Fire and Ice

By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Chapter Two: Coffee, Donuts, and Genetic Experiments

Biting wind howled above a raging sea. White-crested waves roiled and crashed together in a hypnotic dance, a fine blanket to wear over a watery grave. Thunder roared a stentorian duet with the ocean below, flashes of lightning arcing into the chaos of water and wind. So great was the storm that it was as though the Beast of the Sea itself had stirred from the depths to release the hellish tempest.

A black helicopter, its blades shrieking in protest at the force required to stay aloft, hovered over a small island. In the rainy gloom, the machine was little more than a silhouette, even in the flashes of lightning. It was designed for stealth, to be undetectable even in broad daylight. Now, in the furious downpour, it was nigh invisible. Three men were aboard; one was fearful, the other unconcerned, and the last was wishing desperately for a mug of hot chocolate and a warm fire.

Below, the island crouched, a beast waiting to swat the helicopter out of the air at the first opportunity. A large building, its walls streaming with water, dominated the majority of the island, its many windows filled with light. Antenna and radar arrays bristled from the roof, the main reason that they had been forced to approach under the cover of the gale.

The pilot glanced anxiously at the thunderheads above for the sixth time in as many minutes, wishing that his helicopter was built to withstand a bolt of lightning, and cursing the fact that it wasn't. Twisting around in his seat, he tapped one of the other men on the shoulder to get his attention. The pilot was forced to shout over the storm, their headsets useless over the cacophony of thunder and ocean. "I'll drop you off, but then I have to return to the ship and refuel! You'll be on your own until then! I'm giving you six hours, tops, before I come back!"

Their helicopter strained against the storm, struggling to keep them from being crushed against the island below like an insect against a car's windshield. Latching onto his rappelling line, a younger Enos Grimsby wiped rain from his eyes, clearing them for a brief moment. Glancing over at his partner, the young agent gave him a nod to indicate that he was ready to go.

The other man, another familiar figure who had just latched onto his own line, returned the nod.

Slamming his gloved fist against the cockpit's bulkhead to get the pilot's attention, Enos waved, shouting, "Lower the lines! And try to keep her steady!"

The pilot gave a thumbs-up, hitting the glowing red button that lowered the heavy cables.

Closing his eyes, the young agent leapt into open space with a loud whoop that was audible even over the noise of the storm. Rolling his eye, Agent Nebula followed in disciplined silence.

Enos paled, unwanted memories rearing up in his mind, tormenting him. "That…thing is in there?" He remembered that day, the terror that had locked him in an iron grip, the panicked minutes, no, eternities, of fleeing through unending white hallways.

But, most clearly of all, he remembered it.

The trip to solid ground was short and painfully abrupt. The cable was slick with rain, and Enos was unable to get a tight grip, the line slipping through his grasp.

"YAAAAAAAAHHH-Oof!" He grunted as pain shot up his legs from the impact.

Nebula, unlike his more enthusiastic associate, touched down lightly, crouching to absorb his impact against the muddy earth. Keeping low, so as to avoid any watching eyes, he ran over to Enos, hoping that he wasn't injured. Even the slightest injury could jeopardize the mission. Understandably, he was quite relieved to see a mud-stained Enos staggering to his feet.

"I'm alright, I'm alright. Perfectly golden," Enos wheezed, waving Nebula away. The muck that had coated his black stealth suit was already being washed away by the downpour.

A flare of lightning lit up the facility before them, illuminating the many vents and pipes that covered its surface. It would be a simple matter to climb up the walls and enter through a rooftop vent, but it would be time consuming. Time they could not waste.

Agent Nebula frowned. Scaling the side of the building could take several hours, but he was assuming that the only vents were on the roof, as was common for many of Team Rocket's facilities. He decided to look over the walls when they were lit by the next round of lightning.

Another flash, another glimpse. The second illumination gave Nebula the instant he needed to notice an entry; a grate nearly ripped from its socket by the force of the winds.

Pointing it out to his partner, he motioned for Enos to follow as he cautiously moved towards their ticket into the New Island Research Facility…..

Commander Nebula slowly shook his head. "No, the beast itself is not here, but I have been informed that a large number of samples are. They are what we have been sent to retrieve."

The scout breathed a sigh of relief, his body gradually losing the fearful tension of past dangers unwillingly remembered.

Enos and Nebula had been wandering through the building for several hours, and had yet to find even the slightest piece of information worth stealing. Who would've thought that Team Rocket didn't even use half of the facility?

Sneaking around was no problem for the two agents. The various guards that patrolled the halls were lazy and careless, and it was mere child's play to avoid detection. Though there had been a close call when Enos had decided to raid the guards' lounge, making off with a cappuccino and a couple of donuts. Of course, the only real obstacle was the vast array of security cameras. As luck would have it, however, they were positioned with plenty of blind spots, so even the cameras posed little threat to the two spies.

There was also the threat of the installation's security force: a crack team of Rockets that had been quartered in the facility's lower floors, according to the information provided during the two Galactics' mission briefing. They were known to be well-trained and ruthlessly obedient, providing a much more significant danger to the agents. Fortunately, none of the guards keeping watch over the corridors seemed to be members of the elite force.

At the moment, they were searching through a veritable library of files and recorded data from the various calculations and experiments performed by the Team Rocket scientists, in a small room labeled simply, "Records". Though as tantalizing as the room's name had been at first, Enos and Nebula were finally beginning to understand the meaning of the words "superfluous information."

Agent Nebula was skimming the many files brusquely, stopping every so often when he found a folder that seemed promising, only to thrust it back into place with disgust when closer inspection revealed it to be yet more useless and trivial data.

Enos himself had gone through several filing cabinets of information already, and was starting to get bored. Fingertips brushing the nametag of each folder he looked over, he muttered what they read under his breath, pausing occasionally to take a sip from his mug of pilfered coffee. "Magnemite Evolution Patterns…Nope. Mating Habits (V. 2-Intercourse)…Hell, no. Mmm-hmm, this is some damn good coffee! Let's see…Metal Ore Sample #1134206 Studies…Yeah - no. Mew Samples, Mew DNA Resequencing, M2 Cloning Labs…Bingo!" Lifting the intriguing packet of files from the drawer, he untied the string keeping it shut, and pulled out the first of the files. He took in a sharp breath as he read the first few lines, and slowly put his mug down on top of the filing cabinet.

Team Rocket had gotten their grubby hands on a near-complete DNA sample of Mew.

Those lucky bastards.

"Nebula, you'd better come take a look at this. I think I just found something worth our time." Enos kept his voice barely above a whisper, and waved wildly at his partner to emphasize the significance of his discovery.

Stepping lightly so as not to make any noise, and almost eager to get a look at something somewhat more interesting than the scratch test results for onix hide, Nebula hurried over, and his eye widened in shock at the valuable information that lay before him.

Enos gave the disguised Rocket base a cursory glance, and then stared at the other Sevii Islands, as though the monster from the past was hiding on one of them, waiting. "So if that…that thing isn't in there, then where is it? I thought that it was hiding out in this area."

"It is, according to the radio transmissions we've intercepted from this base. They just haven't been able to get a solid fix on its location. Yet."

"Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, shouldn't we be leaving right about now? The chopper is gonna be here soon, and I don't wanna get left behind again like last time."

Agent Nebula's well of patience was beginning to run dry. There was only so much complaining and idiocy he could bear from the young Grimsby, and he had quite a talent for enduring stupidity. After all, he had to deal with his "superiors", Commanders Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter, who were, in his opinion, the three greatest imbeciles he had ever met.

Although the packet of files Agent Grimsby had come across was overflowing with valuable and important data, it had only in passing made reference to the "M2 Cloning Lab." This particular tidbit had caught Nebula's attention, and he had wasted nearly thirty more minutes scouring the remaining filing cabinets for any scraps pertaining to it that might have been missed in their previous search. Other than a map detailing the lab's location, there was little else that could be found. He was irked by the lack of supplementary information, but there was another way to satisfy his curiosity, one that did not involve trudging through the facility's almost limitless supply of paper.

So it was that he found himself sneaking through the white corridors, accompanied by his increasingly irritating associate. Periodically, he stopped to study the map, and then moved on at a quickening pace. The urgency of the situation was not lost on him, but he had to know more!

Silencing his compatriot with a violent gesture, he continued towards the lab, towards the answers to his questions.

Enos was both furious and filled with apprehension. How could Nebula simply ignore him? Didn't he see that ominous tint in the light as they approached the lab? Why didn't the other agent feel the air growing colder, becoming ice crystals that grated across his exposed skin? Barely suppressing a violent shiver, Enos trailed behind his leader, attempting to ignore the malevolent aura that grew stronger with every step.

Only the most loyal of disciples will follow their master into damnation.

Enos raised his eyebrows. "So we've finally managed to break their radio code? It sure as hell took long enough." He reached down, grabbing several stones, wincing slightly as their sharp, strangely cool edges scratched his fingers.

Clasping his hands behind his back, the Commander took a deep breath of the salty air. "Not quite. Our smuggling cell here has only managed to decode some of it, and they've provided us with the full extent of what's been successfully deciphered," he explained.

After several more minutes of practically walking right by the security personnel, along with innumerable turns and hallways, they arrived at the hallway marked as the Cloning Wing. Farther ahead, they could see a single, open door. The passage leading to the lab had scarcely enough light to see by, and was completely devoid of security. There weren't even cameras! Strangely, Enos kept anxiously looking over his shoulder every few seconds, as though he was worried that the bumbling guards would suddenly walk around the corner and seize them.

Enos could hear something, noises echoing at the edge of his hearing. It sounded like someone was talking, muffled and distant, but there nonetheless. What was it?

He turned his head, trying to find the source of the whispers. Behind him? No, not that way…

He shivered. So cold…

The sounds were strengthening, growing slightly with each step he took. Nebula didn't seem to hear them, just like he didn't feel the frigid air. He was strong.

Suddenly, he knew. There, right there; the whispers were coming from behind that wall. Quietly slipping away from his place behind Nebula, Enos approached the wall.

Words, there were words now, all questions and answers and insidious whispers scraping, scratching against his mind. It wanted to know things, everything! It was focused on them, the ones outside, but he could still hear it. It demanded answers, reasons!

But he couldn't respond; it would hear him and smell him and know he was there! To answer would be to betray his one friend, to scream out their existence to any that would listen! But, Arceus, it'd make the itching stop, make it stop!

"Enos!" It hissed and grabbed his shoulder. Its anger was building, pulsing and growing and threatening to overwhelm him. It wanted answers!

IT KNOWS I'M HERE IT KNOWS IT KNOWS!

Pain erupted from his cheek; a burning sting that tore him away from its hold. Nebula had both hands on his shoulders, his eye annoyed and curious. The senior agent had slapped him. "Enos, pull yourself together! We'll leave in a minute, just as soon as we investi-"

An explosion knocked their feet from underneath them, sending both agents crashing to the floor. Smoke and dust flooded the corridor as alarms began to wail. Chunks of ceiling fell, shattering all around them, splinters shredding their stealth suits.

It was free.

It was furious.

Enos threw one of the stones, sending it whistling through the air to fall in a long arc to the sand far below. He was about to throw another when his commander spoke.

"Enos, you can opt out of this one, if you'd prefer. I'd understand if you wanted to do so, and I wouldn't hold it against you. I was there, too." He placed an almost comforting hand on the scout's shoulder.

They were surrounded by smoke, smothered in waves of choking dust and ashes. Coughing, Nebula staggered to his feet, clutching his bloody side, which had been badly cut up by falling debris. Grasping Enos by the arm, he dragged the younger man up from the floor, giving him a swift once-over.

The younger man's condition was little better than his own; multiple lacerations across Enos' back were oozing blood. They were both coated with dust, and their cuts would probably become infected… But that could be dealt with later. At the moment, there were far more pressing matters to attend to, such as getting out alive.

Another explosion tore through the Cloning Wing, sending both men staggering. A fresh wave of choking dust blew down the corridor. Nebula could hear shouts and the pounding drums of heavy footsteps echoing through the hallways. The security detail was on its way.

"Move!" was the first word out of Nebula's mouth when he managed to catch his breath, a momentary lull before a fresh wave of wheezing tore into his chest.

"Get to an exit!" He shoved Enos forward, the dazed agent stumbling in the blinding ash. Reaching out, Enos frantically groped for the wall, his eyes clogged by dust.

IT KNOWS I'M HERE! IT CAN SEE ME! I CAN'T SEE IT, WHERE IS IT?

A powerful hand clenched down on his shoulder, guiding him. "Nebula, I can't see, there's dust in my eyes!"

Enos heard the other agent curse, then, "Here's my canteen; hold still dammit!"

Cool water splashed against his face, clearing his eyes. Wiping his wet face on the dusty fabric of his sleeve, he looked around, searching for It, silently praying that It wouldn't approach them, that it had gone away….

THERE.

A slight blue glow pierced the dusty atmosphere, outlining a towering figure, two piercing eyes glaring at them. Furious.

It was at that moment that the crack team and guards arrived.

Giratina have mercy on their souls.

The security group dashed around the corner leading to the Cloning Wing, stopping short when they saw the luminous eyes shift in their direction. Lining up, the men in front crouched as the rank behind aimed over their heads. None of them spoke. Behind, the sentries milled about in confusion, their lack of training easy to see in the eager and fearful expressions. Some even seemed to be apathetic of the chaos. After a few seconds, they assembled a formation roughly similar to the group in front of them; however, unlike the group in front, theirs was rife with whispers, clatters, and the sound of one man cursing as his fellow stepped on his foot.

The contrast between the two groups was startling, albeit predictable. One team was highly trained and proven competent by trial. The other… no more need be said.

Now that they had stilled, the crack team seemed disciplined enough, their rifles (outfitted with shock rounds, evidenced by the crackling energy glowing within their magazines) shouldered, all aimed toward the figure in the smoke. Their uniforms, black with a crimson 'R' on their chests and shoulders, blurred together in the gloom, becoming a indistinct line of figures holding electric hellfire in their toughened hands.

Nebula almost admired the precision in their movements, the restraint with which they held their silence. The Rockets, while terrible at detecting intruders, were indeed the disciplined force he had heard them to be.

Then he stopped and silently cursed. With the security force blocking the hall like that, he and Enos were trapped between the unknown monster behind them, and their enemies before them.

The beast's glowing, glaring eyes narrowed. It raised its right arm, the pulsing black sphere of a Shadow Ball materializing just beyond its open palm. Cobalt and amethyst arcs of ghostly energy zigzagged all across its surface.

"Open fire!"

The call rang out from a tall guard standing at the front of the line, a pistol leveled at the creature before them. A patch on the man's shoulder revealed him to be the commanding officer of the entire security force.

"Get down!" Nebula hissed to Enos, tackling the younger man to the floor.

Following the order given, the troops braced themselves for recoil, then opened up. Shock rounds burst from the muzzles of their rifles, the shrieking volley trailing electric blue afterimages. Fire lanced from the guns in foot long flashes, flares of light tearing into the dim, smoky air above the two agents.

All for naught.

The faint outline of a purple sphere rose around the creature, small arcs of psychic energy zipping across its surface. The electrified bullets slammed against the shield, which crackled and hissed as they were vaporized, the arcs of psychic power intensifying. The monster simply stood behind its barrier, the Shadow Ball growing in size and power.

Guns clicked and clacked as the grunts ejected spent magazines, swiftly reaching with practiced precision into pouches and munitions bags to reload. They were slamming full clips home when the empty magazines clattered against the floor, and the beast retaliated.

Dropping its barrier, the creature… no… the Pokémon released the Shadow Ball, launching it at the front ranks of the Rocket security team.

The leading officer barely had time to bark out "Scatter! Spread out, break-" with a voice full to the brim with urgency, concern, and rigidly controlled fury. Then the orb of ephemeral energy impacted, and his words vanished in a surging tide.

A wave of concussive force blasted through the hall when it hit, sending even more dust into the air as a section of ceiling collapsed. Screams and shouts of agony filled the air, the commanding officer's orders to regroup and resume fire drowned out by cries of pain.

The strange Pokémon was still for a brief moment, and then it raised its hand slowly to its eyes. The action was almost as though the beast was examining the hand that had invoked such destruction upon its enemies. As though it did not understand…

Nebula knew that this was the best chance they had to get away, and without a thought toward the warm fluid that splashed against his face, he leapt to his feet. The senior Galactic operative reached down, gritting his teeth in pain as he dragged a shocked Enos into a standing position.

"Now, while they're down! Move!" he shouted into the younger man's ear. Enos stared blankly back him, his eyes wide with pupils dilated. He was in shock.

"Arceus damn it!"

Nebula's normally tight rein on his tongue slipped, letting loose a curse. Grunting, he latched onto Enos' collar and dragged him into a panicked, unbalanced sprint.

The pair raced down the hall, stumbling and slipping on the strangely slick floor. Enos tried in vain to avert his eyes from the carnage at their booted feet, but it was as though they weren't under his control. He looked, and did not understand.

Blood was splattered along the walls and tiled floor, running in rivulets to larger pools while bodies were strewn along the hall, limp and broken like ragdolls. Most were still, but a few were beginning to stir, slowly climbing to their feet and checking on their weapons and comrades. Several, including the leading officer, had resumed firing at the beast, to little effect. Some had released their Pokémon, which were trying to help the wounded get to safety. However, the majority of the men that weren't dead staggered like drunks; their mouths wide open as though they were screaming.

Enos couldn't hear them screaming. It was like he was underwater; every noise was quiet and muffled, every footstep felt slow and light. The gunshots and roars of Pokémon were little more than taps and groans against his shocked ears. The wailing alarms were just a buzz at the back of his mind. Those men… He couldn't hear them… Why…why weren't they…?

Why weren't they screaming?

In a rush, everything around him slammed against his ears, clarity sliding like a blade across his mind. Loud, it was all so loud! He shook his head to clear away the remnants of the mental fog, and then began to run of his own accord.

Staccato bursts of rifle-fire could be heard down the hallway behind them, interrupted by more screams and the terrifying roars of what must have been an onix. Another explosion ripped through the facility, and the roars ceased. All that remained was the shrieking alarms, the occasional echoing weapon's discharge, and the anxious pounding of the two agents' hearts, their booted feet against the floor as they turned a corner.

Enos picked up his pace, shouting to his friend, "Nebula, I'm alright! Let's get the hell out of here!"

Glancing over his shoulder at his battered accomplice, Nebula nodded and let go of the teen's collar. "Let's try to get to the roof. I'll radio the chopper to get here ASAP, and they can pick us up there."

Enos nodded in reply, and then shouted in alarm as the pair turned another corner, streaking past a group of startled Team Rocket grunts in the process. Looking over his shoulder, the agent watched as, after a moment of indecision, the group split up; half headed towards the Cloning Wing while the remaining five broke off to chase after the two Galactics.

"Stop them! They must've started all this!"

Enos groaned inwardly as flashes of light came from behind them, followed by the howling and barking of growlithe. They just had to have dogs! Enos absolutely hated dogs.

"Nebula…?"

Panting slightly, Nebula spoke over his shoulder at the younger operative as they turned another corner, "I hear them! Enos, I can see a stairwell at the end of this hallway. When we get there, use your persian-"

"How many times do I have to tell you? His name is Conrad!" Enos interrupted.

Gritting his teeth, the other agent continued, "Use Conrad to take care of those growlithe. I'll contact the chopper while I move on to the roof. When you're done with them, follow me!"

"Okay," Enos answered. Slowing somewhat, he unclipped one of the three Poké Balls at his belt; it had a small, gray claw with a pair of sun-like symbols on either side inscribed just above the release button.

"They don't stand a chance," he murmured to the red and white sphere in his hand, even as the howls grew closer.

Reaching the end of the hall, Nebula crashed against the door to the stairway, throwing it open so forcefully that one of the hinges snapped, leaving it hanging haphazardly in its frame. Cursing at the pain searing through his shoulder and lacerated arm, he tore the radio from a pouch on his chest.

"Abra 214, this is Murkrow 33. Mission Cameo successful, but things are FUBAR, I repeat, mission zone is FUBAR. We need immediate pickup!"

Holding the radio to his mouth and detailing their situation and coordinates hurriedly, the older operative darted up the stairs two at a time, swiftly leaving Enos' view.

"Let's do this! Conrad, go!"

The instant Enos got to the stairwell door, he closed his eyes tightly, tossing the Poké Ball at the dogs. The ball snapped open, releasing his persian in a flare of blinding light. Whimpers and growls split the air as the flash seals he'd attached to Conrad's ball caught his opponents off-guard with the bright light.

A sleek feline shape materialized from the radiant glow, arcs of excess electricity from the Poké Ball's discharge sizzling as they were drawn to the large fluorescent hallway lights, which flickered and blew out from the influx of power. Steel-hard muscles rippled underneath a coat of smooth, creamy fur; lithe contours exuding an aura of prowess and confidence, youthful strength and tempered restraint. The large cat's tail wove patterns in the air, twisting and curling like a snake seeking prey. Emerald eyes flashed, contrasting against the ruby embedded in his forehead.

Conrad had been released in the thick of the growlithe pack, and he immediately pounced on one of the pursuing canines, biting down lightly on its throat with inch-long fangs. The growlithe's hot blood pulsed into his mouth, the copper and salt taste tickling his bloodlust. The wound wasn't likely to kill the fire-type dog, but it would keep it out of the rest of the battle. Lashing out with a hind leg, the persian slashed another growlithe's side, his sharp claws scoring deep, bloody gashes down its side. Another foe that wasn't likely to fight for long.

However, the growlithe were rapidly recovering from their temporary blindness, and he knew that he was severely outnumbered. Yowling, the massive feline concentrated, causing the scarlet gem on his forehead to blaze brightly in a powerful Flash.

The Classy Cat Pokémon smirked. That should keep them distracted for a bit longer-

Wrong.

Conrad screeched as a wave of agony tore into his right hind leg, the acrid stench of burnt fur making him wrinkle his sensitive nose. Twisting around to get a look at his attacker, he found a growlithe biting down relentlessly with a Fire Fang. Hissing, Conrad smashed the dog with an Iron Tail. He regretted the feeling of bones shattering against it, but this was a battle. Pokémon died often enough, and that growlithe ought to consider itself lucky...

"Conrad, get out of there! Come here," his trainer yelled, concern etched across his young features. Streaks of red and brown stained his uniform, patches of skin visible through holes in the synthetic fabric… why…?

Letting loose one last Flash from his gem, the big cat leapt away from the pack of growlithe, landing painfully next to Enos. He stood on all fours for a moment before his injured hind leg crumpled beneath him, leaving the persian in a sitting position. That Fire Fang must've done more damage than he'd thought…

Enos immediately crouched next to the large feline, spraying a Super Potion on his scorched and bleeding leg. The heavy metallic scent of human blood assaulted Conrad's nostrils as his trainer came closer. Glancing at the pack of growlithe, the Galactic agent smiled, saying, "You've done great so far, now finish with a Power Gem!"

Rumbling a purr at his master's praise even as he felt a pang of concern for the young man, Conrad closed his eyes. Focusing on his gem, he felt within himself for the familiar well of power locked in the crimson stone. Finding it, the persian siphoned it out into a sphere, several spheres. Opening his eyes, his green eyes, Conrad saw eight orbs of red energy floating before him, each the size of the gem on his forehead.

He grinned at the terrified expressions on the growlithe's muzzles. They knew what those balls of energy were, and they knew just how much it was going to hurt.

Conrad winked at them cheekily.

"You lose," he purred.

The Power Gems darted toward the growlithe, each following a different target as they scrabbled on the tile floor in a vain attempt to escape the super-effective spheres of energy, much to Conrad's grim amusement. Dust and shards of tile rained down as the Power Gems exploded against their targets, sending them into blissful unconsciousness.

"You did awesome, Conrad!" Enos scratched the immense feline behind the ears, eliciting another deep purr from the persian.

Pocketing the spent Super Potion, he said, "Come on, Nebula is waiting for us on the roof." Enos got to his feet, Conrad following suit.

"Stop right there!"

Turning the corner, the five grunts had finally caught up to their quarry, and with the growlithe no longer in their line of sight, they had unholstered their guns.

One of the grunts stepped forward, his pistol leveled at the disheveled Enos. Retrieving a radio from his belt, the Rocket member sneered, "You're one of the ones that caused this mess? Looks like you got caught in your own bang, huh?"

The muffled thump of another explosion rumbled through the building.

"Guys, cover this little creep while I see what's up with the other squads."

The other four grunts nodded in agreement as their "leader" (he was the same rank as they were) walked a ways back down the hall, a crackle of static rising from his radio. Turning back to Enos and Conrad, they kept a close watch, their guns twitching at every small movement.

A frigid breeze whispered down the corridor, sliding along the walls like water flooding the bowels of a titanic ship. Enos shivered slightly as mental frost grated against his skull, scraping its way down his spinal column like arctic ice against a ship's underbelly.

Hell was not hot, the Devil not a beast of fire and flame.

His guards either didn't notice, or didn't care. One of them kicked him in the stomach, knocking his breath away. Pain lanced up from his belly as one of his cuts was torn wider. His lost breath misted in front of his eyes, a fog of war clouding judgments.

"Don't move. You wouldn't want us to think you were trying to escape, would you?" the grunt asked menacingly as he brandished a gleaming black pistol. Enos stared at him blankly in response.

Why couldn't they feel it? Were they like Nebula, strong and unyielding?

…or were they merely blind?

Enos grimaced in pain, gasping to get his breath back. The grunt pulled back his leg for another kick before one of the others placed a warning hand on his shoulder, as if to say that damaged goods weren't worth selling. Glaring, the grunt shrugged off the other man's hand. After a brief staring match between the two, however, he backed down.

The captured Galactic agent kept as still as was humanly possible, keeping a steady and calming hand on Conrad's creamy fur. He could feel the persian tensing, ready to pounce; the feline's long claws slowly extended from the sheaths in his paws. Not speaking, Enos simply shook his head when the Classy Cat Pokémon glanced up at him for instruction. Conrad looked away, downcast.

In the silence, another explosion rocked the base, close enough to send a couple of the grunts staggering. A fresh wave alarms and klaxons started up, filling the corridor with white noise.

Enos and Conrad nearly took the distraction as their chance to escape, but before they'd done more than tense, there was a scream.

At the opposite end of the hall, an object barely identifiable as a body slammed into the wall, the snap of bone audible even over the wailing alarms.

It was back.

The grunt who had been conversing on the radio froze, and then quickly returned the device to his belt, dropping into a crouch with his pistol aimed at the end of the hallway. Turning back to his comrades, he waved three of them over with a hand. Raising their own weapons, the trio moved down the hall toward their companion, leaving Enos and Conrad guarded by a lone grunt.

Pointing at Conrad with one hand, the remaining member of Team Rocket silently indicated that he wanted the persian in its Poké Ball, now.

Keeping his hands in sight, and moving slowly, Enos retrieved Conrad's Poké Ball from his belt. Crouching, he placed a calming hand on the persian's muzzle to silence the cat's protesting growls. He was about to return the persian to his ball when the feline jerked away, letting out a plaintive mew as-

Gunshots echoed down the hallway along with men screaming, shouting. Who was screaming? Why was it getting clos—?

Enos turned his head.

-a screaming Rocket member crashed against the grunt guarding them with bone-shattering force, smashing him into the wall with a sickening crack. The bodies slumped to the floor, and the screaming, the shouting, the gunshots all stopped.

Silence. Cold, calculating silence.

Enos didn't look at the grunts on the floor next to him. He didn't need to in order to know that they were dead. He just knew.

He instead gazed down the corridor, the white canvas walls stained with apples and roses. There was a cloud of mist at the end of the hallway; it slowly thinned, dropping to the floor to creep along the chessboard tiles, creep like the tendril roots of nightshade. A dark silhouette materialized from the dissipating fog, and it was not looking at its handiwork.

It was staring straight at him, through him, into him, and all he could do was look back and hear a single, jarring thought. It was beautiful.

Life is wonderful.

Enos shivered.

Standing, Conrad glared at the Pokémon across the way. It was bipedal, and psychic most likely, judging from the blue glow enveloping it. Powerful, too, seeing as it had must have been the cause of the rumbling explosions that had been reverberating through the facility.

It raised a paw… no… a hand. A trio of glowing black orbs grew into existence scant inches before its bulbous fingertips, ectoplasmic lightning crackling and arcing between them like Tesla coils.

The persian sprang to his feet and his muzzle twisted into a snarling hiss, the fur all along his back standing on end. His teeth were bared and gleaming, his eyes narrowed to vehement slits. The Pokémon was a threat to Enos, to his friend. Enos was the only human he felt capable of respecting, of understanding him, and he would be damnedbefore he let some twisted psychic lab rat do anything to harm him.

Conrad shot a swift glance at his trainer, at his shredded uniform and oozing cuts, his wide eyes and labored breathing.

Well, anything to furtherharm him, that is…

A light chuckle seeped through the air. It was laughing at them.

Fools.

Then its hand flicked, and the three spheres lanced forth, splitting the distance from the strange Pokémon to Enos and Conrad in half in the span of a mere fraction of an instant.

Enos' eyes widened, and Conrad made a desperate leap, catching two of the ethereal Shadow Balls in the chest before the deadly energy could impact against his friend. Purple and blue surged harmlessly across the heavy fur of his chest, the energy dissipating as it fought a futile battle with his normal-type resilience.

"Enos, why are you taking so long? The chopper is on its way and- Shit!" Nebula dived to the floor as the third Shadow Ball rocketed into the wall where his head had been moments before. Cursing in pain as he struggled to his feet, he snagged Enos' shoulder in an iron grip before dragging the younger man into the stairwell.

"The helicopter is here, move!"

Conrad cast a backwards glance as he bounded into the stairwell after the two agents, catching a glimpse of another Shadow Ball streaking toward him as he used the wall as a springboard to push off and reach the top of the first landing with a single leap.

The Shadow Ball ripped the door from its remaining hinge, metal shards perforating the wall behind it.

Meanwhile, Enos and Nebula had reached the roof, bursting through the door with the persian hot on their heels. The storm from earlier in the day must have run its course, for blessed sunlight blinded them as the reached the outside. Enos squinted, his eyes having become accustomed to the dull glow of fluorescent lights and smoky gloom. Blasts rumbled through the facility below them, beams of light piercing through large cracks in the crumbling roof as smoke bellowed and roiled from the explosions.

Salvation.

The stealth helicopter was hovering a few feet away, its pilot not daring to rest the machine's full weight on the unstable rooftop landing pad as even more cracks split the its concrete surface. Through the shaded cockpit window, they could see the pilot beckoning at them wildly. His expression was familiar and understandable: panic.

"Go!" Nebula shoved Enos into the open bay doors, then followed suit, slamming his fist against the bulkhead to the cockpit and shouting for the pilot to fly just as Conrad slipped in.

The chopper lurched upwards, sliding into the smoke and dust-choked skies as another explosion tore through the building below, an entire wall blowing out underneath them. Shards of molten steel and glass left corkscrew trails of smokes as they were sent flying by the blast, plinking and clattering against the sleek copter's underbelly.

Latching himself into one of the helicopter's seat harnesses, Nebula snatched a headset from the ceiling rack and shouted directions to the pilot.

"Take us out, and hug the smoke for as long as safely possible, if you can. It ought to screen us from being seen, which is the last thing we could possibly want."

"U-understood," stammered the clearly shaken pilot, the helicopter accelerating as it dipped into the ruinous clouds billowing up from the New Island research building.

Nodding to himself, Nebula reached up and slipped the headset down around his neck, closing his eye. It burned as some of the smoke outside seeped in through the air filtering system. He sighed, and leaned his head back against the padded headrest.

Enos was resting in one of the bay's seats, Conrad's head in his lap as the young man stared blankly into the roiling clouds passing by the helicopter's bay windows. He didn't speak a word, even as a tear rolled down his face, mixing with the dried blood and encrusted grime. The Classy Cat below him nuzzled his still hands, letting out an incongruously plaintive mew. Enos began to scratch his Pokémon behind the ears, absentminded and not truly paying attention to the large feline's purrs and comforting licks to his scraped hands.

"Enos."

The young Orre native glanced at Nebula, his attention briefly caught by the senior agent, but then returned his dull stare to the windows.

"Enos, look at me," Nebula's voice was firm, providing a foundation which gave the listless teenager a point of order to rebuild his confused and scattered thoughts upon.

Enos gazed at Nebula, and this time his eyes didn't wander away.

"How did you know that… thing was there? You knew, didn't you?" Nebula's eye was running along his companion's face questioningly, as though seeking answers in the set of his jaw and his blue eyes… his eyes were…

Nebula's own eye widened. Enos' eyes, the startlingly blue irises, were ringed by a faint purple glow. Which meant… Enos was a psychic, if a weak and latent one, but a psychic nonetheless. The fading light ringing his irises proved that.

Enos looked away, and wouldn't listen to Nebula for the remainder of the flight back to the ship waiting to take them back to their… no, Nebula'shomeland, Sinnoh.

Mewtwo had left his mark.

Enos paused, his arm raised to launch a second stone, as his commander spoke. Averting his gaze, staring down into the water of the bay far below, he lowered his arm, and the rock dropped from his hand. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, and gritted his teeth.

Memories. Enos despised his memories of home, of Orre, of the gangs and the wasteland. But it was the memory of those white hallways, of those three words, that he hated most. They scared him.

Life is wonderful. A true statement, and one he tried to honor, but Arceus, it terrified him.

He opened his eyes, running them along his arms and legs and torso, where underneath his modified uniform lay scars from that day, and memories.

Enos turned and stared directly into Nebula's eye, his face grim and hardened.

"I'm not opting out. I'm coming with you on this one, just like I did back then, like I always have," he said. His blue eyes held an ice in them, and for a split second, purple flickered around his irises. His eyes brooked no argument with his words.

In return, Commander Nebula nodded slowly.

High on a cliff, a pair of old friends stood, each recalling the terror and pain and shock of a single day, of single moments in their lives. One pulled back his arm, and a stone streaked through the air in along, curving fall to the ground below.

The one who had thrown the rock lowered his arm and grinned. "Besides, if I chicken out on this, where am I gonna get that shower?"

Life is wonderful.

Author's Note: Goodness, this took forever to get up. Life has been busy, and will likely stay that way, so... slow updates. Much thanks to Stolloss, FirebirdXoX, Fear the Pika, and shinymonkey8 for beta-reading this chapter~