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Pokémon Mew-child [complete!]

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 12: Reconnecting

Septimus Reus, author of the eponymous collected journals, prided himself on his attention to detail; even minutiae like variances in pronunciation of the name Suicune around the world warranted ample documentation. In contrast, he only had one page devoted to the topic of jumping out of windows. It started with “No no no no no” and kept on in that vein for roughly three paragraphs, during which he experimented with different letter sizes, capitalization, and even what looked like a brief foray into writing with his non-dominant hand.

Once he got that out of his system, Reus went on to say, “If someone is reading my notes, undecided on whether or not to jump from a window, and has gotten this far, then that person clearly has already made up their mind one way or another. With that in mind, best of luck to you, hypothetical person. Tucking your head in and rolling gives you a slightly better chance at survival.”

Mel had a different strategy, and hers was squishy, pinkish-purple, and roughly the size of her head. The window was open, she was thankful for that much, and Repeat, almost as if reading her mind, caught on to her plan immediately. She’d heard bird Pokemon milling about the Silph Co. building, and after she hurled herself out into the open air, Repeat transformed into one such Pokemon – a Pidgeotto. As they drifted towards the outskirts of the city, Mel could see Degree’s rapidly-shrinking face in the window.

Degree was laughing.

The breeze blew Repeat and Mel out to the route between Saffron and Celadon. Mel could never remember the designations of each route, but she knew that the one they were landing on was one of the smallest in Kanto. A skulk of Vulpix scattered into the tall grass as they landed, Mel’s feet alighting on the ground first before Repeat transformed back to his usual form and dropped into her arms. Mel tried to will her heart to stop pounding, but her mind kept straying back to Degree’s face right up next to hers, to Degree’s voice in her ear, to Degree just… laughing at her.

“We will be watching you every step of the way...” Mel said quietly as she stared up at the silhouette of Silph Co. in the distance, Degree’s words echoing through her head.

“What was that, boss?” asked Repeat. He shook his head as if clearing his thoughts; Mel felt relief in his mind.

Mel slid her backpack off and sat against one of the broad trees that lined the path, the bark rough against her back even through her shirt. “Oh… nothing, Repeat. I just… I mean, I…” She swallowed. The words wouldn’t come. How could she express the dull horror that was running through her, settling in the pit of her stomach, that Genesis would be watching her? Following her? That anyone she met could be a devotee of Degree Absolute? That not only had Janine been taken by Neo Rocket and then refused to recognize her, but now Bill was gone too? She’d needed to protect him, protect them, that was what she was supposed to do, but when it came down to it, she fell, she ran away—

A semi-solid pseudopod gently clapped her cheek. “Boss,” Repeat said, in a quiet voice that nonetheless cut through the fog in Mel’s mind like a knife. “Come back to me.”

“I… sorry.” With her eyes closed, Mel inhaled slowly through her nose, then let it out through her mouth. “Right. I’m here. I’m okay.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that!” The voice wasn’t Repeat’s, and that, plus a noise like something dropping from the leaves of one of the nearby trees, made Mel’s eyes shoot open. A slight woman knelt before her, wearing ratty clothes that hadn’t been improved by her time in the branches of a tree. “If you weren’t here, I’d have to start wondering real hard about where you were, kid.”

“Hello, Nia.” Mel didn’t bother to hide the acid dripping from her words as she tried to slow her heartbeat once more. It worked about as well as it had a few minutes prior, which was to say ‘not very’. “Should I even ask how you keep finding me?”

“Hah! You’re out here making it sound like I’m following you around or something!” Nia said with a toothy grin.

Mel’s eyes narrowed.

“Fine, fine.” Nia waved a hand dismissively. “For real, though. I like climbing trees. Gets me closer to the sky, you get it? So I’m just taking a break, you know, from important business, and decided to see what I could see from the canopy around these parts, and hey presto, here you come crashing down outta the air. When I finally meet Fate face to face, I’m gonna have to shake her hand for putting us in each other’s way so much!”

“Important business?” Mel asked flatly. She had to admit, even as much as Nia could wear on her nerves, it handily beat dealing with Genesis. “What kinda ‘important business’ are you dealing with, anyway?”

“Oh, this and that, that and this. But enough about me!” Nia leaned forward on the balls of her feet, her smile growing slyer. “I gotta know. Why the aerial escape? No, no, wait, lemme guess. You jumped outta the Silph building or something, am I right?”

“In one.” Mel rolled her eyes. “You’re gonna say it was a lucky guess, I bet.”

Nia clapped her hands triumphantly and rocked back onto her heels. “You get me, kid! Honestly, there’s some bad vibes coming outta Silph right now, so I figured you might’a had something to do with it.”

‘Bad vibes’, huh? I wonder… Out loud, Mel said, “Yeah. It’s Genesis. And their boss, who just gets creepier every time I run into her.”

“Degree Absolute is no joke,” Nia agreed, her tone suddenly more somber than Mel had been expecting. “Never met someone so… unreadable before. I’ve had a few run-ins with her myself, you know.”

“I bet. Last time I saw you was right after you were in her hideout. And now you’re out here, real close to where she’s popped up again.”

“Why, whatever are you implying?” asked Nia, an innocent smile on her lips.

Mel rose to her feet, making sure Repeat was holding on tight. “I didn’t think I was implying anything. That would mean I was being subtle about it. But I’m sure you’d just deny it anyway.” She let out a breath. “Whatever. If you’re here to be vague and arcane at me, then just go ahead and get it over with so you can leave me alone. I got stuff to do.”

With an affected look of pain on her face, Nia held her hand to her chest. “You wound me! I’m starting to think you don’t like my company, kid.”

“Can’t imagine why.”

“Look, all I’m gonna say is, be careful with Degree Absolute. She’s every bit as nasty as the one in charge of that other group giving you fits.”

Mel’s curiosity got the better of her. “You mean the Neo Rockets? All I’ve run into are grunts. Who’s running the show?”

“They say it’s some guy called No.1,” Nia whispered conspiratorially.

“Real creative naming scheme they got going there.”

Nia stifled a giggle and continued. “The guy never leaves his base, apparently. Issues all his commands remotely. The kinda guy who’s ten steps ahead of everyone else, and everything that happens is part of some master plan. That’s what I hear, anyway.”

“Hmph,” Mel grunted. “It’s hard to argue with that. They already captured Janine, and if they’re brainwashing a gym leader, they must be on top of their game.”

“Seems that way, huh.”

Mel’s face wrinkled into a scowl. “I know that tone of voice. What else aren’t you telling me about them, Nia?”

“Me? Nothing!” Nia put her hands up in front of her, radiating innocence. “That’s all the information I’ve got for you.”

“Uh-huh. Then why don’t you leave me alone? I gotta go find someone and deliver some stuff.”

Nia offered up a wide smile, one that glinted in the daylight. “Whatever you say, kid. Be seeing you!” She jumped into the boughs of a nearby tree and climbed off, with only the rapidly-dwindling sound of movement through leaves hinting to her location.

A long silence settled on the route before Mel pressed her fingers to her temples. “Ugh,” she muttered. “She always gives me a headache. Wonder if I’ve got any aspirin on me.”

“I got you, boss,” Repeat said, digging through Mel’s bag. He reemerged with a small pillbox; Mel took two of the capsules inside and swallowed them dry. “So we need to find Hyacinth next, right?”

“Right.” Mel nodded. “I’m hoping they got out of the building okay. They did say that they’d find us once we got out, so I wonder if that means we should stay where we are, or if we should try and put some more distance between us and Genesis—”

“That will not be necessary, Miss Rylan.” A figure in a trench coat stepped out of the gatehouse that straddled the border between the route and Saffron. They tugged the brim of their hat lower, partially obscuring their glasses. “I am pleased to see that you made it out of Silph Co. unscathed, though it is quite disappointing that we failed to keep Bill from harm.”

“You’re telling me, Hyacinth.” Mel exhaled slowly, trying to keep her thoughts from racing away once again. “They caught me by surprise. Cornered me.”

Hyacinth sidled up alongside Mel and reached up to hesitantly pat her on the shoulder. “I don’t believe it was your fault, Miss Rylan. There is only so much two people can do against so many. We shall simply have to overcome this situation from a different angle.”

“I guess so.” Mel looked up to the sky. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was continuing its slow march towards the horizon. A breeze rolled through the canopy, sparking a cascade of rustling. “I’m glad you’re here, Hyacinth,” said Mel.

Hyacinth beamed.

***
“So you believe you’ve found the items indicated by the Unown?”

“Yep. Check it out.” Mel, Repeat, and Hyacinth sat around a table in the corner of the Celadon Pokemon Center, where they were pretty certain nobody would bother them. The sun was beginning to set, and the normal visitors to the Center were already gone; now, there were only traveling trainers looking for a quick heal or a room for the night. Mel opened one of her backpack’s many pockets and emptied it onto the tabletop; a single plastic bag containing a CD jewel case slid out first, followed by two stones that clacked together then rolled to a stop.

Hyacinth’s glasses glinted in the fluorescent light. “Ah, just as I suspected. This appears to be a piece of amber, perhaps with remnants of an ancient Pokemon inside… and here we have a Silph Co. product. An Upgrade for Porygon, if I’m not mistaken. I am pleased to see that my hunches were able to help you. But what is this third item? This… is this a Mega Stone?” When Mel didn’t respond, Hyacinth looked up from the tabletop. “Miss Rylan?”

Mel stared at the table, the items there all drawing her focus. Her backpack slipped from her hands, rolling off of the table and coming to a rest on the floor; she reached her hands out, one to the CD and one to the Mega Stone. Pale sparks jumped between them and her fingertips as the distance grew smaller, and Mel’s eyes widened, her pupils shrinking.

A slap across the face from Repeat was all it took to break Mel from her reverie, and he swiveled around to face Hyacinth, giving a shrug as if to say ‘this happens sometimes.’ Hyacinth didn’t seem to care; they had their notebook out, scratching out notes as fast as their hand would let them.

“Sorry, sorry,” Mel grumbled, shaking her head and trying to clear the last cobwebs from her mind. She shoved the rocks and the CD back into her bag before she could look at them any longer.

“Is that something about which I should be concerned?” asked Hyacinth as they returned their notebook to a pocket.

“No,” Mel said, ignoring Repeat’s vigorous nodding. “I’m pretty sure it’s okay.”

“‘Pretty sure’?”

Mel leaned forward, bracing her arms on the table. “Look, don’t you start with me too. I get enough from this one here,” she added, pointing with her thumb at Repeat. “The way I see it, if the Unown wanted these things brought out to wherever I’m supposed to bring ’em, and I’m the one who’s supposed to do it, then it makes sense that there’s some weird mystical stuff going on with ’em.”

“I suppose that makes a certain kind of sense,” Hyacinth mused, their hand at their chin, as Repeat slapped his forehead and made an assortment of grumbling Ditto noises. “It is not a phenomenon with which I am terribly familiar, though I hasten to add that preternatural artifacts on the whole are a topic that frequently confounds me. More to the point, though, let us discuss the location to which the items must be taken.”

Mel dug through her backpack and pulled free a crumpled scrap of paper – the one that Hyacinth had left her, bearing the transcription of the Unown’s message. “Sounds good to me. ‘The isle where life begins,’ that’s what the Unown said. The problem I got with that is, don’t most isles got life on them? And if there’s life, it’s gotta be born somewhere. So there’s a lotta isles that could be called a place where life begins, right?”

A loud thud echoed through the Center as Hyacinth let a doorstopper of a book drop onto the table, though Mel could only guess where they’d been hiding it. It was weathered and ragged, and it looked like in its long life it had been through more fires than it cared to count. The only words on its cover were ‘Atlas of the World’, and then, underneath that in smaller type, ‘In Excruciating Detail.’ “Ordinarily, Miss Rylan,” said Hyacinth as they opened the book about halfway and started flipping pages, “I would find myself in agreement with your conclusion. However, in the time after our encounter with the Unown, I conducted some independent research into their words. Strictly out of personal curiosity, you understand.”

“Oh, of course,” Mel said with no detectable hint of sarcasm.

Hyacinth stopped on a page displaying a single, triangle-shaped island and turned the book around to face Mel. The artist of the map had illustrated it as mostly being covered in low grass and barren soil, with only a few scrubby trees standing out. A monolithic boulder, also shaped like a triangle, rose from the center of the island; either it was enormous or the island was tiny, and Mel couldn’t tell which. “My investigation led me to this map. If you would be so kind, direct your attention to the name at the bottom of the page.”

The text was small enough that Mel had overlooked it at first, but it was there, written in a floral script. Mel read it out loud. “Birth Island…”

Hyacinth tapped the side of their head. “I see you understand the significance. From what I have found, Birth Island is part of the Sevii archipelago, though due to its small size and relatively infertile conditions, it remained uninhabited. Now, very few even know of its existence; its appeal is mostly to those in pursuit of rare Pokemon, since it was rumored that a Pokemon from space made landfall there some time ago.”

Mel pulled the book across the table towards her, squinting at the map. “Abandoned island out in the middle of nowhere, weird unexplained stone pillar, tied to legendary Pokemon. Honestly, even if the Unown hadn’t basically spelled out the name of the place for us, I’d put money down on this island anyway. Something’s going on there.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Hyacinth grinned. “As it happens, I was hoping you agreed with me, since I took the liberty of arranging another favor for you.”

“And all you’re asking is a favor in return somewhere down the line, right?” Mel rolled her eyes, but she smiled back. “Shoot. What’d you get set up?”

***
“See, when I asked you what you’d set up, I was sorta expecting a guide or something. Not a private ferry right to the island.”

“What can I say, Miss Rylan? The owner of Seagallop owed me a favor, one that he has now repaid with aplomb.”

The ride to the Sevii Islands was much faster than the ones Mel had had in the past; the ferry, likewise, was slicker and sleeker. “Must have been a doozy, whatever you did for him,” Mel said, leaning atop the deck’s railing and watching the ocean pass by. Repeat sat inside her backpack, looking up at the sky.

Hyacinth stood next to Mel, though their height meant that they couldn’t lean over the railing so much as against it. “Let’s just say that some people take it very seriously when you locate their lost Sentret for them.”

“Can’t say I don’t understand that.”

A blast from the ferry’s horn signaled their arrival as the shore drew in to meet them. Birth Island was, in fact, quite small, and Mel could see clear to the opposite shore from where she stood. The stone monolith was no longer a feature of the island, but otherwise the map of it had proven quite faithful. Except for…

Mel squinted, trying to see the far shoreline more clearly. “Hyacinth, are there other boats over there?”

“Hm.” Hyacinth adjusted their glasses. “Yes, now that you mention it, it seems we are not alone. How curious.”

One of the boats looked to be a simple motorboat, hardly big enough for more than a pair of people at most, but the other was slate gray and looked like it would have had no problems sinking beneath the waves and traveling that way. An entrance swung open on its side, and from it spilled a group of people, all wearing identical gray outfits.

Mel’s blood chilled to ice in her veins. Neo Rocket had beaten them there.
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 13: The One Left Standing

“Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?”

“Whoa! Who is that? Who’s there?”

“Oh, I’m so glad! I’ve been trying so long to talk to you!”

“No, for real, who are you? What’s going on?”

“Before I can answer that, how’d you end up getting here?”

“Um… I was on a boat. A ferry. And we’d just hit shore at Birth Island. And we saw those Neo Rocket guys there at the same time. Then… then… ”

“Take your time. Try your best to recall.”

“I jumped out of the boat, and then…”

***
Mel jumped out of the boat, clearing the railing in a single leap. The water was bitterly cold, sinking straight in to her bones, but she cleared the distance from the ferry to the shore in what would have been record time for her had she been keeping track. Repeat clung tight to the back of her head, and she could feel him shivering every time the wind whipped the water into a spray.

Soon, Mel could feel the sand beneath her boots, and she ran up onto the shore without even bothering to dry off. The Neo Rockets were marching towards the center of the island, all of their steps perfectly in sync with one another. There were seven of them, and Mel recognized four: the two who she’d seen on the night of the Venomoth Festival (that feels so long ago now, she thought; so much has happened since then), the one who’d called herself No.2, and… Janine, No.8. Mel’s heart skipped a beat, but she forced it steady; there was no time to repeat what she’d done in the Tanoby Ruins.

But there was someone else, too, running up behind the Neo Rockets – a woman with rust-red hair and a pace that spoke to the fire fueling her. Even from a distance, the look in her eyes made Mel flinch. Izzy was on the scene, and she immediately let fly a Pokeball that opened and dropped an Exploud squarely in the middle of the crowd of grunts. The Exploud opened its mouth and let out an almost-visible sound wave, the force of which scattered the grunts to the ground. It was enough to make Mel clap her hands to her ears, even as far away as she was.

Mel took the opportunity to close the gap between her and Izzy, neatly skipping over an assortment of prone bodies. The blast hadn’t thrown them for very long; a chorus of groaning rose into the air as the Neo Rockets began the laborious trek back to their feet. “What’re you doing here, Izzy?” she hissed, then repeated herself after facing her when she remembered that Izzy couldn’t hear her.

“Took a lot of work,” Izzy signed. “But I tracked them down. The Neo Rockets. I found their ship right as they were leaving port. Followed them here.” She paused her signs a moment to crack her knuckles, the meaning of which was abundantly clear even to Mel. “And now, here, where they can’t run away from me, I will crush every single one of them. I will stop them from causing any more harm.”

“O-oh.”

***​

“Why didn’t you say anything else to her?”

“Look, if you haven’t met Izzy… Let me put it like this. When I ran into her the first time, she punched a stone wall hard enough to leave a dent and played it off like it was nothing. So when she started talking about crushing people, I didn’t want to do anything that would put me on the list of people who needed to be crushed.”

“Ah, I understand. Please, keep going. What happened next?”

“Well…”

***
The Neo Rockets regrouped, forming a semi-circle around the Exploud, who immediately backed off towards Izzy, waiting for a command. In all of the grunts’ hands were Pokeballs – all of them, Mel noticed, except for No.2. In a split second, all of the Pokeballs opened and six Pokemon appeared. Mel recognized the Hariyama as the same one that had pounded Repeat into a puddle, but it was far from the only formidable Pokemon in the lineup. Alongside it were an Exeggutor, turning this way and that so all three of its heads could see what was going on; a Scyther, running the edges of its blades along each other; a Lopunny, hopping from foot to foot; an Absol, keeping its steely gaze fixed on the Exploud; and… Janine’s Venomoth.

Izzy extended an arm, barring Mel from going any further, not that she was inclined to. “You stay out of this. You’ll only get in my way.”

A Pokeball arced over Mel’s head and released the hulking form of a Snorlax, coming nearly eye to eye with the Hariyama and dwarfing everyone else. “I would be loath to phrase it so, but I find myself in agreement with our colleague,” came a voice from behind Mel. “I think, perhaps, you might wish to use the items you brought with you while we keep these miscreants at bay.” Hyacinth took their place beside Izzy, nodding in acknowledgement at her and Mel both.

Even though her first instinct was to argue with Izzy, Mel bit it back. “On it,” she said, backing away from the group.

“Subject cannot be allowed to escape,” droned No.2. She gestured to the other grunts. “Dispose of these enemy combatants, then intercept.” The others nodded as one and began issuing their orders to their Pokemon. The Hariyama grappled with Dozer, fighting for control; Dozer’s eyes glowed a brilliant blue, then she released a Psychic blast that knocked the Hariyama aside. The Lopunny was next; it sprung nimbly out of range of each of Dozer’s blows before darting in to land quick strikes. Each one individually didn’t seem to faze Dozer, but the Lopunny could land several hits before Dozer could even launch an attack. Meanwhile, the Scyther, the Exeggutor, the Venomoth, and the Absol all had their attention focused on the Exploud, but were keeping their distance; the Exploud, for its part, seemed likewise reluctant to approach. Izzy, evidently tired of keep-away, signed a command to the Exploud, who let fly a sound wave strong enough to tear up the dirt underneath it. It plowed into its foes, who scattered like bowling pins.

Mel slipped away, dropping her bag underneath one of the long-dead trees that stood near the edges of the island. “They seem to have this under control,” she muttered to Repeat.

“Yeah, boss,” said Repeat. “Don’t ever get on their bad sides. That’s what I’m taking away from that.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m already on Izzy’s bad side.”

“I don’t think she has a good side.”

Mel chuckled as she emptied her bag out onto the ground. Only one pocket was open, so the only things that came spilling out were the CD, the amber, and the Mega Stone, not that she was certain that it was even a Mega Stone. “Okay,” she said under her breath. “I got them here. Pretty sure these are the right items, pretty sure this is the right place. So what do I do with them?”

“Remember what happens every time you touch them, chief?” Repeat said, perched on her shoulder.

“You think I should just… let it happen?” asked Mel. “Aren’t you usually the one snapping me out of it?”

Repeat made a shrugging motion. “Maybe it’s what needs to happen now. I can’t think of any other way you’d use a rock and a CD together.”

Mel swallowed and closed her eyes, reaching out her hands until she’d grabbed all of the items – one stone in each hand, and the Upgrade carefully clasped in between her index and middle fingers. She could feel the sparks erupting from them, and pictures of all three of them formed in her mind – as clear as if she was looking at them herself. Emotions ran high around her, threatening to sweep her up entirely, from all of the humans and Pokemon nearby – she could feel the anger and determination rising off of Izzy and her Exploud and the ever-present desire to be helpful from Hyacinth and Dozer, but she could even sense something welling up below the surface in the Neo Rockets. Wait, she thought. Just one of the Neo Rockets. It’s coming from… from No.2. What is… She shook her head. No. Can’t get distracted.

The rocks and the CD sent an electric jolt up her arms and down her spine, and Mel felt a familiar sensation, one she recognized from every other time she’d held them – the feeling of standing at the edge of a hole into the world while stars danced around her, of being drawn into a darkness that was nevertheless so bright it nearly hurt, of wanting to just let herself drop and fall in and let the universe envelop her—

Mel fell forward, the items still clutched firmly in hand.

***
“Do I have to explain the next part? I mean, you were there for it, kinda.”

“If you don’t mind? I just want to be sure we’re both on the same page, if you get what I mean.”

“If you say so.”

***
Mel opened her eyes. She didn’t recognize her surroundings, she knew that much – lush, grassy plains, much more alive than the island she had been on moments ago (was it moments? It feels like it could have been an eternity), spread as far as she could see in every direction. Trees, flush with vibrant leaves and plump fruit in a rainbow of colors, dotted the landscape, and they were just the right size for climbing. The breeze that ambled past her was cool but not cold, the exact right temperature, and the sun was creeping over the horizon, filling the sky with a comforting golden light.

“Isn’t that something, Repeat,” Mel said, shaking her head with a disbelieving smile. “I dunno where we ended up, but this is beautiful.”

The only sound that followed was the rustling of grass shaking in the gentle wind.

“Repeat?” Mel asked. She reached up to her shoulder, to her head, to her backpack – only to find that not only was Repeat missing, but so was her bag. “Oh,” she said, more quietly. She closed her eyes and tried to extend her senses further out from her, searching for any sign of anyone else nearby – Repeat, Hyacinth, even Izzy – but got almost nothing. As far as Mel could tell, she was completely alone – aside from a vague hint of a presence further away than she could see. It was far enough away that she couldn’t even tell what it was, much less what emotion it was feeling, but it gave her a place to start. She started walking.

The walk was long, longer than Mel could even keep track of, but she never felt herself get tired. The burning weariness that liked to set into her legs when she went on hikes never materialized. She had no way to tell how much time was passing – the sun rose and hovered in the sky above her, but it seemed to be going in the wrong direction and moving too slow anyway.

Eventually, the sky began to darken – not from the sun setting, but from clouds that only appeared when she wasn’t looking. They were light and fluffy at first, but soon grew heavy, ominously black. “I don’t like the looks of that, Repeat,” Mel said, only remembering his absence after silence set in again.

Still triangulating her path using the distant mind she could feel but not identify, Mel climbed to the peak of a hill, decorated with one lone apple tree, as the wind picked up around her. For miles around, the same landscape dominated, but one oddity stood out to her.

The clouds, the dark, evil-looking ones, weren’t blanketing the sky indiscriminately. They led somewhere, and Mel would have bet money that they were leading the same direction her psychic sense was taking her. She hoisted herself into the tree’s branches, trying to get as much height as she could – and then she could see it.

Set into the side of another hill, far away, was a cave. The clouds weren’t emanating from it, but they all seemed to be pointed in that direction.

“Well, Repeat,” Mel said, fully aware that he was nowhere to be found, “I guess we know where we’re headed, huh.”

She would have given anything for him to answer back.

***
“Aw, you miss your partner, huh?”

“Hey, shut up.”

“No, no! I’m not poking fun! I think it’s great that you and Repeat are so close.”

Anyway…”

***
Mel arrived at the cave only to find its opening completely sealed – a metal door covered the whole thing, and it refused to budge no matter how much Mel pulled on the handles. “Dunno why I thought that would work, Repeat,” she muttered, and her mind almost filled in the snappy retort on its own. “This door is locked up tight, and on top of that, it’s got all these thick metal chains across it.” She halfheartedly plucked at a chain, one of several that spanned the width of the cave’s mouth. “What am I supposed to do now…?”

The presence Mel had been following was the strongest she’d felt it, and she had a hunch that if she could only open the door, she’d see whatever it was sitting right behind. Getting nearer to it had done little to inform Mel as to what the presence was, though, and part of her was harboring some bitter resentment that she was essentially back at square one.

Then, she heard the voice.

“Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?”

It echoed inside her head, zapping straight to her brain without going through her ears.

***
“And the rest you know,” Mel finished. She was speaking out loud, in contrast to the voice’s resonance inside her mind, and she’d made herself as comfortable as she could by sitting on the grass, her back against the door. “Now I did what you asked. Mind telling me what’s going on, exactly?”

The voice didn’t say anything for a moment that let Mel listen to the wind whip around her. The door was set a little ways into the mouth of the cave, so Mel was protected from the elements, but she could still feel her stomach lurching with every gust. “I know you asked,” the voice eventually said, “but you’ve probably got your own guesses as to who I am, right?”

The thought had been circling in her head the entire time. Mel nodded. “You’re… the Mew-child, aren’t you?”

“That’s right, chief.”

Words tumbled over each other, fighting to get out of Mel’s mouth. The first one to make it was “Wow.” This was followed shortly by “I’m supposed to protect you! What’s going on? Where is this? And how can I get you out?”

“I am sealed away, as you’ve figured out,” the Mew-child said. Its voice was young-sounding, but there was a weariness in its words that suggested lifetimes of tragedy. “This place is a… projection of where I am confined. The items you found allowed your mind to reach mine, if only for a moment, and by doing so, you’ve weakened the seal some already.”

Mel looked over her shoulder at the door incredulously. “This is what the door looks like when it’s already weakened? Musta been a fortress to begin with.”

“Something like that. Look, I fear we don’t have much time. If you can release me, I will be safe. I know it,” the Mew-child said, its voice taking on a pleading tone. “But only you can do it. The others… they can’t be allowed to get to me. Their plans are…” It shuddered. “I don’t know what their plans are, but I dread finding out. Nothing good.”

“I’m…” Mel tripped over her words. “I’m trying my best, but how do I get you free? What do I have to do? And why is it only me that can? Why am I special?”

“It’s because—”

***
Mel’s eyes snapped open.

She was back on Birth Island, under the tree.

Her hands were empty. The items were gone.

Her senses returned to her in a flash, and she took in her surroundings.

The Neo Rockets’ Pokemon lay collapsed on the dry soil, all of them except for the Absol. The Absol stood alongside No.2, and together the two of them held the fossils and the CD. Another Absol – who Mel immediately realized was Repeat – crouched about midway between her and the Neo Rockets, not yet fainted but still injured. The Absol stole them, Mel thought, but it had to fight its way through Repeat first.

Dozer and the Exploud were also knocked out, and Hyacinth and Izzy knelt near them, and from how bruised and battered they were, Mel guessed they must have taken some blows too – but not without giving as good as they got, since all of the Neo Rockets themselves, save for No.2, were unconscious.

“The subject is awake,” No.2 said, and it was enough to make Mel jump; underneath No.2’s mask, she could feel… emotion. Barely-constrained rage, lighting No.2 up like a bonfire. But also… amusement? Is that what that is? “Well then, Subject Mel. I am pleased to see you,” No.2 continued, despite her emotions telling a different story. “Your… friends… here fought as hard as they could to protect you. However, it was pointless.” Her voice was still a careful monotone, even as her emotions boiled off of her. “I am the one left standing. And I have yet to exhaust all of my options.”

“Repeat,” Mel called. “Are you okay? Can you keep going?”

“Sorry, boss,” Repeat groaned. “They got me pretty good.”

No.2 extended her arms, a gray Pokeball in each hand. “It is just as well. You would not be able to stand up against this. Tell me, Subject Mel. I suppose you have figured out that brainwashing is a key part of our team’s formation.”

Mel grit her teeth and narrowed her eyes.

“Have you wondered how the act is done? How we remove memories? Erase emotions?” No.2 shook her head. “It is elegant, really. Allow me to demonstrate.” She tossed the two Pokeballs to the ground, and a Pokemon emerged from each of them.

The two Pokemon looked superficially similar – they were both only about a foot tall and they both floated in the air; their elfin bodies were blue-gray and they had a pair of slender tails each that ended in a red jewel. The only difference came in their heads: while they both had yet another red jewel in their foreheads, one had a pinkish-purple face and the other’s was yellow.

Mel knew what they were, though she’d never seen them in person before. How could she have? They were two of the guardians of Sinnoh – Uxie, the spirit of knowledge, and Mesprit, the spirit of emotion.

No.2 pointed a finger towards Mel. “Attack,” she said.

The two legendary Pokemon followed her command immediately, firing twin Signal Beams that struck Mel in the chest. She was thrown backwards and collided with the tree before slumping back down to the ground.

Mel’s vision began fading. She could hear voices at the edge of her consciousness, and she tried desperately to hold onto them, but they slipped away as soon as she processed them.

“Miss Rylan! Hold on!”

That’s Hyacinth.

“Hey! Boss! BOSS!”

And there’s Repeat…

“You must stay the course, Mel. Only you can do it!”

And that is… that is…

…the Mew-child?
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 14: Interlude - We Die Alone

In a different time, in a different place, there was a child, though this child was old enough to bear resentment at being called that instead of a teenager.

This was not unusual. Children generally grew into teenagers, there being very few ways of skipping the process, and this particular child valued specificity to a degree far above her peers.

Years ago, she had been given the nickname Moon for her habit of taking long, meandering walks through the town during the night. It had stuck, and soon very few people even remembered what she had been called before.

This, too, was not unusual. Many people had nicknames, from simple shortenings of birth names to exaggerations of physical features to names that they simply liked better. Moon was fond of hers; seeing the moon, bright, shining, mystical, swimming through the night sky, was one of the best parts of her walks, especially when the moon was full.

Moon had a Pokemon partner – a Ditto that she named Pete. The two of them had been at each other’s sides for a handful of years, ever since Moon had found the Ditto shivering under a pile of snow.

This was, in fact, unusual, but only because Moon had never formally caught Pete. She’d tried, once, but the Pokeball turned out to be busted; after that, she simply never bothered to try again. She and Pete were the only ones who knew that Pete was technically a free agent anyway; all anyone else knew was that they were inseparable.

One evening, Moon was abducted.

It happened during one of her winding trips that led her down the remnants of the old road. She was sitting on the edge of the viaduct, looking out over the river, lost in the rippling reflection of the moon and the stars. A breeze, one with some bite to it, blew past her, and she drew her coat in around her; Pete was inside, snoring quietly, huddled up against her.

Moon smiled.

It was a peaceful winter day, and her life had been anything but peaceful lately.

That was when a hand, holding a faintly-chemical-scented rag, clapped itself over her mouth from behind her.

The fumes filled Moon’s nose, her mouth, and the world swum around her, descending into heaving darkness.

The last sensation she felt before she dropped into unconsciousness was the gentle rise and fall of Pete’s breathing against her chest.

***​

The time that passed between Moon falling under and waking up again seemed to her to be at once an eternity and an instant, darkness that clung to her, surrounded her, and yet disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. When she opened her eyes, awareness didn’t set in immediately; she only knew that she was cold, and that the chair she was in was uncomfortably hard. The latter problem was easily solved by standing up, and it was then, when she drew her arm to her chest to keep Pete from falling out of habit, that she realized why the former problem was a problem at all. Her coat was missing, leaving her in only the jeans and t-shirt that she’d been wearing under it.

That was when it hit her.

Pete was gone.

The thought focused Moon’s mind more than anything else had. She was in a small room – no bigger than her bedroom at home, but with none of the comfort. The floor and walls were concrete, covered in faded, peeling paint that had once been white but now was barely even a color. A shattered window, barely big enough for her head to get through, sat in the wall behind her, letting air in that was growing colder by the minute; it was the only point of entry into the room other than two sturdy metal doors that were both, upon examination, locked. One of the doors had on it, at around eye level, a plaque that read ‘Furnace Room – Risk of Third-Degree Burns. Absolutely No Entry by Unauthorized Individuals’, but when Moon laid her hand against the metal, she could tell that the furnace wasn’t running – it was as cold as everything else. The rest of the room was barren.

Moon stared out the window. Snow began to drift down from the sky, all large lazy flakes, and she wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Hello?” she called. “Pete? Where are you?”

No answer came.

At least, not an answer Moon wanted.

Footprints echoed outside the door, the one that didn’t lead to the furnace, then the lock clicked and the door swung slowly inwards on hinges sorely in need of oil. The man who limped inside had a face Moon recognized in vague, dusty corners of her mind; it was sharp and angular and lean, just like the rest of him. He wore a slate-gray suit that had, at one point, been finely tailored, but time had eroded it into something threadbare and natty. Wrinkles were just beginning to set in around his forehead and the corners of his mouth, and his thin silver hair was swept back from his temples.

“Kid,” the man said in a voice both sharp and gravelly, and in that one word, Moon immediately remembered him: the man she’d seen the night she found Pete, the one looking for a small pink Pokemon. Moon had lied to him then, and her heart skipped a beat as she ran down the reasons why he might have seen fit to trap her in this cold room. Had he been waiting for her all this time? Was this her punishment for lying? Her hands twitched unconsciously to the straps of her backpack, the ones she fidgeted with when she was nervous, but her backpack wasn’t there either. She swallowed.

“I brought you here to talk,” he continued, either unaware of or ignoring the journey Moon was sure her face was going on. “There are some things you’ve got in that head of yours that I want to know. Let me in on them, and you’ll go home. Easy, right?” He closed the door behind him and let a hefty rusted toolbox drop to the floor.

All she had to do was tell him what she knew? Moon took a hesitant step backwards. “Um, Snover grow berries on their bellies in the spring. Mantyke look different in other countries. Finneon can glow in the dark. Skorupi—”

The man put a hand up. “Stop. Look. Kid… No, what’s that nickname everyone calls you? Moon? Moon, I need to actually ask you the question first—”

“What’s your name?”

“Huh?”

“What’s your name?” Moon repeated. “You know mine. I should know yours.”

The man sighed and ran a sinewy hand through his hair. “You can call me… One, I guess. That’s as good as anything.” He watched her with cold eyes, doubtless waiting for her to comment on it, but Moon had never been one to think any other name was odd. “So have you—”

“If you just wanted to talk, why did you lock me in here?” In the years since she could have been called a child and not gotten irritated about it, Moon’s insistence on answering exactly the questions she was asked had morphed into a general feeling that everyone else should do the same, and she made a point of asking direct questions whenever she could. Questions were familiar ground for Moon. If she was asking questions, she didn’t need to be scared.

One let out a low rumble from deep in his throat. “Kid. Moon. Shut up. I don’t want to—”

“How am I supposed to answer the question you want me to answer if I shut up?”

Okay. Okay.” One took a deep breath, then let it hiss out through his teeth. He knelt and rummaged through the toolbox, coming back up with a length of iron chain that he wound experimentally around one hand before loosing it and approaching her. “We’re going to play things a little differently then.”

***
The chain bound Moon’s hands behind her back, behind the chair. A second chain bound her feet. Sharp pain radiated out of bruises all over her body. Blood dribbled from her lips, from her nose, and it blended with her tears as they dripped off of her chin.

“I… I don’t know…” she said, forcing the words out through shallow breaths.

It was the truth.

But One didn’t believe it. He’d already shed his jacket, revealing a stained, rumpled shirt that he rolled the sleeves up on. After he’d forced her into the chair and tied her down, he’d started kicking.

“No. Try again. Where is Mew? What do you know?”

“I don’t, I don’t know anything about— about—”

One swung his leg in a wide arc, his hands in his pockets. The tip of his scuffed shoe drove into her side, and Moon let out a sob.

“Pl-please!” she coughed. “Please! Why don’t you believe me? I’m, I’m telling the truth!”

“You are not.” One took a step closer and leaned in, his face close enough to Moon’s that she could feel his breath. “I know your game, Moon. You know what the technical term is? ‘Lying by omission.’ All the intel we gathered on you said the same thing. ‘Watch out for Moon. She’s slippery. Never gives you a straight answer.’ And I know you’re not giving me a straight answer now. Go on, ask me how.” He slammed his heel into her stomach. “Ask. Me. How.”

Moon’s cry pierced the frigid air. It had only grown colder outside, and snow was falling, drifting in through the broken window, scattered every which way by the wind. “H…” she started, but no further sounds would come out of her mouth.

That was evidently good enough for One. “We saw Mew. Early mornings in town. More than once. And every time, it was flying around your home.” He grabbed her chin and yanked her face forward. “Your. Home. What do you suppose the odds of you knowing nothing about Mew are, given that it seems to have such an interest in you?”

“I d… don’t…”

“Wrong!” One shoved Moon’s chin up sharply, snapping her head backwards. “Useless. Useless! I’m going to get this out of you, kid. No matter how long it takes. You think you can outlast me?” He bared his teeth, not waiting for an answer. “I’m going to let you sit here for a while. Looks like the weather’s taking a turn for the worse. Stay warm.”

One untied her.

Then One left.

***
Moon had no idea how long it had been. Her stomach and her throat gnawed at her, from equal parts hunger, thirst, and pain. Snow had only continued piling up, billowing inside, coating a full half of the room. It had even reached the door that led to the boiler room and covered the plaque on it, all except for two words. She’d curled up in one corner and tried to will warmth back into her body, but it wasn’t working.

She shivered.

More precisely, she hadn’t stopped shivering.

It felt like the chill was eating into her from every direction – from the wind, from the floor, from the walls, even from inside her. The room spun around her, pressing heavily against her mind, daring her to shut her eyes, but Moon couldn’t even stand up.

“Need…” she breathed. “Need… help. ’M gonna fall ’sleep. Can’t sleep.”

Nobody heard her.

Moon raised one arm, weighed down with lead. It barely rose past her shoulder. With every heartbeat, slower and slower each time, a dull echo of pain reverberated through her head. “Where ’m I?” she muttered. “Don’t… ’member.”

Something slid in through the window, down the slope of frozen snow. Moon blinked at it with bleary eyes.

“Pete?”

It looked like a Ditto, at least as far as Moon could tell. Small, pink. Lacking a shape.

“Pete, ’s me… You… you came to…”

The door swung open.

One.

“There you are, you little rat,” he hissed.

Moon lifted her head dizzily. “S’not a rat… s’Pete.”

Nobody took any notice of her. Pete inched forward, bearing an unusually determined expression. Then…

Pete changed.

Moon had seen Pete change before. Most Ditto could. But this time was different. It was less that Pete was temporarily borrowing a different form, and more that Pete was changing back.

A small, pink Pokemon. Not any bigger than a Ditto. A feline head with wide, piercing eyes. A long, slender tail.

Mew.

It looked at Moon, its head cocked, its face enigmatic. Then it turned its attention to One briefly before flying past him out the door.

One gave chase, holding a single Pokeball in one hand. Moon had never seen one like it before. The bottom half was the usual white, while the top half was purple with two pink circles.

The world fell quiet. Then, a triumphant shout from One, a high-pitched screech, a noise like a Pokeball opening, and a bright flash of almost pure-white light that hurt to look at, deep inside her brain.

“Help…” mumbled Moon, moments before her eyes shut and she slipped into sleep.

***
The person who found the missing teenager wasn’t sure what made them look in the abandoned building with the broken windows, the one half-hidden by the snow that was so common this time of year in northern Sinnoh. It was like there was a little voice in the back of their head that told them where to go. They dug through the snow, looked through one of the windows, and could just barely see, in the corner, a slip of a girl, underdressed for the weather, huddled in the corner, not moving. The rest of the building was abandoned – not a soul to be found. The only signs that anyone had been there recently were debris strewn about the hallway outside the girl’s room, and even then, the person thought, that could have easily been the wind.

They retrieved the girl and delivered her to the hospital.

The girl stayed asleep longer than anyone thought she would. Hours passed, then days, then weeks. Slowly, her strength returned to her, but her body refused to wake up. Experts examined her and said that there was something psychological about it all, but that was of scant comfort to anyone, let alone the girl.

It was years before her eyes opened.

She didn’t know where she was, and she couldn’t remember what had led up to her being there.

She remembered the cold. She remembered a man’s hand on her chin, and iron chains around her wrists. She remembered Pete, and she remembered a small, pink, feline Pokemon staring at her.

Most of all, though, she remembered the sign on one of the doors.

‘Furnace Room – Risk of Third-Degree Burns. Absolutely No Entry by Unauthorized Individuals’.

The snow had covered most of it up. There were only two words left that she could remember seeing.

‘Degree.’ ‘Absolute.’
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 15: Hopeless

Visions danced through Mel’s head, ethereal and ephemeral. As soon as she got a glimpse of one, it vanished, only to be replaced by something equally incomprehensible.

A purple coat, discarded on the ground.

A terrible machine, wreathed in thick cables.

Red gemstones, floating in the darkness.

The number ‘1’, written in blood.

A familiar figure, clad in ragged clothing and bearing a wide, impish smile.

A small pinkish-purple blob.

Pink fur cascading across a curious, cat-like face.

Mel’s eyes shot open. “Just once,” she muttered as her senses returned to her, “I’d like to have a dream where I understood more than half of it.”

Or rather, that was what she would have said, but before she got past the first word, Mel realized that there was a cloth tied around her head, through her mouth – a gag. She let out a muffled yelp, equal parts surprise and anger, and tried to stand, only to find that her arms and legs were likewise bound behind her back, forcing her to stay seated in the chair she found herself in.

Okay, Mel, think. Think. What’s going on? Where am I? Mel’s eyes darted across her surroundings. Dim, flickering fluorescent lights hummed above her, the only noise breaking the silence. The room was small enough to be a closet, albeit one that was walk-in, and the walls, floor, and ceiling were all a uniform slate gray. A table, gray, sat in the corner a few feet away from the chair, also gray, that Mel was tied to. A single gray door with a frosted window led out, and on the same wall, some feet above the door, was an air vent, which was, curiously, white.

With interior design like this, I can’t imagine who this room belongs to, Mel thought, rolling her eyes. Time to focus. What do I remember? I was at Birth Island. I talked to the Mew-child. But then No.2 stole the things from me and knocked me out. And she had those legendary Pokemon, she realized with a chill down her spine. Two of them. That’s bad news.

Wait, hold on. Where’s Repeat?


“I see the… subject… is awake,” came a voice from somewhere in the ceiling. Mel jumped – she hadn’t seen a speaker or anything where it could have been emanating from. It sounded like No.2 filtered through a few layers of static, but Mel could still hear the disgust dripping from the words.

“What’s going on?” Mel tried to ask. What actually came out was, “Mmph mmn mn?”

“I expect the subject wishes to know more about her circumstances,” No.2 continued. “Ordinarily, the subject would be advised that no such information would be forthcoming. However, in this circumstance, there appears to be no harm evident in enlightening her.”

“Mmn mm mph mmmph,” said Mel, which meant “get to the point.”

“Number nine.”

Mel frowned. Number nine? What does that—wait, she doesn’t mean—!

“I see the subject understands. Yes. The subject will become Neo Rocket No.9. Now that the subject has been properly restrained, our tools for the erasure of memories and emotions will be present shortly. The subject is advised to enjoy her last moments as herself. Inasmuch as she can, anyway.”

The loudspeaker cut off with a squeal.

A weight settled in Mel’s stomach. No. No. I can’t let that happen. There’s too much at stake. I have to find Repeat. I have to save Janine and Bill and the Mew-child. I have to get out of here. If they get in my head, it’s all over. The only other people who know what’s going on are Hyacinth, Izzy, and that professor. Mel swallowed. She could feel her heartbeat speeding up, and the world was beginning to spin around her. She squeezed her eyes shut. Okay, okay, calm. I need to be calm. Can’t afford to panic. If I think it through, maybe I can figure out how to get out of this. I’m tied up. How do I get NOT tied up? These ropes are tight. I can barely move at all. Can’t call for help. Nobody would be able to hear me, and besides, I’m sure everyone around here is a Neo Rocket anyway. Can’t just wait for someone to waltz in and save me; that’s not going to happen.

Despite her best efforts, Mel could feel the fear rising up her throat. What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?! I—I—!

The fear subsided.

Mel’s heart slowed.

Her eyes opened.

She spread her arms experimentally, and the ropes fell to the ground.

The bindings around her legs and her mouth followed shortly.

Mel stood.

Were those… not as tight as I thought? Mel asked herself, staring at her hands. Was I panicking over nothing?

A muffled voice, speaking indistinctly, drifted in from outside the door – a Neo Rocket. Right, Mel thought. Thinking later. Escaping now. She dragged the chair to the wall, underneath the air vent, and clambered up on top of it. Balancing on her tiptoes, Mel could just reach the vent, and she pried the grill loose, letting it fall to the floor with a clatter. Right as the doorknob began to turn, Mel grabbed the lip of the vent and hoisted herself up, mentally giving thanks to a workout routine that was heavy on the pull-ups. The duct was only barely big enough for her to scramble inside and draw herself forward, disappearing into it just as someone entered the room behind her. The last thing she heard before the banging of her hands on sheet metal drowned everything else out was the Neo Rocket’s voice – “She’s escaped into the ductwork.”

When it came to dangerous situations, the average reader would have been hard-pressed to name one that Septimus Reus, he of the Collected Journals, had not thrown himself headlong into in the name of tracking legendary Pokemon. As a matter of fact, one of the sections of his final journal was ‘Dangerous Situations I Have Not Been In,’ and it was an otherwise-blank page. In his essay describing his search for the rumored Genesect, Reus went into detail about the abandoned Plasma facility he infiltrated by climbing in through the air ducts.

“When you see people crawling through air ducts in the movies,” Reus wrote, “you don’t get the whole story as to why it’s actually a bad idea. Have you ever laid hands on sheet metal? It’s noisy stuff. Plus, it’s usually got jagged edges, which essentially make ductwork noisy, painful tunnels. Don’t even get me started on how small the ductwork tends to be – and you’d best pray that you don’t come across a 90-degree bend in the duct, because those are a bear to get around when you can barely move.

“All in all,” Reus continued, “I give air ducts one of my lowest safety ratings of all: a scant 0.5 Koffing out of 5. It’s really not worth it. If you can, just find a door and save yourself some heartache.” By way of comparison, Reus gave ‘touching a Magcargo barehanded’ a rating of ‘1 Koffing’ and ‘exploring Mount Moon without any Repels’ a rating of ‘0 Koffing’, also known as the vaunted ‘Skull and Crossbones.’ When a colleague asked Reus why zero Koffing was the ‘Skull and Crossbones,’ since no Koffing at all would actually be safer than, say, five Koffing in one’s immediate vicinity, Reus wrote them back an angry letter, the contents of which were never published but were assumed to be sufficiently scathing.

The air vent Mel had climbed into hit Reus’ trifecta: a loud clang echoed all around her every time she so much as moved her hand, she could barely raise herself up past her hands and knees, and she’d already opened three different cuts on her hands and arms from the sharp metal.

It was, as Reus would have put it, a very ‘0.5 Koffing’ sort of day.

Only the sparse light peeking in through other vents gave Mel anything to navigate by. She crawled to the one nearest to her and looked out through it. The vent hung above an empty room, outfitted much like the one she’d escaped from; the only difference was that instead of a table and a chair, it had a locker and a cot with neatly-folded sheets.

Bedroom, thought Mel. Nothing here. Keep going.

Before she could pull herself past the grate, though, the loudspeaker in the room squeaked into life. “Subject Mel,” said the droning voice of No.2. “I am aware you are listening. You should not be fooled into believing that you have given us the slip. You can only go so far. Exit the ventilation system now, and we will proceed with your induction.”

And why is that a good option?

“It is the same thing that would have happened anyway,” No.2 said, as if reading Mel’s mind, “but as it is a foregone conclusion, it will save you some trouble.”

Mel rolled her eyes and began crawling past the bedroom. The next room past it was also a bedroom, but as she looked into it through the grate, the door leading in opened and one of the grunts entered. They had purple hair, but Mel could tell that they weren’t Janine – and that was confirmed for her when the grunt took their mask off after grabbing a bottle of water from the locker. They looked fairly androgynous, and their hair was thicker and more unruly than Janine’s. Mel recognized the face, but not enough to put a name to it – she vaguely recalled seeing it in some TV show about the gym leaders of Johto. The grunt put their mask back on after taking a drink of water and tossed a Pokeball to the ground, releasing the Scyther Mel had last seen on Birth Island; the two of them left the room.

So they have more than one gym leader… Mel thought. I wonder why that hasn’t been bigger news… is it because that was a Johto leader? What’s their obsession with collecting leaders anyway?

“Subject Mel,” came No.2’s voice, again through the loudspeaker. “Make no mistake. We will find you. There is something to be said for giving up the fight when a loss is inevitable. Why continue to struggle? You have no hope left. To continue on in the face of certainty is foolish. Idiotic. Do you understand this, Subject Mel? You are undertaking idiotic actions. You are idiotic.”

Must be getting on her nerves. Mel couldn’t sense No.2, but her words were evident enough. The third bedroom she arrived at was identical to the others, and in this one, a grunt was already in there – they too were putting their mask on, but not before Mel could catch a glimpse of their face. Unlike the last one, Mel recognized this grunt immediately.

It was Blue, the ex-gym leader of Viridian. His orange-brown hair, his piercing eyes, his striking resemblance to his grandfather – they were all unmistakable. Mel couldn’t stop a quiet gasp from leaving her mouth. She knew that Blue was no longer a gym leader – he had, some years back, voluntarily ceded the position to another Pallet trainer named Green so that he and the champion Red could travel the world. The last Mel had heard, Blue and Red had popped up in Alola, but that had been ages ago and she didn’t know what had become of them after that.

What if they have Red too? Blue is bad enough, but… The thought was sobering. Red had been known as the best in the world in his day, and even after he’d secluded himself at the peak of Mount Silver, trainers were chomping at the bit to test their mettle against him. Blue was a nightmare to battle, Mel knew that much from word of mouth, but Red had beaten him every time they went head-to-head. Neo Rocket with both Red and Blue, Mel thought, might be nearly invincible.

“Subject Mel,” No.2 said from the loudspeaker. “I trust you are finding your unauthorized excursion through our base illuminating. Here is something I hope you find equally illuminating. Do you know what I feel towards you, inasmuch as I feel anything?”

Silence followed. Is she expecting me to answer? Mel thought. Has she lost it?

“Hate.” That one word had more venom dripping from it than anything else Mel had heard out of No.2’s mouth. “Hate, hate, hate. I loathe you, Subject Mel. I harbor unbridled hatred towards you. If you were to replace every letter in A Relentlessly Thorough History of the Pewter Museum of Science with the word ‘hate’, it would scarcely approach one-tenth of the bile that I reserve for you, personally.”

What did I even do to you, lady?

“We have defeated you. Multiple times. We defeated you in Fuchsia City. We defeated you on Birth Island. The only reason we did not defeat you in the Tanoby Ruins is because of your violent associate. And yet, you refuse to accept the inevitable. We will defeat you once more, now that you are isolated from your colleagues and your Pokemon. You must know this. It is within our power to kill you, Subject Mel. It would be a simple task. An Absol’s blade can cut a human’s neck as easily as a Pokemon’s. The sole reason why you are still alive is that we require you to unseal the Mew-child. Once it is free, with the gym leaders under our command, the Mew-child will easily be captured and will likewise fall into line. We will have unparalleled power, Subject Mel. And the only obstacle that stands in our way is you.”

The gym leaders under their command… Mel thought. That’s right! If Neo Rocket has a collection of some of the most powerful trainers in the world, controlling any Pokemon they caught would be a snap! That must be how they’re getting Uxie and Mesprit to obey them! If they’re smart about it, they could walk away with any legendary they can find!

“So why do you persist, Subject Mel? Why do you not give in? You have no hope. There is nothing you can do. Your struggle is futile. Worthless.” No.2’s voice steadily grew louder and louder until she was nearly shouting. “Why? Why? Why, why, why, why—”

The loudspeaker cut off.

Mel couldn’t move for a moment. She was pretty certain she’d just heard, broadcast to the entire base, the sound of someone finally losing their tenuous grip on reality. She shuddered, tried semi-successfully to shake it off, and kept moving.

The next grill overlooked, not another bedroom, but some kind of jerry-rigged Pokemon Center. A healing machine that had almost certainly been stolen lay to one side, cables and wires connecting it to a power source through haphazard holes in the wall. A ramshackle metal shelving unit sat next to it, barely supporting stacks upon stacks of Potions of every flavor, Full Heals, Revives, and a rainbow of other items.

There was only a single Pokemon in the room, resting on one of the shelves and staring at the closed door.

Mel’s eyes widened. “Repeat!” she said aloud before remembering where she was and clapping a hand over her mouth. When Repeat failed to hear her, instead continuing to stare at the door, Mel reached out and grabbed the grate, tentatively shaking it. He must be terrified. Can’t do anything but just watch the door, waiting for someone to come for him. Hold on, Repeat, she thought, I’m coming. I’m gonna save you.

The grate refused to give more than a fraction of an inch; unlike the one in the room Mel had been interred in, this one was tightly screwed to its frame. Mel shoved against it a few more times, then exhaled. Shoot. No dice. What are my options here? I could try and climb down somewhere else, but then I’d have to find my way back to this room – and I’m sure they’ve gotta be on high alert for me. That’s not gonna work. What else? I could leave, track down Hyacinth and Izzy, and come back guns blazing… except I don’t even know where I am. That’s no good either. Think, Mel. Think. Think! With her eyes screwed shut, Mel slammed her hand against the grill one more time…

….and it fell out, screws scattering across the floor.

Mel blinked, then hissed as the stabbing pain in her fist finally made it to her brain. She grabbed the lip of the vent and pulled herself out, trying to ignore how sharp the metal was; with an inelegant tumble, she was on the ground.

Repeat still didn’t shift his gaze from the door. “Repeat?” Mel asked, wiping away some of the blood from her palms off on her pants. “Repeat? You okay?”

There was no response.

“Hey, come on, man. It took me longer than I wanted, but I still came for you. You don’t have to give me the silent treatment.” Mel approached him, her hands shaking, and gently rubbed him on his back. “Say something, buddy…”

Repeat turned to her. “Oh, sorry, you were talking to me?”

“Of course I was, dummy!” said Mel, a smile spreading across her face as relief coursed through her veins. “Who else would I be talking to? Now let’s get outta here, huh?”

“Um.” Repeat cast an askew glance at her. “Who are you, exactly?”

Mel paled. “…What?”

As Repeat’s words sunk in, the door to the room swung open, slamming hard into the wall. No.2 strode in, her pale skin and blood-red hair letting Mel identify her easily even though she was still dressed identically to every other Neo Rocket. “Subject Mel,” No.2 said, her words dropping out of her mouth like tombstones. “You behaved exactly as I expected you to.”

“You expected…?”

“Naturally.” The vibes around No.2 pulsated like a heartbeat, radiating anger, hate, and disgust. Mel could feel it rolling through her head, coating her mind in No.2’s sludge. “Given that you had escaped, it was only logical to assume that you would attempt to rescue your miserable excuse for a Pokemon. So I waited for you. And now, Subject Mel, we will undergo a journey together.”

“What’re you talking about?” Mel growled. “Undo whatever you did to Repeat before I cave your head in!”

No.2 waved a finger in Mel’s face at an angle seemingly precisely chosen to maximize irritation. “No, Subject Mel. We will, together, explore the reasons why you continue to struggle in the face of inevitability.”

“And how’re you gonna do that?”

“That is easy enough, Subject Mel.” No.2 snapped her fingers, and one of the guardians of Sinnoh – Uxie – appeared behind her. “We are going to examine your memories. And then we will erase them.”

Uxie opened its eyes.

Mel couldn’t stop herself from looking.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Finally picking this up again! Let's see, where'd we leave off... oh right, the Apple Store Silph Co! I like how the absurdly video game-y layout of Silph Co. is actually a thing here and actually very inconvenient for the staff. xD And man. That encounter with Degree Absolute, hot damn. Chills.

Holy crap Izzy is on a mission. Fighting off Neo Rockets that ambush you is one thing, but hunting down said Neo Rockets to teach em a lesson is another thing entirely!

Interesting that the items that the Unown told Mel to gather don't necessarily take you to where the Mew-child is, but rather, take your mind there. But why was it sealed, and why was Mel able to reach it? Still a lot of mysteries left...

You know, it's interesting that it hasn't yet been explained what... exactly the Mew-child... is. I mean, yes, obviously Mew's offspring, but like. Is it also a Mew? An imperfect Mew? Imperfect how? Was the Mew that we saw in the Interlude the Mew itself?

oh, speaking of the Interlude:

“How am I supposed to answer the question you want me to answer if I shut up?”
lmaooo Moon is a brat
The chain bound Moon’s hands behind her back, behind the chair. A second chain bound her feet. Sharp pain radiated out of bruises all over her body. Blood dribbled from her lips, from her nose, and it blended with her tears as they dripped off of her chin.
oh jesus i take it back, i take it ba--
‘Degree.’ ‘Absolute.’
AJFHDKGFAGF????

asdf okay Moon is Degree Absolute. Yeah no wonder she didn't sound anything at all like Mel. But then... what about the fact that she had a Ditto (or rather, what she thought was Ditto) with the exact same naming convention? aaaaa there's still some unexplained connection between the two, I just know it!

And man, the revelation that the Neo Rockets are using the pixies to do their brainwashing makes perfect sense and also gives them a looooot more 'oomph.' (I'd kinda been mentally designating Genesis as the more memorable baddies here, but the latest stuff with No.2 has definitely bridged the gap.) No clue how the heck Mel's gonna get out of this one. (Although... was it just me or did it seem like Mel's psychic abilities were getting slightly more physical in this chapter? :o Gonna keep an eye on that...)
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
I always love reading your thoughts! :D I was really proud of the faceoff with Degree Absolute. A lot of your questions about the properties of the Mew-child will be answered very soon!

Chapter 16: My Name is Mel

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

This was unusual, not because of the existence of the child in general – as was previously established, children were fairly common – but because of where the child was. She lived in a Pokemon shelter, the only other human inhabits of which was a newlywed couple that, to put it delicately, had not been expecting children when she came along.

The child was standoffish, but not quiet, tending toward violent outbursts as often as hiding and hoping nobody could see her.

This, too, was unusual, as that particular combination of traits made her a rarity among her peers. That was not the only reason she stood out, but it certainly didn’t help.

Though she lived in a house full of injured and recovering Pokemon, the child had none of her own.

This was not, in fact, unusual. The child had not yet turned 10 years old, though she would very soon. As one of the minimum requirements for a trainer’s license was being at least 10, she wasn’t allowed to handle Pokemon on a professional level, though most people turned a blind eye to the friendly, unofficial battles that the younger children got up to.

The child’s name was Mel, and on the morning of her 10th birthday, she woke up from a dream that had her tossing and turning. With her pillowcase dampened by sweat, Mel sat up, rubbing at her eyes, trying to recall the details. Though they were rapidly disappearing from her head, Mel could remember a few things: a Ditto, a Mew, someone in a gray uniform, a woman wearing a purple coat…

Then it was gone. It didn’t bother Mel; she always had weird dreams on nights after her mom told her stories about the Mew-child.

A Doduo crowed in stereo from the yard behind the shelter. His name was Blitz, and he’d been with the shelter for as long as Mel could remember. Mel had long since learned to dread his daily morning alarm, because as soon as he was awake, almost everyone else in the shelter would be waking up too.

Then Mel felt it: a dull pressure that surrounded her mind like an ocean, ebbing and flowing but inexorably making its way further and further inwards. It carried with it a familiar ache, composed of the pain and happiness and anger and sadness of everyone nearby. Not all of it was bad, but there was just so much

Mel screwed her eyes shut and tried to force it all down. Her psychic powers weren’t new, and they had always been, well, a headache, since she couldn’t turn them off. Her parents had no psychic powers of their own, and all they’d been able to do for her had been to get advice from some of the practitioners in Saffron. With their help, Mel was learning to dampen the effects somewhat, but it was a slow process. In the meantime, though, there was at least the aspirin that her parents let her keep next to her bed. Mel swallowed one of the pills, hoping it would take the edge off soon, and rose.

Making her way to the kitchen for breakfast required Mel to avoid a group of three Pichu that were making a spirited attempt at gnawing through a power cable; in the kitchen itself was a Gulpin, the only one of its kind Mel had ever seen, trying to pry open the refrigerator. As Mel sat with a bowl of cereal, a Natu hopped from one side of the table to the other, its wide, unblinking eyes fixated on hers. A Growlithe and a Meowth tumbled past, tussling with each other, nearly colliding with her legs.

All in all, it was a typical morning – the kind that made Mel thankful she was about to leave the house to go to school.

‘School’, in this case, referred to Fuchsia Elementary, within walking distance of the Rylan Family Pokemon Shelter. The wind bit at Mel through her jacket; her parents hadn’t yet had the opportunity to get her a new one after a Slugma slept on it. Mel didn’t mind, though – the air was fresh and cool, a nice change of pace from her house’s stuffy atmosphere, which had impressed upon her the indelible odor of countless Pokemon.

As Mel walked, other students hurried past her, none of them pausing to give her even the slightest glance; to nearly everyone else in her grade, Mel was “that weird girl in ratty clothes.” It didn’t help that Mel had hit her growth spurt early and had been a head taller than everyone else for over a year. It was almost paradoxical: her size, her clothes, the smell of Pokemon on her, all made Mel stand out, and all she got for it was to be ignored almost wholly.

Almost.

A spike of malice pierced the fog of emotions that washed through her mind. Mel lifted her head. She was nearly at the school gates, and waiting for her there were…

They were in her grade; she never cared enough to remember their names, but she knew who they were. There were three of them, all boys; they looked to be roughly the same size, but to Mel, everyone at school was shorter than she was anyway. Two of them were twins, with identical scraggly haircuts and pristine uniforms; the third, the leader, was stocky and had a buzzcut so close to his head that he was nearly bald. His otherwise flawless face was marred by a misaligned nose, from the one fight he’d been in where anyone had managed to land a punch on him.

Without their names, Mel had mentally nicknamed them Twin 1 and Twin 2 (though which one was which varied based on the day) and Cueball.

“Do you smell something?” Twin 1 asked in a sing-song lilt.

“Meowth musk, isn’t it?” said Twin 2 with a gap-toothed sneer.

“Naw, I think it’s Spearow poop.”

“You’re crazy. It’s gotta be the Meowth.”

“Spearow!”

“Meowth!”

“Hey, hey,” Cueball said, holding up his hands. “Shut up. That’s not very nice of you, is it? All it is is Melanie. That’s all. She can’t help that she stinks, right?”

“Or that her clothes are nasty,” Twin 2 said.

“Right,” Cueball continued with a leery grin. “So let’s leave her alone, huh?”

Mel rolled her eyes. She knew better than to take Cueball’s words at face value.

“So how’s it going today, Melanie?” Cueball asked.

“I don’t wanna talk to you.” Mel held tight to the straps of her backpack and began to walk past them. “I’m going to class.”

The twins stood in her way, blocking the gate. “Leaving so quick?” Twin 1 asked.

“We’re just trying to be friendly,” added Twin 2.

Mel shoved through them, and her size gave it some added oomph. “I don’t care what you’re trying to do,” she said. “Stay outta my way.”

“Well, isn’t that a shame.” Cueball punctuated his sentence by cracking his knuckles. “Here we are, all nice and everything, and this is how you treat us. I guess we gotta teach you some manners.”

“Of course you do.” Mel rolled her eyes and let a breath stream out through her teeth. It always went the same with them. No matter what she said, they’d find some excuse to start trading blows. And so Mel fell back on the only thing that worked.

She ran.

Cueball and the twins hadn’t always paid that much attention to her. For a while, they’d ignored her entirely in favor of smaller targets. But as more and more people in their year turned 10, got their license, and left school to go on their own gym challenges, the number of potential victims dwindled. Their class was barely half as big as it had been at the beginning of the year, and the threat of Cueball turning his gaze on her was almost incentive enough for Mel to want a license of her own, in spite of her general dislike of being around Pokemon.

Running at full speed, Mel easily outpaced Cueball and the twins, who were reduced to bracing themselves against their knees and panting before they’d even made it two blocks. Mel didn’t stop. It wasn’t the first time she’d missed a day of school; sometimes the thought of sitting in a class with them, with everyone, all of their emotions pressing down on her, and then going home to a crowd of Pokemon with no rest in between… it exhausted her. And she had a place she liked to go.

Route 15, east of town, was a popular hangout for all kinds of trainers. Bird keepers liked the wide open area for letting their flying Pokemon stretch their wings; bikers enjoyed the long stretches of unobstructed land for building up speed. Beginning trainers, often accompanied by their teachers, often congregated closer to the gatehouse. On top of that, some of the Pokemon found there couldn’t be found anywhere else – and there were rumors that, on clear days, Articuno could be seen flying far overhead.

Mel intended to avoid all of them. By hopping the fence that lined the footpath, she could disappear into the trees, where no trainers ventured. She nestled herself in the crook of a sturdy branch and sighed as the oppressive weight surrounding her mind receded. She could still sense a few other presences here and there, but they were just Pokemon passing by, not bothering her.

A squeak rose from the base of the tree. Mel looked down. A small, pinkish-purple Pokemon with no definite shape stared back at her. It wasn’t a type of Pokemon she’d seen before, and all she was getting from its mind was curiosity. “Keep moving,” she growled, and either the Pokemon didn’t understand or it just didn’t care. Mel looked back up to the canopy and crossed her arms. Not any business of mine whatever it does.

Just as Mel was beginning to doze off, she felt a sudden pressure on her belly. Her eyes shot open. The blobby Pokemon had scaled the tree and landed on top of her. It kept its blank stare fixed on her, but before Mel could even lift a hand to shoo it away, it began to… change.

Mel frowned. She’d seen a lot of the Pokemon that lived in the area before, as well as the stranger ones that passed through the shelter. She was somewhat familiar with what they could do, and she knew that they evolved into other Pokemon when they got stronger, but this one was doing something different than evolution. Its entire body was twisting and turning in on itself, and in the blink of an eye, it had turned completely into… a smaller Mel, the same size the creature had started as, resting on top of her. It stuck out its tongue.

“That is…” Mel started before faltering. She wasn’t quite sure what she had expected it to do, but that hadn’t been it. Her mind shuffled through several different ways to finish her sentence – “weird,” “scary,” “eerie” – before she landed on “pretty cool.”

The creature let out a happy squeak.

The hours passed quickly, and as the sun began to set, Mel dropped from the tree and wandered home, and the bubblegum-colored creature followed at her heels every step of the way.

***
“Subject Mel. Do you mean to tell me that the only reason you have your Ditto in the first place is because it made a funny face at you? How… embarrassingly like you. Fitting that these memories should fade just as easily.”

There was a stab of pain, and the world around her faded to white.

***
Unlike nearly every other person in her year, Mel did not get her trainer’s license the day she turned 10. It took her parents several months to convince her that, in order to train her newfound Ditto in any official capacity, she had to be licensed. By the time she passed the trainer’s exam, most of her classmates who had gone on gym challenges had come back, having given up after running into particularly tough gyms two or three badges in. As it ended up, Mel was the only one among her peers to get a trainer’s license and not even attempt a gym challenge – she was happy enough just hanging out with her Ditto, who she named Repeat because “that’s a good name for something that copies things, right?”.

At least, that was the case for roughly five years.

Mel’s family attended the Venomoth Festival, a celebration of one of the most iconic Pokemon native to Fuchsia, every year, and the highlight was always the tournament that closed the ceremonies; the victor won the right to challenge Koga directly without having to navigate his gym.

That had been the case for as long as Mel could remember, so it caught her by surprise when, at her fifteenth Venomoth Festival, they announced a change. “No tournament this year,” the announcers had said. “Koga’s being promoted up to the Elite Four.”

There had been rumors, of course, that Koga was destined for bigger and better things. The Elite Four was in a state of upheaval: Lorelei returned to her home in the Sevii Islands, Agatha retired, and the champion disappeared into the depths of Mount Silver. The only members left were Bruno and Lance. Word was that they’d already lined up a few accomplished trainers to pad their roster back out, and that one of them was a certain poison-type gym leader.

Taking Koga’s place as gym leader was his daughter, Janine, though she hadn’t officially stepped into the role yet. The Venomoth Festival’s announcers had said that, taking the place of the tournament, there would be a special ceremony dedicated to swearing her in. It took place at the same location as the tournament, Mel noticed, with the only difference being that they’d sprung for nicer planks of wood to form the makeshift stage. She sat to the side of the audience, avoiding the crowd, with Repeat on her shoulder.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” one of the two announcers called, “please welcome to the stage… the new leader of the Fuchsia Gym! Janine!” The crowd erupted into applause as Janine stepped up.

Mel winced and closed her eyes at the sudden wave of excitement that washed over her, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been in the past. She’d learned about tamping her powers down so that they didn’t overwhelm her, and it almost felt to her like they’d gotten more manageable with age anyway. She let out a breath and opened her eyes, then felt her heart skip a beat. “Oh no,” she whispered, “she’s cute.”

“What was that, boss?” Repeat asked. In the five years since they’d met, Mel had gotten all right at deciphering what he meant when he spoke, though sometimes it still proved difficult.

“Nothing,” Mel said, clearing her throat. “Just thinking that I’d never actually seen her before. Heard her name lots though. Now shush, or else we’ll miss the ceremony.”

“Why are you so interested in—”

“I said shush!”

The ceremony passed without incident, with Koga himself taking the stage to swear Janine in and hand her the official gym badge, the one that all gym leaders kept on them as proof of their occupation. The last event of the festival, per tradition, was a closing speech by the gym leader, and Janine took the microphone with relish, though Mel could still feel nervous tension edging in.

“It’s an honor to be standing here as your new gym leader, everyone,” Janine said. “My dad has left some big shoes to fill, but I intend to be every bit the challenge he was. So, to prove myself…” She paused. “I’ll battle one volunteer. Right now. And if they beat me, they get a Soul Badge. No questions asked, no need to challenge the gym.” Another pause, then she smiled. “Any takers?”

Mel’s hand was in the air before she even knew what she was doing.

“Boss?” Repeat hissed, his eyes wide. “What—why?!”

“Um…” said Mel. She wasn’t sure herself. “Worth a shot?”

“There!” Janine said, pointing at Mel. “There’s our challenger! Come on up!” Mel took the stage, brushing herself off, and Janine clapped a hand on her shoulder, making her heart jump. “And what’s your name?”

“Melanie Rylan,” Mel said, standing stock-straight.

Janine grinned. “Hey hey hey! Looks like our challenger comes to us from the Rylan Family Pokemon Shelter! Well then, Melanie Rylan, are you ready for a battle?”

“As I’ll ever be.” Letting Repeat crawl down into her arms, Mel retreated to the challenger’s side of the stage. She tossed Repeat into the center. “Let’s get it done, Repeat!”

“Oh, a Ditto! A Pokemon worthy of a ninja master!” said Janine, twirling a Pokeball on her fingertip. “In that case… Venomoth, time to shine!” Her Venomoth likewise appeared in the center of the arena, towering about Repeat.

“Repeat! Transform!” Mel called, and Repeat immediately began twisting and changing his shape—

“Bug Buzz!”

A shrieking whine tore across the stage, driving Mel to her knees as she clapped her ears to her head. She’d never heard anything like it, and on top of how much it made her want to drive nails into her eardrums on the ground that it could scarcely feel worse, she also got a crashing wave of pain from the heads of everyone else in the audience. And that wasn’t even aimed at me, she thought, using the exercises she’d learned to try and dampen the pain in her head. Imagine how much worse that would have been if I were the one getting attacked. Mel shook her head to clear her thoughts, but when she rose to her feet, she saw that it didn’t matter: Repeat had collapsed almost immediately.

“That’s one down,” Janine said. “You can send out your next Pokemon any time.”

“I, uh… That’s it. I just have Repeat.”

Janine blinked. “Oh. Well… I guess that’s that, then. Um, good match?”

As the crowd dispersed, Mel knelt at Repeat’s side. “Hey, buddy,” she whispered, “you okay?”

Repeat grunted something that Mel didn’t know how to translate directly, but she figured meant something along the lines of “I’ll survive.” Mel picked him up. “Maybe next time,” he groaned, “we train some before you try to take on a gym.”

“Don’t worry, Repeat,” Mel said. “I don’t think I have much of a taste for it.”

***
“You tried to challenge a gym leader with only one Pokemon that you never trained? Subject Mel, you are significantly more foolhardy than I could have ever imagined. Oh well. Let us move on.”

Another sharp pain, and the memory faded out.

***
Darkness. Darkness surrounded her. She could feel nothing, see nothing, hear nothing. Complete and total emptiness. She screamed out, but her voice wouldn’t leave her throat. She couldn’t move—

***
“Subject Mel, what memory could that have possibly been? You should thank me for getting rid of that one for you. We will pick up further on.”

***
“Repeat,” Mel murmured, “get the used Escape Rope out of my bag and come this way very quietly, okay?”

It had been three years since Mel first met Janine. In the time since, Mel had watched several of Janine’s battles – not only had she trained herself to not fall over at the slightest hint of a Bug Buzz, she’d also realized something.

She could help Pokemon.

Mel still didn’t like being cooped up at home. It was crowded, and the less said about how often she’d stepped in Zubat guano the better. But, after having Repeat with her for eight years, Mel knew that it wasn’t the fault of the Pokemon. Watching Janine’s battles had taught Mel what it felt like when Pokemon sparred with each other – and, more importantly, how different it felt from when Pokemon were genuinely injured or abused.

On the morning of her eighteenth birthday, Mel begged her parents to let her get out in the field. Her psychic powers, she argued, though they weren’t as strong as they used to be, would let her track and locate hurt Pokemon that she could then bring back to the shelter.

Her parents, after checking that Mel hadn’t been replaced with a Pokemon-loving evil duplicate of some kind, heartily agreed.

That was how Mel found herself climbing Mount Moon and, while on the trail of a Paras with only one working eye, had fallen into a Clefable nest. No fewer than three Clefable were staring at her, though none of them had yet to make a move. Repeat inched around the perimeter of the crater, holding a coil of rope. Silph Co. had managed to infuse simple man-made items with the properties of Pokemon attacks, leading to the development of the Escape Rope – a single use item that, when activated, used Teleport. Afterwards, it couldn’t be used again, though it still served just fine as a piece of rope.

“Great,” whispered Mel. “Now drop it to me.”

“You got it, boss.” Repeat dropped one end of the rope into the crater.

Mel grabbed it and tugged on it, testing whether it would hold her weight, then began inching her way up towards Repeat.

One of the Clefable raised its hand. Mel stopped in her tracks, not daring to take a breath. With a wag of its finger, the rope was neatly bisected, and Mel slid back down into the center of the nest.

“Boss!” Repeat yelled as he hurled himself down into the crater. “Don’t worry, boss! I’ll protect you!”

The resulting maelstrom of Moonblasts was visible all the way from Pewter City.

After what felt like an eternity, the Clefable threw Mel and Repeat, both battered and bruised, out of their nest. The rock that formed Mount Moon wasn’t what Mel would have called comfortable, but it was better than getting the daylights beaten out of her.

“See, boss?” Repeat asked weakly, lying next to her. “I told you I’d protect you.”

Despite it all, Mel couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

***
“Subject Mel. What is this? Every memory I’ve seen of yours is one in which you lose, or you run away. You lose, or you run. Why, Subject Mel? Why do you continue, even in the face of so much… failure? Have you ever succeeded? Where are your victories? And if there are none, why do you continue to interfere? Why can you not learn this one simple lesson?!”

The pain, now familiar, returned, and the memory disappeared into light.

“Now, Subject Mel—huh? Who are you? What are you doing here?... Must I do everything myself?... Wha—no! Attack me if you must, but I forbid you from also attacking the subject, especially with a psychic attack! This is a very delicate procedure, and we cannot afford error!”

The light grew ever brighter, more than she had ever seen before, searing through her eyes directly into her head. The pain extended past her mind, coursing through her entire body, and she had the sensation of something… changing.

Mel opened her eyes. She saw… someone. And someone else. One of them wore a gray uniform with a red ‘R’ on it, and the other wore an off-white robe. She frowned. Something about that seemed important, but she couldn’t remember what. Next to the second someone, there was a Pokemon, purple and star-shaped, with a gemstone in the center.

The one in the gray uniform ran out of the room, chasing the one in the robe and the star-shaped Pokemon. A second Pokemon, blue-gray and adorned with red jewels, followed them out. There was only one other Pokemon in the room, a small pinkish-purple blob, and it didn’t seem to be watching her.

Then, footsteps. Another figure Mel didn’t recognize dashed in. This one wore a trench coat that was too big for them and a pair of glasses that obscured the better part of their face. “Ah, there’s Repeat,” the intruder muttered. “But where’s Mel?”

Mel almost volunteered her position, but she thought better of it. No idea who this person is, after all, she thought.

“I can’t waste time,” they continued. “If Mel were here, I’d ask to borrow Repeat… argh, I’ll have to borrow him anyway! When I find her, I’ll tell her that this repays the favors I’ve done for her!” They picked up the last Pokemon in the room and disappeared.

Mel watched them go. I wonder who that was. Were they looking for me? My name’s Mel, but maybe they were looking for someone different. She hopped down from her chair. Her memories were fragmented, and she could only recall so much about who she was, but she was reasonably certain that she used to be taller, and that getting out of a chair didn’t involve jumping to the floor.

I feel so… weird, Mel thought. Her head felt empty, not just because she couldn’t remember so much – some sense or something was gone, though she couldn’t figure out what it had been. She looked at her hands.

She didn’t have hands, per se – just purplish pseudopods. It wasn’t right, she knew that much, but she could barely remember why, and when she looked herself over more fully, she realized that she looked just like the Pokemon that the intruder had taken with them.

The word ‘Ditto’ filled her mind.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Okay first of all can I just say how much I laughed at just how many of the chapter titles in the anime thread had "Why is Nia here?" in them? xD Cause I've been wondering that! What is she doing in this fic? xD I feel like she's got to be important!

Really enjoyed the flashbacks (and intrigued by the fact that Mel's been having dreams related to Degree Absolute for som time now.) Pretty sure a Genesis member was the one who barged in with the Starmie and then got chased out by No.2. Then Hyacinth came and got Repeat and then--
She didn’t have hands, per se – just purplish pseudopods. It wasn’t right, she knew that much, but she could barely remember why, and when she looked herself over more fully, she realized that she looked just like the Pokemon that the intruder had taken with them.
what what what what

I... I dont think I can even begin to theorize why the heck Mel is a Ditto now. I'm just gonna wait for the next chapter so I don't hurt my brain. xD
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
"Why is Nia here?" is a pretty accurate summary of the entire fic to be honest!

Also, if you were hoping this chapter WOULDN'T hurt your brain, well...

Chapter 17: Child of Light

It had taken Mel more effort than she had expected to get out of the room. The doorknob was clearly geared for someone far taller than her, and the room, which up until that point had seemed so small and cramped, took ages to cross. All of the fixtures – the arcane machine, the shelving units, the ductwork across the ceiling – towered above her.

It was wrong. Everything was wrong. When Mel closed her eyes, she could feel something inside her struggling to break out, to take control, but it just wasn’t strong enough. Her body was reacting, though; her skin lit up with a tingle, and her limbs, if they could even be called that, twitched unconsciously.

The hallway outside the room was just as monochromatic: gray upon gray upon gray. Even the lights flickering overhead had a faintly gray tint to them. Mel peeked out from behind the door, leaving it open only a crack. Footfalls echoed down the corridor towards her, playing a duet with the admittedly-quieter sounds of wings flapping. One of the humans in the gray uniforms – not the one who’d been in the room with Mel – passed by without paying her a second glance. The human had mulberry-colored hair curling out from under her hat and a face that, though half-covered, still sparked memories in Mel’s head. Someone else trailed behind, an insectoid Pokemon with blank, bulbous eyes and pale wings covered in what looked like dust.

She looked important, Mel decided. Something about her caught Mel’s eye. Mel slipped out of the door and crept down the hall behind the pair. The human took a right at a fork, and—

“Hey! Can you hear me? You’ve got to listen!”

The voice spoke directly into her mind, bypassing her ears entirely. It was at once completely silent and earth-shatteringly loud, maddeningly familiar and wholly foreign. Mel clapped her pseudopods to the sides of her face, an instinct that made no sense and perfect sense to her at the same time. “Who— who are—”

“Hmm. You really have lost a bunch of memories – your head’s real mixed up. That’s no good.” The voice clicked their tongue. “What to do, what to do… You’re not going to be able to get me free like this. So I guess we need to figure out how to get your memories back before anything else.”

“Easier said than done,” Mel grumbled.

“You don’t need to say that out loud. If you think it, I can pick it up fine. I get your point, though. Look, I’ll see what I can do on my end. But you – your goal right now needs to be getting yourself fixed up. Either track down whatever did this to you, or find someone else who can help you do that. Understand?”

Mel rolled her eyes. Yes, I get it, thanks, she thought. Not like I wasn’t trying to figure stuff out on my own.

“Yeah, yeah. Now let’s get to work.”

As soon as the voice faded from her head, Mel heard the telltale noises of destruction from around the corner, where the human she’d been following had disappeared to. She peered down the hallway. The human and the insect were fighting it out with another human and another Pokemon – this human was tanned, lean, and tall, with red-brown hair and wearing athletic clothes that looked easy to move in; her hands cut through the air as she made rapid signs. Mel could pick up some of them – mostly cursing – but the human was just too quick for her to catch everything. The Pokemon was almost as tall, and it had a gaping mouth, outfitted with wide, crushing teeth, and it was covered in pipes that extended out from its body. It physically grabbed the insect, hurled it into a wall, then blasted it with a nearly-visible wave of sound that was heavy on the bass. The insect collapsed to the ground and the human in gray returned it to its Pokeball before fleeing.

Mel watched the human go. The human in gray and the human with red hair were setting off in different directions, and they both registered somewhere in Mel’s head as important. After a moment’s deliberation, she followed the latter.

***
“Ah, Miss Izzy. You’ve returned.” Hyacinth looked up from the table they stood in front of. They were in what looked like it was at one point a breakroom, albeit one that was uncomfortably cramped; now, the only remnants of that former life were a pair of ancient chairs, a table with a tattered cloth laid across it, and a countertop bearing nothing but a broken coffeepot. Hyacinth had spread across the table a paper with an intricate diagram drawn across it with tiny, deliberate strokes.

“Yes. Back,” Izzy signed as she shut the door behind her, completely oblivious to the Ditto that slipped in with her. Her gestures were as sharp as ever, but her expression was equal parts downtrodden and frustrated. “Not that I’m making much progress. What is our purpose here, anyway?”

“Why, surely that’s obvious!” Hyacinth exclaimed. They blew across the diagram, showing the layout of the hideout insofar as the two of them had mapped it out, drying the ink. “Our goal here is, first and foremost, to rescue our imperiled colleague. Following Miss Rylan’s extraction, we can then proceed with whatever we determine our next steps to be.”

Izzy collapsed in one of the rickety chairs and kicked her feet up onto the table, carefully avoiding the map; her Exploud crouched down beside her and closed its eyes. “All the grunts I found, I crushed. But her Ditto – he’s still our only clue so far!” Izzy paused her signing to point at Repeat, who sat on the table, staring down at the map and showing no signs of listening to the conversation.

“This is true,” Hyacinth said, their hand to their chin. “Though I’m naturally quite relieved to see him in one piece, I had rather hoped that finding Repeat would have yielded more… helpful results. Perhaps the recent events that he has been forced to undergo have traumatized him. After Dozer got knocked out, my thoughts were that perhaps Repeat could transform into her and keep up the fight, but I’m afraid that did not pan out. Even worse, he might have fallen victim to the power of the Sinnoh guardians, but without Miss Rylan, we have no way of finding out. That said, if you keep up the pressure on the Neo Rockets, we’re certain to come out ahead. After all, there can only be so many of them in this place.”

“The Neo Rockets. They have a healing machine here. You saw it. The grunts can keep coming. Eventually, we will be worn down. Don’t trust using it myself. Who knows what it does?”

Hyacinth slowly turned to face Izzy, their eyes narrowing. “What are you suggesting, Miss Izzy?”

“We will be forced to retreat. Either now or later. The smart move is to leave now. Regroup. Come back with reinforcements. Smash them once and for all.”

“Miss Izzy!” Hyacinth’s eyes lit up with flames. “You cannot seriously be suggesting that we abandon Miss Rylan to her fate here. We scarcely know what’s happened to her now, much less what could happen to her by the time we’ve marshaled our forces and returned. Why, we could be greeted with the visage of a brand new Neo Rocket grunt!”

“If we get beaten, then it’ll be worse.” Izzy let out a ragged breath and rolled her wrists, giving her hands a moment of rest. “Nobody saves Rylan. Nobody saves us. We fall into their trap too. Bad time all around.”

“Go if you like, then. I refuse to leave this facility until Miss Rylan has been safely rescued.”

Izzy lowered her feet from the table and stood up, stretching her arms above her head. “I’ll be back as quick as possible. Keep yourself safe until then.” Flanked by her Exploud, she bolted out of the room, slamming the door shut after her. As when she had entered, she didn’t see the Ditto escape out behind her.

They’re both looking for someone named Rylan, Mel thought as she watched the human disappear. I don’t know who that is, but they sound familiar… I guess there’s nothing for it. I’ll keep on this human’s tail for now.

Meanwhile, in the breakroom, the moment of calm that followed Izzy’s departure was short-lived. As Hyacinth pored over the map, jotting in quick notes here and there, a figure materialized out of the shadows in the corner of the room, where nobody had seen her. She was small, with an elfin frame and a face to match, and she dressed like she’d heard about the concept of owning clothes that looked nice and fit well and decided that she wanted nothing to do with that. “Hiya, gumshoe,” she said. “How’s tricks?”

Hyacinth jumped, then held their hand to their heart when they placed the voice. “Ah, Miss Nia, it’s just you. I do wish you would announce your presence a little less suddenly. I fear that you’ll give me a heart attack. What can I do for you?”

“I just wanna check on my favorite private eye,” Nia purred, craning her head over Hyacinth’s shoulder to examine the map. “How’s it going with sneaking around the base? Finding out lots of juicy gossip?”

Hyacinth gently pushed Nia off. “Miss Nia, I am aware that you are my client, but surely by this point you understand that I do not wish to comment on the information I gather until I have concluded my investigation. As I recall, we have had this conversation multiple times.”

“Can I help it if I’m curious?” Nia said with a wide grin.

“Miss Nia.” Hyacinth let out a long-suffering sigh. “Is there or is there not something I can help you with right now? As you may have surmised, circumstances are presently rather dire, and I would recommend you leave through whichever avenues you took to get in here in the first place.”

“Okay, okay, fine, I get your point,” Nia said. She clapped Hyacinth on the back hard enough to knock their glasses loose. “I’ll get gone. I just wanted to say I think you made the right choice sticking around even when your friend took off.”

“Really?” asked Hyacinth after a confused pause.

“Mm hm! You see, Mel is here, and she’s in trouble, just like you were saying. She’s going to need help, and quick-like, when she comes to, so to speak. Best to have someone like you on the ground who can give her a hand. Plus, after that, I get the feeling there’s gonna be a big fight coming up, and, well, Mel’s not great at the whole battling thing, is she?”

Hyacinth nodded absently. “You’re not incorrect, I suppose. This does bring up something I’ve wondered about for some time, Miss Nia. You clearly have a way of gathering information on your own. Every time I see you, you have something new for me. That, and you always seem to know where to find Miss Rylan. So why is it that you needed to hire me to gather information on Neo Rocket and Genesis?”

No answer came. Nia had already disappeared from the room.

“I wish she’d stop doing that,” Hyacinth muttered. “I didn’t even hear the door open.”

***
It didn’t take long for Mel to lose track of the human she was following. Her body felt like it couldn’t move fast enough to keep with up with her thoughts. I dunno how Repeat does it, Mel thought.

Wait. Who’s Repeat, again?

“Hey, are you still there?” It was the voice in her head, its identity still on the tip of her tongue. “I think I have an idea.”

Well, go ahead. Not like I got anything better.

“There’s a door ahead and to your right. There’s psychic power coming off of it. I bet there’s something big in there. Something important. Might be worth checking out.”

Sounds good to me.

The door in question was ajar, and Mel could feel a pressure coming out of it, just like the voice said. The presence of a powerful mind—no, Mel corrected herself, more than just one. The room beyond the door was some sort of surveillance booth; a bank of monitors against the far wall displayed scenes from all throughout the building. Before Mel could look over them in any detail, she found the source of the psychic presence – or, more accurately, they found her.

They were superficially similar, with the same pixie-like bodies and long, slender tails, and they converged on Mel from opposite sides of the room. Nobody else here, Mel thought, so they must be coming for me. They look familiar, but…

Then the two Pokemon fired on her, twin beams of sickly green energy. In the split-second that Mel had to look at their faces before she jumped out of the way, she could tell that they almost looked… regretful.

The attacks kept coming, alternating back and forth between energy beams, orbs of inky darkness, and psychic bludgeons that plowed through the air. It was all Mel could do to compress and twist her body this way and that, narrowly avoiding every strike that she could. Even the ones that just barely grazed her hurt more than anything she could remember feeling, making her head spin and her whole body scream in pain.

Then Mel saw them.

On the desk below the rows and rows of monitors, there were two Pokeballs, colored in various shades of gray. A pair of shattered memories drifting through Mel’s head abruptly connected, and she realized what she needed to do. They’re being controlled, she thought, ducking under another ray. They’ve been given commands by the people in gray. And it’s because of those Pokeballs. So that means…

Mel clambered across the room and pulled herself up onto the desk. The Pokeballs were too large for her to be able to handle, but… She smiled. For the first time since she’d woken up, she’d come up with a plan that wasn’t ‘wander around until something happens,’ and it lit a fire inside her. She slid around behind the Pokeballs and ducked as far down as she could.

The two Pokemon took the bait, just as she’d hoped. They both shot at her, one with a psychic wave, the other with one of those dark spheres that felt bone-chillingly-cold to the touch – and the Pokeballs took the brunt of them. Mel still took the rest of the blows, but the important part was that the Pokeballs weren’t as resilient as she was, and they shattered into bits under the stress of the attacks.

Mel pumped a pseudopod into the air. “Yes!” she squeaked, her heart soaring in her chest-analogue. She slunk off of the desk, trying to ignore how much everything hurt, and stared up at her two attackers. “Hey,” she called. “You two okay? Are we about to start brawling again or not?”

They both looked at her. One of them had had its eyes closed for the entire fight, but now… now its eyes opened, slowly, inexorably. Mel couldn’t stop herself from watching, and when she could see its eyes in their entirety, an explosion in her mind sent shock waves through her.

Her name was Mel Rylan, and she remembered everything.

Mel let a relieved breath hiss out of her mouth. “That was a trip,” she said. “I take it we’re good, then?”

Uxie and Mesprit both watched her with identical faint smiles on their faces. “Yes,” said Uxie, “we are ‘good.’ We owe you our thanks, human, both of us. A moment’s weakness on our parts cost us our freedom, and since then we have been drawn into these humans’ terrible schemes. You have returned our liberty to us.”

“Think nothing of it,” Mel said, waving a pseudopod in the air. “Though, uh, gotta admit, the Ditto thing is throwing me. What happened while I was out?”

“A simple thing to explain,” Uxie continued. “While the human who calls herself No.2 was traversing your memories, some other humans, ones associated with the Genesis organization, launched a surprise attack, intending to abduct you. They used a psychic Pokemon to attack you, and that, combined with the memory manipulation No.2 had me performing on you, overloaded your own psychic powers and kickstarted your latent abilities.”

“My latent…? Never mind. Look, can you change me back? I dunno how Repeat handles not having arms.”

“Oh, surely you don’t need us to do that,” Mesprit said, its eyes bright and shining. “You’ve had the capability to do that all this time! And not just because you were wearing the guise of a Ditto, either!”

Mel frowned. “Okay, can one of you explain what’s going on a bit better? Because I get the feeling I’m missing something pretty important here.”

“Certainly. As I said, your latent abilities were brought to the foreground by the psychic assault you endured,” said Uxie. “From what I understand, the seal on those abilities were already weakened by a set of items that the Unown tasked you with collecting – items that all bore relation to transformation.”

“Wait, wait.” Mel held up a hand. “Those items were just so I could talk to the Mew-child.”

Mesprit shook its head, an oddly human gesture on a Pokemon only vaguely human-shaped. “Oh, no, that’s not it at all.”

“Correct. You had no need to do so,” Uxie said. “After all…” It paused for a moment.

Mel craned her face up.

“You are the Mew-child.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 18: No. One

Septimus Reus, prolific author and connoisseur of being attacked by legendary Pokemon, left no topic un-notated when it came to recording his thoughts. “Don’t ever underestimate the good that a really long pause can do,” he once said after a particularly close brush with a Heatran. “Think about pauses. Lulls. If there’s a pause, that means that nothing is happening. And if nothing is happening, that means that nobody is, at that moment, trying to kill you. Take a breath. Collect your thoughts. Whatever happens in the future will happen, but, in the present, you can calm yourself.”

It was an unusual passage from Reus, who rarely ventured into the realm of self-help philosophy. Most of his writings riffed on the theme of “why did I choose this life for myself, what was I thinking, I didn’t even know a human could break that many bones”.

There was a pause while Mel, faced with both two legendary Pokemon and an uncomfortable truth, tried to get her verbal feet under her. However, nobody was, in fact, trying to kill her, so the moment was a marked improvement on her last several days.

“That’s nonsense,” Mel eventually said. “How can I be the Mew-child? I’ve talked to it before. Plus, it’s in the name. Child of Mew. A Pokemon. And I’m a human.” She glanced over herself before adding, “Usually.”

Mesprit smiled, a tender gesture on something that could liquefy all of Mel’s internal organs by thinking about it. “What evidence do you have that you are, in fact, a human?”

“Really?” Mel furrowed her brow, and for the first time, she appreciated how much of a Ditto’s body that really took up. “I mean… I’m human. That’s my evidence. My evidence that I’m a human is that I’m a human.”

“Do not antagonize the poor thing,” said Uxie, letting out a breath and rapping Mesprit’s chest with its twin tails. “She has been through quite enough. Yes, Melanie Rylan, you are human. That much is not in question. However, I am curious as to why you think the Mew-child could not be a human as well.”

“Um. Well.” Several answers crossed Mel’s mind, and she knew for sure that she didn’t dare say a single one of them aloud. “All of the possibilities there are kinda… not good, right?”

Both Uxie and Mesprit let out peals of quiet, chirping laughter. “I told you she would think that,” Mesprit said. “You owe me a berry.”

“So I do.” Uxie held a paw to its chin, a faint smile visible on its face. “Be not worried, Melanie Rylan. The answer is not what you think. However, it is not our place to say more.”

“Aww, but I want to see how she reacts,” said Mesprit with an exaggerated pout.

“Did you forget, Mesprit? There is much work we must do before we leave this place. Many humans here have fallen before our abilities. We owe it to them to set things right.”

“I suppose so.” Mesprit rolled its eyes and approached Mel. “Before that, though, you need to assume your true form.”

Mel’s eyes widened. “My… true form? That sounds…” She backed up a few paces. “Is this going to hurt?”

“Not at all.” Mesprit’s and Uxie’s gems began to radiate a pale red light, one that Mel found herself surrounded with soon after. She felt her body rising from the ground, her limbs lengthening, her shape in general becoming more defined. The light grew so painfully bright that she had to screw her eyes shut…

…and just as quickly as it had started, it stopped. Mel opened her eyes again and looked down at her hands.

A pair of human hands, tawny-skinned with five fairly human fingers each, were what she saw.

Mel quickly looked over herself. “Wait, so my ‘true form’ was…”

“How quickly she forgets!” Mesprit said, giggling.

“Melanie Rylan,” said Uxie, gently resting one of its tails on her shoulder. Mel could feel psychic power emanating off of it, as consistent and unignorable as tinnitus. “It is as we said. You are human. You are also the Mew-child. There is no contradiction here. However, while there is more to say, it does not fall upon us to say it. I expect you will meet your progenitor soon.”

“You mean… Mew?”

Uxie nodded slowly. “That is correct. And when you encounter Mew, I believe you will have a lot to discuss. Be at ease, Melanie Rylan. Your journey is nearly at an end. Now, we have a task to which we ought attend.”

“In fact…” Mesprit glided through the air towards the doorway. “I believe we have someone to start with right outside the door.”

“Oh?” Uxie followed its sibling as they left the room. “Well! It appears so!”

“What—what are you—” came a familiar voice, before falling silent.

Mel’s ears twitched. She knew that voice. She’d heard it every day for years upon years. “Repeat!” she called.

There was a pause. Then…

“Chief!”

Right outside the room, in the hallway, Mel found Uxie and Mesprit, floating in the air above Hyacinth Harley, who, judging from the pen and notepad in their hands, had been taking notes. At Hyacinth’s feet was a familiar Ditto, with a familiar gleam once more in his eyes. Mel dropped to her knees and had barely opened her arms before Repeat leapt into them. “You’re okay, Repeat, you’re okay!” she said, a lump in her throat appearing even as a knot in her stomach faded away. The two legendary Pokemon exchanged a knowing look with each other and flew away.

“Aw, boss,” Repeat said with a wide, beaming smile, “don’t get too sentimental on me. I might start thinking you actually care about me or something.” But he nuzzled up against her cheek, the gelatin texture of his skin comforting to her. “I’m glad you’re still kicking too, boss,” he said quietly. “I thought for a little while there I wasn’t going to see you again.”

Mel lifted her glasses and wiped at a mist that had built up in the corner of her eye. “They erased your memory, Repeat. Mine too. Even if we’d found each other, it’d be like… like…”

“Like we’d be gone forever.”

“Yeah.”

Hyacinth cleared their throat. “Far be it from me to interrupt a reunion as touching as this one, but I think we would be better served conducting it anywhere that isn’t this hallway. Shall we leave?”

“I don’t think we can, yet.” Mel slowly stood as Repeat took his normal spot on her shoulder. “Uxie and Mesprit said that they’re going to help all of the Neo Rockets here. Get them their memories and stuff back. We need to make sure they get out of here okay.”

“Ah, so that’s what your conversation was about,” Hyacinth muttered, jotting a few hurried notes down on their notepad as they and Mel began tracing Uxie and Mesprit’s path. “I see. I could only understand your half of it, I’m afraid.”

“How long were you eavesdropping for, anyway?”

“I take umbrage with that term,” said Hyacinth, crossing their arms. “But if you must know, I saw a Ditto enter that room back there and fight the two legendary Pokemon that just left, then the Ditto turned into, well, you. From there, I could hear one side of a conversation, and based on what I heard you saying, I would guess that it had something to do with you being, perhaps, the Mew-child.”

Mel stopped in her tracks. “How’d you figure that one out?!”

“Oh, it was only a little bit of deduction.” Hyacinth waved a hand dismissively. “It was a theory I had been considering, though not seriously, for some time, ever since the Unown directly called you the Mew-child when we encountered them.”

“What?” Mel blinked as she thought back to the message she’d received in the Tanoby Ruins. The Unown had, in fact, just said ‘Mew-child’ when getting her attention. And, she realized, so had the psychic call she’d gotten back at Rock Tunnel, trying to catch the Magby – that was probably the Unown too, she thought.

“On top of that,” Hyacinth said, “I realized the items that the Unown were talking about both related to transformation, a skill that Mew was rumored to possess – the Upgrade was a tool used to evolve Porygon, a Pokemon that can change its own type, and the Aerodactyl fossil was, of course, on display with its Mega Stone.”

“But what about all of that ‘creature of past and future’ stuff? They were hitting that pretty hard!”

“I have to admit, I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. It’s entirely possible that the Unown made it up in order to make it less obvious that they were talking about you, as well as to you.” Hyacinth shrugged. “Who can say? Maybe that, too, will become apparent in time. Either way, back then, I considered it a wildly unlikely theory, so I said nothing about it. But now, based on what I observed, the pieces seem to fit together. Your reaction confirmed it for me.” The lenses of Hyacinth’s glasses gleamed in the harsh fluorescent light. “Q.E.D., as they say.”

“Well, fine, smarty-pants.” Mel stuck out her tongue, and Repeat smacked her on the back of the head. “Any other stunning conclusions that you want to dazzle us with?”

“As a matter of fact, I’ve been working on this fantastic thesis about canned tomatoes—”

“Subject. Mel. Rylan.” The voice was cold and oozed venom, and it slid out of an open door ahead. The door bore a single number on it: ‘1’.

“That’s her,” Mel hissed. “No.2. The one who put me under.”

Hyacinth readied Dozer’s Pokeball. “She shall not find us unprepared.”

“The audacity you have,” No.2 continued, slinking out of the doorway. “First, you escape your confinement. Then you disappear before we can finish erasing your memories. And now, now that I have personally driven off those damned Genesis reprobates, I find that you stand before me, your memories intact. But even with all that in mind, with all that has been done to you here, you do not even have the common decency to flee.”

Mel raised an eyebrow. That was not how she had been expecting that sentence to end.

“You press forward with your ‘friend’ and your ‘companion’,” No.2 said, emphasizing her words with a nasal twang. “I heard what you were talking about, Subject Mel. I know that you are the very creature we have been hunting all along. And knowing that, you still choose to defy me – to stay in our base. To challenge me. Listen to me very carefully, Subject Mel.” She stalked closer and closer to Mel until she was inches from her face. “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve done?”

“Do I care?” Mel grumbled. “Get out of my face!” With a violent yank, No.2 grabbed Mel’s collar, her grip surprisingly tight. Hyacinth made to release Dozer and Repeat very nearly jumped onto No.2’s face, but Mel held up a hand. “No. She clearly has something she’s just dying to say.”

“My name was Terra Ryder,” No.2 hissed. “I know my name. Do you understand that? I know my name. That is forbidden in this organization. But why should that apply to me? I made this organization what it is. Neo Rocket is everything it is because of me. We would be nothing – nobody – if it weren’t for my guidance!”

“And yet you’re just number two in the group,” Mel said, a smile playing across her lips. Sweat was running down her back, but she sure wasn’t going to let No.2 rattle her, not again.

No.2 let go of Mel’s collar and stepped back. Her pupils had shrunken to tiny points, and her breathing was becoming more ragged. “Just… just number two? Is that what you think, Subject Mel?” A wisp of a laugh escaped her mouth, and she put a hand to her forehead. “I know. I know! For you to really understand, you’ll have to… You’ll need to…”

“She is clearly not all right, Miss Rylan,” Hyacinth whispered. “We should leave.”

Mel shook her head. “Not before we help everyone else get out,” she whispered back.

“You’ll need to meet him,” No.2 said, as if nobody had spoken. “Yes… that should do it quite nicely.” She threw her left arm out, and a remote slid out of her sleeve into her hand. “No.1?” she called. “No.1? I am requesting your assistance.” Her fingers flew across the remote control, and a dull humming echoed out from inside the room labeled ‘1’. As it grew louder, Mel saw what it was coming from: a motorized wheelchair that was slowly exiting into the hallway. The man seated in it was all sharp angles, gaunt and bony. He wore a gray suit that had countless holes worn into it, and what little hair he had left was silver and thin.

His head lolled to the side, his eyes unfocused. A line of drool trailed from the corner of his mouth.

Mel looked at him, blinked, and looked back at No.2. Hyacinth’s pen flew over their paper. “I wondered as much,” they murmured.

“Do you understand?” No.2 growled. “This is No.1. A withered husk of a man with nothing in his head. He thought to subject me to his whims once, but he failed. Do you hear me, Subject Mel? He. Failed. He was useless from the beginning. He had the legendary Mew in his grasp, but it got away from him. He tried to erase my memories, but he didn’t get it quite right. And so I turned the tables. I wiped his mind over and over, time and again, until there was nothing left. The man that once called himself One – No.1 – is no one. He is nothing. This is what happens to people who cross me, Subject Mel. I take away everything from them. Everything they hold dear, right down to their very identity, is ripped from their fingers. You will be no different, Subject Mel. You and the power at your disposal will be mine. Do you hear me, Subject Mel? Do you?

Mel sniffed. “Yeah, I hear you. So what? What’re you gonna do about me? What’s your next move?”

“Uxie! Mesprit! To me!” No.2 called with a snap of her fingers. “These will be Subject Mel’s last conscious moments!”

Footsteps rang out across the metal floor behind No.2. “Somehow, I doubt that,” came another familiar voice.

Mel’s heart leapt. “Janine!”

It wasn’t just Janine. She was flanked by Blue and the other gym leader from Johto – Bugsy, that’s it, Mel realized – as well as the other, now former, Neo Rocket grunts. Uxie and Mesprit hovered above them, wearing impish smiles.

“Hiya, Mel,” Janine said with a wink. “Owe you one, don’t I?”

Blue frowned and looked to the side. “So do I, even though I don’t want to admit it. Uxie and Mesprit explained some of what happened. Man, Red’s gotta be wondering where I went to. I was supposed to meet him for a trip to Galar a month ago.”

Mel felt No.2’s emotions reverse course. “Wha—what’s happening?” No.2 asked, her eyes wide. “How did—”

“We are freed from your grasp, human,” Uxie said through a psychic wave that Mel heard directly in her mind. “We shall do your bidding no longer.”

“And now you’re… oh, how do the humans put it?” Mesprit put its paws behind its head, making a show out of considering the answer. “Ah, yes, I remember. ‘Proper screwed.’”

No.2 swallowed. “Oh.”

“Yes, human,” Uxie said. “Oh.”

Its eyes opened.

After three seconds that lasted three lifetimes, No.2 fell over, slumped across No.1’s wheelchair, her eyes blank.

Mel focused her psychic senses. The manic energy that had been pent up within No.2 and gradually spilling out was completely gone.

***
“This gray uniform is doing nothing for me. I need to get back to Fuchsia and find my black outfit.”

“You know, Miss Janine, they say that gray is actually better for blending into the night; pure black clothing tends to stand out more since very rarely is it actually pure black outside.”

“Yeah, thanks, Hyacinth. Look, if Janine wants to wear the hot ninja outfit, she’s allowed to.”

“What was that, Mel?”

“Um, I said if you wanted to wear the ninja outfit, you could.”

“Right.” Janine laughed. “Look, Mel, I really do have a lot to thank you for. Hey hey hey, maybe after Blue and I are finished sweeping this place, we can get together, have lunch or something. My treat, of course.”

“I’d like that,” Mel said, trying to hide the pleased shiver that ran down her back. “If you find any Pokemon around the base that need a home, by the way…”

Janine pointed at Mel and clicked her tongue. “Rylan Family Pokemon Shelter. You know it.” She looked over Mel’s shoulder at Hyacinth, who was trying to not get in the way and failing. “But now I’m sure you’ve got stuff to handle. I don’t know the whole story, but I get the feeling you’ve got this under control. C’mere.” She grabbed Mel’s shoulders, then pulled her into a tight hug. “Be careful, Mel. And thanks again.”

Mel hugged her back. “Take care of yourself, Janine. I’ll be in touch about that lunch when I’m back in town.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

As Blue and Janine turned the corner, Hyacinth met Mel’s eyes. “I expect that settles your mind somewhat, Miss Rylan.”

“You have no idea. I still can’t believe we just pulled this off. Neo Rocket is just… gone.”

“And now,” Hyacinth said, “that just leaves Genesis that threatens you.”

A picture of Degree Absolute’s sneering visage filled Mel’s mind. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “I guess that’s what we need to figure out next.”

Hyacinth flipped a few pages back in their notebook. “As it happens, I have some idea where Degree Absolute may be. There’ve been reports of people moving large amounts of machinery into an abandoned warehouse on One Island.”

“Their base,” Mel said.

“Yes. Whatever their plan is, I suspect they are putting it into motion.”

“So we should go interrupt them. And if we do it right, maybe we can stop them once and for all.”

Hyacinth looked up at Mel, their eyes shining. “What do you say, Miss Rylan?”

“Hyacinth…” Mel glanced at Repeat, who nodded. “Let’s go crack some heads.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 19: Interlude - New Moon

In a different time, in a different place…

…but in a time inching closer and closer to the present…

Moon woke up.

She didn’t immediately know where she was. Harsh lights buzzed overhead, and she couldn’t move her arms or legs. The bed underneath her was thin and uncomfortable, and a persistent, dull ache ran through her back. Her mouth was dry, and her throat felt like cotton balls had been shoved down it one by one.

She felt simultaneously exhausted and like she had slept for years.

Not long after her eyes opened, people swarmed the room. Humans in long white coats, their faces unfamiliar, lifted her hands, strapped bands around her wrists, and stared at esoteric patterns that formed on nearby monitors. A thermometer appeared under her tongue and, after a few moments, disappeared just as suddenly. Moon’s eyes drifted towards the door of the room, where an egg-shaped Pokemon that had, appropriately, an egg in its pouch watched the proceedings with an expression of wide-eyed concern.

One of the humans ratcheted Moon’s bed into something approaching a sitting position, and her head swum. He opened his mouth, and noises crawled out like spiders. The lights above pulsed and throbbed in time with red-hot bullets that ricocheted around the inside of her head.

Moon clenched her eyes shut and visions danced in front of her.

A man, stern, with a face that was all sharp angles, binding her arms together, tinged with the colors of pain.

Snow, cold and biting, blowing in through a window, nearly obscuring a sign on a rusted metal wall. The only words she could see were ‘degree’ and ‘absolute’.

A bubblegum-pink Pokemon of indeterminate shape, looking up at her from her arms and smiling. Moon’s mind filled in the name: Pete. Longing filled her chest. What happened to you, Pete? Where did you go? I miss you.

Another pink Pokemon, nearly white, with an inquisitive cat-like face and a long slender tail. This image, this face, dwelled in front of her mind’s eye for far longer than the others, and the sight of it made her stomach turn. It knew, Moon thought. It saw me. It did nothing. It saw me, and it did nothing to help. She wasn’t even sure what it was that the Pokemon was supposed to help with, but she knew that she had been in pain, in trouble, and it had only disappeared after finding her.

Moon couldn’t leave the bed for what felt like another lifetime. She only barely listened to the people around her. “Dissociative amnesia,” one of them said. “Protracted fugue state,” said another. Moon didn’t know what any of it meant, and her mind distanced itself.

Eventually, Moon went home. At least, the two people with her called it ‘home’, but they also called themselves ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, so Moon didn’t know how much stock to place in them.

She didn’t know them. She didn’t know this place called home. She didn’t even know the name they called her – it wasn’t Moon, though that didn’t feel right either.

And so, with little fanfare, Moon disappeared from both their home and their lives.

Nobody ever saw Moon again.

***​

A woman with no name wandered the streets of Vermilion. It was far away from where she had come, but she didn’t care. She was slender, almost gaunt; when it came to feeding herself, she didn’t care about that either. Her hair, once a shimmering jet black, was now pale white, well ahead of her age. She wore the same clothes she had arrived in town in, with only the addition of a ragged amethyst-hued coat and a pair of well-worn steel-toed boots that she had found at a shelter. They were enough to keep her warm during the long nights, and that was all that mattered to her.

Dark circles lined her eyes. She barely slept. Whenever she closed her eyes, that feline visage appeared in front of her, as if mocking her. She was no closer to understanding exactly what happened, but every time she saw the face, her teeth grit a little more. She had grown to hate it as time went on, that creature that represented the day everything was stolen away from her, right down to her memories. Even crueler, of the few memories that she had held onto, one was of Pete.

She wished she had forgotten him too. Remembering him hurt too much.

She had no destination, no goal; her feet guided her with no conscious input from her head. Still, it did not surprise her when she ended up in the town library. Very little surprised her anymore. The library was quiet, it was warm, and nobody there paid her any attention – which was how she liked it. She could pick a book off the shelves and read it cover-to-cover before leaving; it provided her with an escape from her own head that, while momentary, was still a welcome relief.

Her hand moved of its own volition, tracing patterns across the spines of the books that sat on the shelves. She pulled one free at random and brought it to a nearby chair, one that threatened to swallow her as soon as she sunk into it.

She opened the book without even reading the title.

A familiar catlike face stared back at her from the first page. She nearly jumped out of the seat before flipping back to the cover.

It read The Mythological Mew, by Tertia Reus.

She blinked. A memory had just snapped into place. She remembered the name of the creature whose gaze she couldn’t hide from. It was Mew, she thought.

Eager to remember more, she delved into the depths of the pages.

Hours passed. The book zigzagged across a range of topics, from the scroll depicting runic illustrations of Mew surrounded by ancient symbols for birth and death to the theoretical studies suggesting that Mew could use any technical machine it would ever be possible to make. One chapter even focused on the violent clone of Mew that had killed its creators before disappearing into the darkness of Cerulean Cave.

Her eyes, though, fell most heavily on the chapter titled, simply, ‘The Mew-child’.

“Some will claim that the Mew-child is only a myth,” Reus wrote. “However, I know that its existence is factual – because I have met it. It was only once, and it was under circumstances that I never wish to repeat, but I can personally verify that the Mew-child is real.

“I was only a young girl when it happened. The war was reaching its zenith, and humans and Pokemon alike were dying every day. My father had long since been killed on the front lines, and my mother had disappeared – no doubt a casualty of the war as well. I was alone in our home, with no idea of what to do or where to go. Someone began trying to break the door down, yelling from the other side for me to open up or face the consequences. I couldn’t very well comply, of course, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to try to escape – I was paralyzed with fear.

“So I did the only thing I could think of. I screamed.

“Not even a moment later, I heard a blast outside, and the person trying to break into my home suddenly stopped. Everything fell quiet. Then the doorknob turned, and, as if the lock weren’t even there, someone slid inside.

“It was a Lombre. I had only seen that type of Pokemon once or twice before, and they weren’t native anywhere near where I lived. It closed the door behind it, and gave me what I’m sure was supposed to be a disarming smile. Then it spoke.

“‘Are you all right?’ it asked. It didn’t say these words out loud, mind you. It spoke directly into my head. Lombre’s only flirtation with psychic powers as a species is the move Zen Headbutt, so I immediately knew that this Pokemon was not what it seemed. I told it that I was scared but I wasn’t hurt, then I asked it what it had done.

“‘I only ensured that you would be safe,’ it said, and it almost looked rueful. It didn’t go into more detail, but frankly I was afraid to ask. It sat with me, and as odd as it sounds, its presence was calming. And so we began talking. I got the impression that it didn’t get much of an opportunity to just talk to others. That was how I found out that this Lombre was, in fact, the scion of Mew.

“Naturally, I asked it how a Mew gave birth to a Lotad, though since I was young the question was more akin to ‘your papa must have been a Ludicolo then.’ The Mew-child smiled – again, an unnerving expression on a Lombre – and told me information that I am certain it had never told anyone else.

“The Mew-child is an odd mix of legendary and mundane, born from one parent mythical and one not. As such, it spends its life in the form of an average Pokemon – with a few divergences – but upon its death, its spirit persists and it reincarnates in the form of a different Pokemon. From what the Mew-child told me, it could be any Pokemon at all; the fact that it was at that time a Lombre was proof enough of that. But no matter its form, it retained a few remnants of its parentage: psychic powers and the ability to transform. The transformation is no more impressive than that of, say, a Ditto, but its psychic abilities are incredibly potent. Make no mistake, this creature deserves the title of ‘mythical’ every bit as much as its sire does – but its close ties to the ‘mortal’ world, for lack of a better word, place it in constant danger, moreso than Mew itself. Invariably, people come after the Mew-child, trying to take its power for themselves; invariably, despite its resistance, the Mew-child dies as a result, though not without taking those who would threaten it down in the process. In short, when the Mew-child acts to the full extent of its powers, nobody – not even itself – lives to tell the tale.”

Wheels turned in the woman’s head. She’d never heard of this ‘Mew-child’ before – though it wasn’t like she could remember much anyway. She stood and closed the book, but before she could shelve it, a paper slipped from inside the back cover and drifted to the carpet.

It wasn’t a loose page – it was a scrap of notebook paper, torn in half. On it, in blue pen, someone had drawn a quick sketch of a Mew floating in a bubble and written underneath it a few hasty sentences: “MEW is DIVINITY. MEW is the BEGINNING AND THE END. MEW is PAST AND FUTURE.” An address followed, almost as an afterthought.

The woman read the note a few times over. The feline image in her head superimposed itself over the drawing, and she grit her teeth. I wish I could meet the person who wrote this, she thought. They don’t know what Mew did. For all of its power, it left me to die. I may not know much, but I know that. The paper crumpled in the palm of her hand. Without knowing exactly why, she slipped the book into one of her coat’s inner pockets.

***
The woman found herself in front of a run-down hovel of a house not far from Vermilion’s port. The sea breeze stung her eyes with salt, but she welcomed it. She was feeling something again. It didn’t matter what it was, but she could feel it in her chest, a spark of life that, if protected, could swell into a roaring flame. Ideas bounced around the inside of her head, joining and rejoining each other as vague shapes of plans began to form.

She knocked on the door. After a moment, it opened just a crack, and a baleful eye peered out. “Yes?”

“I, ah.” The woman held up the crumpled paper. “I found the note you left.”

That was all the person on the other side of the door needed, and the door flung open. “You did? I thought nobody would ever see that!” he exclaimed, a smile lighting up his weathered features. He was ancient, with creases upon creases lining his leathery skin, and the amount of hair on his face more than made up for the lack of it atop his head. He was hunched over almost double, bracing himself on the doorframe for support. “Come in, come in!”

Everything in the house was coated in a fine layer of dust, from the yellowed windows to the spotty countertops. “Can I get you something to drink?” the man asked in a voice that belied his age.

“No! No. I’m fine,” the woman said, trying to ignore visions of dusty teacups full of dusty tea.

“Suit yourself.” The man’s grin gleamed in the dim light. “What should I call you, by the way?”

The woman opened her mouth, then closed it again. She didn’t know, exactly. None of the names that anyone else had called her had felt right. Then she remembered the words on the sign from her memory. “Degree,” she said. “Degree Absolute.”

“What a name! And, since you came here after finding my note…” The man hobbled over to her and knocked her playfully on the arm. “You must be very interested in Mew, yes?”

“You could say that.” It was the truth, after all.

“I see, I see! Mew must have really changed your life!”

“No question about that.” Degree wasn’t sure what it was, but she felt that it was important not to lie to him. She would answer his questions honestly, but it wasn’t her fault if he wasn’t asking the right questions.

The conversation continued into the long hours of the evening, though the term ‘conversation’ was generous – the man was more than happy to spin stories of his youth and his encounters with Mew with Degree only offering occasional noises of assent and confirmation.

“This has been quite enlightening,” Degree finally said during a lull, standing up and brushing off her coat. “I’m afraid I must be going, though.” She’d not told him about what Mew did to her; somehow she didn’t have the heart.

“Ah, well. Thank you for spending time with an old fool like me,” the man said. “Here. Take this with you.” In one shaking hand, he held a small black notebook, bound with string. “Contact information for other people like us. Those who believe in the divinity of Mew. It would mean the world to me, knowing that our mission continues.”

Degree nodded. “Thank you.” She gently took the notebook and flipped through it as she left the house. The wheels were spinning ever faster.

She could find these people – them, and more.

She could band them together.

She could sway them, over time. It wasn’t that much of a jump from ‘Mew is divine’ to ‘its offspring is not.’

Then, they could find the Mew-child.

The corners of her lips curled upwards. When they found the Mew-child, they would find Mew. And then…

And then.
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 20: Absolution

“Hey, Hyacinth.”

“Yes, Miss Rylan?”

“I thought the owner of the Seagallop ferries had already repaid your favor.”

“That is correct.”

“But you managed to scrounge up another private boat for us to use.”

“I did, in fact.”

“So, what, the Seagallop dude just owed you another favor out of nowhere?”

“Now, now, Miss Rylan. It’s nothing like that.” Hyacinth peered over the railing at the water, through which the boat was cutting an impressive wake. “For one, this isn’t even a Seagallop ferry.”

“Huh?” Mel joined them and leaned over until she could see the name painted onto the boat’s hull, being careful not to disturb Repeat, who was dozing in her bag. “The S.S. Cactus? I guess that explains why this one’s so big compared to the others.”

“Indeed! This was, at one time, a small passenger ship that sailed the Hoenn region. But it sank several decades ago due to mysterious circumstances.”

Mel shook her head. “Mysterious circumstances, huh? Scourge of the seas.”

“Then,” Hyacinth continued, “when Greater Mauville Holdings wanted to use the location of the wreck as a site for their Sea Mauville project, they worked out a deal with the Devon Corporation wherein Devon would salvage the wreck, clear the surrounding area, and get a share of the profits from Sea Mauville. Of course, I scarcely need to say what became of Sea Mauville.”

“Yeah, I already know all that,” said Mel, who didn’t.

Hyacinth eased back off the railing. They needed their hands to properly gesticulate their explanation, which already had more details than Mel ever wanted about Hoenn’s maritime history and corporate politics. “Nonetheless, Devon successfully retrieved the S.S. Cactus and spent no small amount of time and money repairing it until it was, if you’ll pardon the expression, ship-shape. Even though they salvaged it before either of us were born, it was only recently that the reconstruction was finished.”

One of these days, I’m going to learn to keep my questions to Hyacinth narrow and focused. “That explains why this ship is sailing – though I gotta say, at no point until right now was I worried about that – but I’m really more interested in why we’re on it.”

“Certainly!” Hyacinth pointed one gloved hand upwards. “Naturally, I had to make sure you understood the intricacies first.”

“Naturally,” Mel echoed.

“All I had to do was call in a favor with the president of Devon Corporation. He was more than happy to let us use this ship; it was in dock in Kanto and didn’t have another pending charter at the time.”

“Huh.” Mel arched her eyebrows. “Musta been one heck of a favor you did him.”

Hyacinth waved a hand. “Not really, to be honest. All I did was deliver a letter and a package for him. He tried to give me one of their communication devices as compensation at first, but I had no need for it.”

“So he settled on just owing you a favor, then.” Mel pursed her lips and fell silent for a moment, watching the waves pass by. “You do like your favors, huh.”

“I think you can scarcely argue with my results, Miss Rylan,” said Hyacinth. “After all, they’ve gotten me this far.”

“I guess so. Hey, what about all those favors you’ve been storing up from me?”

“Oh, don’t worry about those. I already cashed those in by borrowing Repeat while your memory was erased.”

“Oh, right. I guess that didn’t amount to anything, huh?”

“Such is the way things go. Anyway, moving on,” Hyacinth said, sitting down in one of the luxurious deck chairs and flipping through their endless notebook, “there’re a few items you probably ought to know before we make it to land. First, I took the liberty of contacting our mutual acquaintance Miss Izzy prior to our departure, under the assumption that more help would be better than less.”

“Let me guess,” said Mel, taking a seat nearby. “She immediately struck out on her own.”

“Correct. I had suspected that she would do so, but I figured there would be no harm in trying. Moving on, I also have spent some time recently looking into the background of Genesis’ leader.”

Mel shuddered. “Degree Absolute.”

“One and the same.” Hyacinth pulled a pair of weathered photos from their pocket. “Curiously, Degree appeared on the scene out of nowhere – I could find no reference to her outside of her tenure with Genesis. However, I found something promising when I searched the missing persons records from around the date of her first appearance.” They held the photos up, and Mel craned her head in to see. One showed a woman, gaunt, with pale white hair and an uncaring expression; the other showed the same woman as a young girl, with a sparkle in her eyes and hair as dark as the night.

“That looks like her,” Mel said thoughtfully. “What’d you find out?”

“Not much. She was in the hospital for some time, and then disappeared shortly after being discharged. Her parents filed a report, but nobody was ever able to find her. Not surprising, since the next time she showed up it was in an entirely different region. Based on this, I suspect some form of trauma-induced psychogenic amnesia may be the culprit – her extended medical care and sudden disappearance line up with other such cases. Her parents reported that she went by the nickname ‘Moon’, though she obviously doesn’t anymore.”

Mel gingerly took the photos in her hands. “Huh. Good to know, I guess. You mind if I hang onto these? Never know when they might come in handy.”

“As you wish, Miss Rylan.”

***
“Boss.” If Repeat had teeth, he would have been gritting them.

“Hush, Repeat. This could go south easy, and I don’t wanna get distracted.”

“No, boss, I think this is worth distracting you over. The way it’s looking to me right now is that you’re trying to spy on Genesis by doing the exact same thing that got you found out the last time you were here.”

Mel let out a sigh. “No, Repeat, I’m not doing the exact same thing.”

“Do you want to explain how? Because you’re on the roof of their hideout, looking in through a rusted hole.”

“But it’s not the same rusted hole. Remember? The old one fell out under us.”

“Ah, yes,” Repeat said drily. “I’d forgotten.”

“Besides, this time Hyacinth’s gonna be backup if we need it. And we’re not just going to watch, either.”

The warehouse was largely the same as the last time Mel and Repeat had visited One Island, save for one of the holes in its roof being much larger and more Mel-shaped. There was no charismatic speaker pontificating to an enraptured crowd this time; instead, there was only a mishmash of machinery near the head of the room and four figures nearby. They were far enough from Mel that she couldn’t make out any details about them, except that one of them was wearing a familiar purple coat and two more were slumped in a sitting position on the ground. The fourth was the most active, darting here and there through the mounds of metal and giving them form.

With a tight grip on the edge of the hole, Mel lowered herself into the warehouse, dropping onto a stack of crates that shook as she landed but thankfully didn’t fall. As soon as she did, though, she knew something was wrong: it felt like a part of her mind had just disappeared. Her psychic sense no longer worked; once she’d crossed the threshold, some sort of block had wrapped itself around her head. Mel kept her eyes fixed on the quartet on the other side of the room. None of them turned to look at her. They don’t know I’m here, she thought. Then this isn’t something they aimed at me. It’s for some other reason… they’re trying to block someone else’s psychic power. Which means…

“Boss, are you good?” Repeat whispered.

Mel nodded and shook the thought out of her mind. Time to focus. She clambered down the stack of crates and crept forward, keeping cover in between her and the humans she was rapidly approaching. Once she could hear their conversation, she stopped in her tracks.

“Progress report?” asked Degree Absolute, a thread of ice undercutting her serene tone.

“I ain’t got much farther than the last time ya asked me that!” said the figure who was running around – it was Bill, Mel realized with a start. She squinted in their direction and tried to make out more detail.

Metal debris littered a full quarter of the warehouse, but in the center of the mess were two pods, each the size of a human, that were connected by cables as thick as Mel’s torso. The two figures that were slumped over were both leaning against the pods, bound and gagged with tattered rope and cloth bearing an uncomfortable amount of oil stains. One was unconscious and the other alert, watching Degree with an unreadable expression. Their identities became obvious on a closer look: the unconscious one was Izzy, while the other was Nia.

Why am I not surprised to see her here? Mel thought.

“I’m afraid I must remind you that we have no time to waste,” Degree said. “Plus, remember, the sooner you finish your device, the sooner your assistance will no longer be required.”

Bill rolled his eyes but redoubled his efforts. “I dunno why you want me buildin’ one’a my prototype transporters,” he muttered. “Can’t swing a Meowth without hittin’ one’a my updated systems nowadays. Coulda just bought one’a them, but no, you had to go and kidnap me. Whatever gets me outta here and back home quicker…”

Degree only smiled in a way that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Fine, fine, it’s just about done anyway. You’re gettin’ your machine,” Bill continued, adding “scarier than Team Rocket” under his breath.

The clicking of Degree’s boots cut through the stagnant air as she cleared the distance between her and Nia. “And then there’s you,” Degree purred, undoing Nia’s gag. “You and I have crossed paths many times, haven’t we? You even disguised yourself as a member of my flock for a while. But your incursion here cannot go unchallenged – I will not tolerate spies. And to think that you would have escaped me once more if that headstrong trainer and her Exploud hadn’t charged in and distracted you.”

“Lemme go!” Nia hissed, straining against the rope. Her movements were interspersed with wincing, like her head was hurting. “You got no reason to do this!”

“Oh, is that so?” Degree crouched and ran a finger up Nia’s chin. “Everything I’ve set up for today was for one purpose. The psychic dampeners lining the building, abducting Bill to get his machine, all of it was to find Mew.”

Nia froze.

“And now,” Degree said, “much to my surprise… Mew, you’ve simply presented yourself to me right away.”

Mel took in a sharp breath. Huh.

“I’m… I’m not…” Nia stuttered.

Degree stood up and adjusted her gloves. “Oh, don’t bother to deny it, Nia. Not much of a pseudonym either way, was it? You might as well have just named yourself ‘the noise cat Pokemon make.’ But here you are. Mew. In the flesh, so to speak. And we didn’t even need to capture the Mew-child to get to you.”

“But the Mew-child is here anyway.” Mel darted out of her hiding place as Repeat slipped into her bag, her head low and her elbow out in what would have been an impressive tackle if Degree hadn’t weaved out of the way. “You’re not keeping all these people here any longer.”

“Well! If it isn’t Melanie Rylan! This is quite the reunion today, isn’t it?” Degree said, her eyes narrowing. She caught a punch Mel threw and shoved her backwards. “And – am I understanding you right? You’re the Mew-child? How enlightening! As it stands, you’re almost right! I’m not keeping all these people here for much longer. As soon as Bill finishes this machine, he’s free to go, and he can take that interloper with him. You can even go too! The only one I need here… is her.” She nodded at Nia. “That’s all! Surely you can’t begrudge me that. After all I’ve been through,” she added with an icy smile.

Mel glanced at Nia. “What’s she talking about?” she asked, taking a step towards her.

“I…” Nia grimaced and looked down. “I dunno—”

“LIAR!” Degree threw her arm out, and her fist resonated against the metal of the pod. “You know exactly what happened.” She stalked closer, her footsteps suddenly uneven; Mel jumped in her way before she could get to Nia. “I don’t remember anything, Melanie. Did you know that?”

Mel didn’t think it would have been a good idea to mention that Hyacinth had suspected that exact possibility.

“Something happened when I was younger. Trauma. My memories, my life, my partner… they were all taken from me. I was dying. And this… this creature,” Degree spat, “saw me there, in the cold, and it left me there.”

“I—I didn’t!” Nia cried. “You don’t understand!”

“What, exactly, do I not understand?” Degree said quietly. “Because you didn’t help me, I lost everything… I even lost Pete!”

“Pete?” Mel muttered to Repeat, who’d squirmed out of her bag and back onto her shoulder.

Repeat shrugged. “I’m just as lost as you are.”

“You don’t get it!” Nia said, her eyes wide. “That’s me! I’m Pete!”

Everyone in the warehouse fell silent, even Mel and Repeat, who recognized the moment as striking even if they didn’t know why. It was eventually broken by a low chuckle, which grew into full-on laughter. “So Pete was you?” Degree said, her tone equal parts amused and angry. “Pete was… Mew? That changes everything, doesn’t it?”

Nia smiled, her eyes gleaming. “Yeah, see? I’m still your partner! There’s no need for all’a this!”

“Oh, no no no, Pete. Nia. Mew. Whatever you want to be called. This makes everything worse.” The word flew from Degree’s mouth like a bullet, and Nia took a strained breath. “My partner, the Pokemon that was more important to me than anything in the world… left me for dead. Only a legendary could be so… heartless. I should have known you weren’t an ordinary Ditto to begin with.”

Huh, a voice in the back of Mel’s head said. A Ditto named Pete. Now isn’t that a coincidence?

Nia struggled against her bonds even more, though the rope showed no signs of breaking. “Wait! I didn’t give up on you! I was the one who showed that hiker where to find you! It’s… it’s ’cause of me that you were even saved in the first place!”

“Hold on.” Mel held up a hand. “If you’re gonna be having this argument past me, I need to get something straight. Nia, you’re Mew?”

“I guess there’s no point in denyin’ it now,” Nia said with a sigh. “Yeah. I’m Mew. And I’m sure you know what that means… kid.”

Mel shook her head. “We can have that talk later. I wanna ask you about what Degree is saying. You’re legendary, in every sense of the word. So why…”

Degree’s smile broadened as she saw where Mel was going.

“Why did you have to go get someone else to help a kid in trouble?” Mel asked. “What was keeping you from just helping her yourself?”

“Well… I…”

“Go on, Nia,” Degree hissed. “Answer the question.”

Nia swallowed. “There was… there was a guy there, and he…”

“He…?” Mel prompted when Nia faltered.

“He had a Master Ball,” Nia muttered, meeting nobody’s eyes.

And that was when Mel knew. She knew exactly what had happened – and not because of any psychic power, but because she’d had the same urge all her life. “So… you ran,” Mel said, more to herself than to anyone else. “You didn’t wanna get yourself captured, so you bolted.”

“I don’t like to admit it,” said Nia, “but yeah. Yeah. I ran away. I knew you’d understand, kid. I mean, the guy botched his first throw, but he mighta had more, and then I’d be real stuck. You saw what happened to Uxie and Mesprit—”

“No.” Mel turned her back on Degree Absolute, facing Nia, shadows drawn across her face. “I don’t understand. Because you ran away from someone in trouble. I run away all the time, Nia. I’ll own that. Repeat and I, we’re not a well-oiled fighting machine.”

“Guilty as charged,” Repeat added.

“So we run from lots of stuff. But whenever someone’s in trouble? When Janine needed us to stall Neo Rocket for her? When we all got cornered in the ruins? I’m not about to turn my tail. If someone needs help, I’m not going to just… leave them. Even if it means we get blown outta the water.” Mel inclined her head towards Repeat, who morphed a serrated edge and made quick work of the ropes binding Nia. “That’s the difference. Now, go and hide before she—”

Degree shoved Mel aside and punched Nia in the jaw.

Nia’s feet left the ground and she reeled backwards, slamming against one of the pods.

“That’s for what you did to me,” Degree said, shaking the pain out of her fist. “But that’s only the beginning. You’re not going to elude me again. Because of you, I lost everything. And I’m going to make sure you lose everything too.” She snapped her fingers. “Bill! Open it up!”

With one shaking hand, Bill, who had wisely decided to hide behind a pile of scrap metal, pressed a key on a laptop in front of him. The doors of the pods opened with a hiss as smoke billowed out. Degree hauled Nia up by the collar and bodily threw her into one of the pods, the door slamming shut immediately after. Nia jumped to her feet and pressed her palms against the glass set in the door, her screams coming out muffled through the metal.

Mel had hit the ground hard after Degree had pushed her, and Repeat was trying his best to get her back to her feet. Before she could get her head to stop spinning, Degree had jumped into the other pod. The machines hummed into life as sparks jumped through the air. Smoke filled the inside of each pod, erasing both figures inside from view; Nia disappeared banging her fist against the glass while Degree only showed a wide smirk.

When Bill had originally built the first prototype of a transporter more flexible than the ones made by Silph, it, to put it tactfully, had not gone as planned. He, like many young engineers, had decided to test the machine on himself, and were it not for the intervention of a passing trainer, he likely would have spent the rest of his life as a human-Pokemon hybrid. Which Pokemon it was depended on who was telling the story: some say it was a Clefairy, others a Nidorino. Bill himself, when asked, claimed he just got stuck inside a Kabuto costume.

That ill-fated prototype had been immediately dismantled, but the rumors persisted. It was that same prototype that Degree Absolute had forced him into building once more.

The machines quieted. Mel rose to her feet, trying to keep her balance. “What do we do, chief?” Repeat muttered into her ear.

“I… am not sure,” Mel said. She lowered her center of gravity and took a deep breath. No telling what’s about to come out of there.

The smoke swirled around inside both chambers, and both doors slid open. Only one person stepped out.

It was clearly Degree Absolute, but, at the same time, it was clearly not. Pink, nearly white, triangular ears poked out from the top of her head. A thick tail extended from her back and wrapped around her legs, which themselves had bent, turning digitigrade. Her hands were knobbier, with only three fingers each and bulbous fingertips, and her face had pushed forward, approaching something feline.

“That’s better,” Degree growled, the words stumbling over each other as they left an unfamiliar mouth. She extended her arms and closed her eyes , then frowned. “Right. The inhibitors…” One eye cracked open, and with the flick of a finger, the sound of something shorting out surrounded them.

When it died down, Mel gasped; it was as if she could suddenly see again – her psychic senses were back, and Degree’s mental presence in the room almost drowned her out entirely. It surrounded her mind, pressing in from all sides. It was interfering with her head, freeing memories that had long since been forgotten, and she could see…

Visions of a Lombre and a young girl in the middle of a war zone. A Klefki being surrounded by a group of people all wearing the same uniform. A Heatmor running for its life. A Cubone letting out a wave of psychic power and collapsing. And… and a Mew and something else, at the center of a barren island. They were talking, agreeing to keep something locked away in its mind, but promising each other that there would be a way to free it…

Mel grimaced. Nia musta been good at keeping everything hidden, but Degree… she doesn’t know how being psychic works yet… It’s all too much…

Degree rose into the air, her eyes glowing. “I did it,” she said, and Mel couldn’t tell if she was talking to her or not. “This was my goal. I stole everything from Mew. Its life, its memories, its very being. I took what it owed me.”

Taking a step forward felt, to Mel, like she was walking through glue, with how oppressive Degree’s psychic power was. “Seems to me,” she grunted, “you’re gonna have a lotta people wondering where Mew went off to. Or do you think your cult’s gonna worship you now?”

“Hm?” Degree looked up, as if she’d forgotten Mel was there. “Melanie. You’re smarter than that. I do not care one bit what they think. What could they possibly do to me? I have… I have Mew. I am Mew. But what…”

Something was coming. Mel braced herself.

“What do I do now?”

Mel and Repeat exchanged a look.

What do I do now?!” Degree howled. A psychic pulse blasted out of her, missing Bill and the pods by inches. Boxes and crates all the way to the warehouse’s entrance were shredded into wooden splinters. “All this time, I… I had a goal! My goal was to make Mew pay! And I did! So why… why do I feel so empty? Like nothing’s been fixed? What am I missing?!”

And Mel realized.

There were times when Mel could have sworn that Repeat knew what she was thinking, and the same was true in reverse. Of course, she was psychic, which made it easier than for other humans and Pokemon. Even so, reading minds wasn’t something that Mel could normally do, but sometimes – rarely – Repeat’s emotional state synced up with hers so well that they operated as one.

Mel and Repeat knew what to do.

They knew what Degree Absolute was missing.

Mel drew one of the photos she’d gotten from Hyacinth from her bag, looked it over, then, drawing on powers she’d only become aware of recently, she changed.

“This can’t be everything,” Degree muttered. “I must be able to do something else…” She looked up.

A young girl holding a Ditto looked back at her. She was small and she had thick raven-black hair, and her hefty glasses reflected the harsh fluorescent light.

“Oh… child.” Degree cautiously floated a few feet forward. “You don’t belong here, child. Are you lost? Do you know where… where your home…” She faltered, then dropped to the ground. “You… I know you.”

The child watched her.

“I know who you are. Why do I know who you are?! I’ve never seen you before! But… you…” Degree extended an arm, her hand nearly brushing the child’s face.

The child didn’t flinch.

“Wait… you… your name is… Moon.”

The child nodded slowly.

“You’re Moon. No. No, that can’t be right. Moon is gone. Why do I know that? Moon’s gone. Because…” Degree’s eyes widened. “I’m Moon. I’m Moon. You can’t be Moon because…” She fell to her knees. “I remember. I remember it all. I remember everything!” She backed up, her eyes losing focus. “What… what have I done…?”

“Now, boss!” the Ditto said. The child nodded and charged forward, changing shape – into a larger human – before tackling Degree. Degree fell backwards, landing inside one of the pods, and the door slammed shut automatically.

“Now, Bill!” Mel called, once again in her natural form.

Bill, never one to argue with people who could take his head off if they wanted to, tapped a key on his laptop. The machines whirred into life once more and electricity bounced around the inside of the warehouse.

When it died down, both doors opened. Inside one was Degree Absolute, kneeling on the ground, sobbing. The other…

Nia.

In the blink of an eye, Nia disappeared, replaced by a Mew; the Mew soared out of the pod as fast as it could towards the warehouse’s entrance.

“No.” Mel reached up and grabbed Mew by the tail. “You still don’t get it, do you?”

“Kid! What are you playin’ at?” Mew’s voice projected into Mel’s head, but it still bore hints of Nia’s accent. “Lemme go! It’s too dangerous here!”

“You’re a legendary Pokemon! When are you gonna start acting like it?” Mel said, fire in her eyes. “You running away is what started all this, isn’t it? So, what, knowing that, you’re just gonna do it again?”

“That’s big, comin’ from you!” Mew hissed. It tried to tug its tail away from Mel, but her grip refused to relent. “I’ve been keepin’ an eye on you all this time and I don’t care what you said, runnin’ is your thing too!”

Mel yanked Mew down to eye level. “Did you forget? I’m not disagreeing there. But I’m not about to hit the road in the middle of all’a this, like you were about to. Now you listen to me. This whole mess is your fault. So you’re gonna fix it.”

“How?” asked Mew, its eyes narrow. “Look, kid, we’re family, but I gotta say, I’m not likin’ how you’re talkin’ to me right now.”

“I don’t care if you like it or not!” Mel balled her free hand into a fist. “Are you telling me you can’t think of a single way to make this situation better?!”

“Boss.” Repeat’s voice was calm and level, and it cut cleanly through the argument. “I think I got something.” He climbed up to the top of Mel’s head, where he could stare down at Mew. “You were Degree Absolute’s Pokemon, weren’t you?”

Mew shifted its eyes away. “Well, not technically, but…”

“And was Degree Absolute right in what she was saying, that you disappeared right after she went through trauma?”

“I… I guess, but I just couldn’t bear to face her again—”

“Well,” said Repeat, “here’s your chance. Degree Absolute remembers the kid she used to be. She knows all about the childhood she didn’t get to finish. She recognizes everything that she’s done since taking over Genesis. She’s grieving. So you’re going to help her. You’re going to be Pete again for her. You’re going to make sure she ends up better than she is now. And you’re going to stay with her this time. Until she doesn’t need you by her side anymore, however long that might take. And you’re going to do it because she was your friend, and she needs help.” He glowered, his expression fiercer than most Ditto could generally muster. “Understand?”

Mew looked over Mel’s shoulder, at Degree, still collapsed in the pod. “I… I do.”

“And,” added Mel, “the two of you are also going to find the other people in Genesis and back them down from the ledge. I don’t need them after me again.”

“Can’t I just get Uxie to wipe their memories?” Mew said with an exaggerated pout.

“No.” Mel let go of Mew’s tail, ready to grab it again at the first sign of Mew trying to bolt. “So do we have a deal or what?”

Mew sighed. “Yeah. We do. But only ’cause we’re family, you know. Now can we be done here, kid?”

“I don’t think so. Sit down. Or… hover down or something.” Mel stacked a few planks of wood on top of each other and sat on it. “You and me, we got some talking to do. We’re family, like you said. So what does that mean for me?”

***
In another time, in another place, there was a child.

The time was ages and ages ago. The place was a lone island that would eventually be named by the humans ‘Birth Island’. The child was the scion of Mew – Mew and a mortal Ditto.

It was a special place to both Mew and its offspring, as it was there that the Mew-child was born for the first time. It lived its life, but as all mortal creatures did, it eventually died.

Its soul persisted, reincarnating into another creature. It lived. It died.

This process continued.

Eventually, though, the Mew-child stopped living full lives. It would be killed, or, worse, it would die trying to defend itself. Its reincarnations would happen faster and faster. As soon as the humans found out what face the Mew-child was wearing, they closed in.

And so, at this other time, on Birth Island, Mew and its child met.

They agreed that, for the first time, the Mew-child would reincarnate as a human.

Its memories, most of its powers, an entire facet of its being, would be locked away in its own mind, until the time came that the seal was weak enough for certain reminders to break it entirely.

Mew would watch it from afar, trying not to interfere. It was, admittedly, capricious, and only time would tell how well it kept that promise.

The Mew-child needed to keep living, free from the cycle of senseless deaths.

It was, and would be, the creature of past and future.

***
“…So that’s it,” Mew said, looking at the ground. “That’s everything. Look, I know we’re not on great terms right now, but I do care about you. I want you to be safe. You’re my kid, kid.”

Mel crossed her arms. “You got weird ways of showing it.”

“Mm. I gotta admit, I’m worried about you, kid.” Mew floated up near Mel’s head and began making lazy loops around her. “I mean… people know about you now. You can’t keep it secret forever.” It watched over Mel’s shoulder as Hyacinth finally entered the warehouse, immediately tending to the still-unconscious Izzy. “Every time the humans knew about you, you died.”

“The only people who know are us, Hyacinth, Degree, and No.2. Hyacinth won’t tell anyone, No.2 isn’t an issue anymore, and you’re gonna be keeping an eye on Degree.”

“Plus,” Repeat added, “I have a gut feeling that Degree’s not going to be in a hurry to tell anyone about everything she’s done.”

“Still.” Mew floated to a stop in front of Mel’s face. “As long as you know, it’s gonna slip out somehow. It always does.”

Mel frowned, running the thought through her mind. “So what are you suggesting?”

“Hear me out. We get Uxie. We call in a favor. We erase your knowledge of being my kid from your mind. Lock everything back down.” Mew spread its arms, pleading. “If you don’t even know, that’s the best camouflage. Or, failin’ that, you keep yourself hidden away somewhere real hard to get to. Like Mount Silver! Only guy who hangs around there is this mortal trainer named Red, and he can keep a secret like nobody else. But we need to keep you safe, one way or another.” It offered up a tentative smile. “So, kid? What do you think?”

No answer was immediately forthcoming. Mel stared up towards the ceiling and rubbed her temples. Eventually, she made eye contact with Mew again. “Okay,” she said. “Here’s my decision.”
 

NonAnalogue

Losing her head
Location
Yes
Pronouns
she/her
Epilogue: As One

In his Collected Journals, Septimus Reus had this to say about Mount Silver:

“First of all, the respective governments of Johto and Kanto need to stop bickering about whose jurisdiction this place actually falls under. It doesn’t help that every map shows this mountain range in a different place – from just north of New Bark Town to just west of the Indigo Plateau. There really isn’t enough here to warrant the enmity. I feel sorry for the Pokemon Center attendant assigned to work here; I can’t imagine they see more than one person a day.

“With that said, Mount Silver is an incredible tourist attraction, if your idea of a vacation is endless forest, nigh-unclimbable mountainside, pitch-black caves, and the occasional hailstorm. Sometimes, you might get to see a display of diamond dust; I made it to the peak of Mount Silver on my birthday and was treated to that rare sight. It almost made it worth the five straight days of hail immediately prior.

“As a side note, if you’re here trying to catch a glimpse of the legendary Moltres, don’t bother. It shows up at Mount Ember just as frequently, and at least Mount Ember has a spa.”

It was not hailing as Mel ran through the trees and tall grass, nor was Moltres anywhere nearby, but nevertheless it was still unmistakably Mount Silver – the eponymous peak rose into the sky in the distance. “Incoming, boss!” Repeat yelled, and Mel ducked to the left just as a blast of fire passed to her right, fizzling out harmlessly over a lake.

The fact that the lake was, thus, in front of Mel was not something she noticed until her relationship with said lake became markedly more intimate. Luckily, falling into the water was enough to deter the Rapidash from chasing her anymore, and it wandered away.

The more buoyant Repeat surfaced first and clambered back onto the shore, followed shortly by Mel. Accidental soakings were by no means new to them, and they had a procedure. First, Mel wrung the water out of Repeat – a sensation he described as being like “a really good full-body stretch” – then she started drying her own clothes.

A presence rustled in the bushes nearby, and Mel whipped around, holding her fists at the ready before realizing who it was. “Oh. Hey, Hyacinth. What brings you up around these parts?”

“Greetings, Miss Rylan! And to you as well, Mr. Repeat.” Hyacinth bowed low and made a motion like doffing their cap without actually doffing their cap. “I find myself here on the search for leads in a new case!”

“A new case? Do tell.” Mel collapsed onto a felled log, pulled a boot off, and dumped more water out of it than she thought could have reasonably fit in it in the first place.

“Indeed!” There was Hyacinth’s notebook again, suddenly in their hand as they likewise sat next to Mel. “Understand I can’t go into too much detail—”

“Of course.”

“—but I’ve been hired by a certain former Viridian gym leader to find a missing former Pokemon League champion.”

“Oh no,” Mel said with no outward trace of sarcasm. “However will I determine who you’re talking about?”

Hyacinth looked briefly sheepish. “Well, I suppose I could give you a hint. Their names may or may not be primary colors—”

“No, no, I follow. Don’t worry. Keep going.”

“Ah! Well then. Mount Silver is known to be one of this person’s favorite haunts, so I rather thought I might find some clues here. I was just able to teach my dear Dozer Rock Climb, so I intend to scope out the mountain’s summit.”

Mel stretched her arms back and yawned. It was getting to be evening, and she was already worn out. “Good luck with all that. How’s life treating you otherwise?”

“Thank you for asking!” Hyacinth beamed, and their glasses glinted in the setting sun. “I’m well. I’ve been consumed mostly by work, as you might imagine! Though I did run into Miss Izzy the other day.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes! She initially tried to avoid me. I can’t imagine why. I was able to chase her down though.”

Mel cracked a brief smile at the thought of Izzy being cornered by someone half her size.

“Once she talked to me,” Hyacinth said, “I found that she’s returned to working with Professor Silktree. They’ll be traveling to Sinnoh soon, to the Solaceon Ruins.”

“Huh!” said Mel. “I guess they’re heading into unknown territory. Why is that so funny?” she added when Hyacinth started laughing.

The two chatted for a while longer, with Repeat dozing off into an early night’s sleep, before Hyacinth rose. “It has been lovely catching up with you, Miss Rylan,” Hyacinth said, “but I expect I should be continuing my investigation.” They approached Mel and helped her back up to her feet. “When can we expect to see you back in civilization?”

“Who knows?” Mel said, waving her hand dismissively. “There’s a Poliwag out here somewhere that’s hurting, but I haven’t pinpointed it yet. I’m going to take a quick nap and start on the lookout again. But once I find it, I’ve got some medicine for it.”

“Medicine? I thought you usually brought them back to the shelter.”

Mel shifted uneasily. “Well… ever since all of that… stuff with Genesis, I feel guiltier about taking a Pokemon out of the wild unless they really, really need it.”

“Ah. You don’t want to take it away from its family.” Hyacinth tapped the side of what Mel assumed was their nose.

“Right. So I’ll find the Poliwag, see how it’s doing, talk to it a bit, and make the choice from there.”

Hyacinth nodded. “A sound plan, I think. Best of luck to you.” And with that, they were gone.

“What a coincidence, running into them,” Mel said, smiling. “Small world, I guess. Ready to hit the hay, Repeat?”

The only answer she got was Repeat’s snoring, which sounded like someone running a fan through gelatin.

“You’ve got the right idea.”

***
Mel’s dreams were usually pretty tame. Occasionally, she found herself late for school, or swimming in a lake with a mysterious figure underneath it.

This time, Mel stood in the sky. Nothing was above her, nor was anything below – only an endless expanse of blue and white. Her feet seemed to be on solid ground, though she had no idea how. Repeat was on her shoulder, but he, much like she wanted to be, was sleeping soundly.

Before Mel could dwell on it very long, a human appeared in front of her – at least, it looked like a human. The figure was smaller than her, with an elfin face and tattered clothing. “Ah. Nia,” Mel said with more than a little ice in her voice.

“Kid,” Nia responded.

Mel spread her arms out into the emptiness. “I figure this is your doing?”

“Yeah. Just wanted to talk. Izzat a problem?”

“Guess not.” Mel sat on an otherwise-inconspicuous patch of air. “What’s going on? How’s life as Pete?”

Nia didn’t answer right away. Her eyes, normally sparkling with mischief, were downcast. “It’s… rough. Moon isn’t doin’ so hot. She didn’t get everything back right away, you know. It came in stages. And every time she remembered something new, it was like another knife in her heart. The Moon I know, the kid, it’s like she’s fightin’ for control with the person she became.”

“Oh.” Mel listened quietly. She had no sympathy for Degree Absolute – no matter what was in the past, the woman had still led a campaign to kill her. But… she couldn’t stop herself from aching on Moon’s behalf.

“Moon didn’t turn into Degree Absolute overnight, you know,” Nia said, sitting across from Mel and staring upwards. “The trauma ate into her. She left the only humans who really cared about her and wandered on her own, with no place for her to go. That does something to people. Then she surrounded herself with people who were more than happy to act on every bad idea she had…” Nia spun a finger around in a circle. “Feedback loop, y’know? And all’a that… it doesn’t go away overnight either. I figured it’d help to get a change of scenery, so we left Kanto. Convinced her to talk to someone in Johto Social Services. Hopefully they can get her some help. Maybe someday she’ll even wanna go back home.”

“Look, Nia,” said Mel. “I don’t like that she’s got it rough, but… she did try to murder me. Did you come here just to try and tug on my heartstrings?”

Nia shook her head. “Nah, nothin’ like that. Just worried about you, kid. After you chose not to erase your memory or hide yourself away, I keep wakin’ up at night, thinkin’ I’m gonna find out that some fool team got it in their head to take you down. You sure I can’t convince you otherwise?”

“I already made my choice,” Mel said. “I don’t want to forget who I am. And I’m not about to abandon my family.”

“I guess.” Nia let out a pained sigh. “I just… I’m scared. I don’t know how many more times I can take it, learnin’ you got killed. And you, all on your own like this…”

“Don’t worry, Nia.” Mel looked at the Ditto resting on her shoulder. Repeat let out a soft snort and rippled in his sleep, and Mel smiled. “I’m never alone.”

the end
 
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