Pokémon One Latios

Started by POKEMON_MASTER_0 April 17th, 2015 9:55 AM
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POKEMON_MASTER_0

caffeine 1mg/mL, 240 mL po q4h prn fatigue

Age 28
Male
Spokane, WA
Seen December 2nd, 2019
Posted July 6th, 2016
88 posts
12.4 Years
I started this in 2008 and quickly shelved it because though I had a beginning and end in mind, I couldn’t come up with the substance linking the two together. In 2014, I picked it up again and found that with a few more years of life behind me, I had a whole lot more to write about. I would give this a T rating as it features violence and alcohol consumption. Also as a heads up, I tend to prefer writing longer chapters. All that aside, here’s the first chapter:


CHAPTER 1: Clocking In

The man turned the collar of his coat upward to shield his neck from the mist. He burrowed his running nose into the fabric on his shoulder and clenched his fists in his pockets. He stood as rigid as the ice crystals in the air. But for him, this was better than being in the cramped quarters below deck where the men yelled orders and stepped over each other’s feet.

A creak rang out, followed by a pattering of footsteps. A part of him thought that if he looked forward, off into the distance, he would become invisible and the visitor would leave him alone. But they didn’t. They came closer and closer until he was sure their owner could reach out and touch him.

“Pretty thick, huh?” a male voice said behind him.

The man turned around to find a second, short, chubby man with a white beard and red skin. The tone of his voice along with his appearance reminded the first man of a grandfatherly-figure. He could see him now, stooped over the arm of a rocking chair, reaching down to snatch up one of his grandchildren.

“The fog, I mean,” the second man added quickly. “You okay, Aden?”

Aden realized that he had been glaring at the man. He cursed himself for being so uptight and lightened his gaze.

“We’re not getting through if this keeps up. The Guy needed the order at eleven,” Aden said.

The man shrugged.

“There’s still time.”

“I guess,” Aden replied.

He kicked at the wooden planking with the toe of his boot as the man continued talking.

“The guys sent me up to tell you you’re needed down below. Something about a question on security protocols.”

“Fair enough.”

That’s when they were both thrown from their feet. The ship lurched forward, only to stop a second later with a dull thud emanating from somewhere within its belly. The force of the impact spread throughout the entire ship, causing it to hum a single, low note.

Aden rolled to his feet so quickly that he hardly touched the ground. If one didn’t know better, he or she would think that he was simply performing a maneuver in a gymnastics routine. He turned to the man, who was still lying on the deck.

“Yep, I’m fine,” he muttered, hauling himself up.

Aden craned his neck toward the edge of the ship. Looking beyond the rail, he swore he could see something dark underneath the layers of fog. The man followed Aden’s gaze and squinted in the same general direction.

“What now?”

“Don’t know,” Aden replied hastily, eyes not moving from the shape behind the fog.

“Bad” was the only word Aden could use to describe the situation. The nebulousness of the word matched the nebulousness of the sea of questions that flowed through his mind. Were they sinking? If so, was there something he should be doing to stop it? And what about making that delivery? Surely it wouldn’t be on time given that the ship was likely damaged.

He drew in a sharp breath and reminded himself that at this moment, allowing his head to run wild with questions would only cloud his judgement. He was head of security. His primary job was to ensure that their cargo remained safe. Right now, a late delivery was only a secondary concern. His next course of action would be to evaluate whether the accident was natural or man-made. And if it was man-made, he would eliminate the man who caused it.

He reached into his coat, undid a clip at his waist, and produced a gun just under a half a meter long. The barrel was rectangular and had a three-centimeter wideness; there were no frilly, aerodynamic-looking curves to it. It was a solid chunk of metal whose sole purpose was to plant lead hard. The first time Aden had handled it, he had not expected its weight. It slipped from his grip and inconveniently found its way to his foot. The name “Punisher-MSMG” was a strangely appropriate one, as his punishment for dropping it was a broken foot. Nonetheless, it served its purpose.

His associates had suggested that he buy something a bit newer that weighed less and didn’t have such an awful kick. But Aden wouldn’t relent. The soreness it caused his muscles from its combined recoil and weight gave him a sense of urgency in combat. It reminded him that if he didn’t use the gun correctly, much more than just his arms would hurt. And besides, it did its job. Its aim never strayed. Its bullets reduced his opponents to dust. Why fix something that wasn’t broken to begin with?

Now he gripped it with both hands and held it in front of him. He bent his legs slightly, ready spring at a moment’s notice.

“Aden!”

He spun around.

Two men that had been approaching him jumped at the sight of his weapon. He lowered it and let them speak.

“Captain says we ran into an island!” the shorter of the two piped up. “He wants us to check if there’s anyone around who can help us.”

“Are we going to sink?” Aden questioned, but it sounded more like a command.

“He doesn’t think so. The hull isn’t breached,” the taller said, annunciating every syllable like his life depended on giving Aden this report.

Both of the newcomers appeared to be children to Aden. They had to be at least eighteen, but he swore they were younger. Their shaved heads revealed white skin that could have blinded him if the sun was shining. They dressed like soldiers, wearing matching green pants and vests. Straps crossed their fronts, holding their rifles on their backs.

Aden wasn’t sure what vexed him more: the fact that they had just crashed into an island, or the fact that he had these two kids on his hands who thought they were playing a video game. Armed with guns the title of “soldier” they had an eager, anxious demeanor. It made him feel sick. But as head of security, he would have to go along with them.

He sighed and rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. He could feel a headache coming on already.

“Fine. Let’s get going.”

“Yes sir!” they barked in unison.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The group of three stumbled across a rocky shore. Behind them, the waves hissed as they found their way through the piles of smoothed stones. Aden hoped that the two youths wouldn’t twist an ankle. He didn’t want to carry anyone out. Thankfully, after a few moments, they arrived at the point where the rocks gave way to grass.

The two soldiers pulled their guns off their shoulders and swung them about, eyes darting wildly.

“Not yet. Put them away,” Aden commanded.

The two exchanged a sour glance before slinging them back over their shoulders without a snappy “Yes sir!” Aden pretended not to notice. The group continued onward with Aden being the only one holding his gun.

Just beyond the grassy field stood a jungle. It was the shadowy mass that Aden had caught a glimpse of through the fog. Its palms loomed above a hard-packed dirt floor. Aden was just at the base of the outermost tree when-

“Wait!”

Aden turned around and cocked his head at one of the two soldiers.

“There could be wild Pokémon in there. We don’t have any Pokémon or Pokéballs on us.”

Aden glanced down and hefted his gun.

“That’s illegal, isn’t it? I mean, maybe it isn’t here, but-”

“Do you want to be honorable, or do you want to be stung and die slowly when the poison overtakes you because we don’t have an antidote?” Aden asked.

The two froze up, unsure of how to respond.

“Now’s the time to have your weapons ready.”

Oh. They pulled out their weapons another time. Now, they held them meekly at their sides. The idea that they might have to shoot a real live creature suddenly seemed a whole lot less appealing when the possibility of the said creature fighting back had been raised.

They walked among the palms. At first, Aden allowed his gun-holding arm bounce idly by his side. But then he realized that the entire jungle was silent, save for their footsteps and breathing. Something about this felt wrong. He scanned the crowns of the palms overhead.

He was so intent on the possibility of an attack that it took him a second to notice that water had begun to slosh around his feet. He jumped in surprise and found himself standing in a puddle the size of lake. The entire thing radiated a dull white, like quicksilver. Up ahead, in the center of the clearing, a mass of black poked out of the puddle.

Aden held up his hand, and his associates stopped sloshing. That black lump was the reason the forest was so quiet. He was sure of it. He saw a flicker of movement, and the lump’s shape changed ever so slightly. What a stupid idea this was. Here they were out in the open, completely exposed, bugging something that in all likelihood wasn’t even human. It had seen them, so there was no use running now.

“We just want to talk,” And yelled.

A bolt of blue light shot out of the being.

Aden dove to the ground.

A boom rang out behind him so loudly that it pushed down on his chest. As he floundered about in the puddle to gain his bearings and his gun, he thought that for all of the sloshing he was doing, everything sounded remarkably quiet. That’s when he realized he couldn’t hear.

He tottered to his feet and brandished his weapon. The only sign of the explosion was a series of gentle waves tickling his ankles. His associates were nowhere in sight. Either they had been blown to pieces, or they had fled.

The being was coming closer now. Aden saw no feet. It hovered like a wisp of fog. It wore a glowing, red necklace and had a white mane contrasting its dark body. Its blue eyes bored into him. If it said anything, Aden didn’t hear it. He held up his gun in both hands and held down on the trigger. A stream of lead issued from the barrel and Aden clenched his arms as he fought the gun’s attempts to jump out of his grasp.

Every one of the bullets disappeared into the being, but it didn’t even flinch. It just kept moving forward, undeterred. Eventually, the weapon had been entirely depleted, and Aden found himself holding a useless chunk of metal.

The being was only a few meters away from him. He felt a wave of terror as he looked into those cold blue eyes. His mouth tasted metallic. More than anything, he wanted to bolt. But he couldn’t. He just stood there, rooted in place. His throat ached with a scream he could not hear. The world around him grew progressively darker, as if whoever was in charge of the lighting had swept a hand across the fader. When he could no longer see the outline of the being, he felt himself fall backward.

Reflexively, he thrust out both arms. But this did nothing to stop his descent. He felt a dull tingling in his stomach as he accelerated. He knew that he would be stuck in this void for eternity, along with this sense of impending doom. There would be nothing to do. There would be no one to speak to. He would never grow old. It would just be him and the darkness. Forever.

“Aden!” a voice called.

He blinked.

“Wake up!”

It was like someone had grabbed him around the neck, pulled him from the bushes, and thrown him back onto the sidewalk where he belonged. The nightmare relaxed its grip so that he could awaken once more. He opened his eyes, and drew in a ragged gasp, surfacing from its depths.

“Yeah?” he croaked.

“Don’t you remember?” a static-laced male voice barked.

He squinted through his half-waking state. Floating before him was a blue, metallic Pokémon: Beldum, his Personal Assistant Device, or PAD. One of its many talents was taking phone calls. However, unlike a cell phone that could be conveniently ignored, there was virtually no way to silence the PAD.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Aden growled. “I’ve got it.”

“Of course you do. You are going to get it down here right now,” the voice spoke again, carefully emphasizing each syllable.

Click! The transmission was cut off.

“Time?” he murmured.

In response, it rotated its red eye upward. The digits “9:27” illuminated the ceiling.

“Great…” He thrust back the bed sheets and lowered his bare feet to a plush carpet. His hearing was back, and his ears rang to the point where he had a splitting headache. With each heartbeat, his vision shaded itself red and a stab of pain reverberated throughout his skull. Thankfully, relief was just a medicine cabinet away.

But upon standing, he fell to the floor. The headache seared through him and threatened to overcome his consciousness completely. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t hold it. He crawled on all fours and shot through the bathroom door. In the dim light, he could make out the shape of a cabinet above his head. Shakily, he extended a hand, tore off the door, and grabbed a pre-opened plastic bottle.

He tilted his head back, feeling a multitude of cool pills touch his parched tongue. He swallowed vigorously. Slowly, the pulsing of red dissipated. He curled up in a corner of the tiled room, next to the toilet.

“You are using cis-3,4-methyl-1,2,2,3-tetrahydroxylpolyxenocyclohexene to treat a headache,” a monotonic voice rang out.

“What?”

“My point exactly. You do not know what you did to get yourself into this situation, and you do not know what you will do to get out,” the voice droned again. “What you are using to counteract your headaches is hurting you, even though it was recommended by an apothecary.”

Aden sighed, exhausted by the persistence of the Beldum.

“Ever since the island, it’s the only thing that works. You’re beating a dead horse.”

“I do not understand that idiom. However, I do understand quite well that your neural tissue has been slowly, yet steadily degenerating over the past eighteen months. I have performed some basic calculations and have concluded that if you keep consuming the drug, you can expect an IQ reduction of-”

“Approximately ten points within the next ten to twenty years,” Aden interjected.

“Actually, projections from this month have suggested an eleven-point reduction. That is a ten-percent increase in IQ loss. In addition, your liver has been-”

“Rapidly decreasing in its function for the last eighteen months as well,” he recited in a monotone rivaling that of the Beldum’s. “Its rate of functionality is ninety-two percent of the expected rate of a twenty-three year-old, male Caucasian.”

“Actually, its rate has fallen by point-two percent this week, thus making the net rate of functionality ninety-one point-eight percent.”

“Yeah, I’m real smart, I guess.”

“Not as intelligent as you used to be. With that IQ-”

“Whatever, just shut up-I mean stop talking.”

Headache waning, Aden stood before a granite countertop and a polished mirror. He turned a crystal knob on the sink and rubbed his face with water. He shivered and recoiled, looking up to the Beldum

“Glasses?” it inquired.

“Yeah,” he replied, watching the Pokémon zip noiselessly out of the mirror’s field of view.

He bent down, grabbed a white t-shirt, and pulled it over his skinny, half-clothed body. He consulted the mirror as he pulled his brown hair behind his ears. His green eyes were unobstructed by loose strands, and at the same time, they seemed a bit dilated as a result of the medication. No surprise, no problem.

Expectantly, he reached to the side and snatched a pair of square-lensed, black-framed glasses from the floating Pokémon’s claw.

“Fifty-fifty?” it enquired.

“Try eighty.”

“Fine.”

As he slipped them on, the lenses dimmed at the Beldum’s unseen command.

“Too dark. Try sixty.”

“Very well. Does that suffice now?”

“Yeah.”

“Shall I bring you your coat?”

“Sure.”

Again, the Pokémon scampered away, reappearing seconds later with a huge piece of black fabric a good ten times its size. Aden grabbed and slid it over his shoulders. The long-sleeved cloak came down just above his knees. Leaving it unbuttoned, he exited the bathroom with the Beldum following.

On a nightstand, next to the bed was the only object in Aden’s wardrobe too heavy for his PAD to carry: his gun, the Punisher-MSMG. He clipped it to his belt loop. Anyone who saw him carrying the thing would think twice about attacking. This was the Bowl, after all. One did not need to have a legitimate reason to be jumped.

Finally, he produced an item from beneath his bed: the package. It was a metal-covered sphere that could be grasped in one hand. His best guess was that it contained a Master Ball. As with all packages he had delivered, Aden didn’t know what it was. All he knew was that it had been given to him in Centrium, and he was supposed to deliver it today.

He slipped the heavy object beneath his jacket, laced up a pair of boots, and left the hotel room with his PAD at his side.

“The weather today should be in our favor,” it droned, as they proceeded down a stretch of hall. “High of twenty-four degrees Celsius, clear skies, light wind.”

“Great,” Aden said, punching an elevator button imbedded in a steel plate.

No more than a minute later, he stepped out into the lobby. It was by far the most pristine place in the building. If featured black, onyx tiles, and tan walls overlaid with pillars that were probably made of plastic. A boxy, modern-looking fountain in the center completed it all.

He had taken no more than a few steps when he heard a familiar panting. He looked down and grinned at a Growlithe. The tiny Pokémon bore a tongue that was half its body length, along with sparkling eyes to match. Contradicting its benevolent appearance was a spike-studded collar, graciously bestowed upon it by its owner. Aden wasn’t sure what was funnier: the pure affection that this creature seemed obligated to pour out, or the irony of its crude collar.

“You going to pay your rent yet?” a high-pitched voice rang out.

Expectantly, he looked up from the Growlithe and turned his attention to the kid slouched behind the front desk.

Aden grinned. “Not yet!” he spat.

“Ay, gonna jack your crib. Have the key right here,” he demonstrated, jingling the piece of metal and bearing a crooked-tooth grin of his own.

“I work for the Guy,” Aden countered good-naturedly. “If you take my place-I mean crib, he’s gonna mess you up.”

“Naw, you don’t work for the Guy. You just trying to trick me.”

“Go ahead, take my crib.”

“Naw, naw, just messing with you. Probably got work to do for the Guy. Official work,” the teen replied, scratching his bald head.

Aden shrugged.

“Another day at the office.”

“True, true. That’s what it always is. You go out there and deliver…stuff, knock heads around, and all that.”

“I will. I’ll get my stuff done so I can pay my rent for my…crib.”

The kid erupted in a high pitched frenzy of giggles.

“Crib? What’s with you? You’ve been in the Bowl for…a week or something and you think you can talk like me?”

“I can try,” Aden shot back.

“Whatever man, whatever,” he conceded.

Again, Aden looked down at the Growlithe. The thing was still staring up at him, eyes overflowing with adoration.

“If someone comes in and wants to take over-I mean jack this…crib…thing, this guy will probably roll out a welcome mat.”

“Yeah, yeah. Lucky he isn’t the one doing the guarding, huh? I just bring the little guy here cause’…he’s like my buddy, man! You know what I mean? Course you do! You have one that talks,” he stated, giving a nod to the Beldum.

“I wouldn’t call him my buddy. He-he’s-”

“An associate,” the Beldum droned.

“Yeah, he helps me with work.”

“Like one of those laptops?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, ok…” the teen stated, scratching his head a second time. “You have a good day,”

“You too,”

“I will, I will. If anyone comes here for trouble, I’ll show them trouble.”

Aden smiled out of politeness and turned to the bronze-plated front-doors. What lied beyond them was a complete contradiction to the plush hotel. Stepping onto the crumbling concrete steps, he had set foot in the real world: the Bowl.

Its decaying, boxy, and blackened skyscrapers loomed overhead, windows cracked save for the ones that occupied the first few floors. An atmosphere obscuring the light pervaded over the city. From sunrise to sunset, the city’s near-invisible, yet omnipresent smog blanketed its fleeting residents. One could never be too sure of what it would produce. Perhaps an approaching van could be filled with gun-toting members of an opposing group, or maybe that same car would be filled with ordinary citizens, wondering who the guy on the sidewalk was affiliated with. The haze was sketchy, or so Aden had heard: hence the unwieldy Punisher-MSMG.

By its very nature, the Bowl was sketchy. It occupied a seventy-thousand square kilometer chunk of land nestled right between the borders of two countries: Fortuna and Vaineo. Years ago, conflict over mining rights at the border broke out, triggering a minor war. In the end, the dividing line was pushed toward Vaineo’s side, and cut right through a city formerly called Emory that had been on the edge of Vaineo’s territory. Not wanting to be involved in an international dispute, the bulk of the city’s residents fled north to Burlington, a mining town firmly in Vaineo’s grasp.

In hindsight, both countries grudgingly agreed on at least one thing: this dividing line was a mistake. With roughly half the city in one country and half in another, there was no form of central control. Borders were blurred, law was obscured. Multiple times, law enforcement from one country would illegally enter the other in order to stop crime that had occurred on the opposite side of the city. In turn, the other country would do the same. At the end of the day, both groups were angry, each accusing the opposition of sending its police force into its country in order to enforce its laws on foreign soil.

Indeed, the decentralized nature of the Bowl made law enforcement of any kind difficult. As a result, it had become an open-gate for smugglers on an otherwise iron-tight border. Although both countries had set up a perimeter around their respective sides, it never seemed to work. There was always another face of the city that could not be reliably managed without “invading” the opposing country and causing an upset. It had become an excuse to provoke hostility rather than a reason to enforce justice.

The countries had not reached an agreement on how to manage the land because of this. While they took pride in “defending” their territory, the former mining city crumbled and a profitable black market had sprung up. The efforts to stop this were not as passionate as the efforts to protect the homeland; rivalry was stronger than practicality.

This was not someplace where Aden wanted to work, and definitely not a place where he wanted to live. As a result, it paid well. On top of this, the Guy had promised that this would be a quick job. He could not pass up the opportunity.

“I do not understand. Why does he insist on taking your ‘crib’? To the best of my data, you do not have an infant. At least I think that you do not. I hope that you do not,” the Beldum droned after Aden had walked no more than three steps away from the building.

“Just slang,” he shrugged.

“Oh, my incompetence.”

“Maybe you should get that language update?” Aden asked hopefully.

“For the eleventh time: no. Must I remind of last January’s incident? Omnidat’s patch was not compatible with the OS of nearly fifty-thousand PADs. Their DAIs were rendered useless, their-”

“I know, I know. Have you ever thought of trying something from an open source?”

“Yes, but no. Open source has the potential to be fallible as well.”

“True, I guess.”

The two proceeded down the cracked, chewing gum-crested sidewalk. The very sight of the aged concrete beneath his feet made Aden yearn for the plush carpets and onyx tiles of the hotel. Although the Bowl was run down, tiny pockets of wealth would pop up here and there. The hotel was one of these pockets: sleek appearance owing itself to the funds of operators, like the Guy, who paid to board their employees.

“Shall I configure the HUD now?” the Beldum asked, realizing that their destination was close.

“Nah, wait until we get on the road,” Aden replied.

“Fine.”

Upon turning a corner, the two stood before a concrete, multi-tiered building: the parking garage. They strolled up to it unsuspectingly, failing to notice the faded sign atop a post: “BEWARE OF DOG”. No matter though: the two had passed by it on the previous five days without encountering a single being.

Aden stopped dead in his tracks.

“The heck…”

Something emitted in a low, throaty hum. He did a complete three-sixty. Nothing but windswept streets and bits of yesterday’s newspapers stood out, yet that growl had to have a source.

He was reaching for the weapon clipped to his belt when suddenly, his ears were flooded with a snarl. He made out a flash of black and felt a rush of cool air. Then, he was struck down with the force of a train. Something jumped on his back and seized his neck. His scream dulled by a stab of pain, he watched helplessly as the sea of black asphalt faded to nothing.

txteclipse

The Last

Age 30
Male
Riverside
Seen 3 Weeks Ago
Posted November 2nd, 2016
2,324 posts
13.1 Years
Suddenly! Hello sir! It's good to see you posting this here! I've already reviewed this chapter on "that other site," so I'm just popping in to say it's good to have you back and I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of this. Only now do I realize I've been sitting on a later couple of chapters for quite a while now...I should prooooobably go review those huh?

POKEMON_MASTER_0

caffeine 1mg/mL, 240 mL po q4h prn fatigue

Age 28
Male
Spokane, WA
Seen December 2nd, 2019
Posted July 6th, 2016
88 posts
12.4 Years
Suddenly! Hello sir! It's good to see you posting this here! I've already reviewed this chapter on "that other site," so I'm just popping in to say it's good to have you back and I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of this. Only now do I realize I've been sitting on a later couple of chapters for quite a while now...I should prooooobably go review those huh?
Hey, nice hearing from you as well! And this did come on kind of suddenly. I stayed up until 2 last night finishing the second to last chapter, woke up today, and figured that I’ve been waiting way too long to publish this. I understand stuff can get busy (I just caught a break myself), so take as much time as you want to look things over.

POKEMON_MASTER_0

caffeine 1mg/mL, 240 mL po q4h prn fatigue

Age 28
Male
Spokane, WA
Seen December 2nd, 2019
Posted July 6th, 2016
88 posts
12.4 Years
CHAPTER 2: Combat Coffee

“You do not seem to understand. That Mightyena attempted to kill my associate. I was obligated to terminate the entity. There was absolutely no way around it,” a voice droned.

“I know, I know! I just want another one! You think you can do that?”

“My associate’s employer will compensate for your loss in a manner that he sees fitting,” the voice replied levelly.

“He’s just gonna give me money? He’s just gonna pay me off? I need another dog. You got one of those?”

“Again, my associate’s employer will compensate for your loss in a manner that he sees fitting.”

“Am I gonna get another dog?”

“I cannot say.”

“Then who the heck’s his employer?”

Aden opened his eyes slowly and saw the silhouettes of a man and Beldum backdropped by a blinding light.

“Someone…” he croaked.

Both the man and the Beldum turned their attention to him. The cold of the tile beneath him seeped through his jeans and into his skin. He sprang to his feet, eager to escape, only to find his vision clouded by a sea of black. He shook his head vigorously, willing it to go away. Surprisingly, he did not have a headache.

“Your sustained injuries were minimal,” the PAD droned. “A Mightyena clamped its jaws down on your neck before I was able to terminate it. The fabric in your coat saved you from sustaining any bite marks. You received only minor bruising that should be fully healed within four days.”

The man sniffled and muttered, “Yeah, yeah, real smart, but not smart enough to get me-”

“Do you want to die?” Aden spat, green eyes burning into the flesh of the man before him.

“No, but you might if I can’t get another dog. Does your boss-”

“You were asking who my boss was. Well, let me tell you. It’s the Guy,” he announced.

“What? You-you mean THE Guy? The one from Centrium?” eyes now widening in something of awe and fear. “Sorry, sorry man.”

“And if you even think about touching my bike-”

“No! I’m not touching it. No way. We’re good.”

Satisfied by the man’s response, both Aden and his PAD took leave of him. Upon exiting the building, Aden found himself standing outside of a guard shack that bisected the road leading into a vast, concrete cave: the parking garage.

The two treaded pavement with worn yellow stripes. Here and there, a car or motorcycle sat illuminated by the orange glow of the hanging sodium vapor lamps. However, majority of the floor space went unoccupied.

Making the way to the end of a row, Aden caught sight of his motorcycle: a polished, silver bullet with an oversized front tire. Before getting on, he proceeded to the backside. By his PAD’s command, the plating just behind the seat opened, revealing a hidden compartment. He reached in and grabbed the only object in it contained: a tiny, black earpiece. He inserted it.

He then pulled from his coat the metal ball that he had been lugging with him for the majority of the morning. He heaved it up into the compartment with a resounding clunk that made the entire bike vibrate with a shrill note. Satisfied, the compartment slid shut and he mounted the bike. The Beldum docked comfortably in an indentation molded to its body shape, right above the front wheel.

“Shall I configure the HUD now?” the PAD’s voice droned from his earpiece.

“Yeah,” he reached to his belt, and unclipped his gun.

“Aim your weapon at that post over there.”

Aden complied, pointing the hulking barrel at a concrete pillar in the distance.

“Now the light above your head.”

He strained against the weight of the weapon and thrust it skyward.

After a second of looking into the blinding light, the Beldum stated, “That should be sufficient.”

Aden brought the weapon down to eye-level. Within the lenses of his darkened glasses was a green “x”. Whenever he moved the barrel of his gun, the “x” would follow. He re-clipped the gun to his belt and waited for the Beldum to configure the remainder of the items.

In the upper-right corner of his vision flickered a tiny, green digital clock. Its digits read “10:27”. In the leftmost corner was a green square with a red dot: a map. Once they reached the open road, the solid block of green would take on more character, becoming a map of the streets.

“HUD configured. Shall I commence the startup sequence?”

“Sure,” Aden sighed, knowing well the dull jumble of language that would follow.

“Very well…initiating startup sequence…”

Aden glanced down at the controls of the motorcycle. Instead of two chrome handlebars that jutted out from the steering column, there was a square piece of plastic with rounded corners mounted in their place. In the center was an LCD screen, which now flickered to life with a white light. Attached to each side of the steering console were two handles: the left bearing a tiny, thumb-sized button for the accelerator, and the right bearing the brake.

“Navigation online. Power-steering online. Braking online. Targeting computer online. Now firing the engine and initiating weak antigrav …”

The bike emitted a high-pitched hum, causing Aden’s hair to stand on end. Craggy sediments beneath the machine created a soft shower of taps as they dispersed in all directions, as if a windstorm had taken hold of them.

There was a mechanical drone as the bike’s back tire folded in. With only one, oversized tire touching the ground, the machine was ready to go. Done was the Beldum’s monotony.

Aden took hold of the steering console in both hands, and gunned the throttle with his left thumb.

The bike pulled noiselessly out of its parking spot. It weaved in and out of concrete pillars and parked vehicles. Finally, it reached the entrance. Just as he passed by the guard shack, Aden shot a glance through one of the dingy windows. No one: the irate guard must have left for fear of having a second encounter with an even more irate customer.

He proceeded down the empty streets, empty skyscrapers streaming past on both sides.

“Your current speed is ninety-one kilometers per hour. Would you like me to-”

“No thank you,” Aden snapped, surprised by the sudden drawl that his earpiece spouted.

“I just wanted to inform you that you have received one new message. Would you like to hear it now?”

For a moment, he froze up. What could this be about? After a second, he had the answer for himself: his employer. No need to panic.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Very well.”

The Beldum’s monotone was replaced by the same static-laced, male voice that had woken him up: “It’s ten right now, we’ve got the buyers waiting…they’re willing to stay as long as they need to, but the Guy would like you to get here soon. Call me and I’ll upload the coordinates.”

Aden nodded to himself, confirming that his glasses glared a time of 10:32.

“Call him back,” he instructed the PAD.

A few moments later, Aden was speaking to the voice.

“So what time should I be there by?”

“Don’t know, really. Guy seems pretty laid-back today…shouldn’t really care.”

“Wait, something changed? Last time we talked, you wanted the package like…now.”

“The buyers hadn’t shown up at that time. We weren’t sure when they wanted the package. But now that they are here, they’re pretty lax about it. You can probably take a few extra minutes. Here, I’ll give the coordinates to your PAD.”

Click!

“I have received the coordinates,” the PAD announced, transmission ended. “They seem to correspond to a location outside of the Bowl, on the Vaineo side.”

“Is it a warehouse?”

“That is the most likely possibility. Regardless, we are going to have to enter Vaineo. Although both nations’ hold on the Fortuna-Vaineo border is weak at best, it would be advantageous for me to lock onto a satellite and scope out the region for the best possible route. Logically, it would be preferable to take an open road rather than running a blockade.”

“So there actually are unsecured roads around here?”

“This is what I suspect. I would have to check, though.”

“Fine then, check it.”

“Very well. It will take some time, though.”

“I’ll get coffee.”

After traveling down the street for a few more minutes, Aden found what he was looking for: a decrepit, boxy, multistory building that looked quite ordinary. The only thing that set it apart from its peers was the fact that a few cars were parked in front of it.

Aden gradually applied his thumb to the brake, allowing the motorcycle to slow down and glide into a spot next to another car. The machine emitted a whining-noise as its white LCD-screen flickered to black, and its back tire folded out from the compartment beneath the bike’s underside. Once the wheel touched down, the antigrav was no longer needed.

Aden swung his leg over the seat, hopped off, and threw the kickstand down with his boot.

“This will take approximately seven minutes, forty-two seconds,” the voice droned in his ear. “Would you like me to-”

Aden removed the earpiece and shoved it into a pocket. The PAD had its uses, but sometimes, it was a bit too talkative. This was especially true now. Blood tingled on his taste buds while anger boiled within him. Why did he have to get bit by a Mightyena? Though he came out unscathed, it was alarming that he had even allowed it to happen in the first place. He knew that reflexes tended to deteriorate with age, but for Arceus’s sake. He was in his twenties. He heard the thing growling behind him. He should have been able to shoot it before it had even left the ground.

He twisted a brass knob with a wavy surface like old glass: no doubt it had seen better days. As usual, he was greeted by a dimmed room, and a nigh-overwhelming scent of smoke that burned and blurred his eyes with tears. For some strange reason, this was welcoming.

Like the few cars outside suggested, a few patrons were already here, scattered throughout a black-carpeted floor polka dotted with hardwood, roundtables. The scratches and scuffs of each table were illuminated by a swarm of multi-colored LEDs that hung over the entire room. The owner had claimed that the choice of lighting was “low-impact”, and therefore meant a lower energy bill. Aden, however, could swear that it was an eternal tribute to the holidays once celebrated in his youth.

Instead of busying himself with the tables, Aden walked right up to the front counter, and plopped down onto one of the stools. It wasn’t more than a second later when a throaty voice boomed, “You again!” causing Aden to nearly jump out of his skin.

From a door behind the counter emerged a man who was a pile of muscles thrown into a white tank top and lime-green pants that appeared as if they had been cut from burlap. With a clumsy hand, he reached into his pocket, grabbed a handkerchief, and dabbed at his ivory forehead.

“Thought you’d be coming.”

“I guess so,” Aden mouthed, gazing off into an array of polished glassware piled behind the counter. He saw himself a thousand times over.

“You okay?” the man asked in a hushed tone, stooping his broad shoulders.

“Sure,” Aden replied despondently, face emotionless. “Just a rough day, that’s all.”

“Hm,” he nodded wisely, deciding that it may be best not to pursue the topic. “What can I get you?”

“The usual,” Aden shot back with a clipped response.

“Alright then.”

The usual exchange took place. Aden thrust his hand into his coat pocket, produced an array of coins, and slid them across the counter. In turn, the man slid a cup of the steaming, mud-colored liquid at almost the exact same time.

“Thanks,” the man grunted.

He casually placed his elbows on the counter and began to make small talk.

“Came from Centrium, didn’t you?” he asked, as Aden swallowed his fist gulp of the scalding liquid.

“Yeah,” he choked, feeling the substance burn its way through his insides.

“Thought so. Everyone from there wears a black coat, no offense. You’d think they’re all going to funeral or something,” he said, flicking a finger at Aden’s. “District II, right?”

“How’d you know?” Aden asked, a hint of emotion finally creeping into his voice.

“Two’s the largest. Worth a guess,” he shrugged.

“Oh.”

After Aden had finished his coffee, he did a quick glance about the room. By viewing the small sample size of patrons, he became aware of the fact that he was in fact the only person wearing a black, knee-length coat.

For the first time that week, a thought occurred to Aden: “I am on the edge of Fortuna. I am not in Centrium.” Although he had been well aware that this environment was foreign to him, he never considered the implications of being perceived as a foreigner.

Suddenly, he felt more self-conscientious than he had before. Every movement he made was being monitored by someone. If he didn’t pay close enough attention, he would make a mistake, and then something would go terribly wrong. He felt grateful when it was time to leave the dark, smoky atmosphere, and reenter the light. He hopped back onto the bike, and reinserted his earpiece.

“I have found a route,” the PAD sputtered, “that is not protected.”

“Good, let's go.”

In the map imbedded at the corner of his glasses, Aden could see a yellow line that bent at ninety degree angles. “Turn left.” or “Turn right.” were the only two commands the PAD gave for the next five minutes. For all the turns they made, eventually, they found their way to the outskirts of the city on a two-lane road that vanished into the desert at the horizon. Aden punched the accelerator, and felt his skull being pulled backward as a set of digits on the glasses inched upward to 200 kilometers per hour. No one was in sight. Aden directed the bike straight down the dotted line at the center of the road.

“Now entering Vaineo,” the PAD chirped.

“This place is dead,” Aden shouted in reply into his earpiece.

“I have observed one deceased Pokémon today,” the PAD replied. “Also, the population of Emory before the war was approximately one million. Based on data I have managed to gather, I estimate that the population now is now twenty-thousand.”

Aden sighed. His attempts at holding a conversation with the PAD always gave him the impression that he was the only sane person left on earth. He wasn’t sure why he even bothered.

“Incidentally, we are being followed,” the PAD said. “Approximately two kilometers behind us is what seems to be another speed bike. Preliminary data project that it belongs to law enforcement. They must have observed us crossing the border.”

“How certain are your data?”

“Eighty-five percent.”

Aden bit down on his lip.

“Not certain enough for me-”

A male voice spoke over the communication link, drowning out any reply that the PAD might have had:

“Unidentified vehicle, you have entered Vainean territory. Pull over to the side of the road and wait for further instructions.”

“Yep, definitely law enforcement,” Aden said. “Take over driving.”

“Acknowledged. Autopilot engaged.”

Aden released the steering column and reached down to his belt. He unclipped the Punisher-MSMG and raised it with both hands, twisting so he could point it back over his shoulder.

“Target is one-point-seven kilometers off,” the PAD announced.

Aden squinted. Down the road, he could make out a tiny speck. As he swiveled the weapon, the “x” darted across his lenses, suggesting a perfectly straight line of fire. At this distance, though, he knew that wouldn’t be a good-enough approximation to hit the target. He raised the “x” up into the sky, well above the horizon.

Suddenly, he felt himself falling. The void rushed in and surrounded him. He looked up and a shadow loomed above, bordered by a pair of blue, glowing eyes.

“I will lend my strength to yours,” it rasped, “so that one day you may give your strength to mine.”

Aden bowed his head, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Aden. Please respond,” the PAD droned.

The fabric of the void receded as if someone had grabbed it and flung it aside. Aden was left with the green “x” still hovering over the horizon.

“I’m here,” he said.

He strained the muscles in his arms and pulled down on the trigger. A deafening boom rang out. The weapon lurched and his bones shuddered. He stared off into the distance and allowed his shoulders to fall as he drew in a deep breath. Although he couldn’t see the bullet, he could hear a faint whistling sound. He stared at the speck.

“Come on…come on…”

The speck veered to the side, flying off of the road.

“Yes,” he breathed.

“I estimate with 99 percent certainty that the target has been struck in the left leg.”

With shaky hands, he re-clipped the weapon to his belt.

“You were hallucinating again,” the PAD stated matter-of-factly.

“But I got him,” Aden said. “He was over a kilometer out, and I hardly had to think about where to shoot. It’s not just a hallucination; it produces results.”

“Whatever it is, it is not good for you.”

“You know, I feel like we’ve been over this before.”

“My apologies. I will stay silent so that you can continue undermining the integrity of your own body.”

Aden bit down on his tongue as he calculated his next words.

“I’m aware of what’s happening to my body,” Aden said. “And I’m okay with it. It needs to be this way until Elena gets better.”

“You were making money before you were accosted by the entity,” the PAD countered. “And besides that, my calculations show that Elena will likely die before you accrue the required amount of money to pay for her treatments.”

Tears welled up in Aden’s eyes.

“You’re not being helpful.”

He tore the earpiece out of his ear and shoved it into his pocket.

POKEMON_MASTER_0

caffeine 1mg/mL, 240 mL po q4h prn fatigue

Age 28
Male
Spokane, WA
Seen December 2nd, 2019
Posted July 6th, 2016
88 posts
12.4 Years
CHAPTER 3: Old Centrium

After thirty minutes of silence from the PAD, Aden pulled off of the road and hovered into a paved parking lot in front of a building of corrugated steel. The two vehicles were already there. The one Aden recognized instantly as the Guy’s black limousine. Despite the dirt and dust it had traveled through, the paint job was without a scratch, mirroring the midday sun hanging directly overhead. The other vehicle, which Aden had never seen before, was black as well. Only this one was compact and rode low to the ground. Across the hood stretched a wide gash in the paint that flaked rust.

As Aden slowed down and dismounted his bike, the Guy stood in front of his limo, as still as a statue. His piercing, blue eyes bored into Aden from behind his trademark pair of gold-wired spectacles. White, thinning hair sat atop of a wrinkled head. He wore a black suit and a belt. The suit fit tight, struggling to rein in the excess of flesh that bulged beyond the belt. On each finger was a silver band. When he spoke, his hands quivered, and the bands clicked together.

A Honchkrow sat on his shoulders, preening its feathers, seemingly above the situation at hand. In the past, Aden had heard rumors that if the Guy found that someone had outlived his or her usefulness, then he would command the Pokemon to pluck the problem individual’s eyes. Aden had never seen or heard of any eyeless former-employees himself, but he wouldn’t put it past the bird.

When Aden opened the back compartment on his bike and pulled out the sphere, the Guy’s gaze softened considerably.

“Ah, Aden, my boy. Looks like we arrived right on time, yes?”

“Yes sir,” Aden said, lowering his eyes.

The door on the other car opened, and a third man joined. Like the Guy, he wore a suit, but he was infinitely taller and skinnier. Dark-lensed glasses hid any emotion his eyes might betray.

“This is the package?” he asked, though it sounded more like an order, nodding down to the object Aden held.

“It is,” the Guy confirmed. “Aden, if you could give it to him now. The details of the transaction have been finalized.”

Aden did no such giving. The third man simply snatched the package out of his hands.

“A pleasure doing business with you,” the man barked at the Guy.

“Likewise,” the Guy said, raising a trembling hand.

As soon as the words left his mouth, the man was back in his car, and the tires squealed as it tore out of the parking lot.

“You will find two million credits in your account,” the Guy said, “just as we agreed previously, yes?”

“Yes. Thank you, sir.”

“Sad to say it, but I do not have anything planned for you for the next two months. You’ll be on your own until then. Take some time off. Have some fun. I trust that you will, yes?”

Two months without work? Fun? Aden’s stomach lurched. How was he supposed to finance Elena’s treatments while unemployed? But Aden hid his shock, plastering a smile across his face.

“I will, thank you,” he said.

The Guy brought up his hand for a parting wave, silver rings glaring back at Aden. A servant opened passenger door of the limo and the Guy pulled himself in. The limo sped off down the road, leaving Aden in the dust.

Two months without work. A tiny part of Aden breathed a sigh of relief. He felt the tension in the muscles in his shoulders subside. Up until that moment, he hadn’t been aware that they were clenched. Working with the Guy was draining. Not because of the fear that his Honchkrow would peck his eyes out (though that was a real possibility), but because he was so intense. When Aden was in his presence, he felt those blue eyes tracking his every move. They were waiting for him to make a mistake. Not that he ever did, but like the eye-eating bird, the possibility existed.

In fact, Aden’s first meeting with him opened with the revelation that he was being tracked. He allowed himself a thin smile, thinking back on that day. He was fifteen then, roaming the streets of Centrium at all times when school wasn’t in session, and sometimes when it was. He held no formal job. The money that he earned was wrenched from the pockets of others. He had no Pokémon and no weapons: just his two friends, or “associates,” as he would call them now.

There was sickly Jimmy with the matted brown hair and snot dribbling out of his nose. His breath smelled vaguely of citrus-flavored tablets dissolved in water. What he lacked in health, though, he made up for in offensive presence: he owned a Sneasel, the only Pokémon in the group. The other kid was Arros. He came from Montañaprimera, the city in northern Vaineo where only Spanish was spoken. Aden understood only half of what he said, but the language barrier was never a problem. He was the tallest of the group, and built like a rock. He didn’t need to say a word to look intimidating, and often this alone was enough to convince their marks to forfeit their money.

On that particular day, they were tracking a fat old man in a suit with a slight limp. They had spent around a half hour following him on a main road before he turned down an alley. This alley wasn’t the type that got a lot of cross-traffic, either. The overhangs from the two adjacent buildings blocked out the light, and steam poured out from the gratings under their feet, rushing across mossy cobblestones that hadn’t been cleaned in twenty years. At the time, the group rejoiced at what they considered to be good fortune. Now, Aden shook his head at the fact that he thought nothing was awry when a well-dressed man just so happened to take a secluded alley.

Aden stood between the two boys with a hand on each’s shoulder.

“What now?” Jimmy asked.

“There’s no big bulges in his pockets, nothing sticking out of his clothes,” Aden whispered to the two. “No Poké Balls. Go get him. Now.”

Jimmy stepped forward and opened his Poké Ball, sending the Sneasel rushing forward. Arros lumbered after it. The man turned around calmly as the group of boys bore down on him.

“Give us your money!” Aden demanded.

The man held up both of his hands and smiled good-naturedly, eyes twinkling.

“Very well. I have it all in a wallet in my front pocket. Is it okay if I reach for it now, yes?”

“Fine,” Aden said. The entire group glared at the man.

The man reached down, pulled out a bill, and handed it to Aden. The denomination was 100 dollars. Aden’s face went pale. The other two boys dropped their intimidating facades and gathered around Aden, eyes huge. The man brought out another bill: another 100. Then another. Then another. And then another. When it was all over, Aden found himself clutching twenty of the bills for a total of two-thousand dollars.

“That is all,” the man said with a shrug.

Aden caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. A flutter of wings echoed from behind him. Before he could turn around, a Honchkrow swooped in and perched itself on the man’s shoulder. If puffed up its feathers, and glanced from left to right at the gang of children.

“If that is all you want, I must be on my way now. I would like you to come with me, though, Aden, and have a little talk. Is that okay with you, yes?”

Aden’s mouth hung open. He didn’t think he had much of a choice, so he simply nodded.

“Good.”

The man put an arm around Aden and led him away from the members of his gang.

“I have been watching you, Aden,” he said. “There are two things about you that I like: you know your way around the streets, and you are a leader.”

Aden wrinkled his nose. The man smelled of perfume. Or maybe it was shampoo. He wasn’t sure, as Elena wasn’t into that kind of stuff.

“I don’t really lead,” Aden shot back. “People just look at me for advice, so I give them advice. I was just doing my part of the job. You had your back to us, so I told them to go for it.”

“And that is the beauty of it. You know that pushing people around divides the group, while telling it exactly what it wants to hear unites it. More to point, though, I’d like you to work for me. It will be a real job with real money. If it pleases you, consider the two-thousand dollars a signing bonus, yes?”

“How much will you pay me?” he asked.

“Much more than what you hold in your hands right now.”

Aden thought about Elena. Every morning, she left the apartment at eight, and came back at eight at night. Her money from twelve hours a day combined with his from combing the streets all twenty-four was hardly enough to put bread on the table. Heating and electricity were intermittent luxuries, and they often found themselves huddled beneath blankets in the winter months. Up until this point, he had claimed that the money he earned was the product of a job that he fit in around school hours, as he knew that the real explanation would cause her to vomit. But now he actually had that job. And maybe if it paid high enough, she would not have to work as hard for his sake.

“Tell me more,” Aden demanded.

The man smiled.

“Of course.”

POKEMON_MASTER_0

caffeine 1mg/mL, 240 mL po q4h prn fatigue

Age 28
Male
Spokane, WA
Seen December 2nd, 2019
Posted July 6th, 2016
88 posts
12.4 Years
CHAPTER 4: The New Deal

“I am you,” the shadow whispered.

Aden took a step backward, but his feet found only open air. He found himself back in the void, floating before the creature.

“You’re not,” Aden shot back. “Like I said yesterday, this is only a temporary deal. Once Elena’s treatments are paid, you’re getting out of my head.”

“Ah, but it’s not that simple. You cannot get something for nothing. There will come a time in the future when you will have to pay a price for the help I have given you.”

“What the heck does that mean?”

Again, Aden tried to take a step back, and again, his feet hit only empty air.

“Aden! Wake up!”

His eyes opened, and he saw the PAD hovering above him.

“I detected that your heart rate was abnormally high,” the machine announced.

“Yeah, thanks for that,” Aden replied.

He sat up, and the pain returned like a knife at the base of his skull. After yesterday’s incident, however, he had the foresight to relocate the bottle to his bedside stand. He tipped it back and felt the cool pills slide over his parched tongue. The PAD simply stared blankly at him with its one eye, no doubt calculating how many years he had lost from taking the medication.

“I think I’ll go back to visit her,” he said mostly to himself.

“Who is this ‘her?’” the PAD droned. “Are you meaning to tell me that you have found a desirable female-”

“My sister, you idiot. Elena. Don’t you remember her?”

“I remember you talking about her. It is just that the word ‘her’ is applicable to nearly half of the human race. You must be more specific.”

Aden sighed.

“Of course I must.”

After getting dressed with the help of his PAD, he sat down on the corner of his bed, hands folded, head stooped. He drew in a deep breath, then spoke to the PAD:

“Call Elena.”

“Calling Elena.”

For a moment, they sat in silence. Then, finally, a voice emanated from the PAD in little more than a whisper:

“Hello?”

“Hey sis, it’s me.”

“Oh, Aden,” she said, voice strengthening upon recognizing him. “What’s up?”

“I’m up in Vaineo for work that I just finished up yesterday. I’m going to be off for a while now. Did you get the two million I sent you?”

“Yep.”

“How long do you think it will last?”

There was a pause. Aden held his breath.

“Three months, maybe four.”

He breathed a sigh of relief. The Guy had put his maximum time of unemployment at two months.

“That’s good. And how are you doing?”

“Alright. The scan results came back yesterday. The doctors say it isn’t spreading, and it actually shrunk a little.”

Aden smiled.

“That’s awesome. Look, I’m going to be back in Centrium. I’ll see you soon.”

“I’d really like that.”

“Great, I’m headed out now. I’ll call you once I get in. You just hang in there.”

“I will. Talk to you later.”

“Okay, love you.”

“You too, bye.”

The call was cut off by a click. Aden stood and paced around the room.

“At least it hasn’t grown, right?” he said.

“If I could see the results of that scan, I may be able to perform a basic calculation on the probability of-”

“I don’t want your calculations. The main thing is that it looks good.”

“Yes, on the surface, it does appear promising,” the PAD conceded.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Aden stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby, PAD at his side and a key in his hand. The Growlithe was at his feet again, looking up to him for affection.

“You checking out today?”

The kid standing in front of him wore the same baggy purple t-shirt he had on yesterday.

“I am,” he said with a grin.

The kid raised his eyebrows.

“You smiling man,” he said. “Something real good must’ve happened, yeah?”

Aden shrugged.

“You could say that. Do I turn in the keys to you?”

“Naw, I’m on lunch break,” he said, motioning to another man seated behind the front desk. “You probably hungry too. Wanna follow me to the underground, get something to eat? It’s only a block out.”

“Sure, why not?”

The kid pulled out a Poké Ball, and with a flash of red light, the Growlithe disappeared.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Before the war, it was the subway,” the kid explained as they turned the corner. “Now it’s the only cool place without AC.”

Aden caught sight of a glass structure on the next block enclosing a stairway that led into the ground. At a glance, the structure seemed to have fared the war well. Only a few of the panes were punched out. As promised, as they descended the stairway, the air temperature dropped substantially, so much so that Aden’s breath appeared before him as a cloud of mist. Bolted to the ceiling at regular intervals were circular, caged lights with a yellow glow.

When they neared the bottom, they heard the murmur of a crowd.

“It gets real packed down here,” the kid said, words echoing off of the concrete walls. “My buddy hates it, so that’s why he’s in his ball. You just follow me. I know a good place.”

Sure enough, Aden found himself weaving through a mass of people that flowed through the hall like a viscous liquid. On either side were recesses in the walls, forming the skeleton of what was likely an old shopping mall. Packed within them were vendors selling a whole multitude of goods. In one, Aden saw a shelf full of Master Balls. Not the real ones, of course, but the kind created by putting stickers on Poké Balls. Although every trainer knew that the title of Pokémon master should be preceded by “self-proclaimed,” it didn’t stop them from pretending. Farther down, a fish tank that took up an entire wall was crammed with Feebas. Whether they were for intended for training or eating, he could not discern.

Bits and pieces of the negotiations flew over his head:

“For you it’ll be fifty!”

“Too high, try thirty!”

“Forty’s the lowest I’ll go!”

He was thankful that the Guy handled the business-end of their transactions. Being from Centrium, high population-density was not something unfamiliar to him. However, being underground in a narrow concrete tube with hundreds of other humans was definitely a new experience. A part of him feared that the whole thing would collapse, and he would be stuck underground forever. He hoped that at some point he would see the sun again.

His guide stopped in front of one of the stalls. From within, pots boiled and steam crept upward. Aden smelled something that was a mix of pasta and meat. Though what kind of meat, he could not say.

“I’ll have the usual,” the kid yelled to the woman in a stained apron, standing at a table that served as a makeshift counter. “Same for my friend here, too.”

“What’s the usual?” Aden wrinkled his brow and asked the kid.

“It’s not bad. You’ll see.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

After being given their food, they pushed their way into a larger room at the end of the tube with tables and chairs. Down there, the crowd had thinned out, and Aden could actually hear himself thinking. They located an empty table and sat down.

As promised, the usual was not too bad. It consisted of a Styrofoam bowl filled with noodles of various shapes and sizes. Some were long and round. Others were short and flat. Still others were starchy lumps that resembled letters of the alphabet. Piled on top of them was a mountain of tan chunks of meat. Aden couldn’t tell where it came from, but it appeared neither rotten nor bloody.

The PAD hovered over his bowl, flicking its single eyeball back and forth.

“I detect no signs of known toxins,” it droned. “And from what I observed at the establishment, all relevant health code regulations were followed during its preparation.”

“Thanks man,” the kid replied. “Good to know you got all our backs.”

“You must be mistaken,” the PAD replied. “I am not a man, and you two have a vertebral column, but I do not.”

The kid clapped his hands and giggled.

“This guy’s a comedian!” he exclaimed.

“You get used to it,” Aden said.

He looked down at his bowl.

“Reminds me of the Centrium special,” he said.

“The what?”

“It’s something from back home,” he replied. “You take fries and throw every edible thing on them that you can find.”

“Oh.”

The kid’s glance flicked down to Aden’s waist where he was sure his weapon was stored, beneath his coat.

“Saw your gun the other day,” he commented. “Not the kinda thing you see on the law. You do security for the Guy?”

Aden allowed himself a modest smile.

“At times. But I mostly act as a third party for business transactions. When he sells or buys stuff, he has me do the delivering.”

“I get you. It’s the dangerous kind of stuff that people shoot at you for carrying around.”

From the crowd behind the kid, a flicker of movement caught Aden’s eye. Aden’s gaze snapped to the source. Two hazel eyes stared back him, bordered by a pale face and loose, brown hair. Around her neck was a black band. As far as he could tell, it contained no jewels or precious metals.

Without any warning, an image flashed before Aden’s eyes. He saw himself the previous day, in the parking garage, loading the sphere into the back of his bike. His eyes locked with hers for a millisecond before she ducked, melding into the crowd.

The color drained from Aden’s face.

“Man, you don’t look so good.”

Aden rose to his full height and flung the chair aside.

“Thank you for everything. I really need to go now.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He blazed down the streets on his bike, earpiece in and PAD nestled into the cavity above the front wheel.

“You are sure that was a psychic?” the PAD asked.

“Almost one-hundred percent positive,” Aden replied.

“You are aware that while psychic Pokémon are uncommon, psychic humans are an enigma? The hallucinations you experienced were more than likely caused by those drugs.”

“I saw one in Centrium once at a circus. He did this thing where he would sift through your memories, and as it happened, everything played out before your eyes. He would then tell the crowd specific details about you, never speaking with you once.”

“And you tried that?” the PAD asked incredulously.

“Nope, but a friend did. Look, if there’s a psychic who singled me out to go through my memories, I want to get out of here as soon as possible. The psychic at the circus could only go through memories. But I’ve heard stories about ones who can do more than that.”

“If you say so. Take a right here, and proceed straight ahead to reach Emory-Centrium Highway south.”

As he leaned into the curve, he caught sight of a figure standing in the center of the road.

“Give me a distance on that thing out there,” he commanded, voice rising.

“731 meters.”

“Visual?”

On his glasses, a green box appeared around the figure. The box grew larger, and he found himself looking at a grainy image.

“Crap.”

The hair and eye color were indeterminable through the green hue of the glasses, but she definitely had that band around her neck. Her feet were planted firmly at shoulder-width, and her arms hung by her sides.

“201 meters and closing.”

Aden eased his finger off of the accelerator and wrenched the steering column to the left. He drew in a deep breath to steady his shaky nerves. A simple U-turn would have him out of this in an instant. No need to worry. The PAD could then plot an alternate route that didn’t involve the woman.

Halfway through the loop, however, his bike came to halt so abrupt that he swore he felt his brain press against the inside front of his skull.

“All systems are functioning at full capacity,” the PAD announced. “Something else is holding us back. I cannot eject from the machine.”

Aden attempted to push his finger down on the accelerator. But his finger would not budge. That’s when he realized it. He was frozen. He tried to swing himself off of the bike, but again, his limbs were locked in place. He was stuck staring straight ahead, at the side of the road. He heard the footsteps approaching perpendicular to his field of vision. In vain, he strained to turn his head to see his assailant.

When he could feel her breathing on him, he heard a swish of fabric and the sound of metal sliding against metal. A blade glowing dull red hovered beneath his throat. His skin burned. This was not a simple sword dug out of a basement. It was an energy sword, an experimental weapon developed by the Fortunan military that cloaked an ordinary blade of steel in a thin sheath of energy for increased offensive capability. He thought that the program had been abandoned years ago due to the prohibitively-heavy battery packs that had to be worn along with the weapon. But if she really was psychic, she wouldn’t need those battery packs. Her body could serve as the power source.

He swallowed hard. For a second, he thought that he might die staring at the side of abandoned office building. But then, she spoke:

“Yesterday you handled a sphere.”

“That’s right,” he said, annunciating both syllables as if his life depended on it, because it probably did.

“What was in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What was in it?” she repeated, on the verge of shouting.

Meanwhile the blade beneath his neck heated up.

“I swear I don’t know. Just based on the shape, I’d guess it was a Poké Ball. If you doubt me, you can go through all of my memories-”

“That would take too long. Where did you take it?”

“To a warehouse in Vaineo, right on the border. It was a pickup point for a guy who bought it from my employer.”

“And where did he take it?”

“I don’t know. When he left, he headed north into Vaineo. I’d assume he was going to Burlington.”

“I believe you.”

The heat on his neck receded and Aden heard the blade slip back into its sheath. He breathed a small sigh of relief. He found that he could finally turn his head. He saw his assailant, a woman with long, brown hair that rested on a cloak riddled with patches. Her eyes burned with fire, yet there were also tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, lowering her gaze out of shame. “I hate doing this. It’s just that-that I was so close and now-”

“It slipped away,” Aden completed. “You’re a trainer, and you lost your Pokémon.”

Her mouth hung open.

“It was an educated guess,” he added quickly, fearful that she would find reason to freeze him again.

“Well, you’re right,” she said. “I lost him. He was stolen from me, actually. My only one.”

“What was he?”

“A Latios.”

“A what?” Aden spit out. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” she said.

Aden looked straight into her eyes, searching for any trace of dishonesty. Her gaze did not waver.

The PAD spoke from its cavity on the bike, causing the woman’s eyes to widen considerably:

“I am not observing any considerable fluctuations in her breathing rate, heart rate, or body temperature. Based on these data, I predict with 99 percent certainty that she is telling the truth.”

“You have a PAD,” she said. “So this is your job. You run packages for your boss.”

“In a nutshell, yes. I also do security and other errands for him at times.”

“Errands such as…” she said, raising her voice.

“If someone or some corporation steals something from him, I take it back.”

“So you’re good at recovering stolen items.”

Aden shrugged.

“I suppose.”

“Then I’d like you to work for me.”

“Wait, what? You just threatened me, and now you want me to work for you?”

“I know it’s sudden, but I’m running low on options.”

“Well I’m sorry, but I’m busy,” he said.

“I’ll pay you more than you’re making right now.”

“Actually, I’m on break for two months, but I have family stuff to do.”

“Family stuff can wait. Here-”

She reached into her coat pocket and produced a hundred dollar bill. Aden pulled his arm back, but she seized it with one hand and forced the bill between the fingers of his clenched fist with her other.

“No,” he said.

He moved to give the bill back to her, but she only shoved another into his palm.

“You’re just a trainer, right?” he said, squinting at her in amazement. “How did you get so much money? Did you rob a bank or something?”

She pursed her lips.

“Based on my observations, I predict with seventy percent certainty that she has robbed one or more banks,” the PAD sputtered.

She shot a death-glare at the machine.

A grin spread across Aden’s face.

“So, how many? One? Two? Three?”

She stared at him blankly as he attempted to gauge her reaction.

“I would need more data to answer that question,” the PAD said.

Aden finally pocketed the bills.

“Can you pay in credits?” he asked. “I’d like to send some of it back to my family.”

This statement injected as much enthusiasm into her as he had ever seen. Her eyes lit up.

“Yes, of course. How does a month for three-million sound?”

Aden took a step backward.

“Ten? Twenty? Thirty?”

“Still not enough data,” the PAD said.

She just smiled.

“Do we have a deal?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m afraid we do,” he said, drawing in an uneasy breath. “Your name?”

“Sophie.”

“Aden.”

He held out a hand and he shook it.

“Pleased to meet and deal with you,” Aden said. “I’ve dealt with people who wanted me dead, but never with someone who threatened me openly. What are we doing now?”

“You said that guy was headed north toward Burlington, so we’re going to Burlington. We should be able to make it there by tonight, right?”

“I think so. Do you have transportation?”

“I did, but it rolled into Emory on its last leg. Like I said, my options are limited.”

“Not a problem,” Aden said. “You can just ride with me, I think. It should be able to hold us both, right?” he questioned the PAD.

“How much does she weigh?”

Aden winced.

“70-ish kilos,” Sophie fired back without blinking.

“Then it will be sufficient,” the PAD said. “On another note, it is a habit of mine to create personal health profiles of all my associates. When we are in a more secure location, I will ask you for more data, Sophie. That way I can give you helpful hints on how to live a healthier, more productive life.”

“Um…thank you?”

“You are welcome.”

“Just ignore that last bit,” Aden said. “His hints actually aren’t helpful at all.”

“Noted,” she said.

She hopped up onto the bike, behind Aden. “Let’s get going.”

txteclipse

The Last

Age 30
Male
Riverside
Seen 3 Weeks Ago
Posted November 2nd, 2016
2,324 posts
13.1 Years
Nice. Your worldbuilding is fantastic. Nothing feels out of place or artificial. Your characters are also organic and believable, which is quite difficult to pull off in my experience. I'm thoroughly drawn in. I don't have anything in the way of critique so far.

POKEMON_MASTER_0

caffeine 1mg/mL, 240 mL po q4h prn fatigue

Age 28
Male
Spokane, WA
Seen December 2nd, 2019
Posted July 6th, 2016
88 posts
12.4 Years
CHAPTER 5: Retrieval

“This is Elena Sorenson. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you.”

“Hey sis, it’s me. Something unexpected popped up on my end, and it looks like I’ll be up north for another month. Don’t worry, I’ll visit you once this is done. Call me when you get this. Bye.”

Again, Aden sat on the corner of his bed. The floor in this place, however, was not covered with plush carpet. Instead, it was bare, wooden boards that creaked under his boots. The PAD hovered in front of him, its single eye glowing a gentle orange, providing a nightlight. Particles of dust rose up from the walls and floors, dancing through the light like a swarm of insects. Across from him, on her own bed, sat Sophie.

Flat. That was the best word to describe their day. The desert was perfectly flat, and the road was perfectly straight. One would think that in such a situation, conversation would be the best way to pass the time. But then there was another problem. Everywhere it went, the bike kicked up dust. As a result, the price for speaking even one word was a mouthful of mud. So they sat on the bike in silence, muscles cramped and sun beating down from overhead.

Sophie yawned and placed her hands behind her head.

“This sister of yours, she’s more than a sister, isn’t she?”

“She is,” Aden replied. “She practically raised me.”

“Your parents weren’t around?”

“Something like that.”

Aden pointed to the band around Sophie’s neck, hoping to change the subject.

“You have trouble talking, right?”

“Yeah. It’s something I was born with,” she said. “You know someone with one?”

“My sister,” he replied. “She’s getting these treatments that mess with her vocal cords.”

Sophie nodded.

“You’re doing all of this for her,” she said. “She took care of you, so now you’re taking care of her.”

“You could say that,” he said. “But I’m really curious to know…if you don’t mind me prying, how did you ever catch a Latios?”

“I actually found him wounded in a park in Lasunin,” she said. “He was just a baby then. I wasn’t a trainer at the time, but after he recovered, I became one. He never told me how he got there wounded in the first place, either. I’m not sure if it’s too traumatic to talk about, or he just has no memory at all. I never asked, but I should have. If I had known that I was going to get pinched in the back with a dart-”

Her gaze fell.

“I like being a trainer more than I like going to military academy. There’s structure to training, but nobody orders you around.”

“So the military scooped you up because you’re psychic,” Aden completed.

“And my dad pushed me toward it. He served in Fortuna-Vaineo War.”

“Did he?” Aden said, eyebrows raised.

“He did,” Sophie replied wearily. “He was real proud of it, too. But I’ve never seen the point of it. Hundreds died for a tiny sliver of land in the middle of the desert.”

“So,” Aden interrupted, “Can I make another conjecture here?”

“Go ahead.”

“When your Latios was stolen from you, you felt that law enforcement would be useless in recovering him.”

“Right.”

“And at the time, you still had some connection with the military. So you lifted your energy sword from them - which I assume is powered by you being psychic, since I haven’t seen any battery packs on you - gathered whatever else you needed, and headed out to track down the Latios. And up until yesterday when your ride broke down, the search was going fairly well, but you were always a step behind the package.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Sophie said.

She yawned and put a hand to her mouth.

“I agree,” Aden said.

“We’re not getting anything done sitting around here. Let’s head out early tomorrow. Is eight good with you?”

“Eight sounds perfect.”

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“Be careful. You do not know if you can trust her,” the figure said.

Aden smirked.

“Are you jealous?”

“I’m just giving you a friendly reminder. I am the only one who has your best interests in mind.”

Suddenly, Aden’s neck became warm. He looked down, but did not see a blade in front of him. He looked up, and the figure had vanished. Meanwhile, his neck grew hotter and hotter. He tried to sidestep, but his muscles were locked into place. He felt a pain so sharp that he swore his head was being separated from his body. White spots appeared before his eyes, and a feral cry escaped his throat.

“Aden! Hey! Aden!”

He opened his eyes, and saw Sophie looking down on him, brow wrinkled, the tips of her hair brushing against his cheek. Her patched coat was gone, leaving a white tank top.

“Sorry,” he murmured,” Bad dream.”

He hastily sat up, and his forehead bumped into hers. She recoiled.

“Sorry,” he said again.

“No problem,” she said back.

He shot a glance at the table next to the bed. The pill bottle wasn’t there. The pain along with the realization that it was still in the compartment on his bike hit him simultaneously.

“I left the medicine on the bike,” he said, PAD now hovering at his side. “Go get it. Quick.”

He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth as the PAD flew off without a word.

“It’s a headache?” Sophie asked.

He nodded.

“Here it is,” the PAD said, flying back in and dropping the bottle on Aden’s lap. Aden unscrewed the cap and threw his head back to inhale the pills. He breathed a sigh of relief as the pain faded away.

“Thanks,” he said to Sophie. “It was a bad dream.”

“Followed by a headache?” Sophie asked, folding her arms, not satisfied by a one-line explanation.

“That’s how it’s been ever since I ran into this weird creature on an island. I was working security at the time, and we ran aground there. So I went ashore, found this creature sitting in the middle of a puddle, and…it knocked me out. Also killed the two guys who came along with me. Ever since then, I’ve been getting these dreams where the creature shows up, and it talks to me. And sometimes I can do stuff that was impossible before the incident. I know it sounds totally crazy, but-”

“What stuff?”

“The other day, I was able to take out a guy who was two kilometers off with a single bullet. I didn’t have a targeting computer. My PAD told me nothing. It was just this feeling, like I knew where I needed to aim.”

“And what does it say to you?”

“It claims that we’re in a contract. I’ve been given this power, and it wants something in return. The problem is I have no idea what it wants, and I never signed any contract.”

“Maybe if you found out what it wanted, it would go away?”

Aden chuckled dryly.

“Like that’ll ever happen. I guess these are the only things that work,” he said, holding up the bottle.

He also made certain to flash a glare at the PAD, warning it not to discuss the pills further.

“Well, at least you found something,” she said. “I don’t know if I can do anything, but if we get some downtime, I might look into it. If I’m employing someone, it’s in my best interest to make sure they’re healthy.”

“Before hiring him, you should have asked if he had any potentially debilitating health issues,” the PAD stated.

“Glad to know you’re on my side,” Aden fired back.

“Wait. Isn’t that illegal?” Sophie asked.

“In Fortuna it is, but not in Vaineo,” the PAD replied. “If you specified that his employment began upon entering Vaineo, the question would have been legal. However, one must also consider that the three of us perform a number of illegal actions every day, including theft, failure to report to immigration officers, and the possession of a prohibited firearm. I am sure that adding one more illegal action to the heap would not weigh too heavily on our collective conscious. More to the point, though: Sophie, how many banks have you robbed?”

Sophie grinned.

“Nice try. Come on, let’s get moving.”

She rose from Aden’s side and picked up her sword, which was contained in a black sheath with a strap. She slung it onto her back and wormed her way into her coat, which Aden now noticed was about a size too large for her.

“How do you draw your sword with that thing on?” he asked. “Wouldn’t you slice right through it?”

“You’d think so. But it turns out that a side effect of using myself as a power source is that the sword only cuts through what I want it to cut through. It completely obeys my thoughts.”

“Huh,” he said, dumbfounded.

He threw on his own coat over the Punisher-MSMG. Unlike Sophie who had packed her weapon away for the night, he had kept his clipped to his belt. There was no way to know when someone would make an attempt on his life.

“We should probably start by trolling the main road to see what info the locals have to offer,” Aden said.

“Sounds like a plan,” Sophie replied.

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In Vaineo’s early days, its territory had been divided into two distinct regions: the coast and the desert. The former was carved up into nine provinces that held 99 percent of the country’s population. The latter was deemed an uninhabitable expanse of land classified as “Desert Territory.” By claiming the Desert Territory, Vaineo had claimed the title of largest nation on the planet by land area. And for a time, this title seemed to be the sole use of the territory.

However, as time progressed, so did mining technology. When it was discovered that deposits of hydrocarbons and metals were locked away beneath the desert sand, corporations and their workers swarmed inland, hungry for profit. The southern end of the territory was the densest in deposits, so the cities of Emory and Burlington were built in this area to house the army of workers needed to extract the resources. The cities became large enough that Vaineo incorporated them and their surrounding land into a tenth province.

With the influx of resources, Vaineo was transformed from an isolated country into a major force in the global economy. Meanwhile, Fortuna, the country south of Vaineo, was already established as a world power. Fortuna jumped at the opportunity to mine the deposits as well, setting up its own operations on the fringes of its northernmost land. Vaineo argued that these operations often crossed the tentative border between the two countries. In response, Fortuna presented Vaineo with its own map, showing that the operations were, in fact, on Fortunan soil. As the war of words escalated, Fortuna sent in troops to protect its operations.

Vaineo viewed the troops as a violation of its sovereignty and sent its own military to drive out the alleged invaders. This gave rise into an all-out war, the first for Vaineo. In the process, thousands of Vaineans fled northward from the frontlines in Emory to Burlington. To house the refugees, rows upon row of one-story, wood-framed structures were thrown up on the outskirts of town. At the end of the war, when it became apparent that most of population had no desire to return to Emory, the structures were made permanent with concrete foundations and plastered walls.

The hotel that Aden and Sophie were staying in was one of these structures. When their boots hit the blacktop, the sun had just risen above the horizon, casting long shadows across the road.

“From what I saw of the guy who took the package and his car, I’d guess that he was working for a corporation,” Aden said. “And I’d bet that it’s based somewhere here in town. There’d be no reason for him to drive any farther north than Burlington. There’s nothing between here and the provinces but desert.”

“What makes you think that?” Sophie asked. “Sure, driving through the desert wouldn’t be fun, but it would be doable, right?”

“It would, but this guy was wearing a real nice suit. It looked like it was fresh from the drycleaner. Something tells me that he wouldn’t be the type who would do it.”

“So this is how you gather intelligence,” Sophie said with a sigh. “You just make assumptions based on how you feel. Can’t you have your PAD do a calculation or something?”

“There are too many variables at present,” the PAD, floating by Aden’s side, replied. “I need more data before I can make a prediction with any degree of certainty.”

“Data such as…” Sophie prodded.

“Such as where this man’s car was sighted at, and in what direction it was going. If I had this data, I could cross-reference it with a list of known corporations in this town. Currently, I have a list of nine corporations that are large enough in scale to do business with the Guy.”

“And like I said before, our best shot of getting that data is by asking around on the main road,” Aden said. “The highway leads right to it.”

“Fine,” Sophie said.

The PAD nestled itself into the cavity on the bike. Aden slipped in his earpiece and jumped on, followed by Sophie. They rode down a bumpy road where the same potholes had been filled in and paved over dozens of times. Like rows of corn, the one-story housing complexes flew past on either side, clouds of smoke hovering over them.

“Turn left here,” the PAD said.

Aden did, and the road smoothed out, but they found themselves in a sea of honking cars. On the horizon loomed the skyscrapers of the downtown core.

“Start looking now!” Aden shouted over the cars.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Four hours had passed, and nothing had turned up. The two sat at a picnic table underneath a tree in an alcove between two shops. Sophie’s hair was slick and matted to her forehead while Aden didn’t look much better, with his coat soaked in sweat, clinging to his frame. They sipped on bottled water.

“We have covered 80 percent of the road,” the PAD said.

Sophie looked up and scowled.

“Well, there’s your statistic,” Aden said.

Sophie just shook her head.

“We still have 20 percent,” she said.

She hesitated, trying to find something to soften the blow of the number.

“At least there’s still a chance. And I guess their money here is…interesting. It’s colorful. And it has just more than dead men and statues in a city I’ll never visit.”

Aden smirked.

“You mean Centrium?” he asked. “I live there.”

Momentary panic flashed in Sophie’s eyes when she realized her mistake.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize-”

Aden waved his hand.

“No, it’s fine. I’ve been to the capitol grounds, and they’re nothing to write home about.”

When they had gone into the shop to buy bottled water, it came to their attention that the only form of cash the two carried was Fortunan dollars. To Sophie’s amazement, though, the owner informed them that he accepted Fortunan dollars on-par with Vainean dollars, but that change would be given in Vainean. Also, the owner didn’t even seem to bat an eye at the fact they were Fortunan.

“Huh. It seems that the war really has passed,” Sophie said on their way out.

“If you’re a tourist,” Aden added.

Now, seated in the park, Sophie pulled out a five dollar bill she had gotten back with her change. Displayed in full color was a beach complete with towering palms and a sunset. On either side of the sun stood two boys in swim trunks facing each other down, feet planted far apart. In front of one stood a Linoone, and the other, a Lucario. Printed off to the side were two tiny lines of text.

Sophie squinted.

“‘When I was a boy, I lived for the beach. The water cooled the body, but the battles heated the soul.’ And there’s another line below, but I think it’s Spanish.”

Aden leaned in and looked over shoulder and spoke:

“‘Cuando era niño, yo vivía para la playa. El agua enfría el cuerpo, pero las batallas caldeaban el alma.’ It’s basically the same thing, only in Spanish.”

“So you know Spanish,” she said.

Aden shrugged.

“Bits and pieces,” he said. “When I was I kid, I had a friend who came from Montañaprimera. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little bit. You never know when you might need it.”

“Right,” Sophie said, folding the bill and putting it back into her pocket. “I’ll keep that in mind if we ever go there.”

“Excuse me, sir,” a third voice said.

Aden turned around to find a boy standing behind him. The boy was unfamiliar, but he wore the same style of white apron that he had seen on the shop owner.

“What is it?”

Aden stood, and the boy shrank back. Aden wondered if this behavior was due to the fact that he was nearly twice as tall as the boy, or if it had to with him being soaked in sweat. Maybe it was both.

“Well…um…I just started my shift, and my boss told me you were looking for a guy and a car: a guy with a nice suit and tiny black car with a rusty mark across the hood.”

Sophie stood and seized the boy by the shoulder before he had a chance to take another step back.

“And you saw him,” she said, dropping to one knee so that they could see eye-to-eye. “Did you see where he came from and where he went?”

“Well, it was yesterday. He came in from the south. And he bought a bottle of water, kind of like you’re doing now. Then he took off real fast and turned right at the stoplight.”

“I am currently processing this data,” the PAD spoke up. “I am 95 percent certain that I have found the location of the corporation that the man is associated with.”

Sophie jumped to her feet.

“Thank you,” she said, pulling the bill out of her pocket and pressing it into the boy’s hand. “He was an associate of ours. We thought we’d never see him again.”

“Um…you’re welcome?”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“The target building is owned by Maxwell-Markworth Extraction and Resources,” the PAD announced from its cavity in the bike.

They were on a side street now, headed toward the edge of the downtown core. Towers of glass and steel rose up on either side, blocking out the sunlight. This street, unlike the main road, was nearly devoid of cars. As a result, Aden did not feel pressured to drive at a fast clip, and the PAD could speak to both of them without having to compete with the wind.

“And what does it do?” Aden asked.

“According to my research, it extracts, processes, and stores precious metals,” the PAD replied.

“Then we must have the wrong place,” Sophie said. “Pokémon dealing has nothing to do with precious metals.”

“As I said before,” the PAD replied, “I am 95 percent certain that I have the correct building. Once we arrive, I will use additional methods to confirm that your Pokémon entered the building.”

“Such as…”

“Such as infiltrating the building and commandeering its security feeds.”

“He can do that?” Sophie asked Aden.

“Yeah, he’s pretty good at it.”

“There is another detail,” the PAD went on. “Maxwell-Markworth Extraction and Resources is a subsidiary of Vainean General Resources. Vainean General Resources is a corporation owned by the Government of Vaineo. VGR performs approximately 70 percent of Vaineo’s total resource extraction related activities. It is also participates in the energy industry, providing electricity to approximately 30 percent of Vaineo’s population.”

Sophie’s eyes lit up.

“So maybe there’s some sort of secret government project. And maybe they need a Latios for it to work,” she said.

“Or maybe VGR is just branching out,” Aden said with considerably less enthusiasm. “It already dominates the energy industry. It probably has a ton of extra money lying around. Why not dabble in something on the side?”

Sophie squinted.

“Illegal Pokémon trading?” she asked.

“Why not? It seems a lot more plausible than a government conspiracy, anyway.”

“The target building is on your left,” the PAD said.

Aden slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road.

“I will do reconnaissance. While you wait for my signal, you can develop a strategy.”

With that, the PAD detached itself from the cavity in the front of the bike and zipped off toward an office building on their left.

“Can you fight?” Aden asked. “I know you have a sword and ties to the military. And I know that you’ve robbed a few banks-”

“I can fight,” Sophie interrupted.

Aden raised his hands.

“Fair enough. But can you do that thing you did to me the other day, though, where you froze me in place?”

“I could make you faint just by thinking about it,” Sophie replied.

“Then we shouldn’t even need to use our weapons. We’ll just walk in the front door and faint everyone we see. Provided we see them before they see us. But that’s a big ‘provided.’”

“The building is secure,” the PAD sputtered into his earpiece. “All surveillance systems are offline. I have located a vault containing the target. You have approximately forty minutes to retrieve it.”

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The two stepped through the lobby. The walls were covered with so-called art: squares of canvas caked with layers of dried paint that looked like they had been thrown on by a child. At the end of the multicolored walk stood a receptionist’s desk flanked by two potted bushes.

The woman behind it raised her eyes at the newcomers.

“I’m sorry, but if you have an appointment-”

Sophie raised her hand.

The woman’s eyes slipped shut, and her head lurched forward, cracking against the desk. A second later, a ceramic mug crashed against the floor. Sophie wrinkled her nose at the smell of spilt coffee as she vaulted over the desk. Aden followed after her. She shot a glance back at the receptionist and froze. For a moment, Aden swore that she was on the verge of tears. But then, Aden punched a black button by the woman’s hand. An electronic lock clicked on a steel door, and Sophie flung it open and barreled through, as if she had completely wiped the image of the secretary from her mind.

“Take a left here,” the PAD said into Aden’s right ear.

“Left,” Aden whispered to Sophie.

Their boot steps echoed down a narrow hall lined with closed doors. The only one they were interested led to a stairwell that went straight to the twenty-fifth floor where, according to the PAD, a vault was located.

Sophie pulled open the door at the very end.

“Stop!” someone yelled.

Aden pushed Sophie through the doorway and ducked in after her. Just when the door had closed, a deafening boom rang out from the other side. Aden reached down to his belt and unclipped his weapon.

“Wait,” Sophie said. “I can knock them out.”

“I’d feel more comfortable if they had bullets in their legs. A secretary is one thing, but trigger-happy security that’s onto us is-”

Sophie’s mouth hung open. Her eyes were glossy.

“You’ve never seen real combat,” he said. “Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but-”

He kicked open the door and pulled down on the trigger. Sophie stepped back and covered her ears. After the spray of bullets ceased, the door closed, and no more noise came from the other end.

“Just the legs,” he said.

Sophie swallowed and nodded weakly. In that moment, Aden realized that he had not been hired simply for having a motorcycle. For how physically imposing she seemed yesterday - standing defiantly in the middle of the road and slipping a sword under his throat - Sophie had never sliced anyone open with that blade. The most violent thing she had ever done was knock out a bank teller for money.

They sprinted up the stairs, taking them two at a time. At each turn they caught sight of a door painted with a red number. All they had to do was reach twenty-five. Hopefully the appearance of that lone security guard was just a fluke.

“You will want to-” the PAD’s voice was overpowered by static.

“What was that?” Aden gasped, pausing before opening door twenty-five.

“Huh?” Sophie asked.

“The connection cut out.”

“What does that mean?”

“Don’t know.”

Upon passing through the door, they found themselves standing before a sea of cubicles. Sophie led the charge, weaving in and out of the paper-thin, shoulder-height walls. In the center of the room was a black rectangular prism that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. No doubt this was the vault, and Sophie was running at it with everything she had. Though they were close to the target, Aden did not let his guard down. With all of the walls anyone could be hiding nearly anywhere. He kept his weapon in hand and swept it over each new cubicle he passed, verifying that it contained an empty desk. Meanwhile, Sophie had yet to unsheathe her sword.

Then, he heard a high-pitched whining noise. He held up a hand to stop, but Sophie was too focused on the vault to notice. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glint from a polished surface.

“Get down!” he screamed.

His knees collided with the floor. Explosions tore through the air over his head, and dust rained down. Sophie grabbed his arm. He shot a glance at her. Her eyes were huge. But as far as he could tell, there was no blood. One look at her face was enough to convince him that she was ready to bolt.

“Stay down!” he yelled over the ringing of his ears.

“We need to go for cover!” Sophie screamed back.

“If that thing is what I think it is, there’s nothing that will cover us. We’re better off staying put.”

“And what is it?” Sophie asked.

She released her grip on Aden’s arm, but Aden grabbed hers back. If she moved, they would likely both die.

“It’s a PAD in the form of a Metagross,” he hissed. “It’s armored and armed to the teeth, but their external sensors detect only visible light. They were banned by international law before sensory systems got complicated. They can kill everything, and nothing can kill them. If these guys have one, our best bet is to retreat. Slowly. If it sees you move it’ll shoot.”

“But Latios-”

“Do you want to live?”

“I can freeze it in place,” she said. “It can’t attack that way. And then from there-”

“Too risky-”

“Look, I know where it is right now. I can feel it. I can freeze it in place, then melt its insides. I did it to a computer once.”

“Really?” Aden asked.

“Really,” she replied back. “The thing is that melting metal requires a lot of energy. If I could just borrow some from you that would be great.”

“And how do you do that?”

“Just by holding onto me like you’re doing now.”

She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes. Aden opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself from speaking. Nothing he could say would dissuade her. His words would simply be batted away like flies. And though he hated to admit it, a tiny part of him actually wanted to see her plan put into action. Never before had he seen an enemy be defeated by turning it into a blob of molten metal.

First, his muscles felt sore, as if he had woken up after a particularly rough day. He glanced at Sophie for reassurance, but her eyes remained closed, the very picture of serenity. Next, his vision dimmed. He rubbed at the corners of his eyes, trying to drive out the urge to sleep. But the darkness just kept falling.

He remembered his time on the island, and his encounter with that thing. It had pushed him into the void once before. There was no way he would let it happen again. He was not going back to that place.

“Sophie, please,” he squeaked.

“Just a little more,” she murmured.

A crash rang out, and the floor lurched.

“There!” she shouted.

She let go of Aden and stood up. Aden followed after her. In the center of a cubicle was a white-hot blob connected to four red metal legs. Even though it was half-away across the room, Aden could feel the heat on his face.

“You okay?” Sophie asked.

“Yeah, I guess,” he replied.

The darkness was beginning to lift.

“Good.”

She turned and walked back toward the vault, pulling Aden away from gawking at the remains of the Metagross.

“Aden,” his earpiece sputtered. “The frequency over which I was communicating with you was jammed.”

Aden stopped dead in his tracks.

“Crap.”

“Furthermore, immediately before we lost connection, the vault was opened, and the target item was removed. It is now at an airfield five kilometers away, being loaded into a plane. From your current location, it is impossible to reach the plane before it takes off. Thankfully, I can track the plane’s movements through the use of imaging satellites.”

“Nothing’s in here!” Sophie shouted in dismay.

Aden stepped through the vault door himself and confirmed what the PAD had said. There was a single metal shelf pressed against the back wall that held nothing. Sophie clenched her fists. Tears rolled down her face.

“What in the-”

“I’m going to put Sophie on,” Aden said. “Tell her what you just told me.”

Aden tapped Sophie on the shoulder and handed her the earpiece. She stuck it in and nodded along as the PAD spoke. She let her hands relax at her sides and whipped her nose on the collar of her coat.

“So let me get this straight. We’re going to leave this place behind, and you’ll track the plane. When you have a location, you’ll tell us. Okay. Great. I’m loving that 98 percent confidence level.”

She handed the earpiece back to Aden.

“Let’s get out of this dump.”