Author's Notes: Okay, here we go! This is the end of the first part of the story, and a fairly substantial chapter. I'd like to give a shout-out to symcbean, Steve Barnes, and Simon B on StackExchange Information Security for helping me figure out what Leo should be up to this chapter. Also, thanks for reviewing, Mal! Glad you enjoyed the chapter, and I hope I've gotten all the POV switch mistakes out now... for some reason I had a lot of trouble staying in the right POV for this chapter and the last.

Here we go! The story will be taking a bit of a different turn after this...

Chapter 35

After a couple days the child realizes that letting the great Nathaniel Morgan stay was basically the same as inviting a wild animal into its home: now he knows there's food and shelter here, he's never going to leave.

Food in particular is a problem. The great Nathaniel Morgan complains constantly when he doesn't have any, but whenever the child goes out and buys some he eats it all within a few hours and starts complaining again. The only thing he won't touch is stuff for the pokémon, but when the child tried buying some cookies and claiming they were for Raticate and Mightyena he went and ate them anyway. He's so annoying.

Aside from eating or saying he wants to eat, all the great Nathaniel Morgan seems to do is sleep. The child keeps finding him passed out in front of the television, on the beach, in the kitchen, wherever it goes. The child doesn't know whether to be grateful that he isn't awake and causing trouble or annoyed by how boring he is. At least he stopped making a fuss about clothes once the child took to wearing the smiling-mantine swim trunks it uses when it's pretending to be a deep-sea explorer.

Raticate seems to enjoy crawling into the house's nooks and crannies just as much as Rats, but fortunately he doesn't bother Rats' actual nest. The child's caught him nearby more than once, up on his hind legs and sniffing the air like he's trying to suss the place out from a distance. The child hopes he stays away; Rats would be furious to know there'd been another raticate climbing around in there.

Meanwhile Graveler stays out on the mountainside, rolling down and climbing up over and over again. The great Nathaniel Morgan says that's just how she is, sometimes pokémon do weird shit and at least she seems like she's having fun, and also not to fucking wake him up if that was all it wanted to ask. And Mightyena—Mightyena shows up for meals, wolfs down her food, and leaves. She and the great Nathaniel Morgan ignore each other whenever they end up together, and the child thinks they're both trying to make sure that's rare.

"I can't just not feed her," the great Nathaniel Morgan says one dinnertime when he catches the child watching her. "She ain't never been in the wild before. She don't know how to get grub on her own."

"She asked me to help with that, so we've been practicing on stuff in the jungle. It's not hard. She'll get it pretty quick," Raticate says. He only realizes his mistake when the great Nathaniel Morgan stops chewing and stares. "I mean, that's good, right? If she wants to live in the wild some day, she has to know, and if something happens now she can—"

"Yeah. Of course. It's fucking great," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. He throws down his fork and abandons nearly half his dinner, and Raticate's too miserable to even eat the rest for him.

Sometimes the child finds the great Nathaniel Morgan with the master ball, either yelling at it or sitting with it next to him, head in hands. He doesn't sleep when the master ball's around. The child thinks it might have been a bad idea to give him the ball in the first place, and that he shouldn't keep trying to argue with Mewtwo, but the great Nathaniel Morgan wouldn't listen if it tried telling him that.

It's not like the child's own conversations with the clone go any better. At breakfast: "Why are you being so stubborn? I'll let you out as soon as I get my pokémon back. Not telling me just means you have to stay in your ball longer."

And if you would just let me out, you would have your precious pokémon back in no time at all.

"That's what you say, but what you do is leave me behind and go off and kill people. You know I'll keep my end of the deal. I don't know that about you."

Very true, Mewtwo muses. After all, you're so trustworthy you lied to the human and the sableye both to get what you wanted out of them.

The child grits its teeth. "You can read my mind. You know I'm not lying about this."

From inside here? I'm lucky to catch a whisper of a thought. You could be plotting to throw this master ball into the ocean and I'd never have a clue.

The child tries again out on the beach, its feet buried in the sand and the master ball resting on a mound next to them. "You didn't even ask my pokémon if they wanted to stay with me or not. Keeping them locked up somewhere in their pokéballs isn't giving them their freedom at all."

What would be the point of asking? They've been brainwashed into thinking they want what you want.

"Brainwashed? Are you serious?" the child snaps. "So if they disagree with you, it's not what they really think, they must be brainwashed, is that it?"

No. They might disagree for their own reasons. Then they'd just be wrong.

And in the evening when the child's bored by the news and waiting for a commercial break: "I'm a good trainer, Mewtwo. You know I am. You can see it! You can see how much I care about my pokémon. I miss them. There is no reason for you to keep them from me."

A good trainer, Mewtwo muses. Caring about them is what makes you a good trainer? Caring is all you need?

"No, I mean, there's more to it than that. But I'm nice to them, and I listen to them, and I don't make them do anything they don't want to do."

So you would never, say, keep one of them confined to their pokéball if they didn't do what you want—

The child hurls the master ball at a wall and doesn't bother going back to pick it up. Absol brings it over after a few hours and leaves it humming smugly to itself by the child's side. Reluctantly the child picks it up and stuffs it in the desk drawer where it normally resides, then wanders off to think about anything else.

So Mewtwo's bad, and dealing with Leonard Kerrigan's hardly better. He's who the child's really waiting on—it can't go anywhere until he's finished and it knows where it actually needs to go. But he's never working when it looks in on him.

"How is this even hacking?" it demands, glaring at the books and printouts scattered across the carpet—things it brought, stuff it did, when Leonard Kerrigan's the one who's supposed to be working on this. The human's typing away on the laptop the child got for him, which it figures is safe enough without his special hacker programs or an internet connection. The child looks at his screen. "What is with all of these dumb black boxes? There should be graphs and pictures and moving things!"

"How exactly would an animation be helpful?"

"I do not know, that is just how it works. How do you not know this? You should at least have something 3D by now."

"I suppose this is what I get for not studying at the PokéStar School of Computer Espionage," Leonard Kerrigan says blandly.

"I am starting to wonder whether you are a real hacker," the child says warningly.

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

And the problem is the child really doesn't. It leaves Leonard Kerrigan to his supposed real, actual hacking, but every time it sits down to do something else it's up again five minutes later, pacing, walking up and down the beach, feeling like it has to move but not knowing where to go. It can't pay attention through a full episode of even Transformozords, and it can't play with Absol, not really; she seems to be mad at it about something, but of course she won't explain why or how to make it better.

So in a way the child's glad to see the great Nathaniel Morgan awake and lurking in the kitchen when it comes in to check the fridge, which is empty again. An argument with him is at least something to do.

"You know, you could totally hold tours here, Freak. Like, show people all the crazy alien artifacts and shit," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, gesturing at the crowded countertops, the stack of pots he had to move to take a seat at the table. "I mean, what the fuck is this, anyway?" He holds up a gleaming metal instrument, all toothy gears and flywheels.

The child shrugs. "I think it is for turnips."

"The fuck is a turnip?"

"I do not know, some kind of egg, maybe?"

The great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head and puts the thing down next to an unplugged countertop grill and a juicer with an intimidating number of buttons. "Point is, even if you did find you a fucking turnip, you couldn't fling it or whatever the fuck because your entire goddamned kitchen is full of bullshit."

"It is not bullshit! It is cool!"

"Freak, you don't even know what half this shit does. Like this." He waves a handheld thing with two paddles.

"That is a garlic press, obviously," the child says, then does a double take. "Wait, no, that is a garlic press..."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

"But it was only $19.95!" the child says. "And the turnip thing was free!" It looks around, almost wistful. It really has forgotten half the cool stuff in here. "Absol says I am not allowed to buy more things off TV, though. One time she came through here and a stack of stuff fell on her. She did not get hurt, but it made her fur go all poofy."

Leonard Kerrigan appears in the doorway, silent as a wraith. "Looking for grub?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks.

"I figured this would be my best chance to see one of you two accidentally light yourselves on fire," Leonard Kerrigan says, sounding bored as ever. "I am hungry, though. Were you planning dinner? Please tell me it's not hot dogs again."

"I made dinner," the child says. "He just would not eat it."

"It wasn't dinner, it was a fucking dead seagull you dumped barbecue sauce on."

You child narrows its eyes at him. "How can you not like barbecue sauce?"

"I will make dinner," Leonard Kerrigan says with a sigh. "If you're willing to bring me some real ingredients, anyway. I don't have many recipes that call for coconuts and long-dead wildlife."

"You ain't gotta do that," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "I know how to work a fucking microwave."

"That's exactly what I was afraid of," Leonard Kerrigan says, and the great Nathaniel Morgan flushes. The child's curious despite itself. He does computers, and he can cook, too?

"Okay, do it," it says. "What do you need?"


Leonard Kerrigan's list takes the child to parts of the store it's never visited before, where they sell the raw bits humans use for cooking like they do on TV. The child doesn't recognize most of them and wanders around reading all the signs, trying to guess what everything is and amusing itself by taking bites out of things when nobody's looking.

By its third trip back for clarification the child gets the sense Leonard Kerrigan regrets volunteering. "I couldn't find a 'basil.' Is that some kind of fruit?"

"No, it's a leaf. It should be with the other herbs"—he winces—"I mean the, the small... green... things," he amends.

In the end the child manages to gather everything Leonard Kerrigan needs and is relegated to lurking at the kitchen table. The great Nathaniel Morgan's there, too; he put out some food for Mightyena and Raticate, and now he's sitting backwards in one of the chairs, watching Leonard Kerrigan work with chin propped up on hand.

Leonard Kerrigan clears a space on the counter and digs out plain pots and pans the child didn't know it owned. He picks up some kind of mixing device, examines it closely, then sets it carefully aside, like it's a thing unearthed from someone's bottom dresser drawer.

And then he gets started. It's not as exciting as a cooking show, watching the little piles of chopped food bits transform into something recognizable. The child tries to do its part by offering withering criticism on Leonard Kerrigan's efforts, but goes ignored. In the end, though, the child gets to eat the final result, which is maybe even more fun than watching someone get angry and start throwing knives. "This is actually really good," it confesses with mouth full. "What is it?"

Leonard Kerrigan smiles thinly. "Vegetarian lasagna. And thank you, I suppose. It's not my favorite recipe, but it can't be worse than your idea of food."

"There is nothing wrong with hot dogs. They are normal," the child says. "And I still hate you."

"The feeling is mutual."

"And you had better finish hacking that computer soon. Everybody is waiting on you. If it turns out you are stalling..."

"Yes, yes, you'll kill all my friends and family. You've been entirely clear," Leonard Kerrigan says, sounding alarmingly casual about it. "There's a vulnerability in the software that generated the hard drive's encryption key. It's easier to break than it should be, but it will still take time for the factorization to complete. A day or two, perhaps."

The great Nathaniel Morgan snorts."What kind of shitty hacker are you? You just gotta get a password, right? Can't you guess a bunch of random numbers and letters until you find the right ones?"

Leonard Kerrigan gives him a withering look. "I suppose if you had a few thousand years to spare that would be an option."

"Or, like, can't you get it off the fucking cloud?" The great Nathaniel Morgan waves his fork vaguely. "Like, break into some fucking government computer and have your fucking botnets hack all the passwords with their, with their RAM and stuff. And then it's all, like, in the cloud, right?"

"You don't have the faintest idea how computers work, do you?"

"'Course I do! They work by electricity! Duh!" the great Nathaniel Morgan says, smug. "I ain't fucking stupid."

"Clearly not."

"Do you not want your dinner?" the child asks. Its own plate is nearly empty, but the great Nathaniel Morgan's barely touched his lasagna.

"Nah," the great Nathaniel Morgan grunts. "I fucking hate vegetables."

"Excuse me?" Leonard Kerrigans raises his eyebrows.

The great Nathaniel Morgan turns a dark scowl on him. "I said I don't like no fucking vegetables. Got a problem?"

"No, no, it's just..." Leonard Kerrigan chuckles. "You won't eat vegetables, really? What are you, five years old?"

"Fuck you, old man. I know you gotta eat like spinach and shit for your prostrate or some bullshit, but I can eat whatever the fuck I want."

"I suppose there's no reason to worry about your health when you're probably going to get knifed in a dispute over a card game before you turn thirty anyway. Truly I envy your carefree, hedonistic lifestyle."

"Yeah, well, envy my fucking dick, you shit-eating prick."

"Oh, dear. It seems I've touched a nerve," Leonard Kerrigan says, folding his hands on the table and looking at the great Nathaniel Morgan like he's a mildly interesting insect. "Honestly, I can't believe Team Rocket's been giving us trouble with stolen pokédexes. When this is who they're employing, really? Some thug who can't even read? That's what's getting past our security?"

The silence that follows is broken by the rasp of the child's fork trying to scrape the very last bit of the cheese off its plate. This dinner turned out way more interesting than it expected.

"The fuck do you mean? Of course I can fucking read," the great Nathaniel Morgan says.

"Is that so? I suppose that explains why you nearly jumped out of your skin when I asked you to pass me the book on cryptography. That would be hard, wouldn't it, if you couldn't read the titles? And you wouldn't help with my list—because you couldn't read it, am I right?"

"No, I'm just allergic to fucking chores. This is such bullshit! I can damn well read!"

"Well, that's easy enough to verify." Leonard Kerrigan picks up an empty Sugar Rowlets box that didn't quite make it to the trash. "What does it say right here?"

"Fuck you! I don't got to prove jack shit!" the great Nathaniel Morgan roars.

"Mmm. Yes. That certainly shows me," Leonard Kerrigan says, and goes back to eating his lasagna as calmly as though they've been discussing the weather. Meanwhile the great Nathaniel Morgan's clutching his silverware in fists like he's ready to plunge it into Leonard Kerrigan's neck any second.

"You think you're so fucking smart," he snarls, "sitting over there all high and mighty and shit. Well, I was living on the streets while mommy and daddy were probably still driving you to your fucking flute lessons. I took care of myself—I always fucking took care of myself, and I am six fucking times the man your ballsless ass is. I mean, look at you." He spreads his hands. "You probably do, like, yoga or some shit."

"Perish the thought," Leonard Kerrigan says blandly. "But oh, my, the streets. The streets. We all have our little sob stories, don't we? We all have so many reasons why it wasn't really our fault. Tell me, was it the streets that signed you up for Team Rocket? Was it the streets that made you throw in with this shapeshifting... character? Was it"—he makes air quotes—"'the system?'"

"Fuck you!" the great Nathaniel Morgan screams. "What the fuck would you know? You fucking think you know the first fucking thing—"

"Do you really just put 'fuck' in front of some arbitrary number of words every sentence? Is that supposed to be intimidating?"

The great Nathaniel Morgan dives at Leonard Kerrigan, knocking plates and silverware in all directions. Leonard Kerrigan falls completely out of his chair, and he and the great Nathaniel Morgan roll around on the floor trading blows.

The child perches on the edge of the now-crooked table and settles in to watch the fun. The great Nathaniel Morgan would probably have the upper hand most days, but he's still sick and already bleeding from reopened wounds. Leonard Kerrigan's holding his own, but it occurs to the child that if he gets too hurt he might not be able to hack anymore. With some disappointment it jumps down and pries the great Nathaniel Morgan off him.

"Come on, come on, knock it off. I need him to do actual work," it says. The great Nathaniel Morgan struggles against it, and it tosses him so he skids across the floor and almost hits the far wall.

He's up in a moment, chest heaving and licking a split lip, but the child rises up, too, big as it can, and stands between him and Leonard Kerrigan.

"I said get out of here," the child says. The great Nathaniel Morgan looks between it and Leonard Kerrigan, trembling, then wheels and storms off, slamming the door behind him with even more shattering force than usual. The child's left alone with Leonard Kerrigan, who's still on the floor, feeling around for his glasses.

"You made him mad," the child says.

Leonard Kerrigan smiles tightly, but when he pokes at a bruise blossoming across one cheekbone it morphs into a grimace. "Yes, well," he says, putting his glasses back on, squinting, and removing them again to clean them on his sweater vest, "it was hardly difficult. It's not hard to handle someone like that if you aren't intimidated by the bluster."

"Well, whatever. It was cool."

"Mmm. Well, I'll leave the dishes to you, then, shall I? I have work to do." Leonard Kerrigan pulls himself up by way of the table and hobbles stiffly for the exit.

"Yes, you do," the child says, but he's already gone.

It's weird, the child thinks as it sits eating the great Nathaniel Morgan's portion of lasagna off the floor. It turns out Leonard Kerrigan is actually kind of cool. It probably should have known—he's a hacker, after all. But it would never have thought he could win a fight against the great Nathaniel Morgan.

Humans. They're always surprising the child. It hunts around for more food, but there's nothing left but scattered crumbs. It should ask Leonard Kerrigan to make dinner again sometime.

The child sits back and considers the door for a while, lost in thought. Then it gets up and pads out, onto the beach and into the jungle, up the incline to the top of the little mountain on the island's western tip. It's honestly more of a big hill, an ancient volcano ground down round and domestic with only tumbled chunks of volcanic stone, covered in lichen and netted by tree roots, to mark what it used to be.

Graveler sticks out at the top of the mountain, a boulder conspicuously out of place. Her four hands feel across the hillside around her, searching for loose rocks, which she pops into her mouth with apparent relish. The great Nathaniel Morgan sits beside her, staring across the ocean towards One Island.

"What are you doing?" the child asks him.

"Watching the motherfucking sunset," he says, muffled. Only his eyes and nose are visible above his arms, which are crossed atop his knees.

"The sunset is that way," the child says, pointing west to where the horizon's beginning to flush pink. One Island is south. The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't even glance away from it.

The child sits down next to him. "You lost to an old guy!" it says cheerfully. "And you really cannot read? No wonder they kicked you out of school, you are even stupider than I thought."

The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't laugh with it, though, and after its guffaws peter out the child begins to realize that the great Nathaniel Morgan might not find those things so funny. "Well, it does not matter anyway," the child says at last. "I guess you do not have to be good at those things to be a good trainer."

"Yeah, sure," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, "And I'm supposed to be a good trainer, am I?"

"Well, you have five badges. You cannot be completely terrible."

"What fucking badges?"

"Yours," the child says. Leonard Kerrigan didn't hit him on the head, did he? "The ones on your pokédex."

"The pokédex is stolen, you motherfucking idiot. Those ain't my badges."

"Oh." The child doesn't even have time to feel dumb, or angry, before the great Nathaniel Morgan goes on.

"Yeah, I thought I was gonna do the whole badge thing, once, be a master, all that shit." The great Nathaniel Morgan addresses the ocean, though at least now he's actually facing the sunset, skin glowing red in its light. "So I decided to challenge Sabrina, 'cause like, that's the gym in Saffron and all." He looks at the child out of the corner of his eye. "And I lost."

"You lost to Sabrina? But your first pokémon is even a dark-type, how did you—?"

"I don't want to fucking talk about it." The great Nathaniel Morgan huddles down in his arms as if cold, but it's sticky humid, even with the growing shadows and the ocean breeze. "So that's who you decided you wanted to fight for you in the Pokémon League, Freak. Some fuckup who couldn't even get one badge with a type advantage." He leans his arms on his knees again. "And now his starter fucking hates him and his raticate's got who knows what kind of issues and he fucking lost his steelix and Team Rocket's after him and the League and everything is..." The great Nathaniel Morgan lets the unfinished thought hang there.

Graveler stops combing the hillside for rocks and turns to her trainer. There's a long pause for what might be thinking, and then she reaches over and pats him on the back, or that's what the child thinks she was going for. Most back-pats aren't audible, though, and they don't almost knock a person forward on their face. The great Nathaniel Morgan endures Graveler's affection with clenched teeth. "Th-thanks, Graveler," he says weakly, blinking tears from the corners of his eyes. She makes a satisfied grunt and returns to chewing a piece of old tephra with the air of someone who's finally settled an important matter. The great Nathaniel Morgan watches her finish it, then picks up a rock from beside him and offers it to her. Graveler accepts it graciously, then sets it aside and selects another one within reach.

"Well, so what?" the child asks while the great Nathaniel Morgan tries to rub his back without being too obvious about it. "About the badges. You won the League tournament, didn't you? You even nearly beat the Champion. Nobody who was a bad trainer could do that."

The great Nathaniel Morgan snorts. "Freak, you know damn well it was only you cheating your ass off that got us anywhere in the tourney. I didn't have nothing to do with it."

"Not true. You beat Aanya Singh all by yourself, didn't you? Even her salamence! The point is, I was right. I told you we could win. And we did."

The great Nathaniel Morgan makes a noise that might be the beginning of a laugh. "Sure, Freak. Whatever you say."

"Of course it is whatever I say," the child says smugly. The sunset's in full force now, reflecting deep red and orange off the waves.

"Do you want food?" the child asks at last.

"What?"

"Since you did not want what Leonard Kerrigan made. And also I kind of ate your part already." The child can tell the great Nathaniel Morgan's trying not to smile, and is offended. But nonetheless: "So if you want me to get you some other kind of food I can."

"You can keep your seagulls, Freak."

"Or you can be a jerk about it and get nothing."

For whatever reason it takes the great Nathaniel Morgan a couple minutes, but at last he says, "I mean, sure? I ain't gonna turn down free grub. Especially not with this chick sitting here stuffing her face right in front of me." He does smile then, and rubs the ridge above Graveler's eyes. She rumbles something indistinct and dismissive.

"Okay. Come on, then. It is getting dark." The child's on its feet immediately and hops impatiently in place while the great Nathaniel Morgan cleans a stray bit of dirt out from under Graveler's brow-ridge. He gets up slow and stiff, and the child can tell he's trying not to show how much it hurts. He starts openly massaging his back once Graveler's out of sight.

"Oh Jesus, my ribs," he squeaks.

"So are you and Leonard Kerrigan enemies now? Do you totally hate him?"

"Well, he's a prick, that's for damn sure," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "And listen, Freak... I know you're all about this guy fixing that computer and finding stuff about Mew and whatever, but every time I check on him he's just got like all these words and numbers and shit on the screen, like there ain't even no graphs or nothing. Are you sure he's a real hacker?"

The child sighs and walks on ahead until the lights from the house show through the trees, bright yellow against the darkness.


A couple days later the child lies flopped across its bed, bored and half in a doze, when the great Nathaniel Morgan comes clomping up to bother it. "There you are, Freak. Look, would you go see what the fuck Kerrigan wants? He's been bitching at me to go get—whoah."

The child opens its eyes and gives him a look, inviting him to recognize that it was enjoying a nap and it would be in his best interest to walk away now, but the great Nathaniel Morgan isn't paying attention. Instead he's staring around the room. "Holy shit. What the fuck is all this?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean did a tornado hit a flea market in here or something? What is all this shit?"

"Mostly clothes."

"Okay, but why the fuck do you have like eight billion different shirts and shit? Like why the fuck do you need all this?"

"If you are going to be somebody, it is not enough just to look like them. You have to wear the right things, too. I mean, you cannot be an astronaut without a spacesuit, obviously."

"And you got one, don't you?" The great Nathaniel Morgan's gaze goes to a hatstand in one corner, from which hangs a space helmet with a gold-mirrored visor. The suit itself might be somewhere under the child's bed.

"Of course. And pirate hats and armor and dresses and lab coats and cowboy boots and everything."

"Huh." He nudges a discarded water pistol with his foot. Props spill out of dresser drawers and the open closet, feather boas slithering down from crowded dresser-tops and hats, shoes, belts scattered on the floor. The great Nathaniel Morgan smiles to himself as he says, "So, what, you spend your free time going around pretending like you're some fucking fairie princess or whatever the shit with those hugeass sparkly wings on?"

"Sometimes. You want to play?"

"What? No, I want you to go see what the fuck Kerrigan wants so he'll shut the fuck up already."

But the child has the perfect idea. It jumps off the bed, suddenly not tired in the least, and start digging through the clothing on the floor, searching for—ah, here it is. "You can be the evil king. Here." The great Nathaniel Morgan starts backing up, but the child's too fast for him, draping the old purple bedsheet over his shoulders like a cloak. "And here, you have a crown, too." It's black wire with huge fake gemstones on it, all spiky and nasty-looking, exactly like a bad king would have. The child drops it on the great Nathaniel Morgan's head while he's trying to shrug out of the cloak.

Immediately he reaches up to adjust it. "Ugh, it's all poky. Come on, Freak, give it a re—"

"Here, here, your scepter!" The child shoves it into his hand, a wrapping paper tube painted yellow with big glittery gold sequins and a xatu head on top that the child made out of papier-mâché. The beak broke off at the tip, but otherwise it looks good.

"What the fuck?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says, staring at the thing in his hand as though not completely sure how it got there. The child dives under the bed to rummage. It's never gotten to play pretend with a human before. Absol and Rats usually won't even let the child dress them up. But now it can do a story that needs two people, which means: "I'll be the hero who overthrows you and saves the kingdom! En garde!"

The child shakes a scarf off the end of a sword and jabs the point into the great Nathaniel Morgan's chest. He looks down at it with a faint smile on his face. "Yeah? So, what, I'm a fucking evil king now? What the fuck do I even do?"

"You kill people and throw them in dungeons and have them tortured and oppress them and stuff. How do you not know that?"

"Oh, yeah? I dunno. Sounds kinda boring to me," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, swinging the scepter so it hits the underside of his free palm with a steady whoonk whoonk whoonk. "I mean, fuck, if I were an evil king, I'd make sure everybody knew I meant business. Like, screw the murder, I'd just, I dunno, make everybody do math homework all the time or some shit."

"What? No, no, that is not allowed."

"Evil king, remember? I don't give a shit about the rules. So let's see, I'd... Oh, I'd say no late-night TV 'cuz you need sleep for, like, growing or some shit, and I'd make everybody clean their fucking rooms because seriously, this shit is crazy."

"You cannot do that! That—that is not how it works!"

"And I'd ban ice cream and make it so people had to eat broccoli every day."

The child stares at him. "You are horrible." Gathering its resolve, it jabs him harder with the sword. "You cannot make me! I am the hero, and I am going to kick your evil butt!"

The great Nathaniel Morgan grabs the sword, the foam blade bending under his fingers, and gives the child a taunting smirk. "That so? With what, your pure-heartedness or some shit? You're the one all acting like making people do homework is worse than killing them."

"But all evil kings kill people and stuff, everybody knows that. You are coming up with extra things all on your own. You do not want to be bad like everybody else, you want to be more bad. That is why I am going to stop you!"

The child wrenches the sword sideways and out of the great Nathaniel Morgan's grasp, then smacks him on the shoulder with it, not hard, but with enough force that he flinches away. A flurry of slashes puts him on the retreat.

"Ow! Fuck! Okay, okay, I'm fucking slain or whatever the fuck, knock it off!"

The child gives him a couple extra smacks just to make sure he gets the point, then raises its sword in victory. "I win! The kingdom is saved and everybody is happy!"

"Yeah, yeah, you're the fucking hero." The great Nathaniel Morgan takes the crown off his head and drops it on the child's. It lets out a yelp, trying to shove the crown up out of its eyes. And it is poky, ugh. "We done, then? Because seriously, Kerrigan's got a major stick up his ass and I don't want to deal with it. We can play pretendy games later, okay? Just go see what the fuck he wants."

"Later?" The child drags the crown off its head and throws it on the bed, the sword going next to it. "Really? You are not going to run off or anything?"

"Me?" The great Nathaniel Morgan leans against the doorframe, smiling like he's forgotten all about his missing teeth and tapping the end of his scepter idly against the wall behind him. "Running off on you? I got no clue what the fuck you're talking about." The child narrows its eyes at him. "Nah, seriously, Kid, it's fine. Go on, get moving."

The child goes past slowly, watching him the entire time. He doesn't move, and the child charges off down the corridor. Probably it won't take long to deal with Leonard Kerrigan anyway. And it has been a while since it checked on him. It should see what he's up to, remind him he doesn't have long before it gets angry.

"What do you want?" the child demands the moment it enters the computer room.

"Ah, it's just you. I thought a herd of elephants was loose in the building," Leonard Kerrigan says. The child's about to say something mean back, but the computer screen catches its eye. It's blue, empty blue, not showing a log-in prompt anymore.

Leonard Kerrigan notices the child's interest. "It's cracked. As you can see," he says. "Now, if you'd take me home, please."

"Not now. I have to look." It's forgotten everything but the computer. It's going to find out, finally, where to go next.

"Oh, I see," Leonard Kerrigan says icily. "And just when might you be able to spare a moment?"

"When I am ready," the child says firmly. "What if there are more passwords on the files? I might still need you." It pushes past him to grab the mouse, squinting into the bright cathode screen. Leonard Kerrigan might say something else, standing there behind the child, but it ignores him. It has work to do.

There's just one folder on the desktop, "mewtwo_incident_files," and then folders in that folder, dozens of them, plus a big text file, "mewtwo_incident_ report" The child clicks around a bit, excitement curdling to dismay as it uncovers files on files, subfolders with more subfolders inside, hundreds of them. They're clearly organized, but not in any system the child understands. Where's the stuff about Mew? Where does it say where she is now? Is it really going to have to sit and sift through all of these and hope it doesn't miss anything important?

It opens documents at random, anything with a promising filename. There are scanned notebooks from scientists, equipment lists, spreadsheets and images and kinds of files the child doesn't recognize, which open into gibberish symbols packed tight on the screen. It opens a video at random, which turns out to be of a surgery done on Mew. The child closes it again immediately, swallowing rising nausea. This is going nowhere.

It starts over, opens the text file this time and notes with dismay that it's over two hundred pages long. The table of contents is nearly three pages just on its own, but there at the bottom of the list: "Index of Files." It only takes the child a couple seconds to confirm that the file names mentioned match the ones on the other folders. It's still a lot, but at least it won't have to actually open each file to know what's inside. The child shifts in its cramped computer chair and tries not to think about how long this is going to take.

The child reads bits of the big report on and off between trawling files. Somehow, even though it's about what happened in the Cinnabar lab, it's nothing like what the child remembers actually going on. It's weird, but kind of interesting, and makes a nice break from scanning through other files—sometimes, those are too much like the memories.

Final incident report on Project Mewtwo, presented to the executive council March 12th 1999

Prepared by Clarice Acheson, chief advisor, Eleanor Fairchild, acting head of Research and Development, and Xi Meidi, lead admin of Saffron District

Some of the files the child knows it can skip. There are expense reports, personnel listings, tax documents, all the bureaucratic cruft of running an evil empire. The child scrolls and scrolls, searching for a clue.

There are scientific documents of all kinds, both raw data and written-up reports. The child tries to read some of these, but puzzling through all the unfamiliar words makes it horribly tired. It settles instead for marveling at pretty graphs and pictures, even diagrams for different kinds of psychic dampers that show how they go together. The child barely understands any of it, but it's fascinating in the same way as the big report: here are people looking at Mewtwo and seeing numbers, behaviors, chemistry and psychology and big words, when in the child's memory the clone is fear that knots its stomach up for weeks, nightmares and screaming and blood on cold white walls.

Technological advances in the late eighties, especially in the field of pokémon biology, led to a wave of investment in research and development. Team Rocket as a whole realigned towards investing in new technologies rather than traditional enterprises such as real estate and construction. This flurry of spending produced fantastic returns, with the most impressive achievement being the master ball.

Although only a prototype, with the repossession of Silph Co. and push for mass production several years off, a pokéball that could contain any pokémon seemed to cry out for a pokémon no other pokéball could contain.

There are e-mails. The index itemizes them meticulously, down to the embarrassing and indiscreet, exchanged by people who perhaps forgot that anything sent from Institute addresses would be recorded.

Here are innocuous complaints about superiors, increasingly annoyed reminders to finish a report, fill out a form, send that recommendation letter, please. Here are excited e-mails about discoveries made, theories crafted.

Here's a message to Rocket leadership in Saffron about "recent staff vacancies." We have had several departures in the past month, despite frequent reminders about company expectations...

Here are e-mails from the child's parents.

That Team Rocket would need to create such a pokémon, not merely find one, seemed clear. Even legends have been tamed, and while the master ball would make it substantially easier to capture such powerful pokémon, doing so would not be a truly revolutionary advance. Several Rocket projects were already developing bioengineering methods for creating enhanced pokémon, and the success of Porygon and Metagross showed just how far technology for manipulating infinity energy had come.

What Giovanni called for, then, was a new species, one more powerful than any known pokémon and tailored specifically for use as a weapon. It would be more than just a technological triumph or a devastating addition to the team's arsenal; it would also be the ultimate proof of man's dominion over pokémon: we would create a pokémon far superior to any nature could produce, and it would exist only to serve us.

They aren't the child's parents, not really. They were Sara's parents, that other child, the one who died. Still, the child stares at the file names for a long time.

It doesn't open them. They're not important.

It was decided almost immediately that the weapon would be psychic-typed. Psychic-type pokémon are, with incredibly rare exception, predators. They require an energy-rich diet to fuel their large, complex brains. However, the abilities that allow psychic-types to find prey, to injure and even kill from a leisurely distance, at the same time expose the psychic to its prey's thoughts and feelings. How can a psychic hunt when forced to feel its prey's fear, experience the pain caused by its own attacks? How can a psychic kill if must die alongside every one of its victims?

Most pokémon have evolved ways to infer what others think, to mirror their actions and model their emotional states. Psychic-types, on the other hand, require an absolute sense of self in order to remain distinct individuals amidst the foreign minds that brush against their own. Despite experiencing others' thoughts and feelings, they must recognize them as outside themselves rather than share in them. In a psychic's mind, the separation between "self" and "other" is absolute. More than any other kind of pokémon, then, psychics are naturally inclined towards the task of killing without remorse.

Medical reports about Mew's pregnancy, dietary experiments with the infant Mewtwo, new Institute policy that interactions with the clone be performed in shifts of no more than two hours... no, no, no.

Here's a message from one researcher to the project head, a member of the Rocket occupying force, begging to be released from the project, offering money, offering knowledge. He never got a reply—no point sending mail to a dead man.

This folder has a series of videos.

Psychic Dexterity Exam 001: A tiny Mewtwo floats near the center of the room, and a scientist approaches cautiously to offer the clone a bucket of blocks. With halting, wobbling imprecision Mewtwo sorts and stacks them by color and size.

Psychic Dexterity Exam 055: the scientist, in heavy protective gear, presents a waist-high Mewtwo with a bin of puzzles, interlocking rings and blocks of wood and Rubik's cubes scrambled to colorful messes. Mewtwo sweeps them into orbit without even a gesture. They spin and scrunch and untangle all at once, Mewtwo's glowing eyes fixed on the experimenter the whole time.

Psychic Dexterity Exam 108: Mewtwo, full-sized, stands in front of delicate contraptions of glass and wire, intricately knotted and then tangled up with one another, a crazy mass of filaments that the child's eyes can't even take in. Mewtwo ignores them, and the instructions blaring over the speaker in the room, and stares into the camera, and stares, and stares, until the child closes the video.

No. This is not... what it wants. It needs to stop looking at these kinds of things.

The ability to share others' experiences is matched by psychics' ability to project their mental states onto those around them. Stimulating foreign neurons is what allows psychics to cause sleep, pain, or even the illusion of speech. However, without careful training a psychic's passive thoughts and mood are also broadcast, typically causing similar emotions to arise in their "audience." Over time, people and pokémon routinely exposed to a psychic's mental field will "learn" to think more like the psychic, and this effect is more pronounced the more powerful the psychic in question is. The Mewtwo project sought to create a psychic of unprecedented power, but its executors failed to consider that they would also be creating a pokémon with unprecedented ability to influence its handlers.

The child shouldn't be wasting time on all this useless information, the records of people who don't matter, who are all dead anyway. But it keeps opening files, even ones it knows won't be about Mew, and reading or watching in what might have begun as curiosity but is now something else. The child isn't enjoying itself, but it can't seem to stop. Sterile white walls surround, and it's trapped, doubly trapped in two sets of memories.

The only way out is to keep going. Maybe when it remembers everything, when it's lived it all again, maybe then it can finally rest.

Perhaps if the scientists working on Mewtwo had projected confidence and reassurance, convinced the clone that it was a valuable asset with a place on Team Rocket, they could have earned its loyalty. As it was, fear of Mewtwo's power, fear of displeasing Giovanni, fear for their lives and their families—most researchers were not members of Team Rocket, and we will later call into question the means used to control them—fear permeated the environment in which Mewtwo was raised. The clone absorbed it from foreign minds and learned to fear in turn. From this fear came hatred, a hatred the clone fed back into the people around it. And so their fear increased, and so too did Mewtwo's' hatred, negative emotions feeding on and amplifying one another. This led to impaired decision-making on the part of project staff, panic, madness, and would ultimately precipitate the project's tragic end. It almost certainly damaged Mewtwo beyond the point of usefulness as well.

But there's no end to the memories. The child could go down and down forever, but there will always be more. It lives the same scenes again and again, more vividly than ever now with all these stories to remind it of what was genuinely forgotten, what it had never actually known.

The intern who was always kind to it, who was a friend—she was a Rocket, one of the first to infiltrate the facility. And the scientist who fell first to Mewtwo, the first one killed—he had a name. It was Andre. The child (Sara, the other child) had never known. But now it does. It has no choice.

But there is an end. There is a bottom to the memories. Tucked in deep, far out of sight, is the child's mother. It opens, reads, and then suddenly realizes it's reading and not actually in the lab, returns to the present all at once, having found what it didn't even remember it was looking for.

It reads the last sentence, the last word. And stops. And for some time, it does nothing at all.

"Hey, Freak."

The child turns from the computer, and it can feel the turn, muscles cramping all down its neck and back. It's hunched forward over the keyboard, eyes gritty and aching from staring at the screen. It doesn't know how long it's been looking at this file. It feels like even if it focused properly it wouldn't be able to read the words anymore.

The great Nathaniel Morgan hovers in the doorway, shadowy and blue-tinted in the computer screen's light. "Uh, what's up?"

"What he means to ask is when dinner is," Leonard Kerrigan says from behind the great Nathaniel Morgan. He pushes his way in, and the great Nathaniel Morgan shrinks away from him, becoming one with the doorframe. "Personally, I'd rather you just sent me home. That would be one fewer mouth to feed, wouldn't it?"

"Later," the child says with a dull flare of irritation. It's hard to concentrate on them with its head still full of the past. Before it didn't have words to talk about what happened in the lab, and now it has too many: they play over and over in its head, narrating dead horrors while it's trying to haul itself back into the present.

The great Nathaniel Morgan asks, "You find what you're looking for?"

"Mew is in Orre." The child shudders, because somehow saying it makes it real, and all the hopelessness that's been gnawing a hole through its middle threatens to escape at last.

It can't even say Orre, not really. Team Rocket doesn't know. There aren't many files on where Mew went—"reclamation of the primary asset," in their own dry words. There were sightings in Sevii, but they panned out to nothing, with remarks about how unfortunate it was that the searchers, given the opportunity to redeem themselves by finding one little pokémon, failed in even that much. So they're dead, claimed by Cinnabar's curse, and what good is that?

The only other useful file was a report from an information-gathering mission in Orre. Team Rocket was curious about Team Snagem's pokéball-hijacking technology, and the rumor that Mew was spotted wandering the desert was a footnote. That's all: the mere suggestion that Mew might have been in Orre a few years back, the best information the child could find on the entire computer. It even knows she isn't "out wandering the desert" now—its dreams show that much, at least.

"Orre?" The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns. "Didn't you say she was with Rocket? Ain't no real Rocket ops in Orre, shit, we got standards."

"She is not with Team Rocket."

"I thought your bullshit dreams—"

"They show some place like the lab on Cinnabar. That is all I know."

"What? And you got Team Rocket from that? Did you think they're the only outfit with, like, tech? What, was Giovanni there, like, pointing to a huge 'R' on the wall? Oh my God." The great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head. "All this time we were—you fucking destroyed Viridian because—Jesus. Of fucking course. I should have known."

"Shut up." The child is not going to cry in front of these two. From shame and hopelessness it kindles anger, and it feels good to be angry. Being angry means it isn't frightened and helpless like a human child, or a like a god impossibly trapped and alone. The child is neither of them. It's strong. And the humans had better not forget it.

Leonard Kerrigan laughs. "Oh, this is too wonderful. I knew you two were completely incompetent, but am I to understand you murdered over fifty people on a misunderstanding?"

"You shut up too!"

Somehow that only makes him laugh harder. "Truly, you're a criminal master—a master, hah, a m-m-master—"

"You had better stop laughing," the child says, taking a step forward.

Leonard Kerrigan doesn't back up, and he doesn't stop, either.

"This is your last warning." The child's voice comes out big, and it takes another step forward. It hopes he'll keep going, that he'll give it a reason to fight. He thinks the child is some kid he can push around? It'll show him. No one is ever going to lock it up again. No one is ever going to ignore it, treat it like it's stupid, ever again. The child's heart beats loud in its ears, and power thrums in its chest, just waiting for release.

"Hey, maybe you oughta—" the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters to Leonard Kerrigan, who cuts right across him.

"Or what?" he says, tears standing out in his eyes from his laughing fit, mouth still trying to pull up into a smile. "I thought you might still need me for some menial task or other. I hope not, because at this rate I'm going to die of laughter."

The child crosses the room in two steps, growing as it goes so it doesn't even have to reach up to grab Leonard Kerrigan's throat. "I said shut up! I said shut up!"

He gurgles a bit, but that's better, at least. The child squeezes tighter on his neck while he tries to thrash his way out of its grip. Now he remembers, doesn't he? Now he remembers what happened the last time he met the child. And it wasn't half as mad then, was it?

"Holy shit!" The great Nathaniel Morgan grabs the child's shoulder, and it shrugs him off without taking its eyes from Leonard Kerrigan's face. "Don't kill him! Jesus Christ, don't kill him, please don't kill him!"

He tries again to pull the child away, but it switches to a one-handed grip and grabs his arm. A sharp sideways twist, and the child hears the bone crack. The great Nathaniel Morgan's eyes go wide, and he offers no resistance when the child shoves him away.

But he did distract the child for a moment. It tightens its hold on Leonard Kerrigan's throat, annoyed. It could squeeze hard and crush his windpipe, but that would be easy, wouldn't it? Let him realize he has no chance, that the child's much too strong. Let him realize he's dying long before it happens. Let him know fear. Let him know dread. Let him know his own helplessness.

The child isn't helpless anymore. It never will be again.

Leonard Kerrigan's tries to say something. He makes noise, at least. He's clawing at the child's arm, but it doesn't even feel his pathetic scratches. It doesn't know if the pulse in its fingers is its own or his. It leans closer to him, smiling, smiling. How does it feel to be weak? How does it feel to be small?

"Look, just let him go, okay?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says. He stands off to one side, cradling his broken arm. "I mean, if you want to kill him later, then, then whatever, but for now just let him go, okay? Let him go and let's talk. It'll be okay, let's just—"

A clatter of claws outside and Raticate charges in, Mightyena close on his heels. They need a moment to take in the scene, and that moment is long enough for the child to prepare, so that when Raticate jumps it kicks him straight into his trainer. The two of them go down in a heap, the great Nathaniel Morgan making a high-pitched noise when he lands on top of his broken arm.

The child throws Leonard Kerrigan into the wall and lunges to grab the pokéballs off the great Nathaniel Morgan's belt while Mightyena rushes to check that he's okay. She rounds on the child, lips pulled all the way back from her teeth, then turns red and disappears. So does Raticate, still trying to disentangle himself from the great Nathaniel Morgan when his every cautious movement seems to make the human cry out in pain.

It's just the great Nathaniel Morgan left. He cringes away from the child, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. "Don't—" he starts, raising his good hand, and the child slams a confusion into his brain. His eyes roll back, and he collapses in a faint.

The child strides back to Leonard Kerrigan, who huddles at the base of the wall, coughing and coughing and holding his neck with both hands. He tries to run but can't even get up to a crouch.

The child stands over him, looking down, and thinks it should feel triumphant. It should be enjoying this. But somehow the moment's passed. Leonard Kerrigan's lost his glasses, and his hair's standing up in crazy mats, showing the place where he's going bald, and his stupid sweater vest is torn. The child can't muster up any feeling but contempt. This is the kind of person who thinks he can control the child? It isn't even worth the effort to finish strangling him.

But the child can't have him telling anyone about its home. It grabs Leonard Kerrigan by the collar of his vest, and with a thought it's away.

Autumn's bite replaces the mugginess in the air. Trees crowd in around the child, mountains rise in the distance. This is the deepwilds near Viridian, where the great Nathaniel Morgan's Rocket friends made their attack. The child thinks it'll take Leonard Kerrigan a while to get back to civilization, but as he's so smart, the child's sure he'll be fine. It drops him in the leaf litter and teleports home.

What to do with the great Nathaniel Morgan? The child looks sourly at his slumped form. Why did he have to get in its way? He didn't need to get hurt.

A faint rumble distracts it from its thoughts. The floorboards tremble under its feet, and an ugly old farfetch'd planter shudders off a shelf and shatters. For a confused second the child thinks the volcano's woken up, that an echo of Cinnabar's eruption has come to claim it after so many years. But a look around finds no sign of Absol, and a second later Graveler comes smashing through the far wall. The child throws itself aside, and she barrels past, stopping with amazing precision before she can blast into the next room. She uncurls and turns to face the child with all four hands clenched into fists.

The child blasts a hydro pump at her, but she grabs one of the boards sent flying by her entrance and raises it as a shield, deflecting the burst of water. That keeps her on the defensive long enough for the child to get to the great Nathaniel Morgan, grab her pokéball off his belt, and recall her.

Late to the party, the child thinks as it looks down at Graveler's pokéball. Heard her trainer yelling from halfway across the island and got here as fast as she could, didn't she? Of course she did. Of course she did.

The child gathers up Mightyena and Raticate's pokéballs, too, then takes hold of the great Nathaniel Morgan and teleports. The next second it's standing in the clearing near Saffron where it camped out before, the one whose boulder is now a misshapen, slaggy lump. When the great Nathaniel Morgan wakes up, he'll know exactly where he is.

Good. Let him look at the boulder and remember what the child's capable of. Let him realize he's lucky it didn't kill him, which would have been the easiest thing ever.

After a moment's hesitation, the child throws the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokéballs down in the dirt next to him. They deserve each other, and besides, it's not like it could've gotten any use out of his shiftless pokémon anyway.

A thought brings the child back to the computer room—or not the computer room anymore. Graveler flattened the thing when she came through the wall, and now it's just a bunch of crushed circuit boards and splintered plastic.

Sadness rises up in the child so suddenly it almost chokes, and it crouches down by the ruined computer, staring hopelessly into its busted metal and wiring. What happened? It didn't mean to hurt anybody, but it was just angry—they made it so angry, they should have left it alone, it told them to leave it alone. But now it's just the child in the big old house, alone with the sound of the waves and the ruined computer and maybe Absol out there doing who knows what.

Orre. It has to go to Orre. Even if it doesn't know how to begin, it has to find Mew. Those other people... they don't matter. They were just getting in its way.

The child sits for a while with head in hands, fingers dug deep in its hair, thinking. Not being sad. Finally it gets up and goes into the study, fancying that it can feel the prickling psychic tension even before it opens the desk drawer that contains the master ball.

The child holds the ball close to its face, cupped in both hands, and says, "Mewtwo. I need your help."