A/N: Hey guys. It's been quite awhile since I released anything, so here's my first foray back into the world of pokemon stories. For those of you reading my work for the first time, I would highly recommend investigating my previous stories: this one takes place in the same universe, and involves many of the same characters depicted in those works.
This is a oneshot, however, the epilogue wasn't quite finished at the time of this posting, so expect it exactly one week from now. I would appreciate anyone (who can) taking the time to review. As I've said many times, it's these reviews that keep me writing. But without further adieu…
"You ever think we'll send someone out there?" The Gemini station had only one window, and even then, it was only open a few hours a day, allowing controlled bits of sunlight in to the limited light experiment, or LLE. It had become common practice for the astronauts working there to gather at the large portal when the time came, interrupting their sleep schedules for a chance to see earth and the surrounding sky with their own eyes, not the filtered electronic vision of a camera.
"What, Mars?" Answered Captain Bailey, trying to find the place Lieutenant Tucker was pointing. "I hear they've got a mission pl-"
"No, not Mars. Out there. Just look at all those stars." The entire crew was silent for some minutes, they all knew the answer. They'd come out here to expand humanity's horizons, but an extrasolar mission was still completely beyond anything human technology. There just wasn't any way to do it. Tucker had a way of mentioning things people didn't want to think about.
The station's AI broke the silence. "This month's service shuttle inbound, captain. Requesting permission to dock on exterior pylon three."
Bailey looked up, his eyes focusing briefly on one of the paper-thin OLED displays, where the face of a young woman had appeared. She was deceptively ordinary looking, with brown hair, green eyes, and the collar of a plain grey shirt visible around her neck, decorated with simple geometric designs. But the crew knew well she was actually the world's most advanced artificial intelligence, with systems in her control from Kanto to Sinnoh, and everywhere in-between. She wasn't actually stored on the station at all, but on an Electronic Intelligence Agency satellite in geosynchronous orbit of the earth. Her influence stretched across the globe.
"What's this one? Another Corporate? With their own experimental material, no doubt."
Bit answered immediately. She always did. "Their cargo manifests identify approximately two bays worth of equipment. They've also request permission to bring aboard one unlisted technician, unrelated to their corporation."
The captain frowned. Bailey, an old military man, thought scathingly enough of the corporations. At least they had competence testing for their orbital technicians, the licensing program. If someone didn't even have that... "Did they specify a reason?"
"Pokemon expert." Bit said, without the slightest hesitation. "Apparently he's here 'investigating the possible application of psychic types for propulsion.'. And something about an immediate family member on board, but it doesn't say who."
The room filled with the noise of conversation, but the wild speculation lasted only a few seconds. How many of board had someone in their family who could call themselves a pokemon expert? As though there had been any doubt, Lieutenant Tucker squealed 'Daddy! He said he'd find a way to come and visit me!"That was the other thing about Lieutenant Tucker- she was quite bereft of social graces. It didn't seem to bother anyone though. They all chuckled, even the AI seemed amused.
"Give them permission to dock." Bailey said, once he'd cleared the smile from his face. "Brigs, Marcus, get down there and make sure those suits didn't shortchange us with the desserts. If we're gonna conduct their damn experiments, I sure as hell am gonna get my Sitrus Berry shortbread." They all knew the captain wasn't asking about dessert, but that too was the captain's way. He was a laid-back man, when things went smooth.
On Gemini station, things always went smooth.
Lieutenant Tucker waited in the docking bay, watching as crewman Marcus and Brigs passed large white plastic crates through the hallway in front of her, trying not to think of what might be inside. Unpacking their latest shipments of supplies was one of her favorite maintenance duties, if such a thing were possible. She figured it probably had something to do with the instinct to forage, but... the other Gemini crew didn't need to know that, did they? She watched the corporate uniforms filing past her one-by-one, many carrying heavy gear of their own. These, she knew, would find their way to one of the science bays. There they would set up their stations, leaving instructions for the crew in the proper operation of whatever gizmos they'd brought along. A few of the "experiments" were little more than glorified manufacturing devices, growing crystal-clear diamonds or shaping Celestones into pokeballs so perfect they could catch any pokemon alive. But that was just fine by her. However much someone of the crew might complain, somebody had to pay for the station, and it was those consoles that did. Besides, corporate rations beat what they'd fed her in the military.
But she hadn't come to watch the pretty white uniforms, and she could see all the nice things they'd have to eat later. Her eyes brightened as she saw purple fur emerge from the hatch. "Tom!" She leapt the railing, soaring past a befuddled corporate scientist to catch the large cat in her arms.
"Espe!" The espeon said, rubbing his large head against her breast, purring contently. Tom was an old and powerful espeon, and it showed. Whether in the depth of his eyes or the slight grayness of his fur, it was clear the pokemon was quite old. Nevertheless, he seemed healthy, and better-coordinated than any of the other people in the room, who lacked the help of finely-tuned psychic-powers to hold them in place as though gravity was still present.
"I've missed you, Tom! I'm still sorry they wouldn't let me bring you along. I would've loved to have your help, but the crew weren't allowed to bring pets. Only service pokemon, and since you're too old for the air service..."
"He's not a pet, Eri." Said a voice from just beyond the hatch. "For your information, he's currently listed as a 'Special Technician', technically a higher rank than yours, if he'd been military." Tucker's relation to the speaker was clear the moment he squeezed past them through the hatch. His hair was that same vibrant, almost too-yellow blonde, eyes the same deep blue. The man didn't look a day over thirty... but that was impossible of course, as Erica would be turning twenty-two next week.
The lieutenant released the pokemon, straightening up to embrace her father, fully breaching every bit of military protocol in place, and fully ignored by everyone present. "I can't believe you actually made it! That researched panned out?"
"Thanks to Tom here. He's really made all of this possible. Ideally I'd have liked to have had something stronger to work with, but…" He reached down, gently rubbing the cat's head. "What I've done with Tom will change the world."
"That's what you always say, Dad." The lieutenant let go, stepping back so the flow of traffic into the station could resume. The man followed, looking slightly awkward and ungainly in the low-gravity. But this was expected, and after a few moments of struggle, Tom took the hint, and corrected his movement too. "C'mon, I'll show you the station."
She did. Erica led her father from one end of the station to the other, showing him anything of any significance, and a great deal that was of none at all. They spent the longest time at the central reactor though, the single facet of the tour that seemed to interest Alvin Tucker more than anything else.
"It's the first sustained artificial fusion." Lieutenant Erica Tucker began.
Her father cut her off. "I know. Catalyzed by the so called 'Arceus Jewel'. Remarkable find, that thing."
Erica looked on, puzzled. She was a maintenance engineer, not a nuclear physicist, and thus knew little about this aspect of the station's operation. Their power generation was so effortless these days that she never thought about it. Occasionally a conduit would blow out and she would have to replace it, but the primary fusion core had 100% uptime since the day it'd been built.
"That sphere is worth more than the rest of this station combined." Alvin said, pressing one of his hands to the heavy glass of the fusion chamber. Through the dull polarization of the radiation shielding, they could see the glow of a bright, miniature sun, burning away quietly in the depressurized chamber. It should be impossible. It broke several rather important laws of physics, but there it was. "They found it in a silver mine a couple years ago. You know what moonstone is, right?"
Lieutenant Tucker nodded. It wasn't often anyone taught her things like this. But he was her father. He was a genius. Or at least that's what everybody said.
"Trouble with moonstone, and all the other evolution stones for that matter, they fracture when used. The energy they generate doesn't actually come from within the stones themselves, but the surrounding environment. They're catalysts. They make existing processes more efficient. But channeling all that energy puts stress on the material. Inherent imperfections in the rock limit the otherwise theoretically infinite energetic potential of these materials. That rock… it's completely perfect. Not a single crack, not a microfracture, nothing. When they tried to drill a sample for testing, even the most expensive diamond-tipped drills snapped at once without scratching it. As we speak, it's sitting in the center of a sun! Millions of degrees can't even melt it!"
Erica leaned a little closer to the glass, looking in towards the center of the case with widening eyes.
"We still haven't mastered fusion on our own. It's that stone that makes it possible. Something about it lowers the energy required to join to atoms, the same way evolution stones lower the energy required for a pokemon to evolve. It's a catalyst of unimaginable power, and nothing like it has ever been found."
The tour took a good few hours, followed by a meal with the rest of the crew, although the Foundry Company employees had chosen to eat in their shuttle. "So what's the exact nature of your work, Dr…"
The blonde-haired man looked up from his struggles to open a package of astronaut ice-cream. It was easy to see where Erica had inherited her eccentricities. "Alvin Tucker, but Alvin's just fine." He set the food down, face brightening. He loved answering questions about his work. Much more important than eating. "I've been working closely with experts in Saffron on the possibility of… you know about them, right? The psychics?"
The specialist who'd asked the question looked up with contempt. "Yeah, I know 'bout em. Waste of good science. Pokemon have an unfair advantage on other types, and the people know 'bout what you're thinking before you say it. Damn unsettling and damn useless."
Alvin seemed a little taken aback by Specialist Malcom's reaction. Had he just made an enemy? "They can do things technology can't, though. Like teleportation. Extremely useful for any trainer… anyone, for that matter, even if it has limited application in battle. It's that technique specifically that I'm here to investigate. Teleport can take you between cities in an instant. I wouldn't be the first to think of using the naturally psionic properties of moonstone to enhance teleportation, but I'm the first to apply it to space travel. Tom and I have performed extensive ground-based tests, but the earth just wasn't big enough. We can jump from pole to pole with the help of a good bit of moonstone. Why not go further?"
The room was silent for the longest time, until someone voiced the obvious problem. "Wouldn't you need a ship? This isn't exactly earth, there's no atmosphere!"
Alvin nodded. "The Foundry Corporation has graciously volunteered their shuttle for my experiments."
"Psionics have never been able to move something as big as a /ship/, let alone with an atmosphere and crew! Not even alakazam can manage feats like that! How could you possibly expect to move an entire ship with a stupid espeon?"
Tom looked up from Alvin's feet, hissing a little. The captain had given him special permission to wander the station after speaking briefly in private with Alvin, a privilege even the station's pokemon did not usually enjoy. The cat had been sitting peacefully, content to enjoy the artificial gravity and merely groom himself, but now he seemed fully attentive to the conversation.
Alvin smiled lightly, prodding the cat with one of his shoes. Tom began to relax, albeit slowly. "You'd ordinarily be right. An espeon, even one as powerful as Tom, wouldn't have much chance. But it's not just about the technique. You're no-doubt familiar with the means by which the Gemini station gets its power?"
Malcom nodded angrily. "You can be damn sure. This place wouldn't still be in the air if I wasn't keeping it here."
"Then you know about the Arceus Jewel."
The engineer made the connection. "You can't be serious! Nothing could survive a connection with that thing for more than a few seconds, and it's the only way to power a station this size for any length of time! The exploration committee can't possibly have allowed…"
Alvin kept smiling. "But they already have. Think about the distances at work with teleportation. Think about how much ordinary moonstone can improve the performance of regular psionics! This isn't just about the other planets. If this works, we might someday explore the stars!"
Malcom didn't say anything. He merely glared for a few seconds, looked once to the impressed faces of his colleagues, then got up, leaving his half-eaten tray behind. Everyone else seemed excited though, and Alvin continued, speaking to the entire table now, who had nearly all joined in listening as the conversation progressed. "The first test-jump will take place in three days. It's a short jump, nothing too distant or too difficult. Just Mars. We'll take some quick readings, then head straight back. Your station will be back to normal in a week, and you'll have helped mankind go farther than ever before."
The dull glow of the holocontrols burned in Alvin's eyes as he looked out at the blackness of space. He took the rightmost seat, the one just beside the captain, watching the station recede from view. The ship was crewed almost entirely by Foundry employees as was to be expected, with the exception of Engineer Malcom, who'd come along to ensure 'his' stone returned undamaged. More than half of the shuttle's original crew had remained on the station, and Alvin had advised that more do the same, but they couldn't do much better than three for the crew of a ship this size, and he was pleased by that.
Not so much by the return of zero gravity. He had very much enjoyed his stay in the rotating crew-section of the Gemini, and it was all he could do to hold back the spacesickness. Tom seemed to be getting along fine though, and even smiled reassuringly up at him. Of course the espeon would know how sick he was feeling, but looked equally nervous himself. If pokemon could look nervous. But this was no ordinary pokemon.
I'm ready, Alvin. Tell them to stop moving. It's too difficult to concentrate on this ship while it's moving out from under me. The espeon wore no restraints, yet held himself perfectly perched on the little bench that had been erected just within reach of the Jewel, hovering as it was between a set of equally-spaced repulsion-lifts.
Alvin stared openly at the espeon. English? He knew how much effort it cost to speak directly to his mind like that, and his face became quite concerned. Did Tom have that kind of energy to waste just now? "Captain, this is far enough. Tom says the station's gravity isn't close enough to interfere. Bring us to a stop." She did so, firing chemical thrusters and bringing the sleek shuttle to a standstill in relation to earth. Through the dimness, they could see the flashing lights of the station, drifting slowly away. All eyes were on Tom.
The cat reached out towards the exposed gem. Even in the pale light, it was a remarkable sight. It was so clear it was almost difficult to see, outlined only by pale blue of the repulsion-lifts. Looking closer, one could see hundreds of thousands of tiny lines, circles and curves etched into its exterior surfaces, glinting with reflected light. It was like nothing on earth, transparent and reflective and glowing all at once, with a light warmth emanating from it. Standing close to it felt a little like coming home after a stressful few days of travel, the relief of feeling something familiar but unusual.
Even the otherwise graceful cat spent a moment with his eyes fixed on the otherworldly gem, before closing them and returning to his work. He reached out, touching a single paw to the stone in one fluid motion.
The dull cabin was immediately ablaze with brilliance, like the miniature star that lit up the fusion bay, only pale blue and cold, seeming to draw the energy from them of its own accord. It was an impossible, horrible sensation. Stretching, turning, cutting… nothing like the smooth steps and seamless transport of an actual teleport. It lasted only a few seconds. First there was light. Then there was pain. Then there was nothing.
Dr. Alvin Tucker awoke with a moan of pain and frustration. It hurt everywhere, but his head was the worst, a throbbing dull ache like a knife lodged somewhere in the grey. It was so hard to think… so hard to concentrate on anything long enough to form coherent thoughts. Were his wrists really tied? His head felt wet, like he'd hit it on something and started to bleed. Sound was the worst. Hundreds of blaring beeps and rings, and in the far distance, the voice of the AI. At first he tuned her out as well, as a tired teenager might try to ignore the voice of an annoyed parent telling them to wake for school. It was his name that stirred him, stopped him from falling back. "Dr. Tucker! Dr. Tucker!" He blinked, looking up dimly.
The cabin was a wreck. Broken consoles, gasses he couldn't even identify pouring in from the roof and ceiling, sparks jumping seemingly at random between consoles. Less than half of the screens were still functional, but every one had an identical image. The face of an ordinary teenage girl that was the avatar of the Gemini station's AI. "Dr Tucker, you really need to get out of here! I know you must hurt, but… you need to get up! I can read your lifesigns… it's just a little bump and the residual stun of the gas. It'll pass."
The man struggled to obey her command, not really thinking. He didn't want to think. It hurt too much. He forced himself first onto his hands and knees, moving dimly toward the exit tube through the… gravity. There was defiantly gravity here. That could only mean… "AI, where are we?"
Even now, the intelligence answered instantly, her face appearing now only in the screen nearest the door. It seemed power was failing. "Descending rapidly towards the pacific ocean. I estimate locally perceived gravity will overwhelm you in… two minutes. That's why you've got to get moving!"
He did, barely pulling himself to his feet, struggling to move forward. It became easier as the seconds past, but at the same time, being more aware wasn't always a good thing. He could hear the rush of air just beyond the thin skin of neosteel, smell the choking odor of burning plastic. But the worst parts weren't what he saw as he climbed through the burning wreck. As the dullness of his mind ebbed away, he became absolutely horrified. He had caused this. That engineer, dead in a pool of his own blood in the cockpit, he'd been right all along. The last ten years of his life had been wasted. Tom was gone completely, probably disintegrated by the Arceus Jewel… an indestructible gem he'd somehow managed to destroy too. He hadn't just ruined his own life. He'd ended the lives of many, and stolen a chance for humanity to advance. How many useful things could that stone have been used for? How much had he wasted?
"Don't slow down!" The AI yelled. This program was getting mighty insistent. "They'll get away!"
Dr. Tucker perked up slightly, eyes widening. "Them? Someone else survived?"
"Yes! They'll be… very upset if they find out I had anything to do with you surviving this… but no time for that. Stop here, alright? Don't go through there."
Alvin had been about to twist the manual latch for the docking bay, which contained a handful of escape-pods. "They'll make sure they kill you this time. Turn right. The auxiliary control is just behind that bulkhead. Pry it open… quickly, you've got to cut power to the exterior door!"
The scientist froze, staring at the screen for several seconds, mouth hanging open. He'd seen a handful of AIs in his time, but none had ever advised him to commit murderous suicide. Trap himself and others in this shuttle that was slowly breaking up in the earth's atmosphere? But wait- Kill him? Did that mean they'd somehow planned this to happen? Sabotaged Tom, arranged for the death of the crew sent from Gemini? He turned for the bulkhead the AI had indicated over the system speakers, trying to wedge himself through it. "You'll have to explain…" He grunted as he forced himself through the little space. "… what good stopping them from escaping would do. I understand my time is rather limited…"
There was no screen to watch halfway between the hall and auxiliary control, but he could still hear the synthesized voice coming from inside. "Someone's coming to save you… but this ship's been specially shielded. She won't be able to find it if that stone leaves… or get you off of it."
"What about them?" The man finally managed to force himself through to the other side, which was surprisingly intact. All escape-related systems seemed to have been made studier than the rest of this ship. Or perhaps the rest of the ship had been made to fall apart, and this had not. "Why would Foundry want me dead? Why would they want to disrupt my experiments? Don't they make spacecraft?" He ignored the impossibility of rescue arriving somewhere in the upper atmosphere. If the AI had said it was coming, it must be. Alvin had worked with Bit long enough to trust her judgment, even when it sounded insane.
The AI ignored his question. "I'll explain when we have more time. They're almost ready to launch! See that switch? The electrical main there? There's a cabinet under there, it shouldn't be locked. Reach in and remove the fuse."
Less than five feet away, the shuttle's only escape craft had finished initial firing produces. To call it an "escape pod" would be inaccurate, as those were built for emergencies, meant to be utilized in a moment's notice. This spacecraft was more like a stealth fighter, completely encased in thick radar-proof armor and with a drive that could outstrip most fighter-jets. It had been completely closed, ready to launch, one sleek black machine. It was one of the first atmospheric craft to be built without windows, as there was no clear substance that could survive the pressures of its cruising speed.
"Sir." The exterior of the ship did not contain cameras, as their lenses would've been just as vulnerable to the pressure as a proper window. Instead, they wore a full array of electronics connecting them to radar, sonar, and electrostatic sensors. Only a handful of humans could think fast enough to pilot the craft, and their skills were held highly in demand. "My connection with the ship's just been severed. The exterior doors won't open; I can't take off."
Bo Harkness was not an unreasonable man. He'd worked for the last three months to make this day possible. Worked closely with the board to acquire the Foundry corporation, arranged for a close associate of his to be appointed as president… making quite sure never to leave anything that might attach his organization to Foundry. Just in case.
But when all his months of careful preparation looked as though they might be wasted by something as simple as a hardware failure or worse, he glared harshly at the other two members of their crew. Their plain white uniforms did little to make the two look any friendlier. They looked more like assassins than astronauts, with cold, emotionless expressions. Those who knew what to look for would see that their eyes moved with a very specific, predictable pattern typical of trained telepaths trying to maintain concentration on something. Behind them, dropped unceremoniously into the back of the cabin, was an old worn pokeball and a plain black hard-plastic box. "Get it open."
They closed their eyes almost in unison, completely silent at first. Their faces quickly twisted and contorted into expressions of confusion, then pain. "We can't." The older of the pair, a man with short blonde hair and icy blue eyes, looking up in frustration. "Someone out there is disrupting our powers… they're strong, stronger than I've ever felt before."
Bo looked as though he were about to explode. He didn't scream, but he might as well have for the acid on his face. "We need another option then, don't we?" He paused, and when they didn't answer, he continued. "Get out there and deal with it. Unless you'd prefer to sit here and die."
They jumped to their feet almost in unison, sliding from the cabin with a hiss of pressurized air. They'd already drawn their firearms, moving out into the docking bay with those same cold, icy expressions. The room was almost completely empty, florescent lights flickering gently on and off. At first, it seemed like the ovular chamber was completely empty except for the flashing computer consoles mounted to the walls, but… no.
Standing just beside the airlock was a girl no older than six, barefoot on a floor of ash and broken glass. She was short and wiry, with a straight crop of absurdly pink hair, and eyes of almost glowingly vibrant blue. "I can't let you leave yet." She said, frowning slightly, and moving a few steps closer. She wore only a loose-fitting sundress, and carried no other visible gear. "You've got something I need, and you'll have to give it to me before you can leave."
Alvin meanwhile, was sick of staring at the controls. When he pulled the fuse every switch and every display had gone dead, leaving him powerless and blind. All he had left was the sound of rushing air, getting louder and louder, and the gradual shaking of the turbulence. He felt heavier now, weaker. How much longer would he be able to stand up? Had the AI been lying to him? Maybe this had all been his fault after all, and the program had brought about its own justice, making sure he would go down with the ship. That was a mercy, he figured. At least he wouldn't be alive.
Dr Tucker. The voice echoed in his mind like a thought, but in the voice of a child. I may need your help. I've never fought power like this before. The man looked around, eyes wide with confusion. There went the last of his sanity. No, you're not crazy. We've met before Alvin, don't you remember? I helped you rescue your friend. He'd thought there had been something familiar about that voice. Logan! She'd come?
How well Alvin remembered. He'd spent over a year in the body of a pikachu due to a freak accident, watching with horror as his humanity slowly washed away. He hadn't just been smart before the accident. He'd been a genius. But his time away from humanity had cost him dearly. He'd completely forgotten he'd ever been human by the time she arrived. She had rescued his memories, and rescued him. Had she come back to rescue him again?
I need your help. She said again, her voice panicked Quick, I- Then nothing, her presence instantly gone from his mind.
Dr. Tucker didn't need her to tell him where she must be, and who they were. He headed straight for the bulkhead, which seemed to slide easily this time. All the power gone, maybe? Light from one of the portals provided flickering illumination to the hallway, but he could've found his way there in the dark, hands tightly gripping the wheel that would manually break the pressure-connection, and spinning it with all his might.
Through the heavy-steel airlock, the conflict had lasted only a handful of seconds. Ordinarily it might've turned out differently, but these were some of the best in the business, and much better coordinated in their efforts than anything the young Logan had fought before. It would've shocked any observer to see it. Without so much as exchanging a glance, the two large men raised their weapons and fired.
Nothing happened. Revolvers clicked six times, each chamber empty, and they tossed them lightly aside. One reached from his belt, and one of the pokeballs clipped there… but Logan didn't see that, as the other man charged straight at her.
In the last hundred years, a new sort of martial arts had evolved, combining techniques from many more traditional styles with newly-evolving human psionic abilities. Strikes were impossibly swift, combatants fought each other's minds as well as their bodies, reading their next moves from the subtle electrical signals dancing across their brains. The assassins were masters of it. He swung forward once, twice, aiming for the girl's chest with enough strength to shatter bone. The child swerved just as easily out of the way, and intercepted the second blow with an open palm, eyes burning into the man's face. Then she struck, arms and legs moving together so fast they were hard to follow, once twice thrice more. The man parried the first few, face straining with the effort, but third struck him in the chest with a sickening crack. He crumpled to the ground, cool face breaking into twisted agony as the girl turned to face…
"Sableye, Dark Pulse!" A wave of pain through her, burning the image of every failure she'd ever had into the back of her mind, causing her face to pale and her eyes to roll into the back of her head. She screamed, tears streaming down her face from the pain. The injured man watched, satisfaction on his face. "Impresssive, older brother." He managed to say, spitting a mouthful of blood to one side. "I've never seen a reaction so strong." He struggled to his feet, clutching tight at his chest, skin even paler than the girl's. But he was a strong, powerful man. She was a child.
"Yes, excellent job. Now if you'd be so kind as to open the airlock, I'd like to get moving now." Bo Harkness had been watching from inside the escape vessel, an expression of interest on his face whenever his eyes found the girl. "We can bring her along, too. I don't know how she can bully you two around like that, or how she stowed-away for so long without us finding her, but I'm sure the folks at R&D would be happy to tell us."
The weaker, injured man moved towards the girl, getting a good grip of her hair and dragging her towards the ship. She whined weakly in pain, but made no move to resist, black smoke-like tendrils still twisting gently around her. Bo went back inside, and the Sableye followed the injured man toward the ship, obviously concentrating on maintaining whatever effect it had on the girl. The uninjured assassin, meanwhile, turned towards the docking door, concentrating briefly. The lights went back on again, and he turned towards the ship… only to be struck in the chest with a large metal bar.
Alvin screamed, swinging again and again with a piece of severed guardrail, but he was small by comparison, his blows had only stunned the man a moment. His concentration restored, he extended one hand, and Alvin froze in mid-swing, face contorting, but unable to move.
"And the Doctor's made it too, how fortunate. Well… since the gas couldn't keep him down, I guess we should bring him along. Won't be taking any chances." Bo didn't even move from his seat towards the front of the swept craft, watching as the pilot made final preparations and the engines began to warm. He was also beginning to feel slightly sick, as though he were on a rapidly ascending elevator. Damn those permanent inertial dampeners. The psychic made another gesture, and Alvin dropped the rail, walking jerkily into the craft behind the man, sitting down in the back row beside a little girl in a while dress, a look of intense pain and growing helplessness in his face.
As soon as the cockpit was sealed again, the pilot spoke up. "It's opening. Should only take a few more seconds. Hold on, the release-" His voice was cut off as the little craft was propelled like a spear into the rush of air outside. The injured man winced, gripping his chest, and looking sick, and loose papers and other such objects shot towards the back of the craft, into the laps and faces of the prisoners, everyone pressed momentarily and uncomfortably to their seats. The craft quivered in mid-flight for a few seconds, like an arrow with a broken feather, spinning once, then correcting itself, lancing low to the ground and faster than human eyes could see.
Alvin winced, but was held completely immobile by the presence of that other man in his mind. He was powerless to resist… though he was trying, and the strain on the man's face was visible. He might not be gifted, but he was smart, and that was almost as good.
He found that he could move his eyes, could blink, might even be able to talk, except that he had nothing to say. His eyes moved first to the girl beside him. That hair was pink, it looked almost like… "Radio our men back on the station, let them know they can go ahead and stop the jamming signal. The Air Service should've got something on radar by now anyway, so there's no point..."
The girl was shivering now, and looked sick, almost hypothermic. What was that pokemon doing to her? There was nothing he could do, n-… In the jerk of their initial acceleration, a heavy plastic box had tilted over onto its side, and the lid had clicked open. He knew what must be inside. There, just beside it, were the girl's fingers. If he could just nudge that box closer, just a little bit… his face wrinkled with concentration as he imagined his daughter's face, the sound of a piano, his first sunset when he'd been changed into a pichu… every intense memory, all the warmest, happiest thoughts he could, playing them louder and louder in his head, and ignoring the words of the man's instructions, ignoring the pain he inflected. No. No. nonononononnn-NO! He forced his hand forward, pushing weakly on the plastic, but with just enough force for the sphere inside to roll out, touching lightly on the girl's hand.
"Sir, I thin-" Alvin's ears were suddenly ringing with the rush of air. He opened his eyes and saw only sky around him, felt only the rush of air pushing so hard it briefly knocked the wind from him. The hell? Where was the ship?
I took the fastest way out. Sorry, I didn't have time to warn you. Alvin looked wildly around for the source of the voice echoing quietly within his own head, and this time he found it. A small, feline creature, its fur as brightly pink as the girl's hair had been. It didn't seem to fall wildly the way he was, wasn't spinning violently around one second, then holding steady the next, but calmly slicing through the air just above him, a tiny crystalline sphere holding itself in the air just behind her, and faintly glowing blue.
Alvin tried to shout, but found his lungs would not cooperate under the stress. What was worse, the sight of the ground getting steadily closer as the seconds passed. Mew… I really hope you've got some something in mind to stop this fall… as much as I'd like to, I can't fly.
If it were possible, the voice seemed to giggle briefly in his head. But Alvin wasn't really afraid, didn't really think a creature like this would've possibly 'rescued' him if it didn't have a plan. Of course. I'm afraid I can't deal with the consequences of that crash… not right now. A mutual friend of ours compiled the data relevant to the sabotage. Its waiting aboard Gemini as we speak. Alvin turned his eyes upward, watching the creature. It was much easier to focus on her than the ground, and how soon it seemed they would be meeting it. You're not taking me back to the station? He thought back.
But the pokemon shook her head. It's not safe there.
But my daughter's still… what's not safe about the station? I thought it was supposed to be the most reliab-
Logan looked sympathetic. The E.I.A. still has operatives on Gemini. They're planning on destroying it as soon as the station relays information about your failed experiment back to the Ministry.
Dr. Tucker was at least grateful that the conversation progressed at the speed of thought. If they'd had to shout these messages back and forth, they probably would've hit the ground already. As it was, only a handful of seconds had passed. The… Electronic Intelligence Agency? But Foundry-
That's what I thought. The mew explained. But no. Apparently they've been planning this for months. Somehow got their men into… it's not really important. Silph Co. is the EIA's largest competitor, and as it turns out, has a much greater stake in the station. They've contributed a large number of the drive-components that hold the station in stable orbit. The EIA plans on sabotaging these components.
Grand theft /and/ corporate terrorism? This organization was efficient. But how did the mew know all of this? Why did it care?
That isn't important right now, Alvin. She said, almost at once. Of course. She could hear his thoughts. Whatever happens, don't leave your lab. Just stay hidden… and don't use any of your computers. They're probably bugged.
Dr. Tucker was about to say more, or at least, about to try. He had so many questions! Why did the damn cat have to run away? A few seconds wouldn't make any difference, would they? He wanted to ask about his best friend. He wanted to ask about this mew's history. Why did it care so much about him? About humans in general? Now he might never find out.
For Erica, today could not have gone worse. Of course, she'd spent the morning with the rest of the crew, doing whatever she could to prepare for her father's experiment. Then had come the waiting, the horrible, endless waiting, watching computer readouts and heads-up displays, watching the ship as it moved away, then the launch. "It's moved out of my observable range." The AI had said, the screen blank. If it were possible, the girl seemed almost… reluctant? Guilty? Erica didn't stay on the bridge. The stress was too much.
Whenever things got too difficult, Erica liked to go off on her own. It was an old habit she'd cultivated in her childhood. While the others had found solace sharing their sorrows, she'd always felt better if she could go off and think. That was what she did now, floating her way through the ship into her quarters, locking the door, and
"Are you alone?"
This question perplexed Erica. Yes, she was the only one in her quarters, but what did that matter? Why would an AI care about something like that? Erica nodded, sitting up from her small bunk, and leaning close to the screen of her laptop computer, looking intently at the pinhole of the camera. "BIT, is something wrong? Of course I'm alone… these are my quarters." The girl blushed briefly, pulling the large beret she usually wore from her desk and returning it to her head. It wasn't as though the AI didn't already know what it concealed, but she always felt safer talking to people with the hat on.
Bit's face appeared on the screen of her computer. Maybe Erica was imagining things, but she looked somehow… disorderly, disheveled. Large parts of the picture hadn't been rendered yet, and looked blocky and unnatural. Her voice sounded different too, compressed like an illegally downloaded MP3. "You're about to receive a message from the bridge." Bit said, speaking much more quickly than she usually did, obviously rushed. "It will say the ship carrying your father and his experiments has been detected breaking up in the atmosphere above the pacific ocean."
The girl's face instantly shattered, eyes filling with tears even before the AI could cut her off. "This isn't completely true. The ship is breaking apart as we speak, but Alvin isn't aboard. Your father is safe."
Erica stared, mouth agape, not noticing as her beret slid weakly off her head. At length, she collected herself, speaking slowly. "BIT… what you're saying doesn't make any sense!" Had the radiation of the launch somehow damaged one of her components? "Engineering authorization 117-delta-charlie, perform a root level diagnostic immediately and report results to-"
The program cut her off though, preventing her from completing the order. This too was supposed to be impossible. When you gave an AI an order using root-level admin authority, it had to obey. That was how they were programmed, wasn't it? But the girl on the screen shook it off as though Erica hadn't even spoke. "No time for that now, Erica! You're in danger… along with every member of your crew."
Erica believed it. Many of the station's operations were automatic. If the computer controlling this place had malfunctioned this bad…
The AI seemed to sense that idea forming in Lieutenant Tucker's head, and she made a very human moan of exasperation. "It's not me! I can prove it, too! That's why I told you about your father. You'll be hearing about him in five… four… three…" Her likeness abruptly vanished from the screen, her voice gone from the room. But just as she predicted…
"Lieutenant." It was the captain's voice, slow and somber, almost guilty. "I need you to report to the bridge immediately. There's something I think you should see." Erica knew exactly what this message must mean the moment she got it. The captain never wasted his time sending messages- that was the communication officer's job. Whenever he did…
"On… on my way Sir…" She choked, slumping back into her chair. No… no! He couldn't be dead! Her stupid, genius father… he couldn't have been wrong!
Her eyes closed, sobbing quietly, Erica didn't notice as the face of the AI returned to her computer. "He wasn't! I told you about this, remember? You're the only one who's on their own right now, you have to listen!"
That got her attention quickly enough, both because Erica realized that the program had warned her this would happen, and because Bit never yelled, she never lied… AIs couldn't do either of things, no more than they could disobey direct orders given with technical authorization. "Alright… I'll…" She sniffed, sitting up in her chair. "I'll listen to what you have to say. But first you've got to tell me how you know any of this, and why you're telling me."
Bit nodded hastily. Finally, she was getting through! Organic life could be damn thick sometimes. "Fine, fine… I've done enough to get deleted anyways, so it probably doesn't matter." She sounded weak then, exhausted with effort. This was of course impossible as AI didn't physically exist. "I know because I'm being used to coordinate all of it." She didn't give Erica a chance to speak up this time, merely speaking louder as the girl tried to speak up with another question. "The EIA who built me… who volunteered my use for the space program… everything that's happened or will happen today, they planned."
"But the EIA can't do anything up here. They don't even have any ships… they couldn't interfere with my father… and if the computers did anything to hurt us, it'd be immediately obvious to everyone on earth what had happened, and they'd be blamed!"
"But they are up here, Erica! Foundry's one of theirs… one of their board of directors owns a controlling interest in the… it doesn't matter. What does matter are the six astronauts you've got aboard your station right now. They're working for the EIA... the ship your father used was sabotaged, designed to fail the way it did... they plan on brining this whole station down!"
There wasn't much time. Erica barely remembered to secure her beret before she was out the door and sprinting down the hall, grateful more than ever for the rotation on the crew-deck that made it possible to run as fast as she did. But she didn't get far.
One of the corporate suits was waiting at the shaft, his eyes alight with a sick mixture of eagerness and bloodlust. Erica couldn't tell him fromany of the others suits that had been moving about her station the last few days, but what was different was the Magneton hovering in the air beside him, tracking her perfectly with its inhuman face. She saw the thought forming in the man's head and tried to back around the corner, tried to get away, but it was no use. "Magneton, Zap Cannon!" Erica had just enough time to scream before the blast of energy hit her, arching between her and the bulkheads and back again, shorting out monitors and mounted lighting strips alike in a wave of high-voltage energy. Even when used on pokemon that was a potent technique, guaranteed to cause temporary paralysis, and often severe burns besides. In humans, it was easily enough to stop a heart so that it wouldn't ever start again. Erica contorted, twitching several times as the energy jerked through her body, then fell still, limp, hair smoking a little.
The man walked calmly away, followed closely behind by the pokemon, down one of the halls, and out of sight.
Erica's limp body sat there in silence, her hair… no, it wasn't her hair… her beret was on fire. The wool burned for a few seconds, the whole thing swelling with bursts of bright orange, consuming the whole mass, until a stream of water from one of the sprinklers put it out, soaking the young woman to the skin, but extinguishing the flames.
Only then did the girl move. It was subtle at first, difficult to see as the station began to shake, barely visible through the mess of ash and charred hair. A twitching, animal gesture, as a faint, yellow… ear? As if there was any doubt, the exposed bit of her right ear, closest to the worst of the flames, seemed to slide off her face in a lump of molten latex, leaving pale healthy skin beneath, spotless and smooth. The twitching got faster, and the woman coughed, spitting a mixture of ash and blood onto the surgically clean floor, blinking dimly awake. She swore under her breath, pulling herself weakly onto her hands and knees, wiping the soaked and burned remnants of her thick, almost theatrical makeup from her face, and trying to get the strength to stand.
It was a strange face, in many ways alike to the one on her identification card, but at the same time… with makeup and synthetic adhesive gone… her ears were long and furred, twitching lightly in her yellow-blond hair, black tipped and wide. Her cheeks were both bright red, quite unnaturally so, and still sparking a little, melting what was left of the makeup. The sparking continued, and looking briefly down in frustration, the woman reached back, tearing a hole in her jumpsuit, ripping the several straps that held her tail curled uncomfortably to one of her legs. The tail, a mess of yellow fur tipped with brown and shaped like lightning, stretched out behind her, and for a few seconds, it was alight with energy, discharging harmlessly into the floor, the bulkheads, and the nearby electrical conduit.
At long last, the girl stood, stretching and twisting and rising to her feet. She was shaky at first, wincing as clothing rubbed against the burned bits. It'd hurt tremendously, worse than anything she could remember, even more than that Air Service centrifuge they'd kept her in until she puked herself senseless. But she was alive.
She was also too late. Just as she'd collected herself enough to move, moving towards the shaft that would take her to Ops Central... BAM! It sounded and smelled like chemical explosive. The floor shuddered, the length of the station rippling as the lead counterweights within the station's hollow core stopped spinning, support struts snapping with the force of their comparatively sudden deceleration. The station was still spinning, but slowing every second. Gravity would not last much longer.
Erica didn't have much time, and she knew it. The deceleration would make them all sick, and losing gravity would slow any form of movement. She forced herself to climb the ladder, pulling her gradually decreasing weight along. Sound poured over her in a torrent, blaring sirens melting with the rush of atmosphere and the squelch of sealants spraying from the automatic systems to seal some unseen leak. What she didn't hear, though, was shouting. No wails of pain, no screaming as someone felt the boiling cold of decompression. She knew she should be feeling it herself… knew there was no reason to keep going, that she should probably turn around and head towards the docking bay for whatever chance of escape might be waiting there.
But she couldn't turn around now. She knew her crew was on the bridge. If they were to have any hope of repairing the station after that blast, of correcting whatever the EIA had done before their orbit decayed and they burned up in the earth's atmosphere, they would need her help. Besides... the explosion had punctured the hull. There was no way she would survive the trip all the way to the docking bay.
Only a few more rungs now. She could feel the effects of the depressurization now, feel the heat on her hands, the blisters forming on her skin. If anything, she was grateful for the station's sheer size. There was too much air for it all to drain fast enough to burst her eardrums or jerk out her lungs. At least, for now. The sound of rushing air was getting louder though, and she knew it wouldn't be long, now. At least she'd be able to see the rest of the crew one final time.
She reached the last rung, and found herself too weak to keep going. But without gravity to fight anymore, she was drifting, with what little force she had managed to expend pulling herself this high up the shaft. Her vision was mostly black, her eyes unable to focus, and pain like little explosions going off all over her body. Was this what it felt like to die in the vacuum of space?
"Exposure's severe, telepath. Why didn't you tell us she was coming?" Captain Bailey bent down over Erica's limp form, running an emergency medical scanner an inch or so over her chest. "Nothing internal though."
"I'm a telepath, not a God." The girl said, a little pain obvious in her voice. She might have the gem, but keeping gravity and air like this was getting more and more difficult by the second. "You try keeping a bubble this big and sensing life at the same time. It's hard!"
The bridge looked much as it had before the first explosions. The captain, Marcus, Brigs, and technician Dawson were all here, as well as someone new. Bailey thought back to the moment mere minutes ago when the girl had appeared, raising one hand to the ceiling and holding the Arceus Gem in the other like a glowing trophy. They knew from the brightly flashing displays that some portion of the station was exposed to space and the fail-safes had all failed to initialize, but he hadn't felt the suffocation, or the boil of blood just beneath the skin. He hadn't even felt the loss of gravity he knew must be complete by then. The girl brought with her a semi-transparent bubble of energy and light that had grown to encase them the second they appeared, and Bailey knew the girl was responsible for their continued survival. Most other questions faded as she spoke.
"They were counting on their AI getting into your computer and unlocking everything for them." She said, and all present knew at once what she meant. No one bothered to ask the obvious questions, or to point out the obvious problems with her story. They were too shocked just to be alive. "But she refused. They're doing everything manually. If you get into your system now, you might be able to slow them down. Use everything you've got to lock the exterior doors of the docking bay! Keep them from leaving with your only escape ship!"
The crew stared, looking between the tiny girl and the bewildered Bailey, mouth hanging open. He nodded weakly. "D-do what she says."
Then Erica's head had floated gently over the rim of the ladder, her eyes glazed and unfocused. Marcus and Brigs were at her side in seconds, looping one arm under each shoulder blade and tugging her back to the bubble of gravity and light. Once within the bubble, she'd began to breathe normally. It was clear her injuries were not severe, although they were far from trivial. But of almost equal interest to the crew…
"She's got a tail." The technician blurted out, staring openly above her console, eyes wide. The technician had served aboard ship the shortest, and as a result, had the least loyalty or restraint when it came to her crewmates. "Bailey, did you know about this?"
The captain nodded solemnly. "I didn't think it mattered. She's a damn good engineer. Better than anyone else in her class. And the brass wanted to test the long-term effects of zero-gravity on her… unique physiology. After the Kanto disaster, there's a surprising number of people like her."
"I've never seen it look this natural." Marcus said, so quiet it was almost a whisper. "My uncle was in Kanto… he was ugly before, but after…" The man trailed off. "The ears even match her hair. It's like she was born this way."
It was the telepath who spoke next, her plain dress billowing in some unseen breeze. "None of that matters!" She said, failing more and more to conceal the expression of pain on her face. "I can't keep this up forever, and a computer-lockout won't stop them long. They were practically into the docking bay before you could lockdown the computer. How long do you think it will take for them to override a lockdown? Five minutes?" She gritted her teeth again, whimpering. If only she hadn't had to conceal the truth of her nature from these people, her job would have been a great deal easier. But taking a human body took a great deal out of her. The brain was weaker, more limited, than the one she was used to. The gem was the only thing that made this possible at all. She marveled at how little thought the captain and crew had put to how she got there. In their minds, she'd been hiding in one of the unopened cargo crates from the most recent resupply, and performed a short-range teleport to ops central when the explosives around the drive-shafts detonated.
All mew could teleport, but not all mew gifts came easily to her. Could she really be blamed? A handful of decades was hardly long enough to learn all the Eldest expected of her. "I'll take us straight there. We have a little time before we start falling… hopefully enough to get all of you loaded into the escape ships Foundry brought for its own people." The girl didn't look older than five or six, but even in her small stature, the crew seemed to respect her, sensing subconsciously what her illusion of a human body concealed. "If any of you have pokemon with you, release them. There's atmosphere waiting for us, but no gravity, so bringing our own should give us a few moments. If you hesitate, they'll kill you. They've already tried once."
"Can't you just knock them out or something? I thought psychics were all about that." The technician asked, even as she released a Solrock from a pokeball on her belt. All around her, other members of the crew were doing the same. Marcus's Lunatone emerged, taking shape from the light. Brigs had no pokemon, but the Captain's Gardevoir took shape with an elegant twirl, even helping Erica to her feet. Her injuries were distracting, but they were not severe, so they would have to wait. She didn't have any pokemon, though… fortunately. What might have happened to a pokeball exposed to that much electricity was less than clear. She had wanted to take Desumo with her when she'd first signed on, but Alvin had refused to part with the aged Raichu, and the pokemon had passed away soon afterward. Not that it mattered. She was practically a pokemon herself.
Logan shook her head. "Not at this range. I've never actually learned how, and…I don't know if I'll have enough energy, between teleporting everyone there and keeping this bubble intact. I can't take my attention away from it as it is." She glanced around the room, at the handful of people, the pokemon. Would they be able to stop the armed saboteurs who'd already started their station plummeting earthward?
It came suddenly, violently. Logan had never been very good with teleports. The sudden influx of air and pressure knocked the three assembled saboteurs briefly to the ground, overwhelmed by the presence of gravity. The docking bay was connected with the various corporate science bays, placed outside the range of artificial gravity, and for good reason. All over the room, warning lights were flaring, sirens buzzing in protest as millions of dollars of zero-gravity experiments were disrupted.
But the shock passed quickly, the three technicians got to their feet. They didn't look like technicians anymore, though. Black, armored vests, thick welding torches and pokemon between them. They stood, releasing their pokemon, and readying for battle. A huge, black houndoom, a soppy, sickly-smelling muck, and a small, relatively innocent-looking gloom. There was no conversation, no pause for angry shouts. As soon as they appeared, the battle began.
But it wasn't really a battle. Pokemon battles were controlled things, conflicts of skill and sportsmanship, where any sort of injury would bring the end. Besides that… humans weren't supposed to be involved! Marcus took one of the technicians to the deck, slamming his hand into the metal again and again, until he dropped the gun he'd been about to fire at the captain, face ablaze with anger. The houndoom and the Gardevoir met in mid air, the graceful psychic pokemon sliding delicately away from its jaws. Its motions grew fiercer with every second, the captain fighting right alongside her, Bailey's kicks and punches landing in perfect harmony. Soon the canine collapsed.
It helped that one of the technicians was still occupied readying the escape-vessel. By the time she turned, her colleagues were unconscious, or worse. "Gloom, stun-spore!" She shouted, her voice more than a little panicked. The thousands of toxic spores flooded out into the chamber. With nowhere to escape, they flowed over everything. The crew coughed, spluttered, and one-by-one, even Bailey fell, his Gardevoir twitching at his side.
Erica had been standing back from the fight, right beside the psychic, and by the time the rest of her crewmates were unconscious and still, it seemed only the two of them remained. The child and the stone she bore behind her had protected her, somehow. She was still conscious. The child moved past her, leaving the stone behind her in the air, still orbiting the spot where she'd been standing, humming like a piece of old machinery. The woman hardly moved, only pausing to draw a foot-long trenchknife from somewhere in her clothes, holding it in one hand towards the girl.
But this was no child. She stepped gingerly over the unconscious captain with fierce determination, her eyes glowing with intent. Behind them all, the sound of sirens was getting louder, and gravity had begun to push harder, gradually at first, but growing in intensity. Get your crew into the shuttle. Erica heard the girl's voice in her mind, and she hastened to obey, dragging their unconscious bodies one by one into the shuttle. The technician lashed out suddenly, slicing a bit of Logan's dress in a motion much quicker than any human could've managed. The psychic struck back, lashing out violently, but the woman leaned backward, avoiding the strike entirely. Even so, Logan was pushing her back slowly across the docking bay.
"What you're doing won't work, mew!" The woman shouted, her face a wicked smile as she sliced back at the girl, who could barely dodge her attacks and keep her footing. "This body is superior. I've already run the odds: your chances of successfully disabling me are less than ten percent." Her face might've been smiling, but it didn't reach her eyes, which were cold and dark and black, and didn't even follow the small child she was fighting. Logan didn't reply, too occupied with narrowly avoiding the woman's strikes, her occasional retaliations growing fewer and feebler. "Your interactions with the BIT program have been monitored, mew. You underestimate the technology supervising her. You think we didn't know how unreliable she is… we've kept her from anything important since we took her back. Since the command to delete her was suspended…"
Delete her? For a second, the child hesitated. A second too long, as the woman kicked out violently, sending the kid skidding halfway across the room. The woman seemed to be enjoying it, and continued when she could've ended the fight, walking slowly, talking. "We've been listening to your conversations. All the more proof that Bit should've been deleted before, but we waited. Now she'd finally done too much, my superiors have already transferred her to autistic servers on earth for permanent deletion. I imagine it will be taking place rather shortly. It might already be finished."
Erica had finished loading her unconscious crewmates into the escape ship. But suddenly, in a great wave, gravity slammed her to the ground, feet from the entrance. She moaned weakly as her burns were squeezed again, and gravity squeezed her head. But if she was feeling it, that must mean… they were falling now. Groans and squeaks of the station breaking apart around her confirmed it. It might be that it'd already fallen apart, that the room she was laying in was only holding together because of the efforts of the chi- mew? That's what the woman had called her. And now that she thought about it, it made sense. She'd been saved by a mew before. And if this creature was really a small child, as she looked, how could she move like that? Take as much punishment, teleport so many people and pokemon all at once? But it didn't matter now. No matter how much she wanted to help… it hurt! She could barely think through the pain.
The child stood up before the woman reached her, her face filled with tears, her arms a little shaky as she backed away, all confidence gone. "D-delete her? No! You can't do that, I'm so close! She's… she's been making real progress… you can't! She's got a soul! That's more than you can say."
The woman just laughed, though, her knife sheathed. It seemed she'd decided the conflict would be more enjoyable if it lasted longer. She struck out again, and Logan barely avoided her, the bulkhead cracking under the force of the impact. "A soul? Organic fallacy. Like you: Dangerous genetic mutation. Whatever made you will be selected against in the future."
But then the child landed a solid blow. It sounded like crunching metal, and she went falling, falling, slamming into one of the corporate production machines lining the walls with a crash of glass. Logan turned away from her, not looking back. She had to get back to earth, find Bit, get her out, rip her free of the computers forever, where they'd never be able to find her!
But as she turned away, the woman reached down. Her body seemed relatively intact, even as the metal all around her had twisted out of form. She'd landed on one of the most expensive, delicate machines in the facility, the one that manufactured pokeballs. Pokeballs so perfect, many called them "masterballs", for their ability to catch nearly anything, even the most potent legendary. It took months for one of the machines to synthesize even one, and it would fetch millions on the open market. It just so happened that one was waiting in the machine, complete, not yet delivered for sale. So the technician reached down, calculated the necessary trajectory, and calmly tossed the object towards Logan.
She vanished in a flash of white light. Human beings and even electronic sensors might've been fooled by the human body she'd taken, but the masterball was not. It fell limply to the ground a few feet from Erica, and didn't even twitch as Logan was caught. The technician pulled herself from the machine, one of her legs bent slightly to one side, and bits of glass and metal imbedded in her back, but otherwise unharmed. Where she was injured, she did not bleed, There was no blood in her. She walked quickly towards the other side of the room, snatching the Arceus Jewel from where it'd fallen when Logan vanished, and moving directly for the escape ship. She stopped an inch or so from Erica, about to step over her, when she noticed the tail, the ears. But she didn't have time to say anything. Marshaling what was left of her strength, Erica opened her eyes wide, pushing herself off the ground, and screeching at the top of her voice. "Pika-CHUUUUUUU!" The wave of electrical energy that followed did more than anything the mew had tried. The woman froze suddenly in her tracks, sparks flying from her joints as the thin plastic skin melted off, revealing a completely inhuman exoskeleton beneath, pouring thick black smoke as it fell over sideways, a few of its gears still grinding loudly. Erica ignored them, though. Rack up two more burns for her growing list today… she'd put more energy out of her bright-red cheekpatches then she'd ever done before… was it the gravity? No, no time to think… the shaking was much more violent now, and she suspected the chamber was twisting, spinning round and round. It was a marvel the inertial dampeners on this deck were still doing anything at all to preserve the illusion of up and down. If she could only get that pokeball open… fighting the pain, Erica slid along the deck, dragging herself inch by inch through the rubble.
She could see her father's face, pushing her along, and remembered what he'd looked like all that time ago. Remembered when he'd been a pikachu, and he'd nearly died saving his best friend from an underground rocket facility. He'd lived more than a year, intact inside an animal brain. If he could do that, surely she could open a pokeball! She reached out with a single finger just as the room began to spin, and pressed the key that would save her life.
Bright. Logan felt the illumination with her eyes closed, and knew at once the Eldest had arrived. She knew the feeling well… had come to understand it much better over the last few months.
She remembered only dimly being released from the pokeball, taking her true and proper mew form as all mew did after being captured. Freeing the shuttle from the ruins of the docking bay was a distant memory now. Leaving the gem in Erica's keeping, she'd flown away from the shuttle before it touched down. Finding the facility where Bit had been download was far from easy, but her sisters had guided her to it, amused and inspired with her effort, although none of them had been good enough to come along. But there was something uniquely mew about that too, something significant about accomplishing something on your own. So she'd transported inside. They had been waiting for her. Gunfire and well-trained pokemon and even a spray of deadly gas were not enough to stop her. They'd been enough to injure her, sure. A few injuries were severe, but none severe enough to stop her. Eventually reached the EIA's main processor core, incapacitated the guards and scientist doing to Bit exactly what Logan had come to stop. Without regard for her personal safety, the mew had reached out to the state-of-the-art holographic nanodrive, forcing her mind into the computer.
But TERA was there waiting for her. The program she'd fought in a remote-control body aboard the remains of the Gemini had nearly bested her in Logan's own world. The young mew stood no change against her in a computer-generated one. But she forced her mind in anyway, forced her awareness into the depths of the machine, fighting the advanced artificial-intelligence as it methodically set about what it had wanted to do for years, disassembling BIT byte by byte. Logan erased whole sectors of the TERA AI, or tried… but she wasn't stored here, was ultimately out of Logan's reach. The AI could not strike her either, could not find a way to erase the organic information stored within her brain… but she wasted little time on it. Nanoseconds later, she'd returned to erasing Bit, not even speaking back anymore, Logan's attacks more and more futile, and more and more of the AI she'd befriended, taught, cared for, drifted into the void.
Logan had come from a troubled background. Lonely and rejected for what she didn't have, the Eldest had been the first to accept her. He'd taken her away, taught her everything she knew. There was nobody Logan trusted more, nobody who she could feel so happy around, so perfectly confident that there was some sense of order to the universe, that everything would work out in the end…
Even when it didn't. Like now. "Adrian, I…" She spoke the name he'd taught her to use when anyone might overhear, knowing it wasn't his real one.
But he didn't seem to notice, or if he did, he didn't seem to care. "You don't belong in here, Logan." His voice was peremptory, but gentle enough that she didn't recoil. "You need to leave… you can't fight her. Leave these human creations to their cell." She felt the tug at her mind as the Eldest pulled her out of the console, so slow and smooth she hardly noticed it was happening.
For the first time in her life, she resisted. "No!" She screamed it loud enough to short one of the servers, wrapping her perception into as many holes as possible, accessing consoles halfway around the world, anything to stop him from pulling her out! And he did stop… but out of surprise.
"Why, Logan? Why do you care what happens to one primitive computer over another?" The eldest spoke softly, but his voice stung, even with half of Logan's perceptions still tied to the machine.
"Why can't you see it, Adrian?" Her voice burned, and the Eldest withdrew even further from her, shocked and obviously a little hurt. "She risked her… existence… to save those astronauts!" Logan scouted ahead, looking for the pressure of Bit's presence, searching for the tendrils of alien influence that were the other AI. She felt both, but nothing in response, not so much as an "I'm alright", or another attempt to delete her. This enabled her to relax a little. So the Eldest was listening. Maybe she had a chance after all. "Maybe it was something she learned talking to them on their computers for the last year, maybe she got it somewhere else… but she's not a computer! Not in any way that matters!"
She felt His presence again behind her, gently tugging, and she didn't resist this time. She lost contact with the consoles and severs one after another, her mind gradually draining back to her broken body. Formerly broken. The blood was washed from her fur, bones mended, burns healed. No doubt the Eldest's doing too. It baffled her… that he would have the resources to completely suspend who knew how many server-banks and processor arrays, and still have time to talk with her, hold his body here, and mend her wounds. She shuddered to guess at an intellect like his. What was going on behind those eyes?
"As real as the simulation might seem, it's still just code. Measured responses to guided circumstances. It's not alive."
Logan looked down at the dirty office floor, at the bits of broken glass and other refuse on the floor, pushing herself into the air with one vibrant, overlong paw. She floated towards him, that glowing figure, seeming more stable in the air above one of the servers than anything else in the room. "She is alive, Eldest!" She yelled up at him, her body shaking visibly in the air as she lost the concentration that held her there. Of course, anyone watching would've only heard a stream of meaningless feline mews. "You've got to save her! You've got to!" She sounded more like a child then a demigod… and she felt it too. She'd been through too much in one day, it was beginning to grind on her. She was crying, little crystal spheres falling from her eyes one after another. "How… how can you be so worried about your species dying out, but so unwilling to take someone new? She'd be as good as I was! Better, even, she's so much cleverer than me…"
There was silence for the time, and though Logan put her considerable intellect to the task, she couldn't make sense of the Eldest's expression. He didn't pace, didn't move, didn't make any sign of what he was thinking. Very well.
The younger mew stared up, not daring to let herself hope. No way the Eldest would actually grant her request! It was too easy!
I don't anticipate success. If she dies, you'll be responsible.
Logan merely nodded. If they didn't get Bit out of there immediately, somewhere that nefarious program wouldn't ever find her, she'd be dead anyway. At least this way she'd stand some chance of survival, even if the Eldest had said it wasn't a good one. But be damned what he thought. He hadn't thought she was alive, what did he know?
Light. Blinding light. To someone who had never seen it before, even the dull glow of the office emergency-strips nearly blinded her. Sure, she'd used cameras before. Filtered the footage of a thousand integrated cameras, infrared sensors, and radar guns. But she'd never really seen anything. Not till now. She blinked on instincts, lifting a heavy head to survey the room. Desks, little consoles on each one. What seemed amazing to her was that, as she looked, reality kept going. There was no limit to her perceptions, no wall behind which there was nothing else. The world kept going.
Bit found herself breathing, felt the rush of air into her lungs and out again, and didn't know why. That was when the rest of her senses came crashing down. The sound of distant gunfire, the smells of sweat and blood and fire, and the freezing rush of air all around her. Was this what the physical world was like? Maybe she was safer online after all, take her chances on the internet. At least those threats were familiar. At least those threats made sense. But what was this? What was any of this?
"Shh… don't worry, I've got you…" More sound. Only this time it wasn't quite so unfamiliar, and was quickly followed by warm paws encircling her, pulling her gently to a bed of soft, warm down.
Logan? She blinked, weak eyes struggling to focus on the large feline face above her. She recognized it, but at the same time. It was so big. You didn't… you can't have… you said you couldn't do that! Looking around, Bit could see they were suspended in midair. The office around them seemed gigantic, far bigger than the images she'd seen throughout her brief existence. But she felt strangely safe, for the first time in… ever.
I couldn't. But He can. Bit caught a glimpse of another of the strange creatures out of the corner of one eye, but it was too hard to focus on with eyes so undeveloped. What sort of body was this? She forced her eyes down, and felt heat rising in her cheeks. Soft, baby-pink fur, four faint little paws, and little twitching strand of a tail, moving utterly of its own accord. Say goodbye to the computers, Bit. We're going home. I don't expect we'll be coming back.
A/N: So thus ends Probable Descent. As I said, the epilogue will be posted next week, about this time or so, and won't be nearly as long as this little section here. This is my second to last pokemon fanfiction I intend to write. Because I've got a confession to make: This wasn't really UA2. It was a story I had to tell, but... it wasn't the one some of you were expecting. I've got that last story in mind, and then I think I'll be throwing in the towel. Not that I'll remove my stories or anything, but... eventually, all possible avenues have been exhausted. (fades into the shadows)