Not a member yet? Why not Sign up today
Create an account  

 
Pokémon Anima Ex Machina: The Thread

#1
Bringing this right back for the revision blitz! For those of you who don't know, this is my monster sci-fi fic, viewable on the main site. I'm trying to get up to a weekly schedule in terms of updates for at least the revision blitz, but I'm terrible with schedules. In any case, the material you'll see here will differ from the site's slightly, sometimes even drastically for certain chapters, until I get off my arse and code everything for site viewing.

Be warned! This fic contains a lot of violence. While most chapters are okay (and come without a warning), others are rated R for gore. You'll be notified which ones those are in the heading as well as in the chapter list.

In the meantime, enjoy, and feel free to leave feedback here. I'll typically need all the feedback I can get before I post stuff to the main site.


Chapter List


Zero: I'll bring down the stars for you.

Twilight broke into night over Hoenn in waves: blue swallowed by red, red swallowed by black. One by one, taillow retreated to the trees for sleep, giving way to zubat darting across the black sky in search of prey. Street lamps and fluorescent lights flickered on in the cities, and above them, white dots began to appear gradually in the night sky.

One of those dots moved.

The meteor in question sported the size and approximate mass of a small car. That, along with the fact that its path crossed neatly with Earth's, had kept astronomers' eyes on it for several months prior to its destined approach. For the past twenty-four hours, the city closest to the estimated point of impact, Fortree City, remained completely deserted save for some of the area's wild pokémon. The flying-types had been gone, of course, as were the linoone and the mightyena packs. As for the rest? The water-types kept to the lake, knowing they couldn't wander much further than that without risking territory wars with wailmer, and the grass-types and kecleon, neither of whom were particularly known for their mobility, didn't have much further to go than sticking to the surrounding forests and hope for the best.

What was strange was the fact that most of the absol stayed behind. Absol had the capability of relocating. They knew they could move and feed off of whatever they found along the way. It was just that only a handful of them actually left the area. All of them looked towards the sky for months, as if knowing already that no matter where they went, it wouldn't matter.

Standing atop a hill, within a circle of rocks countless years old, was one of these absol. He shifted on his paws as the cold but familiar feeling of dread sank into his bones. The minutes ticked away, but he could do nothing during that time except watch. He didn't bother to warn anyone, in part because he couldn't tell where the meteor was going to land and in part because of that feeling of inevitability that was plaguing his pack for all that time. It wasn't just the meteor, he felt. There was something else, but for the life of him, he couldn't pinpoint what.

Above him, the meteor punched through a cloud and streaked closer in a brilliant ball of red and white. Looking up, the absol hesitated. He certainly didn't expect the meteor to arrive so soon. Jolting into action, he burst into a run down the face of the hill, his claws scraping against dirt and rock. To his side, the meteor fell rapidly, descending hundreds of feet in seconds towards the soft earth.

He barely reached the edge of the lake some distance from the base of the hill when the meteorite landed. The ground beneath his paws shook violently as a cloud of red dust spewed towards the heavens and quickly engulfed the area. In the distance, a great crack and subsequent crash signaled the literal fall of Fortree City, shaken free from its perch in the trees of the forest. Unable to ground himself, the absol flew through the air and landed awkwardly on a paw. His mouth opened to release a loud cry, but it was drowned by the rumbling of aftershocks and the screams of dying pokémon farther north.

The absol lay on the earth for what felt like hours as he watched the red cloud of dust above him fade. Eventually, he tried to move, but his body ached. One of his paws was definitely injured -- the back one that was already beginning to swell. He whimpered as he limped north, back towards the remains of his home.

Not far away, a hole stood in his path. It was mostly concealed by the dust still in the air, but he could just make out the shadow of its edge. Gingerly, he limped on his twisted paw towards it. He whined, not only from the pain shooting up his leg but also from the familiar, cold feeling in his bones. The ground beneath his feet grew hotter until it was almost unbearable, but it wasn't the pain that made him hesitate a few yards away from the crater. It was fear. He stood, leaning more on his good paws as he stared directly at the red glow. At first, he thought it was simply from the intense heat emanating from the earth, but something was wrong about it. He could feel it.

Abruptly, the glow shifted. Instantly, the absol realized that it wasn't coming from the nearly molten rocks around the crater but instead from something inside it. A loud crack -- like the sound of rock being smashed with a sledgehammer -- filled the air, followed by a chorus of scratches. The absol tried to scramble backwards, but his weight came down on his bad paw. As soon as it did, he collapsed on his knees with a high-pitched whine. He closed his eyes tightly until the pain faded, but when he opened them, he found that it was too late to escape.

A massive, red wave had risen from inside of crater and lingered on its edge. Then, the mass rushed like a tsunami at the dark-type creature. With a whimper, the absol struggled to stand, but the small, red beads that flowed towards him were already washing against his legs. Small mouths tore into his flesh.

Instantly, his eyes widened. He threw back his head, and his high-pitched howl filled the air.

Then, shortly after the howl began, it ended abruptly. The pokémon surrounding Fortree City would have no other warning.

Neither would the rest of Hoenn.
Holmes: Punch me in the face.
Watson: Punch you?
Holmes: Yes! Punch me! In the face! Didn't you hear me?
Watson: I always hear "punch me in the face" when you're speaking, but it's usually subtext.
- Sherlock, "The Scandal in Belgravia"

The girl responsible for this atrocity to mankind. And this one. And these
Reply

#2
Warning! This is one of the chapters that gets the R rating for graphic violence. For the squeamish, feel free to scroll past this chapter or skip the part with the rattata.


One: It's a pleasure to meet you.

Polaris Institute existed before Project Stardust, but back then it mostly centered around technology, rather than the direct study of pokémon. However, when two mysterious pokémon suddenly appeared around the crash site of a fallen meteor in Hoenn, the government took an interest at once. Their interest – or, rather, panic – only grew when it was discovered that humans and native pokémon were disappearing at an alarming rate within the new creatures' territories. As a result, the government scrambled to commandeer one research facility in each region besides Hoenn, including Polaris Institute of Kanto. The best of the best in the Pokémon Symposium, the elite community of pokéologists across the country, were hand-picked by each center to lend their skills to the government in a time of desperation. Thus, their efforts became Project Stardust, the project geared towards studying the creature that threatened an entire region.

Ten months had passed since that day when each member of Polaris's team gathered to the circular citadel on Seafoam Island. Nine months had passed since an armored car rolled past the gates to deliver a metal box.

The box had since been removed, but the thing that was formerly within it now lived in the very heart of the institute, a circular building just beyond the two rings that made up the staff's living quarters. Even here, past the two outer layers with their own complicated systems of locks and gates, security remained absurdly tight. The corridors weaved inside the building like a giant, white maze of linoleum and sterilized air. Doors were thick, metal beasts with small signs next to them to tell them apart. High-tech security cameras hung above each door, their glass lenses sending scrutinizing gazes at heads of each passerby.

The locks were even more complex. Key card, thumbprint, iris: those were the keys to unlock every door in the inner chambers of Polaris Institute. It was of the utmost importance that the thing inside remained completely removed from the outside world – as opposed to keeping the people outside from getting inside, as most locks tend to do.

Outside one of the doors, a key card slipped through the slot on the side of the lock, and a pale thumb pressed against the silver thumb pad. Lights blinked while the panel above the thumb pad slipped upward to reveal a camera. Hands pulled back green, wavy hair as a heart-shaped face leaned forward. A red beam flashed from the lens and trailed down one dark eye before vanishing. Once the light faded, the man in front of the scanner straightened, his hands working their way into the pockets of his lab coat as he waited.

A female, computerized voice finally broke the silence of the hallway. "Identity confirmed. Welcome, Professor McKenzie."

The door slid open, and the figure stepped into a room full of machinery.

Even though he looked too young to have graduated from high school, the truth was that Professor William McKenzie had established himself in the scientific community years before joining Polaris's team. That was half of the reason why the Symposium was so intrigued by him. By the time he had received his title – four years ago, shortly before he first met Ash Ketchum – he had written no fewer than six papers and one book on the subject of ancient pokémon behavior, and all of his work presented ideas that practically solved a number of mysteries in the field of paleo-pokéology. Even more extraordinary was the fact that the first of those papers had been published when he was only a senior in his undergraduate career. Because he was twelve at the time.

That alone would have garnered him plenty of attention from the Symposium, but he hardly stopped there. Borrowing concepts from Dr. Minoru Akihabara, the mastermind behind the Pokémon Transfer System, Professor McKenzie had teamed up with an equally young programmer and pokéologist from Hoenn to invent a device that would quickly revolutionize pokémon training as people knew it then. It was simple in its concept: take Akihabara's system and remove the necessity for having a home point – a place where pokémon would need to be kept in a physical form. In its place, McKenzie and his partner, Professor Lanette Chastain, had developed a means of storing pokémon digitally, in a secure online database that could be accessed by users at any time from any place that had a computer. They called it the PC Pokémon Storage System, but many globe-trotting trainers called it a godsend. While a number of people still used Akihabara's subsequently obsolete system, the fact that the two programmers had had developed a means of storing pokémon safely and securely in what was essentially suspended animation for extended periods of time had netted them both places in the Pokémon Symposium.

But Professor McKenzie hated titles and credentials, and he felt embarrassed when other people flaunted his track record for him. It was too formal for his tastes; he didn't want to be thought of as someone on the same level as Professors Rowan, Elm, Birch, Juniper, and others. He knew he had more than enough to learn about his own field, so he shied away from comparing himself to them. For this reason, he insisted on being known by a less formal name, a name he had picked up in college: Bill.

He had hoped it would make people feel more comfortable around him, but of course, there were still many people who objected to his inclusion in the Symposium. Some researchers felt his method of using costumes to emulate pokémon was making light of pokéology, as if he was mocking the field or refusing to take it seriously. Others said that he was too inexperienced, that his techniques kept him from learning how to work with real pokémon, and that by divorcing himself from his subjects that much, he risked losing the sense of empathy every pokéologist possessed when working with pokémon. The controversy nearly caused the Japanese government to skip over him in recruiting researchers for Project Stardust, but luckily for him he had one powerful backer.

"Good morning, Bill!"

Bill lifted his eyes towards the end of the room, past the rows of humming machines. A window spread across the far side, creating a deep, white indentation in the wall, and by one end of it stood an old man with near-black eyes. Professor Oak's wrinkled face drew into a wide grin as he motioned for Bill to come forward. With a small nod, Bill took a few more steps into the laboratory, but before he could go any further, another voice rose from the side.

"McKenzie!" A woman turned fully from the machinery at the side of the room to address him. "Do you realize what time it is?"

At once, Bill cringed, taking a step back towards the door. He wasn't normally shy around his fellow scientists, but Professor Yvonne Nettle, one of those Symposium members who didn't exactly support him wholeheartedly, had that sort of effect on almost everyone. Behind a pair of oval-framed glasses, her hazel eyes flashed angrily at Bill. Her oval face contracted into a deep frown as she crossed her thin arms. In many ways, her entire being reminded Bill of fragments of glass: the smaller and thinner they were, the more someone had to worry about crossing them.

"Yes, Professor," he finally replied. "Half past ten in the morning."

The long fingers of her right hand began to drum on her left elbow. "When were you scheduled to arrive here?"

Bill paused, swallowing hard. "Half past... ten?"

"Yes." Nettle narrowed her eyes. "And what time is it now?"

Right then, Bill's blood felt cold in his veins. What time? Wasn't it half past ten? Reaching into the pocket of his lab coat, Bill pulled out a silver pocket watch. He pressed his lips together and found himself trembling slightly as he glanced at its face. The hour hand was almost to eleven, but the minute hand sat comfortably between the eight and nine. Immediately, the color drained from his cheeks, and he found he couldn't speak. How could he have lost track of that much time?

Nettle, meanwhile, knitted her eyebrows and set her jaw.

"McKenzie," she said. Her voice lowered in volume, but it was still winter-cold. "If you wish to be a fully recognized pokémon researcher, then you should learn that punctuality and professionalism in the laboratory–"

Oak stepped forward. "Excuse me, Professor Nettle."

Immediately, Nettle stopped and looked at her superior. Her eyebrows rose at Oak's sudden interruption.

"Don't be too hard on him," Oak said. "After all, a real researcher is never late."

Nettle's expression softened slightly. "With all due respect, Professor Oak, that's exactly my point. A real researcher is always on time, which is why McKenzie should be taught to arrive promptly, when he promised to arrive."

Oak smiled. "All I mean is that a researcher is never late because he arrives precisely when he means to."

"Given that we're working for the government, surely we should take into consideration a strict schedule."

"Ah." Oak nodded. "Considering the government, yes, I think we should consider the time he arrived compared to when he was scheduled to work here."

Nettle suppressed a smile as she turned her attention back towards Bill. Her subordinate cringed again. He knew the worst part of his day was just about to begin.

"And in that case, we should consider the fact that Bill was actually on time then too," Oak added.

Nettle turned her head sharply towards Oak. "I'm sorry?"

Even Bill had to send his superiors an odd expression. After all, his watch was in perfect working condition. He made sure of that. It was his mental clock that needed adjusting.

Oak took off his watch and offered it to Nettle with a firm nod. "Absolutely. Check my watch if you'd like."

Without a word, Nettle reached for the leather strap of the watch. Her mouth opened slightly as she examined the face. On it, the hour hand pointed towards the eleven, but the minute hand nestled itself between six and seven. If it was correct, then Bill would have arrived shortly before 10:30 in order to endure the conversation until the minute hand ticked to 10:31. Realizing this, Nettle handed Oak his watch.

"Maybe your watch is a few minutes fast," Oak said with a shrug as he put his watch back on. "You should be careful about that, Professor Nettle. You know how the other teams feel about interruptions, and I'd hate to break up another argument if you go back to Laboratory F to find the biochemistry team still there, especially when we're getting along so well today."

"Right," Nettle said with a slow nod. "Right then."

She glared at Bill. He still appeared heavily confused, and that expression alone tried Nettle's patience. Nonetheless, she hid that fact well.

"McKenzie, I'll assume you've been briefed about Experiment #22a already. Prepare to record observations."

Leaving it at that, she turned and walked briskly to the other side of the room. Bill watched her lean over someone else to check a computer screen.

"You can relax now," Oak said. "She'll go easy on you for this experiment."

At Oak's consent, Bill exhaled a breath he didn't even realize he was holding. "Professor... thank you. You lied for me."

Oak pulled up his sleeve to examine his watch. With his large fingers, he pulled out the pin in its side and twisted the head to turn the hands back to their original positions.

"Eh, I should have known you would notice. Luckily for you, Professor Nettle didn't." He pushed the pin back in. "Bill, I know you don't mean to do it, but please, for your sake, try not to get Professor Nettle worked up again. It'd help to keep the peace between you and your teammates when I can't step in myself."

Bill lowered his head. He felt the heat of a blush cross his cheeks. "I understand."

"It's different, working in a team compared to working freelance, especially if the laboratory is government or corporation-owned and operated, and I want you to realize that. As harsh as she may seem to you, Professor Nettle is right. There are certain rules you need to follow in order to work well with the rest of your team."

Inside, Bill felt himself flinch. It was one thing to be scolded by Professor Nettle, an individual who was perpetually in a sour mood, but it was a different thing altogether to be scolded by Professor Samuel Oak. For one, Oak rarely felt the need to reprimand his colleagues and subordinates, although his typically jovial personality was slowly being worn away by the stress that came with his position as Polaris's director for the duration of Project Stardust. For another, even without that title, Oak was the foremost figure in the field of pokéology aside from Professor Rowan. To receive praise from Oak was the ultimate affirmation for a pokémon researcher. To receive criticism meant that one had a long way to go.

"Yes, professor," Bill said after a long pause.

Sensing the youth's discomfort, Oak's stern face cracked into a warm smile. "You'll learn," Oak assured him. "Ah, the innocence of youth. It reminds me of a poem, actually. Would you like–"

Bill couldn't decide whether it was a relief or impending doom that Nettle's voice suddenly interrupted.

"Excuse me, Professor Oak," she said. She stood stiffly a few feet away, and her voice was strained, as if she was struggling to keep the sharpness out of her words. "With all due respect, we need McKenzie at his station now."

Oak's smile grew, and without warning, he tilted back on his feet to laugh. His deep, rumbling voice bubbled over every other noise in the laboratory. A few of the other scientists even looked up to watch him close his eyes and rub the back of his neck.

"Oh yes! I'm sorry. You're absolutely right." He opened his eyes and glanced towards his protégé. "Well, Bill, go on! Work hard for Hoenn's sake! I don't expect anything less than excellence from you."

The director probably didn't realize it, but Bill had definitely heard that line of encouragement before, uttered to another researcher who felt the cold, hard snap of Professor Nettle's voice. Nonetheless, Oak's smile and tone were enough to let Bill ease from humiliation-born anxiety to a slightly more comfortable zone. He responded with his own smile – albeit a somewhat more timid one – and nodded.

"Right. Thank you, professor."

He walked briskly to his station in a corner of the laboratory. Oak stood back, smiling as he waited for the experiment to begin. Professor Nettle, meanwhile, harbored a far icier expression on her face as she glared directly at the window in front of her and clenched her teeth at the sound of Oak's tone towards Bill.

Even the other members of the psychology-ethology team couldn't quite understand how Nettle became their leader. Granted, she was nearing fifty and had almost as many awards and degrees as she did years on Earth, but it was widely known throughout the complex that she simply wasn't leadership material. A lot of it had to do with the way she treated people. She had previously been a field researcher, known mostly for her endeavors to understand jynx communication patterns, and she was more used to handling ice-types than humans thanks to her years of isolation in the frozen north. Bill wasn't the only one who noticed she lacked much in the way of mercy; it was a whispered joke that she could relate more to the jynx than any human being. She was cold. She was relentless. She demanded perfection from her colleagues as if she didn't expect a single one of them to be capable of delivering.

"McKenzie?" she said sharply as she looked away from the window.

Bill recoiled as he settled at his station across the room. The observational deck of Laboratory D was just large enough for the five scientists working on the psychology aspect of Kanto's Project Stardust, yet with Nettle so close by, Bill felt just a little awkward being there, as if the space was smaller than it actually was. He turned towards Nettle and tried to look as professional as possible.

"Yes, Professor Nettle?" he asked.

She eyed him with a serious, nearly suspicious gaze. "Are you ready?"

Turning back to his station, Bill placed his hands on the keyboard of the computer in front of him. With a few quick key strokes, he brought the machine back to life, and a few more let him through its digital security system. The black screen was quickly replaced by a desktop sparsely populated with icons. Bill ignored most of these graphics as he keyed in a few more commands to fill the screen with two boxes. One was a blank document, and the other was a box with a video feed of an open, white room. In the middle of the room were two clear boxes: one of them held a purple and white rat pawing at the sides of its cage, while the other...

He tried not to think about it as he switched to the blank document.

"I'm ready, professor," he finally said.

Nettle nodded. "Very well." She turned away from him. "Professor Fig, stand by for release. Everyone else, this will be Experiment #22a: Hunting Tactics of XP-650. Are you ready?"

All four of her colleagues promptly replied, "Yes, professor."

"Good." She nodded. "Open both of the doors, Professor Fig."

Fig turned his bright blue eyes towards a large console at his work station. His large hand rose and hit the smooth face of a red button with a fleshy palm.

"Doors released," he said as he slowly turned back to his monitor.

Nettle touched her chin as she watched through the window at the far end of the laboratory. Beyond it was the exact same thing Bill was seeing on his computer screen: a large, open room with solid, white walls and a concrete floor. Sitting in the middle of the room were the very same boxes.

One side on each respective cube swung outward, and the cautious rattata in the first box was the first to move. He crawled into the open, twitching his long whiskers as he blinked at the strange creature in the other box. The creature clacked its numerous legs to pull itself forward from Plexiglas onto concrete. It had no eyes, yet it seemed to be staring at the rattata. A cold feeling settled in the prey's heart as he crept towards his left with his own eyes fixed on the red creature.

Suddenly, the thing leapt at him. With a screech, the rattata lunged towards the open space to the side. His paws scrambled desperately as his small heart beat against his chest in the mad dash for safety. Yet even with his speed, he felt the searing pain of eight small, sharp needles planting themselves into the flesh of his shoulder. He screamed again, and his eyes widened at the bulbous creature resting on his body. His legs still pounded in a frantic, tumbling run as something slid under his skin and sucked on his veins. No matter what he did, including bashing his shoulder into the cement, the creature refused to let go.

Thanks to rapid blood loss, the rattata's movements became sluggish, eventually slowing to the point where he could only stumble inch by inch towards his box. He didn't make it all the way back to the Plexiglas cube; just before his paws could drag him inside, he collapsed and closed his eyes.

"Dear God," Nettle whispered. "How long was that?"

"Two minutes, forty-seven seconds," Fig recited.

Bill's fingers clacked on the keyboard to record the number. Then, he glanced at the video feed on his monitor again. Curiosity got the best of him, and he tapped his mouse over and clicked a button to zoom in. He had hoped to get a better view of what the parasite was doing, but instead, a strange feeling settled in his stomach. Right away, he felt his face blanch. He wanted to turn away, but he couldn't stop himself from watching the flickering image of the creature consuming the rattata from the inside out. Gradually, it crawled up the rodent's side, ripping the flesh as it went until the ribs and the slick insides were exposed. Bill had seen a vast number of different things since he became a pokémon researcher, but he had never seen a pokémon consume live prey with such clean efficiency. Not a drop of blood was spilled, and the alien cut through skin with the deftness of a surgeon.

Already feeling lightheaded, Bill covered his mouth with a hand, but he still couldn't tear his eyes away from the creature. When it began to ooze a luminescent, green gel into the wound, Bill leaned back in his chair and shuddered, catching Oak's attention again.

"Bill?" he murmured.

Taking a breath, Bill pushed away from his station and stood.

"Excuse me for a moment," he said quietly.

Without any further explanation, Bill quickly walked out of the room.

---

"Stop it."

Bill hunched over the sink in a bathroom down the hall. Moving his hands beneath the silver faucet, he watched the red sensor blink and beep. Cold water sprayed over his hands and into the granite basin beneath them. Cupping his hands, he caught enough water to splash his face before grabbing a paper towel from a small pile next to the sink. With the towel pressed against his skin, he straightened his back and took a few more deep breaths. Slowly, he peered over the edge of the paper, catching sight of his reflection in the mirror that occupied the wall space above the sinks. Despite everything he did to calm himself, he still looked paler than usual.

Sighing, he crumpled the paper towel and tossed it into a garbage can by the door in the corner. Then, he turned back to the mirror and placed his hands on both sides of the sink.

"You're a trained researcher," he said to himself. "You've been studying pokémon for years. Why are you having this reaction now? Is it any different from watching a scyther hunt?"

His mind wandered back to the images he saw on his computer. He thought about the creature slicing open the rattata, about the sight of the rat's innards, about the green gel oozing into the wound.

A queasy feeling churned his stomach, and he doubled over to gag into the sink. It took a good portion of his will not to throw up; instead, he coughed and took a few gasps of air. After a few moments of this, he shook his head and looked up to stare at his reflection again.

"All right. Perhaps it is," he murmured. "But haven't you seen worse? How many years have you worked on the field, and why are you reacting like this now?"

He shut his eyes tightly and shook his head for a second time. Gingerly, he straightened his back once more.

"Right. You need to do this, Bill. It's why you're here."

Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and looked at his reflection again. Already, color was beginning to come back to his cheeks.

"There. That's it. Just remember, what can possibly go wrong? You're doing this as a scientist. There's no reason to be afraid of it."

Nodding, he smiled at himself and turned towards the door.

"Nearly fainting at a pokémon's hunting behavior. Honestly, Bill, what kind of researcher are you?"

Pulling open the door, he took a deep breath, kept his eyes on the floor, and began walking out of the bathroom under the assumption he was alone. After all, it was during lab hours. Most personnel were normally occupied in one room or another.

Except, apparently, for the three fairly large lab assistants who suddenly grabbed him as soon as he took his first step into the hallway.
Holmes: Punch me in the face.
Watson: Punch you?
Holmes: Yes! Punch me! In the face! Didn't you hear me?
Watson: I always hear "punch me in the face" when you're speaking, but it's usually subtext.
- Sherlock, "The Scandal in Belgravia"

The girl responsible for this atrocity to mankind. And this one. And these
Reply

#3
Two: Helter-skelter, birds flew off with the fallout shelter.

That day, Bill decided, was not his day. As far as he could tell, the people who had just ambushed him were certainly not normal assistants, and he wondered briefly how he could have missed them. All three of them were large men; each were at least a foot taller than he was and built like football players underneath their starched, white lab coats and sea-green scrubs. They knew their size was an advantage too. As they walked Bill along the corridor, they kept themselves close enough to him that he could sense them towering over him, just from the heat of their breath on the top of his head. To make matters worse, one of the assistants placed a hand on his shoulder to make it appear as if the group was only meeting casually, but Bill felt the man's meaty thumb and forefinger grip the flesh by the sweep of his neck to the point where it was almost excruciatingly painful.

There were a few reasons why Bill didn't scream or cry for help. One of them was because the assistant – the one who held Bill's shoulder and chattered away about his excitement concerning the project – tensed his hand over his captive's collarbone every time the group passed the occasional Polaris employee. It felt like his companion was trying to poke through his skin to the major artery underneath, and Bill knew that one good squeeze there would bring him to his knees. The touch itself wouldn't knock him out, but he knew it would stun him just enough to give the men an opportunity to do something else to him. He didn't want to think about what "something else" might have been if he became any more vulnerable than he already was, even out in the open corridor.

Another reason was because the third bulky assistant, the tallest of the three, walked behind the group at a distance that cast a shadow directly over the scientist in its middle, even when they passed beneath the hallway's lights. Bill didn't have to look back to know that the top of his head barely reached the man's chest, and he had a feeling that meant the man could easily reach up and twist his head off with the same amount of effort one might use to turn a doorknob.

This was, of course, ignoring the third reason: the fact that any resistance Bill would have put up would be met with three football players beating him into submission. The simple fact of the matter was that Bill was by no means a fighter. He had no pokémon or weapons on his person; Polaris's security measures meant that someone of his rank wasn't authorized to carry any. Besides that, aside from a few self-defense lessons in college and a lifetime of watching B-list kung fu movies, he had absolutely no unarmed combat training.

In short, he was screwed.

Silently, he let himself be led to a laboratory further down the hallway. Whatever scientists the group encountered along the way took one look at the four of them and continued to scurry away towards another laboratory. Bill couldn't blame them. Aside from the fact that the assistants went out of their way to make the walk seem like a casual stroll between a researcher and three enthusiastic interns, all of the employees they passed were focused on their own jobs and their own tasks at Polaris, so in a way, his captors' entire attempt to look at all friendly was rather unnecessary in Bill's view. Of course, he couldn't bring himself to say a word on the matter. All he could do was play along because it meant that at the end of the day, he would walk away with his body intact.

He hoped, anyway.

At the door, the second assistant swiped a card and proceeded through the rest of the security measures. Bill watched with mild interest. He didn't know who these people were, but he at least understood from this procedure that they hadn't broken in. Once the iris scan finished and the computer's feminine voice chimed a name Bill couldn't quite catch, the door swung open, and he calmly passed through the threshold without another glance towards his three captors.

Right after the door closed behind the group, all pretenses were dropped. Bill was shoved forward, into a group of waiting hands. Looking up, Bill found himself surrounded by a large crowd of people, and almost all of them wore the lab coats and sea-green scrubs that identified them as assistants. Only one of them was any different, a male security officer who stood by the door with his hands clasped behind his back. With one glance at the latter, Bill felt the sick feeling in his stomach grow a little worse.

Only now did he begin to react to his situation. Trembling, he glanced around in order to piece everything together. He couldn't see much of the room thanks to how many people were crowding it, but as far as he could tell, it was nearly identical to Laboratory D, with the only difference being a tank of red water instead of a window to a concrete room. Backing up as much as the hands that now held him would allow, Bill immediately recognized where he was based on that window alone.

"Laboratory F," he murmured. "This is where they keep XP-650, isn't it?"

"Very good. You know your way around Polaris Institute already."

He looked straight ahead to the source of the voice. The crowd parted just enough to allow him to view a space that extended across the room. At the opposite end of the space, a petite blonde woman sauntered forward. One of her pale hands reached into a pocket of her lab coat, and with fluid movement, she brought out a black PDA and slid its stylus into her opposite hand. Her purple eyes shifted her gaze to the device's screen as she tapped a few options.

"Now, let's see. Who are you?" she asked. "Oh! Profile match already!"

She looked up and flashed a smile at Bill. Although her face looked like a young girl's, something about that smile made Bill shudder. The expression was just a little too wide and showed just a bit too much of her clean, white teeth. Or perhaps it was the fact that the girl looked a little too innocent with curly, golden pigtails caressing the sides of a round face, yet she was in a room full of kidnappers. It reminded him of victreebel: the kind of thing that lured prey in by looking appealing just before killing them off with one swift blow.

"Don't you just love technology?" she asked, using the same tone a girl would use with her best friend. "Of course you would. It says here your specialty, other than pokémon behavior, is pokémon-related technology. I'm a big fan of that storage system of yours, Professor McKenzie. It's a shame we can't talk about it. I know someone who'd be very interested in learning everything you could teach him. Speaking of which..."

She pocketed the device in her hands and walked forward, brushing past Bill to approach the assistants behind him. Bill turned to face her, intending on speaking to her, but before he could move, two of the other grunts wrenched his arms behind his back.

"Whose brilliant idea was it to grab him before identifying him?" the blonde demanded.

All three of Bill's former companions cringed. Not a single one of them said a word.

"Don't you know how valuable he could be to us? Giovanni isn't going to be happy," she snapped.

The tallest one wrung his hands. "Well, 009, ma'am, he was the first one we could grab, and you said–"

"Hmph." She turned away from the grunts. "Useless. All of you agents are useless. We can't just let him go and find a new subject because he's the kind of person who would talk, and we can't just capture him and keep him quiet because that'll be suspicious. I guess we have no other choice but to use him anyway."

At that, the girl Bill now knew as 009 turned her eyes back on him. Bill froze, noticing at once that her expression changed slightly. It wasn't the same childlike grin he had seen on her face just a moment ago. This time, her eyes were slanted, and her mouth was pulled into a smirk. As the girl walked towards him, Bill tried to pull himself away, but the assistants held him still.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, his voice strained and low. "Use... use me for what?"

The girl chuckled. "An experiment. Don't worry. It's all in the name of science, isn't it?"

"What?!"

Bill struggled, twisting his arms in an attempt to yank himself free, but the grunts gripped him tighter with every turn he made. Wincing, he doubled over and glared at the blonde, only to see an orange-haired woman step between them. In her hands was a long, glass capsule with metal ends. Within the capsule, XP-650 clicked its legs against the glass, scrambling to climb up a side. As soon as he saw the creature, his eyes widened.

"Wait! What are you doing?!" he asked.

The blonde grinned and took the capsule from her subordinate. "You have no idea what happens when XP-650 comes in contact with a human, do you? Of course you don't. The Committee's been keeping that kind of thing from you for reasons I can't even figure out, but allow me to let you in on a little secret of my own. Team Rocket has agents everywhere. We know a thing or two about this cutie pie. Soon, you will, too."

Bill knew at once what she was about to do, and with that realization, he tried to wrench his arms free again. "No! I won't let you! You won't get away with this!"

She arched a golden eyebrow and straightened her back. "'You won't get away with this'? Are you serious? What, do you think you're some kind of hero in a cheesy science-fiction movie? Oh, we'll get away with it, all right. In no time at all, you're going to be Team Rocket property. We've already got all the arrangements set to transport you out of the complex when the time's right. And who knows? If you keep your sanity after everything you're about to go through, Giovanni will even get the keys to Kanto and Johto's storage systems, so I think we could consider this a win for our side, couldn't we?"

Growling, he kicked the shin of one of the men gripping his arm. The grunt snorted, smiled, and responded by stomping Bill's foot. Right away, Bill was reminded of why he didn't try struggling as he was led there: the larger the opponent, the more painful it would be to get beaten to a bloody pulp. After only the foot stomp, Bill gritted his teeth and let loose a strained cry. His body leaned forward, but the grunts held his arms tightly enough to keep him upright. The burning pain that was developing in his shoulders as a result was only adding to the blinding one in his foot, and despite all of his nerves screaming at him at once, he could only shut his eyes tightly and whimper as his leg began to throb. Briefly, he wondered if his foot was broken, and if that was the case, that was certainly not going to make escaping any easier.

He realized a second too late that the pain was a distraction. Opening his eyes again, he found the orange-haired girl right in front of him. Her hands yanked his lab coat down his arms, tore off his cravat, and let the scarf flutter to the floor. Behind her, 009 flicked her wrist and slipped a black tulip into her free palm. The other hand held the capsule out for an aqua-haired man to grab. As soon as the capsule was out of her grasp, she turned her face to the side and hid her mouth behind the flower's black petals.

"Let's make this quick and easy, shall we?" she said. "We've got a mission, and you know how the boss doesn't like to clean up potential messes."

The orange-haired girl huffed and frowned. With a quick motion, she ripped open Bill's shirt and shoved him backwards. To his sides, the men holding him went with the movement, eventually pinning Bill to the tiled floor by his shoulders. At that point, Bill yelped and thrashed, attempting to use the shift in the grunts' grips as an opportunity to get away, but this only prompted more hands to reach out and hold him down to the floor. In the meantime, the aqua-haired man moved to position the capsule over Bill's bare chest. Upon feeling its cold, metal surface, Bill shivered and tried to squirm out of the way, but he knew it was no use now.

"Scream all you want, Professor McKenzie," 009 told him cheerfully. "That's what I really like about this place. It's so off-the-hook, isn't it? The walls are so thick and the doors so secure that you can scream and scream and not bother anyone! It's so exciting and secretive, don't you think?"

The man holding the capsule in place pressed a button on its base. Bill felt the opening in the capsule's base slide open. His breathing grew rapid as something scratched across his skin.

Please, he thought. Please no please no please no...

What he felt next was pure agony. It was like feeling a large, hot needle getting jammed into his chest. It was like being shot in the heart with Poison Sting. It was like getting molten lava pumped into his veins.

Bill was certain he screamed because he could feel his throat vibrate. He even saw several of the people around him flinch. It was simply that he was too terrified to let it register that he reacted physically. By the end of it, he was lying on the floor, breathing heavily and staring blankly at the ceiling. The pain dulled after a short time, but it was still there.

He could feel it crawling under his skin. Literally crawling.

The hands released him, but he didn't get up. Suddenly, he felt too weak to even move. All he could do was stare straight upwards while the people above him moved out of the way. 009's face floated into view, and before he knew it, she was kneeling next to him.

"Now, this next part is really going to hurt," she told him. "I'll tell you what, though. I'm going to be nice because Giovanni doesn't like it when his property gets damaged. So, before you do anything to yourself or anyone around you, I'm going to put you to sleep for a while. Okay?"

Naturally, Bill didn't answer. He barely moved his eyes to look at her.

She smiled. "Great. Good night!"

009 placed the blossom by his nose and squeezed the stem between her fingers. A cloud of blue, glittering spores puffed out of the flower, and although Bill would have easily identified it as an extract of Sleep Powder had he been fully aware, he did nothing except lie on his back and allow himself to breathe it in. As soon as the small, blue cloud disappeared, 009 stood.

"Already taking orders. I can tell this is going to be a wonderful relationship," she said. Then, to her subordinates, she barked, "Well, don't just stand there! Make this look like an accident! And you. We're gonna need a code red out there. Some idiot lab assistant dropped the container, and XP-650 escaped! Go!"

As the crowds of Team Rocket grunts filtered towards the door, Bill's head began to swim. His vision blurred, and it seemed to be made worse as he felt himself being picked up. The people who were moving him quickly turned into fuzzy blotches of color and then faded into shadows. Slowly but surely, every inch of him went numb. Part of him wanted to fight it, to stay awake and maybe stop the thing from creeping deeper inside him, but he knew that he had just as much a choice in the matter as he had since he was ambushed outside the bathroom: none at all.

Instead, he could only let his head fall back and his limbs go limp as his consciousness slipped away.
Holmes: Punch me in the face.
Watson: Punch you?
Holmes: Yes! Punch me! In the face! Didn't you hear me?
Watson: I always hear "punch me in the face" when you're speaking, but it's usually subtext.
- Sherlock, "The Scandal in Belgravia"

The girl responsible for this atrocity to mankind. And this one. And these
Reply

#4
Anima Ex Machina: Three
If you come across Pandora's Box, don't open it.


The alarms were still blaring when 009 darted into her apartment in the Outer Ring of Polaris Institute. She had already shifted command over to her mole in security. Now, she had more important things to worry about. Shutting the door behind her, she ran down the small hallway and into a bedroom furnished with only a cot and a dresser against the far wall. She rushed for the dresser and placed her hands on the knobs of its drawers, but before she could pull it open, she heard a cough.

Slowly, she straightened back. She peeked over her shoulder to see Professor Nettle standing in the doorway of the room. The woman’s arms were crossed, and her mouth was contracted into a small frown.

“Professor Nettle!” 009 gasped. “How did you get in here?!”

“Sloppy work, Black Tulip, especially for you,” the scientist replied. “You failed to lock your door just now.”

“Hmph!”

009 pulled the drawer open. She didn’t say a word; instead, she pulled a black case from under neatly folded clothes. Nettle squinted at the other woman’s lack of response.

“What I don’t understand,” she said, “is why you felt the need to stage all of this in the first place. Why would you call our forces in security to sound a false alarm?”

Tossing the black case onto her cot, 009 busied herself with opening it and drawing from its depths a manila envelope. At Nettle’s question, she glanced over her shoulder again.

“Headquarters didn’t notify you?” she asked.

Nettle raised an eyebrow. “Of what?”

“Giovanni must not trust you that much.” Turning, 009 slipped a hand into the envelope and pulled from it a photo. “The Stardust Operation is for gathering intelligence, but my mission, the Polaris Operation, is a bit different. I was sent here to collect this.”

Walking forward, she handed the photo to Nettle. Glancing at it, the scientist saw the image of a creature crouched on all fours on a cement floor. Even though the image was black-and-white, the thing was the palest object in the room. Crystal spikes jutted out of its back, tracing along its spine and down a tail that ended in a glassy arrowhead. Straight, white hair draped across the back and around the wrists of the creature. Locks of hair pooled around a pair of rounded horns on its head and fell in front of its face. The tips of each lock, meanwhile, brushed long claws on both its hands and three-toed feet.

“XP-650B,” she said as she handed the photo back. “I already know about this. My operation hasn’t collected nearly enough data concerning it, however. We’ve been blocked from further observation thanks to the Committee’s concerns over human experimentation. Surely our leader already understands we wouldn’t know what to do with one of these things if we captured one.”

Placing the photo on the dresser, 009 flicked her free wrist to let a black-petaled tulip slide into her hand. “Giovanni doesn’t care. He wants this and the A form, and he’ll figure out the rest in our own laboratories, beyond the Committee’s reach. I’m surprised he never notified you of my mission. That says a lot about his opinion of you. Then again, he gave you the Stardust Operation to run, and he’s highly disappointed in your lack of results.”

Nettle smirked. “Or perhaps he realizes that one should never send in a team leader to do a grunt’s job. You misunderstood my question, 009. You assume I don’t know about Operation Polaris, but I asked you why you staged the attack, not why you’re here. Now that Polaris Institute is aware of the possibility that XP-650A can escape, everyone will be keeping a sharper eye on it. How do you propose to complete your mission now?”

“Now, you’re underestimating the organization, Professor Nettle,” the Black Tulip replied. “Our operatives have a hand everywhere. We can slip in and out of this place easily, regardless of how well-guarded it is.”

In response to her claim, Nettle turned her head slightly and stared at the Black Tulip from the corner of her eye. The blonde noticed the scientist’s skeptical look and responded with an exasperated sigh.

“Instead of questioning me, why don’t you make yourself useful and ensure that our agents secure XP-650A? Operatives on the chemistry team have told me that the green substance in that test rattata you used today was actually a cluster of eggs. I’m certain the little cuties will be hatching shortly, and with the number of eggs that were laid, who’s going to miss one tiny specimen out of hundreds? Our agents will rendezvous with you tonight outside of Laboratory F. Act like you’re bringing them in to brief them on tomorrow’s experiment and—”

“And make the exact same mistake you have?”

009 arched her eyebrows but then scowled. Her hand swung up and pointed the head of the flower at Nettle. In response, the scientist merely smirked, slipped her hands into her pockets, and watched the blossom spit a shower of sparks.

“I know what I’m doing,” 009 drawled. “Why don’t you leave worrying about how to smuggle XP-650A and B out of the institute to me and follow my orders?”

“Because you forget my place in the organization,” Nettle replied. “As far as you’re concerned, if you work in a Rocket-run laboratory, you answer to me, not the other way around.”

009 lowered her tulip and glared at Nettle. She couldn’t argue with the scientist’s statement when it was absolutely true.

Grinning at the surrender, Nettle shrugged. “However, for the sake of a potential Rocket victory, I’ll humor you and follow your suggestion. Whatever failures come from this are your responsibility, not mine. Do you understand?”

The agent gripped the stem of her flower until another burst of electricity exploded from its petals. She didn’t seem to notice. “I understand.”

“Good.” Turning away, Nettle was about to head for the door when she stopped. “By the way, for the sake of curiosity, which poor, unfortunate soul did you choose to become XP-650’s host?”

“You should know him very well. McKenzie, from the psychology team.”

Nettle laughed. “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or pity you. Our leader will be thrilled to know you infected one of the few people in this complex we were explicitly told not to touch.”

With that, she walked out of the room, leaving 009 to glower at her back.

---

Professor Oak stood in front of the desk in his office with his dark eyes fixed on the wall-sized screen behind it. There, he saw a black-and-white clip of a young, dark-haired woman in a hospital gown. She sat on a bed at the far end of an otherwise empty room, and her shoulder was exposed to reveal the glistening, round head of an XP-650 parasite. At first, it was simply a shot of her, swaying as she tried to remain conscious, but then the clip cut abruptly to the image of the woman with her head craned back and several scientists gathered around her. One of them attempted to stick her with a long needle, only to be knocked away by her flailing arms. Pale crystals burst from her shoulders, letting the scraps hang in bloody flaps down her arms.

The clip cut again. This time, her hair had fallen out, and a pair of round horns jutted out of her skull. Her entire body took on a shimmering coat of ice, interrupted every so often by a crystal spike. The creature’s thin arms wrapped around her naked body as she shivered and opened her mouth in a silent scream. A few more men in lab coats immediately responded by gathering around her. Their bodies shielded most of her from view, save for the limbs that flashed above their heads.

Suddenly, the girl sat alone in the room with long, pale hair shielding her pallid face. Behind her, a tail flicked back and forth. She hugged her knees tightly to her chest and kept her clawed feet curled around the edge of the bed. After a few seconds, a scientist appeared in the side of the shot with his back turned towards the camera. His hands moved as if he was speaking with her, to which she responded by lifting her head.

In the next instant, no one was on the bed, and the scientist had disappeared. Something dark sprayed across the lens of the camera, partially obscuring the image of the room.

Then, a mouth with a pair of long fangs appeared in the shot, followed by a split-second flash of a claw. Static followed, the only sound that broke the long silence.

Eventually, a new image appeared on the screen: one of five silhouettes sitting at a long desk. The Committee.

Its full name was hardly ever used by its members, and no one else who knew about its presence ever felt the need to know what it was. All anyone knew for certain was that it comprised of a board of individuals who oversaw the funding and activity of government-sponsored scientific endeavors. In other words, they were the ones currently in charge of all operations concerning Project Stardust: monitoring all operations, collecting all information, and deciding the best choice of action based on the research they received. They funded the efforts, summoned each scientist, and most importantly, watched each designated research facility carefully.

So several hours after Bill was discovered and the assistants were questioned about the apparent accident (the story being that one of them had dropped XP-650’s carrying case in the hallway and that Bill had accidentally gotten in its way), Professor Oak called them to explain the situation and seek advice. He expected to be reprimanded or even dismissed from his position. However, he only got as far as informing them about Bill and XP-650 when the Committee calmly showed him the video of Pandora.

“XP-650B,” the center silhouette said. “Codename Pandora, a former assistant at the Valencia Institute of Science in the Orange Islands. Shortly after this video was taken, she killed half the staff, destroyed most of the complex, and escaped to parts unknown. Valencia Institute was shut down, and the survivors are currently housed in one of the National Defense Forces’ bases to be given therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. We refuse to have that happen again.”

Furrowing his eyebrows, Oak meditated briefly on the name. XP-650B. That wasn’t the first time he had heard a designation like that. Typically, when a pokémon species lacked an official name, the Pokémon Symposium simply referred to it as XP, followed by its number in the National Dex. Therefore, XP-650 literally meant “Unidentified Pokémon #650,” the first entry after the most recently documented legendary pokémon genesect. Letters at the end of such designations, Oak recalled, usually indicated alternate forms: A for the first, B for the second, and so on. The practice was rare; only a handful of pokémon were documented in this manner prior to receiving their official names, with rotom being the last case. If the pokémon Oak knew as XP-650 was only the A form and if the one in the video was its B form, Oak wondered how many other forms this single creature possessed.

“Why weren’t we told about this?” Oak whispered.

“We have very little information about it other than what I have just told you,” the leader explained. “XP-650B has the potential of becoming an uncontrollable beast. Valencia made the mistake of not taking caution in handling Pandora. Do not follow their example with this researcher you described to us.”

Oak swallowed. Naturally, his thoughts wandered back to Bill. He tried to imagine his junior slipping into a violent rampage, but it didn’t quite fit in his mind. For that reason, he laughed nervously.

“But this is Bill we’re talking about,” he said. “He’s a pacifist. He wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone.”

His superior shook his head. “It will not matter. Soon, XP-650 will invade his body and alter his thought processes. Should he survive the transformation, he will not be the same person you know. You must remove the parasite quickly. If you fail, then you must take heavy precaution. Sedatives, restraints, and increased security, Professor.”

Oak’s smile faded. “Isn’t that all a bit much?”

“If anything, it may be too little to keep your staff safe. XP-650B is a powerful creature that should not be taken lightly,” the leader replied. “Nonetheless, killing him is not an option. This is the second time a member of Project Stardust has been infected. If you cannot remove the parasite, then we must use this opportunity to find out how the infection process occurs and why to fully understand what we are facing. Perhaps then we may be able to find a way to stop or reverse the transformation.”

Oak listened carefully and nodded once the Committee finished. “I understand.”

The leader straightened. “Additionally, we will send you all of the reports salvaged from Valencia to establish your base of information. In the meantime, we request that your reports designate this Bill of yours as Codename Adam to protect his identity once we begin chronicling your reports. We had hoped that we could learn the secrets of the parasite without resorting to a violation of the Nuremberg Code, but perhaps it may be impossible if we wish to continue our work on XP-650. For that, we sincerely apologize. All of the institutions have a right to know, not only yours but also Sinnoh’s and Johto’s as well.”

Sinnoh’s and Johto’s as well, Oak thought. …Oh no.

At once, the professor remembered the victim’s family. Frowning, he looked away. Bill wasn’t the only researcher in the McKenzie clan, and even worse, hadn’t Bill once mentioned that his father was lending his own talents to Project Stardust?

“Professor?” the Committee inquired.

Shaking himself back into reality, Oak responded, “I understand, but there’s something else that’s bothering me. Bill’s father, John McKenzie – he’s a member of Project Stardust with the Johto branch. Shouldn’t we at least tell him?”

The Committee leader nodded. “Tell him whatever you wish, but there must be victim confidentiality between you and the rest of Project Stardust. If he agrees to it, we may begin processing a transfer so that he may work under you. We would suspect that he would be interested in studying Codename Adam directly.”

Oak nodded. “Thank you. I’ll tell him as soon as I can.”

“Very well,” the leader replied. “Remember, we will take special interest in Polaris from now onward. Very rarely have we been able to study XP-650B. The first and last instance was Pandora, who had completely surprised us with both her generation and her behavior. We can only emphasize that if a similar reaction occurs every time XP-650A comes in contact with a human being, it should be quite obvious that maintaining Adam’s captivity at this moment is of the utmost importance.”

“Yes. I understand.”

“Very good.”

Before Oak could say anything else, the call cut off, and the screen faded to complete black. Oak stared at the dark screen for a long while before turning to the rest of his office. With shaking steps, he made his way around the desk, pulled out the chair behind it, and dropped himself into his seat. Leaning back, he sighed and wiped his forehead.

“I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered to himself.
Holmes: Punch me in the face.
Watson: Punch you?
Holmes: Yes! Punch me! In the face! Didn't you hear me?
Watson: I always hear "punch me in the face" when you're speaking, but it's usually subtext.
- Sherlock, "The Scandal in Belgravia"

The girl responsible for this atrocity to mankind. And this one. And these
Reply



Forum Jump:


Users browsing this thread:
1 Guest(s)