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Pokémon Mew-child [complete!]

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
MEW-CHILD

Chapter 1: The Call


She knew the legends, of course.

There was, once upon a bygone time, a being born of the mystical Mew – not in the same way that Mew was said to be the ancestor of all Pokemon, and not in the same way that men playing God created the cloned Mewtwo. This being, this Mew-child, was said to be Mew’s direct offspring, its own flesh and blood.

Her mother had read her stories about the Mew-child when she was young, stories about the villains that sought its power and the heroes that stopped them. As she grew older, she began to notice that the stories all had one common thread: the Mew-child was passive, inactive, in all of them. “What exactly could the Mew-child do that made the villains want it so bad?” she’d asked her mother. Horrible things, was the answer she got. The Mew-child possessed power of a magnitude unknown in the modern world. “Then why doesn’t it do anything in the stories?”

Because when it did act, nobody survived to tell the tale.

Her name, according to her Pokemon handler’s license, was Melanie Cora Rylan; according to her parents when she was in trouble as a kid, it was also Melanie Cora Rylan, but with more bass in it; and according to her friends, it was Mel. Her license also indicated her height and weight (both slightly more than she would have preferred), the number of occupied Pokeballs she was qualified to carry with her at one time (six, with certain exceptions listed on the back of the license), and her trainer ID number (97532, one digit off from her lucky number, which she still hadn’t gotten over in the eighteen years since she’d first gotten her license).

Her license didn’t say anything, however, about what she did and what she was.

What she did was easy – she nominally worked for the Rylan Family Pokemon Shelter in Fuchsia City, where injured and abandoned Pokemon were cared for until they were ready to be adopted. In practice, this meant that she spent most of her time traveling the country, finding Pokemon that needed help and bringing them home. This was, in part, due to what she was: a low-grade psychic.

Psychics, while not common, weren’t unknown; the Saffron Gym especially was notable for its large number of psychic staff. Mel didn’t care to tether herself to a single gym, nor did she want to spend the rest of her life battling, so she used her psychic abilities – mostly manifested as emotions she could feel bleeding off of others – to locate Pokemon that were hurting.
It was an arrangement that had worked fairly well for years and years with nothing going wrong. At least, nothing that couldn’t be fixed.

Then she received the call.

“Okay, Repeat,” Mel hissed through grit teeth, “very slowly lower me the rope. Slowly. Please.”

“You got it, chief.” Repeat stretched out one arm and let the other end of the rope dangle from his grip. As he was currently wearing the guise of a Gloom, a species not well-known for their incredible reach, this meant that the rope didn’t make it too far down the cliffside, but it was far enough for Mel’s purposes.

Mel had started the morning intending to find the Magby that had been leading her on a chase around the outside of Rock Tunnel for the past two days; it wasn’t unusual for Pokemon, especially injured ones, to be wary of her, but few of them had been as adamant about shaking her off their trail as the Magby had been. It was hurt, though, she was certain of that; it radiated feelings of sharp pain off of it that sent needle-stabs through Mel’s mind. One thing led to another, and Mel found herself gripping an outcropping of cliff so tightly she thought her fingers would break through the stone. Water pounded the rock far beneath her feet, and she could just barely see the shape of the power plant in the distance and, even further past that, Lavender Town’s looming graveyard, the Pokemon Tower.

Mel was trying very hard not to think about death, but it was coming naturally to her at the moment.

The rope, held at the other end by her Ditto, Repeat, just barely brushed her knuckles. Mel made a mad grab for it with one hand and let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding when she managed to wind it around her fist a few times. “Repeat! You tied the rope to something, right?”

“Sturdiest tree I could find,” Repeat called. He, like every other Pokemon, spoke his own arcane language, but Mel had picked up enough over the years to figure out what he meant most of the time. The psychic powers, admittedly, helped.

“Good.” Mel tugged on the rope and swung her legs in, planting her feet on the side of the cliff. Her boots, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a war zone, didn’t slide one inch. She sucked in a breath through her teeth, prayed that her glasses wouldn’t slide further down her nose, and—

YOU.

The voice tore through her head, echoing everywhere all at once.

THE MEW-CHILD.

The world shook around her with the resonance of the sound.

FIND. PROTECT!

Blackness enveloped her as pictures danced in her mind. A cat-like face, small and pink and soft. A barren island far away in the ocean, home to only a small stone triangle amidst sparse trees. A woman in a purple robe. Red letters, too blurry to read.

Then everything was gone.

When Mel opened her eyes again, the harsh, artificial light threatened to turn what was already a pounding headache into something more apocalyptic. She winced and screwed her eyes shut. The place she was in didn’t look familiar, at least not from the brief glimpse she’d gotten, but the mattress under her, the sheets twisted around her, and the pillow that her head rested on at least all indicated that she was somewhere safe – a hospital, she guessed, after that fall.

Mel let the eyelids of one eye part, just a crack. The light flooded in again, but this time more manageably; the source seemed to be a fluorescent light embedded in the ceiling. She became aware of a quiet rhythmic beeping that, once she noticed it, was impossible to ignore, counting out her heartbeats. The room her bed sat in was far larger than she could see; curtains on either side of her sectioned her off from the rest of the people that were presumably in there with her.

Well, all but one of the people, anyway – as she opened her eyes more slowly, Mel could see, out of her periphery, a figure in the chair next to her bed. Her limbs felt heavy, most of all when she tried to turn to face the stranger, but her motion, feeble as it was, was enough to attract their attention.

“Hey there, kid,” they said as they got to their feet with a languid motion. Mel got a better look at them: a woman, shorter than Mel by at least a head by her estimations, slender, spritely. Her face, elfin and pointed, bore a sharp grin and twinkling eyes, like she knew the punchline to a joke Mel hadn’t heard. Her clothes were beaten up and ill-fitting, somehow incongruous with the image the rest of her presented.

“Not a kid,” Mel mumbled. “I’m 28.”

The woman sat herself on the corner of the bed. “Yeah, well. When someone does something stupid like, I dunno, straight-up letting go of a rope when they’re hanging over a raging river, I figure a few punches to the ego are called for, right?”

Mel blinked blearily. Her mind wasn’t firing quickly enough to pull apart all of the concerning parts of that sentence. On top of that, the woman wasn’t even letting her guard down enough for her emotions to seep out. “Who are you, exactly?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, of course. My bad. Call me Nia.” Nia made a theatrical sweeping motion with her arms and bowed, though, given her position on the bed, the only thing she accomplished was knocking away a stand with some papers on it.

“Nia…” The name rang faint bells in the back of Mel’s memory, but she couldn’t place why. “Why are you here? Just to take me down a couple pegs?”

Nia giggled and shook her head. “Nah, nothing like that. I was set up next door. Or next curtain, or whatever. I’m due to go today, so I thought I’d look around for one last time. You know, for nostalgia’s sake or something. Looked through your chart when the doc wasn’t looking. You know how it is.”

“Oh.” It was the only response Mel had the strength to give. The room around her felt bitterly cold, and she drew her sheet in around her.

“So what possessed you to drop?”

Mel grimaced. The thought of what happened caused physical pain in the back of her head, like someone had driven in an ice pick. “Was trying to find a hurt Pokemon. Fell. Tried to climb back up with a rope Repeat had… Repeat…” Two neurons abruptly connected. “Where’s Repeat? Where is he? Is he okay?”

“Calm down there, bucko,” Nia said, holding her hands up. “Guessing Repeat is your Ditto, right? Sounds like a Ditto-ish name. Says on your chart the doc has him in the hospital’s Pokemon Center. Good hands, I’d wager. So finish the story. What happened?”

“Psychic flash,” Mel muttered. The voice in the back of her head that ordinarily would have warned her against mentioning her ability to others had a bit more on its plate to worry about. “Need to save the Mew-child. Something like that.”

Nia clapped her hands together. “Ah, you’re a psychic! And you got a call for help out of the blue! Sounds like the start to some kind of mystical quest or some such. And I would know. That’s the kind of thing that stories are made of! What’s your plan?”

“Plan?”

“You know, like… what are you gonna do to save the thing?”

“Not gonna be any saving.” Mel shook her head weakly. “I got better stuff to do than fall for some kind of prank. Probably some little kid, just got their psychic powers, playing jokes on anyone nearby. Me and Repeat, we need to finish the job then get back home and report in.” It was the longest sentence she’d said since she woke up, and she had to take several deep breaths afterwards.

“Well, if you say so.” Nia hopped down off the bed. “But be careful. I know it first-hand. When calls like that come in, they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Best of luck to you, one way or the other.” She parted the curtain and stepped outside of Mel’s section, then poked her head back in after a moment. “By the way, your chart says you’ll probably be good enough to leave tomorrow if you get enough rest. So take it easy! It’s like a free vacation.” Then she disappeared.

Then Nia reappeared a second time. “Hey, one more thing,” she said, slipping back past the curtain.

“Can you stay gone so I can actually rest?” Mel growled.

“Nah, this is quick. Faster than fast, you know? Look, no matter what you decide, we live in dangerous times. There are cults and other nasty groups everywhere nowadays. Lots of bad people all over the place. Just wanted to tell you to be careful. You never know what’s coming down the pipeline, and what they have aimed at you.” Nia flashed Mel a wide smile, showing many more teeth than Mel felt comfortable seeing, then disappeared for the final time. “Be seeing you!”

“Hopefully not,” Mel said to herself. She closed her eyes and drifted back into sleep amidst images of rockets taking off into the sky and men with swords opening treasure chests.

The next morning came and went, and true to her chart, Mel had been released, Repeat’s Pokeball in hand. She kept the Pokeball closed until she reached her destination, all the while trying her best to shove down her memory of the conversation with Nia. It was too concerning otherwise.

“Hey, chief,” Repeat said as he materialized on the ground. He looked well-rested, Mel thought; she had no idea what was inside the Pokeball and Repeat was not in a hurry to fill her in. “You doing okay? I expect we’re heading home—” His words stopped short in his mouth as he looked around.

Mel gave him a moment to get his thoughts together.

“Okay, okay, chief. Boss. Partner,” Repeat said, chopping his arm-analogues through the air like punctuation. “You wanna tell me why we’re going right back to the place that sent you to the hospital the first time?”

“It’s not the same place,” Mel said, her hands on her hips and a smile on her face. She knew that Repeat knew what that smile meant. It was her ‘I have a completely dumb answer to your next question, but you’re still going to ask it’ smile.

Repeat sighed and looked up at her with a furrowed brow that he had morphed for just that purpose. “What do you mean, ‘it’s not the same place’? I can see the cliff that you fell off of right over there. We’re less than a hundred feet from it.”

“Nope! That cliff is further back the way we came! It just looks similar here.” Mel picked Repeat up and held him in her arms as she began hiking the other way across the asperous rock, winding her way between scraggly trees and scrubby brush. The sun beat down overhead, and the tepid breeze did little to provide relief. “We’re about half a mile north of that. Our Magby friend didn’t move very much over the past day. And it’s still in pain – I can feel it.”

Repeat let his eyes track upwards as they walked. A flock of Spearow, nestled in the boughs of an especially gnarled tree, watched their every move. “You, uh, ever considered that maybe the Magby doesn’t want our help?” he asked. “I mean, if it only was on the run while we were following it, and it settled down after, maybe the problem is us.”

“Don’t be silly!” Mel patted Repeat on the head, making a faint squelching noise. “It’s hurt, so we’re going to help it. That’s how it works. Besides, I think it’s asleep now, so that’ll make our job a little easier. This way!” Mel followed the Magby’s emotional trail to an outcropping covered in a thick, thorny mass, overlooking the power plant. The Magby’s signal was coming from underneath the brambles. “Okay, Repeat, do your thing,” she whispered.

Repeat nodded and glanced around, scanning the area for any useful Pokemon. “Ha, there we go,” he muttered. There, in the distance, he laid eyes on a black and white figure, climbing down the cliffside with agile jumps – an Absol, especially rare in this part of the country, he knew. He closed his eyes, and his limbs began to extend and enlarge. His body took on a more well-defined shape – something quadruped, with a distinct head and matching bladed tail. When he stopped shifting, he opened his eyes and shivered, shaking out his fur.

“Good eye,” Mel said. “I didn’t even see one of them around here.”

“Because I’m feeling nice today, I won’t make a crack about your glasses.” Repeat lowered his head then, faster than Mel’s eyes could follow, let loose with a whirlwind of slashes from the Absol body’s abundance of natural blades. Before Mel could even scoot back, the brush was gone – and underneath where it had been was, yes, a small Magby, fast asleep, covered in the bruises that Mel suspected had come from its previous home. In addition to the expected collar that all Magby had around their neck, this Magby also had one around its leg, with a tag that read ‘if found, please return to,’ with the rest torn off.

Mel gently picked up the Magby and cradled it against her shoulder. “All right, Repeat, let’s scoot,” she said in a soft, lilting tone, none too eager to wake it up. “We need to get this little guy back to the shelter as quick as we can.”

“Shh,” Repeat hissed, looking out over the edge of the outcropping. “Come over here and check this out.”

“What’s up?” Mel knelt next to him. From where they were, they could see the power plant, pristine and gleaming in the morning light – and they could also see the pair of people skulking around the outside. The two intruders wore pale, nearly-white robes, with mantles long enough that they were almost scarves, and hoods that covered the top halves of their faces. Even from where they were, Mel could feel the emotions radiating from them – a heady mix of determination and anxiety, with fear and frustration seeping in at the edges.

“What’s the word?” one said to the other in a voice that Mel had to strain to hear, even in the still air.

“The target’s not around,” replied the second, “despite the reports that it would be nearby.”

The first one slapped the second on the back as their postures relaxed. “Look, I don’t want to be the one who tells Degree that the Mew-child wasn’t here. Let’s go get a drink first, then we’ll go deliver the bad news together.”

“Agreed.” The second of the pair opened a Pokeball into the water, revealing a Starmie whose jewel glimmered in the sun. The two of them clung to its back as it swum up the river as easily as if it were cutting through air.

“Ha!” Repeat let out a snort as he reverted back to his normal form. “The Mew-child? People are still lost in legends and myths over that thing? Please. Isn’t that ridiculous, chief? …Chief?”

Mel watched the two go, a frown darkening her features. They were looking for the Mew-child… and those outfits… What did Nia say? That there were cults around? She knew. She knew all this was happening. But… as shady as she is, she was right. They’re looking for a Pokemon, the Mew-child, and I bet it’s not to give it some extra TLC. They’re probably going to hurt it. That means…

“Hey, uh, boss, you okay there?” Repeat asked, patting Mel on the shin.

“We need to beat them to it,” Mel said.

“Huh?”

“We need to find the Mew-child first.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 2: Seven and Three

"Melanie! Melanie Cora! Are you ready?"

"Hold on a minute, Ma!" Mel hunched over the hefty reference book in her lap, drawing her legs up onto her chair – the plushest thing in her room – so the book was even closer to her face. Her glasses rested on her forehead, and she squinted at the page. It was a ritual that made sense to nobody but her, but she swore by it when it came to absorbing information. "She's always in a rush," she grumbled, her eyes flitting left and right as she scanned the endless paragraphs. "The Venomoth Festival isn't going anywhere."

"Point of order, chief," Repeat said from his spot on a beanbag chair that was, coincidentally, shaped like him. "If you want to get technical, the festival is only for the weekend, so it is going somewhere."

Mel lifted her head and glowered at him, the effect slightly undercut when she couldn't quite see him and aimed her stare in the wrong direction. "I didn't want to get technical, but thanks anyway."

"Why not take a little bit of time to relax?" Repeat continued. "Go to the festival. Take a breather. It's been a week since we brought the Magby back, and you've done nothing but pore over book after book on legendary Pokemon. I think it's making you cranky."

"I am not cranky," Mel said, icicles hanging from every word. She squared her jaw and slammed the book – The Collected Journals of Septimus Reus, widely accepted to be the first and last word on accidental encounters with mythical beasts – shut. "As it happens, I was thinking of going to the festival anyway."

"Ah-ha!"

"But not because you suggested it. The gym leader will be there. She might know something. Or at least could point us in the right direction."

"And you think she's cute."

"Shut up."

Mel's bedroom was the same one that she'd grown up in as a kid. She'd seen dorm rooms that were bigger. A desk and an overpacked bookshelf sat below her bed, the top bunk, with just enough clearance that Mel could read at it without knocking her head. Aside from that, a closet, and an amorphous beanbag chair that never left the corner, all she had was a window that looked out over the front of the building. It was tight in their home for everyone; the bottom floor and basement had been converted into, among other things, a reception area, a play area, and a makeshift mini-hospital, not to mention the pens and shelters in the backyard.

Mel threw open the closet door and dug through the clothes inside, coming out with a light jacket; it was the awkward transitionary period between summer and fall where it would boil during the day only to get a little nippy in the evening. The sun hovered right over the horizon, casting orange light straight into her room. "Are you coming?" she asked.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, chief."

Though it had been created ages ago as a small event to celebrate a Pokemon that made its home in and around Fuchsia City, the Venomoth Festival had ballooned into a weekend-long affair filled with food, souvenirs, carnival games, photo ops, and even a Pokemon battling tournament. The winner of the tournament won the right to an official match against the Fuchsia gym leader without navigating her labyrinthine facility first; more than a few Soul Badge holders had gotten theirs through the festival.

Mel was old enough to remember when the current gym leader, Janine, took over from her father after he was promoted up to the Elite Four. Janine had been young when she assumed the role – she and Mel were only a year or two apart, and were passingly acquainted with each other thanks to their families' respective roles in the community – but in the decade-plus since then, she'd blossomed into a gym leader that challengers feared even more than the psychic Sabrina.

Janine's star Pokemon, though, was still Venomoth. Mel figured some things would never change.

"Your technique is good, but it's not quite enough! Venomoth, let's finish this! Bug Buzz!"

A harsh, grating whine reverberated out from the makeshift arena that had been constructed in the center of the festival, and most of the audience covered their ears. Mel was among the few that didn't; she'd been exposed to the noise enough that it barely registered anymore. Janine crouched on one side of the stage, her fingers pressed together in an enigmatic gesture; she was dressed in her full ninja garb, just as she was any time she was in public in any sort of official capacity. The challenger, an insect researcher who'd traveled to the festival from Johto, groaned as he saw his Leavanny collapse to the ground. It wasn't an official League match – only an exhibition – but Mel knew that Janine still had pulled no punches.

"Wasn't that amazing, folks?" the announcer cried, climbing up onto the stage to lift Janine's hand into the air. "That's our gym leader for you! Remember, if you saw that match and thought to yourself, 'I want to get beat by her too,' there's still time to sign up for the tournament! The opening match is tomorrow! The winner could find themselves in possession of a Soul Badge… if they can get past the poisonous ninja master, Janine!"

Applause echoed through the festival as Janine descended from the stage. Mel stretched and rose from her chair, pausing a moment so Repeat could climb up to her shoulder, and followed Janine away from the main festival venue. "Hey, Janine, wait up!" she called.

Janine stopped and turned her head, a smile spreading across her face as recognition sunk in. "Hey, hey, hey, if it isn't Melanie Rylan! It's been forever! Since, what, we did that commercial for the shelter together, right?" She let out a peal of laughter and held her forehead. "What a train wreck that was! Hey, at least we both looked pretty cool for it, right?" Happiness and nostalgia welled up from Janine's mind; as far back as Mel could remember, Janine's emotions were always pretty obvious to read.

Memories surfaced in Mel's head of the two of them dressed in identical ninja outfits. They were both sized for Janine, so Mel had looked rather unfortunately like she'd grown out of hers. Even so, Mel did have to admit to herself that she hadn't looked too bad otherwise, though Janine wore it much better. "Can't argue there," Mel said, offering up an altogether more hesitant laugh. "Look, do you have a second?"

"For you? Of course! What's going on?"

Mel braced herself. There wasn't going to be a way to explain that didn't sound childish at best and delusional at worst. "Do you, uh, know anything about the Mew-child?"

To Mel's surprise, Janine didn't immediately laugh it off. "The Mew-child?" Janine repeated, her hand on her chin. "Hm… I mean, my dad told me stories about it when I was little. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, uh…" Nobody in town knows I'm a psychic, and I'm going to keep it that way. "I saw some guys over by the power plant a little while ago. Weird dudes in robes. They were going on about how they were trying to find it. So I thought I'd do a little research on my end, you know?" Mel shifted Repeat to her arms and gave him a pat to head off the smart response that she could feel coming.

"Sure, sure. Hm." Janine looked up to the sky, where the stars, faintly visible over the city's light pollution, were twinkling gently. She snapped her fingers. "I may not know anything about it myself, but I know someone who would. He knows anything and everything related to mythology. Professor Silktree's his name. He's the one who founded the research center in the Ruins of Alph out in Johto. Word from my dad is that he's down in the Sevii Islands right now, though, so if you could catch a boat headed that way…"

"…I could maybe run into him," Mel finished. "Huh. That just might work. Thanks for the idea."

Janine beamed, flashing a radiant smile. "No problem! Let me know how it goes, huh? I'm curious now!" She elbowed Mel in the side. "Plus, if you need someone with some strength on your side, you know who to call. After all, you just got your Ditto here, right?"

Repeat narrowed his eyes and muttered something under his breath that Mel was thankful Janine couldn't understand. "We're plenty capable," Mel said with an artificial grin, rubbing the top of Repeat's head-analogue a little harder. "In fact, I—"

"Wait." Janine put a hand up.

"Huh?"

"Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Mel asked, but then she listened a little harder. It was subtle at first, but once she realized what it was, it sent ice down her spine and a matching spike into her mind. Coming from the direction of the festival, she could hear people… screaming.

"Let's go," Janine said, breaking into a sprint.

The makeshift stage had been crushed. No great loss, Mel figured, since it was mostly just planks lined up on top of cinderblocks; she was more concerned about the craft that had descended on top of it. It looked like its engineer had been inspired in equal parts by submarines and hovercrafts – a gleaming metal tube, almost an egg, large enough for maybe ten people, with turbines on either side and blacked-out windows encircling the whole thing. The ship hadn't actually touched the stage, but the sheer force of the air blasting from the turbines, swiveled to point downwards, had flattened the wood and the brick as surely as if a Snorlax had slept there.

Mel's breath caught in her throat as she tried to process what she was seeing. Almost as alarming as the craft itself was the noise it was making – or rather, the absence thereof. Even though it was hovering in the air only a few feet off the ground, it was barely making a whisper. How is it doing that? she thought.

None of the fairgoers were around, Mel could tell that much. The screams and the pangs of fear had all faded into the distance. The police would be there soon.

The turbines slowed. The ship alit on the ground.

Neither Mel, nor Repeat, nor Janine moved, their eyes all locked in place.

An outline of a rectangle appeared in the side of the tube. A door. With a pneumatic hiss, it slid open.

Two figures stepped out. While they diverged in build and size – one was short and lean, the other large and imposing – they both dressed identically, in matching slate-gray uniforms of shapeless shirts and pants. They both wore messenger caps pulled low to obscure their eyes, bandannas over the bottom half of their faces, and darker gunmetal gray gloves. The only embellishment on either of them was a single letter, blood red, over their hearts.

Mel gasped, and she heard Janine do the same. Any Kantonian would know what that letter meant.

They both bore a red 'R'.

Janine's adrenaline seeped in at the edges of Mel's mind. Mel herself could feel her fingertips buzzing as the blood began pumping faster. The two Rockets hadn't moved yet – they stood in place, staring. She focused her senses on them, trying to pry loose what was emanating from their heads, but…

"What?" Mel croaked.

There was nothing there. No emotions, no feelings, nothing coming from the Rockets. Mel had seen people who'd built heavy psychological walls, keeping anything from getting out, but this was well beyond that. The two Rockets had… nothing.

It felt like an eternity since the figures had stepped down from the craft, even though Mel knew it had only been a matter of seconds. A voice, filtered through layers of electronic interference, spilled out of whatever receivers the Rockets were wearing. "No.7, No.3, confirm status."

The shorter Rocket lifted her wrist closer to her mouth and slid the sleeve up, revealing a simple gray wristband with a small transceiver on it. "No.3. On location. Aerial sweeps conducted. Primary objective not met. Cannot confirm presence of Mew offspring. Does not seem to be here."

Mew offspring… Mel thought. They're after the Mew-child, too?

"No.7," said the larger Rocket into her own wrist receiver. "The only presence here is JN-Beta. Gym leader. Plus irrelevant civilian and Pokemon."

"Hey!" Mel and Repeat growled in tandem. "Irrelevant?!"

No.7 continued as if Mel hadn't said anything. "Secondary objective still possible."

"Do it," squawked the presence on the other end of the radio. "Detain JN-Beta."

The two Rockets took a synchronized step towards Mel and Janine. Mel took a step back to run, but felt Janine's hand on her shoulder. When she turned to look, Janine drew a circle in the air, a clock, in what Mel understood to be shorthand for 'buy some time', winked, then… disappeared entirely, in a cloud of smoke.

"Guess the ninja outfit's not for nothing," Repeat muttered.

Without saying a word to each other, No.7 and No.3 diverged; No.3 sped away from the ship back towards the city proper before Mel could get in front of her. No.7 blocked her path instead and held up a hand that was, itself, larger than Mel's head. "Civilian," No. 7 droned, "we do not wish to cause unnecessary harm at this juncture. Stand down, or I will use force."

"'Stand down or I will use force,'" Mel repeated in a nasal twang. "Who do you think you're kidding? You're Rockets. Everyone knows about you. You live for nothing but unnecessary harm."

No.7 shook her head. "Negative. We are not Rockets. Team Rocket is disbanded. We are Neo Rocket."

"Is that… functionally different?" Mel asked, unable to stop herself.

Repeat, still in her arms, smacked the back of her hand. "She's distracting you, Mel! They're trying to buy time too! Get out of here!"

"No!" Mel growled. "There's only two of them. Janine's gonna handle the shrimp, and we're not about to let her down. You and I, we're gonna stop this jerk in her tracks. Then we'll be able to hand them over to the police. Better than just letting them go!" She spread her arms, letting Repeat jump to the ground. He knew the drill, even if he didn't like it. "Let's go, Repeat! Do your thing!"

A click cut through the still air like a knife. No.7 held in her hand a Pokeball, a type Mel didn't immediately recognize – it was as gray as their clothes, with a single stripe of darker gray perpendicular to the divide between the two halves. The click was No.7 tapping the button on the front with her thumb, and in a flash of light – also, somehow, gray – a silhouette appeared in front of her. It was even taller than she was, and more than twice as wide; as it faded into view, Mel recognized the massive hands, the thick legs, the skirt-like protrusions around its waist – a Hariyama.

Repeat slid his eyes towards Mel, panic evident even in his minimalist face. "Uh, boss," he started.

"Repeat. Transform. We got this," said Mel.

"If you say so," Repeat said under his breath. He closed his eyes and began shifting his form, bulking out—

—until the Hariyama slammed a palm bigger than he was into his face, and by extension the rest of him all at once.

This was bad enough, but it happened a second time.

And a third.

And a fourth, and a fifth.

Repeat fell over backwards, resembling nothing quite so much as a puddle of jelly.

Mel couldn't will her limbs to move. All she could muster was to stare, open-mouthed, at the unconscious Repeat and the monster of a Pokemon standing over him.

The Hariyama disappeared back into its Pokeball, which hadn't even had time to leave No.7's hand. No.7 lifted her other arm up and spoke into the transceiver. "No.7. Civilian dealt with."

"No.3. Forwarding you coordinates. Bring ship. Have detained JN-Beta. Secondary objective completed successfully."

As No.7 climbed into the craft, Mel knelt on the ground, gently stroking Repeat. The words had gone into her ears, but she couldn't reconcile them with the thoughts that were bouncing around her head. They… detained JN-Beta? But that's… Janine. How did… how did Janine lose?

How did
we lose?

What's going to happen?


The airship lifted off the ground with the susurrus of its engines.

Mel watched it go.
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 3: Genesis

The night had not been restful.

Mel could count on one hand the number of times she’d been in police custody overnight, and none of them had ever been pleasant experiences. It had only been her, too – nobody else was left on the scene, not even her family, who’d fled when the chaos first began. “I think I can recite my testimony from memory perfectly now,” she grumbled to Repeat. “If anyone else asks me to describe what happened in my own words, I think I might actually, legitimately, kill them.” She took a bite of cereal, her body running on automatic. She could barely even taste it, though she wasn’t sure if that was her senses being deadened due to lack of sleep or if it was just that she was eating Wheat Cubes, ‘the breakfast of flavorless champions.’ “Or,” Mel added after a moment’s reflection, “at the very least maim them.”

“Maiming’s the better option, chief,” Repeat said. He sat directly on top of the kitchen table; the Rylan family had long since given up the battle against Pokemon in the eating area. The newspaper he was reading was bigger than he was, and his journey from one end to the other to turn the page was exactly the kind of thing that captivated Mel’s sleep-addled mind. “Murder’s a harsher charge than assault, after all.”

The spoon hung limply from the corner of Mel’s mouth. “Yeah,” she said, draping her arms over the back of her chair and staring at the ceiling. “But if I’m gonna go that far, might as well go all the way, you know?”

“That’s definitely an argument you could make.” Repeat slowly lurched across the paper, following the story that had continued from the front page. The kidnapping of a gym leader, as expected, had made national news, and the rumors that a revived Team Rocket was behind it were enough to nearly send the country into a panic. As it was, Fuchsia was already flooded with reporters and hangers-on, all eager to get their bite of the breaking-news pie. “At least nobody thinks you were the one at fault.”

Mel’s mind didn’t shift gears quick enough. “Huh?”

“For yesterday, I mean. Yeah, you spent the night being interviewed by cops, but they know it wasn’t you who kidnapped Janine.”

“Small blessings. I don’t feel too optimistic about them getting results, though.” Another spoonful of bland cereal made its way to her mouth. “Help me out, Repeat. What’s on our to-do list now? My head’s not getting up to speed like it oughta.”

“Broadly speaking, we’ve got two tasks.”

Mel smiled. Only two. That almost sounds doable.

“The first is, we need to find and rescue Janine from those Neo Rocket people or whatever they’re calling themselves.”

Okay. That’s a little more daunting.

“The second is that we also need to figure out where the Mew-child has hidden itself.”

Also daunting, but that’s just research, really.

“And, of course, once we do that, we need to protect it from the Neo Rockets, those people in the robes from the power plant, and whoever else pops up out of the woodwork.”

Great.

“Not to mention that even finding the Mew-child means we need to get down into the Sevii Islands and find the professor Janine mentioned, which is no small—”

Mel put her hands up. “Okay, okay, I get it. We’re proper screwed, basically.”

“Aw, don’t say that, boss,” Repeat said. He crawled across the table and patted her arm with a single pseudopod. “One thing at a time, right? I bet this won’t be as bad as you think. Maybe we could go find some of the other gym leaders – I’m sure they’d jump at the opportunity to put the Neo Rockets to bed before they gain too much steam.”

“No.” Mel clapped her cheeks a few times, bringing the world around her back into focus as her mind started ticking a little faster. “No, we shouldn’t. We don’t know who we can trust. I mean, back when the OG Rockets were kicking around, one of the gym leaders himself, that Giovanni guy, was their leader. And there were always rumors running around that Koga and Sabrina and Surge and them were all sympathetic to the Rockets. Plus there’s that whole thing about how they have to be really careful about what they do in an official capacity… Janine told me about it once a long time ago. It sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, being honest.”

“If you say so, boss. So what do we do now, then?”

“I’m gonna finish this cereal and that pot of coffee so I can wake up some more. Then we’re gonna to go to Vermilion City and hitch a ride to the Sevii Islands. If this Silktree guy knows anything about the Mew-child, then we gotta assume that the Neo-Rockets are coming after him too. And if that happens, well, it gives us a shot at rescuing Janine, but otherwise we don’t have a lot of options for tracking her down yet.”

Repeat began the laborious process of folding the newspaper back up. “That sounds awfully optimistic given what happened yesterday, chief.”

“Well.” Mel let out a deep breath and looked out the window. The kitchen faced the backyard, and her parents were both outside in the morning sun, encouraging a Vulpix with a healing leg to take its first steps since its accident. “I’m not sure we’ve got much else but optimism in our corner right now.”

In a country adrift in change, from volcanos erupting to graveyards being torn down for radio stations to radio stations being subsequently torn down for the graveyards again, the Sevii Islands were an oasis of inertia. Mel had never before been there personally, but she found it telling that her Traveler’s Guide to the Sevii Islands was largely accurate despite having been published when she was a child.

Knot Island (or, as Mel refused to call it, One Island) still hosted all of the major tourist attractions that her guide said it did: the volcano Mount Ember, looming in the distance; the Network Center, gleaming hub of technology; Treasure Beach, filled with hopeful beachcombers eager to be the next to strike gold. The temperature was mild, not quite as warm as it was back home in Fuchsia, and there was barely a cloud to be seen in the sky.

“I can see why this place is so popular,” Mel said. “Wouldn’t mind vacationing here—hey!” A tourist, one from Unova from the looks of it, shoved past her to get to the Network Center without even a word.

“Maybe when we get some time off, we pick somewhere with less people, huh?” Repeat said. “So what’s our plan now that we’re here?”

Mel didn’t answer right away. They had stopped near the Network Center to get their bearings; Mel wouldn’t admit it out loud, but she had underestimated the size of the island. Everyone had always made it sound like the Sevii Islands were tiny and boring, but then, she supposed, that was the issue with asking people who’d moved away from there. The town on its own wasn’t any smaller than Pallet – and she’d been there often enough to know that Pallet’s podunk reputation was wholly unearned.

They crossed the street to a modest tea shop, its elegant aromas obvious before they even reached it. Mel pulled a plastic chair away from one of the outdoor tables, sheltered underneath a pastel-colored parasol, and sat, bridging her hands in front of her face. “Not sure,” she finally said. “I was kinda hoping that we’d be able to pick up a trail of our guy when we got here, but…”

“It’s too crowded,” Repeat said, keeping lookout from his perch on top of Mel’s head.

“Right. I wouldn’t even know who to ask.”

“Why not check the guidebook? Maybe inspiration will strike.”

“Can’t hurt, I guess.” Mel placed an order for a berry tea and spread The Traveler’s Guide to the Sevii Islands out on the table. “‘So you’ve made it to One Island!’” she read aloud. “Ugh, I still hate that name. ‘Oh, we’ve got seven islands, we’re going to name them one through seven!’ Shoulda gotten an art major down here, I swear.”

“Don’t get distracted,” Repeat said, rolling his eyes.

“Right. Sorry.” Mel cleared her throat. “‘So you’ve made it to One Island! Congratulations! There’s lots to see and do here…’ yada yada yada… Mount Ember, Treasure Beach… Oh, I didn’t see this before. ‘Local tech-head Celio is working to get the Network Center online as an expansion of the island’s Pokemon Center after efforts to build it in a separate facility failed. The site of the abandoned warehouse where Celio first tried to build it can be found on Kindle Road, outside of the town proper; Celio is on record as saying he gave up the original location after it was found to be sitting alongside an ancient burial site and that he, quote, didn’t need that kind of bad mojo.’”

The waitress arrived with Mel’s tea right as Mel’s head snapped up. “That’s it!” she yelled; the waitress jumped back and only barely managed to save the tea from spilling. In one smooth motion, Mel stood up, knocking the chair to the ground, grabbed the guide, and ran down the street towards the eastern edge of town. Repeat could only mime ‘sorry’ to the waitress the best way he knew how, hoping she understood.

Equal parts beachfront, ocean, and mountainous crag, Kindle Road stretched all the way from the town to Mount Ember in the north. Though still buzzing with people, especially visitors to the famed hot springs heated by the volcano itself, it was noticeably less crowded than the rest of the island. Mel supposed the terrain had something to do with that; if Celio hadn’t bowed out of a facility there because of the supernatural, the difficulty in getting around would have done the trick just as nicely. The building in question wasn’t too far out of the way, though; she found it nestled in a nook eroded out of the cliffside itself. Just as the guide said, telltale grave markers littered the area around it, looking only like oddly-smooth rocks to the untrained eye, though the half-dilapidated structure, all crumbled brick and corroded metal, seemed fitting, somehow.

“So when were you planning on telling me what’s going on?” Repeat hissed as they approached the building.

Mel grinned. The sleep she’d finally gotten on the boat to One Island and her sudden inspiration at the tea shop had done a lot for her mood. “So it’s like this, you know?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I asked, chief.”

“Okay, slow up a minute. I was gonna keep going. Anyway, so this place is on an ancient burial ground, and the guy we’re supposed to find is all into mythology. I figured, what better place to find myths and stuff than an old graveyard? Those kinds of places ooze myths.”

“Huh.” Repeat blinked. “That’s… pretty sound, actually. I’m impressed. So we’re going to…?”

“We’re gonna walk in and, fingers crossed, we’re gonna find him in there!”

“And if we don’t?”

“Well,” Mel said, “then we just leave and start looking somewhere else. There are seven of these islands, after all. Guy might be on a different one.” With Repeat on her head, she approached the warehouse and placed her hand on the door, ready to push it open.

Mel paused.

For a moment, neither she nor Repeat said anything.

Repeat broke the silence. “You feel it too, don’t you? Something’s wrong.”

“Yeah.” Powerful emotions welled up just beyond the door, way more than Mel could attribute to any single person. She knew Repeat couldn’t sense the same thing, but he’d always had a good gut instinct. The part that was really throwing her, though, was what the emotions were – hope, optimism, confidence, and underneath all of it, a deep, yet subtle, current of malice, nearly masked completely by everything else. “Maybe I won’t open this door right yet,” Mel said, more quietly.

“I think that’s a good call.”

Mel slowly took several steps to the right, careful not to put her foot down on anything that would make noise; she managed to avoid, in order, a twig, a discarded potato chip bag, and an old bicycle horn that someone had left there for reasons she couldn’t fathom. Once she rounded the corner of the wall, she looked up and down the length of the building. There were no windows. Getting around to the back of the building would be impossible, she realized, from how it butted up against the rock; from where she stood, though, she figured she could probably make it to what remained of the rooftop. It’s a one-story building, Mel thought, and it looks like there’s places where it collapsed in. If I can get up there, I might could see what’s going on, hopefully without them noticing me in the process. A pipe ran up the side of the wall, made from sturdy metal that hadn’t yet rusted all the way through. Mel ran a hand up it thoughtfully.

“Oh no,” said Repeat. “I know that look. You’re about to do something dumb.”

“Am not.” Mel grabbed the pipe with both hands and planted one foot on the wall. Even when she pulled at full force, the pipe, bolted firmly in place, refused to move.

“Are you about to climb the pipe?”

“Maybe.”

“I stand by what I said.” But Repeat nonetheless held tight to Mel’s head as she scaled the wall.

The Collected Journals of Septimus Reus, the omnibus of essays, notes, and other musings that together chronicled the life and times of the famed researcher whose name adorned the cover, went into excruciating detail concerning Reus’ encounters with legendary Pokemon – every single one of them accidental. As such, many aspiring trainers used the Collected Journals as a guide, hoping beyond hope that, if they followed his missteps, they’d stumble across legendaries just as often as he did.

This was not the case.

The true value in Reus’ research was in his comprehensive notes on what tended to put him in the most danger, Pokemon-related or not.

With that in mind, this is what Reus had to say on the subject of roofs:

“I cannot emphasize this enough. Stay off of rooftops. Trust me on this one. The first time I made my way up onto a roof, it was on an abandoned grain silo so I could better scope out any rare fauna in the area. Needless to say, I fell through a rusted patch and very nearly died via suffocation and/or being crushed in a mass of grain, which is a horribly undignified way to go.

“Or consider the time I found myself on the roof of Silph Co. I won’t go into too much detail, but the guardrails there are woefully insufficient. Luckily for me, I was able to catch hold of a windowsill on my way down and only severely injured one arm. It didn’t even require that much surgery.

“My point is that rooftops are dangerous. Please, don’t. Just don’t.”

Mel had read the Collected Journals, if ‘skimming’ counted as ‘reading’ – and it did, at least in her book. What she did not do was take Reus’ advice to heart, classifying it under the alarmingly broad category of “it’ll never happen to me.”
It didn’t happen to her. At least, not initially.

Just as Mel had gathered, there were holes scattered throughout the roof. She crept carefully across, kneeling next to the biggest one and gazing down inside. She could see into a wide room that looked like it had started life as a storage area for nondescript crates, most of which were still there, even if they had been pushed to the side. Simple wooden tables, long enough to seat at least a dozen on one side, were arranged in rows, and at every table, there were seated several people, all wearing…

“Off-white robes,” Mel muttered. “So there’s more of these guys.”

All of the people at the tables, though wearing identical robes, were immediately different from each other; many of them even still had their normal clothes on underneath. Mel could swear that one pink-haired woman at a table right under her was the nurse from the Pokemon Center. Every single one of them, though, no matter who they were, were transfixed on the speaker at the head of the room, standing atop a table of her own.

She wore a coat, long enough to almost be a robe itself, colored a rich, lush amethyst. Unlike everyone else in the room, whose robes reached down to the floor, her coat stopped just short enough that Mel could see heavy combat boots, not dissimilar from the ones she herself was wearing. The woman’s hair was cropped close to her head in a military cut, and it was pure white, even though she didn’t seem especially old. As she spoke, she paced up and down the length of the table, her stride steady and even.

“That means our mission is clear,” the woman said in a resounding, deep voice that reached the far corners of the hall, continuing on from some point she’d finished making just before. “What is our first goal?”

“Find the Mew-child!” came the answer, ringing out in unison from everyone else there.

“And our second goal?” asked the woman, pounding one gloved fist into the palm of her other hand.

The response came again, just as loud. “Exterminate the Mew-child!”

“Exterminate?!” Mel and Repeat both yelped. Mel physically recoiled, an action that shook the roof under her just a bit too much – and it collapsed, falling into the hall below them, taking Mel with it.
The fall knocked the wind out of her, but thankfully had no worse effects; with her eyes shut, Mel could tell that she’d landed prone on one of the tables. Repeat rested on top of her, seemingly no worse for the wear.

She opened her eyes, and immediately wished she hadn’t.

What seemed like the entire population of the building had crowded around her, including the woman leading everything. She stood by Mel’s head, her hands folded behind her back, with a grin on her face that she may have intended to be welcoming but only came across as predatory.

“Well, well, well,” the woman said. “Members of Genesis, it would appear we have a guest.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 4: Degrees of Separation

If Mel had been asked a few weeks prior what words came to mind when she thought about weird people in off-white robes, “surprisingly ripped” would not have been at the top of the list – as it was, it only barely crept in at number 93 on the list, right above “open-minded” and right below “fantastic cooking skills”. Nevertheless, two of the bigger people surrounding her had grabbed her, each taking one arm, and, with no apparent effort, had carried her up to sit on the table that the leader had been marching across only a few moments earlier. They loosened their grip and Mel yanked her arms back, shooting pointed glares at the two of them, plus anyone else within range.

As if to add insult to injury, a third person, much smaller, picked Repeat up and lobbed him at Mel, where he landed on her lap with a squelch. She put a finger to her lips as she sensed a smart remark welling up from inside him.

The woman in the purple coat parted the crowd with a wave of her hand and marched to Mel, planting herself squarely in front of her. “How unexpected. It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Degree Absolute. I would say ‘welcome’, but I normally reserve that for people who don’t fall in through the ceiling,” she said, looking Mel up and down with the slightest hint of a smile.

“Not like I meant to,” Mel spat. “Not my fault you decided to set up shop in a place that was half-destroyed.”

“So much the better. Surprise visits are often the most fruitful. Now, as far as you are concerned, my would-be spy, I expect the reason for your visit isn’t that you support our cause, hm?”

Mel narrowed her eyes and pushed her glasses further up her nose, endeavoring to make the motion look as disrespectful as possible. “Aside from what I already heard, I don’t even know what your cause is. All I got is that you’re some kind of weird group that’s got it in for the Mew-child.”

“Tsk tsk. How minimizing. There is so much more to Genesis. If you would?” Degree asked, holding out one hand, gesturing at one of the dozens of interchangeable people surrounding them.

“Yes, ma’am!” came a single voice from the crowd. Mel couldn’t immediately see who it was. “We are a religious order, ma’am. One that venerates the holy Mew, ma’am. The progenitor of all that is living, all that has lived, and all that will live, ma’am!”

“Then…” Mel stopped, squinted, and tried to rearrange the words in her head. No matter how she ordered it, what she’d heard didn’t make sense. “Then why, for the love of— why are you trying to kill Mew’s kid?!”

Degree gestured with her other hand this time, picking someone else out from a different part of the crowd. This time, the voice wove up and down throughout their words, underscoring the person’s advanced age. “Yes, ma’am! The so-called Mew-child is not holy. There is no divinity in its blood, ma’am. Any spawn of a perfect being will be imperfect, and so the Mew-child should be destroyed, so it does not wallow in its deficiencies any more than it needs to.”

“You see?” Degree said. “It is an act of mercy.”

“But—but—” Mel sputtered. “That doesn’t make any sense! Didn’t you say that Mew is the ‘progenitor of all that is living’ or whatever? Doesn’t that mean that everyone’s imperfect? Shouldn’t everyone be destroyed, then?”

As one, the crowd shook their heads, apparently well-practiced in countering that particular argument. “This one goes to anyone who wants to answer,” Degree said.

Hands from all over the crowd flew into the air.

“Hm, let’s see… Galia, you can field this one.”

“Yes, ma’am!” came yet another voice, this one definitely much younger than the rest – a child. Mel shivered. “All of the rest of us – humans, Pokemon, everyone – we are imperfect, yes. But we are made to be imperfect. It is part of who we are. The Mew-child is a legend. It should be perfect. And yet it is not. This contradiction is intrinsic to its very being. It cannot escape it. And so, it should be put out of its misery.”

Icicle chills ran down Mel’s back. She could feel the exact same emotions from every person in the room: an empty sort of elation, plus the unshakeable confidence she recognized off of people who could never be convinced away from their path. Wait, she thought. There’s one that’s different. It wasn’t Degree Absolute, who had all of the same feelings as everyone else, only amped up by a factor of ten. There was someone else.

Mel scanned the crowd. Then she saw her. A familiar face.

A familiar face that she’d last seen keeping her from sleeping at the hospital.

A familiar face that winked at her and mouthed the word ‘now’.

“Well, learning about your terrifying sect has been fun,” Mel said, wearing a manic smile. She clapped her hands together and jumped to her feet. “But I think it’s right about time for me to hit the road, soRepeatdoyourthingandfast!” She tossed Repeat into the air and started running. Repeat focused his gaze on the biggest guy in the room and began shifting; before he hit the ground, he wore the guise of a man who, not to put too fine a point on it, could have cracked walnuts in between his abs. His strides were longer than Mel’s and he easily overtook her, plowing through the crowd, throwing people to the ground left and right, and, most importantly, clearing a path. The door leading out was closed, but Repeat didn’t even bother to slow down; he simply lowered his head and rushed the door with his shoulder, blowing it wide open.

“Good job, Repeat,” Mel said in between breaths as they booked it away from the warehouse. She knew that if she looked backwards, she’d see a crowd of people that was altogether too large on her tail, and she suspected that even making it into town wouldn’t slow them down. They’re probably all marching in time, too, because they’re creepy like that. “Saved our hides back there,” Mel continued out loud. “You can change back now if you want.”

“You don’t need to tell me twice.” Repeat used his chiseled legs to spring into the air; he shifted back to his natural state and fell neatly into Mel’s arms. “I don’t know how you do it, to be honest. There’s something really unsettling about being human.”

“Think they just call that anxiety.” They ran past the tea shop too quickly to even savor the aroma and barreled through the tourists ducking in and out of the Network Center to send messages back home to their loved ones. Just past the Network Center was the dock, where Mel could just barely see a ferry…

…pulling away from the island.

“No!” Repeat yelled; he’d caught on to the plan as soon as he’d transformed in the first place. “We can’t just sit around and wait for the next one!”

“I don’t plan to.” Mel lowered her center of gravity and started running faster. “Get ahead of me. Get on the boat. I’ll catch up.”

Repeat knew better than to argue this time. “Got it, chief.” He shifted into the form of a Spearow he saw perching on a nearby rooftop and took off, making a beeline for the ferry.

Mel didn’t even bother going inside the ferry station. She took one look over her shoulder, confirmed everything she’d been worrying about, and jumped straight into the ocean herself.

The common wisdom about the Sevii Islands was that traversing the waters between them was almost impossible unless a boat was involved; the seas were too rocky and choppy to be able to make it through them safely otherwise.

Common wisdom and Mel were not, however, on speaking terms.

Mel slingshotted around rock after rock, narrowly missing each one; waves threatened to push her completely underwater, but she pushed through them instead. Her glasses spun off of her face, swept away by the current, but even her nearsightedness didn’t stop her; she could see a white blob in the distance where the ferry was supposed to be, and that was all she needed. The ferry had slowed down to a near-stop; she didn’t know if they’d seen her or if Repeat had somehow convinced them to wait, but she wasn’t about to complain. Powerful strokes propelled her forward, and in the back of her head, she made a note to thank her parents for starting the swimming lessons early in her life.

With a metallic thud, Mel slapped her palm against the side of the ferry. She trod water for a minute, catching her breath. She couldn’t see the shore from where she was, but nobody was following her.

“Hey!” Repeat’s voice came from the deck, and along with it came one end of a rope. “Get up here so we can leave, chief!”

Mel wound the rope around her hand, let out a relieved breath, and hauled herself up.

The Seagallop line of ferries were not large, at least not by boat standards, but this one was moving in the right direction, or at least a direction that wasn’t “back to One Island,” and Mel wasn’t asking for anything more. After showing her pass to the conductor, she let her ponytail down and wrung the water from it, then fished through the backpack she kept on her back at almost all times for her spare pair of glasses. The backpack was waterproof; it only took falling into the ocean once to rectify that mistake.

With her glasses on, Mel could just barely see back to harbor. The amethyst of Degree Absolute’s coat among a sea of off-white jumped out at her.

Degree Absolute was waving at her.

The meaning was clear: “We’ll be seeing you again.”

Mel sighed and slid down to the floor, her back against a wall. A puddle slowly grew around her as the water dripped off of her clothes. “That’s two groups we gotta keep an eye on now, Repeat.”

“We already knew we had to watch out for these guys, boss,” Repeat said, once again wearing his own face.

“Yeah, but now we know that this bunch is certifiably bad news. I didn’t know what their deal was going in, but I didn’t expect ‘kill the Mew-child because it’ll be happier that way’ to be what we got. And you saw how that Degree Absolute woman was conducting them all like she was a teacher, right?”

“Yes, boss,” said Repeat patiently, “I was there.”

“At least now we’re outta the frying pan.” Mel closed her eyes. “Wonder if I can get a nap in before we end up… wherever we end up.”

Repeat blobbed off around the corner, towards the stern of the ferry. “That sounds good to me, chief. I’m going to take a look around.”

Mel didn’t know how long her eyes had been shut, or even if she’d fallen asleep at all. A rustling of fabric and a spike of happiness in her mind brought her back to the present, and she slowly opened her eyes.

There was a face directly in front of her face, which jump-started her brain faster than the coffee she drank every morning. Mel flew up, wavering on her feet and only barely catching her balance. Once she had a chance to breathe, she took in the details of the person watching her.

She was small, and she looked like she might start laughing at the slightest provocation. Her clothes were mismatched and beaten up, and Mel realized that she must have been wearing them underneath the robe that she’d last seen her in. “Hello, Nia,” Mel growled.

“Hiya, kid,” said Nia, flashing a gleaming grin. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Mel rolled her eyes and leaned on a railing that ran along the deck, turning away from Nia and looking out over the ocean. She could see a few of the other Sevii Islands in the distance, not that she would have been able to say which ones. “I should be the one saying that. What in the world were you doing with all those Genesis weirdos?”

“Do you remember what we talked about in the hospital?” Nia asked. “This is going somewhere, I swear, so don’t think I’m over here blowing you off or something.”

“I mean, yeah, of course I do. You knew about the bad juju that was brewing. You warned me about it.” Mel frowned at some of the water running down her face and, in the light of the setting sun, began tying her hair back up. “Cults and other nasty groups, you said. And wouldn’t you know it, a week later, I run into some kinda revived Team Rocket and these Genesis dweebs. So that brings me back to ‘what were you doing there?’ Only now I think I’ve talked myself into believing that you actually are one of those Genesis dweebs, so you better start talking fast.”

Nia pressed a hand to her temple and let out a bark of laughter. “You’re definitely some kinda pill, Mel. Nah, it’s nothing like that. I just hear lots of rumors. You know, idle talk. Happened to catch word of some real sketchy types holed up in the abandoned warehouse outside of town, so I snuck in incognito-like to see what was going on. How was I supposed to know you were in the area?” She considered that statement, then smiled and added, “Though once you wereinvolved, it was a pretty safe bet things were gonna start getting wild, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up.”

“Look, I’m just glad to see you’re doing okay,” said Nia. “That’s all.”

“Well, I’m doing fine.” Mel crossed her arms, still carefully looking away from Nia. “So unless there’s anything else, sounds like we’re done here.”

Nia held her hands up and backed up a step. “Whatever you want! Just thought I’d check in after everything that happened. I’ll leave you alone.” She took another step away. “Be seeing you, Mel.” Then she disappeared.

As the sun sank below the horizon, the ferry approached the dock. Mel hadn’t moved from her spot on deck, watching the island approach.

“Hey, boss,” Repeat said as he approached her. “I found out where we ended up.”

“Yeah? Which island is this?” Mel asked. She could make out a few landmarks – a tower, as tall as the Pokemon Tower in Lavender, stood in the distance, and the island stretched out in the other direction towards what looked like a winding canyon trail – but she didn’t know which island they matched up to. She didn’t want to pull out the guidebook; she and boats had a spotty history when it came to books and the keeping dry thereof.

“It’s Seven Island, from the sound of it.”

“And what’s the non-awful name for it?”

Repeat fixed her with a stare, but when he realized she was serious, he relented. “Quest Island,” he said.

The name didn’t mean anything to Mel; it wasn’t one of the more famous islands. Chrono Island, at least, had a high-class, albeit exclusive, resort; Floe Island was notable for being the hometown of former Elite Four member Lorelei. But Quest Island wasn’t ringing bells. Maybe I could sneak a look in the guidebook really fast, Mel thought, but then she remembered the sight of her childhood copy of Past Lives by Emm Dosent sinking into the ocean and decided against it.

Mel didn’t have to wait long either way. Once the ferry docked, it emptied out quickly; there apparently weren’t many people going to Quest Island. She found a chair in the ferry station and sat, motioning for Repeat to sit next to her.

“So. Quest Island,” Mel muttered under her breath as she pulled her guidebook from her bag. She spread it out on her lap and flipped almost all the way to the back, past all the rest of the numbered islands. “‘Seven Island, small even by Sevii standards, only has a few attractions; because of this and because of Seven Island’s distance from the mainland, it doesn’t see nearly as much tourism as the rest of the archipelago. Most travelers here visit the Trainer Tower to the north; equal parts training opportunity and sports event, it’s host to a timed gauntlet of Pokemon battles that get broadcast out to the rest of the island through their local radio station. If you clear the gauntlet and make it to the top, you could win a special prize.’”

Mel made a face. “Surely that can’t be it,” she said, turning the page. “The only thing on this island worth seeing is a tall gym? Come on.”

“They don’t even talk about the canyon?” Repeat asked, scanning over the page himself. “That’s odd. It looked like a major landmark.”

“I didn’t see anything… oh, no, here we go. ‘The Sevault Canyon, to the south of town, is well-regarded by locals, but due to its harsh terrain, visiting it is not recommended. If you do reach the other side, you’ll find the Tanoby Ruins, where ancient hieroglyphics are said to come to life, but much about the area remains shrouded in mystery.’” Mel flipped the page again. “And that’s it. For real this time. Now they just start talking about some of the ferries the islands use. Guess we better find our way back to one of the other islands, because it’s not sounding to me like there’s a lot going on here.”

“Wait, wait.” Repeat waved a pseudopod vaguely in the air. “Something in there stuck out. What was that bit about the ruins?”

“Huh? Oh, with the hieroglyphics coming to life or whatever? Sounds like that weak flowery language they always throw into these guides when they don’t know what else to say.”

“Maybe… but what if they’re being literal?”

Mel shut the book and arched her eyebrows. “Like, you mean, they actually come to life? What kinda cave drawings are… coming to life…” She slumped forward, resting her forehead against the book’s cover. “I’m an idiot. Of course they’re being literal. They’re talking about Unown!”

Repeat made a motion that would have, on a body with fingers, been something like a snap. As it was, it just made a quiet squishing noise. “And if there are Unown there, then we might find Professor Silktree there too.”

“Because he’s the guy who founded the research station out in the Ruins of Alph,” Mel finished. “So he’s obviously in the weeds for Unown.” She lifted her head and stared at the ceiling, scarcely caring about the sterile fluorescent lights shining into her eyes. “There it is. All fits together. Looks like we know what we need to do.”

“Don’t worry, boss. How bad could the Sevault Canyon be?”
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Read all four chapters and I'm enjoying it a lot so far! Trainer gets in over their head with a shady organization, mysterious Legendary happenings--a lot of the stuff here is My Jam. Mel and Repeat have a pretty great dynamic that makes them fun to read, and I love how you go out of your way to describe him blobbing around and doing things in a Ditto-y way. Also your narration is entertaining too--I like how you use the omnicient pov to throw in all these little snarky asides at Mel's expense. Looking forward to reading more!
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Thank you for your thoughts! Snarky narration is my favorite style of writing, so you can expect to see quite a lot more of it through the next several chapters. And I'm also very fond of Mel and Repeat's dynamic! I hope you continue to enjoy the story!
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 5: Hyacinth

“Our eyes met! That means we have to battle!”

“It doesn’t mean that at all! Get away from me!”

The terrain in and around the Sevault Canyon wasn’t anything new to Mel. Climbing the outside of Mount Moon, rather than sticking to the beaten path that ran through it, had been worse, especially when she had run into the family of territorial Clefable. The series of Moonblasts that had followed had been visible from Pewter City.

The trainers in the Sevault Canyon, on the other hand – well. Mel was nominally a trainer in that she had her trainer’s license, but her only Pokemon was Repeat. Actually fighting other trainers was something that happened only in extreme circumstances, partially because Mel didn’t have the best head for battle strategy but mostly because other trainers tended to pack teams more balanced than a single Ditto.

As a result, when exploring places with a high trainer quotient, Mel relied on a method with proven results:

Running.

“You look like a tough challenger! I’m excited to battle you!”

“You’re about to be real disappointed!”

Many trainers said that running from a match was poor sportsmanship, with some even lobbying the Pokemon League to formally penalize anyone engaging in the practice. If trainers locked eyes, they said, a battle had to start.

Mel never cared for any of that nonsense. In her experience, if she couldn’t run from a trainer cornering her, usually a handful of sand or a strategically-placed elbow was enough to get clear.

“My Raticate is in the top percentage of—”

“I’ll check it out some other time!”

Eventually, Mel made it to a run-down single-level shack at the southern edge of the canyon, the ocean within eyeshot. She found a spot on the wall that didn’t look like it was about to collapse and braced herself, swallowing down several deep breaths.

If nothing else, her chosen strategy kept her in shape.

“Are you okay, chief?” Repeat asked, climbing down to the ground from Mel’s backpack.

“I’ll be fine. Just hold on a sec. Gotta catch my breath.” Mel stretched her arms out behind her head, then cracked her knuckles. “Who woulda thought there’d be this many people wandering around an old canyon, anyway?”

Repeat turned to glance back at the path they’d taken. “They definitely were chomping at the bit,” he said as two trainers, only just visible in the distance, challenged each other. The sky, already clear, grew brighter as the sunlight intensified – one of the Pokemon had just used Sunny Day.

When Repeat turned back, Mel had already clambered to the roof of the shack. “You still think rooftops are a good idea?”

“One time falling through a roof is a fluke.” Mel shaded her eyes with one hand. “Anyway, I think I can see the ruins from here. There’s like one each on a bunch of little islands out there, but they don’t look too big. We just need to get out to the water and we’ll be golden.” She squinted and inched forward as far as she could without falling off. “Wait.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I think there’s people out there.”

“I mean,” said Repeat, “is that so weird? There were enough people in the canyon, after all.”

“People wearing all gray, I mean.” Mel jumped from the roof, stumbling a little on the landing. “The kinda people who might have a red letter on their shirt, if you get what I’m saying.”

“Ah. People of a… Rocket-ish persuasion?”

“Exactly. So you know what we’re gonna do, right?”

Repeat sighed. “I know what I hope we’re going to do. I hope we’re going to sneak over there and monitor whatever it is they’re up to. Gathering information might be our best bet after they smoked us last time.” Memories of a giant palm slamming him in the face forced their way back into his head, and he shuddered.

“We could do that,” Mel admitted. “But I’ve got a different idea. How about we sneak over there and start cracking heads? This might be our chance to figure out where they’ve got Janine, and if we beat it out of them, we can go save her.”

“It worries me that you think we can crack heads when all evidence points the other way,” Repeat said, but before he’d even reached the end of the sentence, Mel had torn off down to the beach. “This is going to go badly,” he added, even though the only one listening at that point was a Cubone who’d wandered down to see what all the fuss was about.

Clouds layered themselves across the sky, coloring it an angry gray. Repeat watched as the first few droplets of rain hit the ground in front of his face. One of the Pokemon battling in the distance had used Rain Dance. “Nothing for it, I guess,” he grumbled, shifting into a Cubone form for faster travel before following Mel’s trail.

Mel was correct in her observation. Ordinarily, she took pride in being correct, especially when someone had tried to prove to her that she wasn’t, but this time, the pleasure was running up against a heavy weight that had settled in her stomach. The Neo Rockets were there, on the eastern-most island, climbing the steps to the most intact building of the bunch. It’s hard to tell from here, Mel thought, shielding her glasses from the rain with her hands, but I don’t think they’re the same two I saw earlier. Three and Seven or whatever. Stands to reason. I wonder how high up their numbers get. “Hey, Repeat,” she continued out loud as a Cubone trudged up to her side. Repeat didn’t have any obvious tells when he was transformed, at least not to most people, but Mel had been around him long enough to just know. “Up for a swim?”

Repeat shifted back to his own shape and climbed up Mel’s leg until he could grab onto her backpack. “You see all the Tentacool in the water, right?”

“So that’s a no?”

“Right. I don’t really want to get poisoned today.”

A silvery voice, light and pleasant, interrupted them. “Do the two of you require assistance?” It belonged to a small figure, one who’d approached them from behind without either of them noticing. They wore a trench coat that had to have been at least two sizes too big for them, and with the collar pulled up and their newsboy cap pulled down, all Mel could see of their face was an oversized pair of glasses.

“Do you sneak up on everyone like that, kid?” Mel asked, willing her heart to slow down after the surprise. “Or are we just the lucky ones?”

“With respect, Miss Rylan, I am not a kid.” They rummaged in one of their many pockets and held up a leather wallet, which flipped open to reveal a piece of rectangular plastic: a license. Across the top, it read “Private Investigator,” and underneath it, “Hyacinth Harley.” It bore a picture of them too, but somehow they’d convinced the photographer to let them keep their hat and coat on for it, rendering it useless.

Mel frowned and took a sharp step away from Hyacinth. “How’d you know my name?”

“If I had to guess,” Repeat muttered, “it’s probably because they’re a PI.” Mel shushed him and kept her eyes on Hyacinth.

Hyacinth folded the wallet back up and slid it into a different pocket than it had originally come out of. “Do forgive my impropriety,” they said, bowing their head. “My current case involves you, albeit indirectly, so when I happened upon you here, I regarded it as a stroke of luck.”

“Your… current case?” Mel asked, arching an eyebrow. There was nothing coming off of Hyacinth except for cheerfulness and a desire to be helpful, which only served to make Mel more suspicious.

“Yes. My client has requested that I obtain information on a certain pair of organizations. Your name, Miss Rylan, came up in connection to the disappearance of a gym leader that is suspected to be the work of one of them.”

Mel winced. “Janine…”

“Correct. I gather from your appearance here that you are also looking into that organization, since they have a presence here, as I predicted.” Hyacinth’s glasses gleamed in what Mel hoped was equivalent to a smile. “So then, that leads us back to my original inquiry. Do you require assistance across the water? If you intend to sabotage their operations, that would not interfere with my plans, and would in fact likely help, since you would draw their attention away from me.”

“One second.” Mel wandered out of earshot, made sure her back was to Hyacinth, and held Repeat in her arms. “What do you make of them?” she whispered.

“I’m not sure, chief,” answered Repeat. “I can’t get a read on them. But honestly, if they want to help us cross the water, I’m not sure we should pass it up. It’d make our life easier, at least.”

“Sounds good to me.” Mel let Repeat scramble back to her backpack and approached Hyacinth. “Yeah, if you’re offering help,” she said, “we won’t say no. What’s the catch?”

“There’s no catch!” said Hyacinth, holding up two gloved hands. “I mean, I may wish to ask a favor of you some time later, but that’s nothing more than a little quid pro quo, and certainly not anything like a catch.” A green Pokeball, one with red spots, appeared in their palm – Mel recognized it as one of the artisan Pokeballs that were all the rage in Johto – and they tossed it to the very edge of the beach, where the water lapped at the sand. The Pokemon that came out was bulky and taller than Mel, and for a moment she had a brief panic that it was another Hariyama. As this one faded into sight, though, she realized what it really was. Pointed ears sat atop a round head, which was itself atop an even rounder body; heavy footfalls shook the ground with every step – it couldn’t have been anything except a Snorlax.

“A Snorlax is going to get us across the water?” Mel asked, incredulity seeping in at the edge of her voice.

“Yes, quite! Even though she doesn’t look it, my dear Dozer is a talented swimmer. She’ll have us over there in a flash!” Hyacinth, unable to reach high enough to pat the Snorlax’s head, settled for patting her arm instead. “Ready, Dozer?”

Dozer grunted an assent and slid herself into the water, floating effortlessly. Mel reached out to Dozer’s emotions, but immediately pulled away before she fell asleep herself; Dozer, true to her name, was tired above everything else. “Please, come aboard,” Hyacinth said, wading into the water and hauling themself onto Dozer’s back.

Mel glanced over her shoulder at Repeat, who gave the Ditto equivalent of a shrug, then followed Hyacinth.

The ride was surprisingly smooth, especially for how quickly Dozer was kicking her feet. Dozer’s back had enough room for both Mel and Hyacinth to hold on, and the distance between them and the island rapidly dwindled. “So what can you tell me about these Neo Rocket guys?” Mel asked over the sound of splashing water.

“I haven’t uncovered much yet,” said Hyacinth. They closed their eyes thoughtfully. “From the information I have gathered, though, it seems that the organization has roots in the Sinnoh region, though they only adopted the moniker of Neo Rocket when they relocated to Kanto.”

“So they don’t have any ties to the original Rockets?”

“I don’t believe so. I suspect they chose the name specifically because of its connotations among Kantonians – their organization as of present is not very large, so perhaps they wished to choose a name that made them seem bigger. But this is all speculation on my part.”

That figures, Mel thought. Just a bunch of punks trying to look tougher than they really are. “Found out anything about what they’re gunning for?”

Hyacinth shook their head, looking off into the distance towards the island they were approaching. “Nothing concrete as of yet, I’m afraid. Their existence alone is nothing more than rumor in most circles. They appear at seemingly-random locations, then disappear just as quickly. The only direct action I’ve heard of them taking is the abduction of the Fuchsia gym leader. Of course, since they are such a small organization, any action they do take is likely to evade the notice of most.”

So they haven’t done a whole lot. They’re looking for the Mew-child, though; I know that much. Kidnapping Janine must have something to do with it somehow. Did Janine know more than she let on? The ocean spray misted Mel as Dozer plowed through an especially strong wave, scattering droplets across her glasses that dried almost instantly, leaving near-opaque splotches that broke up her field of vision. The rain had cleared up, but Mel was no less wet. She reached a hand behind her and Repeat tapped it with a pseudopod, letting her know that he hadn’t fallen off.

Dozer slowed to a stop as they approached the shore, and Mel and Hyacinth climbed off of her back. “Good job,” Hyacinth cooed, patting Dozer’s arm; Dozer grunted something in response before Hyacinth recalled her into the Pokeball. “You know, I’m rather envious of you, Miss Rylan,” they continued as they and Mel approached the ruins.

“Why’s that?”

“Well, you have such a great connection with your Ditto. Repeat was the name, correct? I love Dozer, but I don’t often know what she’s telling me.” Hyacinth craned their head up at the collapsed building that towered before them. Golden-hued bricks, each individually the size of Mel’s head, were crafted with care into an entryway that led into the stone of the island itself. Two massive pillars framed the entrance, but Mel could only just barely see past them; no light came from inside the ruins themselves. “It must be so much more convenient to be psychic.”

Mel had been taking a sip of water from a bottle she kept in her bag. That water promptly got spat across the sand. “Wha—How did you—I mean—”

Hyacinth shot an inquisitive glance back towards Mel; at least, Mel assumed it was supposed to be inquisitive. “Was that a secret? I’m terribly sorry. It was simple to put the pieces together. It is one thing, of course, to have such strong rapport with your own Pokemon that you understand them, but during my investigation I located an article that the Fuchsia Gazette published concerning your family’s shelter, and it indicated that your role was to locate Pokemon who had been abused. The journalist specifically mentioned that you had a, quote, remarkable sense of intuition with regards to other Pokemon. As that seems to be consistent with what has been reported with regards to other psychic trainers, it was only a minor logical leap to assume that you too possess psychic abilities.”

Okay, I definitely don’t trust them. “Dunno what you’re talking about,” Mel said, shoving her water bottle back in her bag a bit more roughly than was perhaps necessary and grabbing a flashlight instead. “Let’s get this show on the road, okay?”

The Neo Rockets had already disappeared, doubtlessly, Mel figured, into the ruins themselves. She climbed the crumbling stairway towards the entrance, taking care to avoid the steps that had already collapsed. The interior of the structure had weathered the ages better than the exterior; the brickwork, though hardly pristine, still held up. A maze of walls greeted her, all decorated with raised bumps in arcane patterns. The air was musty and still, and when Mel reached out into her surroundings with her mind, she not only felt the presence of a small group of other people, but also something disquieting, something alien. She put her finger to her lips and Hyacinth nodded, neither of them making a sound, then Mel gestured towards where she could feel the other minds coming from most strongly.

As they crept around the walls, the sound of conversation became more evident further ahead. Mel switched off her flashlight; enough light came from the people they were approaching for her to see. She motioned for Hyacinth to follow her.

There were four of them ahead, two with their backs to them and another two past that facing them. The two closest to Mel were an elderly man and a young woman, both in hiking clothes, though the woman wore them a bit more comfortably, and both wielding lanterns. The man, hunched over, held himself up with a cane. “I don’t intend to tell you lot anything,” he said in a wheezing rattle, while the woman made a series of gestures – sign language, Mel realized.

The other two, the ones facing Mel and Hyacinth, hadn’t noticed them yet – their attention was focused on the old man. They were Neo Rockets; Mel could tell that much from the uniforms. They were not, though, the ones Mel had seen at the Venomoth Festival. Their shapeless clothes made it hard to tell anything about who they were, but neither of them were as big as No.7 or as small as No.3. These two were much closer in size to each other, though the one that was brandishing a monochromatic Pokeball was a touch shorter and maybe a little more slight. Just like the other Neo Rockets, though, when Mel tried to reach out to their minds, she got only emptiness in return. “What you intend does not matter,” said the one with the Pokeball in a numbing drone. “You will be useful to our endeavors regardless.”

Mel’s eyes widened.

She knew that voice.

“Janine?!”
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Bwahah, that opening was great. I love the line about overzealous trainers trying to ban people from bailing on a challenge. Hyacinth seems like an interesting character, and I'm eager for Mel to learn more about them. Love that nod to the fact that, no really, Snorlax is actually really good at swimming. And hoo boy, if having Neo Rocket around wasn't bad enough, now it looks like we've got some kinda brainwashing plot. At least that explains why Mel couldn't sense any thoughts from those other two agents. Wonder if she'll be able to get through to Janine?
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 6: Creature of Past and Future

Mel slapped a hand over her own mouth, the outburst unintentional, but it was too late. Every eye in the hallway was on her – Repeat, the two Rockets, the old man, the young woman, Hyacinth, plus an assortment of other minds Mel could feel in a vague way surrounding her. There goes the element of surprise, she thought, switching her flashlight back on.

“It appears our cover is blown,” said Hyacinth, wholly unnecessarily. “Am I correct in assuming that you believe that one of the two Neo Rocket members before us is the missing Fuchsia gym leader? If so, then it would not be unfair to deduce that the Neo Rockets are engaging in some form of brainwashing.”

The Neo Rocket shook her head. “There is no Janine. I am Neo Rocket No.8.” Even as she said it, Mel could see her mulberry-colored hair curling out from under her cap, and her eyes, though dull and lifeless, were nevertheless still the purple Mel remembered. “Too many people are here. The odds are turning against us,” No.8 added, angling her head towards her partner. “Orders, No.2?”

“Simple enough,” said No.2. Her voice sounded familiar, and Mel struggled to remember why until No.2 slid up her sleeve and muttered “Prepare the ship” into her transceiver – she’d last heard her voice through a transceiver the night of the Venomoth Festival. “We execute Plan 18-Sigma. Disorient and disappear.” Though No.2, just like all of the other Neo Rockets, wore a bandanna over her mouth, Mel could have sworn she was smiling – and just then, Mel felt in No.2’s head a pressure, like something hidden away imperfectly struggling to break through.

“Understood.” No.8 threw her Pokeball to the ground. A Venomoth appeared, one that Mel had seen countless times before, one that she knew when it was still a Venonat. Its eyes and mind were just as blank as its trainer’s.

“I think you’ll find,” the elderly man croaked, “that we will be more than equal to your challenge. Isabella?”

His partner nodded and signed something furiously, her hands flying around each other too quickly for Mel to follow in the low light. She, too, opened a Pokeball; this one had inside it a creature that looked alarmingly like a pipe organ given life. Easily as tall as Hyacinth, the Pokemon opened its massive maw and let out a roar that Mel felt reverberating through her bones long after it finished.

Don’t see many Exploud around these parts, Mel thought. Out loud, she said, “Wait! Hold on! Janine, you remember me at least, right?” Isabella fired a clenched-teeth scowl at her, but Mel held out a hand for her to wait a moment. “You promised to help me out if I needed it! Remember? At the festival?”

No.8 squinted at Mel, then glanced back at No.2, who shrugged. “No,” she said.

Mel took a step closer. “But—”

That was as far as she got before the Venomoth let out a buzz, one that increased in pitch so quickly that Mel didn’t even have time to register it. It was Bug Buzz, definitely, but it was much stronger than what Mel had come to expect from Janine’s battles; it filled Mel’s ears with infinite nails on infinite chalkboards, tormented shrieking banshees, screaming alarm bells. Pain flooded her mind – both from the emotions of everyone around her and because her own senses were shutting down. Through a haze that threatened to swallow her mind entirely, Mel saw an explosion of smoke ahead of them, where the Neo Rockets had been, and Isabella and her Exploud charging through it. Mel tried to follow, but her legs were filled with lead; she stumbled to the ground as the Bug Buzz faded away, leaving only a piercing ringing in her ears.

“Womwanna annawa wah?” Repeat asked.

“Come again?” Even just asking a question jabbed needles into Mel’s head. She lay prone on the stone tiles that formed the floor. They were cold against her cheek, but a faint humming ran through them that kept them from being as soothing as they could have been. She lifted her head, but vertigo struck and the walls around her threw themselves into a spin cycle. She gently lowered herself back down. Not so bad when I don’t move…

“Wom Janine annawa strong?” said Repeat again.

Mel reached out with a shaking hand. Repeat was within arm’s reach and patted her gently; he, too, was on the ground, but that was less surprising for him. “I don’t know if Janine was always that strong,” she said. She could only barely understand her own words; answering Repeat’s question required some guesswork. “I know gym leaders got that thing where they use different Pokemon depending on how many badges the trainer has. Maybe Janine was also really good at getting her Pokemon to pull their punches on weaker guys.”

A pair of worn loafers, nearly obscured by a trench coat, stepped into Mel’s field of vision. “Are you all right, Miss Rylan?” asked Hyacinth. Mel could almost hear them perfectly, now – the ringing was disappearing. “That Venomoth’s attack was difficult to endure, but you seemed to take it harder than the rest of us. I suppose that must be a result of your, ah…” They shot a barely-perceptible glance towards the last remaining person in the hall – the old man. “Your ability, hm?” They lowered their voice and extended their hand, offering Mel help up. “Were you feeling the pain that the rest of us felt as well?”

“I don’t much want to talk about it.” Mel slowly rose to her feet without Hyacinth’s help, a complex process that involved nearly falling over at least three times. Once upright, she wavered a little, her balance not immediately returning to her. “So, uh, what happened?”

“Young lady,” the old man said, “What happened is that you and your friend scared off those criminals. You have my thanks.” He looked small, but Mel realized that was mostly due to him being bent over almost double, leaning on an ornate polished oak cane for support. He wore a sturdy jacket and pants that hung loosely on his wiry frame, and a mane of powder-white hair exploded from his head like dandelion fluff. He squinted at Mel through glasses that magnified his already-wide eyes to almost cartoonish levels. “Though I’ve got faith in dear Isabella’s abilities, she would have been outnumbered.”

“Uh, sure.” If he wants to see it that way, I’m not going to stop him. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be Silktree, would you?”

“Why, yes. Professor Silktree, at your service.” Silktree attempted to bow, but couldn’t bend much further than he already had. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Mel clapped her hands together, then immediately winced; even that noise was enough to put her head on edge. “We were looking for you,” she said, gesturing to Repeat as he wound his way back up to her shoulder. He tapped the back of her neck knowingly. “Oh, right. Sorry. My name’s Mel, and he’s Repeat. Them over there, the one in the trench coat who’s looking at the walls and pretending like they’re not listening, that’s Hyacinth. Nice to meet you. Look, Repeat and I need your help.” She knew better than to spill her life story to a stranger, but her mouth was running on automatic; her brain was no more able to stop the words spilling out than a sponge could stop a Blastoise’s Hydro Pump. “Janine, the gym leader, told us we needed to track you down, but then those Neo Rocket Guys got their grimy little hands on her, and now she’s completely brainwashed or something. And there’s this other group, a cult, calling themselves Genesis, and they’re on my tail too.”

Hyacinth had produced a pad of paper from one of their endless pockets and was diligently taking notes.

“Ugh, and Janine was right there, too!” Mel continued, clenching her fists. She wasn’t really talking to Silktree anymore. The floodgates had fully opened, and they were going to stay open until she ran dry. “She was right in front of me! I’m such an idiot! I could have saved her! I could have saved her and brought her back and… and…!”

“Chief,” Repeat said quietly. Hyacinth kept writing away, even though Mel was certain all they could understand was Repeat saying various permutations of “Ditto, Ditto.” “It’s all right. It’ll be okay.”

“Come on, Repeat! How can you say that?! How do you know how this’ll go? What if that was our only chance to rescue Janine? What if she stays brainwashed forever because… because I…”

A fist slammed into a wall nearby, leaving an impressively-sized dent. Mel knew, logically, that it was probably because the ruins were old enough that the bricks had weakened, but it still shocked her into silence. The fist belonged to Isabella, and now Mel was able to get a better look at her. Isabella stood just as tall as Mel and had a runner’s build, all lean muscle. Unlike the professor, her hiking outfit fit her perfectly; she was deeply tanned and her hair, reddish brown, was cut above her chin. In short, she looked to Mel like she spent most of her time outside. Her lantern was hooked to her backpack, and together with Silktree’s lantern, they made Mel’s flashlight almost redundant.

Isabella withdrew her fist, showing no sign of discomfort, and signed something furiously at Mel, leaning forward and gritting her teeth. Mel put her hands up. “Hold on, hold on,” she said, “it’s been a while since I last read sign, Isabella—”

“I. Z. Z. Y.” The hand motions were slow and insultingly deliberate, and Mel realized that she’d never actually been spoken down to in sign language before. She wasn’t a fan, she decided. “My name is Izzy,” Izzy continued, her signs slower. “Only the professor calls me Isabella. I’m his assistant, after all. But you? No. All of this that’s happened is your fault.”

“…Is… my… fault…” whispered Mel, trying to keep up. She couldn’t say anything in return; as soon as she’d finished parsing Izzy’s words, translating them from the raw signs to sentences in her head, Izzy kept going.

“A single Venomoth?” Izzy asked, putting extra flair into the sign for Venomoth, a chimera of the signs for ‘moth’ and ‘poison’. “Easy to handle. But you were a distraction. You stopped me. You scared them off. They set off a smoke bomb, and by the time I got through the smoke to get out of the ruins, they were already in their submarine. Off they went. I could have captured them. Kept them from doing anything else. But no.”

“Now, now.” Silktree’s voice, soft-spoken and uneven though it was, cut through Izzy’s tirade more thoroughly than Mel could have ever hoped to. He turned to Izzy, and from the way she focused on his mouth, her eyes almost burning a hole in his face, Mel realized she was reading his lips. “Isabella, nothing will be gained from browbeating her this way. Regardless of what you think, the facts are that those criminals are gone now, and we are all relatively unharmed.” He stuck a finger in his ear and rubbed one of the inner ridges. “Even if it may take some time for our hearing to fully recover. Now… Mel, was it? You’ve told me that you had quite a road getting to me, but what did you need to find me for? I’m not exactly the life of the party these days,” he added with a dry chuckle.

Mel took a deep breath, trying to ignore Izzy’s penetrating glare. “We’re trying to find the Mew-child.”

Hyacinth’s pen dropped from their hand, while Izzy snorted and rolled her eyes. Silktree, though, simply watched Mel, his eyes, magnified through his glasses, suddenly analytical and calculating. “It’s funny you say that,” he said. “In fact—”

Their lanterns went out.

Mel fumbled with her flashlight, but it too had been extinguished.

The darkness that surrounded them, impermeable, had weight to it, a soft yet unyielding pressure bearing down on them that felt like an anvil wrapped in a blanket.

The ruins watched them.

The bumps that were scattered across the walls lit up, each one a single eye.

Humming – or was it chanting? – echoed through the hall, quiet yet impossible to ignore. The eyes began moving, crawling across the walls and through the air around them. Mel could almost see shapes attached to them, rough outlines that looked like arcane symbols at first but gradually resolved into letters. The alien presence that had been lurking underneath all of the other minds in the ruins rose to the forefront, impossible to read.

“Unown,” Mel whispered.

“That’s right,” Silktree whispered back. “The Unown in the Ruins of Alph recently became agitated. I came out here to see if it was happening here too. They began spelling words out to anyone in the ruins, like—”

MEW CHILD. The words hovered in the air, just barely visible in the darkness. The Unown shuffled themselves around, forming a different word next: FIND. Then PROTECT.

The Unown… that’s what the psychic call I got said. Find and protect the Mew-child
, Mel thought. Are these guys the ones who called me? “Where is the Mew-child? What do I need to do?” she asked, her voice clarion even over the clamoring of the Unown.

The next sentence had more words in it, and it took the Unown longer to wrangle enough of themselves in order. CREATURE OF PAST AND FUTURE.

“The Mew-child is? What does that mean?”

GATHER THAT WHICH HOLDS WITHIN ITSELF LIFE OF THE PAST. Mel could hear the sound of Hyacinth’s pen scratching dutifully against their paper. GATHER THAT WHICH PUSHES ARTIFICIAL LIFE INTO THE FUTURE, the Unown continued. BRING THEM TO THE ISLE WHERE LIFE BEGINS. THERE THE MEW CHILD WILL BE FOUND.

The words disappeared, replaced only by a few punctuation-shaped Unown frantically rushing by. Then, like a movie ending, the light from the lanterns gradually faded back in, with no sign that anything unusual had happened.

“That seems to be that,” wavered Silktree, a vaguely pleased look on his weathered features. “That’s the most I’ve ever seen any Unown say. The ones in Johto only repeated ‘Mew-child’ and ‘Tanoby’ over and over again. It sounds to me like they had an answer for your question, though, Mel. If you’re looking for the Mew-child, then I’d wager that following the steps the Unown laid out for you might be a good start. They’re uncanny sometimes, these Pokemon.”

Izzy’s response was less measured. “I think you owe us an explanation,” she signed, ice behind her narrowed eyes. “What is going on here?”

Mel looked to Repeat, who shrugged, and Hyacinth, who was too busy writing in their notes to notice. She sucked in air through her teeth, her mind racing to figure out all the angles. “Well,” she eventually said, “it’s like this…”

***
“So you’re telling me,” Izzy said, her hand motions sharp, “that not one, but two different groups are angling for this… make-believe fairy tale?”

Silktree held up a hand. “I scarcely think we can call the Mew-child a fairy tale, especially not after the display here today. It sounds to me like time is of the essence, Mel. I won’t keep you any longer. Isabella? Shall we be off?”

“Wait.” Izzy approached Mel, her footfalls heavy, and leaned in towards her. “From everything you’ve told us, if the Mew-child is real, then…”

Mel arched her eyebrows. “Then…?”

“Then if it’s depending on you? It won’t be alive for much longer.” Izzy scowled, made a hand motion that Mel didn’t recognize but suspected the worst about, and rejoined the professor, helping him slowly out of the ruins.

“Tch!” Mel sniffed. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”

“She’s definitely some variety of pill, boss,” Repeat said. “But more to the point, it really does sound like we shouldn’t dawdle too long. What do you make of what the Unown said?”

“Not sure. Hey, Hyacinth!” called Mel. “Got a minute?”

Hyacinth pocketed their pencil and began flipping through the notepad. “For you, Miss Rylan? Certainly. With what do you require my assistance?”

“You were writing up a storm while all of… that was going on,” Mel said, waving her arms in the air in a vain attempt to indicate the vastness of what had happened. “I know you’ve got some ideas about those things I’m supposed to gather. The things about past life and future life.”

“As it happens,” said Hyacinth, finding a specific page and tearing it out, “I do indeed. Here, I’ll leave you with this.”

Mel took the page before the words sunk in. “Huh? You’re on your way out too?”

“Unfortunately so, as much as I would love to help you out more directly. My first priority is to my client, and I believe I’ve gathered quite a lot of information on Genesis and the Neo Rockets that my client will be interested in hearing. So I will bid you farewell for now, Miss Rylan. I do hope we encounter each other again.” Hyacinth bowed and followed Isabella’s path out.

Mel waved. “Looks like it’s just the two of us again,” she said once Hyacinth was gone.

“Just like old times, boss,” said Repeat. “Or at least times earlier than today. What’s in the note Hyacinth left?”

“Let’s see.” Mel unfolded the paper.

In tight, immaculate handwriting, Hyacinth had transcribed the entire message left by the Unown, and at the bottom, they’d added in some notes of their own: “Holds within life of the past = Pewter Museum? Could describe a fossil of some kind. Maybe a starting point. Pushes artificial life into the future = go to Silph Co. Could reference their work.”

“That sounds as good a place to start as any,” Repeat said.

“Then let’s hit the road.”
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Hot damn, Izzy is quite the character, heh. Good thing Mel knew a bit of sign, otherwise the mild-mannered Silktree would've had to relay her words (on second thought, that'd be hilarious, lol.)

So my first thought when reading the Unown's riddle was actually Celebi somehow (got hung up on the past and future stuff, haha.) But Hyacinth's notes make a lot more sense. "That which pushes artificial life into the future" made me think of Mewtwo (wondering if he'll be important at any point). Not sure where the isle where life begins is supposed to be (Faraway Isle?) That would kind of match the vision that Mel had at the start of the fic...

Anyway, things are heating up, and Mel's got a clear path to follow! Looking forward to more~
 

Negrek

Spindrift
Staff
I love the whole Mew/Mewtwo mythos, so naturally I had to check this fic out. Always cool to see stories that kind of address what happened after the whole creation-of-Mewtwo thing; plenty of fics that examine that more closely, or just involve Mew or Mewtwo without really addressing it at all, so it's fun to see one that kind of follows subsequent events.

For me the real highlight of this story is the dynamic between Melanie and Repeat. They provide a lovely core duo that plays off each other well and is fun to read about regardless of what they're doing. Of the two I probably like Repeat more; his personality is just the kind that tends to steal the spotlight, so it's probably not surprising. Melanie is great, too, though, and I appreciate that she doesn't have Bland Protagonist Syndrome. She's not as big a ham as repeat, but she has an actual, distinct personality and could hold her own if she needed to.

I'm going to just talk about Repeat for a bit, since it's so fun to see a ditto used in a story! They're wonderful for fanfic, where you can do cool stuff with their transformation abilities and not worry about those godawful ingame stats. If anything they can be in danger of getting OP because of how flexible their abilities are, but you've made it pretty clear that Repeat isn't a serious fighter. Nevertheless, you make good use of his abilities for applications like "running away," and it's always fun to see a clever utilization of that transform skill. Ditto makes great sense as a one-mon "team" for pretty much everything but battles, although where Melanie's going she may regret not having somebody more combat-oriented.

I also love the sense you give of Repeat's body language and just general ditto-ness. Little details like how he chops with his pseudopods to punctuate his words or how he squelches a bit on landing keep the emphasis on his ditto-y nature, despite the fact that from Melanie's perspective he often sounds like a snarky human. Perhaps one of the reasons he has so much commentary on everything is that most humans don't understand him and he doesn't have to worry about the consequences of his words, heh. In any case, I think you do a good job of keeping his unique biology in mind while writing about him, which helps your version of the pokémon world feel more real and lively.

I also like the focus on the Sevii Islands so far. One of my favorite in-game locations; I've spent a ton of time there in LeafGreen. I thought one of the event-only Sevii Islands was the one with Mew on it, but I guess that's actually a Hoenn thing, hmmm... Melanie's prophetic vision sounds like it's of Birth Island, then, and maybe we'll be getting some space virus action later on.

One thing that did bother me a little bit was the bit where Melanie tracked down the magby; it didn't strike me as the best way to handle an injured pokémon. Like, I'm pretty sure in our world, you wouldn't want to just pick up an injured wild animal and carry it off, whether it was asleep or not. And in a world with powerful medicines like potions, and devices like pokéballs that can hold injured pokémon and prevent their conditions from worsening while you get them to a proper medical center, Melanie's approach strikes me as an even worse option than usual.

It's also bugged me a little bit that most of the plot so far has been the result of coincidence. E.g. Melanie is chasing the magby and so just happens to be there to see the cult-type people at the power plant, she decides to go to the Venomoth Festival and surprise Neo Rocket shows up, by chance she catches Degree Absolute making a speech. Obviously all of these things happen for a reason, and as they're all in one way or another related to the Mew-Child, it makes sense that Melanie would get caught up in them, but mostly Melanie's encountering them because she happens to be in the right place at the right time. This works well enough for a comedy story, but if you wanted to go the more dramatic route, it usually feels a bit unsatisfying for me--like the character's kind of getting knocked around rather than really making an impact on the storyline. I'm not sure what direction you ultimately want to take this story, as it has plenty of comedy but also dramatic elements as well, but I figured I'd mention it. It's fun seeing what trouble Melanie's going to get herself into next, but it's a bit hard to buid up momentum when it feels like stuff is happening to the character more than the character's making stuff happen, I think.

"Degree Absolute" is a pretty metal character name, though.

In any case, this has been a fun story to start in on, and I look forward to following along with future chapters. I feel like there's a variety of different places you could go from here, and I'm curious to see which one you'll choose. You've been posting a bit fast for me, but I'll do my best to pop in now and again to see how the story's going.
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
@Chibi Pika - I'm pretty sure in that instance Silktree would have left some words untranslated! Also, since this isn't a spoiler, I can go ahead and tell you - Mewtwo doesn't factor into this story.

@Negrek - Thanks for reading! One of the things I was really trying to work on with this story was characterization with the protagonists. I'm glad to hear that Mel and Repeat are both coming across as strong characters. Ditto are one of my favorite Pokemon, and I love the various and sundry non-battle applications they have. And in re: Mel not actually being that great at tending to injured Pokemon, that's definitely intentional - I'd originally intended for that to be a bigger deal than it was, though it ended up not finding a place in the story as much as I'd hoped. Also with regards to the coincidence plot - I definitely see your point. That said, a lot of those events are not nearly as coincidental as they seem; that will come up later! 'Degree Absolute' is a nod to one of my favorite peices of media, a British TV show called "The Prisoner", and if you're familiar with it, you'll see nods to it all over the place in this fic. Also, yeah, I probably need to slow my roll with the updates. XD;
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 7: Interlude - Remnants of the Old Road

In a different time, in a different place, there was a child.

This was not, on the surface, unusual. After all, at most points in history, there tended to be a non-zero number of children.

The child mostly kept to herself. She was shy, and even when she did speak, her voice was timorous and quiet, so much so that the people around her rarely even heard her.

This, too, was not unusual. Shy children were never unheard of, even if they were unheard from.

The child was small for her age and she had thick raven-black hair. She preferred the darkness to the light – the light always hurt her eyes, especially with the thick glasses she had to wear. She loved to sneak out of her home after the sun had set and explore the town when nobody else was around – when streetlights cast a pallid glow across the roads, barely holding back the darkness of the sky. The other children gave her the nickname ‘Moon’ as a result.

None of this was unusual, at least not in the grand scheme of things. Her peers certainly thought Moon was strange, but then children were never exceptional at taking a good look at the big picture. Moon was, on the whole, average, not that this provided any comfort to her.

It was midnight. A cold breeze sauntered through the empty streets, not strong enough to be upgraded to ‘bracing’ but still just the right temperature to sting the cheeks. Snowflakes danced in the air, diamond dust that only added to the inches of accumulation on the ground.

Moon was outside.

Again, not unusual. Nighttime was perfect for the moon to be out.

She stuck her tongue out, catching ephemeral flakes that became drops of water in the blink of an eye. Winter was her favorite season. The battle between light and dark at nighttime was all the more stark during the coldest months, with the pure white snow pushing up against the pitch black sky. She loved the sensation of feeling warm-yet-cold: bundled up to her ears in coats, hats, mittens, and boots, and still feeling the bite of the frigid air on her face.

A bag hung from Moon’s shoulders, its weight so familiar that she had to check occasionally that it was still there. Mostly, it was filled with knickknacks that she’d picked up while wandering – interestingly-shaped rocks, soda can tabs, coins that had long since lost their luster. The prize of her collection was a single Pokeball, unused, as pristine as the ones they sold in stores, as long as she ignored the chips and scrapes. She’d found it one rainy night, gently floating down a makeshift stream towards the gutter. She’d snatched it up mere moments before it would have disappeared forever into the sewers.

The only sound in the night was the crunch, crunch of Moon’s boots, two sizes too big for her, through the snow. On winter nights, Moon’s favorite route to take led her down the remnants of what she called the ‘old road’ – a winding path that led down to the abandoned viaduct over the lake. The old road was overgrown with weeds and ivy during the rest of the year, but during the winter the plant life receded, leaving only a walkway littered with rocks.

Moon sat at the edge of the viaduct, looking down at the gleaming surface of the lake. It had been frozen over for a few days, and snow had collected on the surface in some places so thickly that it looked just as solid as the ground. Around the edges of the lake, where the forest sprung up, Moon could see quick flashes of motion, doubtless some nocturnal Pokemon going about its business.

Then, a noise. A soft, urgent trilling from below her. Moon craned her head down, straining to hear it more clearly. It had the cadence of a Pokemon cry, but it wasn’t one she recognized, and it was coming from the snow drifts piled up on the ice.

Moon jumped to her feet and took off running along the viaduct back to solid land. She slid down the slope towards the lake, boots skidding through the snow, as the plaintive crying grew ever louder. Her pace slowed as she approached the shoreline itself; she knew better than to take unnecessary risks around a frozen-over lake, not after what had happened the year before.

She extended a foot, setting it gently on the ice. No cracking noises. The second foot followed, also with no warning signs. Moon let out a breath and took step after plodding step until she reached the snowdrift emitting the noise. She dug through the snow, powder sticking to her fuzzy gloves and moisture seeping in to her hands, until she found…

A Ditto.

Moon had seen pictures of Ditto before and knew what they were supposed to look like, but this one’s normal pink coloration had faded away; it was nearly blue with cold. It was covered in scrapes and bruises, and it struggled anemically in the snow pile, barely able to move.

“It went this way!” came a call from the road. “Don’t let it escape!”

Moon’s ears perked up. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew that whoever the voice belonged to wasn’t happy. “Are they looking for you?” she asked in a whisper.

The Ditto didn’t respond, its shivering growing too strong for it to do anything else.

“Don’t worry,” Moon said. “I’ll keep you safe.” She unzipped her coat and drew one arm up through her sleeve; with her other hand, she tenderly lifted the Ditto from the snow. She cradled it against her chest, then zipped her coat back up and tucked the end of the empty sleeve into a pocket. It was a trick she’d learned out of necessity – she could hide things in her coat safely, while from the outside, nothing looked out of the ordinary.

An adult appeared at the top of the hill as Moon began the climb back up. “Hey, kid,” he said, his voice as sharp and as cutting as a razor’s edge. “You see a Pokemon come this way? Small. Pink.”

“No, sir,” Moon said, her words nearly lost in the wind as it picked up.

“Speak up. Don’t mumble.”

The command was a refrain Moon knew well. “No, sir,” she said, louder this time, as she felt the Ditto trembling in her arm.

The adult examined Moon’s face. Moon didn’t know him, but she knew what he was doing. Everyone assumed she was lying all the time, and they thought that if they watched her, if they looked really close, they could catch her. The problem, of course, was that Moon rarely lied. She hadn’t seen the money that had gone missing – she’d only seen the person running away from the store. She didn’t know what happened to someone’s lost bottle cap collection – she only knew about the bottle caps in her bag, but those were hardly lost, since she knew exactly where they were.

Nobody ever asked Moon what they actually wanted to know, which bothered Moon to no end. The man in front of her was no exception – the Pokemon she held in her arm wasn’t pink, not after so long in the cold, and she certainly hadn’t seen it come that way. Even if he had asked the right question, though, Moon wouldn’t have answered it, not this time.

Moon always gave what she thought was the honest answer. This time, though, was different. She would have lied.

The man backed up, a scowl crinkling his marred features. “Well, if you see it,” he said, off his stride, “you come and let me know.” He left her and rejoined the trio he’d split off from, making it once more a quartet before disappearing into the night.

Moon watched him go, then began following the old road back to town.

The Pokemon Center nurse was in the middle of a yawn as Moon entered. “Evening, and welcome to the Pokemon Center,” she said, adding something under her breath that sounded like “now make this quick.”

Moon unzipped her coat and held the Ditto up to the nurse’s eye level. “Can you help it?” she asked, her voice, though quiet as always, cutting through the Center’s relative silence. The Ditto still shivered, albeit not as strongly as before, and every so often a whimper escaped its mouth.

“What happened to it?” the nurse asked, all traces of sarcasm gone from her words as her training kicked in. Without waiting for an answer, she gingerly took the Ditto from Moon and opened a door leading to the Center’s back room, then motioned for Moon to follow.

“I don’t know,” Moon said, which was the truth. “I found it like that.”

“Hm.” The nurse placed the Ditto on a cushion atop an examination bed, then draped an appropriately-sized blanket around it. Only its eyes were visible from the gap in the folds. “Without knowing what it went through, our best course of action is to see how it reacts to some medicine and go from there.” She snapped her fingers and suddenly a Chansey was there, right beside Moon, setting down a tray stacked with Super Potions and Hyper Potions. “Thanks, Lucky,” the nurse said; the Chansey disappeared from the room just as quickly as it had appeared.

The medicine did the trick, and soon the Ditto was sleeping soundly, swaddled in its blanket. “You don’t have to worry,” the nurse said to Moon. “It’s in good hands.”

“I’m not worried,” said Moon. She remembered a time when she opened her eyes in a hospital, with no familiar faces anywhere to be seen. She remembered what it felt like. “I just want to be here when it wakes up.”

The rest of the night quickly gave way to day, and as the morning light peeked in through the Pokemon Center’s windows, the huddled mass under the blanket began to stir. Moon leaned against the examination bed and stroked the blanket with one hand; the blanket began falling away, revealing the Ditto’s briefly-befuddled face. It plainly didn’t know where it was at first, but upon seeing Moon, its expression softened and it let out a chirp.

“Good morning, little one,” Moon said, smiling. “Are you feeling okay now?”

The Ditto chirped again and pushed its head-analogue against her hand.

Moon didn’t understand what it was saying, but the intent was clear. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re feeling better.” With a squeak, the Ditto hoisted itself onto her arm and climbed up to Moon’s shoulder, prompting a fit of giggles. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Do you want to come with me? I was just going to find a place to let you go…”

The Ditto hugged the side of her head, which told her everything she needed to know.

“Well, okay then!” Moon slid her backpack off and dug through it until she came up with the dinged, damaged, pristine Pokeball and tapped the Ditto with it.

Nothing happened.

After another moment of nothing happening, the Pokeball creaked open, revealing inner mechanisms that had long since been torn apart.

Moon’s face fell. “It’s busted? Aw, that’s no good,” she said, carefully picking the Pokeball back up and trying to close it without hurting it more. She slipped it back into her backpack. “I guess you and I can still hang out together, even if I can’t catch you, right?”

The Ditto shifted up and down in a crude approximation of a nod.

Moon clapped her hands together. “Yay! Okay, then you’ll need a name!” she said, looking up towards the ceiling as thoughts rushed through her head. “Um… Ditto uses Transform… they copy other things… Copy… Co-py… Co-py, py, py, I got it! I’ll call you Pete!”

The Ditto squeaked and nuzzled up against her.

“Yeah, that’ll work. Pete,” Moon continued. “Then if I ever catch another Ditto, I can name it… well, you know.”

The Ditto didn’t know, but it didn’t mind.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Hmm, an intriguing look into the past! At first I thought we were following a younger Mel, although Moon's manner of thinking was considerably different (in a way that I wouldn't just chalk up to the age difference) and also she didn't appear to be psychic. So... possibly not. But then the Ditto-naming bit at the end seems to suggest they're the same... hmm. I wonder if we'll be getting more flashbacks that shed more light on things.

And of course I assumed the Ditto was Repeat, but it was, in fact, a different Ditto! It did seem a bit odd that Moon outright said what she'd name her next Ditto--almost like, she was already thinking of Pete's replacement. :P Though maybe she meant it more like if she added a Ditto to her team alongside Pete. (Now I'm just imagining a little girl with a Ditto army and it's adorable.)
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
So I won't say anything as to Moon's identity, but we will be seeing her again - multiple times! Her and Pete are both very important to the overarching story.

And yes, you have it right - Moon was saying that if she had a second Ditto alongside Pete. So Little Girl Ditto Army is a go!
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 8: Relics of Ancient Times

When Mel was in her teens, she’d come down with Togepox. Were it not for her age, this would have been a completely ordinary occurrence, but Togepox hit harder the older the victim was; she ended up spending several days bedbound and slathered in calamine lotion. Being cooped up tended to make Mel antsy anyway – at least unless she’d voluntarily chosen to sequester herself – but not even being able to get out of bed was nearly enough to drive her mad.

The worst part was that the only book she had within easy reach was A Relentlessly Thorough History of the Pewter Museum of Science. After a week of being in bed, unable to sleep full nights because of the itching, Mel had memorized the whole thing front to back.

Coincidentally, ‘front to back’ was how Mel was reciting the contents of A Relentlessly Thorough History of the Pewter Museum of Science to Repeat as they sat side by side on the deck of the Seagallop, cutting a swift path through the ocean back towards Vermilion City. The sun hid itself behind a layer of angry clouds, but it hadn’t yet started raining; the breeze that caressed their faces was brisk and bore a pleasant sting of salt water.

“After Mr. Rockwell donated the sizeable endowment to the Stone family (no relation, of course, to the famous Stones of the Devon Corporation), they had enough capital to begin construction on the museum.”

“Boss.”

“The museum’s prize Kabutops fossil was actually found during construction – when they broke ground for the first time, they came across said fossil in remarkably good condition. Though the contents of the museum’s fossil collection enter and exit the public-facing exhibits on a rotating schedule, the Kabutops fossil always stays on display (excepting the period where it was loaned to the Nacrene Museum in Unova; it was returned quickly after an undisclosed event the gym leader of Nacrene described as ‘haunting’ and ‘inexplicable’).”

Boss.”

“Following the museum’s fire, officially stated to be caused by wild Magmar but rumored to be related to the then-ascendant Team Rocket, the Stones elected to renovate the entire facility rather than simply rebuild. This was, of course, the first of many renovations that the museum underwent. Curiously, the museum’s Omanyte fossil disappeared in the fire, roughly around the same time that a live Omanyte appeared in the Fuchsia City Zoo. Mr. Baoba, proprietor of the Safari Zone and the Fuchsia City Zoo, claimed the two events were ‘wildly coincidental’.”

Boss! Please, for the love of my sanity, stop talking for a minute!” Repeat rubbed his pseudopods up and down the side of what would have been called his head if he had been wearing the guise of anything else. “I can’t even start describing how little I care about the history of the museum. I just asked if you knew anything about this place, and clearly that wasn’t a good call.”

Mel rubbed Repeat’s back. It was an old-wives’-tale remedy for seasickness, she knew that much, but she figured it couldn’t hurt either way. “Did I give you a headache? My bad,” she said.

“Yeah, a little bit of one,” Repeat said, taking slow breaths, “but it’s going away. No worries.” A Wingull, rare this far out from their natural habitat, squawked somewhere behind them; Repeat smiled, then, too late, realized his mistake. “But don’t start—”

“It’s estimated that over the course of its esteemed history, the Pewter Museum has had on display more varieties of fossils than any other museum in the world, but to assume that they only dealt in ancient Pokemon would be to do a massive disservice to their aeronautics and space exhibits…”

For as much as Kanto had grown over the years, one problem that the region had never quite figured out was transportation. Sure, the magnet train ran from Saffron to Goldenrod in Johto; sure, the S. S. Aqua ran from Vermilion to Olivine. There were even underground paths that connected Lavender to Celadon and Vermilion to Cerulean. But if, hypothetically, someone were so inclined to travel from the port at Vermilion to the museum in Pewter, the quickest available options were to take Diglett’s Cave or cut back through Mount Moon.

Some days, Mel thought as she reapplied a protective layer of Max Repel (“Silph Co.’s hottest hit! Keeps the pests at bay! Now for Longer!”), it felt like everyone assumed she had a Pokemon that knew Fly. As she trudged through the cavern, she saw with some amount of satisfaction that the Diglett were avoiding her; every so often, though, what she thought was a group of Diglett huddled together turned out to be a single Dugtrio, and it invariably gave chase. Dugtrio were speedy critters, and she only barely managed to outrun them each time – except the last one.

“Ready to go, Repeat?” Mel asked, driven into a corner by an especially belligerent Dugtrio.

“You got it, boss,” said Repeat, climbing down to the end of her outstretched arm.

“Then let’s give this Dugtrio a taste of what it’s angling for.” Mel tossed Repeat into the air; by the time he landed, he was a near-perfect copy of the Dugtrio, albeit one that wore the same face on each head. “Repeat! Give it a Sand Attack!”

Repeat burrowed underground and kicked up behind him a thick cloud of sand and dirt, heavy enough that it obscured the two of them from view. The Dugtrio closed its eyes, trying to keep sand out of them, but when it opened them again, its foes had vanished.

“The fine print is how they get ya,” Mel muttered. Their mad dash left them at the western end of the tunnel, and Mel braced herself against the mouth of the cavern, holding up an empty bottle of Max Repel. Across the bottom, in font so small she had to lift her glasses up, get right up close, and still squint on top of that, was the text ‘Product may not perform as expected against comparatively powerful Pokemon.’ She knew that was how the whole Repel line of items worked – she was no novice when it came to avoiding battle, and it wasn’t like Repeat was an especially strong Pokemon, as much as she loved him – but hope still sprung eternal.

Pewter City was never especially lively, a trait it shared with most of the towns on Kanto’s western edge. It was built into the side of a mountain, and was bordered on its southern and eastern exits by a forest filled with poisonous bugs and a cavern filled with less-poisonous but more-obnoxious bats respectively; those traits combined meant that the town was quiet on the best of days. Even the construction of a fully-fledged Pokemon hospital to supplement the Pokemon Center, a project spearheaded by the Pewter gym leader, hadn’t brought many people to the area. Mel suspected Brock liked it that way; to hear Janine tell it, Brock was a gym leader with several projects on the side, including fossil hunting, exploring Mount Moon, and Pokemon breeding. It was a miracle that he spent any time at all at the gym, Mel thought. He’d become a gym leader when he was young, quite some time before Janine, and the years since had, admittedly, been good to him.

Brock paced around the entrance of the museum as Mel approached, a stack of fliers in his hands. “Interested in rocks? Who wouldn’t be, right?” he said, holding a paper out to her. “Right now, the Pewter Museum of Science is running a special on… on…” He paused, his chiseled features creasing as he looked her over. “I don’t know you, do I? Did you ever have a match against me?”

“If I did,” Mel said, plucking her glasses from her face and cleaning them on her shirt, “I don’t remember it. I’m Mel Rylan. This is Repeat.”

Repeat waved.

“Rylan… Rylan… Ah-ha!” Brock snapped his fingers, then scrambled to keep the fliers from spilling after the sudden motion. “You’re from that Pokemon shelter down in Fuchsia! That’s why I know your face. Janine showed me that commercial you filmed, with the ninja costumes. What a trip.”

“Oh. Er.” Mel felt her cheeks heat up. Being recognized by a gym leader came with the territory, but she had hoped it would have been for a more reputable reason. “Thanks, I guess.”

“You know, Janine wouldn’t shut up about you,” Brock continued. “Mel this, Mel that.”

Mel’s face burned even hotter.

“But, uh, I suppose that’s a conversation to save for happier times. Hopefully the police find her soon. Er, what brings you around these parts?” asked Brock, suddenly not meeting her eyes. Sadness and melancholy oozed off of him; Mel remembered that Janine had told her that Brock had been one of the kindest gym leaders to her when she had just been starting out.

The following series of thoughts ran through Mel’s head in response to his question:

I’m looking for a fossil or something else that ‘has life within it’.

I’m probably going to have to take it with me.

I can’t tell him that I’m trying to take a fossil. They don’t just let you take fossils.

Right?

Right, of course not. What kind of museum lets you take the fossils? Dumb to even think that, really.

But imagine if they did. You could just walk out of the place with a whole Kabutops skeleton in tow. How awesome would that be?

What would I even do with a Kabutops skeleton?

What
wouldn’t I do with a Kabutops skeleton?

Maybe Repeat could eat it. Then he’d be, I dunno, some kind of Ditto-Kabutops. A… Dittobutops. A Dittops?

Okay, okay, getting sidetracked. I should have answered by now. He’s giving me a weird look. Or maybe that’s just how he normally looks. Either way. Um. Think of something. Think of something!


“I was, um. I heard about the, about the…” Words spilled from Mel’s mouth as quickly as they were crossing her mind. “The special! The special on, er…” She could just see the fliers in Brock’s arms; they were upside-down and his arms covered most of the text on them, leaving only the letters ‘AERO’ visible. “The… Aerodactyl… fossil?” Mel said, praying that she’d guessed correctly.

Brock shifted the fliers from one hand to the other, revealing more of the text: ‘AERONAUTICS EXHIBIT’. Mel’s heart dropped through her stomach. “I’m really surprised, Mel,” he said. His expression was inscrutable, and even his emotions weren’t giving her anything useful – he still gave off sad vibes over what happened to Janine. “I can’t believe…”

Here it comes…

“That someone’s actually here to see the Aerodactyl fossil!” Brock pressed one of the fliers into Mel’s hands. The top half read ‘AERONAUTICS EXHIBIT’, while the bottom half read ‘AERODACTYL FOSSIL’. Fine print underneath it all indicated that there was a discounted entrance fee on both new exhibits. “Everyone’s been coming to see the exhibit on the space shuttle! You know, it’s a perfect scaled-down replica. You can even get inside and see all the different control panels. But nobody’s cared about the fossils, which just breaks my heart!”

“Uh, yeah,” Mel said, trying not to let on how quickly her heart was beating. “About that. Why are you out here shilling for the museum, anyway?”

Brock waved a hand. “Oh, you know how it is. I owed the director a favor, I tried to take her out to lunch to repay it, she told me that she would sooner swim through the Seafoam Islands in the buff than go out to lunch with me, I asked her if dinner was okay instead, she shoved a bunch of fliers at me and told me to hand them out. And so here I am. I’ve almost made it through a third of the stack!”

“Uh huh.” Mel eyed the fliers. She was no expert, but she suspected that there were enough there to give one to every resident of Pewter twice over and then some. “Anyway. Aerodactyl fossil. Definitely what I’m here for. Can you point me in the right direction?”

“Oh yeah! It’s on the first floor, in the western wing. You can’t miss it once you’re in there. And hey! Tell the woman at the front desk I sent you, and she might let you in free.” Brock thought for a moment. “Or she might charge you more. Take care, okay?”

The fossil in question was in fact nearly impossible to miss – it hung, fully assembled, from the ceiling of the Ancient Rarities exhibit in a pose that suggested it was likely to take a bite out of the next person unwise enough to walk underneath it. “‘This prehistoric Pokemon used its claws to grab prey and its massive jaw to tear them to pieces,’” Mel read from a plaque nearby. “Wouldn’t want to run into one, huh, Repeat?”

“No kidding, boss. I’m pretty sure that if it had its sights set on you, you couldn’t do much about it. Look how big it is.”

“Yeah, pictures don’t really do it justice.” Mel walked along the edges of the room, where smaller fossils were on display in glass cases. “Now, see, look at this one.”

Repeat, perched on Mel’s head, craned forward to see. “This chunk of amber?”

“Yeah. Says it’s got Aerodactyl’s DNA in it. Wild, right? Something so small’s got instructions in it to build something so big.”

“That is how DNA works, boss.”

“Shut up, Repeat. You know what I meant. I’m just, it’s like, it’s…” Mel flailed for the right word. “It’s cool, is all,” she finished lamely.

Repeat patted the back of Mel’s head. “Relax, chief. I understand. What’s that rock in the next display? It doesn’t look like a fossil.”

“This one?” A few paces away, there was another stand. This one had no glass surrounding it; the gemstone it displayed rested on a cushion and was exposed to the open air. It was a perfect sphere colored a glimmering lavender, and it could have easily fit in Mel’s palm. A streak of darker purple and gray ran through the center like a lightning bolt. “I dunno. Never seen anything like it before.”

“‘This gemstone was excavated from the same site as the Aerodactyl fossil. It bears some strong similarity to the enigmatic Mega Stones; the current leading hypothesis is that it would allow an Aerodactyl to undergo Mega Evolution, though it has not yet been able to be tested. As such, we have given it the temporary name of Aerodactylite to match the naming conventions of other Mega Stones,’” Repeat read aloud. “A Mega Stone, huh? I wonder how it ties into the fossil… What do you think, boss?”

When Mel didn’t respond, Repeat slithered down to her shoulder and looked her in the face. Her eyes were wide and glassy, and he could see in them the reflected image of the Mega Stone. “Boss? Hey, you okay?” asked Repeat. “What’s up?”

Mel slowly lifted her arm, reaching her hand towards the rock.

“Whoa, whoa, boss, what’s going on?” Repeat clapped his pseudopods together in front of Mel’s eyes, which didn’t make as loud a noise as he had hoped.

Mel gently touched the rock with her index finger, and—

“Excuse me, miss!” The curator for the exhibit, a small round woman with years of working around the general public etched into her face, grabbed Mel’s arm and unceremoniously moved it and her out of rock-touching range. Just as Mel’s contact broke, Repeat saw a small spark of electricity flicker between her finger and the Mega Stone; at the same moment, the life came back to her eyes. “No touching the exhibits, miss!” the curator continued. “Unless it’s one of the Touch Your History exhibits, which are clearly labeled!”

“Uh, uh… Sorry,” Mel said, placing a hand to the side of her head and blinking a few times. A fog had settled around her mind and it was only starting to clear. “Dunno what came over me.”

That seemed to satisfy the curator, who went about her business, which in this case was telling a small child they couldn’t lick the Aerodactyl bones no matter how hard they tried. The rest of the exhibit was empty, leaving the two of them alone.

Mel shook her head, trying to clear the mental haze faster. “What happened?” she muttered.

“That’s what I want to know, chief. Are you okay?”

“Yeah… yeah,” said Mel. “I think so. Hey, Repeat, what do you think…” She trailed off as she dug around in her bag for Hyacinth’s notes.

“What do I think? That’s kind of a big question, wouldn’t you say?” Repeat said, resuming his place on Mel’s head.

“Holds within it life of the past,” Mel read under her breath. “Holds within it life of the past… Repeat, I think I just realized something. I don’t think the fossils are what we’re supposed to be looking for.”

Repeat frowned, squinting at Hyacinth’s perfect handwriting. “They’re not?”

“The fossils, right, they don’t have anything within them. Like, normal bone stuff, I guess, but there’s nothing special about the inside of a fossil, I don’t think. But there is something here that has life inside it.” Mel paced back to the display they’d been standing at earlier. “The amber. That has life inside it. I bet that’s what we’re supposed to walk outta here with.”

“Walk out of—what’re you suggesting, boss?” asked Repeat.

“Easy enough. They’re not about to just give us the amber if we walk up and ask for it, right? So…” Mel shoved Hyacinth’s paper back into her bag, then snuck glances around her to make sure nobody was listening. “Repeat, we’ve got a heist to plan.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 9: Cryptic Territory

“I want my objection to this plan on the record, boss.”

“Noted.”

“I’m being serious. This is a bad idea, and I want no part in the blame when it blows up in our faces.”

“I said ‘noted’, Repeat. What more do you want from me?”

“I want you to not be doing this, but I don’t think that’s in the cards. Why is this the plan we’re going with? How do you even know that it’s that piece of amber you have to get? All we’re going on is Hyacinth’s hunch and two dots that you happened to connect!”

Mel shook her head. The sun had long since set, casting all of Pewter City in the grays and blues of night. The moon provided the barest hint of light, enough for Mel to be able to see through her binoculars from her perch in a nearby tree. “I can’t explain it,” she said, watching the path one of the museum’s guards took around the building. “I just know. This is something that just feels right.”

“Uh-huh.” Repeat clung to Mel’s backpack, trying to ignore the piercing gaze of a Spearow less than a foot away. “Is it going to just feel right when we get arrested for breaking and entering?”

“We’re not going to get arrested. At least not if everything goes right.”

“Of course we’ll be fine if everything goes right! That’s what ‘going right’ means! I’m worried about when things don’t go right!”

“Repeat, hush.” Mel’s words had an air of finality to them that Repeat wasn’t used to hearing. “You think I don’t know what could happen? I don’t like doing this either. But I’m pretty sure this is the right call, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you why. Unless you got a better idea rolling around in your head, this is what we gotta do. Now, you’re a real important part of my plan, so if you wanna make sure we don’t get caught, best thing to do would be to help. Are you in? Or are you just gonna sit there and complain about it?”

Repeat fell silent, at least for a moment. “I’ll help,” he eventually said. “We’ve got each other’s backs. That’s how it works, for good or for bad.”

“Thanks, Repeat,” Mel said, craning her head back and flashing a warm, genuine smile. “I swear. I’m gonna live up to your trust in me.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, chief,” said Repeat, but he too was smiling.

Mel returned to her vigil. The patrol around the museum was light, and she suspected it had been that way for a while. Ever since the Rockets had fallen after their sieges on Silph Co. and then on the Goldenrod Radio Tower, thanks to a procession of blindingly competent children, the region hadn’t seen the sort of unrest that plagued other areas. Sure, the Galactics in Sinnoh and the Magmas and Aquas in Hoenn had far-reaching effects with their attempts to harness the power of legendary Pokemon, but the Rockets had only wanted money – and since they’d disappeared, Kanto and Johto had been at relative peace. Seeing the local mafia get thrashed by a pair of preteens from out in the sticks had a way of making other would-be criminals wary.

There were three guards circling the building. Each one wore the same uniform and had matching flashlights. They obviously had their watches in sync – they stopped at set locations around the building in time with each other, then after a few minutes began their patrol again. Every so often, one of them would mutter something into a radio, prompting responses from the other two.

The patrol was regimented, but it still left significant gaps. Since there were only three guards, even with them spread out, there were plenty of places Mel could slip in without notice. She slipped down out of the tree without making a noise and watched from a bush as the guards stopped in place at their specified locations.

One guard stood at the front door to the museum, one stood around the back, and one stood at the eastern door that led into the back offices. There was exactly one door that remained uncovered: a closed, locked door on the western side of the building, used for loading and unloading, if A Relentlessly Thorough History of the Pewter Museum of Science was to be believed. Mel crept up to it and knelt down, setting her backpack on the ground and picking Repeat up. “Okay, Repeat, it’s all you,” she whispered.

Repeat nodded and eyed the door from his place in Mel’s hands. It was a simple pin and tumbler lock, the kind that he and Mel had practiced opening many times before – sometimes hurt Pokemon were holed up inside locked buildings, abandoned or otherwise, and couldn’t get themselves out. He squished a pseudopod into the lock and gently shaped it so that it lifted the pins to just the right height. There was a series of faint clicks and Repeat turned the lock.

“Good job with part one,” Mel murmured, grabbing her backpack and letting Repeat climb up to her shoulder. “Now we just…” She turned the knob and opened the door just a hair.

In accordance with the law of dramatic timing, an alarm went off.

It only took moments for the nearest guard, the one around the back of the building, to appear; he threw open the door, one hand on a Pokeball set into his belt. Once he saw the person on the other side, though, he shook his head and relaxed his posture. “Dr. Fawcett. What are you doing back here so late at night?”

The other party involved in the conversation, a tall, strongly-built, tawny-skinned woman wearing a lab coat and an embarrassed expression, laughed sheepishly. “Oh, you know, left some important papers here. Wouldn’t you know it, I forgot the passcode to turn off the alarms! Silly me! Forget my own head if it weren’t attached.”

The guard clicked his tongue disapprovingly, but punched in a rapid-fire series of numbers into a console near the door. The alarm immediately turned off. “You really need to be more careful, doctor,” he said, turning to leave. “I almost thought you were trying to rob the place. Next time, just let one of us know before you come in.”

“Oh, you know!” Dr. Fawcett trilled as the guard turned to leave while muttering something into his radio. “I didn’t want to be a bother!” Once the guard had left, she let out a breath, then ducked into an office near the door. A backpack had been tossed in there, and Fawcett slid off her lab coat, hanging it from the hook she’d found it on, before picking the bag back up.

Fawcett’s face – her entire face – began to ripple and change color, and then, seemingly without any transitionary state in between, it was a Ditto, one that jumped to her shoulder. Mel’s face was underneath. “I think we actually pulled it off, Repeat,” Mel muttered. “That went perfectly.”

“Don’t get complacent, boss,” said Repeat. “You’re just lucky that one of the staff here had the same kind of build and skin tone as you. Remember that time at the Celadon Game Corner?”

Mel scarcely needed to be reminded. They’d tried to sneak into the Game Corner’s rewards center on a tip that an injured Pokemon had shut itself in there, but when Repeat tried his mask trick, they’d unintentionally chosen a person much smaller than Mel to imitate. It, to put it kindly, hadn’t worked. “Yeah, yeah,” Mel said. “I don’t think it’ll work twice here anyway. Someone’s bound to notice that Dr. Fawcett is acting weird. Plus, even if we got a disguise on, I don’t think they’ll like us taking the fossil.”

The patrol inside the museum was about as light as outside – only a couple of guards, haphazardly dotted through the exhibits. Mel’s path to the Ancient Rarities exhibit was clear, and all she had to do once she was there was keep quiet and avoid the occasional flashlight when the guard for the wing stuck his head in.

“There it is, Repeat,” Mel whispered, so low that she could barely hear her own words. “The amber. Let’s grab it and get outta here.”

“Boss?” Repeat hissed into Mel’s ear. “What’s the plan if there’s an alarm or something attached to the fossil?”

“Then we grab it and get outta here, but faster.”

“I don’t like this plan.”

“I know. Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

With slow, patient steps, Mel approached the stand.

“Boss,” Repeat whispered.

She slowly lifted one arm.

Boss,” said Repeat, more urgently.

Her hand neared it, shaking almost imperceptibly. Then it was within reach. She brushed her fingers along the cool surface, then took the entire thing into her grasp. Sparks lit up the darkness around the stand, emanating from where her skin made contact with the rock.

Boss! What are you doing?!”

Flashing red lights broke Mel from her reverie, and a heartbeat later she became aware of the siren sounding. She turned her hand palm-up. The Mega Stone sat in it. How did I…? she thought.

Repeat tapped Mel on the back of the head. “Chief! Get moving! Someone’ll be here any minute!”

“Right.” Mel slipped the Mega Stone into her pocket, then palmed the amber and took off running.

The guard posted nearest to the western wing of the museum wasn’t used to excitement, not anymore. His name was Harles Aristotle, pronounced air-is-tote-lay, which nobody ever got right, and he was an immigrant from the sun-baked region of Orre. After Orre’s liberation from the Cipher criminal organization, Harles decided to move to a place that was altogether calmer before some other crisis reared its ugly head. His background as a security specialist gave him a foot in the door to a job as a guard in a museum in a sleepy town secluded away from the rest of the region.

It was, he had thought, perfect. And, for a time, it was.

Then Mel happened.

The alarm system was old and, frankly, outdated, but Harles hadn’t minded the lapse up until that day, when he realized how nice it would have been to have had some kind of indication which sector of the museum the alarm had been triggered from. After making sure he hadn’t had a heart attack from the sudden noise and lights, Harles asked a frantic question into his radio, only to find out that nobody knew what was going on. The only event that evening that had been out of the ordinary was one of the other guards having to disable the door alarm for Dr. Fawcett, and nobody had seen her since.

Then Harles saw her – a figure, one who looked vaguely like Dr. Fawcett, running out of the western wing. Harles endeavored to catch up to her, a tall order for a man who hadn’t moved at a clip above ‘leisurely’ for years. “Ma’am!” he said in between breaths. “Ma’am! Hold on!”

The figure turned to him, and Harles realized with a start that she was in no way Dr. Fawcett. Fear and annoyance in equal measures flashed through the intruder’s eyes, and she changed direction; Harles, completely unintentionally, was blocking the route out. She veered without warning for the stairs to the second level, and as she bolted away from him, Harles saw for the first time the Ditto clinging to her backpack.

Had Harles been a quicker-witted man, he might have been able to start putting together the pieces about then. As it was, though, he could only focus on not keeling over.

“Where are we going, chief?” Repeat said, holding on for dear life.

“Anywhere where there isn’t someone chasing us!” grunted Mel, vaulting over a display of space rocks and ducking down behind it, giving herself a moment to get her bearings. Nobody was immediately on her tail, but she could hear footsteps coming up the stairway. Her first instinct, when she ran into the guard downstairs, had been to immediately change course, but she’d ended up on the second floor, which offered precious few escape routes.

Then Mel saw the shuttle. And past it, the window.

“Repeat, I have an idea.”

“Oh no.”

Space shuttles – or, more precisely, space shuttle replicas – were a mainstay of the museum, according to A Relentlessly Thorough History of the Pewter Museum of Science. The one currently on display, though, was the first one that patrons could actually go inside, which the directors had hoped would make it a bigger draw with younger guests. This turned out to be a flawed plan, as the shuttle had to compete with the allure of ancient skeletons, a notorious crowd-pleasure; despite that, the museum administration elected to keep the new replica on the grounds that it was too expensive to build for them to just get rid of. So it stayed, though in deference to new exhibits it had been pushed to the side to make room. The practical upside of this was that, since the shuttle had entrances on either side, while one door opened into the exhibit, the other opened right next to the bay window.

Before any other guards could follow her upstairs, Mel crawled across the floor and flung herself inside the shuttle, closing the hatch after her. “Quick, Repeat,” she said through clenched teeth.

Repeat nodded; he’d caught on. He clung to the window set into the hatch and began to change. Ordinarily, trying to transform from memory was a no-go for him – he had to have seen the target recently, like in the case of Dr. Fawcett, who they’d gotten a look at when she left work that day not long before they broke in. But Repeat didn’t need to memorize what he was trying to turn into this time.

He turned dark.

The footsteps Mel had been hearing coming up the stairs finally reached them. She couldn’t see through the window anymore, but light streamed in through the hatch’s seal – a flashlight. Her fists clenched and her fingers dug into her palms as a silent prayer bounced back and forth inside her head, wishing to anyone that would listen that her plan worked – that all the guard would see would be blackness behind the window, and that they wouldn’t think anything of it.

The light disappeared.

The footsteps faded.

Mel breathed out. “Okay, Repeat, let’s get out of here,” she said. Repeat peeled himself off of the window; as he relaxed, his coloration returned to his normal pink. Mel quietly opened the other hatch, the one facing the wall, and from there unlatched the window. She held onto the ledge, lowered herself outside as far as she could, then let go. It was murder on her legs and knees, but it was far from the first time she’d had to make a drop like that.

With the museum guards still searching fervently for her, Mel disappeared into the night.

Mel didn’t stop running, awash in a cloud of Repel, until she’d cleared Diglett’s Cave and made it safely to Vermillion City. By then, the sun was already peeking over the horizon, a vivid pink and orange reminder that Mel had gotten no sleep. She sat on the pier, her back against an unused post, with her backpack next to her and Repeat in her lap.

”Are you feeling okay, boss?” asked Repeat, concern written across his face. He stole occasional glances at the mouth of Diglett’s Cave, betraying his worry that someone was still coming after them.

“Yeah… yeah, I’m good.” Mel dug through her pocket and drew out the Mega Stone; the amber was next, pulled from her backpack. She held one in each hand. The two were about the same size and weight, but those were their only similarity.

“Good. I don’t mind telling you, I never want to do that again.”

The familiar response – “Hey, we’re alive, aren’t we?” – boiled up inside Mel, but she bit her tongue. All she said, in spite of herself, was, “That’s probably a good call.”

If the sudden low-key answer surprised Repeat, he didn’t show it. “You know when everything’s over and done with, we have to return these, right?”

“I know.” Mel held both stones up to the morning light. The amber glimmered, its natural color enhanced by the sun, but the Mega Stone only seemed darker, heavier. She could almost see sparks dancing around its surface.

“Hey. Chief.” Repeat morphed a pseudopod into a rough facsimile of a human hand so that he could snap his fingers in front of Mel’s face. “Don’t go spacing out on me again. What made you take that with you, anyway? What happened?”

Mel felt a chill run up her arm, originating from the stone. “I…” she started before pausing. “I’m not sure.” She was loathe to elaborate further: that her actions hadn’t felt like her own, that she couldn’t have stopped herself. “I think… I think the museum was wrong, though.”

“How do you mean?”

“I don’t think this is Aerodactylite. It’s something else. Something big.” Mel slipped the stone back into her pocket, trying to ignore the crackling sound it made when it left contact with her skin. “It feels… important.”

Repeat frowned. “Boss, you’re starting to slide into cryptic territory.”

“Sorry, sorry. I mean something’s up with this rock, whatever it is. And it just so happened to be right next to the amber that the Unown told me to get. I kinda get the feeling that maybe this rock is the one we were supposed to find all along.” Mel felt the comforting weight of the stone in her pocket, coolness radiating out from it.

“And that doesn’t… worry you or anything?”

“Oh, no, Repeat. What this rock was doing to me? That worries me more than anything else right now. But this…” Mel stopped and collected her thoughts. Yeah. This is right. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
I think Repeat was pretty much channeling the reader throughout that entire chapter. xD That said, heck yeah, I can totally get behind an action-packed heist! Love the way she used Repeat to impersonate Dr. Fawcett to sneak in without any conflict. Of course, that luck didn't hold for very long, and I wouldn't have it any other way. ;P

Her hand neared it, shaking almost imperceptibly. Then it was within reach. She brushed her fingers along the cool surface, then took the entire thing into her grasp. Sparks lit up the darkness around the stand, emanating from where her skin made contact with the rock.

Boss! What are you doing?!”

Flashing red lights broke Mel from her reverie, and a heartbeat later she became aware of the siren sounding. She turned her hand palm-up. The Mega Stone sat in it. How did I…? she thought.
I love that this is basically identical to a scene from my fic. xD Right down to it manipulating her into picking it up and her feeling like she has to have it. Now the only question is: what is it? Sure as heck isn't an Aerodactylite. Might potentially have some connection with Mew, if it was the reason the Unown pointed her to the museum. Hmmm...
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 10: Easier than Expected

“40,000 bucks? Are you serious?”

“Small price to pay for saving the life of a creature of legend, chief.”

“Yeah, you say that, Repeat, but I don’t see you shelling out the money.”

“Some might say that me not having money gives me a unique perspective on its value.”

“Some might also say that you’re just cheaping out on me. Fine. Here. 40,000. Let’s hope I don’t need to buy anything for the next couple’a months.”

The cashier took Mel’s money with a smile that Mel considered just slightly too predatory and handed over a single disc, contained in a plastic jewel case that was itself in a plastic bag. Mel stared in the bag as she and Repeat left the counter and sighed. “For how much this cost, they could have at least made the jewel case outta actual jewels,” she muttered. “40,000 bucks. That’s like 100 burgers. This single CD could have fed me for a month.”

“Sure, boss, if you wanted to eat burgers three times a day.” Repeat clung to the back of Mel’s head, trying not to grin and failing miserably.

“And what if I do? Burgers are good. You got your meats, your grains, plus they even have veggies, fruits, and dairy on ‘em. Eat a burger and you got all of the food groups, right there.”

“What kind of fruit are you eating on a burger? Are you about to tell me that applewood-smoked bacon counts as an apple?”

“Tomatoes, you dope. Honestly, I’m not a total idiot.”

“I dunno, boss. Even an idiot would know that tomatoes count as vegetables when they’re being cooked.” Repeat stifled a snicker.

Mel rolled her eyes and tossed her backpack down onto the floor, next to a plushly-cushioned bench under a row of bay windows. “Now I know you’re winding me up. A tomato’s gotta be one or the other. You can’t say it’s some weird half-fruit, half-vegetable.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

Sun spilled into the building, casting Mel and Repeat in a golden light. It was a beautiful morning, the kind that was all too rare – a pure blue sky, a hint of a crisp breeze drifting in through an open window, and even faint birdsong drifting through town. They’d made it to Saffron City after taking a day to sleep, after which Mel felt much more alive, and they’d immediately gravitated to the place mentioned in Hyacinth’s notes – the head branch of Silph Company.

Admittedly, Mel wouldn’t have needed to rely on Hyacinth’s hypothesis to head for Silph in the first place; in a city that already dwarfed all of its neighbors, Silph’s building stood well above the rest, ruling the skyline with a stark silhouette. Not only did Silph run all of the Pokemarts in the country, they manufactured products that got sent all around the world and were used by nearly everyone who so much as had a Pokemon in their general vicinity. As a result, they bore a not-inconsiderable amount of name recognition and had, in the years since their founding, done some rebranding.

Gone was the looming, industrial Silph, full of scientists and engineers that had such an ethical deficit that they sided with the Rockets during their siege – and full of incompetent, money-hungry executives who treated their employees so poorly that the Rockets were seen as the better option. In its place was the sleek, streamlined Silph, completely transparent and dedicated to improving the world, at least according to their mission statement. In actuality, the executives were still quite enamored with money and the rumors of sketchy experiments still surrounded the company, but they’d put a happier face on it. Silph had even, and this was the real turning point, opened their own store on the first floor of their head office in Saffron, one that sold exclusively Silph-made products. Critics initially slammed Silph for the move, since Pokemarts were roughly 90% Silph merchandise already, but Silph’s sales shot through the roof; apparently, making the store ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ and ‘totally embarrassing to not be seen at’ was just the thing to ensure products would fly off the shelves, no matter what they cost.

The Silph Store, branded with only the Silph logo on the door, was where Mel had paid 40,000 big ones for a single CD, and it was where she’d found a seat under an open window to examine her purchase.

“‘P-Upgrade, v2,’” Mel read off the receipt as she set the plastic bag it came in next to her. “This is it, I guess. Gotta say, this was easier than I expected.”

“Don’t jinx it, boss,” said Repeat. He hopped down to the cushion and pulled the jewel case out of the bag, struggling to hold something that was almost half his size. “We don’t know if this is going to work yet. And even if this is the right thing, we still need to get it back to wherever it is the Unown wanted us to take it.”

“Let me have this, Repeat. After everything we had to do in Pewter, I’m glad we can just walk in and buy something we need, even if it did cost an arm and a leg.” Mel turned to eye Repeat and, by extension, the CD. “In fact, I… I think…” She reached out her hand slowly, brushing her fingertips across the jewel case, leaving sparks dancing across its surface.

From behind the jewel case, Repeat couldn’t see what happened. “Boss? You okay?”

“Oh! Ah, sorry.” Mel shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut to try and make the stars in her vision disappear. She grabbed the CD and stuffed it back in the plastic bag, then into her backpack. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. No big deal. Look, let’s get outta here. We’ve got some research to do, and I for one am not looking forward to it.”

“Research, you say? Perhaps I might be able to assist you in this endeavor.”

Mel looked up – and she didn’t have to look very far. A person in a trench coat stood before her, and it was only because Mel had met them before that she knew that they weren’t three kids stacked on top of each other. “Hyacinth? What’re you doing here?”

“Well,” said Hyacinth, transparently grinning even though Mel couldn’t see their mouth, “in an immediate sense, I’m offering my aid in your research-based quandary, for which I may only wish to ask a favor further in the future.” Apparently sensing the words that were about to come out of Mel’s mouth, they continued. “But I suspect that is not the intent behind your query, hm? No, rather, the reason behind my presence in this city today is because I have gathered evidence that one of the two organizations that I am currently investigating is, as one might say, ‘up to something.’ I only wish to find out what the something is to which they are up.”

The wave of words washed over Mel, leaving her momentarily stunned. She focused her attention on Hyacinth’s mind, but only got the same aspirations of helpfulness that Hyacinth perpetually gave off. “Wait, who’s in town?” she asked, once Hyacinth’s statement had time to sink in.

A notebook appeared in Hyacinth’s hand and they began leafing through it, scanning each page at lightning speed. “The information I have thus far collected indicates that Genesis intends to conduct an operation somewhere within the city limits.”

Mel shivered. The image of Degree Absolute and the rest of her cronies standing at the pier, waving at her, leapt into the forefront of her mind.

“Granted,” Hyacinth continued, “Saffron City is not, well, small. Deducing their movements at this point, now that I am already within the borders, will be more difficult. However, I began my search here, at the Silph office building, simply because I suspect it presents the most temptation for organizations with malicious intent – as evidence, I offer the Rocket raid on this very location.”

“You must be a blast at parties, Hyacinth,” Mel said once she had sifted through Hyacinth’s verbal onslaught.

“I wouldn’t know. I rarely attend parties.”

“Ah.” With a rustle of fabric, Mel stood up, sliding her backpack on. Repeat took the hint and climbed to her shoulder. “Look, not that I don’t like seeing you, but if Genesis is around here, I think it’s high time I wasn’t. They’re a bit too, uh…”

“Dangerous? Criminal?” Hyacinth prompted.

“Creepy for my tastes. Plus, I’m pretty sure I personally ticked off their head honcho. So come find me once all the heat dies down and we can get cracking on this research stuff. I’d tell you where I’m going, but I bet you could find me either way.” Mel approached the store’s entrance, opened the door, stared outside for a moment, then gently closed the door before rejoining Hyacinth. “Change of plans.”

“Allow me to posit a guess,” said Hyacinth. “Agents of Genesis are just outside the door?”

“Yep. Think it would be a bad move for me to dive out the window instead?”

“Hm, I would assume so. I expect that would be significantly more noticeable.”

The lights in the store turned out in unison, prompting a wave of quiet gasps that rolled through the shelves of merchandise. “Attention, Silph Store patrons,” squawked an intercom set into the ceiling, “the exits have been sealed. This is a routine exercise. Please do not attempt to leave the building.”

Mel scanned the room, her height giving her clearance over the shelves that Hyacinth didn’t have. “Some of the customers are freaking out,” she muttered low enough that only Repeat and Hyacinth could hear her. “But the guy at the register isn’t. He looks perfectly calm. So either this legit is some bizarre thing the Silph Store just does sometimes…”

“Or,” Hyacinth finished, “and I think this is significantly more likely, this is the Genesis operation and he is a plant.”

“Right. So what is it they’re trying to do, exactly?”

“I wish I had that information for you.” Hyacinth pocketed their notebook and rolled a Pokeball in the palm of their hand. They tugged at the brim of their hat, the simple motion symptomatic of the touch of nervousness that Mel felt swirling around them. “I’m afraid that I know precious little about their goals as of yet, which is not a state in which I relish being. With that in mind, Miss Rylan, what would you say about conducting a little active investigation on our own terms?”

“I’d say we might as well get to it, Hyacinth.”

***
It had been years upon years since the Rocket siege on Saffron. They had slowly infiltrated the city, growing their numbers and their influence, until they had enough people on the inside and the outside to take control of the Silph building wholesale. After that, all it took was trapping the Saffron gym leader and her subordinates in their gym for the entire city to be under Rocket command. The Elite Four’s own non-interference pledge, wherein each member of the Elite Four promised not to use their considerable power to weigh in on local matters for fear of wielding undue influence, complicated matters further; in fact, the Saffron siege was the reason for the nullification of said pledges. As quickly as three years later, Lance, then the champion of the Elite Four, was seen taking action against the Rockets in Johto.

Since then, even with the threat of the combined powers of the Elite Four contributing to the lack of major crises in Kanto and Johto, Silph had decided to beef up their own security. Guards were hired onto company staff, more cameras were installed, and the networking expert Bill was even brought in – he designed a system where sensitive and valuable items could be whisked away across the network to a secure location, just like his Pokemon storage system, in the event that the company found themselves threatened. Bill stayed onboard with the company afterwards, being one of the only people in the region who could reliably troubleshoot the networking devices.

Gone were the days when Bill had accidentally combined himself with a Pokemon due to his own rashness and inexperience. Now, Bill was head of the technology services division in Silph, with salary and benefits to match.

Mel had heard of Bill before – who hadn’t? His Pokemon storage system had been the norm for as long as she could remember, built upon and enhanced by other engineers in other regions; from the basic version where trainers could store only so many Pokemon in a box before having to manually swap boxes at a Pokemon Center, to boxes swapping automatically, to the abolishment of boxes altogether, to the entirety of the storage system being accessible through any networked device, letting trainers trade out the Pokemon on their team at any time. What Mel hadn’t known were the details of Bill’s employment, but she had learned all of that and more when she and Hyacinth had stumbled across his office.

The idea had been simple. Mel and Hyacinth would sneak through the building, scoping out exactly how far Genesis had gotten and where they were trying to get to. Much to Mel’s confusion, though, nothing seemed to be going on. The lights had gone out throughout the building, but that was it. Nobody roamed the halls except security guards – and a flash of Hyacinth’s badge had been enough to convince them to let Mel and Hyacinth continue their search. But they’d found nothing.

At least, they’d found nothing until they happened across an otherwise-nondescript office bearing Bill’s name on a placard. Hyacinth looked at the name, looked at her notes, looked back at the name, then knocked on the door, and Bill had eagerly welcomed both of them in once Hyacinth explained the situation.

Bill stood only a hair shorter than Mel and he was dressed in a rumpled powder-blue suit sans jacket, one that might have looked daring on anyone else but on him just looked like all of his other suits were in the wash. His wavy reddish-brown hair was streaked with gray, but his eyes were bright and lively, with a fire behind them that made him look younger. “Nice to meetcha!” he said cheerfully, a trace of a Goldenrod accent under his words, as he welcomed Mel and Hyacinth in. Mel didn’t need her abilities to pick up on his nervousness; though he tried to mask it, his voice wavered up and down. “I only wish it was under, y’know, better circumstances.”

“Certainly, sir,” Hyacinth said. Mel let her gaze trawl across the office; it was a disaster area of a workplace, with stacks of papers piled haphazardly between boxes of machine parts. A half-built device taller than Mel was stood against the wall opposite them, its guts spilling out onto the floor. “I’ll get right to the point,” continued Hyacinth. “As you are one of the higher-ranked people here, I would like to ask you a few questions concerning current events.”

Bill nodded, taking a seat in a plush swivel chair and spinning around in it once before coming to a stop. “Fire away.”

Hyacinth’s questions had been pointed, but Bill had expounded on them far more than Mel had expected, and soon she found herself with more knowledge of Bill’s history than she ever cared to have. Nothing Bill said seemed particularly helpful to her, but Hyacinth on the other hand wrote down every word with no small degree of satisfaction. “Thank you, sir,” said Hyacinth. “That was very enlightening. I feel like I have a better image of what exactly might be going on here.”

“You do?” Mel asked, her eyebrows arched. “Because I’m lost. Mind filling me in?”

“Certainly, Miss Rylan, though I would recommend that we table this discussion for now. I believe our current course of action ought to be to evacuate the building as quickly as possible – the two of us and our esteemed colleague here.”

“What?” exclaimed Mel and Bill simultaneously.

Hyacinth slipped their notebook into a pocket and approached the door. “Indeed. So let us depart.”

The door flew open before Hyacinth could lay hands on it, and they backed up. In the hallway stood two people in off-white robes, one of whom Mel recognized as the muscle-bound man whose form Repeat had borrowed to help escape their hideout in the Sevii Islands. “Bill?” the other person, an altogether smaller man who bore the confidence of someone who knew they had very large backup, asked.

“Y-yes?” Bill stuttered, his eyes wide.

“I’m going to have to ask you to come with me. Your… services are required.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 11: Poison Rationality

Mel scanned the room. The only points of exit were the door that was currently blocked by two members of Genesis and the window on the opposite wall that was several floors above the ground. The fact that the window was looking like a semi-decent alternative at the moment said something, Mel thought, about the state of her options.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere with y’all!” Bill spat, his accent fully surfacing. His hands were shaking, Mel noticed; a voice in the back of her head, unconcerned with the present danger, wondered if his accent came out in times of stress. There was certainly enough of it billowing off of him. “I tripped the silent alarm for security the minute y’all kicked the door in!”

The smaller of the two Genesis men looked to the larger before both of them burst out in laughter, though the big guy’s laugh, Mel reflected, sounded more like two boulders being scraped over each other. “Security won’t be a threat,” he said. “Our operatives have been sweeping the building, neutralizing every agent they came across. This is a delicate task we’re undertaking. Wouldn’t do to get… interrupted. Now, Bill. If you please.”

Hyacinth cleared their throat. “I think I’ve have quite enough of the two of you being vaguely threatening at us,” they said. “Dozer, let’s do this.” A Pokeball appeared in their hand and they released a familiar Snorlax, one that dwarfed everyone else in the room. “You know what to do.”

Dozer did indeed know what to do, and she jumped into action as quickly as a Snorlax could have reasonably been expected to. With scarcely any apparent effort, Dozer picked up the smaller Genesis agent and threw him bodily down the hallway before grappling with the bigger one.

“Mel,” Hyacinth said, their glasses gleaming. “Now is your opportunity. Make your escape. Once you and Bill have gotten to safety, I will locate you.”

“Don’t gotta tell me twice.” Mel grabbed Bill by the wrist and, after making sure Repeat was holding on tight, took off running out of the office, away from Genesis.

Back when the Silph Co. head office had been built, the president of the company had spared no expense in making sure that he hired only the best architects – the building was going to be a “shining beacon in a sea of glimmering commerce,” he said. And hire the best architects he did – but his plans came to a confused halt when every single person working on designing the building suddenly fell severely ill within three days of each other. The president of Silph was then forced to go with the only other architect in the area available on short notice: “Sickly” Bilden Bridges, the legendarily contagious self-proclaimed ‘best property designing person’ who, in a stunning coincidence, had been seen recently shaking hands with all of the other architects on the job. Bridges was known for, aside from his sub-par immune system, his avant-garde approach to design; he’d been quoted as saying, among other things, that “right angles were for losers and squares.” When it was pointed out to him that right angles had to be for squares, since by definition a square had to have a few right angles kicking around somewhere, he simply smiled, tapped the side of his head, and walked away.

The Silph Co. head office had no internal cohesion. Offices were nestled within offices. Every single lock could be opened with the same key. The president had almost the entire top floor to himself, but his suite wasn’t accessible from the elevator or the stairs. And then there were the teleporters.

Mel had already accidentally run on top of three different teleport pads. They activated as soon as they sensed pressure without any sort of confirmation from the person being teleported, which Mel thought had to be a violation of some kind of code, especially considering they were still working somehow, implying that the power was still running even if the lights were cut. She’d ended up in a storeroom, daylight spilling in through an open window, old books and binders crammed onto wall-to-wall bookshelves. She took a peek out the window; from how far away she was from the ground, she guessed that they were at least on the fifth floor, if not further up.

“Where are we?” Mel hissed, creeping towards the storeroom door. It was locked by an electronic key, so there was no getting out that way, but she could just barely hear footsteps on the other side.

Bill shrugged. “I dunno.”

“What do you mean you dunno?”

“Whaddya want me to say?” Bill growled, running a hand through his hair. “My office is right off an elevator. So’s my labs. I never use the teleporters if I can help it. They’re great for transportin’ Pokemon and items around, but as far as gettin’ around the building? Not a good system! I never memorized where each of them goes!”

Mel pressed her ear against the door. “Real useful, buddy. Now do you or do you not got a way we can get outta the building from here?”

Bill grit his teeth, his fists clenching and unclenching. Mel had seen those behaviors before, and they would have worried her if they weren’t coming from a man who, to put it kindly, looked like Dozer would have had no issues throwing him down a hallway. “Why would I know that?” he said. “I dunno where we are, and I dunno who’s waitin’ for us on the other side’a that door! Are we on the floor where the offices don’t lead to the elevator? Are we inside some dumb nesting doll of storerooms? I got no idea! All I know is that I wanna strangle the guy who decided this was a good way to make a building!”

“Are you done?” Mel asked, her voice quieter than Bill’s. “If you’re not, can you hand over your key before you start running your mouth again? I’d like to get a look at what’s around us.”

Bill opened his mouth, but then apparently thought better of it and pulled a small card out of his wallet. “Here,” he muttered. It had his picture on one side and Silph’s logo on the other.

Unobtrusively set into the wall next to the door was a scanner; Mel knelt next to it, held the card in range, and it let out a quiet beep.

The door slid into the wall.

A person stood on the other side, her hand raised, holding a card key.

She wore a purple coat and had cropped white hair.

Mel’s eyes widened, and she scanned Bill’s card key again.

The door closed.

“Okay, we need to go now.” Mel sprung to her feet.

“What? Why?”

“The worst person in this building is right on the other side of that door, and we need to go anywhere else that isn’t here, because I really don’t want to deal with—”

The scanner beeped again, this time from the other side.

The door slid open.

The woman in the purple coat strode inside, her hands folded behind her back. Her boots, steel-toed, echoed throughout the room with every step.

“Degree Absolute.” Mel half-sighed, half-spat the name. “Great. Wonderful. Just who I needed to see.”

Degree’s lips curled up in a snake’s smile. “You remember me. I’m touched.” Her voice was low and steady; her words might have sounded sarcastic coming out of anyone else’s mouth, but from her they sounded deceptively sincere. Her mind radiated iron confidence, complete assurance in herself, with not a single trace of doubt or concern.

Even before Degree could say anything else, Mel shuffled backwards, sprung to her feet, and vaulted to the teleport pad. “Move, Bill,” she growled. “Get your tail through that teleporter before I drag you in myself!”

“Now, now,” said Degree, raising her hands conciliatorily. “There’s no need for that.” Two figures appeared on the teleport pad in a burst of light – both wearing off-white robes. They were bigger than Mel, and she ran headlong into one of them, unable to halt her momentum. As she stumbled back, she reflected on just how much it had felt like hitting an uncomfortably fleshy brick wall. “Why don’t you stay and have a chat?” Degree continued. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Mel’s eyes darted back and forth between the door, blocked by Degree, and the teleporter, blocked by the Genesis goons. The only other way out was the window, and she didn’t like her odds with that. “Keep it together, boss,” came Repeat’s voice near her ear.

“What do you want from me?” Mel asked, looking at Degree with narrowed eyes. Standing up straight, Mel had at least a few inches on Degree, but something about Degree just made Mel feel… smaller.

Degree extended a hand in a gentle gesture. “Verdant, would you care to answer this question?”

One of the two Genesis grunts straightened up. “Yes, ma’am! We are here for one reason! We require Bill’s services!”

“And to that end…?” Degree prompted.

“Yes, ma’am!” the other grunt said. “Without further discussion, we will retrieve Bill!”

“Wait, what—” Bill yelped as the first grunt, Verdant, placed hands on his shoulders. Mel made to tackle him, but the other grunt stood in her way as Bill and Verdant vanished, the teleporter zapping them away.

The moment after Bill disappeared couldn’t have been longer than a heartbeat, but to Mel it felt like eternities passed; the teleport pad was right there and if she could only get to it, she could follow them, get Bill back, get out of the building, but the grunt in front of it—

Degree snapped her fingers, her hand only inches from Mel’s face. “Come back to us, please,” she said, wearing the same smug smile. “You’re spacing out, and we can’t have that. Not when we’ve so much to discuss. To begin, I’m afraid I can’t let you wander around anymore.”

Mel slowly turned her head, scanning the room. Part of her head was screaming at her, condemning her for letting someone else get taken, for not being quick enough on the draw. The other part was consumed entirely by thoughts of escape, trying to figure out how to get out of the situation, to just leave and collect her thoughts somewhere nobody could get to her.

“Ostrum? Please wait on the other side of the teleporter,” said Degree, punctuating it with another snap of the fingers. “There are some things I wish to discuss with our guest one-on-one.”

The remaining grunt nodded and stepped back onto the teleport pad, vanishing in an instant. The pad itself dimmed slightly, an indication that someone was standing on it on the other end, keeping it occupied; that particular safety feature had become necessary after one too many incidents where someone unintentionally teleported into someone else. There’s that escape route gone, Mel thought.

There was only silence for a moment. The storeroom buzzed with tension; Mel could have sworn that she felt pressure pushing in on her skin from Degree’s presence alone. A bird – a Pidgeotto, from the sound of it – chirped somewhere outside.

“I recognize,” murmured Degree, “that since it is now only the two of us here, you may be tempted to try and force your way past me. I would recommend against it. At least, not before we’ve heard each other out… Melanie Rylan.”

The blood in Mel’s veins turned to ice. One thing she had been very certain of was that she had in no way given Degree her name.

“It was trivial to find information on you. You’re a public figure, after all. One of my followers recognized you from some advertisement you did some time ago, unflattering though it may have been. Now, do not be concerned,” Degree said, doubtlessly seeing how wide Mel’s eyes had gotten. “I do not wish harm to befall your family or anything like that. I simply had to know who our uninvited guest was. Dropping in through the roof! What an entrance.”

Mel gently stroked Repeat. The nervousness emanating from him matched hers perfectly. “Get to the point,” she said, scowling.

Clack. Clack. The sound of Degree’s boots against the floor pounded through Mel’s head, making her flinch almost imperceptibly with each step. Degree walked past her, towards the window; she leaned forward, arms braced against the window frame, looking out over the city. She breathed in deeply, relishing the fresh air from outside. “I find myself interested in you, Melanie,” Degree said.

“Um…?”

“Who are you? By all accounts, you’re a nobody.” Degree extended a hand outside the window, and a Pidgey settled next to it and pecked gently at her palm. “A gofer at a Pokemon shelter. A worthy pastime, to be sure, but hardly someone destined for greatness.”

A frown crawled across Mel’s face. It was bad enough that Degree had caught her alone in a storeroom, but surely the insults were unnecessary.

“And yet, and yet,” Degree continued, completely serene, “we find ourselves bound together. I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that you and I both found ourselves here today. Some would call it fate, I expect, but I find it difficult to attribute it so when there is a far easier explanation.” She stood up straight, stretching her arms out above her head, as the Pidgey flapped away under the noonday sun.

Mel crossed her arms and endeavored to look as defiant as she could, an attempt to mask the fear running up and down her spine. “Oh yeah? What’s that, then?”

Degree ignored the question and came within reach, her gaze not on Mel but just past her. She lifted her hand, reaching towards something Mel couldn’t see… at least not until Mel realized that she was going for Repeat, making an attempt to scratch him under the chin-analogue that turned out futile when Repeat morphed a mouthful of teeth to try and bite her. “Repeat. That’s what you call your Ditto, yes? A good name for it, I think. Plus, it has the benefit of being a synonym of its species designation. Wonderfully apt.”

“Don’t touch him.” Mel yanked her shoulder back and took two quick steps away, putting distance between them. “Look, I dunno what your deal is, lady. You keep dancing around the point. What do you want from me?”

A light breeze rolled in from the window, billowing Degree’s coat out around her; Degree, for her part, looked like she was used to this happening. “Nothing. Except to talk, that is, and I think we’re having quite the lively discussion right now.”

Mel could feel her jaw clenching. The frustration was beginning to bubble up, fighting with the dread for real estate in her mind. “What ‘discussion’? What ‘talk’? All you’ve done is talk circles around me! You haven’t actually said anything other than that you know my name and that we’re connected or whatever!” She stomped forward, grabbing hold of the lapels on Degree’s coat. “Why do you care about talking to me so much? What makes me so special? What is going on?!”

“Melanie, please, let’s keep it civil.” Degree brushed Mel’s hands off as easily as she would leftover crumbs. “I’m not sure I would call those the right questions to ask, but you obviously feel strongly about them. I suppose we can digress for a moment.” She fixed Mel with a piercing, lavender-eyed stare. “I know what you’re doing, Melanie. I know what your goal is. You and those… thugs from Neo Rocket. You all wish to find the Mew-child for reasons I can only guess at. You don’t need to look so surprised, by the way,” she added, cutting Mel off from interjecting. “Your friend Hyacinth Harley is not as subtle as they think, and their so-called ‘secure channel’ that they used to speak with their client… well, let me just say that we could eavesdrop easily enough. We know all about you, Melanie Rylan. We know about you, and your family, and your friends. We know the steps you’ve taken that brought you here. And that is why I find myself entangled with you: you and I, we both intend to find the Mew-child. Of course we crossed paths. It could scarcely happen any other way.”

A hard lump began forming in Mel’s throat. She swallowed. It did not go away.

Degree spread her arms as the wind picked up. “Genesis has people all over Kanto, Melanie. Not many people, if I’m being truthful, but enough that we can watch. Collecting information isn’t only the domain of private investigators in trench coats.”

“I… I won’t let you kill the Mew-child!” Mel spat. She knew it lacked presence, but it was all she could get out of her mouth. The room felt ten degrees colder than it had when she came in, and she felt her hands shivering.

“Oh, Melanie. Poor, sweet Melanie. This isn’t a matter of what you’ll ‘let’ us do. Wheels are now in motion. At this point, with Bill in our fold, our ultimate goal is already assured. And let me be absolutely clear: I know you will still try to stop us. Your history speaks to that. You can’t let a Pokemon suffer, no matter what. That’s what makes me interested in you. So I know you’re still going to track down the Mew-child, out of some misguided notions of ‘protecting’ it. And we, Genesis, will be watching you every step of the way.”

“Why?” said Mel. “What’s your game? I don’t believe for a second you buy into all that nonsense about the Mew-child being unholy, or whatever it is.”

Degree advanced on Mel, her coat whipping behind her. “Even if I didn’t, why would I tell you? No, Melanie, I’m afraid I do ‘buy into all that nonsense.’ But you would be mistaken to think that my goals end with the extermination of that pitiable offspring.” She was only inches away from Mel now, and she leaned in even closer, her mouth at Mel’s ear. “Think about this,” she whispered. “If the Mew-child dies, who might appear afterwards?”

Mel stumbled backwards, and the part of her mind focused on finding an escape route finally won out over everything else. I need to get outta here, and I need to do it now.

So she jumped out of the window.
 
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