed into him, knocking all the wind out of Floppy's lungs with a sound reminiscent of a hatchling's squeak-toy. Pink and white stars exploded around them, lighting up the lake with a flash like lightning. The pair rolled into the bench in a tangle of fur and tail. Macro pulled himself back and fell onto his bottom, his breath coming in quick bursts. His surprise reflected in Floppy's eyes as the winded vaporeon pulled himself up so he was sitting.

                                          "So…" said Floppy. "That's a Z-Move?"

                                          "Interesting." Matrix wound his antenna as he peered at Macro between Floppy's ears. "Shame I wasn't really watching. I should have taken notes."

                                          Macro's eyes flew to the Z-Crystal. Somehow, it wasn't reflecting the light quite so brightly. Well, it definitely hadn't been 'play rough'.

                                          "And we finally get to see Twinkle Tackle!" Anchor clapped his paws together in an applaud that sounded deafening in the suddenly silent park. "Well done, Cap'n. Put us all to shame!"

                                          No… it wasn't meant to be that easy. If his crew were struggling, then why would he manage it on his first try? Surely it was just a fluke?

                                          "Hey, I'm back." Defrag strolled towards them clutching a sugared donut. She froze mid-bite and looked at the space pirates in turn. "Oh great. What did I miss?"

                                          Something caught Macro's eye and he looked up at the glass dome. A small twinkle beyond the clouds. He chuckled and fell onto his back, pressing a paw over his eyes.

                                          Of course. A little pep talk. 'Make a difference'. Somehow, things didn't feel quite so bleak.

                                          ...

                                          Binary City pulsed with music. Dusk was on the horizon, and the streets were already alive with neon lights, swinging back and forth as the band played their music. Well… 'band' was a bit of a stretch. On the stage was a holographic display of the animated band playing to their audience, singing in their synthetic voices. Behind them on a huge screen, each song's music video played out much to the delight of the audience. Pokemon bounced up and down, a huge mish-mash of typings unusual to see throughout System. All brought together by the love of entertainment and the band Neon Blue.

                                          A group of smaller pokemon made up of sentret, skitty and purrloin danced around the more unusual guest. The lanky creature's movements were oddly graceful despite its appearance, and it removed its eyeless head to juggle back and forth in its arms. Every so often it would pause to fire off a volley of fireballs, each time eliciting cheers from the mosh pit. The fire types would add their own pyrotechnics, throwing up flamethrowers from their mouths and paws. Then the electric types would join in with their light display, lighting up the stage.

                                          "Bleh." BackDoor floated above the rabble with his paws tucked behind his head. "Not quite the chaos I was expecting it to cause."

                                          'Then it's a failure?' Distortion's voice rumbled in his head. 'It should be destroyed.'

                                          "That would be pretty fun to watch play out," said BackDoor. "Man, when I saw that thing appear, I wondered where it had got to. I didn't expect it to be clowning around in Binary City, making friends. These things are meant to destroy, right?"

                                          'They're useless lifeforms, just like the rest of the creatures here. Look at them, dancing to a fictitious display. I want to end it.'

                                          BackDoor let out an 'eep!' as his body was dragged like a meteor towards the mosh pit. He froze above it abruptly, drawing a few eyes from the pokemon below. Claws pointed, faces turned, all eager to see the hoopa. Then Distortion left his body in a cloud of mist, his insectoid form slowly solidifying beside him. Distortion opened his red eyes, glowing like embers out of his misty body. His shape spasmed erratically as it struggled to maintain one form - insectoid or dragon.

                                          Screams erupted from the audience as the more timid pokemon tried to scramble away, but those that stayed were either amazed or bracing themselves for a fight. The more intoxicated laughed, thinking it was all part of the show. A few of them even paused to take photos.

                                          Distortion narrowed his eyes. "Foolish creatures. It's almost a waste of my strength to erase you from existence."

                                          He opened his mouth, sending out a pulse of purple energy. It spread over the mosh pit, setting fur, feather and scale ablaze. More screams, more desperate scrambling as those left remaining realised what peril they were in. Distortion's dragon pulse spread across the floor, splitting the concrete as it caught up with the stragglers.

                                          The lanky Ultra Beast leapt from its spot, throwing itself between the dragon pulse and an injured sentret. It removed its colourful head, bouncing it up and down in its paw like a basket ball. The sentret scurried away, casting a nervous glance between the two warring Ultra Beasts.

                                          "So you're fearless?" Distortion asked the creature. "Given you're willing to throw your life away to protect a creature that would no sooner turn its back and run, I'd say that behaviour is foolish."

                                          The creature dropped into a battle stance, juggling its huge head between its paws. The lights flickering inside it turned a vivid red. It aimed it towards Distortion.

                                          The dragon opened his mouth to fire out another dragon pulse. It soared towards the Ultra Beast. The Ultra Beast flicked a paw, sending a shadow ball that exploded against the dragon pulse, cancelling it out. Before Distortion could retaliate, its huge head left its paw with surprising force. It exploded against Distortion's body into sparkles and flames. He threw his head back and roared as his body began to lose its solidity, melding into mist.

                                          BackDoor tutted. "Feisty fellow, isn't he?"

                                          Distortion's eyes glowed from deep within the mist, fixing on BackDoor.

                                          'This world…' His voice came out as an echo in BackDoor's head, 'is not stable enough to hold me!' He retreated back into BackDoor's body, causing the android to jerk uncomfortably. 'It needs distorting. But first… I need to distort you.'

                                          "Who, me?" BackDoor pointed a thumb at his chest.

                                          A 'whoop!' left his throat as his entire body rocketed into the air, barely dodging another shadow ball from the Ultra Beast. At some point, it had regained its head, still pulsing with red light. Although it appeared a lot smaller than its previous one. Was it… growing? Before he could get a decent look, his body twisted so he was looking over Binary City. Distortion fell silent, but he could feel him moving around his wires and components. Creeping like a tiny scolipede… or a seviper.

                                          'Yes…' he hissed. 'Yes, I think I've found it. A worm. Something I can distort.'

                                          The words sent a chill through BackDoor's body. Before he could retaliate, Distortion latched onto something. BackDoor's mind began to spin, and he sprayed out a series of nonsense commands that could have baffled even Zero Day. His body twisted, creaking as the metal re-built itself. Stretching as he increased in size. No… he wasn't organic. His body wasn't designed for such feats. He screwed his eyes shut, bracing himself to explode. Why, oh why, wasn't he built with a self-destruct command?

                                          Then it all stopped.

                                          He opened his eyes again, looking down at his body. Twisted almost beyond recognition. Six arms floated beside him, three at each side. A huge ring-like hole expanded across his torso. He even had legs, and behind him, a tail. He lifted a paw and flexed it, admiring his new claws.

                                          "Hey," he said, his voice no different than before. "They're no longer like mittens."

                                          'This is a much better fit.' If Distortion had heard him, he didn't show it. 'Now… time to erase that Ultra Beast.'

                                          BackDoor found himself launched once more towards the ground. He reached up and grabbed a ring from around his right horn and lobbed it towards the creature. It leapt back, dodging it as it spread open before it. Then it flailed as the porthole tried to drag it in.

                                          'A world without air. Without atmosphere.' Distortion laughed. 'This will be your end!'

                                          The Ultra Beast snapped its head up towards them. Then it kicked off from the ground, diving over the porthole. Another lob of its head. Another explosion. Searing heat spread over BackDoor's body. His scream melded with Distortion's as they were blown back through the city. He hit the floor hard, feeling a crack explode along his back.

                                          When he opened his eyes, it was pitch black. He searched through his mind, finding a substantial chunk of time missing from his memory logs. He rubbed his head with a mitten paw and twisted his neck back and forth. Yes, something had indeed cracked open. Sparks erupted from his back as he drifted into the air, wobbling left and right as he searched the city. Both the Ultra Beast and the porthole had vanished.

                                          "Drat." His voice cracked and distorted, stuttering over the final 't'. "I think-k-k we lost it."

                                          A deep growl echoed in his head and he rolled his eyes back to search for the dragon. But he couldn't see a thing. Not even his red, glowing eyes.

                                          'You are weak,' Distortion hissed. 'I need a stronger host. Find me one.'

                                          ...

                                          Trojan kicked the side of the pyukumyuku, creating a deep ring that caused Switch to cover his ears with his wings.

                                          "Piece of junk just wont fly!" the scrafty roared.

                                          "Well it wont if you kick it like that, will it?" Annie placed her hands on her hips and leant towards him. "Would you fly if I kicked you?"

                                          Trojan looked from her booted foot all the way up to her eyes and frowned. "I might. You're pretty big."

                                          Annie cocked an eyebrow. "I'm not sure whether that was an insult or not. Hang on." She looked over her shoulder. "Oi, Web! Was that an insult?"

                                          The skuntank didn't look up from her cooking. "Perhaps. It is Trojan."

                                          Annie turned back to him and pointed a finger at her eye, then at the scrafty. She turned and headed back to Web, who was busying herself beside DL and Zip.

                                          Switch sighed and strolled over to them. The previous night had been pretty quiet, and it was rapidly growing darker. Without any streetlights, they needed to rely on a pair of dusty torches, one of which seemed to enjoy flickering on and off at random intervals. The one that didn't flicker had been fixed to Zip's right leg.

                                          "I don't think we'll be flying tonight," Switch told DL.

                                          The pachirisu looked up at him with a sombre expression and nodded, turning back to her task of vegetable slicing.

                                          "I figured as much," she said. "But argh… we need to leave this mountain soon. We have a job to do."

                                          "Aye, the rebellion!" Annie called from beside a razz bush. She'd sprawled herself out on the floor, oblivious to the prickles. "As much as I like lookin' at these stars, I'm itching to get movin' again."

                                          "Aye, it might not be too long before those space pirates realise we ain't dead," said Trojan. "Sooner we leave this mountain, the better."

                                          Something caught Switch's eye and he turned to his right as Waveform swooped silently down towards them. A quick flick of his wings and he landed with a flourish, dropping something beside Trojan.

                                          "What's this?" the scrafty asked him.

                                          "A few bolts and a stabiliser," said Waveform. "Also salvaged some parts from the drones I shot down. Might fix the engine compatibility."

                                          "What are you? A jack of all trades?"

                                          "I'm just itching to move." Waveform tucked his wings to his side and strutted past them towards Annie, casting Switch a curious glance.

                                          Web looked up at them then glanced around the mountain. "I'm not so much worried about those pirates than I am about Socket. This mountain is off limits, so we're trespassing."

                                          "You're worried about trespassin'? With all we're doin'?" Trojan shook his head and ended his statement with a 'hah!'

                                          Web frowned. "Well, now we know why it's off limits. It's one of few places with natural fruit trees and - lo and behold - a spring!"

                                          Zip wagged his tail. "Yeah! I get clean water!"

                                          "We could technically live here," said Web. "Yet she's keeping it to herself."

                                          "And not living here," said Switch. "Why is that, exactly?"

                                          "I thought that was obvious." Web narrowed her eyes at him. "At the expense of her own enjoyment, nobody learns about it. Instead, she could use it as a secret getaway. I'm guessing the other mayors did just that. She's just a nervous wreck who won't leave her mansion except for serious circumstances."

                                          Switch folded his arms and frowned. "So you have an agoraphobic mayor?"

                                          "You could say that, yes."

                                          As the night grew gradually darker, the smell of Web's cooking surrounded the ship. Trojan worked away at the engine, but as the smell tickled his nose, he clambered out and wiped oil onto a rag.

                                          "About time," he said. "I was gettin' hungry."

                                          "Well, I hope you all enjoy it," said Web. "Thanks to DL and Zip, we've managed to find berries I've never even tasted before."

                                          Trojan froze and held up his paws. "Hang on. It ain't poisonous, is it?"

                                          "Only if you're allergic to figy berries," said Web.

                                          Trojan rubbed his throat then sat down. "Don't think I've ever had them."

                                          The group tucked into their meals, sharing banter and stories, mostly aimed at Switch. He went off on a tangent, talking about the events with the Fracture that Web and Trojan were particularly interested in. Waveform was also hooked, but Annie was more interested in the contents of her bowl. She scraped the remains into her mouth then looked around at her crew. Then she stretched her arms out and yawned.

                                          "Well, I'm gonna continue stargazin'."

                                          She stood up and returned to the razz bush, flopping onto her back on the lumpy ground. A stone jabbed her in the spine and she shifted until she grabbed it, then tossed it into the distance. It collided with something soft. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a feathery form slump down beside her.

                                          She fixed one eye on Waveform, who had removed his quiver to polish his silver arrows.

                                          "So, whaddaya think?" She knocked a thumb towards the nattering group. "Another human?"

                                          Waveform shrugged. "It certainly answers more questions. Particularly about the Fracture and that yes, some humans did indeed stay behind and mix with pokemon."

                                          Annie yawned again and tucked her arms behind her head. "Kinda removes my 'special' status."

                                          "You can be special in the eyes of others without being unique."

                                          "Are those lyrics from a song?"

                                          Waveform fixed an eye on her. "Not one I know of."

                                          "Maybe you should write it?"

                                          He lowered his arrows and looked down at her, a glimmer of amusement in his crimson eyes. She looked away from him to the arrows then nodded at them.

                                          "Why do you use them anyway?" she asked. "I thought decidueye make their own arrows."

                                          "We do." He returned one polished arrow to his quiver then retrieved another. "But I prefer it this way."

                                          "More deadly?"

                                          "More convenient."

                                          "But you didn't take them into Pulse City?"

                                          "That's because they're a bit of a trademark," he explained. "I hunt space pirates, and space pirates know for a fact a silver arrow means Waveform."

                                          "So it's bounty-hunting bling then?"

                                          He froze and looked down at her, cocking an eyebrow. She flipped herself up onto her bottom and fixed him with an emerald gaze.

                                          "Look, I've read alotta books," she said. "And I know pokemon all make their own attacks. Nature is a pretty thing, and you don't need all this glitz and glam." She waved a hand at his armoured beak and silver quiver. "Wherever I look in this crazy, whacked-out world, pokemon have weapons and mechanical body parts. Like that magmortar in Pulse City, and all them 'mons with guns. How can trusting a finite weapon be more convenient than producing your own? Seriously, just… take it off and be a pokemon!"

                                          Waveform's face fell and he narrowed his eyes. "I thought you didn't remember much about Pulse City?"

                                          "I remember that magmortar and the big cloystercat."

                                          He tutted and returned to his arrows. "Your memory seems to be very convenient to you."

                                          "It ain't remotely convenient," she said. "And don't change the subject! Decidueye in my books were these amazing owls that fired arrows from their vines. You fit the bill - flying silently, using your vine. But you don't use your own arrows and you keep your beak covered up with some kinda ornament. What's the deal?"

                                          He stopped what he was doing and set the rag aside, not looking at her. "Why are you bringing this up now?"

                                          "'Cos I feel I now know you enough to call you out on these shenanigans."

                                          "Shenanigans?" He placed his arrows to one side and swivelled to face her. "Not all pokemon use modifications as a fashion statement, Annie. They're also used for medical reasons. Replacing missing body parts, protecting against disease. You've seen the outskirts and what damage it can do. It slowly kills the pokemon unfortunate enough to live there."

                                          "Well, yeh. I mean Zip can't walk on land. But when he goes back to the water, he won't need them legs!"

                                          "You haven't taken in anything I've said, have you." He shook his head. "Zip might not need them, yet there are some pokemon that do need mechanical legs."

                                          She scratched her chin and looked up at the stars. "Yeh, I guess some do. But!" She pointed at him. "Surely they don't need some fancy beak ornament. Come on, I can barely see your face properly with that on."

                                          He sighed and grabbed an arrow, idly polishing it as she stared at him. She shifted forward until her arm brushed up against his wing, causing his feathers to stand on end.

                                          "Annie, I really think you need to drop this conversation."

                                          "I'll drop it when I see your face."

                                          The decidueye sighed loudly. "Fine."

                                          He tossed the arrows to one side and reached up, grabbing the armour between two of his paw-feathers. There was an audible click and he pulled it away, keeping both eyes on Annie.

                                          Around his beak had been rubbed raw by the metal until his feathers had been brushed away. Bloody in parts. But what it had been hiding turned Annie's throat dry. Around the corners of his beak and nostrils were unsightly lumps, some of which trickled blood from having the armour removed.

                                          "Happy?" he asked.

                                          She stared at him for a bit longer as he replaced the metal sheath. Her mind went back to that dry, brittle feather. It all made so much sense. She balled her hand into a fist so tightly her nails dug into her palms.

                                          "No." The word came out so calmly, yet in her mind she was screaming.

                                          She pushed herself to her feet and turned, walking away into the shadows.

                                          ...

                                          The soft hum of Wildcard Gamma's engine soothed Macro into a light slumber. He sat back in his chair, arms tucked behind his head and feet up on the dashboard. Stars swept past them at a steady pace as the ship drifted on in silence, miles over System Sky. It was a peaceful place Macro had enjoyed visiting long before all the chaos had happened.

                                          Soft footsteps dragged him out of his doze and he glanced back over his chair. DL stood in the doorway, winding her paws together as she glanced around at the cockpit. His jaw dropped and he dragged himself from his seat.

                                          "DL?"

                                          Her eyes went to him and immediately all tension left her body. She ran towards him, throwing her arms around his neck. He felt her nuzzling into his fur as she pushed his scarf aside, her breath tickling his neck. It ignited a tingle in his stomach and he pulled her close, covering her shoulder with soft kisses.

                                          "Oh, I've missed you," he said.

                                          "Me too," she sighed.

                                          She combed her claws through his fur, trailing them up his spine, and she pulled back from him to catch his lips in a kiss. A small groan left his throat as he returned it. Tears stung his eyes and flowed down his cheeks and he couldn't help but pull her closer, stumbling into the back of his seat. He brushed his paw over her ears, her fur warm against his pads, down the back of her head. His claws trailed over the jack socket and his heart began to ache.

                                          He pulled back from her to take a breath, to spill out his feelings to her. He met those chocolate eyes. But they weren't warm. Instead, they were sad. Pained. Reflecting fire that burned behind him. All around him. He panicked, stumbling backwards as his eyes flew around the cockpit. All feeling left his legs. He grabbed the arm of his chair to stop himself from slumping to the floor.

                                          Fire.

                                          It erupted between them like a barrier, spreading across the floor beneath her. He stretched out a paw towards her, to drag her from the inferno, but the floor began to splinter. Debris crumbled away from the cockpit, threatening to take DL with it. But she didn't seem to notice or care. Her body shook as the disaster caught up with her.

                                          "Goodbye." Her voice seemed to echo eerily, as though it hadn't come from her.

                                          "No!" He watched her fall away from him into the abyss below. "No, DL! Don't go! I love you!"

                                          He threw himself forwards into the flames, scattering the sheets off his body.

                                          Dawn.

                                          He blinked a few times, trying to dispel the nightmare from his mind and enter reality.

                                          His bed. No fire. A tangle of sheets sticky with sweat. Just another nightmare. He groaned and ran a paw over his head, then flailed an arm towards his nightstand for his computer. His heart was still racing. Those nightmares… he knew they weren't real, but he needed to know DL was okay. That they were all okay.

                                          He brought up Switch's name with his trembling claw then fired out a disjointed message. He didn't care what time it was, he just wanted to know. Once it was sent, he fell back into his pillow and rubbed a paw over his eyes. The previous day, he'd felt happier. Now his mind was a swirling mess again.

                                          The familiar message tone came from his phone and he picked it up so it was hovering over his face.

                                          'We're all fine, thanks, Macro. Trying to get the ship running again. Things are looking good. We should be at Meta City the day after tomorrow.'

                                          Macro sat up so quickly his computer flew from his paw to the end of the bed. Meta City? So DL wanted the last memory disk? He raked his claws over his face and groaned. No. No, he couldn't let them just walk into Socket's mansion. DL and a human? Didn't Socket want both of them? The more he thought about it, the more Socket's stunt in Botnet City felt like an elaborate scheme.

                                          He kicked himself from his bed and strutted from the room towards the cockpit. His eye immediately went to Matrix who he expected to be up, but his seat was empty. What took him by surprise was the lopunny in his captain's seat. His lip curled into a snarl and he pointed a claw, but she span the seat around and gave him a disarming smile.

                                          "Up already, Captain?" she asked. Then she looked him up and down. "You feeling okay? You look like you lost a wrestling match with a goodra."

                                          "Digit?" he spat. "What are -"

                                          "Good mornin', Cap'n." Anchor slipped into the cockpit beside him and cast him a curious glance. His nose twitched and he recoiled. "Yeech! What, did you take a dive in a swamp?"

                                          Macro flashed a canine. "Bad dream."

                                          "Wow, yeh." Anchor gave him an apologetic nod. "Must've been a bad one because… well… you look bad."

                                          Macro's arms fell limp at his side and he stared at Anchor aghast. He caught a nod from Defrag behind him, along with a smirk.

                                          "You know what…" Macro sighed and rolled his eyes. "Look, we need to get to Meta City. I got word from Switch that they're headin' there in a couple of days, and there ain't no way I'm lettin' DL and Switch practically hand themselves over to her!"

                                          Anchor raised an eyebrow and his mouth formed an 'o'.

                                          "I don't know much about this DL," said Defrag. "No one has really taken the time to fill me in. What does Socket want with her exactly?"

                                          "It's a long story," said Anchor. "I wouldn't get involved if I were you. We'll drop you off on the way." He turned back to Macro. "So we're finally doin' it? Goin' into Socket's nest to grab the final disk? Feels like the plot of some terrible video game."

                                          "Meta City, eh?" Matrix buzzed down the corridor, stifling a yawn. "I'll key us in after breakfast. Nice hairdo, by the way."

                                          Macro shrugged off the ribombee and nodded towards Defrag. "Care to explain?"

                                          "She showed up at the crack o'dawn," Anchor replied. "Wasn't gonna turn her away. Lass ain't got nowhere to stay here."

                                          "Exactly," said Defrag. "If you think I'm letting you lot slip away again after you all flew off to Botnet, you've got another thing coming! I can't steer a ship! How else am I supposed to get back home?"

                                          "You shoulda thought about that before you hitched a ride!" Macro snapped.

                                          Defrag's face fell and she tutted. "Really? You would have left me in Spool City to get cut up by those… things?"

                                          Macro felt his heart sink and he sighed. He shook his head and looked away towards the kitchen. "No. Of course not. We'll… get you back home."

                                          He waved her off and marched towards the bathroom, but a warm sensation spread through his right leg. He froze and looked down at his pouch.

                                          "What the…?"

                                          He reached into it and pulled out a lone Z-Crystal. How had that got in there? He eyed it and held it up to the light. Pale blue, with a dark blue snowflake design beyond it. Icium-Z? His mouth turned dry and he licked his lips as he peered back into the cockpit.

                                          Both Anchor and Defrag had tucked into a bag of donuts. Somehow he didn't think Cookie would be too impressed they were vetoing his pancakes.

                                          "Digit?" Macro rasped.

                                          "Defrag," she corrected. She fixed him with a cold stare and licked sugar from her lips. "What do you want?"

                                          "You know ice punch, right?"

                                          "Sure. Why do you ask?"

                                          Macro's heart felt like lead. He held out the Icium-Z. "I think this might be yours."

                                          Defrag's jaw dropped and Anchor let out a loud 'Eh?!'

                                          The granbull looked up at Macro with a start. "When did you work that out?"

                                          "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," said Macro. "I'm gonna go shower. Prod Matrix until he gets them co-ordinates in for Meta, okay?"

                                          Macro groaned and rubbed at his temples as he strutted towards the wash room. What a morning. First the bad dream, then Defrag receiving a Z-Crystal? Talk about an unexpected ally. Maybe a good, long shower would help him put things into perspective before they took off on what could be the deadliest mission he'd ever encountered. He shuddered as he thought back at those kartana. Compared to Socket's mansion they felt a lot more welcoming.

                                          ...

                                          Light footsteps echoed through the cells, flat feet on cold tile. Surge looked up in time to see Jumper standing before her cell. He flashed a paw at the panel and the glass slid open. A small smile tugged at Surge's lips and she chuckled.

                                          "I take it he's gone?" she asked.

                                          "If you're referring to Macro, yes," said the frogadier. "Now he's out of Cyan City, I have no reason to hold you here."

                                          "Socket will be so pleased."

                                          Jumper met Surge's eyes with an exasperated eye roll. He stood aside and gestured for her to get up and leave.

                                          "What?" she asked as she pushed herself to her feet. "No paperwork?"

                                          "No need. I've made all the notes required for my records."

                                          "Don't wanna cheese of the Mayor even more, eh?" Surge shoved past him into the corridor. "I'll be needing my laser back. And my ship."

                                          "Your ship is in dire need of repairs."

                                          Surge's jaw almost hit the floor and she spun to face him. "I beg your pardon? They wrecked it?!"

                                          "Yes. So if you would like to take one of our ships as compensation-"

                                          "Darn straight I shall! And big enough to carry my own! Then I can sell your golden prize for scraps to fund for a replacement!" She placed her paws on her hips and flashed her canines in a growl. "Allowing Macro's cronies to destroy my… that ship was like home!"

                                          Jumper stared back at her, expressionless. Not even a hint of sympathy in his eyes.

                                          "Look," he said. "The offer is there. The damages to your ship are not my concern or fault. If you want one of Cyan City's ships, take it. But I can't guarantee it will hold your tympole."

                                          Surge groaned and rubbed her paws over her face. Several years. She'd had that ship for several years, and it was reduced to scraps in less than a day.

                                          "What I can guarantee, however," Jumper went on, "is that our ships are a lot faster than your little bubble ball."

                                          She parted her claws to look at him. Something sparked in her mind and she chuckled.

                                          "Oh my," she said. "You're willingly offering me an efficient way to track down Wildcard Gamma?"

                                          Jumper sighed and rolled his eyes as the zigzagoon went on.

                                          "I guess you want him turned in after all." She laughed. "Well, I'm not offering you a single credit after all you've put me through."

                                          Jumper's lips turned into a frown. "I'm not offering you a means to hunt Macro. I'm offering you a quick way out of Cyan City. Macro and his crew have a lot of friends here after what they've done for us, and they're desperate to see you leave. The choice is yours. Take it or leave it."

                                          "I'll take it," said Surge. "Have your cronies load up what's left of my ship into one and I'll be out of here before you can blink."

                                          She made for the exit, but Jumper hopped past her. Keeping his back to her, he opened the door and let her out into the police station.

                                          "Ordinarily, I wouldn't help a criminal pack her bags," he said. "But given I want you out of this city, I don't really have much choice."

                                          She flashed a scowl over her shoulder. "I'm flattered."

                                          "You can do what you want with my ship," he said. "Provided you never, ever come back. I don't want to see your sorry tail in this city again."

                                          Her fur bristled like a brush and a canine poked through her lips. "Oh don't you worry. I have no immediate plans."
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                                          Old 2 Weeks Ago (5:06 AM).
                                          Delirious Absol's Avatar
                                          Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
                                          Call me Del
                                             
                                            Join Date: May 2015
                                            Location: UK
                                            Age: 33
                                            Gender: Female
                                            Nature: Quirky
                                            Posts: 345
                                            A/N - This chapter was originally a lot shorter, but I've merged two together. It'll certainly speed things up a bit.

                                            Trigger Warning! - Please be aware there is violence later on in this chapter! And not of the Pokemon variety! (As such, Serebii and PokeCommunity will be getting this update later on when I've had permission to post.)


                                            Chapter Sixty Seven

                                            It had been a long night. Switch took down one of the makeshift tents Web had thrown up. Both tents were nothing more than a couple of sheets she'd managed to bundle onto the ship 'just in case', and that night had been one of those nights. The groups had been split into two, cramming themselves into the tents to sleep on the rocky floor. Switch had found himself squeezing his talonflame form in with Web, Poipole, DL and Annie. Not only did Web have a particularly skunky smell to her, Annie stumbled in late, narrowly stepping on his tail feathers, and tossed and turned until the early hours of the morning. He let out a sigh of relief when she finally decided to get up and go for a walk. At least, that's what her mutter had sounded like. Switch had been much too sleepy to chase after her, and had left the girl to go and do her own thing. It wasn't until Trojan recommenced banging away at the ship that Switch finally staggered from the tent in a fog of sleep and hunger.

                                            As he neatly folded the sheet, he took another look around at the camp site. Still no sign of Annie. He'd taken a brief fly and spotted her by the lake, shifting around broken branches and lobbing rocks at the water. But when he'd called she'd merely said she wasn't hungry. So he'd left her. But that had been about an hour ago, and breakfast was long since over.

                                            He looked over at the other two pokemon helping him, working in complete silence. DL had barely said a word since they'd landed on the mountains, lost in thought. Web, respecting the pachirisu's wishes to not be pestered, worked silently alongside her as the pair of them folded the other sheet.

                                            "You know," said Switch, depositing the folded sheet beside the ship's open door, "I'm going to go and see how Annie is."

                                            "Are you sure?" Web asked, a look of concern crossing her face. "I'm pretty worried, and no offence, Switch, but we've known her longer."

                                            "Yes, but we share a species," he said. "At least let me try."

                                            Web glanced to the side and cleared her throat. "From what you've described, it doesn't sound good."

                                            "Then that leaves me with another advantage. I can fly out of the way." The human flashed her a reassuring smile. "If you hear a scream, come running."

                                            Web's jaw went slack. "Come now, don't go making jokes like that!"

                                            Switch laughed and waved a hand. "Don't worry, I've battled bigger and scarier pokemon than Annie."

                                            "Well, if you're going to find her, take her tablets. She'll need them."

                                            Web tossed the jar of blue pills towards Switch and he caught them. He gave her a playful wink which she rolled her eyes at before gathering up the sheets.

                                            Switch found Annie in exactly the same place. She stood beside the lake in her human form, picking up rocks and lobbing them across the water. Each one struck down with a 'plop!' to vanish beneath the shimmering surface.

                                            "If you're not careful, you're going to hurt someone," he said.

                                            "They'll duck." She bounced another rock in her open hand for a moment, as though she was considering what he said, before letting it fly out as far as she could throw it.

                                            Switch stooped beside her, grabbed a flat rock and with a flick of his wrist it skimmed across the water, bouncing a few times before finally disappearing.

                                            "Show off," Annie muttered.

                                            He said nothing, pausing to take in the scene as Annie continued to batter the lake with projectiles. Branches lay in tatters, leaves scattered around amongst the splinters. One poor tree looked like it had received the sorry end of a branch to its trunk. The bark was scuffed and missing altogether in places.

                                            He folded his arms and turned back to Annie. "Needed to burn off some stress, huh?"

                                            She grunted, lifting her arm back to lob a rock as far as it would go.

                                            "What's eating you?" he asked.

                                            "Nothing's eatin' me. I'm not a fish."

                                            "Okay, let me rephrase that. What's bothering you?"

                                            "Nothin' that concerns you."

                                            "No, maybe not." He slumped down onto the floor and skimmed another rock across the lake. "But it helps to talk about these things, rather than letting it hollow you out from the inside. And… potentially give an unfortunate aquatic creature concussion."

                                            "All right, fine." She dropped a large pebble back into the pile and kicked some rubble into the shallows. "You live here, right? Well… not here, here. But in System, right?"

                                            "Yes, I made it my home. Much like you're doing now."

                                            "Well, I was." She slumped down beside him and tugged at some dry grass. "Was much better than back home, if I could even call it that. Barely saw my parents, spent most of my life in isolation because they wanted to 'sort out my head'."

                                            Switch eyed her air quotes before she returned to lobbing small rocks into the pool.

                                            "So your parents left you with a doctor most of your life?" Switch asked.

                                            "Varying doctors. Spent a lot of time on air planes. I was originally from Kalos, but they sent me to Kanto, then to Alola, then back to Kalos, then finally dropped me in Sinnoh where I lived for what… seven years?" She shrugged.

                                            "So you've travelled a lot!"

                                            "I'd hardly call it travelling," she snorted. "I never left the wards except to board another plane. Didn't even see this 'school' thing people talk about. I had a private tutor who made me read alotta books."

                                            "Books are good," said Switch. "I learned a lot from books."

                                            "They weren't really for learnin'," she explained. "They wanted to see what triggered me. Set me off. I can't handle negative emotions, see? So they made me read things that triggered them to see if they could stop me goin' into a rage. If anythin', bein' locked up there set me in a rage. Then I ended up in System and lo and behold! I got locked in another ward because I was scared and bit someone. Smacked 'em with my wing claws - I was originally goin' for a punch but that dang body wouldn't stick. Then I end up here and they fix me. Give me some tablets that lock me in one shape. I meet some folks who care about me and actually want to be my friend. They're not scared! And then I go and find out the one who really seems to care the most, the one I can actually call a friend, is really sick!"

                                            She grabbed a handful of rocks and lobbed them one by one into the water to punctuate her statement.

                                            Switch silently reached into his pocket and handed her the jar of tablets. It took a moment for her to process it, but she snatched up the jar and tossed two of the pills into her mouth.

                                            "I can't understand how you must be feeling," he said, "but I can hazard a guess. That air in the outskirts is awful. Goodness knows what damage it does to the lungs."

                                            She grunted and hugged her knees to her chest.

                                            "You should try talking to him if you're this upset," he said.

                                            "Seriously? What good would that do?" At that moment, her body switched to an archeops.

                                            She let out a roar of profanities and leapt to her feet, swinging a wing around in an arc. Several glowing rocks appeared before her, and she sent them soaring across the lake. They rained down in the centre, creating a huge spray of water, and in the midst of it Switch thought he spotted a very startled horsea.

                                            Switch cleared his throat, watching the water settle into ripples. "I think it would help a lot, actually."

                                            Annie grunted and flopped back onto her bottom. "Well, I'm not entirely sure I want to. He didn't tell me sooner. As far as I'm concerned, this is over. We'll do this rebellion for Zip and the other water dwellers, then I'm headin' out my own way."

                                            "That's really not helpful, Annie."

                                            "If it stops me bein' sad and angry, it's helpful."

                                            "It won't." He leant back on his hands and fixed his golden eyes on her. "You'll have memories of this forever. It'll just… eat you up inside."

                                            "Well, that's where you're wrong." She picked up a rock in her claws and juggled it back and forth. "Because I have this nifty way of just forgettin' things. If I don't like somethin', I won't remember it. Only reason I know I bit that doc is 'cos they told me. I think they call it 'memory repression'. I only remember happy things."

                                            "Then how come you remember all this from yesterday?"

                                            "Because I ain't slept yet."

                                            Switch nodded and took a breath. "Well. I think you need to talk it over. At least explain. It'll give your new friends some understanding." He paused and eyed her for a moment. "You worry them a bit."

                                            "Because they're scared of me?" She gestured a wing at the surrounding wreckage.

                                            "No. Because, like you said, they care about you." He pushed himself to his feet. "I'll let you cool down a bit. See you back at camp."

                                            She didn't even look back at him. As he entered the camp, he glanced back at her still juggling that rock. Then he turned to one of the sturdy trees. Waveform perched in it, huddled into a bundle of feathers. When he noticed Switch watching him, he cracked one eye open.

                                            Switch tucked his hands behind his back and smiled. "Good morning."

                                            The decidueye huffed a noise that sounded like a 'hoo'.

                                            "I'm guessing you didn't sleep either?" Switch sighed.

                                            "I think it was a bad night for most of us," Waveform explained, letting his eye close. "I tend to sleep in bursts anyway."

                                            "Well… it doesn't look like Annie slept a wink."

                                            Waveform fixed one eye on him again.

                                            "She seems pretty upset about something." Switch paused and cleared his throat. "She could probably use a friend."

                                            Waveform sighed and ruffled out his feathers, beating down his chest with his paws. "I think I know what this is about. I have to admit, I'm a little surprised."

                                            "I don't see why. I mean, the lot of you are like a family. Even down to the bickering."

                                            Waveform froze and narrowed his eyes. "How much did she tell you?"

                                            Switch raised a hand and closed his eyes. "I won't say a word, trust me."

                                            The decidueye snorted and kicked off from the branch, flying away from Switch without a sound.

                                            ...

                                            Annie barely heard the decidueye approach her. He paused beside her and surveyed their surroundings, silently. Then he brushed some splintered wood aside and sat down beside her, slipping a wing around her shoulders. He took the rock from her claws and replaced it with his paw. Something metal touched her neck and she jolted slightly, then relaxed as she felt him combing her feathers with his beak.

                                            For a while they sat in silence, Annie lost in her thoughts while he preened her feathers.

                                            Finally, she took a long breath then said exactly what was on her mind. "Life isn't fair."

                                            He stopped and lifted his head to look at her. "I wouldn't put it that way. It's hard, but not unfair."

                                            "No, it's not fair. I finally get some freedom and it just leads to yet more pain."

                                            He let out a sigh and trailed his paw over her wing. "I don't know what happened to you, but… life has ups and downs. You need to just learn to handle them."

                                            "What, like you're doing?" she spat.

                                            He stared at her silently, his crimson eyes burning into her skull. She curled her lips back in a snarl and snapped her head around towards him.

                                            "Back in my world, when someone gets sick they get help!" she growled. "Is that not the case here?"

                                            "In the outskirts, if someone gets sick they die," he said. "Pokemon there can't afford fancy help."

                                            "Then that's another thing that needs to be fixed then, ain't it?" She turned back to the lake, but something twigged in her mind and her eyes widened with realisation. "Wait a minute… didn't you pay for like… most of our ship?"

                                            Waveform released her claws and scratched his head. "Yes, but… I have my reasons."

                                            "So you could totally afford to get yourself sorted?"

                                            "No." He released her and tucked his wings to his sides. "It's not as simple as that."

                                            She threw her wings into the air in exasperation. "Then what's the problem? How can you afford to build a ship yet not be able to get yourself treatment?"

                                            "Because I owe Webber and Trojan!" he said. "A lot!"

                                            "What? They bail you outta somethin'?"

                                            "You could say that." He sighed again and ran his paws over his face. "Look… I already told you about that group back in Gear Village. I fled that place, okay? Found myself in the outskirts and got into some scrapes. I wasn't the bounty hunter I am now, I was nothing but a small-time merc picking off stray, weaker pirates and thugs. That gang was more than I could handle. They left me to die on the streets, and Webber took me in. I was surprised. I knew she was a former space pirate, and she'd been on my list. They used up valuable berries to help me recover. I spent many days trying to think up how I could repay them. So I practised, and removed Webber from my list of targets. I went out on the streets picking off wanted criminals until I managed to turn over each and every 'mon in that gang. I gave the credits to Webber and Trojan, much to their protests.

                                            "After that, I left them. But I still wanted to repay them. After a year, I managed to turn in the most wanted space pirate in System. A huge garchomp named Iron Claw who'd shocked terror even into Hunter's heart. I rounded him up along with his crew and net myself three hundred and fifty thousand credits in total. Two hundred thousand of that was for Iron Claw alone."

                                            "Whoa, so you're, like, loaded!" Annie gasped.

                                            He shrugged and tucked his wings back in. "I decided every credit was going to help Webber and Trojan. I went back to Spool City and stayed with them, paid my way. Made out as though I had very little. That each space pirate and criminal I caught counted greatly. I'd give enough to feed us all and pay the rent on that run-down little house. I knew I'd get sick. I hid all evidence under my beak sheath and opted to use silver arrows, given my feathers don't grow back as strong as they used to. It's already set up that when I die, everything goes to them. They can have a new life outside the outskirts and get any help they need."

                                            Annie balled her claws into fists. Her jaw ached from grinding her teeth together. Waveform wasn't even looking at her anymore. Air whistled from her teeth in a hiss and she grabbed the nearest rock, tossing it into the lake.

                                            "That isn't good enough!" she roared.

                                            He jolted, letting out a surprised hoot.

                                            "I want you all," she said. "All of you. You're like my family now. I didn't really have that back in my own world, and mark my words I ain't losin' one now."

                                            He said nothing as he stared at his talons.

                                            "Besides," she went on, "how would they feel if they knew you were doin' this?"

                                            He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I've not really thought about it."

                                            "Then think about it. Because I reckon they'd be as bitter as I am. They might be able to handle it better, but I reckon they'd be steamin'!"

                                            "My decision hasn't changed, Annie."

                                            The feathers down her spine bristled and she clenched her fists so hard the claws punctured her skin. "You're still just gonna let yourself die?"

                                            "I don't have much choice. You're in the mix now. I want what's best for all of-"

                                            "Don't you dare!" she snapped. "You can't decide what's best for me! I don't care about money. I want a family! I never had a family, not one that cares like you do! You guys won't just leave me in some lab to be poked at, made angry or sad and studied like some kinda lab rat! 'Ooh, what's gonna set her off next? What kinda tablets can we give her? Will these ones knock her into a coma again?' No! You guys care! You understand! I don't want to lose any of you!"

                                            She flew to her feet, sending another ancient power out to the lake. This one struck some rocks out on the far side, exploding them into rubble. She stood with her wings outspread, trying to catch her breath.

                                            Waveform had risen to his feet, staring down at her. He pulled her into an embrace, and she buried her nose into his chest feathers.

                                            "Okay," he said. "After all this, we'll sort it out, and we'll move out of the outskirts."

                                            She wound her claws into his chest and let out a strangled sob.

                                            "Is that okay?" he asked.

                                            She nodded and let out a muffled 'uhuh'.

                                            "Shall we get back to the others?" he asked. "I think I can hear the ship's engine."

                                            "No," she choked, still clutching his feathers like a blanket.

                                            "No?" He tried to pull back to look down at her, but she fastened him in some kind of death grip.

                                            "No," she repeated. "I'm really freakin' tired."

                                            ...

                                            BackDoor found himself dragged across System Sky as Distortion roared about finding a new host. The android's body still sparked from the cracks in his plating, either from the intensity of the battle or the Ultra Beast's attempts to change his form. Although they'd succeeded, the transformation had put terrible strain on his mechanics.

                                            "Would you slow dow-ow-own?!" his voice still hadn't recovered, stuttering, and crackling with static like a damaged speaker. He was really beginning to sound like a bad trap record. "I can only go so fast, you know!"

                                            Distortion slowed, turning his eyes onto BackDoor's mechanical mind. 'You complain too much.'

                                            "All right, listen-en." BackDoor tried desperately to calm his voice, to no avail. He leered back at the pair of red eyes. "I can travel through data streams. If you let me, we'll get to wherever it is you're going in a jiff-jiff-jiffy!"

                                            Distortion seemed to mull this over, then let out a hissing sigh. 'Do you have any suggestions for an extra host?'

                                            "Extra host?" BackDoor tried to ignore the fact he'd stalled on the 'a'. "I suppose we could use one of Zero Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-"

                                            Distorion slammed BackDoor's brain around in his head, bringing the hoopa to an abrupt stop. The android lifted a paw to rub beneath his left horn and tutted.

                                            "Day," he finished. "Zero Day. And thanks for that."

                                            It had done nothing to fix his damaged speech. He still sounded like a DJ's fall-back mixer station. He drifted forward a couple of feet and lifted a paw, feeling for a data stream. Zero Day weren't too far away. Hopefully he could farm some parts and repair some damage. Then they could open a whole, fun new world and throw Socket into it. See what kind of delights would await her in her 'New System'.

                                            'Who is this Socket?' Distortion asked.

                                            "Oh, juszzzzt the 'mon who had me made," said BackDoor. "Bosses me about like I'm some kind of inferior life form."

                                            'Like those Ultra Beasts?'

                                            "Hey, don't hate on them." BackDoor wagged a paw. "You're one yourself."

                                            'I am far superior to those pathetic creatures! Now find me one of these Zero Day androids.'

                                            "Oh, I can do better than that." The static from the data stream surrounded his body, pulling him in. "I can find us a whole fleet."

                                            With all the ease of water through a straw, BackDoor shot through the data stream. His body became like liquid, curling and curving until the stream locked onto Zero Day's signal. In a flash, they manifested above the fleet. A small fleet. Only six androids drifted back and forth, opening and closing empty portholes.

                                            'These pathetic things are what you expect me to use as a host?' Distortion spat. 'What are they doing?'

                                            "Nothing." BackDoor tucked his paws behind his head and leant back. "Might as well make them do-do-do something useful, eh?"

                                            Distortion sighed and flowed from BackDoor's body, his insectoid form drifting above Zero Day. They turned their heads back and forth, eyes contracting into pinpricks. One of the closer ones span its head around as its nose lit up like a laser gun. Then it unleashed its tri-attack beam. Distortion vanished momentarily, letting it pass harmlessly through the air. Then he reappeared behind the porygon-z. It let out a panicked binary stream, rallying its allies. Each one aimed its own attack, but Distortion vanished into the android, letting it take the brunt of the friendly fire. It sparked and spasmed in the air, its legs flailing, then dropped slowly towards System Ground in a feeble retreat.

                                            Distortion manifested beside BackDoor and tutted.

                                            "These things are about as sturdy as cardboard armour," said Distortion. "But if you want to repair your own feeble body, go ahead. For now… you'll just have to do."

                                            BackDoor rolled his eyes, muttering silently. He advanced towards the fleet, removed one of his rings, a