• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Pokémon System:Reboot

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
A/N - This is a finished fanfiction I'm posting here upon request =) I'll take all feedback into consideration for later projects (I am currently working on a massive one that I'm really trying to do my best with, so all advice will be taken into consideration for current and future projects). However, please note that this story is complete, and I'm no longer working on it. It is also very unlikely to ever be re-written.

This story is 80 chapters long, not including the special chapters that were written for fun (and for deeper back-history).

It is a 'sort-of-sequel' to Glitched. Someone described it as a 'sister story'. Knowledge of Glitched isn't advised, but those who have read it will notice some crossovers. Reboot is set (if memory serves) 1000 years after the events of Glitched. (I cannot post Glitched yet, since it's about a super nasty virus... But those who are interested can find it on my FFNet profile.) Anyone reading The Mainframe Saga will also notice similarities, as my original universes Mainframe and System run parallel to each other!

Disclaimer (applies to entire story) I do NOT own Pokemon or any of its critters!

Blurb - Notorious space pirate Macro makes a living doing odd jobs and stealing items to sell for a marked up price, but when he steals Download Database - a living computer - he finds himself unwillingly pulled into a conspiracy bigger than his own ego. Pirates can be heroes, right?

Updates Saturdays or Sundays schedule depending

Trigger Warnings - Blood and violence, especially in later chapters.



Part One - Living Computer
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten

Part Two -


Part Three -


Part Four -


Part Five -


Specials




Part One - Living Computer

Chapter One​

Proxy City stank. Even with the mask filtering the air it stank. Macro resisted the urge to abandon the box he was carrying to tighten the straps over his muzzle further.

The young mawile strutted along the barren streets, clutching the cumbersome metal crate in both paws. Beside him a tall granbull plodded heavily along, carrying his own crate as though it contained nothing but feathers. His purple mohawk poked up between his curved, pink ears, blowing backwards slightly as they walked against the breeze. He couldn't see Anchor's face through the heavy, beak-like brown leather mask, but he could hear his breathing loud and clear through the noisy filter. He wondered briefly if they needed a good clean.

They rounded a corner, narrowly avoiding a stream of muck along the gutter that the sheer sight alone made Macro's stomach turn. A low, dingy building came into view. Despite its height - one floor, two at a push - it was massive. A low, long spread. Likely a former estate for the less fortunate who couldn't afford the luxuries in the more prestigious cities.

Macro finally deposited his crate on the floor, careful not to drop it in the gutter's toxic stream. It would probably burn through the metal and damage the contents - if it could even damage them in the first place. He whisked his foot out of the way as the crate toppled onto its base with a clatter and looked up at the building.

"Careful!" Anchor stopped behind him, his huge shadow making the dingy building look even more unwelcoming. "That stuff leaks they'll be after our necks!"

Macro tutted and pressed a claw to the button on his ear piece. A flash of green shot across his vision and the array of text told him that this was the place. He strode over to the worn and somewhat slimy door and struck the same claw onto the buzzer. Greasy. He stifled a grimace and wiped it off onto his black scarf. A mistake he was soon regretting since he'd only just laundered it that morning.

"Who's there?!" The voice sounded as sticky as the door.

"Wildcard," Macro replied. "We've got the package you ordered."

The door was almost wrenched off its hinges, revealing the lumpy face of a muk. The immense pokemon looked like he couldn't fit through the door, but these creatures could slide through the smallest of gaps. Despite the mask, Macro was certain the stench just got worse. He made a mental note to check their efficiency when he got back on board his ship.

The muk's large eyes bulged out of his head when he saw the crates. "Just two?!"

One slimy arm whisked past the mawile, catching his scarf and leaving a rather unsightly streak of purplish-grey. This time he did grimace, but it was hidden well beneath his mask. Good. The muk would probably have eaten him for breakfast.

Well... supper, at this time.

"It's all we could get," Anchor told the muk. "They keep those places under high security these days. We've got a price on our heads, you know that."

"Don't care." The muk turned his eyes onto the granbull then looked back down at Macro. "I specifically requested three. I'm only paying half."

"Half?!" Macro seethed. "You should pay two thirds at least!"

The muk snorted, sending a purple snot bubble onto the hem of Macro's scarf where it dripped to the floor to join the rest of the grime.

Macro's muzzle crinkled into a frown, but it went unseen. "Two thirds. Call the rest of it a commission fee."

"Fine. Take your two thirds, runt." The muk ignored Macro's leer. He reached inside his body and pulled out a flat, metal card. It expanded out into a holographic display of text that to Macro was backwards. "You space pirates make me sick. Commission fee my left foot."

Macro wanted to explain that the muk had no feet, but he didn't want to be the first pokemon to discover they actually had by receiving one to the face. His scarf was filthy enough. A small beep came from his belt pouch and he switched on his optical display again, checking his credits balance with professional speed. Yup. Two thirds. And an insult. One of the drawbacks of being able to leave little notes with deposits. He pretended he hadn't seen it.

"Pleasure doin' business with ya!" Macro shoved his metal crate forwards. "Two crates of black sludge. Enjoy."

"Aye!" Anchor placed his own crate atop Macro's, blocking out the muk's seething face. "Remember us to your friends."

The muk threw a string of toxic profanity the mask was completely unable to filter out. Macro turned his back on the squat building and carefully hopped over the brown stream. Anchor fell into step beside him and clasped his large pink paws behind his back.

"You know," he said, his voice slightly muffled by his filter, "if you get any more shrill, Cap'n, you might get mistaken for a staraptor."

Macro met the granbull's eyes with a violet leer.

"You sassin' me?!" Macro hissed.

"See, this is exactly my point," Anchor went on. "You need to watch your tone. Use your inside castle voice."

Macro clenched his paws together. Oh, how he wanted to ignore the dog's jibes. He jerked his head towards the sky. "Shut your yap, Anchor, and call my ship."

The granbull chuckled and tapped a complex pattern across the screen of his wrist computer.

Macro folded his arms and resisted the urge to lean against the boarded up shop he'd stopped beside.

"Stupid slime ball called me 'runt'," he said.

"Well... don't take this the wrong way, cap'n," said Anchor. "But you do know you're a little..."

"You say short, I'll crack you one with my horn."

Anchor chuckled and folded his large arms.

"I don't know why Meta City won't just employ these filthy pokemon," said Macro. "It'd solve a lot of problems. I mean, they practically eat pollution."

"Yeh," said Anchor. "They also poop it back out again afterward, and it's even more toxic after passing through their bodies."

Macro shrugged. "So? At least they could dispose of it much more cleanly. Pass it into a sewage system rather than flooding through Proxy's streets."

Anchor gave a non-committal grunt and looked down at his wrist computer. Macro glanced up at the brown sky, noting the familiar hulk of Wildcard Gamma as it slowly moved above them. His eyes wandered back to the boarded up buildings and sludge-filled streets, scanning over the unreadable shop signs and ragged posters that fluttered in the light breeze. One of them sported the face of a mawile with a jagged scar over his muzzle. 'Wanted. Hunter. Ten Thousand Credits.'

"I wonder what this city used to be like?" he said. "Before it became this."

"Probably like the ones in System Sky," said Anchor. "Pubs, bakeries, clubs, factories. All that jazz."

Flash after flash of pink shot down behind Anchor in a familiar ladder of neon lights and he leapt up, grabbing onto one of the higher rungs. It immediately began to shoot back up into the sky and Macro bolted towards it, grabbing the lowest rung before it was yanked out of his reach.

"Would you stop doing that?!" he shrieked at the granbull.

Anchor laughed heartily. "See? What did I tell ya? Shrill!"

The neon beam ladder dragged them both upwards towards the blue belly of Wildcard Gamma. The giant schooling wishiwashi-themed ship dominated the sky above Proxy City, casting its giant shadow down onto the rundown buildings miles below them. The ladder's beams blinked out one by one, allowing the ones below it to take one step after another towards the opening. Anchor dragged himself aboard before his beam reached it, then he stretched down a paw towards Macro.

The mawile's paw was dwarfed inside the granbull's claws and he was lifted effortlessly into the hatch. It hissed shut behind them and Macro let the panel beside the inside door read his paw print. The door opened with a sucking sound as air rushed out of it, blowing his fur back. Once they were both safely inside the confines of Wildcard Gamma, he instinctively went to wipe his paws down onto his scarf and froze, instead shaking them off and checking over his yellow fur. Dusty. Or grimy. He couldn't really tell. He snorted and yanked the mask off his face, taking a deep breath of clean air before turning into the narrow corridor leading to the cockpit.

"Another successful mission, eh?" Anchor said as he removed his own mask.

"It could've gone better." Macro rubbed at the jagged scar over the left side of his muzzle. "Anyway, at least we can afford to eat for the next couple of months."

"That's what I like to hear!" The jovial voice came from the kitchen.

Macro glanced over at the door, meeting the beaming eyes of their chef, Cookie. The brown slurpuff licked his lips and gave the two pokemon a happy nod.

"Welcome back then, Captain!" he said. "I'll have supper ready soon! I made berry pancakes!"

Macro's mouth involuntarily filled with saliva and he turned his back on the slurpuff, raising his hand in a wave.

"I'll be waiting for the bell," he said.

Cookie chuckled and his feet shuffled over the floor as he returned to the kitchen. The slurpuff's shuffling feet were drowned out by Anchor's hulking footsteps as he fell in step beside the mawile, all the while humming a cheerful tune as they strode into the cockpit.

A lone ribombee sat by the navigation system with his back to them, watching the array of green and red blinking across the black holographic screen. He reached behind him to hand Macro his brass goggles that matched the bug pokemon's own.

"Thanks, Matrix," Macro said as he took them.

It always irked him how he couldn't wear them with those horrible masks. They weren't even a necessity, he just liked wearing them, much like he did his scarf. He yanked the black scarf from his neck and strutted over to the two seats at the front.

"What gets out muk and grimer stains?" he asked.

"Fire," replied Matrix.

Macro let out a frustrated sigh and tossed the scarf into the nearest trash can. The stench of muk wafted up from it and he realised bitterly that he'd have to toss the contents of the bin into the septic tank. He hoisted it into his arms and wobbled towards the corridor.

"You may as well shower while you're at it," said Anchor.

Macro craned his neck around to leer at him, but the granbull was sat in the cockpit with his back to him. He hoped he'd caught his leer in the window's reflection.

"We'll be breaking the atmosphere soon," Anchor went on. "So brace yourself. Don't slip or anything."

Macro muttered under his breath and lugged the massive trash can all the way to the wash room. It felt like a trek but it was situated almost opposite the kitchen and dining room. Unfortunately it wasn't the best place to have a septic tank. He held his breath as he opened it up and lobbed the entire trash can inside before slamming it shut and activating the air purifier.

Another quick examine of his fur told him he did indeed need a shower. His thick, yellow coat was likely holding half of Proxy City's putrid air not to mention muk slime and whatever else he'd picked up from the streets.

He removed his goggles and utility belt, setting them safely on the side and double checking his twin laser guns were set to safety. There was no sense in risking a hole torn through the side of his prized ship. He stepped into the shower and the water cascaded down on top of him, making him wonder once again why on earth he'd chosen it to be lavender scented.

...​

One shower and fresh scarf later, Macro strode back into the cockpit. Anchor instantly stood up and moved past him, momentarily considering giving the mawile a friendly pat on the shoulder and reconsidering it. The stink of city air wafted from his pink fur as he made his way towards the wash room. Macro flopped into the seat beside the driver's chair and kicked his feet up onto the dashboard.

"What's our next target?" he asked Matrix.

The ribombee glanced up at him and cleared the radar screen to bring up a string of 'job requests' - most of them simply targets for looting. Macro felt a flood of relief that the next job wouldn't be another trek into the filthy outskirts of Meta City.

"Machine shop raid," Matrix read out. "Ice types want laser gun components and the government have shut down their factories."

"It was only a matter of time," said Macro. "The ice type has many weaknesses and Socket just wants to keep that fear inside us all."

"Well, they're probably not gonna be too happy with you striding in there to offer them the parts," said Matrix. "You're a steel type. They might see you as a threat. You'll be blasted with fire and ground lasers before you can even blink."

"For the price I'm gonna charge 'em, it's a risk I'm willing to take." Matrix nodded towards the computer. "Tell 'em Wildcard's on it and we'll raid the nearest machine shop." He hesitated and squinted at the tiny text near impossible to read from his seat. "What city are they in?"

"Boolean."

"Good. One of them flyin' ones. That means it's got clean air."

"The machine shop we're targeting is on System Ground, however."

Macro's heart sank so quickly he lost his appetite. His head dropped into his paws and he let out a long groan.

"Don't worry, though," said Matrix. "It's in Wave City. Much less toxic so you can wear your goggles."

"Fantastic. Program it in and let's go and get some lunch."

Matrix's small paws flew over the holographic screen, and he buzzed out of his seat just in time for the supper bell to ring. Cookie's jovial voice called to them from the kitchen, ringing out louder than the bell. The chubby slurpuff waved a chocolate-coated ladle at them and bobbed back through the kitchen door.

The low table was heaped with berry pancakes, smoothies and various toppings including chocolate drizzle. Macro hopped into a chair and piled up his plate, being sure to go extra heavy on the chocolate.

"Ah, my nose is twitching." Anchor strode into the kitchen wearing a massive grin as he toweled off his mohawk.

He fell into a seat opposite the mawile and reached for the plate of pancakes.

"Just what I need after a hard day," he said. He looked over at Cookie. "You got any jaboca berries to go with it?"

Cookie's nose crinkled in a frown. "You're kidding, right?"

Anchor shrugged and reached for the bottle of nomel juice.

"How long until we reach Wave City?" Macro asked Matrix.

Anchor looked up with a start and licked nomel off his claws.

"About six hours," said Matrix. "Much less if we speed up but I imagine you'll want a rest and to wait until the early hours of the morning?"

Macro nodded. "Definitely."

"What's goin' on?" Anchor asked.

"We're raiding machine parts," Macro explained. "Ice types had their laser factory shut by Socket's reign of tyranny."

"Another one?" Anchor tutted and cut into his pancakes. "Poor lot. What'd she go and do that for?"

"Same reason as all the other times. Fear factor," Macro said bluntly.

"They'll be wiped out at this rate. Things are bad enough out there with this flippin' divide as it is. World's already a war zone. It's like she just wants to make things worse."

"Well, we'd best be prepared then," said Macro. "I doubt it'll be an easy job either. Busy bodies everywhere. You're gonna need to use your fists."

Anchor grunted and stuffed a fork of pancakes into his mouth. "I'll be sure to pack 'em then."
 
Last edited:

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Two​

System Ground looked like a toy town from Wildcard Gamma’s exit hatch. Macro held on to one of the neon rails as he watched Wave City slowly move beneath them. From this height he could clearly make out the froth of the ocean as it lapped at the docks and cliff faces. Windmills turned in the wind miles out from the coast, and in the center of Wave City blinked the data antennae, flashing red and green and red and green as it received and sent out its signal across the whole of System.

“You ready?” Matrix’s voice rang loud and clear in his ear piece.

“Ready when you are,” Macro replied.

“All right. Then I’m gonna slow down enough for you to jump. I’ll have to keep the ship moving though, otherwise they might open fire at us.”

“Roger.”

“Open fire, eh?” Anchor clutched tightly to his own rail, causing the spikes on his gauntlets to poke out. “Bring it on. We’ll see who’s left laughin’.”

Macro chuckled drily and readjusted his goggles over his eyes.

The ground slowed and Macro waited a few moments until he spotted a wide enough space to drop into. It wasn’t impossible to see in the dark. Lights dotted the city, casting a dramatic array of shadows across the artificial grass. When the City Square appeared beneath them, Macro dropped. Wind whisked past his ears and whipped his scarf up around his face, drowning out the repetitive ‘chink’ as each rail flashed into place above them.

Within seconds, his feet were on solid ground. Anchor dropped down beside him into a crouch and the pair of them looked up as the neon ladder flashed back up to the hatch.

The granbull let out a long whistle as he diverted his attention to the tall, white and platinum buildings around them.

“Been a while since I’ve seen a city this clean,” he said.

Macro made a grunt of agreement. “I still wouldn’t drink the ocean water, though.”

He quickly checked the map on his optical display and motioned for Anchor to follow him. The narrow streets were lifeless save for the bright, animated billboards that filled huge sections of wall on every building they passed. Each one was an advertisement for bands, clubs, drinks and the latest games. Many of them came with audio - a catchy, electronic tune or a catch-phrase to further drum the advert home.

What made Wave City radically different from the poorer, toxic towns of System Ground wasn’t just the clean and tidy buildings and artificial grass. It was the lack of toxins in the air. Standing like silent sentries between the street lights were artificial trees. Structures of iron with flat, metal plates to serve as leaves. Operated solely on solar power, they drew in the contaminated air and blasted it back out again through filters. A hidden mechanism stored up electricity to keep them running during the night and overcast days, but the idea of solar powered air filters had left pokemon feeling uncertain about the trees’ efficiency. Despite the skepticism, they’d certainly held up for the past century or two. The air was breathable and as such allowed berry plants to be grown, but they were never as healthy as those grown in System Sky.

“Here it is.” Macro stopped beside a large factory sporting a billboard for the next Assassin Strike VR game.

The building looked no more out of place than the school or apartment blocks. The only difference was the water wheel turning slowly as water was gathered from the ocean and cascaded down on top of it from a neatly hidden pipe. Situated by the docs, the factory generated all the power it needed from the ocean. The clean energy promotion in Wave City went strongly in its favour to clean up the air, but not every city was so inclined to make that step. In most cases it was too late, anyway. Proxy alone would take many years to clean up.

The water wheel creaked and groaned as it rotated, and water splashed back down from it, forcing it under the shallow tide.

“I doubt this factory is empty,” Macro said quietly. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have the wheel running.”

“Night staff?” Anchor grunted.

Macro nodded and moved slowly around the factory’s perimeter. Long windows protected by heavy iron bars rose up for three floors and not one of them appeared to have a light on. If there were any night staff, then they were probably just guards sat in a security room somewhere. That meant they probably knew he was there, but he couldn’t see a security camera anywhere.

He paused and craned his neck up towards the roof. No camera. At least not a visible one. A high profile place like a weapons factory would be using a stealth. One that recorded not only video but audio as well. Full colour, high definition…

He rejoined Anchor from the other side and stared up at the iron doors. He wanted to say it wouldn’t be easy, but once they were inside, it would be fun and games. Grab the loot, foil the guards and run. It’s not as if they didn’t know him. Wildcard Gamma and its captain were known everywhere. He could already picture the guards reaching for their lasers to fend them off, maybe even calculating the bounty they’d receive for turning him in to the authorities.

A smirk spread across his muzzle and he chuckled. He wasn’t about to give them that pleasure.

“All right.” He reached into his pouch and pulled out a long, black metal needle. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Front entrance, eh?” Anchor nodded as he watched the mawile jiggle the needle in the lock. “I like it.”

“Well, the windows are all barred up and I have no patience to saw through them.” The lock snapped and he stuffed the needle back into his pouch. “Would make way too much noise anyway.”

With a hefty kick, the door swung inwards and Macro reached for his laser. They were immediately met by three large pokemon rushing straight at them. The first was a machoke followed closely by a swampert. Macro let out a small laugh as he readied his laser and ducked beneath the machoke’s flailing fist. He brought his horn up beneath the fighting pokemon’s chin where it struck him with a sick crack and sent him soaring over his head. He set his laser to grass and fired at the swampert, blasting him backwards into the wall where he lay, dazed.

Macro turned back to Anchor who was stood over the machoke and a floatzel. Both were sparking dangerously, as were the gauntlets on his fists. He looked back up at Macro and nodded, stepping over the two fallen guards.

“I doubt that’s all of them,” said Macro. “Be on the look out.”

He flashed his optical display on and brought up a map of the interior, conveniently provided by Matrix. Three floors. The first was mostly factory and staff facilities. The second floor was all factory and the third and final, admin and storage. Macro tutted loudly and scouted out the nearest elevator.

“We need to go up to the top,” he said.

“Seriously?” Anchor called the elevator. Twice. Three times. “Not workin’.”

Macro tutted again and made for the stairs. Each one almost came up to his chin. A silent insult hidden away under the stature of the factory’s chosen employee criteria. He scrambled over each one as Anchor plodded effortlessly up them beside him. After the first half-flight, the mawile was practically gasping for breath. He flinched as a loud siren blared from a speaker above his head, followed by an ear-splitting ring that competed with the siren and almost shook the very foundations.

“Come on, Cap’n.” Anchor sighed and shook his head. “Don’t take this the wrong way, now.”

The granbull stooped and picked him up, hoisting him onto his shoulder. Macro bit back a snide remark and resigned himself to being lugged up the next flight and a half. The third floor sported a set of double doors with an alarm bar across them. It was kind of redundant with the noise the building was already making.

Anchor set Macro back down and flexed his knuckles, pushing the lethal spikes out from his gauntlets. Macro quickly brushed himself down and readied his laser. There was someone on the other side of those doors, he could smell it.

The granbull smashed the door open, adding to the crescendo of alarms as the bar shattered beneath his fists. Two lombre leapt out from the splintered wood and landed between them, each of them raising their claws as they braced themselves to attack. During a time where the fire, grass and water type pokemon were constantly at each other’s necks, lombre had a hard time fitting in, being forced to choose between grass or water as their primary element. These two had decided to blend in with the water types of Wave City as a pair of limber grass/water guards for the very factory Macro and his team planned to raid. How convenient.

“Great,” Macro snarled. “My weapon can’t do nothin’ to these two.”

“Snap,” said Anchor as he flexed his gauntlets. “Gonna have to use force, Cap’n.”

Macro span, swinging his horn at the nearest one. The lombre leapt into the air and kicked himself back from the ceiling. The lily pad on his head lit up with a purple light and he spiraled back down towards Macro for a nasty zen headbutt.

The mawile narrowly dodged it and caught him in the back with his horn, sending the lombre rolling down the stairs. He turned to grab the other lombre in his jaws but a torrent of steaming water shot up the stairs and nipped his foot and fur.

“Yowch!” He leapt backwards, swatting at his singed toes to remove the burning water.

The lombre zipped in front of him, cutting him off from the twin as it backed Anchor into a corner. The granbull’s sparking gauntlets collided with his assailant’s jaw but it only caused the grass/water pokemon to frown and nut him with a zen headbutt. Anchor grunted and slumped to the floor. Now free from the gauntlet-wielding granbull, the lombre rounded on Macro.

“Great,” said Macro. “Got you both now, have I?”

He felt the wall against his horn and he faltered as both leering lombre advanced towards him. He raised his gun, turning the dial from grass to water then to ground. The only three in his arsenal. He’d never considered he might need a flying laser before. He filed a mental note to upgrade just before the gun was violently swatted from his paws. It clattered to the floor, releasing its catch and sending a shockwave into the ceiling. Plaster tore free and rained down upon them, crashing onto the head of the closest lombre. Macro coughed as the dust filled his throat and he placed a paw over his muzzle, raising the other to shield his head from the debris.

The remaining lombre was lifted from his vision and tossed aside like a pokedoll. Anchor’s face loomed over him, sporting a black eye and a crooked tooth. He thrust Macro’s laser back into his paws.

“We weren’t meant to bring the whole place down!” He grabbed Macro’s arm and dragged him through the splintered doors.

“I’m not the one who dropped it!” Macro retorted.

“But you took the flippin’ safety off though, right?”

“I was trying to defend myself!”

The granbull skidded to a halt half way down the corridor and eyed a heavy, cast-iron door. “Think this is it.”

It wasn’t the only room in the corridor. It had about five or six before it ended at another set of double doors that led to some unseen, hidden location Macro couldn’t be bothered fussing over.

Now well and truly fed up, he aimed his ground laser at the heavy door. If it worked on steel type pokemon, it would have no problem against an iron door. His suspicions were rewarded as the laser tore a hefty hole through the structure, shredding the iron into jagged points that curled inwards around a perfectly formed circle hole.

Beyond it lay stacks of wooden boxes, each one named with the component they contained in nice, red letters.

Macro grinned from ear to ear. “Bingo!”

He leapt through the hole and scurried over to the crates, eyeing up their contents. Barrels, fibre amplifiers, filters, lasers of varying type concentrations. Ice types wanted enough to counter their many weaknesses. That meant they wanted water, ground, fire, psychic and flying lasers. He pulled a thick, leather bag from his pouch and began throwing them in by the pawful. Anchor stood by the door, waiting as the mawile scurried about in the storage room adding filters, barrels and other bits and pieces to his bag. It wasn’t long until he needed to fill a second bag which Anchor threw at him in exchange for the first.

Once both were loaded up, they eyed the doors to the stairs warily. That ceiling had finished caving in, but it had left quite the obstacle course. The alarms were still blaring away and voices could be heard over them from either side as what he could only describe as an army clambered over the rubble on the stairs.

“Drat,” Anchor muttered. “Didn’t hear them coming over all this kerfuffle.”

“Well we’ve got what we need,” said Macro. “Let’s head to the roof and call Matrix.”

Easier said than done when the main stairs were out of action. He quickly checked the map and confirmed the double doors behind them led to the emergency exit. A narrow flight of stairs running down to the back door and up to the roof.

He nodded to Anchor, tossed the bag over his shoulder and bolted for the emergency exit. The granbull fell in step behind him, effortlessly carrying the second bag. The stairs were quickly flooding with various water type pokemon led by a blastoise. The hulking tortoise sent two jets of water at them from the cannons protruding from his shell. Macro let out a squeak as he dodged between them and sped for the stairs heading up. A cracking sound followed by a grunt told him Anchor had given the blastoise a nasty crack before making a bid for freedom.

“Ready your gun, Cap’n!”

The granbull relieved him of his bag and hoisted him onto his shoulder before leaping up the stairs two at a time. Having no free arms to message Wildcard Gamma, he instead barked into his wrist computer. Hopefully the chaos wouldn’t drown it all out and leave them stranded.

Macro swiveled so he was facing the army and fired off grass lasers at their feet. Not striking to stun or to kill. Just to hold back. The blastoise leered up at them from the head of his water army, his left eye squinting as his cheek swelled in a ruby red bruise. Wartortle, marshstomp and prinplup gathered behind him and the blastoise flashed his sharp teeth in a snarl.

“Follow them!” he roared.

The smaller pokemon raced over the stairs but one or two were caught in Macro’s firing line and sent rolling backwards down the narrow stairwell.

Anchor fired his fists at the lone door atop the stairs, shattering the alarm bar. It was useless. There was enough noise going on in the factory as it was.

Macro dropped from his shoulder and skittered across the roof, searching the dark sky for any sign of his ship.

“Try again!” he told Anchor.

Alarms still blared from the building, filling the entire city. Below them, pokemon had gathered in the streets to watch the spectacle, and the ocean behind them was filled with tiny lights from chinchou and lanturn. That ruled out escaping into the water.

The army flooded out onto the roof, followed closely by the blastoise captain. The hulking tortoise leered at them and aimed his water cannons.

“You’re cornered,” he snarled. “Give it up, Hunter, and drop those stolen weapons.”

Macro snorted and raised his paws. “I ain’t holdin’ them.”

The blastoise’s lips curled back from his teeth. “Is this some kind of joke to you?!”

“A joke?” Macro laughed. “What do you take me for? Some performing mankey? This is simply a job, pal.”

“It’s theft!” The blastoise shook his head but his snarl never fell. “You’re wanted all across System, Hunter, now turn yourself in or we’ll have to take you by force! And I mean by force.”

The water army braced themselves behind him, several of them moving in to the blastoise’s flanks.

“Oh, you can try,” said Macro. “You always try, but you never catch me.”

A heavy shadow fell over the building and all eyes looked up at the large belly of the schooling wishiwashi ship. Neon bars flew down in the pink light ladder right above Anchor’s head. The blastoise roared and fired his hydro cannons at the two pokemon. Anchor leapt for the ladder, taking hold of one of the higher bars and beginning is ascent towards the ship. Macro dodged the water and ran backwards, throwing himself over the edge of the building with a maniacal laugh.

“Whoa whoa!” Anchor barked. “Reverse!”

The ladder shot down from the ship in a repeated flash of pink, competing with the yellow flash from the ocean as the water dwellers prepared their electrical attacks. The granbull’s gauntleted paw flailed feebly until the ladder was close enough to Macro for him to grab the bottom rung. It immediately began to ascend back up and Anchor let out a long sigh.

“You moron!” he roared. “What do you think you’re playin’ at?!”

Macro was still laughing as he looked back out at the factory. The ocean below was still flickering yellow as static electricity bounced across it amongst the chinchou and lanturns’ lights. Many more were still gathering, but it was too little too late. Try as they may, the water army’s attacks fell short of the ladder, carrying the electricity from the ocean only to have it fizzle out mere feet away from their targets. Each torrent lit up with a rhythmic red as the alarm light blared from the factory’s roof. Red had always meant danger, and they’d narrowly escaped it. It was one of the closest calls he’d ever had and his heart was racing.

He ran a paw over the base of his horn and shook his head, his body still shaking with laughter. When they were safely inside the hatch he propped himself up against the wall as he tried to steady his breathing.

Anchor stared down at him and dropped the bags onto the floor.

“Anyone would think that blastoise were right,” he said. “That this is some kind of joke to you.”

Macro took a couple of deep breaths and looked out through the hatch window. Wave City rapidly shrank beneath them as the ship re-entered System Sky.

“You taunted him, Macro.” Anchor’s reflection folded his arms. “You always taunt them then you go and do something stupid! He’s right, ain’t he? It’s just a massive joke!”

“The only joke is this pathetic world and its ruler.” Macro turned from the window and waved a paw behind him. “Grab those bags, Anchor. We’ve got a job to finish.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Three​

Two sacks of laser components. Two bulging sacks.

Macro sorted through them, neatly arranging the lasers, barrels, filters, gears, screws, coils and heat elements into piles. There wasn't enough parts to meet the laser types. He'd gone a bit overboard with those. But seeing the parts laid out on his cockpit floor left him feeling tickled pink with glee.

"How many do you think we should give them?" Anchor asked.

"I'm thinkin' forty percent," said Macro. "Forty percent of the lasers. That means they get all the coils and most of the heat elements, and that leaves us with enough to sell on the black market."

Matrix picked up one of the coils and turned it around in his paws. "So that means we're taking a trip back to Pulse City?"

"Of course," said Macro as he gathered the items between two bags. "We need to refuel and clean out the septic tank 'n' all that jazz."

"That's cool," said Matrix. "I wouldn't mind checking out Assassin Strike anyway."

"We're not swinging by Boolean first to drop these off?" Anchor asked.

"As much as I'd like to do it all in one go, I'm not sure our fuel will last that long," said Macro. "I don't wanna be stranded anywhere."

"Suppose it makes sense. Just make sure you lock the rest of them away. Some of those pirates have got sticky paws."

"You know I'm always careful, Anchor."

The granbull snorted.

"Anyway," said Macro. "It'll be a nice change of pace to stop somewhere where less pokemon are after my head. Load up Pulse City, Matrix."

The ribombee returned to his spot by the navigation screen and keyed in the co-ordinates for Pulse City. Wildcard Gamma's location blinked on the screen as it rapidly zoomed out to reveal an intricate map of floating cities spreading across a void of black.

"Head due east," he said.

"Due east." Anchor stood and flopped into the driver's seat. "Gotcha!"

Macro hopped into the seat beside him and kicked his feet up onto the dashboard. The ship turned slowly then surged forwards, pushing him back into his seat. He buckled himself in and tucked his paws behind his head. With Wildcard Gamma's speed and efficiency, it wouldn't be too long until they reached Pulse City. He gazed out of the window at the passing stars blinking in the distance before they streaked by like silvery threads as his ship swam through the black sky.

...​

Pulse City loomed before them, its abstract, jagged structure further emphasized by the array of neon lights that dotted its various entertainment districts. 'Docks' was scrawled over the entrance and was already filled to bursting with fish-shaped pirate ships. Wildcard Gamma slowly and carefully pulled in beside a gyarados, more so to avoid chipping the wishiwashi's paintwork than to prevent an encounter with a violent, moody pirate. Macro really didn't want to add another fresh layer of paint to cover a careless scuff on his prized ship.

The mawile hopped out of the exit hatch and landed in a crouch on the dirty docks. Despite the clean air that was in abundance in System Sky, space pirates weren't generally known for their cleanliness and care for nature. There were no wind farms up here, either. They were few and far between in System Sky due to the dramatic change in atmosphere that rendered air unbreathable unless on one of the islands where it was filtered to a safe level inside their plexiglass domes. Most cities got their energy from System Ground. Pulse City did just that… illegally. It wasn't unknown to the law enforcers, either. They'd do something about it if Pulse City weren't so dangerous. On more than one occasion the rogue city was plunged into darkness as the wireless signal leading up to the island was cut. On more than one occasion, Pulse City's biggest and baddest were sent down to the wind farm to 'fix things'. Eventually, the officials gave up and resigned to the illegal tapping of power.

The dock opened out into the neon-lit city streets. Pokemon of varying species stood outside the bars and clubs, talking loudly amongst themselves and laughing as frothy beer spilled over filthy glasses.

Matrix paused at the fork in the road and nodded to his right. "I'm gonna hit the games arcade."

"All right, pal," said Macro. "We'll see you in the lounge later."

The ribombee rose into the air and buzzed away into the busy street.

Macro gave Anchor a tap on the arm and marched down the central fork further into the vibrant city. Music blared from doorways, creating an incomprehensible racket as the mix of sounds clashed that somehow some pokemon actually managed to dance to. Or just leap up and down bashing into one another. One 'dance' had got a little out of hand as a skuntank sunk his teeth into the throat of a vigoroth. The sloth pokemon swung his arms and sent the large skunk soaring overhead to crash into a lamp post. The bulb blinked out as the skuntank's eyes rolled back into his head and he slumped to the ground.

Macro strolled past him without batting an eye, keeping his attention on the sign in front of him. 'Market' was all it said. Well… 'mar-et'. The green 'k' had fallen off at some point.

The bustling building roared as he strode through the door. Pokemon leant over stall tables shouting and bartering with the owners or squabbling as they fought over the prized items. Eyes fell on Macro and Anchor as they cut through the rabble, gazing curiously at the leather sack strung over the granbull's shoulder. Expressions turned to fascination or disgust, and in some instances fury, but the pirates kept their distance. The bounty didn't apply in System Sky. Only on System Ground, and pirates were never rewarded by the government anyway. Reputation was all that mattered in Pulse City and Wildcard Gamma had that in buckets.

Macro spotted his target stall. A low table manned by a sewaddle. The caterpillar pokemon sported a torn leaf over his head and his left eye was misted over with what looked like a cataract but was actually a thin layer of everstone. The small pokemon was one of many that had undergone cybernetic enhancement. Whatever he'd had done, it was internal. The everstone was a necessity for such enhancements and the pokemon chose where to wear it. Many opted to have it placed into their bodies in some way so they wouldn't lose it, and Worm had chosen to have it placed in his eye. It might have cost him part of his vision, but the benefits outweighed the negatives. The amount of stress evolution caused on the body would disagree with enhancements. They couldn't evolve like a standard pokemon could. They stayed the same size forever. The everstone was no fashion accessory, it was meant to stop him exploding.

"Good morning, Worm." Macro slammed his paws onto the table, grabbing the sewaddle's attention.

Worm's eyes widened briefly with surprise and he cleared his throat. "Not seen you in a while, Macro. What you been up to?"

"Business." The mawile nodded to Anchor. "We've got some stuff to sell you."

Worm huffed and he restrained himself from staring at the leather sack. "'Bout time. I'm runnin' dry here."

"Well, I think you'll appreciate this."

Anchor tossed the leather bag across the table, and its contents spilled out beside the sewaddle. Heat elements and lasers pattered across the floor, and Worm curved his tail to stop them rolling under the table behind him. He let out a long whistle and stuck his head into the bag.

"Weapon parts!" He chuckled.

"Yup. And I'll do you a deal," said Macro. "Ten thousand credits for all that."

"Five."

"Seven. And I go no lower."

The small caterpillar sighed and flicked on his optical display. A sheet of green appeared over his right eye and he tapped at something Macro couldn't see from his position. The mawile's pouch beeped, and his own display fired up of its own accord. An override. Worm knew what he was doing and he wanted Macro to be sure he'd actually paid. It saved accusations from pirates who'd lie in an attempt to scam.

Macro laughed and switched his display back off. "Pleasure doin' business with ya."

"As always." Worm began placing the parts on his table, and they were immediately predated upon by keen buyers. "No coils though. Not that I can see anyway."

"Sorry," said Macro. "They're all spoken for, I'm afraid."

"Can't spare any?" Worm asked. "I'll have a demand when pokemon get a look at all this."

"Nope." The mawile shrugged. "I've got a business to run and if I cut them out I lose a profit."

"What profit? You steal it all."

"A one hundred percent profit." Macro folded his arms and frowned at the bug pokemon. "If I sell some to you, I lose out."

Worm looked up at him and met his frown head on. "I'll give you seventy percent per coil."

Macro waved a paw at him and turned away.

"Eighty!" the sewaddle called. "Eighty-five!"

Macro looked back over his shoulder as he strolled away. "Look! If I get any more, I'll send 'em your way, right?"

Worm seethed silently and continued laying the parts on his table while trying to deal with the sudden rush of customers. Coils or not, those parts would fly off his stall. Laser parts often needed replacing, especially those custom built with the growing rise of a weapon ban.

"I'm gonna go get Matrix," Macro told Anchor. "I'll meet you back at the ship."

The granbull let out a grunt. "I was hoping to check out CyberTechnics before we took off."

"You're gonna buy bootleg technology?" Macro scoffed.

A weavile shot him a leer from a bar doorway and flexed his mechanical claws. Macro suppressed a chill down his spine and pretended he hadn't noticed.

"Pirates' gotta make a living somehow, Cap'n," said Anchor. "Besides. You should know yourself some of it's raided from System Ground."

"Yeh, well." Macro cleared his throat. "Just make sure it doesn't explode on my ship. I don't want to be dealing with another fire. You saw what happened to Wildcard Beta."

Anchor laughed and strode away from him down a narrow alley. "You're the one who won't shell out for a fire extinguisher, Cap'n. Ain't my fault."

Macro crinkled his muzzle and waved the granbull off as he followed the wider road around to the games arcade. The familiar, huge sign appeared above the tall buildings with Moonlight Lounge printed on it in giant, red letters against a white backdrop. The pixelated image of an inkay stood beside it with its tentacles raised, poised to strike.

Walking through the doorway was like walking into a cavern blocked up with a wall of stuffy, sweaty air. He dodged under the feet of a tyranitar, causing the large pokemon to side-step and slosh beer onto the floor. The monstrous, armored beast flashed his canines at him and stomped over to a low table to join a fraxure and vigoroth. The pair fixed the mawile with identical glares as they took their drinks from their tyranitar companion, and the small dragon pokemon took a huge bite from something that used to be some kind of water dwelling pokemon. The sight turned Macro's stomach and he pointedly averted his gaze to the rest of the lounge.

Glares and leers ran rampant amongst the occasional nods and smirks, but all of them washed over Macro like water off a ducklett's back. He found Matrix sat at an arcade terminal with a VR headset completely hiding his antennae. Whatever he could see was shown in first person on a large, holographic screen mounted on the wall. The ribombee was deeply engrossed in the game as his tiny paws raced over the control pad. Ordinarily, the game would be played with gestures and body movements but in such a crowded place it was common sense (and the laws of health and safety) to play them with a control pad. Such laws remained in Pulse City after the abundance of casualties that had resulted from senseless leaps and bounds from the larger pokemon who could see nothing of reality through their headsets.

Matrix wasn't alone, however. Three female pirates stood watching him, transfixed. Their attention drifted frequently from the screen to the small bug pokemon. Two of the girls were familiar to Macro as Matrix's 'fangirls'. The young froslass and illumise stood unnecessarily close while a completely unfamiliar bipedal zigzagoon leant against the game terminal on one elbow. The brown, sleeveless waistcoat she wore was immaculate - likely new - and just barely covered her belt and laser gun. A black and green checkered bandana covered her right ear and almost fell over her eye. She brushed it back when she saw Macro and a smirk tugged at the corner of her lips.

"Friend of yours?" She nodded to the small bug.

Macro let out a snort and slammed a paw down on the back of Matrix's chair. He didn't so much as flinch.

"I wouldn't go so far as to call him a friend," he told the zigzagoon. "You ready, Matrix?"

"Just a sec." Matrix leant forward slightly in his seat as he smashed one of the buttons frantically.

The zigzagoon chuckled and turned so she had her back on the machine. She folded her arms neatly, but her eye never left the mawile.

"I was gonna ask for his number," she said. "Then you showed up."

Macro snorted. "I wouldn't bother wasting your time."

"On him or you?"

"Either of us." Macro's eye drifted up to the game display as a set of claws sent a druddigon's head rolling across the tarmac floor. "I'm too busy, and despite being eighteen, I'm not even sure Matrix here even knows what a girl is."

"I know what a girl is, Macro," the ribombee retorted.

"Yeh? Well you don't act like it."

Matrix merely shrugged.

"Anyway," Macro went on. "Wrap this up. Anchor will beat us back to the ship at this rate."

"It's not a race," said Matrix. "Pull up a seat while I finish this level."

Macro sighed and leant on the back of Matrix's seat. No, it wasn't a race, but he wanted to refuel and hurry to Boolean City before it went dark. Again.

"Macro, right?" He heard the zigzagoon shuffle against the computer. "The name's Surge."

Macro looked up at her. She was still watching him, still wearing that smirk. He didn't know why she was introducing herself. He didn't even know the names of the other two girls, and he could have bet his goggles that Matrix hadn't a clue either. Even if they'd told him, it would have gone through one ear and straight out the other.

He grunted as he turned back to the computer screen.

"Well, isn't that interesting." She chuckled and shook her head. "I've seen your posters everywhere. So you use an alias? You've got quite the bounty on your head."

Macro's fur began to stand on end. He really didn't like where this was going. He reached over the chair and took the controller from Matrix's paws.

"Hey!" The ribombee removed his headset and span his head around to look at him.

"We're leaving." Macro tossed the controller onto the seat beside him and turned to march away.

Matrix shook out his antennae and fluttered after him, his wings creating a dull drone in the din of the lounge.

"You can't have a little patience?" Matrix whined.

Macro continued marching forwards, repressing the urge to check for both his lasers. It wasn't unheard of for a pirate to risk turning in another for a quick credit, and he was convinced he could still feel the zigagoon's eyes on him. He wouldn't feel as anxious if he'd seen her around before. New pirates came and went, but an unfamiliar face poking around and pointing out his bounty had left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He took in a deep breath of outside air, refreshing after the stench of sweat and beer that filled the lounge. His feet kept moving along with a will of their own as he retraced his steps back to the docks. Matrix flew silently along beside him, occasionally glancing at him out of the corner of his eye.

Every pirate they passed had a threatening air about them now. Crimson leers and flexed claws burned into him from bar doorways and outside tables, every tiny movement causing his eyes to flit towards them like a magnet to steel.

Matrix let out a long breath and shook his head. "Is something wrong?"

"Yeh," he said. "That zigzagoon fangirl of yours was asking too many questions."

"She was only trying to have a conversation with you."

"How long have you been a pirate for?" Macro locked the ribombee in a violet stare.

Matrix shrugged. "I dunno. Two years?"

"Well I've been one for a lot longer. I know what goes on in their heads. It's always money and survival. Making a profit. Looking out for Number One. No matter at what cost."

"So you didn't trust her."

"I didn't trust her as far as I could throw her." Macro paused and glanced back over his shoulder. "Which would be pretty far, believe me."

Matrix chuckled and adjusted his goggles on his head. They'd been shunted at a quirky angle from the head set making him look like a cartoon.

When the familiar, blue hull of Wildcard Gamma came into view, Macro felt a weight lift off his shoulders. Anchor was already stood beside it, tapping his foot as he stared at the fuel pipe. His nose twitched and he gave a curt nod as he took a step back from the ship.

"I thought I'd save you the job," he said. "Clean out is done. Just have to wait for the fuel tank to fill now."

He looked up at Macro and the mawile did a double-take. Anchor's right eye was covered by a silvery circle of glass encased in a silver frame. Leather straps looped over his right ear, holding the device in place.

"So you fell for one of CyberTechnics' new fads?" he scoffed.

Anchor grunted and looked back down at the pipe. "It's a heat tracker. I've been wanting one for like a month now, and after my share of today's profits, I could finally afford one."

Macro shook his head slowly and climbed up the neon ladder to board his ship.

"How long until we're fully fueled up?" he asked.

"Fifteen minutes," said Anchor.

"Great. Matrix, set co-ordinates for Boolean." He watched the ribombee zip past him. His next sentence came out a lot quieter, and he was convinced not even Anchor heard it. "I'm gonna have a lie down."
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Four​

"Cap'n! Cap'n!"

Macro's eyes fluttered open and he pushed himself up, letting the light blankets fall off him onto his knees. Anchor stood in his bedroom doorway, scratching absently behind his left ear.

"What is it?" the mawile asked as he rubbed a paw over his eyes.

"I'm sorry to wake you," Anchor said. "But Matrix says we're being followed."

If Macro wasn't awake before, he was now. He swung his legs over the edge of his bed and slipped to the floor, grabbing his goggles off his night stand.

"What do you mean followed?" he scoffed as he marched from his room.

"Navigation system's picking up on another ship," said Anchor. "It's blinkin' away like no one's business. He said it's been like that since shortly after we left Pulse City."

"So it's another pirate?"

"Either that or someone lurking around, waiting to tag onto a familiar ship. I mean, the price on your head is hardly small, Cap'n."

Macro snorted and marched down the corridor towards the cockpit. Cookie's round face peered at them from the kitchen as he licked berry sauce off his ladle.

The cockpit was filled with beeping. Matrix shot them a glance from his spot at the navigation desk and watched Macro as he fell into his usual seat at the front.

"What's going on, Matrix?" he asked. "Anchor says we're being followed?"

"'Stalked' would be the better term," the ribombee explained. "I tried to lose them by taking a huge detour towards Cyan City, but they followed us the entire way. They even waited when I pulled over for a few minutes, drifting around absently. I thought they were going to land in Cyan, but after I set off, they tailed after us again."

He pointed at the flashing red dot on the screen. Just a dot. No description of the ship, no indication of its size. Nothing to say if it was government, rogue, or space pirate. It could be anyone. For any reason.

"Is it the same ship?" Macro asked. "Are you sure of that?"

"Who else could it be?" Matrix shrugged. "Why would two different ships follow us so closely?"

"Tag team?" Anchor suggested.

"That makes it the same pokemon, technically," said Matrix. "The fact is, we're being followed. And we're not even at Boolean City yet. What do you suggest we do?"

Macro stared at the navigation screen and pursed his lips together. They had means in place for times like this, but they used a lot of fuel and there was no saying they'd have enough to get back to Pulse City for a top up after their visit to the frozen floating city.

"We need a plan A and a plan B." He turned in his seat to face the window. "Speed up and try to lose it. Failing that, throw up the cloak."

"The cloak won't take us off their radar," Matrix explained.

"No, but they won't be able to see us," said Macro. "And there's no saying they even have a radar, especially with how closely they're following."

"Fair point." Matrix leant his head on his paw and sighed. "Let's just hope you're right."

"What about plan C?" Anchor asked as he pushed the accelerator stick forwards slowly.

"We don't use plan C unless they start to fire," said Macro. "It'll burn through fuel like fire through an abomasnow."

Anchor laughed and struck his paw on the dashboard.

Wildcard Gamma sped forwards, the lights from the passing cities streaking by beside them. Macro craned his neck around to see the navigation display. The red, blinking dot fell further and further back. But then… it sped up itself. Tailing them like a little hatchling.

He grit his teeth together and tutted.

"Plan B?" Anchor asked.

"No, not yet. It uses too much fuel," said Macro. "Just keep going."

The incessant beeping filled their ears as all eyes remained on either the lights streaming by or the navigation display. That blinking, red dot tailed after them at a steady pace, matching their speed perfectly. It didn't fall behind or draw closer. If Macro hadn't been so sure it was a deliberate attempt to follow them from Matrix's description, he'd have thought they'd accidentally towed another ship behind them.

"Hang on." Anchor grabbed the steering stick in his right paw and pulled it towards him. "I've got a plan."

The ship moved upwards, pushing Macro back into his seat and causing a little yelp from Matrix as he slipped from his chair.

"What are you doing?" Macro squeaked.

"Driving through a trash belt," explained the granbull. "See how much they like that."

"Well, I don't like it! You'll get my ship dirty!"

"I'll be careful. Anyway, it's only a bit of old paper and food waste."

"And sewage!" said Macro. "Don't forget sewage!"

As the ship leveled out, a stream of trash filled the world outside. Metal objects, fluttering sheets of old paper and indescribable sludge spread out like a hideous river. Macro's nose crinkled at the sheer thought of the smell and he considered grabbing his mask. No sooner had they seen it, it filled the window. Paper clung to the glass and blew off again, leaving behind sticky marks that pushed bile up into the mawile's throat.

Anchor grunted and cast him a sideways glance. "Sorry, Cap'n."

Macro threw a paw over his face and slumped back into his seat with a groan.

"I think it's working," said Matrix. "They're hesitating."

Macro spread his claws to see the blinking dot hovering further behind them. It arced to the side, edging towards the outer circumference of the radar.

"It looks like we're losing them," Matrix said.

"Anchor?" Macro turned to face the dog pokemon. "How big is this trash belt?"

"Miles," he replied.

"Then if they try to go around it, we'll have lost them." Macro grinned and rammed his fists onto the dashboard. "Great plan! You're a genius, Anchor!"

The granbull chuckled and shook his head. "All in a day's work, Cap'n."

He pushed the accelerator forwards again and the ship lurched ahead, gradually picking up speed until the trash belt was nothing but an unpleasant memory and an unsightly smear on the windscreen.

...​

A vast, frozen landscape spread out before them, freezing Macro's feet to the bone. He hugged his scarf around himself and looked up at the tall, silvery buildings. Windmills turned slowly high above them, caught in the brisk breeze. Their lights lit up the darkening sky like silver and yellow stars.

"Any idea where this Cipher Frostwall is?" His breath misted in the air and he rubbed his paws over his arms.

Anchor punched a stubby finger over his wrist computer, grunting with frustration at its unresponsiveness.

"Not far," he finally answered. "Follow this road round and it's down a narrow alley just off it. We've not landed too far away, thankfully."

"Good. Because I'm turning into an icicle."

Anchor grunted again and crossed his arms over his chest as he fell into pace beside the mawile.

"I thought you resisted ice attacks," he said.

"I do," said Macro. "But I think as little of winter as a hibernating ursaring."

"Then I guess you won't be vacationing here any time soon then?"

Macro shuddered as the wind bit through his fur and he trudged on through the frozen wasteland. The granbull's feet crunched over the snow effortlessly, leaving deep, clawed paw prints beside the deep crevice Macro was leaving as he forced his way through. It melted against his fur, soaking through to his legs until they began to feel numb, but he resisted the urge to ask the much taller pokemon to carry him on his shoulder.

The road continued on past various shops, many of which were now closed. The only one open was a butchers displaying the poor, skinless bodies of various marine pokemon, each one sporting a hefty price tag. The smell turned Macro's stomach and he dug his claws into his arms as he forced himself past it.

A narrow alley forked off to their left, surrounded by piled up snow drifts that made the opening much narrower than it should have been. Anchor went first, slightly widening the gap as the mawile clambered after him. The building they sought stood at the end of it, squatting beside a wall topped with barbed wire. Jagged icicles hung from the wire and spread out onto the porch above the door like daggers. Or teeth. Cold droplets dripped from them and one landed down the back of Macro's neck. He stifled a squeak of shock and disgust and instead raised his paw to ring the bell beside the door.

"Who is it?" a female voice spoke clearly back at him.

"Hunter," he said. "We got what you asked for."

"Wait a moment."

Macro tapped his left claws on his right arm as he stared at the door. The sound of dripping behind him was leaving him on edge and his soaked fur was growing more and more uncomfortable despite the shelter the porch provided.

The door cracked open and a round face peered out at him. Blue and white with a beard of ice. A beartic.

"Hunter, eh?" The deep, masculine voice certainly didn't belong to the pokemon who'd answered his call.

Macro forced a grin and nodded to his large companion. "We've got the parts you requested."

"So it's you who took the request?" The beartic stifled a chuckle. "Didn't expect one of System's most wanted to brave Boolean City after Socket's crack-down on us. How much do we owe you?"

The beartic took the heavy sack from Anchor and opened it to peer inside. Macro didn't need to examine it again to double check the value. He'd done that enough times already. A grin split his face, and he leant against the porch door and immediately regretted it.

"Twenty thousand credits," he said.

The beartic looked up at him and his muzzle crinkled so much his lips pulled back from his teeth, sending a further chill through Macro's already frozen bones.

"Twenty thousand stinkin' credits for one sack of weapon parts?!" he roared.

Macro forced himself to stand up straight and he felt Anchor draw closer to him.

"Hey, I risked my hide to get those parts!" Macro retorted. "They ain't exactly easy to come by, or obtain. I think you'll find there's equal number of coils in there to fit each and every other piece to. You've got enough for…" The mawile threw his paws in the air and shrugged. "For like… twenty guns."

"A thousand credits a piece…" The beartic spat and it froze on the porch as soon as it touched it. "Lasers sold for six hundred a piece."

"Yeh, and now there's a ban." Macro shrugged again and he heard Anchor ram his fist into his open paw twice. "Call the rest a commission fee."

The beartic's eye warily went to the granbull and he placed the sack of weapon parts behind him out of sight. His paw went to his belt and Macro was relieved to find he wasn't pulling out a gun but a pocket computer. The huge mammal didn't even look at it as he tapped at the holographic screen. Instantly, the mawile's pouch beeped and he switched on his optical display.

Twenty thousand five hundred credits.

"You overpaid," he said flatly.

"You're honest." The beartic stepped back into the building and pushed the door closed enough that only his muzzle was poking out. "I wanted to check exactly who I was dealing with. Keep it."

The door slammed shut, whipping up cold snow and shaking two of the icicles free. They smashed onto the concrete beside Macro and tiny shards clung to his yellow fur.

"Why did you tell him he overpaid?" Anchor asked.

"In case he knew." Macro tapped him on the paw and steered him away from Cipher Frostwall. "I didn't want an army of pokemon his size chasing after me. I think we've been chased enough today, don't you?"

Anchor laughed heartily and folded his arms. "Sure. Shall I call Matrix, or do you wanna sight-see?"

Macro snorted and looked away from him, his eyes drifting to the now near-black sky. Wildcard Gamma's shadow appeared above them, even darker yet only just visible to the trained eye. The neon pink ladder cut through the darkness, cascading down towards them with its familiar electronic 'chinks' as each one fired into place. The thought of being back on board his beloved ship already made him feel warmer.

Something else in the sky caught his eye and he looked up to his left. Three more shadows. Smaller. Heading right for them. His violet eyes widened and he edged closer to Anchor.

"Something wrong?" Anchor followed his gaze and his body stiffened. "Oh ratattas. That's not who was stalking us, is it?"

The ladder appeared just above Macro's head and he reached up and grabbed onto the lowest rung. Anchor took hold of one seven rungs up and stood with his feet just above the mawile's head. It whipped them up towards the exit hatch and cold air roared past his ears. But his eyes never left those three ships. They deviated to the right of Wildcard Gamma, spreading out slightly. Pointed. Golden.

He vanished into the exit hatch and it hissed shut behind him, closing out the freezing air. He took in a few deep breaths and shook water from his fur and scarf.

"Did you get a good look at them?" Anchor asked.

"Yes." Macro opened the inner door and stepped onto the ship, moving against the blast of warm air that blew yet more droplets from his body. "They weren't pirates, that's for certain."

"Government."

Macro nodded and felt his fur bristle. He marched into the cockpit and cast Matrix a look that froze the tiny bee pokemon to his seat.

"Did those ships show up on your radar?" he asked.

The ribombee nodded and his eyes drifted back to the monitor. Three blinking dots, arcing away from Wildcard Gamma until they reached outside of the radar's range of detection.

Anchor scratched the base of his mowhawk as he watched the display. "They're not our stalker, that's for certain."

"No," said Macro. "They're not." He moved over to his seat and sat down heavily. "Follow them."

"What?!" Matrix and Anchor rounded on him.

"I said follow them. I want to know what three of Socket's ships are doing over Boolean City right after a weapon ban."

"Surveillance?" Anchor growled.

"Surveying what? They've already got the place secure. They're clearly not after us, either."

"I think we should count our blessings they didn't even see us," said Anchor. "If they did, they'd be whaling on us! You're wanted dead or alive, Macro!"

"The bounty's higher if I'm alive." Macro kicked his feet up onto the dashboard and strained out his scarf onto the floor. "They're up to something. Follow them."

Anchor let out a flustered breath and shook his head as he fell into the driver's seat. "All right. But I'm throwing up our cloak. We ain't getting caught by Socket's lot. I'm too young for that nonsense."

Matrix cleared his throat and looked over at them. "I think that's a good idea. Because our stalker's come back."

...​

The yellow ships kept ahead of them, almost vanishing into the blackness. Wildcard Gamma kept them in sight and on their radar as they followed them across System Sky. Macro's eye drifted to and from the fuel meter as the ship held up its cloaking device, making them invisible to the naked eye. Whether or not Socket's ships had radars he had no idea. If they did, surely they'd know they were being followed? Nevertheless, they kept moving onward in a steady line right towards the desolate areas of System Sky.

"Where are these guys going?" Anchor asked as he kept one paw on the accelerator to keep the ship at a steady speed.

"Oh, I've no idea," Macro chuckled. "But I can't wait to find out."

Anchor fired him a sideways leer. "This is just some kind of game to you, ain't it?"

"It's not a game, but it's fun."

"Fun? I'd hardly call chasing a government fleet 'fun'! I was always under the impression space pirates and the government stayed out of each other's way unless the law called for it."

"We're always against the law."

"Not all of them, Macro. Stealing, breaking and entering, trespassing. Yeh, sure. But this might very well result in murder if they start firing at us and we fire back."

"Well, as far as I'm concerned, they break that law themselves every day since they stripped the rights right off the backs of the water dwellers."

"So you're saying you'll fight back and kill these pokemon?"

"I'm not saying that at all. You're twisting my words, Anchor." Macro tucked his paws behind his head and kept his eyes on the golden tails ahead of them. "But if they pick a fight with us, I'll fight back. Not shoot to kill, just stun. But I won't be taken guilty if their ships can't take a hit and crash."

Anchor's brow furrowed and he leant forwards in his seat. "Hang on. Hang on a stinkin' second, what's that?"

Macro squinted into the distance and let out a stunned 'huh'.

Standing black against the horizon was a squat structure, not dissimilar to one of the floating cities only a lot smaller. Red and green flickered one after the other above it, indicating it was still on System's grid, whatever it was.

"How are we doing, Matrix?" he asked. "Does it say what this place is?"

Matrix 'hmm'd as he pawed at the holographic display.

"It's not on any maps," he said. "I should also tell you our stalker is still behind us, although a lot further back now."

So they had a radar then… Macro rubbed at the base of his horn and sighed. This could end up messy. Part of him wanted to turn back but the other part was incredibly curious and wanted to know not only what those ships were up to, but also what this place was.

"Bring her in to land," he said.

Anchor shot him a surprised glance but he pushed the steering stick forward, bringing the ship in for a land beside the huge, squat structure.

As they drew closer, the anomaly revealed itself to be a building. One huge building sat atop an island just like the other floating cities. But why would a lone building accommodate a floating island? Macro frowned and leant on the dashboard to get a better look. The golden ships vanished out of view into a tunnel below the structure. He briefly considered following them, but his ship would likely get stuck in that narrow opening.

"You might need to bring her over it and let us out that way," he said.

"Nah," said Anchor. "I'm looking for a safer, more secluded spot. I'm not getting us fired at."

"The cloak is up!"

"It won't be for much longer if we don't wanna end up stranded, Cap'n."

Macro looked down at the fuel meter. It was already down to half. The increased speed and use of the cloak had cost them greatly, leaving them with just more than enough to get back to Pulse City for a re-fill. That was if they didn't need to fight and keep using the ship's cloaking device.

"All right," he breathed.

He watched the building drift by as Wildcard Gamma drifted slowly along beside it, following the jagged circumference around the small, squat island. What windows the building had were dark. Not a single light on behind them, at least not that he could see. He also didn't see a single door. His heart sank at the possibility that the only entrance was the one the golden ships had taken.

All the way around the building was a short stretch of flat land that reflected the antenna's red and green light. Sheet metal. The building itself was concrete and iron, and the single most dull and boring building he'd ever seen. Nothing indicated what it was other than the presence of those ships. If he'd come across it by accident he'd have dismissed it as abandoned.

But he'd have still wanted a good look. An isolated building, as boring as it might be, still piqued his curiosity.

The ship followed the sharp bend and the huge windscreen fell upon a short dock poking out from the far end. And just at the end of that dock, a set of double doors leading into the building. Or out of it, depending on what they were primarily used for. He guessed out.

"Let me out there." Macro pointed at the docks.

Anchor didn't even nod. He dragged the large wishiwashi ship towards the docks at a slugma's pace. Macro folded his arms and rapped his claws against his arm as he watched the passing building. His ears twitched as Matrix began to hum, his boyish voice wavering as he fidgeted in his seat.

Finally, the nose of the wishiwashi reached the docks and Macro leapt from his seat. His still-damp fur had left a wet patch on the leather and it stuck to it, tugging a few looser tufts free. He beat himself down as he rushed out of the cockpit for the hatch.

"You ain't going alone, Cap'n." Anchor trudged after him, checking the straps on his heat tracker.

"I'd expect nothing less." Macro reached the hatch and pushed the button for the ladder.

The ground wasn't too far below him. He could easily have jumped. Three rungs and his feet touched cold metal. He scanned his eyes over the building - large but squat. A single story tall. The pokemon it contained must have been huge. He guessed tyranitar or rhydon. Maybe even aggron. All of them spelled bad news for him and his crew, regardless. They were all capable of dealing with fairy types, even if it was tyranitar's weakness. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind and made for the double doors.

Locked.

He tutted and folded his arms as he looked the doors up and down. No visible alarm, but if it was a secret government building then it had to have one hidden somewhere, most likely the other side in the form of a bar running across it.

He reached into his pouch and pulled out his lock pick.

Anchor shifted behind him as he jiggled the slender metal rod around inside the lock. After a few twists and turns, the lock snapped open and he forced his claws between the two doors and tugged it open.

Silence.

He let out a sigh of relief. Part of him had been worried prising the lock open wouldn't be enough.

"I see cameras," said Anchor.

Macro looked up at him and followed his gaze to the roof of the building. They'd not been easy to spot at first glance, but hidden below the roof were black, concave sheets of glass tucked away in the shadows. Not quite hidden cameras, but hidden enough to say 'we're watching you'.

He swallowed drily and ducked into the building. Anchor's heavy footing was oddly quiet as he followed closely behind him. The building stood in complete darkness. Not a sound came from further ahead. The only sounds were their footsteps and breathing and the occasional sniff from Anchor as he scouted out whoever might be lurking ahead.

Macro stretched out a paw as the corridor grew darker and his claws brushed against wood. His eyes snapped to the object and he could just make out a large wooden box not much bigger than himself. He rummaged in his pouch and tugged out a tiny flashlight. The LED bulb submerged the box and a small patch of wall behind it in a soft, white light. Macro squinted at the wooden crate. It was like any other shipping crate except it lacked an address or destination. All it had written on it in red words were two short sentences. 'This way up' with an arrow pointing towards the ceiling, and 'confidential'. It was the second word that made Macro break into a smile and practically bounce with glee.

"All right, Anchor. Grab it. We're off."

The granbull didn't so much as question him. He grabbed the box in both paws and stomped after him back towards the dock. Macro cast a glance back over his shoulder as he reached the door, looking past Anchor into the shadows. Nothing.

It seemed too easy.

He stepped back out onto the docks and made for the neon ladder.

"All right, lets get that crate on board and -"

A jolt of electricity bounced before his toes, freezing him to the spot. He looked up to his left and grit his teeth together as he saw a heliolisk rushing towards him, his eyes completely covered by a strange, long eyepiece Macro recognised as an old-fashioned heat tracker. The device was cumbersome in that it sacrificed the use of both eyes for heat targeting while compromising the ability to spot non-heat-emitting threats.

Such as an iron beam.

Macro leapt back towards the doors and tore the alarm bar free, bringing it down in an arc towards the heliolisk. The large lizard spread out his frill and hissed, sending another jolt of electricity at both Macro and Anchor. Macro dodged and brought the bar up in an arc towards the reptile's chin while Anchor was engulfed in the electricity, dropping the crate to the floor with an almighty clatter.

The bar struck home, sending the heliolisk arcing backwards into the wall of the building. Macro span towards Anchor and barked commands at him until he pulled himself together and grabbed the now cracked crate. He pushed the granbull towards the hatch and glanced back down the docks. More pokemon had emerged now, not a single aggron or tyranitar amongst them. Most of them were electric types. A raichu, ampharos and electivire rushed towards them amongst a small pack of stoutland.

A low growl rose from Macro's throat and he followed Anchor into the hatch, giving the granbull a small shove so the door could close behind them. The ship shook as electricity engulfed it, knocking it sideways and causing both pokemon to slide back into the corridor.

"Matrix! Move it!" Macro screeched as he rushed back to his seat. "Pulse City!"

The ribombee keyed in the co-ordinates while Anchor, now relieved of the crate in the middle of the cockpit floor, shook out his stiff limbs before taking his seat. He wobbled as the ship took another hit and the lights flickered ominously. Something had clearly been fried and Macro hoped deeply it wasn't too crucial.

The granbull steered the ship back up into the air, arcing back with such ferocity that it shoved them back into their seats and sent Matrix sprawling against the wall. Macro made a mental note to teach the ribombee the proper use of a seatbelt. The crate rushed out of the cockpit, followed by a shrill shriek from the kitchen.

"I don't like this, Cap'n!" Anchor's voice came out hoarse.

The mawile was too busy focusing on what was in front of them to fully realise that he was talking about the very thing he was seeing. Not three, but seven of those gold ships soared around the corner, firing red lasers at Wildcard Gamma.

"Engage Schooling and fire back!" he commanded.

Anchor obeyed, his nimble paws flying over the dashboard as he pressed at various buttons. The reassuring sound of the tiny wishiwashi escape pods popping out from their hold caused a small smile to play at Macro's lips. They didn't just serve as an emergency escape. He heard them clanking into place, creating a large ring around the main ship, then a deep whir as the tiny fish began to spin. A torrent of blue bubble-like bullets flew at the golden ships and exploded on impact, blowing back the front-most ships and sending them off balance.

It gave them enough time to turn Wildcard Gamma and begin to retreat. There was no need to keep fighting.

Another red laser clipped the ship's tail and Macro slammed his paws into the dashboard.

"We need to engage hyperdrive!" he said. "Otherwise they're gonna blow the ship's fins and tail off!"

"That's what you're worried about?!" Anchor roared.

The Schooling ships fired another jet of bubbles, striking the assailing ships and knocking one of them out of the sky to land atop the squat building. The electric pokemon below were focusing all their efforts on shocking Wildcard Gamma, aiming for the bubble-firing weapons.

Anchor gripped at the accelerator with such ferocity his knuckles turned white. His muzzle creased with frustration as he set the ship to fire once more.

"Why aren't we in hyperdrive?!" Macro shrieked.

"Because we're too close to their ships!" Anchor barked back. "The shock will end up knocking them out of the sky and there's nothing but ocean below us! Do you want your bounty to go up? 'Cos it will at this rate!"

Macro clawed at his own face and let out a frustrated growl. If they wanted to get away from this, he had to take things into his own paws. He leant across the dashboard and grabbed hold of the accelerator.

"Hey!" Anchor brought his spare fist down on top of Macro's horn. "You're gonna get us all killed!"

"I'm gonna get us out of here!" he roared back. "And don't strike me! It's mutiny!"

"Mutiny my tail!"

"Stop fighting!" Matrix screamed. "We've got bigger things to worry about! That stalker of ours is back!"

Macro twisted his head in Anchor's arms to look over at the ribombee. He released his grip on the granbull's left ear as he stared at the red dot behind them… slowly moving to their right. A shrill hissing sound permeated the cockpit and all eyes went to the windshield as a torpedo shaped like a grinning carvannah dived into the group of golden ships, striking the central one and exploding in a violent shock wave. Wildcard Gamma was blown backwards, away from the fleet and past the assisting ship. All they saw was a flat, rudder-like tail as the small blue ship arced upwards and zipped out of sight above their heads.

Macro shook his head sharply and climbed back into his seat.

"Hyperdrive!" he commanded. "Quick!"

Anchor obliged, turning Wildcard Gamma away from the building and thrusting the accelerator forwards with all his weight. The ship lurched, plunging the cockpit into a deafening silence, and Macro found himself forced back into his seat with such intensity he through the fabric might swallow him.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Five​

The small tympole ship drifted slowly down into Spool City. Filthy, yellow grime coated the windows that from the outside served as the tadpole pokemon's eyes but from the inside were a crucial means to see where one was going. With barely enough time to kick the ship's hover panels into place, the underbelly struck the tarmac then shot back into the air as they kicked in, allowing it to finally come to a smooth stop.

Surge swore under her breath as she snatched her mask from the glove compartment and strapped it over her face, leaving her bandana in place. She climbed into the air lock and waited for it to close behind her before opening the exit hatch. Air blasted out into the city as it hissed open, almost knocking her off her feet. She staggered out into the grime-filled streets, catching a glare from a nearby trash can. The garbordor inhabiting it ducked back under the lid, letting it clatter back into place.

The zigzagoon locked her ship and cast her eyes left and right. She'd landed right in one of the main roads with not a single vehicle in sight. Not even a hover-board to speak of. With the vast number of poison types that decided to live in the outskirts of Meta City, she found it odd to not see a single means of transport. Her tympole ship stood out like a sore paw pad at the best of times in System Ground and she briefly considered moving it closer to her destination.

Nah. No one would be able to get inside anyway.

The dingy road wound round into an alleyway and she stepped over spilled bin bags, deeply wishing the mask would filter out the putrid smells of rotting fruit and meat along with other waste that assaulted her senses. The narrow alley opened up into another main road - the one she'd hoped to actually land in. Between a boarded up shop filled with torn posters and a club sporting a neon pink animated billboard stood a ragged little office with no sign to mark it. A sign would only cause the place more abuse than it already took.

She stuck her key in the lock and ducked into the room, trying not to choke on the smoke. A tall delphox looked up at her from a high-backed office chair and he removed his cigar from his mouth to puff out a stream of smoke before finally addressing her.

"You took your time."

Okay, so addressing her wasn't the best term to use. The zigzagoon marched past him and leant against a beaten filing cabinet.

"I'm sorry, Tracer." said Surge. "I got sidetracked."

"Clearly."

The other two occupants in the room glanced at her from their stations beside their computers. Defrag the lopunny flicked her ear back as she returned to her work while the eevee, Widget, was too occupied with whatever message board he was currently browsing.

"Where did your little endeavor take you?" Tracer asked.

"I was following Wildcard Gamma, like you asked," she said. "They don't live in Pulse City, you know. It took them a few days to actually show up."

"Did you manage to apprehend their captain?"

"You mean the sexy mawile?" A smirk tugged at her lips and Tracer's glare bounced off her harmlessly.

"Don't speak about Hunter like that," he said flatly. "I hired you for your chameleon abilities, not your flirtatious nature. You were meant to catch him off guard and bring him in, just like you have done with several other space pirates."

"Well, I'm afraid I lost him."

Tracer rolled his eyes and flicked the ash from his cigar into an overflowing ashtray.

"Wildcard Gamma has some kind of cloaking mechanism," she said. "I was able to track them most of the way but they must have noticed and hit hyper drive. I lost them somewhere on the outskirts of System Sky."

"Outskirts…" Tracer scratched behind his ear. "There's nothing there."

Surge snorted. There was no way she was telling the detective she'd lost the ship at some kind of secret government base. Or that she'd fired at their fleet and took one of them out. She had no idea what had come over her at the time and the sheer memory of it turned her pads clammy. She absently wiped one down the fur of her chest and glanced over at the blackened window.

"You really need to get your air filter fixed," she said. "You'll make yourselves sick in all this smoke."

Tracer merely grunted but Widget fired her a cheeky smile.

"Some of us are enhanced to not get sick," he said.

Surge glared at the eevee then sighed. "Well, I think I'm going to get some rest. It'll be nice to sleep somewhere quiet for a change."

She opened the door to a cleaner, much less smoky area of the tiny building.

"Don't get too comfortable." She glanced over her shoulder at the delphox. "I'm sending you right back out in the morning."

"Back to Pulse City?" She wasn't sure why she asked. She knew the answer.

He nodded. "I can't pay you if I don't make any money, Surge. Socket won't pay me if she doesn't see any success, and pretty soon my account is going to run dry."

Surge gave a dry laugh. "Well, I'll keep trying to apprehend Hunter then, shall I? It'll be fun to play around with him a bit more."

"Don't take your time."

The door closed behind her and she stared at its dusty window. Tracer's ears were clearly defined beyond it, probably listening for her. Always listening.

Socket wouldn't pay him if she didn't see any success… she wouldn't pay him at all if she knew the mercenary he'd hired had attacked her fleet and blown up one of her ships. Surge tugged at her waistcoat and made her way towards the stairs. She needed to keep that wrapped up in a neat little bow.

...​

Wildcard Gamma trundled along at a steady pace, making its way through the space pirate district a few miles outside of Pulse City. Colourful neon lights flickered from the smaller floating towns that surrounded it, their antennas rhythmically blinking red and green against the dark, star-filled sky.

Anchor strained against the crowbar as he prised open the wooden crate. Despite the crack in the side, it was impossibly difficult to open. Macro had considered using his horn to chew through it but he feared he'd damage whatever was inside.

"Come on, Anchor!" He clenched his paws together and bounced on his toes. "Put your back into it!"

The granbull flashed his sharp teeth as he threw himself against the metal rod. Wood splintered and groaned until the wooden panel began to peel free, revealing a row of sharp, silver nails.

"Whoever made this," he grunted, "really didn't want it to be opened by anyone but the one receiving it."

Matrix wound his antennae around in his paw and leant back into his seat. "If that were the case, why not put it in a code-controlled metal crate than some flimsy wooden box?"

Anchor snarled at him over his shoulder. "Flimsy?! You wanna try and prise this open?!"

The ribombee shrugged and diverted his gaze back to the crate.

Anchor roared and rammed his shoulder into the rod. It flew free from the box and Macro yelped and ducked as the crowbar soared over his head and clattered onto the dashboard. The mawile's eyes widened as he looked from the metal rod to Anchor.

"You nearly shattered my window!" he squeaked.

The granbull merely grunted as he used his paws to tug the rest of the panel free. It fell to the floor, the row of nails running around it reminiscent of some kind of deadly trap.

Macro moved around it to look inside the box. A gasp left his throat completely of its own accord and he raised a paw to scratch at the long fur around his ear.

A small pachirisu sat with her back against the crate, her head lolling against her chest. A small, silver antenna stuck out from behind her right ear topped with what he guessed was an LED bulb. A jack lead with a USB adapter lay curled up neatly beside her. Deep buzzing cut through the silence as Matrix hovered between them to get a closer look.

"What is she?" Anchor asked. "An android?"

"I've no idea," Macro reached into the box and ran his paw over the back of her head. "I'm guessing she has a switch or something."

All he felt was fur until his claws touched cold metal at the base of her skull. His first instinct was to yank his paw back. It felt unnatural. Some pokemon had modifications that were alien to their own bodies, but to have something embedded into one's skull was a ghastly idea. What made it worse was it felt like some kind of socket. He mentally reminded himself she was merely a robot and kept pawing around for a switch.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to switch it on?" Matrix asked.

"I dunno, but I'm curious," Macro explained. "I wanna see what it does. Besides, if it does work, we could make a fortune selling it! Androids are pretty rare."

"Rare?" Anchor scoffed. "I ain't even seen one before, or heard of anyone selling one. Robots, sure, but androids are too advanced. I mean, look at her. I could swear she's breathing."

"Probably just some kind of standby feature." Macro poked his tongue out between his lips as he felt around the socket again. "Ahah!"

His claws flicked over a tiny button that clicked away from him. The antenna behind the pachirisu's ear lit up with a soft blue light. She shifted and he sat back and watched as her eyes fluttered open. Her long black lashes contrasted with her white fur, and as they lifted revealed a pair of chocolate brown eyes. She raised a paw to rub at them then ran it through the long, blue fur between her blue ears.

"I'm still in this box?" She stretched and yawned widely. "Due to the damage, it is clear you didn't use the release feature."

"Release feature?" Macro looked up at the box.

It was a different view from the inside. Still wooden, still a crate, but attached to the ceiling was a metal catch. He grunted and pushed himself to his feet. He'd have needed a special scanner for that. Something to trigger it to fall open. The entire crate would have spread neatly on the floor, no force needed.

"It's amazing!" Anchor gasped. "So lifelike!"

The pachirisu rubbed at her eyes again and looked up at each of them in turn until they landed on Macro.

"I'm guessing you are Socket?" she asked.

The three space pirates stared back down at her with identical expressions of surprise.

Anchor leant in towards Macro and whispered, "Why does she think you're Socket?"

Macro felt a smirk tug at his lips that swiftly became a grin and he doubled over with laughter.

"We took a parcel that was supposed to go to the freakin' mayor?! Oh, this is too perfect!"

The pachirisu blinked. "You're taking me to Socket?"

"What?" Macro swiftly regained his composure and wiped a tear from his cheek. "Sure. We're taking you to Socket."

The pachirisu nodded and stared at the wooden wall before her. His heavy sarcasm had rolled straight off her.

"Then if you please," she said, "could you reboot my system then shut me back off? The first pokemon I should see should be Socket."

"Well, that ain't gonna work, is it?" Macro raised a paw and shrugged. "First pokemon you saw was me."

"My inbuilt FAQ tells me that a reboot is sufficient to perform a short-term memory wipe."

Anchor shifted uncomfortably. "Cap'n, this is freaking me out."

Matrix nodded slowly and landed back in his seat, his cream face oddly pale.

An android meant to be delivered to System's mayor. That explained the government fleet around that strange, squat building. Whatever it was, it clearly manufactured these androids. Or distributed them. Maybe even both. Macro watched the pachirisu as her large eyes remained fixed on the inside of the crate. What was Socket wanting with an android? Didn't she have enough pokemon working for her? Obtaining an android right after issuing yet another weapon ban while the pokemon were engaged in a low-key civil war… Unless she had a love of gadgets, then something wasn't right about this.

"I don't wanna switch you off," he said.

The pachirisu's eyes snapped up to meet his while Anchor let out a groan.

"Please switch it off," the granbull whined. "We know it works now, so let's board it back up and-"

Macro swatted the wooden panel back out of his large paws. "No. We're leaving her switched on."

The pachirisu blinked a few times. "But-"

"But nothing," said Macro. "How much time can a reboot wipe from your memory?"

"Searching." She stared blankly at the crate's interior again. "Thirty two minutes and twelve seconds."

"Wow." Anchor nodded slowly. "That's rather precise."

"Then how about this," said Macro. "You remain on for another… twenty five minutes. Have a walk around, spend some time with us, then we'll shut you back off again and deliver you to Socket."

Anchor's brow knitted together and he fixed Macro with a sideways look, but he didn't say anything despite his mouth opening and closing slightly as he looked back down at the pachirisu.

She stared down at her paws, her nose twitching as her eyes unfocused.

"Come on," Macro whined. "It must be cramped in there, right? So why not stretch…" He waved his paw up and down at her. "Whatever it is you have."

"Whatever I have?" She looked back up at him and inclined her head on one side. "What a funny thing to say."

"Wires then, or whatever it is you things use as muscles."

He stooped and grabbed her by the wrist, causing her to let out a little yelp. As he tugged her to her feet, any words he'd been planning on saying died on his tongue. Something wasn't right at all. She was warm. One could liken that to the mechanics whirring away, but what was really odd was the quick pulsing against his paw. He stared down at it, dumbfounded.

"Is there a problem?" she asked.

He licked his lips slowly and spoke, but he didn't look away from her tiny wrist. "You're alive?"

"Of course I'm alive. I'm a living computer."

His eyes narrowed and snapped back up to her, making Anchor and Matrix jump but the pachirisu didn't so much as flinch.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"My name is Download Database."

"And what were you made for?"

"That is confidential. I can only divulge that information with a password."

He released her wrist, letting it fall to her side and took a step back. Her eyes sparkled with life, but there was nothing else behind them. No identity. No curiosity. The look she gave her surroundings was nothing more than a way of taking in information.

This was a living creature, and there was nothing there. That explained the socket in the back of her skull. It was a means to download and upload information. Whoever had made her had taken everything, including her very identity, and replaced it with a computer.

If Socket had asked for this, then she was sick.

Anchor shifted slightly behind her. "Are you alright, Cap'n?"

Macro grit his teeth together and marched past Download Database towards his room, slamming his door behind him so it shook the entire ship.

...​

Socket stared out of the wide window at the bustling streets of Meta City. Mechanical trees wavered in the growing breeze while windmills turned above the tall buildings, their blades picking up speed as they turned every gust into valuable electricity. The repetitive jingling that filled her office would have grated on anyone else, but she'd tuned it out. It meant work was being done.

The gothitelle folded her arms as her attention turned to the sky. Where was it? What was taking so long?

"Madam Mayor?"

She looked over her shoulder at the door. A sparksurfer raichu stepped inside, his eyes flitting from left to right. He wasn't exactly an unfamiliar face in the capital, but he twitched like a hatchling who'd been separated from his mother.

"What is it, Yobi?" she asked.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news," he said. "It's about Download Database. I'm afraid-" He gulped as her eyes narrowed into slits. "I'm afraid it's been stolen."

The jingling came to a halt and the tiny head of a chingling looked up from the desk at the far end of the office. His tiny eyes practically sparkled with glee as he looked from the raichu to her and back.

"Stolen?" she asked. "How is that possible?"

"It was Wildcard Gamma," said Yobi. "They followed our fleet to the laboratory."

"Followed?"

He ducked back towards the doorway and waved his paws in a desperate attempt to quell her rising anger.

"There was only three of us!" His words raced out almost as one. "We couldn't have fought them! Our radar told us we were being followed, but the ship was cloaked! We weren't even sure who it was. The best plan was to let them follow us and regroup at the lab. Fight back, all ships and pokemon! We didn't know it was Hunter, Madam Mayor. He took the crate and-"

The raichu rose into the air in a bubble of purple light and his breath rushed out of his lungs as his back struck the wall.

"You lost Download Database?!" she roared.

The orange rodent pokemon stuttered as he struggled to release himself from her psychic attack.

"Is it connected to the network?!" she demanded.

He nodded stiffly.

"So you're telling me," she began slowly, "that my top secret project is in that mawile's sticky paws?!"

The purple bubble vanished and the raichu crumpled to the floor. He rubbed at his neck and diverted his eyes to the wall, falling briefly on the fascinated chingling.

Socket's lips pursed together as her mind ran over every worst case scenario. Whatever pokemon ended up with the living computer in their paws would realise soon enough that it lacked every essence that made it an individual being.

"What of the pachirisu's memories?" she asked.

"We removed them," he croaked. "Everything. Saved to a disk, just like you asked."

"Destroy it."

Yobi's eyes widened and he stared at her, aghast. "But… that's murder."

Socket clicked her tongue and glanced away. "Of course it is."

"Why do you want it destroyed?"

"In case it's retrieved! I want that computer in complete working order as designed, at least until we can find a more… convenient tool." She paused. "Which I am now all the more anxious to do after this little setback."

"All right." Yobi rubbed at his neck again and cleared his throat. "We could break it up? Hide it all. That way, her personality survives and-"

"If you think that will work, then do that."

"Sure thing."

"I also want you to limit what information she has access to," she said. "I don't want that mawile selling on confidential information."

Yobi scratched his ears and coughed. "I don't… that might not-"

"Don't let me down, Yobi." Her voice was laced with ice that chilled him so much his fur stood on end. "Now retrieve that computer. And make it quick. I've already lost valuable time."

The raichu rose to his feet and bolted out of the room, his large paws sliding over the loose rug as he scrambled into the corridor.

Socket turned to face the chingling and he returned her look with a wide smile.

"Cut that out, Tweak," she said.

The little bell-like pokemon laughed, an odd tinkle that filled her office and made her fur bristle.

"I want new posters printing, and an update on the wanted list," she said. "Increase Hunter's bounty up to forty thousand credits and have the reward apply in System Sky. That mawile will be behind bars before the weekend."

She tucked her paws behind her back and moved over to the window. Tweak's hyper jingling resounded off the walls, but once again she tuned it out, keeping her eyes on the sky.

Wildcard Gamma… that ship would be stripped down for parts. Slowly. And she was going to enjoy every second of it.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Six​

Macro’s sleep had been oddly dreamless, and as he woke up it took a moment or two for him to actually remember getting to his room.

That pachirisu…

Faint light penetrated the curtain and he kicked the sheets off and snatched up his small, pocket computer. Nine AM. He’d slept the whole night away.

Muttering under his breath, he strutted over to the door while fastening his belt back around his waist. Somehow, he’d managed to fall asleep with his goggles on and they pressed uncomfortably against his horn. He shunted them about until they felt a lot more natural and tripped into the cockpit.

“Careful, Cap’n.” Anchor lifted the wooden panel and propped it against the wall beside the door. “Still trying to get things straight in here.”

“Where is she?” Macro scanned the small room until he spotted Download Database huddled inside the splintered box.

“She’s been in there all night,” Anchor explained. “Shut herself down shortly after you went to bed.”

“Well… about twenty minutes after,” added Matrix. “Apparently she’s programmed to obey orders.”

Macro reached behind the small squirrel pokemon’s neck and flicked the power switch. Her antenna flashed blue and she looked up groggily.

“Rise and shine, sweetheart,” he scoffed.

She blinked up at him and rubbed a paw across her eyes. “Are you Socket?”

Despite looking tired, her voice came out with as much energy as it had the night before.

“No, I’m not Socket,” he spat. “And you’re gonna answer me some questions.”

“The first pokemon I see is meant-”

“Yeh, I know. You’re meant to see Socket. Whatever.” He crouched down beside her and frowned into her brown eyes. “Now, tell me. Why did they remove your identity? What were you made for?”

“I can’t divulge that information without a password.”

“Yeh I know. Let’s see.” He scratched his head thoughtfully. “How about ‘password’?”

“You’re meant to start it with ‘the password is’,” she told him.

He sighed and ran his paws over his face. Never simple.

“Fine,” he said. “The password is ‘password’.”

“Incorrect.”

“The password is ‘Socket’.”

“Incorrect.”

“The password is ‘number one’?”

“Incorrect.”

Macro stood up and threw his paws in the air. “The password is ‘Socket rules’?!”

“Incorrect.”

He roared and tugged at the long fur on his head. “This is impossible!” He rounded on the ribombee. “How are your hacking skills?”

“Virtually non existent,” answered Matrix. “Why?”

“Because I want to know why this pachirisu was killed and had a computer installed into her brain!”

“Oh, I have not been killed,” said Download Database. “All my identity and memories have been removed safely and are stored in an undisclosed location.”

Macro stared at her, dumbfounded. “You don’t even care, do you?”

“Care?”

“Yes, care.” Macro folded his arms and inclined his head on one side. “What else did they do? Remove all your emotions as well? You’re just some… emotionless, empty, pathetic husk used as a stupid computer?”

Her nose crinkled. “I understand your words are intended to hurt.”

“Yeh.” A small smirk spread across his face. “Feel anything?”

“I’d have to see my facial expression to discern that.” She looked around the wooden crate. “Does anyone have a mirror?”

“All right, I’ve had enough,” said Macro. “I’m going to get some lunch. Anchor, refuel. Matrix.” He pointed a claw at the pachirisu. “Watch her.”

“You want me to watch her?” Matrix glanced from Download Database to Macro and back.

“It’s either that or I leave her with Anchor and you can go and be fawned over by your fangirls.”

“Fangirls. That word is new to me,” said Download Database. “Deciphering… A formerly derogatory term now widely accepted in fandom communities. Used to describe a girl who acts in an excitable fashion when engaging in, talking about or nearby their obsession. Often enjoy shippings and writing fanfiction.”

The three space pirates were quiet as they stared, blinking, at the pachirisu.

“Wait,” said Matrix. “You think they write stories about me?” He stared down at his paws then shrugged. “I hope I’m still cool.”

Macro blinked a few times then waved the pokemon away as he marched from the room. “I’ll be back after breakfast.”

Cookie poked his head out of the kitchen door as he passed. “I already made us breakfast.”

“Sorry, I need some air. And I need to find someone.” Macro gave the chocolate-scented slurpuff a nod. “Save me the leftovers for lunch or something.”

Cookie gave him a weak smile. “I’ll try but I can’t promise anything.”

Pulse City was as busy as it always was, although the neon signs weren’t as dazzling in daylight. Smells of alcohol were replaced by baking. Bread, sweets and meat filled the air and the store fronts were teaming with hungry pokemon who were ready to begin their day.

Macro’s destination was the Moonlight Lounge. Their bar grub was one of the best in Pulse City and they made a killer nutpea and occa burger.

As he strolled through the lounge, cheerful expressions turned to ones of hunger when eyes fell on him. The tyranitar he’d seen the day before sat by his usual table and sipped at his drink. The other two pokemon who’d accompanied him were no longer present, but it didn’t change the expression of self-confidence behind the monstrous pokemon’s eyes.

Macro shrugged it off and climbed onto a bar stool where he waved down the mienshao. The fighting pokemon gave him a nod of acknowledgment and continued serving his current customer.

“Good morning, Macro.” Worm’s familiar voice drew his attention.

The sewaddle sat on the bar, holding a small shot glass in a stubby paw. He gave Macro a sleepy smile and took a swig of his drink.

“Morning, Worm,” Macro replied. “Not at your stall today?”

“Day off.” The caterpillar pokemon dropped his empty glass onto the counter and lowered his voice. “I dunno if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a little change that concerns you. A lot.” He paused. “A big change, actually.”

“Oh?” Macro looked around at the lounge again, noting the glares fired his way.

“It don’t concern us pirates though, so I wouldn’t worry your little self,” Worm went on. “But that bounty on your head, it’s gone up.”

Macro stared down at him and raised an eyebrow. “By how much?”

“Double.”

“Double?!”

Macro covered his mouth and looked around again. Most of the space pirates were still watching him, but it became clearer what it was. It was jealousy and anger. The higher the bounty the more revered the space pirate. Well… revered was a funny way of putting it. It meant competition. A pirate with a higher tag was doing better than those with a lower one, and despite how much was on their head, a pirate could never turn another one in. Every single one was wanted, whether they had a poster saying so or not. If they turned one in, they’d only be handing themselves over in the process. That meant certain death. Every one who was turned over found themselves on death’s row, that’s why ‘dead or alive’ applied. It was the only instance a pokemon was allowed to kill another, and the lower price for a dead pirate was meant to deter that and leave it to the officials. The high marks sparked jealousy and anger because it was still coveted, and the only way to get it would be to hire a mercenary and split the cost in a way that often went against the pirate’s favor.

Worm laughed and shook his head. “What did you do to cheese Socket off so much that she cranked up your bounty?”

“Can’t say,” said Macro.

He watched as the mienshao moved along to serve a pokemon who’d arrived after him. Great, even the bar tender was jealous of him. He leant his head on his paw and wondered if it was worth just going back to his ship and eating some of Cookie’s pancakes.

“Well, it must have been pretty bad,” said Worm. “I mean, twenty thousand was pretty high as it was. To increase it that much… wowzers, Macro. Even turning you in dead would rack up a hefty price!”

The sewaddle chuckled and waved his tail for the mienshao.

“Well, if it isn’t the most wanted pirate in System.” Two hairy arms landed on the bar beside him and Macro looked up into the grinning face of a female zigzagoon. “Good morning, Hunter.”

Macro’s brow furrowed and he pushed himself back from the bar. “I think I’ll have breakfast on my ship, Worm. See you around.”

“Hang on, mister.” Surge grabbed his arm and pulled him back into his seat. “I haven’t bought you a drink.”

“I don’t want a drink,” he answered flatly.

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna spore it. Sit down.”

Macro sighed and fell back into his seat. “What do you want?”

“I want to know what you did to land yourself on Socket’s red list.” She helped herself to a bowl of dried nutpea berries and nudged the bowl towards him.

Macro stared up at her, his mouth slightly ajar. Red list wasn’t a term pokemon commonly used. It wasn’t necessarily known outside of hacker circles, and whether or not someone was on that list was definitely not made public. He frowned.

“What makes you think I’m on her red list?” he asked. “Are you just assuming?”

She chuckled and popped a nutpea into her mouth. “I have my ways.”

“Hacker, hey?” He laughed and turned so he was comfortable in his seat. “Maybe you can buy me that drink.”

“Maybe you can buy me one, too!” Worm waved his empty shot glass.

“Interested now, huh?” Surge smirked and locked her light brown eyes onto Macro’s. “If you want to know more, I should tell you I’m not comfortable talking about sensitive matters in such… crowded… situations.”

Macro glanced around at the bar again. He really didn’t like where this was going, but if he wanted answers he really needed to use her hacking skills, or find another hacker. With the looks he was getting and all the pricked ears around him, finding another complying hacker wouldn’t be easy. He turned back to the zigzagoon and lowered his voice enough that even Worm couldn’t hear him.

“If I did want to hire you to do some hacking,” he said, “how much would it cost?”

“Depends,” she said. “But I think a date should suffice.”

Macro suppressed a sigh and leant his head on one paw. “A date?”

“Yes. You know. A quiet restaurant where we can talk things over, flirt a bit, and you pay.”

So things had taken a turn from being bought a drink to having to pay for a meal. The amount of fuel Wildcard Gamma used was hardly trivial, or cheap, and they’d burnt through a full tank in less than twenty four hours. Could he even justify a meal with this sly zigzagoon? He let out that sigh and brought up his account balance on his optical display. Just over thirty thousand credits, not excluding his crew’s wages.

“All right,” he said. “One date. And I choose.”

“Remember, it has to be quiet, or I tell you nothing.” She finished with a smirk.

Macro flashed his canines. “I’m not taking you back to my ship.”

“I’m not suggesting that. But I hear Moonlight Lounge has some private booths.”

His heart sank. They were hardly cheap, but he really needed a hacker if he was going to get any answers out of that pachirisu. And if he shelled out for a booth he could still get his burger. Win, win. At a price…

“Fine.” He slid off his stool and kicked it aside. “Come with me.”

“Oh! Oh!” Worm wriggled over the bar towards him. “Can I join you?”

“No,” said Macro. “I don’t really need a third wheel.”

“Dang.” The sewaddle sank onto his stomach. “Gets pretty lonely here.”

Macro turned his back on him and slipped past Surge, whipping his paw out of her reach as she tried to grab it. He stayed ahead of her as he made his way around to Moonlight Lounge’s restaurant. A scrafty wearing a red and white waiter’s uniform leant against the entrance and his eyes narrowed into a leer when he spotted Macro.

“I’d like to book a booth,” Macro told him.

“Fourty thousand credits,” the scrafty replied.

Macro sneered and the fighting pokemon raised his paws and laughed.

“I’m kidding!” the waiter said. “It’s two thousand for a booth plus a thirty percent tip on all dishes and drinks.”

“I’ll make it fifty percent if you stay away after you’ve delivered our meals,” said Macro.

“Deal.”

The scrafty grabbed two menu tablets and led them across the restaurant. The red and white theme continued on with checkered floor tiles and red wooden frames around the individual booths, each with their own door. They all had windows, but Macro understood they were meant to be sound proof. Pirates often booked them out to make deals they didn’t want prying ears to overhear. It didn’t stop lip-readers trying, however.

They stopped by a booth two down from the back of the restaurant. The waiter opened the door and let them inside before whipping out his notepad.

“Drinks?” he asked.

“Watmel juice,” Macro replied.

The scrafty snorted but he didn’t look up from his pad. “It’s customary to let the lady order first, but I’ll ignore that.”

Surge laughed and shook her head. “I’ll have the same.”

“All right.” He popped his pad into his uniform pocket. “I’ll be back shortly.”

After the door closed, she gave Macro a sly smile.

“Not very courteous, are you?” she said.

“I am where it counts,” said Macro.

“And a date doesn’t count?”

“I’m only here with you because I want information,” he said. “I want to know, first, how you found out I’m on the red list.”

“I found out this morning,” she said. “I saw a new wanted poster demanding double your previous bounty and wanted to know what you’d done to annoy Socket so much. So I poked around her wanted lists.”

“So you are a hacker?”

“Yes. It’s one of my many talents.”

“Many talents, eh?” Macro folded his arms and sank down against the red leather seat. “So you ain’t no ordinary pirate?”

“Pirates can have more than one talent,” she said. “But if you must know, I’m a mercenary.”

Macro’s muzzle creased into a frown. “A pirate mercenary?”

The warning laced into his tone didn’t phase her in the slightest. “Just a mercenary.”

“And you’re hanging around Pulse City?” He sat up straight again and jabbed a claw into the table. “If you’re a merc, wouldn’t you rather be turning me in than demanding I take you on a date?”

“Oh, it’s tempting.”

“Then what’s stopping you?”

The door opened again, revealing the scrafty balancing a tray on one arm. Surge didn’t take her eyes off Macro as she accepted her drink. He met her eyes with a steely stare, the pair of them sitting in silence until the scrafty shuffled uncomfortably from the booth.

“A mercenary can take on more than one job,” she said. “And you seem rather interested in my hacking skills.”

Macro took a sip of his drink as he mulled her words over. He placed the glass back on the white table with a clatter and leant back in his seat.

“You’re gonna ask for more than forty K,” he said.

She chuckled softly.

“Well, I hate to let you down,” he said. “But that’s more than my current bank account.”

Surge swirled her drink around in her glass, keeping her brown eyes locked onto his violet ones. “You do leap to assumptions, don’t you?”

“Well what else do you want?” He picked up the menu tablet and scrolled through it until he found his nutpea and occa burger.

“It depends what you want,” she said as she copied him. “I’m guessing you’ve got yourself into something rather sticky.”

“You could say that. Given Socket’s reaction, at least. I happened to steal something that was intended to be delivered to her.”

“You stole government property.” A seductive smirk curled across her lips. “Talk about going too far.”

He snorted and set his menu aside. “You have no idea what it is. If you did, it’d make your skin crawl.”

“Try me.” She met his gaze again and leant back in her seat.

“All right. It’s a living computer.” He stared back at her blank expression. “Every single ounce of personality has been removed from this poor pokemon and replaced with a computer. In my opinion, that borders on murder.”

Surge made a thoughtful noise.

“She even has an antenna sticking out of her head,” he went on. “I know cybernetic modifications aren’t exactly uncommon in System, but still. What was she planning? That’s what I want to know.”

“So you want me to poke around the government’s confidential project files?”

“Yes. I want to know everything. What this ‘Download Database’ is supposed to be designed for, why, and what the passwords are to get this ‘living computer’ to co-operate with me.”

“You’re not delivering it to Socket, then?”

Macro snorted at her playful smirk. “Not in the slightest. My original plan was to sell it on the black market, but doing that to a living pokemon who hasn’t the faintest clue is almost as bad as selling a child into slavery.”

There was a pause as the waiter came in carrying their burgers. Once he’d left, Macro cast a glance at the closed door then turned back to Surge, watching as she picked up her fork and stabbed it into a fry.

“So what’s your price?” he asked.

“What you’re asking me to do is incredibly risky,” she said. “Poking around government files could land me on the red list myself.”

“So you’re not a professional hacker?”

“I never said that. I get hacking requests quite frequently, but it’s not a safe job, Macro. One mistake and I could end up with a bounty on my head that rivals yours.”

“Hah. That’d take some of the pressure off me.”

She grinned and stuck the fry in her mouth.

“So what’s your price?” he asked again.

“Forty thousand credits.”

“I told you that’s more than my bank balance,” he growled. “How about twenty thousand? That’s what you’d get for turning me in dead.”

She nibbled on her fork and gazed up at the ceiling. “How about twenty thousand and you take me on another date?”

Macro sighed and picked up his burger, taking a huge bite. This zigzagoon was on his last thread.

“Besides.” She gave him a sly smile. “You’ve not upheld your side of the bargain for your first request yet. I thought I said this date was meant to have some flirting involved.”

She really was on his last thread.

“Listen, Surge. I might be a space pirate, but I’m still a gentlemon.”

She scoffed and popped another fry in her mouth.

“Flirting messes with feelings,” he said. “Especially when you don’t mean it.”

A small smile tugged at her lips. “Humor me.”

He sighed again and shook his head. “It’s a dangerous game you’re playing, Surge.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Seven​

Shouts and screams came from the ship and Macro readied his laser as he dashed into the cockpit. He released it back into its holster and shook his head at the two pokemon rolling on the floor.

“Please release me,” Download Database said, rather too calmly. “I must shut down and wipe my short term memory.”

“No!” Matrix half-growled. “It’s too creepy!”

“What are you two doing?” Macro leant against the door frame and folded his arms.

Both pokemon looked up at him and Matrix sat back, revealing that the pachirisu had her arms bound to her sides with the jack lead she’d been boxed with.

“I’m stopping her shutting down again,” Matrix explained. “It weirds me out seeing a living pokemon like that.”

“Correction,” said Download Database. “I’m a living computer. Shutting down is a necessity to conserve power and organise data.”

Macro looked down at her. “So you admit you’re not a living pokemon? You have, in fact, been killed?”

“No, the pokemon I used to be has not been killed. I am merely borrowing her body.”

“It’s still savage.”

“I’m afraid I do not understand.” She wriggled until she was sat upright and fixed him with emotionless, brown eyes. “Please release me. I must shut down and wipe as much memory as possible. I will sadly remain with… forty six minutes of useless data. This unfortunately cannot be rectified without the right command.”

“Too late for you then, isn’t it?” Macro stifled a laugh. “No. You can stay tied up. There’s no point in shutting you down.”

“But I must clear my memory as Socket absolutely must be the first pokemon I see.”

“Again, it’s too late.” He frowned. “Why must she be the first one? Can you tell me that, at least?”

“It’s an imprint function. The first pokemon I see is the pokemon I serve and have devoted loyalty to. At the moment, that pokemon is you.”

“Oh!” His eyes widened and he rubbed at his chin. “So I could tell you to do anything then? Absolutely anything?”

“Yes, and I would have to obey.”

“That’s convenient.” He paused and a smirk tugged at his lips. “Stay switched on.”

She blinked. Twice. Then gave a polite nod.

“And stop this Socket nonsense,” he added. “Because there’s no way I’m taking you to her.”

“You’re not?”

“No. With the amount she increased my price by, she’s clearly up to something. You’re no mere toy to her.” He frowned at her blank expression. “Understood? You cut it out, and I’ll untie you.”

She nodded again and stared at the floor.

Macro moved over to her and tugged the cable free. She flexed her arms and rose to her feet while Matrix watched warily from the navigation desk.

“So she’s not gonna shut down?” he asked.

“No,” said Macro. “Not if she’s true to her word.”

“I am programmed to obey,” she said.

Macro looked up at Matrix then stood. “There you go. She won’t freak you out any more. Happy?”

Matrix nodded slowly and twirled one of his antenna in his paw.

“I do, however, require sleep,” she said. “But that is a different thing entirely. Something this living body requires.”

“Wait a minute… Does that mean we have to feed you, too?” Macro asked.

“Yes.”

“Huh.” He scratched at his ear and tutted. “I should have thought of that before I ordered that sundae.”

“Did someone say sundae?!” Cookie trotted into the cockpit and licked his lips.

“Good timing.” Macro nodded over his shoulder at the pachirisu. “One more mouth to feed. Think you can handle that?”

“Ooh!” Cookie eyed her curiously. “I might have to triple my recipes.”

“For one more pokemon?” Macro raised an eyebrow. “She’s not even that big!”

“Yeh.” Cookie rubbed the back of his head. “Hmm… double then?”

Macro waved a paw in dismissal. “You work it out. I’m gonna have a little nap.” He rubbed at his chest as he strode from the cockpit. “I’m starting to get some epic heart burn.”

“Story of my life.” Cookie trotted back into the kitchen, grabbing his apron from the door as he passed.

Macro continued down the corridor past the washroom until he reached the sleeping quarters. Three doors spanned it on either side, and the end one on the left was his, right by the loot room. He eyed the other rooms reminding himself that two of them were free. He’d have to assign one to Download Database, unless she was happy enough sleeping in a wooden crate.
He pushed his room open and threw himself onto his back on his bed. The sheets were still bunched up from the previous night and pressed into his lower spine. He shuffled until he’d managed to move them from underneath him and kicked them right to the end of the bed. He then slipped his belt off and placed it carefully on his night stand. One day, he’d end up forgetting to put one of his lasers back into safety and blow a nice hole in his mattress…

He reached into his pouch and pulled out his pocket computer, staring at the clock ticking seconds by on its flat screen. It hadn’t taken long for Surge to pull his number out of him. She had needed it, after all. He wondered how long it would take her to get the information he needed, then he’d block all her future calls if need be. He let his arm flop over the edge of the bed, keeping a firm hold on the computer. Within seconds he was staring at it again, pawing through the various useless apps he’d installed over the years.

A soft knock at the door snapped him out of his daze and he raised his head to look at it.

“Who is it?” he asked.

“Download Database.” She pushed the door open before he could tell her to go away. “Matrix has made something clear to me. You owe me an apology.”

His brow knit together and he pushed himself up so he was sitting. “For what?”

“For offending me,” she explained. “He informed me that is what I was feeling after you called me an ‘emotionless, empty, pathetic husk’ and ‘stupid computer’.”

His jaw fell open and hung there. All he could do was stare at her. Was she serious?

“Well?” She inclined her head on one side. “Are you going to apologise?”

Looking into her emotionless, empty eyes unnerved him. No. He wasn’t sorry. Everything he’d said was true. There was nothing… nothing… inside this pachirisu except empty data and an ability to speak. She could do the exact same thing as a computer tablet’s voice command and helper feature. The only difference here was it was using the body of a living being.

He flopped back onto his bed and went back to scrolling through his computer apps. “I’ve got nothing to apologise for. I meant every word.”

“So I’m pathetic and stupid?”

He grimaced. Maybe not every word.

“I understand.” She turned from the door then faltered. “By the way. You said you were going to have a nap. You lied.”

He turned his head slightly to look at her. Her back was turned but she had one eye fixed on him over her shoulder.

“You’re rude and a liar,” she said.

He snorted and blankly thumbed over his tablet screen. “And you’re programmed to obey me.”

“Yes. I am programmed to obey. Nevertheless, Matrix told me to make my feelings known. I’ve done that. Have a nice nap.”

The door clicked shut, rather too politely. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. ‘Weird’ didn’t even begin to describe it. He could totally understand where Matrix was coming from.

Everything about that ‘pachirisu’ was wrong. Was there anything he could do to train this computer to behave like an actual pokemon? Or was he stuck with data strolling around his ship inside some hapless pachirisu’s body? It wasn’t like she’d asked to be put inside there. It wasn’t her fault the pokemon had had her identity stripped away. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. His chest still hurt. Maybe he was ice cream intolerant? He rolled onto his left, facing the wall, and let his computer drop to his pillow. Maybe a good nap would clear his head?

...​

Singing. Who was singing?

Macro rubbed his eyes and pushed himself up onto his elbow, trying to work out where on earth that music was coming from. His pillow was lit up like a torch. He reached down to block it out, but instead his paw found his computer tablet and he snatched it back, noting the name on the screen.

Surge.

It all came barreling back down on him. Breakfast. Socket. Download Database.

He grabbed his phone and croaked a ‘Hello’ into it.

“Wow, you sound wonderful,” came Surge’s voice, rather too heavy on the sarcasm.

He cleared his throat and adjusted his pillow so he could sit back against the wall.

“You just woke me,” he said.

“It’s one in the afternoon.”

If he’d thought to switch it to camera mode, she’d have seen him shrug.

“Anyway,” she said. “I got the information you need.”

“That was fast,” he said.

“I take pride in my work. I don’t leave my clients waiting around for too long.” He thought he heard her smile. “Unless they’ve wriggled into my bad books.”

“I guess I should count myself as one of the lucky ones?” He paused and rubbed at his scar. He couldn’t deny he was rather nervous. “So what have you got for me?”

“It turns out you were right,” she said. “Socket is up to something, and stealing that living computer may have been the best thing for System as a whole.”

“What?” He laughed. “You trying to tell me I’ve saved the world?”

“No. Not yet.” There was a small pause and he heard her take in a sharp breath. “Download Database, as the computer is called, is part of a larger network called BackDoor.”

“Huh. Is that being sent over the city antennas?”

“No. BackDoor is not entirely different from the living computer, except it has a personality. Of sorts, anyway. It’s completely artificial. Download Database isn’t the only computer linked to the network, either. It’s filled with creatures that aren’t biological. She’s the only biological component, designed merely to fit in with pokemon kind without drawing attention to Socket.”

“So what is this BackDoor doing exactly?”

“It’s looking for dimensional gateways.”

In the silence that followed, Macro found himself wondering if he was actually still asleep and the conversation wasn’t even happening. He glanced around at his room. Everything felt strange, dreamlike. No… eerie. Like something was very wrong and he was about to wake up at any moment after a rather unpleasant nightmare.

“Macro?”

Surge’s voice snapped him back to his computer and he took in a shaky breath.

“Are you all right?” she asked. “You went quiet.”

“I… I’m not sure.”

“I know this is hard to take in. I’ve read over this information three times to make sure I’m reading it right. You know how murder is illegal in System?”

“Yes, I’m quite clear on that.”

“Well, they’ve skirted around it with Download Database. Every single scrap of her personality and memories, everything that makes her who she is from her likes and dislikes to her fears and dreams, has been downloaded from her brain and stored on a disk. But after she fell into your paws, they’ve been broken up and placed onto five different disks and scattered throughout System to make it harder for whoever ends up with her to obtain them.”

“So her personality is retrievable?”

“It is, but you’re gonna have a hard time getting them. Each one is in a different government facility and those are heavily guarded. If you try to get them back then you clearly have a death wish.”

“Does it say where they are?”

“I have a list. I’ll send it to you along with the list of commands you wanted.”

“You… you said something about dimensions?” His voice wavered again. Part of him was deeply uncertain he’d even heard her right.

“Yes, I did. What I told you about the living computer and murder law-dodging is completely relevant to that. She’s a prototype.” She paused and he heard her scratch her head, or ear, or face.

“Macro, you’ve heard of humans?”

“I have. They’re fictitious. Make up part of System’s mythology.”

“Well, Socket believes they exist.” She paused again. “That’s what BackDoor is trying to find. They’re scouting out dimensional gates and opening them. Not just to other worlds, but to other time lines, and it looks like they’ve had some success. They managed to open a gate that showed them the same room they stood in thirty minutes prior to the test.”

He actually pinched himself. It hurt. Could you feel pain in dreams? He really wanted to wake up.

“Macro, this is huge! If they’re doing this, then you’re already in too deep. I feel I’ve made a massive mistake in telling you all this.”

“No… no, you’ve not.” His voice really wavered.

“You don’t sound well.”

“It’s just heart burn.” It wasn’t heart burn at all. He felt faint and the room was beginning to spin. “Look… send me the locations for her memories.”

“You’re still going after them?”

“I have an empty husk of a pachirisu walking around my ship, Surge. Every ounce of her personality has been stolen from her and I’m going to do everything I can to steal them back.”

She sighed audibly. “All right. But promise me that’s all you’ll do.”

He bit his lip so hard it hurt. Did she honestly think he was going to interfere in whatever Socket was doing? It was bonkers. It couldn’t be real. Humans didn’t exist. They never had, there was no proof of that. Zero proof. Allegedly they had, but then they’d all miraculously gone back home from the same dimensional tear they’d been dragged through. It was absolute tauros poop.

“Macro?”

“Did you find out exactly why she wants to find humans?” he asked.

“I didn’t delve that deeply,” said Surge. “To be honest, I got scared. All I know is she wants to turn them into computers like the pachirisu, but what purpose they serve is a mystery to me. I don’t think I even want to know. The passwords for Download Database should allow you to find all that out if you’re desperate to know. She’s got a computer in her brain, after all.”

Macro ran a paw over his face and let out a long sigh. What was Socket up to? One thing was for certain. There was no way she was getting her paws on Download Database.

“I’m getting her memories back,” he said. “Then I’m done with this nonsense. Humans do not, and have not ever, existed in System. If what you’ve told me is even remotely true, Socket is clearly insane. You’ve seen what she’s done to this pachirisu, or read it at least. You have to agree?”

She made a ‘hmm’ and rapped her claws on what sounded like a desk or table. “I can’t say I disagree with you. Anyway. Now I’ve done all this, can we make another date?”

“Send me the information first, then we’ll talk.” He hung up and sank down against the wall.

His chest felt strange, like someone had fastened an elastic band around it. If he’d still been wearing his belt he would have torn it off in hopes it would alleviate it. Anxiety? Fear? Whatever it was, he didn’t like it. Usually a bit of a shock gave him a buzz to keep fighting.

His computer chirruped at him and he stared down at Surge’s name again. This time it was an email. He opened the attachment with a growing sense of dread.

It wasn’t a dream. The whole bonkers, convoluted, dangerous and deadly plan was one hundred percent real. And he had been dragged right into the thick of it.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Eight​


Macro had read over Socket’s plan so many times he’d lost count, and it made less and less sense with each read. He stuffed his computer back into his pouch and fastened it back around his waist as he left his bedroom. Lunch time had long since passed and a quick check of the time told him Cookie would have dinner ready soon.

Three different voices came from the cockpit, including the flat, lifeless voice of Download Database. Macro reminded himself of the commands Surge had sent him, many of which were engraved in his mind after his obsessive reading. Some were completely useless to him, such as the ones to connect her to BackDoor or the other individual components that made up the artificial mob scouring System’s furthest most remote corners.

Amongst the list of commands was the password that would force her to tell him why she was created, and it was the first one that sprung to mind as soon as he spotted her leaning against the wooden crate, her blank eyes fixed on Anchor as he told her what each of the controls on the dashboard did.

“The password is ‘back door’.” Macro’s voice drew all three pairs of eyes towards him.

“That is correct.” Download Database turned so she was fully facing him. “What do you want to know?”

“How did you get that information, Cap’n?” Anchor asked.

“I hired a hacker.” Macro turned back to Download Database, but he could see Anchor’s confused and questioning look out of the corner of his eye. “Don’t worry yourself, Anchor. You’ll still get paid. Now, tell me, Download Databse. Why were you created?” He knew. He knew exactly why, but some part of him hoped deeply that Surge was pulling his leg.

The pachirisu continued to face him, but she wasn’t seeing him. Her eyes had gone elsewhere, searching through the endless amounts of information stored inside her head.

“Download Database was created as an information receiver for the project BackDoor. It is meant to accompany Socket to keep her up to date on progress as dimensional gateways are discovered and opened across System.”

Drat. Surge had been right.

His head felt fuzzy and he let it flop into his paw. Matrix and Anchor sat on his peripheral vision, their mouths agape.

“Dimensional gateways?” Matrix asked, rather too confidently.

“Is this pachirisu trolling you?” Anchor asked. “Did you use the wrong password or something?”

“No.” Macro rubbed at his temples. “What she’s said is true. Like I said, I hired someone to find out for me, and I just wanted to check everything she’d told me was fact.”

“Of course it’s true,” said Download Database. “I am programmed not to lie.”

“Then if Socket is doing this,” said Matrix, “what does it mean for System?”

“She’s looking for humans,” said Macro.

Anchor roared with laughter. “Humans don’t exist!”

“I’m aware of that,” Macro scoffed. “This pachirisu is apparently a prototype. Socket wants to make more of them, but using pokemon isn’t ethical, or efficient, because in order to loop around ‘murder’, they have to keep their personalities alive. All of hers are stored on disks.”

“That’s barbaric,” said Anchor.

“It is, but at least she can get them back.” Macro folded his arms and leant back against the door frame. “Not exactly efficient since it could ruin Socket’s plans. If they were destroyed, she wouldn’t be able to, and the risk of losing her would be removed.”

“And humans aren’t pokemon.” Matrix wound his antenna in his paw. “So destroying their personalities doesn’t count as murder, as our laws wouldn’t apply to them.”

“Exactly.”

“So let me get this straight.” Anchor scratched the base of his mohawk. “Socket honestly thinks humans exist somewhere, and is tearing open dimensional gates - which, believe me, I think is a load of guano - in an attempt to find something that allows her to bypass our laws?”

“Yup.”

“What do you think?” Anchor turned his seat to face him. “You don’t believe in humans, do you?”

“Of course not! It’s all legends and myths.”

“Incorrect.” Download Database looked at each of them in turn. “My database contains facts on human existence and activity in System.”

“Facts?” Macro sneered. “Where did you get these ‘facts’?”

“All historical documentation held within System,” she said. “I can even get online to cross reference if desired, but the facts are there.”

“Historical documentation…” Macro chuckled and scratched his scar. “You mean books? That’s no proof, sweetheart. There’s no physical evidence of humans ever existing in System. No fossils, no photographs. Nothing.”

“All humans were transformed into pokemon,” she explained. “Then they were all sent back to their own world through the Fracture that engulfed Seed City. Only one remained in System at the time. He could switch back and forth between a talonflame and human at will.”

“Yeh? Then where is the physical proof?”

“There is none. It is believed if he passed away, he did so in the form of a talonflame.”

“Exactly.” Macro kicked himself back from the wall and turned towards the kitchen. “Hatchling stories. Legends and myths.”

“Incorrect. My sources count it as valid information.”

“Okay, let’s say humans did exist.” His words were laced with a growl. “Why does she want them, exactly?”

“To expand BackDoor’s reach.”

“And what is BackDoor doing? Because I don’t imagine this all comes to an end once humans are found.”

“I cannot answer that,” she said. “That information is not accessible to me.”

Macro blinked. Well, that was convenient. A nice little cover up for Socket should Download Database fall into the wrong paws.

“So she doesn’t even give you a reason for stealing your personality,” he said flatly. “She did all this to you… and doesn’t even bother to give you access to her reasoning?”

“My existence is to serve and to obtain information from BackDoor on demand.”

“Face facts, pachirisu!” He rounded on her, lowering his nose to hers. “Socket had your personality wrenched out on the basis of chasing down some legend because she wants to bypass her own stinking laws!”

She didn’t even step back or blink, returning his stare with a blank, chocolate brown one that almost chilled him.

“Why don’t you feel anything?!” he roared. “You’re in a stolen body yet you just don’t care!”

“You’re angry. That’s detrimental to your own wellbeing.” The pachirisu diverted her gaze to the doorway and her eyes grew distant. “Searching for calming suggestions.”

Macro threw his arms in the air and marched from the room. “Forget it! I’m gonna get some dinner. I’ll be in the kitchen if anyone needs me.”

“That is a good idea,” said Download Database. “The slow burning nutrients injected into me for transportation are running low. I should eat also.”

Macro felt his fur bristle down his back. He refrained from looking back as the pachirisu’s light, heavily-furred footsteps followed him across the corridor to the large kitchen.

Cookie waddled from an open cupboard to the stove and froze, staring at Macro over his shoulder. His round face lit up and his tongue poked out between his teeth.

“I saved you some breakfast and lunch and put the two together!”

“Fantastic.” Macro fell into a seat and flinched as Download Database climbed into Matrix’s usual seat opposite him. “What is it?”

“Chocolate chip pancakes and fruit coolie with payapa and tanga berry sandwiches.” The slurpuff dropped a plate before him and stood back with a huge smile.

Macro’s heart soared and he grabbed his knife and fork to dig in.

“This is what you eat?” Download Database’s voice froze him and he glanced up at her with a frown. “This is not a healthy balanced meal. Pancakes and coolie are high in sugar and the berries have been fried to within an inch of their life.”

“So?” Macro growled.

“You are meant to have a good balance of vitamins and carbohydrates for the body to function at optimal efficiency. Fresh berries are much healthier than those that are cooked. Even stewed berries are healthier than fried. If you want to cook them first, steaming is the best method as it locks in more vitamins. Throw it away. I shall make you a healthy meal.”

She rose to her feet and moved over to the stove where she promptly moved Cookie’s steaming pan of stewing berries and sugar.

“Wait!” Cookie waddled over to her with his paws outstretched. “Leave it alone! This is my kitchen!”

She stared down at him over the steaming pan. “Your cooking skills are inefficient. Allow me to show you.”

Cookie stamped his foot and his eyes filled with tears. “But I love cooking! I’m a professional chef!”

“You are young.”

“You can be a professional at fourteen!”

“Professionals make more than just sweets.”

Macro kept one eye on the squabbling pokemon as he stuffed a forkful of pancakes into his mouth. A small smile played at his lips and he lifted his plate to head back into the cockpit, leaving their bickering voices behind. At least she’d be entertained and out of his way for a while.

...​

Socket waited patiently as the dialing tone rang out from her holographic computer screen. After the third ring, the familiar face of a delphox appeared on screen - or what one would assume was a delphox amongst the thick cloud of smoke that surrounded most of his features.

“Good afternoon, Detective Tracer,” she said.

“What is it, Mayor Socket?” he asked, somewhat boredly.

“I have a favor to ask of you,” she said. “It’s too confidential to go into details, but I am under the impression you have a mercenary working for you?”

“Yes, I do.” He blew out a stream of yet more smoke and flicked the remains of his cigar off the screen. “It’s the easiest way to track down space pirates.”

“Quite the chameleon, I understand?”

“She gets the job done.” He paused as he lit up another cigar. “Is this favor from me or her?”

“I would like her contact details,” said Socket. “I think a mercenary is exactly what I need right now.”

“Given recent developments, I’m guessing you want Hunter round up quickly?”

“You catch on quick.”

“I’m not exactly one to sniff at forty K, Madam Mayor.”

She pursed her red lips together and rested her chin on her steepled fingers. “Can you do this favor for me, or not?”

“If you’re taking my merc off me to round him up, I want a cut of the price,” he said. “Surge and I have a deal. Every bounty she earns from rounding up pirates gets split forty/sixty. She gets the bigger cut, otherwise she walks.”

“Tell me, Mister Fox. Why would she stay working with you if she could get one hundred percent?”

“You see, there’s a little thing called ‘team work’.” Tracer blew out another cloud of smoke that completely obscured everything except the tips of his ears. “She isn’t the only one rounding up pirates. We all get a cut, and she gets the bigger one.”

“Very well. Will you send her my way?” Her voice was calm, but her eyes remained hard.

The delphox wafted some of the smoke away to clear the screen and leant back in his seat, keeping his amber eyes on her.

“Do I get a cut?” he asked.

“That is up to… Surge, is it?”

He nodded.

“Well. It’s not up to me,” she finished.

He was silent for a moment, not taking his eyes off her.

“I don’t really have a choice, do I?” he asked.

Socket shook her head slowly.

“Very well,” he said. “I’ll send you her contact details.”

The video cut out, and almost immediately the program beeped, bringing up a string of numbers followed by the name ‘Surge’. As she keyed them in, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder at the chingling.

“How are you getting on there, Tweak?” she asked.

“Oh, I think I’m nearly done!” His cheerful voice rang off the walls. “Every bit of sensitive information concerning BackDoor is now blocked from Download Database’s access.”

“Good. Any wiser on who our little hacker was?” She stared at the string of numbers and tapped her claws on her desk.

Tweak chuckled, his bell grating in his throat. “Whoever it was did a good job, but they’re not better than me. I’ve traced it right back to their phone number. Want me to read it out to you?”

Socket’s lips pulled up into a smirk. “Definitely.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Nine​


Macro leant on the back of Matrix’s chair, holding his computer so both the ribombee and Anchor could see it. His claw slid over the flat screen, scrolling through the tidy list of text.

“This is every location where they’re storing Download Database’s memories,” he told them. “In detail, down to what floor the disks are on. We can expect each one to be heavily guarded.”

“Five locations?” Anchor took the tiny computer in his large pink paw. “So there’s five disks?”

“Yup.” Macro straightened and folded his arms. “If we’re gonna restore her, then we need to hunt them down.”

“One of them is in Central Meta City,” said Matrix. “Which one do you want to go to first?”

“The closest.”

A soft shuffle behind them drew his attention over his shoulder. Whatever Anchor had said didn’t register in his mind. Download Database appeared in the room, pausing beside her wooden crate, giving the three space pirates a quick glance. No curiosity. No pausing to ask what they were doing. She just… existed.

“Cap’n?”

He looked up into the granbull’s confused face. “Huh?”

“I said the nearest is Scanner City,” said Anchor. “Not even a six hour flight from here.”

“But it will still get us there in the dead of night,” said Matrix. “Around one or two AM.”

“That’s perfect,” said Macro. “There’ll be less pokemon on the streets.”

“I wouldn’t bank on it,” said Anchor. “Scanner City is fighting pokemon territory. Those ‘mon are party animals.”

Matrix’s tiny face split into a grin and he stifled a chuckle as he turned back to his navigation desk. His paws swiftly keyed in the co-ordinates.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter then.” Macro leant back against the ribombee’s chair and frowned at the pachirisu. “First thing’s first, we’re gonna have to give you a name.”

“My name is Download Database,” she said.

“Not for long.” He brought up the commands on his phone and scanned over them. “Let’s see. Rename Download Database Zero Zero One.”

“Understood,” she said. “Awaiting new name.”

Macro looked back up at her, meeting those lifeless, chocolate eyes. It felt no different than giving a name to a stuffed animal. What on earth was he going to call her? Download Database was too much of a mouthful and he was growing tired of it. He scratched at his scar and fixed his attention on the wall to his right.

“Let’s see,” he muttered. “How about… DL?”

An acronym, of sorts. At least it was shorter.

“Rename Download Database as DL?” she asked.

“Yes.” He closed the file on his computer and stuffed it back into his pouch. “DL.”

“Understood. Download Database Zero Zero One is now known as DL.” Her huge eyes closed in a rather long blink and she stared at him for a moment. “You appear calmer. That is good.”

He waved her off and climbed into his seat beside Anchor, kicking his feet up onto the dashboard.

“Why DL?” Anchor asked.

“Because I wanted to pick two letters from her codename,” Macro answered. “And I didn’t like DD.”

“Fair enough,” Anchor grumbled.

“Prepare us for takeoff, Matrix,” said Macro.

“We’re leaving?” DL shuffled over to him. “Do you want me to go into standby for the journey?”

“Nah, you’re good.”

“Then can I at least be of service? I have good navigation abilities.”

“We already have a navigation officer,” said Macro. “Maybe you could help Cookie in the kitchen? Besides, you might like this trip. We’re going to get your memories.”

“My memories? But… they’re useless junk data. They’ll only serve to clutter my databases.”

“Yeh, well-”

A beep came from his pouch and he lazily brought up the details on his optical display, stifling a yawn. A message from Surge… another push of the button on his ear piece opened it and he let out a low groan.

‘If you’re going to repay me with that date, then we’d better go now. I have to leave before sunset, and I’ve no idea how long I’ll be.’

“Delay take off.” He leapt from his seat and trotted out of the cockpit.

“Where are you goin’?” Anchor called after him.

“It’s business. I’ll be back soon, don’t worry. DL, I’m leaving Anchor in charge.” He grinned at the other pirate and gave him a mock salute over his shoulder.

“I’m afraid helping Cookie is not an option,” DL told the granbull. “He threatened to cook me last time.”

Anchor sighed and his seat creaked as he leant his weight back into it.

Macro leapt from the exit hatch and almost landed on the zigzagoon. She took a step back and grinned at him, but something was missing. A sparkle? She didn’t look right, anyway.

He straightened his back and leant against the blue hull of his ship.

“You wanna go back to Moonlight Lounge?” he asked.

“I was thinking more an outdoor session this time.” She linked her arm in his and steered him off the docks. “Crispy Crepes is a nice spot at this time, I hear.”

“That sounds like more ice cream,” he said. “I think I’m still recovering from my ice cream coma.”

“Then what do you suggest?” She fixed him with a small smile.

“Cornn dogs,” he said. “Dockside does some good ones. You should try their shuca and babiri berry sauce.”

“Well… you’re buying.”

He grit his teeth together and steered her along the docks towards a stand with a red neon sign that said ‘Dockside Dogs’. The plusle and minun brothers moved back and forth behind the counter, serving up cornn dogs into pre-cut rolls and slapping berry dressings on top of them to satisfy their hungry customers.

Macro narrowly avoided an aggron’s large feet and pushed Surge ahead of him into the queue. When he was a hatchling, his mother had always told him a gentlemon puts ladies first, but he’d never really had time for that nonsense to put it into practice. At least he’d not forgotten it.

He leant back against the crowd control rail and cast Surge a sideways glance. Rather than eyeing up the menu she stared out at the vast deep blue outside the dome, her eyes distant as she watched a golden magikarp ship trundle into the docks.

“Something on your mind?” he asked.

“Hmm?” She looked round at him then forced a smile as she stared back out at the sky. “Oh. Not really. I just have a new mission to get to, that’s all.”

His muzzle crinkled into a frown but he occupied himself with moving forward in the queue. After the slightly overweight gabite, they were next.

“That’s why you’re in such a rush then?” he asked. “Must be pretty important.”

“It’s completely confidential, that much I can tell you.” She joined his side and nodded up at the menu. “Chople and salac for me, please.”

Macro reached into his pouch for his credits and snorted. “That’s a weird-*** combination.”

“And shuca and babiri isn’t?”

“Nope. Babiri makes it super spicy and takes an edge off the bitterness. One of the perks of living with a chef.”

He placed their orders and watched as the two small rodents busied themselves in preparing the freshly fried cornn dogs. He found himself wondering what remarks Download Database would come up with if she witnessed the spectacle. She’d probably bristle at the sight of all the grease and the plusle and minun’s grimy uniforms.

The minun handed them their orders and wiped his paws on his apron before calling for the next customer.

Macro strolled away towards the dock rail and leant forward on it as he tucked into his cornn dog. They’d gone a little heavy on the babiri and it made his tongue tingle. It tasted like spite. Yet another space pirate who was envious of his hefty price tag.

Surge let out a satisfied sigh and licked sauce from her lips. “You weren’t wrong.”

Macro grunted. “I can’t believe you’ve never been there. How long have you lived here?”

“I don’t live here,” she said quietly. “I’m a mercenary. But if you must know…” She shifted so she was facing him. “About a month.”

“Let me guess. You lurk about until you spot your target and try to catch them when they leave?”

“Exactly.”

He took another bite of his meal, trying to ignore the burning heat that filled his mouth. There was something nagging at him about this zigzagoon. Why be so open with him about being a mercenary? Especially one who targeted space pirates. He stared at his cornn dog, watching as the sauce trickled over the bun and onto his paws. A mercenary who chose a target and tried to catch them when they left Pulse City…

“It was you.” He launched the remains of his meal into the nearest trash can, startling a nearby weedle. “It was you who followed us!”

She sighed and leant forwards on the rail.

“You’re plannin’ on turnin’ me in.” Despite his blistering rage, he kept his voice low. He folded his arms and sneered. “Is that what all this is? Some kind of trick?”

She shook her head. “It’s no trick.”

“Then what is it, Surge?”

“I don’t know. One minute I’m trying to catch you, the next I’m taking out one of those government ships.”

His jaw fell open. Words wanted to form but they died before they could even string sentences in his mind. That torpedo… she’d fired it?

“I… really need to get to this job. At this rate they might not pay me.” She pushed herself back from the rail and ran a paw over her ears. “Listen… thanks for the dinner and… date.”

Macro stared after her, his mouth agape. Her ragged tail hung limply behind her, trailing over the ground. She’d fired the torpedo. Why on earth would a mercenary hired to round up pirates fire at a government fleet? He ran a paw over his face and trudged back to Wildcard Gamma. Things were just getting more and more confusing and it was giving him a headache.

...​

Tracer strolled through the toxic streets of Server City, his paws shoved into his trench coat pockets. Every breath he took was amplified in his own ears by his mask’s noisy filters. The breeze caught in his open grey coat and it billowed out behind him, almost catching his small eevee companion. Widget didn’t flinch, however. His attention was fixed on their surroundings, keeping an eye open for trouble makers. Server City, like the rest of Meta City’s outskirts, was home to the majority of System’s poison pokemon. Dark types also called it home, but they preferred to lurk around Spool City after a feud with Proxy’s muk and grimer gangs.

The delphox checked his pocket computer once more, making sure he’d got the address right. This was where Socket wanted him to be, he was certain. He looked up at the squat, grimy buildings and unkempt abandoned office towers and frowned.

“Something wrong?” Widget’s voice was muffled by his mask.

“I’m just making sure I’ve got the address right,” Tracer answered.

“Croagunk right?”

“Yes. But they like damp places.” Tracer placed his computer back into his pocket and stared up at the high rise building perched between a convenience store and a boarded up unidentifiable shop. “Why would he live in an apartment block?”

Widget shrugged his shoulders which gave a small, mechanical whine. “Lack of options?”

“Well.” Tracer reached into his thick tail and pulled out his wooden stick. A small flame ignited at the end as it touched the air. “Let’s just hope he’s not got backup.”

“Oh, I’m prepared for backup.”

Widget laughed heartily and took a step back as Tracer powered a psychic blast through his flaming stick. The door flew inward off its hinges and he strolled inside with Widget close behind him.

The apartment block was dingy and stunk of amonia and mildew. Maybe it was damp enough for a croagunk after all?

The low lighting made it difficult to see, and Tracer’s flame cast flickering shadows along the heavily graffitied walls. As they climbed the stairs, one of the lights flickered on and off erratically, creating a grating noise as the bulb struggled to stay lit.

“What floor is it?” Widget asked.

“Third.” Tracer replied while dodging a suspicious puddle.

As they climbed the stairs to the third floor, something moved on his peripheral vision. He glanced back over his shoulder at a small, green bug pokemon slowly dropping on an invisible thread. A spinarak, likely fallen out of his web while he slept. He kept a cautious eye on the spider pokemon, watching it rotate slowly in the air.

Two of the third floor corridor lights were broken, leaving only the central point lit up. The worn and battered doors, each one coated in spray painted slogans and artwork, made the rooms behind them look abandoned. All except the third one along on his left. Light leaked out from underneath it and he could hear someone moving around inside.

Tracer paused by the door and rapped a paw on it.

“Who’s there?!” a voice growled out at him.

“Santa Paws!” shouted Widget.

Tracer raised an eyebrow at the eevee who returned it with what he could assume was a grin since it made his eyes sparkle. The door was thrown open and a croagunk pointed a laser straight at the detective’s face.

“Dontcha think I’m too old to be belivin’ in Santa Paws?” The amphibian narrowed his eyes and cocked his weapon.

Tracer sighed and readied another psychic blast from his stick, but before he could fire it, Widget launched himself at the croagunk into a full-body take-down. The two pokemon rolled across the floor of his apartment, crushing wrappers and other trash until they hit the far wall.

The delphox kept his stick raised as he followed them into the room. Widget stood above the fallen croagunk, his eyes alight with glee. As usual, the eevee hadn’t taken so much as a scratch from the collision. His skeletal modifications had absorbed the shock perfectly.

“Well,” said Tracer. “I can count on you to get a job done, can’t I?”

He reached into his pocket for his cuffs.

“What’s goin’ on in ‘ere?”

The two detectives looked up at the door, meeting the frown of a scrafty. His red mowhawk-like fin had a green tinge to it and his face was covered with a cheap surgical mask. Its efficiency showed in his labored, rattly breathing. His large eyes went to the croagunk and then flashed with rage. Within two strides he was almost on top of the two detectives.

Tracer flicked his stick round and pulled its hidden trigger. A flash of sparkling pink light fired out of the end of it, lighting up the dingy apartment. The scrafty flew back from him and landed in a crumpled heap in a pile of poffin wrappers.

“Dang it, Tracer,” Widget sighed. “Couldn’t leave him to me, could you? Had to use your flippin’ gun.”

The eevee gave his stick a begrudging glance then moved over to the fallen pokemon. His loose trouser-like skin had fallen down around his knees and revealed part of his tail.

“We taking them both in?” Widget asked.

“Socket only wants the croagunk.” Tracer snapped his cuffs onto the amphibian’s wrists and hoisted him over his shoulder. “Cover me in case any more thugs show up.”

“Sure thing!”

Widget trotted from the room and glanced up and down the corridor before making for the stairs. He froze at the bend and frowned.

“Drat.”

Tracer paused behind him and stared down at the ocean of spinarak. If that little green bug had been sleeping, it definitely wasn’t any more. And its entire family stared up at them from a sea of tiny, black eyes. Towering over the small spiders and flexing its mandibles was an ariados.

Tracer raised his stick and the flame flared. “Get ready to run.”

“It’s party time!” Widget laughed and threw himself into the air. “Just don’t burn my tail, okay?”

The tiny eevee crashed down onto the bug pokemon, the vibrations shaking the stairs. He pounced from bug to bug until he reached the next flight of stairs. Before Tracer could reach him, the ariados lunged at him, her jaws pulled back in a hiss.

“Terribly sorry, ma’am.” The delphox unleashed a flamethrower, blowing the arachnid back down the corridor. “But you’re interfering with police work.”

Tiny feet rapped across the wooden floor as the remaining spinarak gave chase. Threads shot from their mouths and struck the walls where they clung like glue, narrowly missing Tracer’s bushy tail. Some of the spinarak used the threads to propel themselves past him and two landed just before him before launching more threads right at his face. He ducked, but one of the string shots caught his wrist and yanked his paw free from the croagunk, sending the unconscious amphibian to the ground.

The spinarak chuckled and threw itself towards him, poison dripping from its jaws. Widget’s brown blur struck the bug mid-air and crashed it into the wall, sending chips of plaster raining down onto the floor.

Tracer beat white dust from his coat then scooped up the croagunk.

“That was a narrow escape,” he told Widget.

“Sacrifice speed for strength.” Widget strolled past him and gave him a quick glance over his shoulder. “It’s served me well so far.”

Tracer shook his head and followed the eevee from the apartment block. He gave the croagunk a pat on the shoulder then sheathed his stick.

“I’m afraid, young chap, that your hacking days are over.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
A/N - Chapters following this one will be very sporadic - possibly every couple of months. I want to focus on my new ongoing story which will be posted from next week, and I really don't want to be updating multiple stories regularly to avoid confusion. Please bare with me. I plan to post this in its entirety, it'll just take a little while. If you wish to read on from here, you can find the full story on FFNet, WattPad and Serebii.

Chapter Ten​

Scanner City pulsed with industrial dance music that penetrated Wildcard Gamma before they even pulled in to land. Lights filled the streets, dazzling Macro's eyes as he descended on the ladder. Anchor shielded his eyes with a paw and grunted.

"This city could use a dimmer switch!" he said.

"I couldn't agree more," said Macro.

The mawile squinted into the bustling street, noting the various clubs and bars heaving with pokemon to such a degree they spilled outside. His feet touched the ground in an alley and his hip brushed a trash can. He frowned and beat moisture from his fur, quickly checking over the offending item. Clean, unlike the Meta City outskirts. And not home to a trubbish, either.

Anchor landed in a crouch behind him and sniffed the air.

"Stinks of beer," he said.

"At least it's not toxic," said Macro.

"May as well be."

Anchor followed him out of the alley into the bustling street. Loud shouts came from one of the bars and a primape threw his overflowing glass at a hawlucha's head. The fighting type bird pokemon ducked, letting the glass shatter against the wall. Alcohol rained down on him and the primape fumed, stomping his large feet in a tantrum. A machoke burst out laughing, only to be silenced by a hitmonchan's gloved fist.

The rowdy group barely seemed to notice the two space pirates as they passed by, but a pair of pangoro cast them identical leers. Neither made a move, or alerted their drinking companions. Macro glanced them out of the corner of his eye, keeping his paws well away from his lasers. They knew the two fairy types were more than capable of taking them down en-mass.

Macro brought up his optical display, showing an intricate map of Scanner City. Matrix had dropped them off relatively close to the government facility holding DL's first memory disk. What contents it held were a mystery to him, but if it would help her then he wanted to get it. The order she received them in was irrelevant.

The blinking light on his map told him he needed to keep going straight. The facility was in the city square, and was the main focal point of the area. It was where the city's law and order was kept in… well… order.

Another glass exploded against the wall mere inches from him and tiny shards of glass struck his legs and feet. He looked over at a monferno and emboar, the latter crashing his hooves together as his snout creased into a frown.

"Filthy space pirate!" the monkey snarled. "What'cha think yer up to, strollin' around our city?"

Macro sneered. Fire types. Typical. One of the types that resisted their fairy attacks while obliterating him in the process. His left paw found his laser but he didn't draw it. He kept his eye on the two fire/fighting pokemon as they continued making their way forward. If they launched an attack, there was every chance the other fighting types would join the fray, especially those who were more fired up like the primeape, type disadvantage or not.

"Keep moving, Cap'n."

Anchor steered him along with a paw on his back, clenching the other one at his side so the sharp claws poked out of his gauntlet. The muscles in the granbull's body were taut, but he kept both eyes on the road, pointedly ignoring the rabble as they made their way through.

A glass exploded at Macro's feet followed by a jeer from the monferno, and his fur bristled. His claws fastened around his laser and he battled the urge to whip it out and fire at the offending fire types. Stomping hooves rushed at them and the mawile snatched himself from Anchor's grip and span to face the onslaught.

Three fire types surrounded them and Macro's muzzle pulled back into a sneer. Great. They'd found a friend. He eyed the combusken with caution hidden behind a mask of disgust.

"I think I'd quite like forty thousand credits. What about you, boys?" The monferno laughed and tossed his glass into a nearby dumpster. "Let's show this runt who's boss around here, eh?"

He smirked and balled his paws into fists. Heat radiated from them and Macro took an unconscious step back right into the emboar.

"Would ya look at that?" the pig pokemon scoffed with mock surprise. "The little pirate's scared!"

"How about we settle this?" The monferno flashed his sharp canines. "Fair fight. No guns."

Macro tutted and flexed his claws against his laser's handle. No guns… then it wouldn't be a fair fight.

"Back off, bro," Anchor growled. "We're here on a job. We'll soon be out of your fur."

He steered Macro from the group, but the emboar reached down and grabbed the mawile by his horn. Macro yelled and whipped out his laser, firing a blue beam right into the emboar's stomach. The large pokemon released him as he went rolling backwards down the street, bowling over a pair of scraggy and a mankey who let out screams of protest.

Macro couldn't help but chuckle as the small, ragged white monkey leapt onto the emboar's head and stamped his lanky feet.

"Oi!" The monferno snarled. "I said no guns!"

He brought a blazing fist down towards the mawile. Macro ducked and hot fire licked at his fur. He fired his laser between the flaming monkey's legs right at the combusken. The giant chicken leapt aside, but the monferno let out a grunt as electricity coursed along his body and sent him flying in a graceful ark away from Macro and into the opposite bar's window. Glass exploded in a cascade of flames, the orange hue lighting up the glass shards as they danced along the tarmac floor.

The combusken hissed and launched a flamethrower from his beak, missing Macro by a hair's breadth as he rolled to the side. His paw struck warm flesh and he stumbled, falling flat onto his back. The emboar grunted and pushed himself up, keeping an eye on Macro as a sinister smile spread across his snout. The mankey was still atop his head, clawing at his flesh as he shrieked profanities. The emboar reached up and flicked the primate aside then turned his attention back onto Macro. Before the giant boar had a chance to ready an attack, Anchor's fist collided with his head, knocking him back down to the ground. Then the large bulldog threw himself at the combusken, hitting him in mid-air and crashing him into the floor.

"You go get that disk!" he roared. "I'll deal with this lot!"

Macro tutted and ducked past him. "You have to be kidding me?"

"Nope! I'll meet you there in like five minutes."

Macro shot him a leer over his shoulder and bolted down the road towards the square. Two machamp rushed out of a bar and cut him off. The larger of the two looked over his head at the battle and his brow furrowed. He opened his mouth to speak as the other one raised his four fists. Macro grabbed the aggressive one, locking his jaw-like horn around his ankle, and brought him up in an arc over his head. The machamp's body collided with his brother and the pair of them rolled into a heap of limbs in the middle of the road. A trio of scraggy faltered right behind them, but the two primeape accompanying them bounded over the fleshy obstacle and pounced onto the mawile.

Macro roared as he tried to shake them off. One of them wrapped both arms around his horn, locking it shut and dragging him backwards under his weight. The other primeape fastened his paws around his neck, shrieking incoherently as its claws dug into the flesh of his throat, slowly cutting off his air supply. Macro twisted his arm so his laser nozzle was jabbing into the ape's stomach. It was still set to water, but it should do enough damage to at least get the offending pokemon off him. He squeezed the trigger and fired.

The primeape flew away from him and Macro's mouth opened in a scream as his sharp claws raked over his throat. A sizzle of electricity resounded behind him with a sickening thud, and the ragged ape went flying over the buildings ahead of him like a baseball. The other was tugged free and sent soaring after him.

Anchor yanked Macro to his feet and shoved him along, covering his back in a flailing fury of fists and electricity.

Macro's paws pounded the floor as he propelled himself over the tarmac. He kept his laser clasped in his right paw, ready to pick off any more fire types. More primeape burst from a bar, followed by a hitmonlee who's elastic legs swung down towards Macro as the slender fighting type cartwheeled over the heads of the angry apes. He brought his horn up into his stomach, sending him rolling into Anchor's waiting fists. Then he grabbed two of the primeape in quick succession, throwing them back into the bar. One of them leapt over his head, crashing his paws down onto the base of his horn. The mawile let out a grunt and keeled forwards, but he kept pressing on. His eyes unfocused with the impact and he tried to blink and rub at them to correct it. Another impact struck his jaw and he flew sideways until his body struck cold stone. He didn't get the chance to get a good look at his assailant as they were soon thrown back into the bar they came from by Anchor.

The mawile dragged himself back to his feet, ignoring the pulsing pain in his jaw. He retrieved his laser which had clattered into the road during his tumble, and took off after Anchor. The granbull had cleared the path of yet more primeape, leaving them in a sizzling heap on the doorstep of a bar. Someone pounded against the door, desperately trying to force their way out past the heavy, unconscious, hairy bodies.

Finally, the road spread out into a large square surrounded by mechanical trees. The lack of buildings provided a clear view of the dome over the city. Stars twinkled beyond it, and against the black sky he could just make out Wildcard Gamma circling overhead. The blue hull was almost camouflaged against the dark sky.

Perched right at the edge of the square stood a monolith of a building. A large digital clock spread over the highest, central peak. Its deep grey and chrome structure intimidated the other buildings, leaving it as the only one spread over the entire east side of the square. Not even a road had space to fork from it. More buildings spread around the west edge, broken up only by a road sheltered under a bridge that joined two eateries.

Nothing gave away the identity of the grey building. It reeked of government activity. Even its colours reminded him of Socket. Whatever went on in there was a mystery.

"I reckon we'll have a tough time when we get in there," said Anchor.

Shadows fell over the square and the two space pirates looked back at the road of clubs and bars. Primeape and mankey had climbed onto the roofs, perching at the edge as they fixed the two fairy types with vicious leers. Machamp, machoke and the hitmonchan and hawlucha stood barring their access back into the road, matching the primate's glares.

"Think we'll have a tough time when we come back out, too," said Macro, turning his attention back to the building. "Well. What are we waiting for?"

He pulled his lock pick from his pouch and began jigging it in the building's front door lock. Anchor stomped away from him, moving up and down the grey structure. The lock was less than co-operative and it took some force to bust open. With the loud ping that echoed around the silent square, he was convinced he'd broken it.

"Ain't no way round the back without going through the gate," Anchor said as he rejoined Macro. "So there's no easy way out if we get stuck around there."

Macro cast a cautious glance to the fighting pokemon standing like sentries in the streets and atop roofs. He wanted to believe the walls meant no pokemon could get into the back easily, either. But walls were nothing to an agile fighting type. If they got stuck, they'd be sitting duckletts, and he had no idea how many more pokemon waited on the other side.

He pushed the door open, holding his gun in his free paw.

Darkness.

He squinted and moved slowly inside, Anchor close behind him. The only noise that reached his ears was their breathing and an engine humming somewhere. A sharp smell of oil stabbed his senses and he covered his muzzle, desperately trying to see through the darkness. Inky black. Just like oil.

His paw groped over the wall for a light. A flash, and the entire room flooded with a white light that bounced off the brilliant, white walls.

Anchor peered down at him, his large paw pressed over a light panel. He removed his paw and nodded ahead of him, drawing the mawile's attention to the double doors that spread across the blank hallway. No stairs off to their left or right, just a set of double doors with no windows. Macro felt his fur stand on end all along his spine.

The large fairy type motioned for him to stand flat against the wall, then strode past him and stood beside the doors, nudging one of them open. A torrent of flames flew down it, the heat licking at Macro's fur and lighting the walls up with a sunset orange. Once it fizzled out, the mawile aimed his gun through the doors and fired. A yelp split the air followed by a thud as a heavy body struck the tile floor.

The two space pirates moved through the door, Anchor staying ahead. He checked over the fallen blaziken and waved a paw for Macro to follow him close to the wall. Dark doors stretched down the corridor, and half way flashed a green sign for the stairs.

Macro checked his map, the green overlay vibrant against the ivory walls. The information Surge had sent him told him the disk was contained in the IT room on the second floor, locked inside a safe. The code was a mystery to him, it hadn't been provided. He wondered if the zigzagoon could have obtained it if she'd searched hard enough.

The stairs wound half way up, leaving a brief level of flat and a blind spot. As they turned around it, the leering reptilian face of a kommo-o loomed before them. His lips pulled back from a row of sharp, dagger-like teeth, and his body bounced up and down, every large scale on his body crashing down like a cymbal. Macro covered his ears and fell backwards into Anchor. The granbull roared and cowered over the smaller pokemon, his large paws pressed into either side of his head.

Macro's eyes snapped back open, fixing on the huge, gaping mouth of the scaly dragon. He leapt out from beneath Anchor and swung his horn right into the kommo-o's open maw. Teeth shattered against his horn and the clanging fizzled out into an erratic clash as the dragon rolled away from him.

The kommo-o gathered himself quickly, rolling onto all-fours. His muzzle creased in a sneer, flashing his broken canines. He wiped blood from his mouth and opened it wide, sending out a stream of flames. Macro ducked beneath them, flinching as they brushed over his horn. Anchor grunted and threw himself over his head, landing in the thick of the dragon's fire. His pink fur was singed black around his shoulders and ears, but he brought his sparking gauntlet down into the kommo-o's head. Once. Twice.

The kommo-o's jaws locked around Anchor's wrist, digging into his flesh. He grimaced and brought his head into the reptile's nose. He yelped, releasing his fist. Anchor brought it back down for a third crack to his jaw. The large reptile keeled sideways, his tongue lolling in the air as he crashed into the floor with an almighty clatter.

Anchor beat himself down, sending up small puffs of soot, and stared down at the large lizard.

"Put up a fight, this one," he said as he nudged the reptile's large foot with his own. "The last time you were up against a kommo-o, you took it down in one hit."

"Yeh, well." Macro moved past him to check the door. "Last time I had enough time to think and enough space to catch it with a 'play rough'. This time, I had to resort to an 'iron head', instead."

Anchor slumped against the door and let out a ragged sigh. Macro looked up at him, one paw resting on the door's handle.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I think that guy poisoned me." He rubbed at his wrist and glanced down at the unconscious dragon.

Macro frowned and turned back to the door. "I didn't bring supplies. Call Matrix and ask him to pick you up. I'll go on alone."

"Screw that." Anchor dragged himself from the door and shoved it open. "I can hang on. I ain't no invalid."

"All right…"

Anchor frowned at the hesitation in Macro's voice and trudged down the dark corridor. Macro followed after him, his claws fastened tight around his laser. Dim light flowed in from the square through narrow windows, creating long shadows across the far wall. Each room they passed was just as dark as the ones on the ground floor. Macro wondered how much light the building got during the day. It felt depressing, despite the white walls. At least on this floor it didn't stink of oil.

A soft ring came from his ear piece and a green dot flashed steadily on his map overlay. The IT room was on their right. He paused by the door and peered through the dark window. Lights flashed from a machine against the far wall, and one of the holoscreens was lit up with a dim, grey light. He guessed the kommo-o had been using it since he couldn't see any other pokemon in the room.

He shoved the door open and slipped inside before Anchor. Not a pokemon in sight.

"Pretty lax on guards for a government digs," said Anchor.

"I'm not gonna complain," said Macro.

He scurried across the room towards the flashing machine and checked over it for any sign of the safe. It was connected to something. An alarm, or every computer in the room. If it was the latter, then it was pretty retro. Most computers had built-in hard drives to keep them compact, and almost every scrap of data was saved to a wireless network called The Stars.

Anchor's breathing was coming in raspy bursts as he paced around the room, keeping one eye on the door while searching for the safe. Whatever the kommo-o had injected into him was rapidly taking effect.

"She definitely said in here?" he asked.

"Yup." Macro moved along the wall, feeling for a light switch. "That's not to say they haven't moved it, however."

Anchor let out a snort. "That would be a waste of time."

"I know. So keep looking."

The granbull returned to the door and slammed his paw into the light panel, filling the room with light. Macro raised a paw to shield his eyes and gave Anchor a thankful nod. He searched around the room with his eyes again and they lit up as a huge grin spread across his face.

"I found it!" he cheered.

He dived across the room back to the flickering machine and stared up at a huge white, cast iron door set in the wall. It was no wonder he hadn't seen it. In the dark, it looked like any other area of wall. It lay flush beside the machine. The dial to unlock it was hidden behind a lock shield that could be easily pushed aside by any paw.

"Could I borrow you, Anchor?" he said. "I need to stand on your shoulders to reach this."

"You can't use a chair?" The granbull wiped a paw across his forehead, scattering beads of sweat onto the tiled floor.

Macro looked him up and down then cast a solemn look around the room.

"They all have wheels," he said. "I can't exactly stack them."

"All right." Anchor trudged over to him and lifted him onto his shoulders. "Make it fast."

The mawile shoved the lock guard aside and eyed the ancient contraption. All safes were much the same. A large, rotatory lock that you had to turn in a highly specific combination. They'd been around for centuries and hadn't evolved much at all. Why change something that worked?

It certainly made his job easier.

He pressed his ear to the cold metal and turned the lock, listening for the tell-tale clicks. They were usually formed of eight numbers. That was something that had changed. The codes had become longer, leaving more time for the authorities to catch thieves in action.

Two down. The room was oddly silent, unnerving. He wanted to listen for any oncoming attacks, but he needed all his attention to remain focused on the safe. He glanced down at Anchor as he slowly turned the dial. The granbull was still visibly sweating and he looked like he was going to keel over at any moment.

Three clicks.

"Take my laser," he told Anchor. "In case anyone runs in."

The larger pirate reached up to Macro's belt and pulled his right laser free. It seemed tiny in his massive paws, but it would get the job done.

Five clicks.

A shadow fell over them and he instinctively looked over at the door. The kommo-o… he tutted, keeping all his attention on the safe. Six clicks.

The large reptile filled the room with his clanging scales, the obnoxious sound reverberating off the bare walls. The machine beside them began to sizzle and its lights went out, along with the fluorescent bulbs sending down a shower of tiny shards. They cut into Macro's flesh and he flinched, straining to ignore the jabbing pain.

Anchor raised his laser and fired, striking the kommo-o on the chest. It was enough to stop the clanging, but it left Macro's ears ringing. He barely heard the seventh click. He pressed his ear and left shoulder flat against the door, turning the dial carefully.

The kommo-o regathered himself, flashing his broken canines. This reptile's insistence was becoming ridiculous. Before he could clang his heavy scales together once more, Anchor fired another water laser into his face. The reptile shook his head, his large scales grating together like claws on slate.

Eight clicks.

The lock lifted and Macro pulled it open, revealing disk after disk, each tiny chip-card sorted into plastic boxes. His heart sank. Where would he even begin? His eyes flashed to the dragon pokemon and he narrowed his eyes. First thing was first, he needed to get rid of the distraction.

He threw himself off Anchor's shoulders and vaulted the computer desks one by one until his horn locked around the reptile's throat. He swung him over his head twice then launched him from the room. His large body struck the wall and he slid down it, unconscious.

Macro marched back over to the safe, beating his long fur down with his paws.

"Right," he said as he looked over the stacks of plastic boxes. "Now to sort through all this mess."

Anchor reached up and pulled the top-most box down. On it was written 'miscellaneous'.

Macro took it and muttered under his breath, "Smart ***."

It only contained five chip cards, each one clearly labeled with a number. All but one. One was entirely blank. He turned it around in his claws and looked back down at the disks labeled one to four. Only one memory disk was stored in each facility. It only made sense that the disk Socket would have sent to them would be the unlabeled one. Why make it clear which disk it is, if she wanted to keep it away from DL?

Nevertheless, he pocketed the lot, stuffing them into his pouch.

"All right, let's get out of this dump." He stuffed the empty box back into the safe and slammed the heavy door.

Anchor handed his laser back. The handle was sweaty and Macro absently wiped it on his scarf before holding it ready at his side. He bolted from the room, pausing in the doorway. The door to the stairs flew open, revealing the blaziken and two passimian. Macro tutted. Where had the two apes come from?

Flames lit up the corridor from the blaziken's beak and Macro ducked back into the room. Once they'd fizzled out, he poked his head around the door and fired his laser, striking the large rooster on the beak. He wiped at it with his claws and shook his head, taking a step back.

The two passimian shrieked and rushed at him, throwing their heavy, round berry stones. Macro ducked and bolted away from the stairs, searching his map for the nearest exit. Each stone bounced off the walls and the monkey pokemon snatched them back with acrobatic leaps, catching them in their tails and sending them down towards the two pirates.

Anchor smashed one aside with his gauntlets, the electricity splitting it like a tamato berry.

The map flashed the next exit, revealing it to be at the end of the corridor, but it led out to the back of the building. The mawile tutted. That was the one place he didn't want to go. He quickly fired up a message to Wildcard Gamma with their estimated co-ordinates and pounded the floor with his feet, propelling himself away from the passimian and blaziken.

More flames lit up the corridor, baking the air and searing across his shoulders. He heard Anchor grunt behind him and he quickly fired another water laser at the blaziken. This time it hit one of the passimian, knocking him out of the air mid-leap. The blaziken merely leapt over his fallen comrade, bringing a blazing foot down towards Anchor. Macro turned one-eighty and pulled out his second laser, firing two streams of blue into the blaziken's torso. The large bird crashed onto the floor, the impact knocking the air out of his lungs.

The second passimian leapt over the giant rooster, his mouth open wide and revealing two rows of sharp teeth. Anchor swung his arm towards him and the ape's jaws locked over his gauntlet. The primate shrieked and fell back, wiping a paw across his mouth and fixing the two space pirates in a vicious leer.

Macro turned and kept running, reaching the door before the three pokemon could pick themselves back up. The back stairs were as white as the rest of the building, lit up with an emergency light that flickered weakly. He kicked the bar over the door, setting off the building's alarm. It whirred ominously and the entire building woke up as every light leading to the emergency exits flared to life.

Just like Anchor had predicted, the back of the building was barred off with high walls. Sat at the far end of the courtyard was a large tank painted with a red flame and the words 'danger'.

Oil.

Macro's face split into a grin and he turned his back on it to face the blaziken and his two allies. More pokemon vaulted the wall. Mankey, primeape, hawlucha, hitmonchan… but each one of them froze as the mawile aimed his laser at the tank.

Fear flashed in their eyes and many of them took a step back, bracing themselves to run. Even the blaziken. The flames on his wrists fizzled out and he raised his claws to his chest.

"Come on then!" Macro roared. "What are you waiting for? Or are you too scared?"

The blaziken's beak pulled up into a sneer. "You wouldn't do it. You'd blow us all up."

Macro chuckled. "You underestimate me."

Anchor doubled over beside him, placing his paws on his knees, but the look he gave him was filled with scepticism. Macro winked and looked back up at the group of fighting pokemon. Several of the mankey vanished back into the streets and he couldn't see a single hitmonchan any more. The blaziken looked from Macro to the tank and back. Useless. All their attacks were useless. The only ones they could use that would do anything to the mawile were fire attacks, and not one of them was going to risk that next to a flammable tank of oil. Macro threw his head back and laughed, a hysterical laugh that drew another glance from the granbull. One hit, and the entire thing would go up in flames. The damage a tank that size could do would be devastating.

Neon pink flashed on his vision and he reached up to grab the ladder. He fixed the fighting pokemon with a grin, keeping his laser focused on the tank as the ladder whipped the space pirates back up towards his ship. The blaziken's roar filled the air and he stamped his feet on the ground along with the mankey and primeape. Macro laughed again and sheathed his laser, just in time for Wildcard Gamma to draw them inside.

One memory disk down. Four more to go. This was going to be too easy.
 
Top