His long, gold-ringed, furry ear twitched as he sat down in the lab to drink his coffee. He tried to ignore the couple in the doorframe to his lab, instead trying to momentarily savor the aroma of his sub-standard beverage, sniffing with his shiny black nose. It smelled burnt, and he wrinkled his muzzle, frowning.
"...love you," he heard, unwillingly. He tried as best he could to be invisible to the intimate moment, respectful enough to not be imposing on the two, but still wished they could have done this somewhere else. He sipped his coffee more quickly than he normally would have, and felt the cells in his tongue protesting, vowing to make him suffer for it later.
"...Think I love you, too. Yeah, definitely," came the girl's confident reply. He sat down in a chair and started quietly advancing through files, his paws a little cumbersome but not rendering the keyboard entirely useless to him.
The long silence that followed piqued his curiosity enough to glance behind him at the doorframe. A great deal of kissing and a measure of groping was going on. He sighed and turned fully.
"Could I suggest your enamoured make-out session be relocated elsewhere or at some point later? I feel like I'm intruding, but you are in my lab."
The Mew morph popped into his Pokémon form in surprise, and the Charizard Morph's hands slid from the air where the Sakio boy's butt had been. The look of irritation and violence she gave him made him blink and lean back slightly.
"Grow some feelings, Fur-Face," she said. She turned back to Seth, who was looking wildly between them, tiny furry hands held together under the sleeves of his now too-long labcoat. "See you later, okay?"
She leaned forward and pecked his cheek and, sending one last look of reproach at the bespectacled Umbreon Morph sitting blinking in his chair, departed out the door.
Seth floated over to his workstation and re-transformed, entirely human, and sat; his cheeks stayed the same color as his Mew form, however. He risked a glance over to the Umbreon, who gave him a tiny smile.
"How long have you been chasing her?" he asked, attempting to be apologetic and show interest. Seth mumbled something that sounded like, 'a long time', but was staring intently, still blushing, at some files on his desk. Mark didn't care enough to point out that the files he was holding were upside-down, so he simply shifted his glasses higher up his nose and turned back to his own files.
He opted for a more business-like tone instead to take his mind off his embarrassment. Despite his initial concerns, he'd grown to quite like Sakio's son, who had shown to be adaptable, a fast learner, interested in the subject matter at hand, and almost enjoyable to be around; far better than many of the other rebels in this place, who, like the Charizard morph, categorically disliked him for being like what had created so many of them. That, and his general air of arrogance and one-track mind in his love for his work, made him relatively unpopular in the place. Seth, however, he could stand.
"I want you to help me with a new treatment I've been developing," Mark said. Seth blinked and stood, walking over to his desk and leaning down over his shoulder to look at the display.
"It's a treatment that helps alleviate some of the degenerative problems that older lab-morphs have as they age. The-"
"The DNA starts to come apart in the older models, yeah, I've seen it before…" Seth cut in, scanning the screen. Mark's furry black paw navigated the mouse wheel to scroll and show him more of the diagnostic report. Then Seth's eyes widened, and he put his hand on Mark's to stop it.
"No…" He said, looking from the screen to Mark's furred face. The golden oval on his forehead wrinkled as his brow furrowed in a frown.
"Yes. So you understand why it's imperative that this becomes top priority."
Seth's eyes dropped, then met Mark's again. He realised the boy probably had a lot of experience in these matters, and his expression told him the prognosis wasn't good.
"The only one I've seen survive…" he started, hesitantly, "...is Dad. I mean, Sakio." He looked back at the screen, gently displacing Mark's paw to scroll through himself. "I'm guessing it was easier for him to adjust to the unbinding of the two DNA strains because he comes from a mostly synthetic Pokémon himself, but with-"
"There are others," Mark interjected. "I also should have reached the point of the beginnings of deconstruction and haven't yet, so it appears to be a non universal phenomenon. Similarly, natural borns don't unravel-"
"But that's just it, they're natural…" Seth said, almost distractedly, as he walked back over to his own station and called up the files himself. He pulled up a notepad and pencil and started scratching away on it.
"It doesn't matter; they're still Morphs," Mark argued. His dark ear flicked again. "They could be a key. We just need to imitate them and convince the patients' bodies that they're as natural as any given Pokémon."
"In a post-development stage? That late? I don't know if it can be done."
"We obviously have to try. Do you know any natural borns who would be willing to submit to a few tests?"
"You could use me," Seth mused, leaning back in the air where he floated. "I'm fairly sure spontaneous gene-awakening constitutes as a natural Morph birth." He stripped off his labcoat and started pulling his shirt over his head to expose his bicep for the needle.
"Will you be able to work with your own genes unbiasedly?" Mark asked with a smile, as he readied several containers for the blood.
"What, my DNA strands are rather handsome."
"I know, you might get infatuated."
"Nah, I've already found someone for that."
"Yes, how could I forget the sounds of you lapping at each others' faces? Ah, there's the vein. Now just hold still and try to keep some of the blood rushing to your face in your arm for me, alright, Mr. Sakio?"
He stiffened. The little hand wrapped around his finger gripped tighter as the owner of the voice entered the dim room.
"Tucking your little one into bed for the night? Is she feeling any better?"
The words were concerned; the tone was mocking. He gently uncurled her fingers from his index and laid her hand on her chest; her skin was still hot and dry, the skin flaking under his delicate touch. He leaned down to kiss his daughter's wilted green hair tenderly, then rose, turned, and walked straight out of the room, past the taller, imposing man looking down on his mild move of disrespect; but he was not going to deal with him anywhere around 003. She didn't need any more upsetting.
"I take it that's a no," the man said, and he turned to approach her. She gave a little cough in the darkness, a pitiful, high-pitched cough that pained Sakio worse than physical wounds.
The call was warning, a protective parent guarding his young. The man turned to face him, pearly white teeth glinting out of the dark at him in a smile.
"I was just going to tell her a story."
"She doesn't need a story," Sakio retorted, as calmly as he could. His left hand was curled into a tight fist in his pocket, shaking. He channeled everything to that part of his body, containing it there safely. If he struck him, he was dead, as was the rest of his family.
"But I had such a good one planned," he said, turning back. He strode to the chair Sakio had been sitting in only minutes ago and sat down. He leaned in close to 003, but his words were still clear:
"One day, there was a little princess who lived on high and thought she was better than everyone else. You see, the little girl had special powers, just like you. She could move things with her mind, and loved to run and play and hurt other people. Sometimes it was by accident, but sometimes she enjoyed it and did it on purpose."
He could barely contain himself. Every part of him wanted to psychically twist Roseark's head 360 degrees until the blood spurted out of him like a fountain, but he knew the psychic inhibitor he wore was too much for even his own powers.
This was unbearable.
"One day the citizens of the town, tired of being mocked by the little perfect princess, got all their Pokémon together and marched up to the castle. They knocked on her door, demanding that she come out and give up her power to the rest of them. It was unfair, they said, that she could abuse them like that. Do you know what she did?"
"She said no. So the townspeople burst into the castle and found the little girl. They grabbed her like this-"
His hands lunged out and grabber her fragile, rash-covered wrists. She screamed. Sakio took a lunging step forward and echoed her cry, his voice breaking.
"Roseark, stop this!"
"-And they tied her down, and they sewed parts of Pokémon all over her. They sewed her bits and pieces to her until she was an abomination, just like you!" He chuckled. "And then everyone could see that she was a freak on the outside as well as on the inside-"
"-And that's how you were born. And now where is the pretty princess? Disfigured, sick, suffering for having all the power while the ones who deserve it have none."
He let her hands fall and stood up, leaving 003 crying, holding her raw wrists above the bedsheets. Sakio rushed past him to her, putting himself between Roseark and the tiny girl, all his attentions focused on her.
"It's alright, Little Flower," he said, stroking her hair and cheeks. "It's alright."
"When is your agent due back? I'm getting anxious for his findings. I don't like being anxious, you know. Makes me break out in hives."
"Maybe I can prescribe you something for those," Sakio said through gritted teeth, taking care to keep his hands steady on 003's tender skin. "Something laced with cyanide or arsenic, perhaps."
"You're always good for a laugh, James!" Roseark laughed, clapping Sakio on the back forcefully. "Always tickle me. Now send word for him to hurry on home."
"It takes time to do proper analysis of these things. He doesn't want to make a mistake." He never wants to make any mistakes...Desperate to prove himself…Five...
"Tell him to hurry up," Roseark said, putting a maroon-gloved hand over Sakio's shoulder, sliding the thick fingers down and gripping the joint painfully, "Or we'll send one of his sister's hands by Pidgey to him, and see if that doesn't hurry him home with my information."
"…I'll send him a message," Sakio said, in complete resignation. His head fell to his chest. He felt more helpless than he had…
...than he had since he'd been the one in the cage. And here he was again, only now his cage was his lab, instead of one of the cells in it.
He didn't hear Roseark's chuckle and reply, nor the door close behind him as he left, enveloping the room in darkness, except for a little Illumise-shaped nightlight in the corner outlet. He climbed over the body of his little girl and lay there, holding her, stroking her hair, for as much his own comfort as hers, listening distantly to the sounds of her slow, rhythmic breathing as she fell asleep.
His eyelids started to droop. He was exhausted. His hand slowed and finally stopped on 003's head, though his mind was still running with memories a quarter of a century old. Somewhere between the dreamwake, he drifted back to a time long before all this mess, before his children, before his wife's death, before Giovanni.
The park was a sea of black gowns, the ground beneath them black with graduation caps left there in favour of running to hug friends and take pictures with teachers. James turned from trying to find his fallen tassel, his own cap in his hands, to the voice of his best friend Ian. His friend's dark hair, normally relatively ordered, was disheveled from the cap he had predictably lost, but his characteristic wide grin was still in place as always.
"What's up man!" James cried, giving up the search for his lost tassel and running up to him. He lifted his gown so as not to trip, and Ian laughed.
"Dude, you look like a woman," he laughed. James punched him lightly in the arm when he reached him.
"We all look in women in these, don't try to be special."
"But I am special, right Mom?" he whined, turning back to where his mother was standing. They couldn't look more different, her with her long blonde hair and him with his short black, her high cheekbones and her gaunt face, but their gray eyes were both the same, and that alone made them look like family. She was like a mother to James, too, and he eagerly approached her to give her a hug.
"Look at my boys," she said, warmly. "Not failures after all. I'm so proud of both of you!"
"Far from failures. James got honors, didn't you see?" Ian said, nudging him with his elbow and wiggling his eyebrows. James reddened.
"Makes me wonder why you didn't," she said, cocking an eyebrow at her son. He rolled his eyes.
"I got into the same high end special magical college, didn't I? Doesn't that count for something?"
She pulled him into a hug and kissed him on the cheek. He struggled away from her as James laughed, but was pulled into the same embrace.
"You two are going to be brilliant scientists one day, helping humanity and Pokémon all over the world." She swooned happily and released them from her motherly embrace, then looked around, concerned. "Where are Bel and Carrie, anyway? I didn't think you two went anywhere without your girlfriends."
"We don't!" James said, and put two fingers in his mouth and whistled.
"Murkrow!" came Carrie's familiar call. She fluttered from one National Park's many trees and settled on his his arm. He stroked her beak affectionately and she cawed again.
Ian made no such signal, but simply lifted up his gown to expose his Poochyena scratching herself. She stopped and bounded out, tail wagging.
"Please do not tell me she's been there the whole time," his mother pleaded. Ian smirked.
"They told me to leave my best non-human friend at home. Like hell that was going to happen!" He picked up the puppy, who licked his face. "Who's one of Johto's finest graduates? Hm? Who's going to go on to rule the world with their brilliance?"
Bel licked his face and he laughed. James chuckled and shifted Carrie to his shoulder.
"I can't believe it'll only be two months and you guys will be gone to Olivine. You're never going to come visit me. Pidgey flown the nest, but I suppose all Pidgeot mothers have to watch their babies fly away eventually."
Despite her overacting and Ian's and her laughing afterward, as they exited the pavilion and went to get dinner, James had to suppress tears at that. He'd gone from failing to straight As in three years at the encouragement of one boy and his mother, who had enabled him to escape from his unhappy household and taken him in as if he'd always been there. Now it was like a dream, going away to live in the Olivine University for Science and Engineering, him for biomedical engineering, Ian for mechanical, and he was loving every moment of his life.
During a quiet moment at dinner, when Ian had gone up to sing karaoke surprisingly well on the stage, with Bel howling tunelessly along with him at his ankles, James leaned across the table and looked Mrs. Evalon in the eyes.
"I...I just wanted to say thanks," he said. She smiled. "And...that I will come visit you. I'll make Ian come too. Really. At least sometimes." He paused, and then opened his mouth again. She smiled, but no words were coming out. He felt light, floaty. All he heard was the howling from Bel on the stage, and he turned to look at her black fur, gleaming brightly on her, then dulling.
His vision faded as he opened his eyes to 003's dark room. He was exhausted; he really should move to his own quarters if he was going to sleep tonight.
He didn't need memories right now, at any rate. He needed rest to find a cure to keep the living living; the dead could stay ghosts in his mind for now.
YES, many new people being introduced. So far, Alice, Simon the Persian Morph, Mark the Umbreon Morph, and this Ian person from Sakio's past. More to come too, so sorry if it's a bit of a roller coster. This is a really tangled arc and I hope you'll all stick around for the ride!
...Omg, where did Sakio's Murkrow go?
-M "R.T." C.