*WHAT* INSERTION?

by Curtis Wildcat

Chapter Twenty-Three: Family Bonds and Sleepless Nights

(Cue theme)

They were everywhere.

Monsters the likes of which he had never seen in the thousands of years he'd been alive. Energies that swirled around him, threatening to devour him. Words that led him along by the nose, then went in for the kill.

He had gone into this building for reasons unknown to him, searching for something that he had not known the identity of... and then they attacked, chasing him into the deepest reaches of the facility, which had seemed to stretch on forever. More of them had come, never giving him a moment's peace.

Finally he had taken refuge on top of a large bookshelf, frantically swinging around a large hammer that he'd found on someone's unconscious body. That was nowhere near enough to turn the tide, and he was finally submerged beneath the wave of shadowy figures. As the last vestiges of light disappeared, he finally made out some details on them... and it filled him with all the dread that he had ever felt in his life and then some, even as the crowd gave voice to a single declaration:

"I am Sailor Amelia, and in the name of Seyruun, I will punish you!"


Time: April 30, 1996, 12:07a.m.

A stifled shriek, a flash of lightning, and Phibrizzo was finally awake. He looked around him frantically, then finally let his eyes settle on the couch as he reassured himself that it had all been some wacked-out nightmare. That settles it...I am never entering a manga shop again. It's been several days, and still it haunts me.

"What drove you to do that, anyway?" Inuyasha snarled grumpily; the scream had woken him up out of a sound snooze. "And what's with the racket?"

I was curious, alright? Phibrizzo growled back, listening carefully in case his parents had heard the scream... then remembered that they had left town to go on vacation, leaving him to spend the week at the Moore Detective Agency. He got up and stared out the window at the thunderstorm that was rolling through the neighborhood. They didn't have an industry like it back where I was from.

"I'm surprised you didn't check it out sooner," Curtis remarked as he sat in his chamber, playing what seemed to be some sort of archaic baseball game on the television.

Picture books never interested me before. Of course, they aren't really picture books in the truest sense, but... well, whatever. You know what I mean.

April 29th-yesterday-was the start of the Golden Week, a chain of holidays (both national and otherwise) strung together like links on a swing. Not having much interest in them, only caring that Teitan Elementary's doors were closed during that span of time, Phibrizzo had immediately warped to Cerulean City after breakfast to bug Dolphin and get some training in for Sunburst and Arcanine. However, his sister and Misty were both busy preparing for their next Water Show, and any hopes of getting some training time in were dashed by a battle-craving trainer.

With that no longer an option, Phibrizzo next teleported back to the agency to see what Conan and Rachel were up to, only to find the both of them out and about somewhere. Muttering about the number of cases that they and Richard Moore were getting involved in as of late and not really caring about the circumstances of their absence, he decided to make a jaunt over to Professor Agasa's place to bother Ai... and found that they, too, were busy with other matters. Giving up on others' company, he spent a little of his remaining allowance money to see a monster movie that was premiering this week ('Let's see what the human imagination can come up with' was his rationale for doing so).

By the time the movie was over, he was convinced that the day had been a total loss; not only did he not get anything accomplished, but the movie's focus was nowhere near as scary as the promoters made it out to be. He couldn't understand why people, especially children (he'd seen Mitch, Amy, and George sitting halfway across the theater, but made no move to join them), flocked to see them.

After exiting the theater, he was greeted with sheets of rain that dropped down from the sky. The thunderstorm that it grew into kept him-and, by extension, Inuyasha-from doing anything worthwhile after dinner, conversations with Conan and Rachel notwithstanding, so he wasted his energy on a few quick teleports and settled in for what should've been a good night's sleep.

So much for that idea, he grumbled as he stared up at the ceiling, wondering why no one was rushing to investigate why he'd shrieked. Maybe it just hadn't been loud enough, or else the group was really out of it. Either way, he didn't mind; he wasn't in any real mood to explain to them the dream's contents, strange as they were. Not for the first time, he decided that it was a good thing that he opted not to sleep upstairs with the others.

Nearby on Richard's desk, Phibrizzo's cell phone began vibrating. He blinked at it, unamused. Thought I'd shut that thing off, he groused quietly before picking it up and answering it. "Hello?"

"You're having trouble sleeping too, huh?" Ai's voice, lined with static, murmured over the phone; the weather outside was having fun messing with the signal.

"More of a bad dream than the storm," Phibrizzo grumbled quietly. "What's your excuse, Hailey? Why are you calling at this hour?"

"General insomnia. Everything I've been learning about recently is keeping me awake," Ai told him, keeping her voice low so as not to disturb the sleeping Agasa. "Between the information on Pokémon and the biological data that Miss Fitzgerald decrypted, it's taking some time for it to settle."

Biological data...oh, right. The Clandestine DNA files that she took from the Black Organization before she was caught. Either their security's getting lax, or... Phibrizzo's eyes opened a little bit wider as he focused on the conversation. "Talk to me, then. Anything of note on that last one?"

"A couple things," Ai admitted. "I found the entries for both Aisha June's mother and Arnold Long like you asked. Miss June was quietly abducted as a teenager to take part in the project, although it didn't seem like it to her at the time; she thought she was being treated fairly. Mr. Long was in his early twenties at the time and joined of his own free will while visiting from the United States, apparently to pay off some loans." There was a short pause, and Phibrizzo could actually imagine the shrunken scientist shaking her head. "It doesn't say what happened to them afterwards, or what kind of changes they underwent. The information on the test subjects was all in the journal's final entry."

"...Final entry?" asked Phibrizzo curiously, laying back on the couch.

"Yes. May 28, 1974. Far as I can determine, the explosion that put an end to the Project was only a few days later, claiming the genius's life and leaving the rest to pick up the pieces."

A quiet nod as the former dark lord absorbed this fact. "You said there were a 'couple things'. What else was there?"

"It was a bit curious, but a bit suspicious too," said Ai. "One of the entries for another test subject had been erased."

"Erased? By who-the Organization?"

"Erased data in an encrypted file?" Ai scoffed disbelievingly. "They may be paranoid, but they're not clairvoyant; they didn't know that someone outside of their grasp would break the protection the way Miss Fitzgerald did. If they didn't want to keep something, they would've just gotten rid it altogether." A pause. "It's like I was told last week: those documents were supposed to be for the eyes of only the boss and those he deemed worthy. He likely had his reasons for keeping them stored away."

Phibrizzo's eyes narrowed. "Someone outside, then. Someone who didn't want anyone to find out who he or she was."

"That's how I figure it." Another short pause. "It's not really my business, though. I'm not involved in any of this, and you've told me several times that you're not descended from any of the test subjects, anyway. My primary concern is keeping alive. How do you know that they're not going to go back on their word and try to asassinate me or my sister?"

"If they're smart, they won't."

Phibrizzo jerked in surprise; while he'd been busy listening to Haibara, Inuyasha had entered Curtis's chamber and claimed his microphone for himself. Blast it, dog-breath, don't startle me like that!

There was some confusion on Ai's part. "...Who is this? Would you get off the line, please?"

"Oh, come on, kid," came the smug reply. "You mean you've forgotten what it was like to be rescued from death's door? That should've stuck with you."

"...Inuyasha?" Ai's lowered voice indicated that she was just as surprised as Phibrizzo had been a few moments before; she hadn't known the voice, but she'd known the tone. "How did you..." A pause. "Never mind. Just tell me what you mean."

"There's nothing they have in their arsenal that can hurt me, and they know it," the hanyou reminded her, smirking. "They know that if anything happened to either of you, they'd be due for a beatdown."

There was silence on the other end of the line. "..."

"Vigilantism isn't accepted here, from what I know," Inuyasha continued. "I'm already pushing things as it is, even with the people I help being nice about it. You may have noticed from the news that I haven't done anything more with this sword than scare people and slice up weapons with it." His eyes narrowed. "Because of that, no one knows what I can really do. Those creeps can't believe that this weapon is for show; I don't know him, but Gin seems smarter than that. Until they figure out how to deal with me, their best option is to keep their activities to a minimum and hope I'm nowhere in the area when they're going about their business."

"...I suppose that makes sense," Ai said reluctantly. "Then although my sister still lives in their shadow..."

"...it's when the shadow darkens that things will get ugly," Phibrizzo finished. He smiled. "Really clever for a pretty-boy mutt."

"Who's a mutt, you angsty little firebrat?" Inuyasha snarled, dropping the microphone. There was a brief thud and a burst of feedback as the microphone hit the floor, causing both Curtis and Ai to flinch.

Phibrizzo covered his mouth to keep from laughing, watching inwardly as the white-haired inhabitant fumed and growled. Nothing like a little humor to ease the dramatic tension, huh? he said as Curtis paused his game and shut off the microphone.

"There's probably a story behind that," Ai murmured, amused. "But that will keep for later." As she spoke, there was a flash of lightning from outside that lit up the agency. "Onto the other topic... this whole Pokémon thing. I'm still trying to figure out why I never saw any of them during my tutoring overseas, and why they're rarely ever seen outside those islands."

"Fears of overpopulation, maybe?" Phibrizzo suggested, ignoring the disgruntled Inuyasha as he went back to his chamber. "Or maybe they're just unable to spread their numbers worldwide."

"That first one can't be it." Again, he could imagine Ai's head shaking as she said this. "If it was enough of an issue, word of it would spread around Japan and nearby countries; few people, if any, wouldn't have heard about it. And the second one is a negative; at least one of them is capable of swimming across the ocean on its own power, and I have to believe that there are others that can do that, too."

"I was thinking more about the governments in those islands, actually," said Phibrizzo dryly. "Good point, though-"

"And I'm going to have to say that that theory is off, also," Ai interrupted, not giving him a chance to elaborate. "It's related to what I said a moment ago. If there was recorded information on the physical feats of a certain species, I have to believe that whoever's in charge over there didn't think that keeping their numbers down was that important. Again, word would get out. People everywhere would want to know more about them, children would want to play with them, and foreign markets would be deluged with toys and other media focusing on them." Beat. "No, there's something else at work here, and I intend to find out what."

Several seconds passed before Phibrizzo could answer her, taken back at her reasoning. "...You really have done a lot of reading on this."

"I make it my business to know about things, Phibrizzo," Ai muttered in a "what-you-don't-believe-me?" tone of voice. "What sort of scientist would I be if I weren't knowledgable about my field of work?"

"What sort of scientist are you now?" Phibrizzo retorted. "I thought you intended to take care of that thing for Edogawa and yourself."

Ai started to speak, but paused to allow a quiet yawn to escape. "Nothing wrong with idle curiousity. Don't worry too much about it." Another flash of lightning could be seen outside as she spoke.

"I'm really starting to wonder where your priorities are. Forgetfulness is a dangerous enemy, Hailey."

"In which case," Ai coldly informed him, "your fears are unfounded. I haven't forgotten anything; just developing a hobby." She yawned again, and her voice's tone softened to her previous level. "I'm going to have to leave now. I think that conversation was what I needed to cure my insomnia."

"Well, glad to hear that I don't need to keep you awake anymore," was Phibrizzo's sarcastic reply. "Any chance you could prescribe something for me?"

Ai pretended to think about this. "Well, you could just face the wall and smack your head into it as hard as you can. Then you wouldn't have to worry about staying awake anymore."

"...I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that. Get off the line, please."

"And a 'good night' to you, too," Ai returned. The trio got the impression that she was chuckling softly even as the line silenced itself with a *click*.

"A hobby, huh?" Inuyasha said to himself as he leaned against his chamber's back wall. "Good for her."

Phibrizzo stared at the cell phone, muttering to himself in a tongue never spoken on this planet. Finally shutting it off and putting it away, he burrowed beneath his borrowed blanket and curled up the best he could. I'll need to speak with the engineers, he complained. That girl's sense of humor is in serious need of repair.

"I thought it was kinda funny, myself," Curtis said, baseball game in motion again.

You would, Phibrizzo thought as he felt his mind begin to shut down. I'm going to try again. Let's see how long this lasts.


They wouldn't stop talking.

They had met, one on both sides of him, and proceeded to converse. They were born with the same voice, but not the same body. They were well-versed in different subjects and had different personalities, but it didn't stop them from getting along.

"...So, this Gaav you're talking about. He was honestly out to kill you? That sounds familiar."

"You too, huh? Whatever for?"

"For knowing too much. You?"

"Because I was going to be used as a means to an end."

"Sounds harsh, but at least you weren't responsible for one of the most lethal drugs in mankind's history."

"Well, at least you didn't create a spell capable of destroying a planet if mishandled."

"...I wish I had your personality. At least then I could face my fears head-on."

"Heh. You seem to be doing well for yourself. Just keep your head up and keep on going."

He threw his hands up to his ears. "Would the both of you just shut up?"

The both of them turned towards him, expressions angry. "You have a lot of nerve, interrupting a conversation between women!" the taller one snarled, gathering energy into her hands.

"If you knew any better, you would just keep your mouth closed and deal with it quietly," the smaller one added, imitating her friend's stance and taking in power.

Then, as if they had rehearsed it, Ai Haibara and Lina Inverse simultaneously blasted him with a wave of raw energy. "DRAGON...SLAVE!"


Once more, Phibrizzo's eyes flew open as pushed himself upright. Confound it, he hissed. Not again.

"Twenty minutes," Curtis uttered.

Huh?

Curtis looked up from his game briefly; as his senses stabilized, Phibrizzo noticed that it was in the later-inning stages. "You managed twenty minutes that time before being woken up. It's about 12:40 now, give or take a minute."

Phibrizzo turned onto his side, glaring out the window; there wasn't any more lightning, but the rain had only lessened a little. One of his hands clenched his blanket. This is getting me nowhere fast.

"Bad dreams, huh?"

Terrible ones. Better pray that I don't have to put up with these all night, or someone's going to be this short of ticked off.

Curtis frowned as the player he was controlling struck out. "Someone always has it better than someone else. I'm sure you know that."

Humor me then, Mr. Potato Body. How is this better than someone else's night?

"It's better than dreaming the same thing for several months straight."

Phibrizzo thought about this for a bit, his attention diverted from the rain. And you're positive that you don't dream about anything else?

"Yeah. What's more is that unlike the standard fare, I'm fully aware of where I am and what I'm doing. That's not supposed to happen, and I'm sure you're tired of hearing me complain about it."

"This night's been full of one mystery after another," Inuyasha spoke up from his chamber. "What a way to spend the time, huh?"

"Not exactly how I'd like to spend it," Curtis admitted. "Returning to the same place each time I enter a deep enough sleep gets monotonous after a while."

The shifting viewpoint from outside got their attention; Phibrizzo was rolling off the couch and onto his feet. I just can't sleep tonight. It's plain and simple.

"Not much you can do around here," Inuyasha pointed out. "At least, not without waking up your stepfamily or the brat."

Phibrizzo tapped his chin as he pondered an idea. Curtis, do we have any sweet drinks on hand?

"Well, we have that soda pop that you never drank from the movie theater," Curtis said, double-checking one of the monitors. "What are you planning?"

A wide smile formed as Phibrizzo padded over to where he'd stashed his day clothes, slipping them on over his pajamas as quietly as he could. While the day's away, the mazoku will play, he said, taking out the soda when he was done. Sipping the drink-careful to take just enough to fuel a teleport and not overload his body's energy supply-he warped away, crossing through Beika and arrowing south of Japan to a place where the storm did not strike.


Location: Cerulean City Pokémon Center

The Center's main lobby was deserted at this hour, but it didn't stay that way for long as Phibrizzo appeared in a flash of blackness before the counter. He didn't have long to wait before a Chansey looked into the room, checking to see what was the matter.

The pseudo-child smiled. "Don't mean to bother you any, but I'm going to need Sunburst's Poké Ball for the night. Is that alright?"

The Chansey didn't quite like his smile for some reason, but since it was a legitimate request it wasn't as if she could refuse. Within a few minutes she had located the capsule in question and handed it to its trainer, all the while wondering what sort of reason he had for showing up this late at night.


Inside the Gym, Jetsam was sound asleep in one corner of the main auditorium. Once more she had devoted her entire focus to the Water Show, and once again Dolphin was happy with how things had turned out. Tomorrow she would leave with her trainer to the site of the third Frontier challenge, the Battle Pike, and she knew that she would need all the rest she could handle.

"Flarrre?"

Something was nuzzling her forehead. Blinking sleepily, Jetsam found herself looking into the eyes of the creature that she had literally been Attracted to the week before. There was a little card with some text hanging around his neck, but since the Vaporeon couldn't read English, she didn't understand what it said. 'Um, hello,' she said quietly, a bit bothered at being snuck up on but otherwise willing to be friendly. 'Sunburst, what are you doing here?'

'You'd be better off asking Phibrizzo that,' the Flareon replied. 'He took me away from the Center a few minutes ago and told me that he would let me spend the night here.'

'He's strange for a human. Or whatever he is,' Jetsam admitted. 'Anyway, I'm tired, and I'm sure you probably got awakened out of a good rest yourself. You have a good night, okay?'

Sunburst nodded and sat down a few feet away, placing his head on his forepaws and shutting his eyes as his tail wrapped around to cover them. Jetsam stared at him for a few seconds, her eyes shining, then allowed her regularly scheduled sleepiness to return.


A shadowy figure crept into the gym's kitchen, carefully opening one of the cereal boxes and sprinkling something inside. Snickering malevolently, the figure put the box back in its place and made sure no one was watching him before disappearing with a snap-hiss.

In her bedroom, unaware of what was due to transpire, Dolphin sat awake and listened to the smooth jazz that was playing over the radio.


Location: Doctor Agasa's house

Taking another sip of the soda to recover his energy from his last teleportation, Phibrizzo looked around him to make sure he was in the right place. Satisfied, he snuck over to the stairway and put his ears up to it. Alright, Inuyasha, he urged. Give me the scoop.

Frowning at the phrasing of his request, Inuyasha closed his eyes in order to concentrate. His ears twitched for a few moments. "They're both asleep," he confirmed. "I don't think you even needed me to figure it out; Agasa snores loud enough for both of them."

And you're positive that Hailey's asleep, also?

"Didn't I just say that she was?" Inuyasha growled, annoyed.

Alright, alright. Don't get mad at me right now; I have a job to do.

Stalking quietly into the kitchen and opening the refrigerator a crack, Phibrizzo searched it for any juice that could be consumed at breakfast time. A wicked smile graced his face when he found what he was looking for.


Back at the Cerulean Gym, unaware that either were in their present position, two Pokémon slept curled up together. The scene would've been fit for a "cute pet" type of photo album... if any of the gym's human inhabitants had been awake.

Having tired of listening to her music a little bit earlier and decided to get in her four hours worth of recovery, Dolphin slept quietly.


After stashing the remainder of his soda in subspace, wasting some energy on a teleport and taking note of the dwindling rain, Phibrizzo put his day clothes away and climbed back into bed, still chuckling to himself. Shame that I can't be there to see their reactions.

"Not bad for an hour and a half's work," Curtis commented, still playing his baseball game; he had to be nearing the end of his third nine-inning set by now. "You realize you're going to be in serious trouble when they find out who did it, right?"

Dolphin I'm not worried about, and Hailey's comical when she gets mad. I keep forgetting how much fun pranking someone can be. A mental snicker. Good thing for me that they agreed to watch me instead of going out of town, huh?

"You sure you want to make your stepparents regret leaving you here?" Inuyasha asked dryly.

A shrug. I'll cross that bridge when I get there. A quiet yawn slipped past his lips, and Phibrizzo closed his eyes again. I'm going to try this again. Time me.

Neither of his parasites bothered to answer him.


The location was familiar to him: a majestic castle of times long gone, with a staff filled with loyal retainers and relatives. Aides and sentries walked around, going about their business... but he moved on, not caring about them as much as he did his final destination.

A library, filled from top to bottom with books. A study, furnished with a large desk and covered with research materials and vials of ink. He recognized these rooms and knew that he had been there before, even if he couldn't remember any previous visits to this specific part of the castle.

Seated at the desk was a woman, her back to him; dark gray hair concealed her figure from sight. She knew he was coming; as quiet as he was, she had his location pinpointed while he was still ten meters away. Without turning around, she greeted him: "It's been far too long, you of Ruby Eye. Tell me, do you still think I'm a fool?"

A not-so-nice smile. "Yes."

The woman turned to regard him after a few moments' pause, one hand on her chin. Strangely, her face was blurred; he could not make out her expressions no matter how much he focused. "I certainly can't blame you for referring to me as such. Like you've said, only a fool would seek to work the system. But then again, my thinking has never been orthodox."

"Remind me. What were those thoughts?"

"I believe you know." The blurriness vanished, a thin black smile overriding it. "It seems to have netted you circumstances beyond your imagination, has it not, 'young' master?"

Phibrizzo's smile lost its dark edge, becoming more pure. "Much as I don't want to admit it, I guess your twisted ideas were correct after all... Lady Metallia."

Not leaving her chair, the woman bowed to him. "I lived to serve, my master."


Elsewhere, Dolphin continued to sleep peacefully. Her dreams, if she had any, did not bother her.

The door, which was open a crack, widened just enough for Jetsam to slip inside. She was stumbling a little, and her belly seemed oddly swollen; the card that Sunburst had around his neck earlier was now around hers. The Vaporeon attempted to jump onto Dolphin's bed, succeeding on her second try, and crawled beneath the covers alongside her.


"I remembered."

"Hmm?"

"What you told me. About your dual nature."

"Ah. Do tell."

"Things happened. My circumstances changed. I was never able to discover your whereabouts after you were sealed away, nor was I able to find a way to that universe again. Those things are beyond my capabilities and reasoning. Would you fill me in?"

Metallia tilted her head, looking a bit amused. "I became angry when I learned that I could never return to commence my service under you. The inability to subsist on the dark side of life drove me mad, steadily depriving me of my physical and mental health. A human mage discovered me, and I lent her some of my power so that she could wipe those who had offended her, and me, from existence. However, this led to her being sealed as well... and eventually, a young Earthling pooled her resources and gathered enough energy to annihilate us."

Her smile turned sad as she continued to speak. "It wasn't until my final seconds that I remembered that compassion is a driving force behind the human mind, something which the mage I'd supported had certainly forgotten about in the heat of the moment. If I hadn't shunned those beliefs, maybe my destruction would not have taken place." She gestured at him. "What about you? Assume I do not know. What transpired after our final meeting?"

Phibrizzo floated on over to her, keeping them at eye level. "A few centuries afterward, following an encounter with her power, I too was exiled to a place from which I could never return. Unlike you, I was able to keep my wits about me with some difficulty. Time has gone on, and while my very name is no longer feared..." He chuckled. "...and is, in fact, considered strange... my regrets have become few. I am now fully prepared to spend the rest of my life 'mingling with the commoners', as you would put it."

The two regarded each other for a while before Metallia spoke what was on both of their minds. "The mighty ones have fallen far, have they not?"

Phibrizzo's eyes narrowed. He smiled darkly, the expression that had once struck fear into the hearts of the three races flaring; even as everything started to dissolve, his eyes did not waver from Metallia's. "Perhaps," he whispered, "but not as far as they think. I will not forget what you told me those long years ago. At least you remembered at your end what it was you left behind. It's up to me, now, to take it and run with it... and to defy those who, believing me dead, once thought they understood me, my motivations, and the limits to my power. Sleep easily, my former servant."


Curtis double-checked the time. It had been several hours since Phibrizzo had asked him to time how long it would take for him to wake up again, but he'd decided that there wasn't any real point to it now; he seemed out of it for the duration of the night.

He gave a start as his chamber, mostly dark except for the television, glowed a soft gray-almost white-before fading back to its normal state. Wondering for a moment what it was about, Curtis decided not to bother himself with it for now and instead started searching around for another NES game to play.


Stretching a bit and yawning, Dolphin came awake and stared at her radio's clock. Sunrise wouldn't be for another hour or two, but her body's metabolism would not let her sleep anymore. She reached over and clicked on the radio, which proceeded to fill the bedroom with the sweet sounds of the saxaphone.

Today's the day, she remembered. There's a trip I need to make to the Battle Pike. I'll also need to stop by Evolution Mountain and see if I can find a Water Stone for Poliwhirl; his strength is satisfactory, I think. And there's also that meeting in the evening with Phibrizzo's aunt Eva... I would've gotten the chance to talk with her months ago if her job hadn't called her away. She turned around to face the other wall. I'll need to-

Something wasn't right. There was something sitting next to her in bed. Dolphin thought at first that it was Jetsam-she liked to sleep alongside her trainer from time to time-but in the darkness, the shape was all wrong. She rested her hand on it, trying to ascertain what it was.

...

In a rush, she suddenly leaped from her bed-scattering the covers-and slapped on the light, turning to face whatever it was that didn't belong. Slowly, though, she relaxed again; it was about half the length of her arm, kinda roundish, and was mostly medium brown with occasional specks of light tan. She steadied herself, breathing a sigh of relief. Thank goodness; it's just an egg. I was worried that it might've been one of those mechanical talking half-Hoothoots that they've been advertising-

Something still wasn't right. Eggs just didn't appear out of nowhere. Edging around the bed, Dolphin noticed a card on a chain resting near the egg. Scooping up the card, she read it to herself 'aloud'... and dropped to the floor with a thump, staring at it in shock.

No! This can't... this can't be! I'm not capable of it! This must be someone's sick idea of a joke... it has to be!

Her head turned towards the egg, then back at the card. ...Is it? she asked herself, rereading it silently.

"Congratulations. You're a mother.

-The Drunken Stork"

Again, Dolphin looked at the egg apprehensively. This can't be happening, she moaned mentally. Why me? This goes beyond the human masquerade something big. She sighed, quietly dreading Misty and Daisy's respective responses and imagining their laughter at whatever it was that had been done.

...

...Still...I'd better give this more thought. I'll talk to Daisy after she wakes up and see what she can tell me; mazoku could have offspring, of a sort, but nothing like this. In the meantime... Dolphin pulled herself to her feet, making sure her robe was secure. Carefully wrapping one of her blankets around the egg to keep it warm, she placed it on her pillow before turning away and walking towards the kitchen. I'd better settle myself with something to eat.

After pouring herself a bowl of Blastoise Blueberry Bites and some orange juice, Dolphin stared up at the ceiling to ponder the unexpected task that had fallen upon her. I'm beginning to feel more and more like this couldn't be real, like this is some sort of come-uppance for simply being what I was. She scooped out a spoonful and took a bite, chewing carefully. Makes sense, considering that-

Something was definitely not right. She stopped chewing, trying to determine what it was, and found it... just as it hit her taste buds like a collision with Saffron City's magnet train. All of the gym's resident water Pokémon perked up as an agonized yell reached them from the kitchen.

'GYAAAA-HOTTTTT!'


It was right around sunrise before Ai herself woke up, having slept much more soundly than she had in the days following her rescue from Gin. It wasn't to say that she was completely refreshed, considering that she'd woken up once already before making her call to Phibrizzo, but at least she didn't feel like dwelling on the possible consequences of Inuyasha's actions for the time being

Noting that Agasa was still asleep but that he would likely be rousing himself soon, Ai decided that a head start on breakfast was in order and took herself in that direction. After putting up with my co-workers in my department, it's nice to have a scientist and inventor with a more amiable nature for a guardian. A bit scatterbrained at times, but I could've ended up with worse, I suppose.

After finding what she wanted to eat, she settled in and took a sip of the juice...

...

...and the air seemed to drop in temperature by thirty degrees. Hurriedly she got up and washed out the glass, getting some ice water instead.

I know exactly who did this. There is only one person I know who could be this juvenile and infiltrate the house just to add something to the juice... and he is going to regret it.


Several hours after her experience at breakfast and her explanation to Misty and her sister about the egg (after which she expressed relief that the egg was Jetsam's, not her own), Dolphin returned to Cerulean City with one extra Frontier symbol added to her collection. After putting it away and deciding to put off her visit to Evolution Mountain for a little bit, she teleported straight to the Moore Detective Agency and knocked on the door a few times.

Unknown to her, there was no response; for a change of pace, Phibrizzo had gone with the Moores somewhere while Conan was spending time with the Junior Detective League. Frowning, Dolphin wondered where in the world her 'brother' would've gone before deciding that she didn't really need to find out. Teleporting into the office, she faced the door, raised one hand and waited.

And waited.

And waited.


Ai was a little less direct in her actions than Dolphin was. That same morning, after the usual routine was over and done with, she examined a scrap of paper that she'd kept from her visit to Saffron City. Smiling, she picked up the telephone and started dialling.

"Sabrina?"

The gym leader, looking up from where she had been meditating alongside Kadabra, greeted her father with a curious look; she normally didn't like to be bothered while doing this. I hope it's important. "Yes, father?"

"There's a phone call for you. She says her name is 'Ai Haibara'."

A long-distance call from a recent acquaintance? Hmm... I suppose that qualifies. "That's the 'little friend' I was telling you and mother about." She smiled and stood up, Kadabra following suit a moment later. "Give me a second, and I'll take the call."


And waited.


"I'm giving you an honest opinion," Phibrizzo complained later that afternoon, walking alongside Conan and the Moores up to a nice restaurant; Conan's impersonations of Richard (unbeknownst to the detective in question) were paying dividends. "You people are cursed."

"And I'm telling you that's ridiculous," an indignant Richard was quick to protest. "Aside from the fact that curses don't exist, what kind of nonsense is that?"

"I can't go with you people anywhere without someone dying," Phibrizzo said for probably the third time. "Even that Inspector guy's getting tired of the coincidences."

"Look, if you're getting tired of it, then don't come with us!" Richard 'suggested'. "Tokyo's a big city, and there's scum everywhere. You really think they can go without crime for long periods?"

They both have their good points, Conan thought to himself, sweatdropping. Regardless, it does seem a little odd that homicides and kidnappings follow us everywhere we go.

Rachel shook her head at their bickering. "Would you two stop arguing? You've been doing this all afternoon!"

"I can't help it. This is all too much for words to properly convey," insisted her cousin. "And it's always the same, too. Someone walks into a room, and finds out someone's dead. The person who finds him or her screams in terror, in hurries the Sleeping Detective and the police, case ensues.

"And the people always end up having ridiculous motives for their actions, too!" Phibrizzo's voice rose a few octaves. "'He was going out with another woman!'" ...then subsequently deepened. "'She refused to listen to me and instead married some other guy.' And, my personal favorite, 'she stole the line of clothing I was going to showcase'! Ugh! I was expecting something along the lines of, 'I am Indigo Montreal, you killed someone I cared for, prepare to die', not their half-baked excuses and overdramatic sob stories!"

"...Truly you have a dizzying intellect," Rachel deadpanned, the last impression reminding her of one of Richard's recent cases. "Phibrizzo, just calm down. We can discuss your opinion of those people later."

Phibrizzo seemed to calm down a bit, staring off to the side as they walked. A few moments later, though, he broke the silence. "I still say you guys are cursed."

"Just come on," Richard grumbled, making as if he were going to drag Phibrizzo along by his ear. He ducked out of the way, scowling at him, but made no further motion to continue the discussion.

Conan, who had already listened to a lengthy argument between Mitch, George and Amy earlier that day, was glad when this one came to a close. "So," he spoke up, "what's with this place we're going to? Didn't they have to close it down because of some pest problems?"

"Closed down and relocated," Rachel clarified. "They did a good enough business that they could afford to move to another building after all those rodents began to appear."

"I've heard of that place," Phibrizzo said, hands behind his head. "You'd think that the dishes would be expensive considering their quality and origin, but they're actually quite affordable. Their rata-"

Thump.

The three of them gave a start as they realized that his sentence had been cut off, and they turned to see what the matter was. Unbeknownst to them, Phibrizzo wasn't able to answer their questions for the moment; his entire front felt paralyzed, the result of being slurped by a poisonous tongue, and he'd subsequently collapsed to the ground. After a quick conference, the three agreed to hurry him to the nearest clinic and see what the matter was. Dinner could wait.

Somewhere nearby, a Haunter-unseen by the pedestrians who had witnessed Phibrizzo's sudden collapse-snickered to itself at what had transpired before turning and floating its merry way back to Saffron City. It had taken a while to find him, but it was well worth the time spent.


The phone rang, and Ai got up to answer it. She listened to the caller for a few seconds, said a few words in thanks, then hung up. Her lips curved upward.

Gotcha, Kaden.


And waited.


The stay at the clinic didn't solve much; by the time the standard array of tests was over and done, the only conclusion they could come to was that the x-ray machine wasn't working. After the doctor resolved to have the machine looked at, the paralysis started to steadily wear off on its own; whether it was due to some special ability on Phibrizzo's part or Curtis having something to do with it, Conan wasn't positive.

One thing's for sure, he thought, amused, they're not going out of their way to attract undue attention to themselves. That wasn't the sort of thing you can easily fake.

It wasn't too late to try and go back to the restaurant, but Phibrizzo decided not to hinder the group anymore that evening. After saying his good-byes and promising to meet them back at the agency, he ducked out of the Moores' sight and teleported away.

Unbeknownst to them, after they had left, the doctor had gone to the restroom-not to take care of business without anyone knowing, but to take care of business without anyone being the wiser. Not that it made much difference, of course.

The doctor took his cell phone out of his pocket, entering in a well-used number. After a few rings, someone answered him. "This is the Captain. What do you want?"

"Sir? This is Doctor Green. I've just had a patient who you are familiar with enter into my office today, and I think you may be interested in what I have discovered about him..."


"That was a wash," Inuyasha commented, grumbling a little under his breath as he tried to work his way through the solitaire game he was playing. He clawed at one of the cards for a bit, finally turning it over. "What the blazes was it that happened, anyway?"

"For the fifth time, I don't know," Curtis told him, starting to become a little bit irritated at the hanyou. "All I know is that the screens started to lock up right in the middle of Phibrizzo's comment about the rat... rata... something or other." He shook his head, turning his attention back to the path that their host was walking. Part of him noted that they were, indeed, meandering back to the Agency.

It's high time I had some minutes to myself, anyway.

"Whatever for?" This came from Inuyasha. "It's still at least three or four hours until nightfall."

Yes, but it's easier to draw during the day. Before she left on her trip, mother was extremely interested in knowing more about what went on back home. With my next allowance, I'm going to add to my wardrobe and show her exactly who that terror is that I keep speaking of.

"Speaking of terrors," Curtis spoke, "have you ever noticed that female Ranma and Lina sound a lot alike?"

Yes, I have. In fact... The duo got the impression that Phibrizzo was scowling as he said this. I think we might've spoken about this before.

"Refresh my memory, then. What was it you said?"

I'd told you that I couldn't picture Inverse as an expert martial artist with boyfriend troubles. Could we talk about something else?

"Alright," said, surprisingly, Inuyasha; for the most part, he wasn't the one to try and start a conversation. "How about that sea-filled smell I'm detecting from somewhere up ahead?"

A sea-filled smell, you said? Phibrizzo frowned, considering what that meant. Is Dolphin somewhere nearby?

"It's hard to say," Inuyasha admitted. "It could probably be that fish tank that someone down the street bought recently. The two scents aren't that different."

Not wanting to dismiss him when there was a chance that Dolphin was seeking revenge for his prank the previous night, Phibrizzo kept his eyes open and continually scanned the street for anything strange. When his sister didn't appear between then and the time he reached the agency, he decided that maybe it had been the fish tank after all.

"Don't forget," Curtis said before they started up the stairs. "Phibrizzo, you're going to need to practice for when Mr. Jett confirms that it's alright to come in and get your stuff recorded."

Phibrizzo paused, giving Curtis a mental stare. I have plenty of time, and those businesses are probably closed this week. Don't rush me.

"I'm not rushing you, just reminding you. You've only practiced a few times since you first talked to him."

Look, I already know the music by heart. Some of the songs I have in mind have never been heard on this world before, so they may as well be original. I've listened to them often enough in the past that they've been effectively memorized. He started on up the stairs. The others are so easy to perform on the flute, I don't need the sheets that they were written on. The inability to remember my own school's name aside, you underestimate my memory, Mr. Potato Body.

"You can remember that far back, huh?" muttered Inuyasha as their host worked on unlocking and opening the door with the spare key he was given. "No wonder you're so... so..." He scratched his head, trying to find the right word to use.

Before either of them could help him out, the door was open... and suddenly, Phibrizzo's world turned blue. A wave of water crashed into him, throwing him off his feet and spilling down the stairs. The handful of nearby passers-by stared at the unexpected torrent and murmured amongst themselves, their eyes wide at this change from the norm.

After depositing Phibrizzo onto the sidewalk, the wave washed into the street and poured its way into the nearest storm drain. Glaring at the sky and knowing full well who was responsible, he drummed his fingers on the ground and thought very unkind things about life in general.

"...Photogenic?" Curtis finally offered to Inuyasha.

"Wasn't what I was looking for, but that's true too."

Dolphin-smiling brightly-all but pranced down the stairs. 'See why it pays to have flood insurance?' she asked via a sign before turning on her heels and strolling away, tugging on her sleeves a little as she went.

The onlookers continued to stare, both at her behavior and at her odd physical appearance. One of them started to call the hospital, but broke off when he saw that the 'victim' was unharmed.

Phibrizzo's scowl went up a notch.


"Dear Phibrizzo Kaden,

We are pleased to inform you that an appointment has been set for May 7, 1996 at 4:00p.m. here at the Zaxon Records main office. Enclosed with this letter is a hall pass; show it to the employee at the front lobby, and he will tell you where you need to go."

Claude Jett folded his hands in front of his keyboard, pondering what to type. Usually when one wrote to a child, short and simple sentences were the way to go. This one was every bit as intelligent as any adult, though, so simplicity wasn't really needed. Deciding what to type, he added: "Make sure that the instrument you bring is cleaned and in proper working order for the recording session. The concept of 'quality' has been considered important from the company's founding onwards, and as much as we expect it of ourselves we also expect it of others."

All the potential talent in a gifted elementary school student, combined with the promising prospects provided by my previous talent search... this will be more than enough to get what I need. "Please contact us if you have any questions. We look forward to your visit. May you remain in the best of health. Signed, Claude Jett, President, Zaxon Records."

He saved the document, then tapped another button to print it out. While he waited, he sat back in his chair and adjusted his glasses with the palm of his hand. "And," he added softly, "may you live in interesting times."


Chapter Twenty-Three concluded. Chapter Twenty-Four soon to commence

This chapter was, to some degree or another, filler. I'd originally intended for it to contain a heavy dose of humor, but in-story circumstances kept going in directions I didn't want them to go. Oh, well; I can't say I didn't try, anyway.

All those who can imagine Amelia as one of the Sailor Senshi, raise your hands. Heh, heh, heh.

Time to play "Spot the Looney Tunes or Merry Melodies Reference"! ...Okay, I don't have an actual prize for anyone (I haven't done any art for the series or anything like that, much as I'm amused by the idea), but the ref is still there.

I remembered reading a few short fics somewhere that lampshaded two aspects of the Detective Conan universe. One, the shrunken sleuth stumbles across way too many cases than is normal. Two, every time someone screams, there's a murder mystery waiting to be solved.

Why is Mr. Jett working at his office during a holiday? If I told you, that would spoil later chapters, wouldn't it? All in due time, everyone; all in due time.

Moving on...