A/N: It's fun when you can completely throw people off the scent of a story. So far, no-one's guessed what's happening to Sashara, but it's definitely not good. And that's all I'm saying!
Disclaimer: Sashara, Penumbra and Perdita are mine. All else is Nintendo's.
Warning: General darkness and angst, and an increasing amount of gore. If you have a less than superb constitution, you have been warned.
Italics denote Pokemon speech
Italics denote shifting POV
Forgotten: Part 16
The heavy ball of fear in my stomach grew larger with every moment that I studied Sashara's progress on the viewscreen.
One day had passed since I had first witnessed that little pool of acid under the mess of shrubbery outside the Ice Caves.
Twelve hours had passed since I had reactivated the viewscreen after commencing my studies on the particular acid that I had detected.
Ammonia. A common chemical agent used in agriculture, explosives, and in domestic and industrial cooling processes.
Including cryogenic storage.
It was possible that she could have been tainted with the chemical while she was still in storage in the Cerulean Caves.
Possible, but highly unlikely.
She would have displayed symptoms of contamination long before now, and I had seen no signs of poisoning in the time she had spent here, no chemical burns or blisters on her skin when she lay in my arms.
No, this was…this was recent. This was new.
This was disturbing.
There was no feasible method by which ammonia could have been introduced into her body from external sources. Injection or direct inhalation would have killed her almost instantly, and the smell of the chemical itself was foul enough to detect from most other scents, which eliminated absorption by food.
This was a mystery I was committed to solving.
And a horror from which I was desperate to save her.
I felt a small tic twitch under my right eye as I watched her cling to Entei's shoulder, coughing and retching bile, the shudders wreaking her petite frame.
She had succeeded in passing through the Ice Caves with the aid of the Beasts, her progress hastened by the fortunate lack of wild Pokemon, bar a Jynx caught in a surprise attack, to seize her attention. In the distance, the rooftops of Blackthorn City could be seen, the waters of the nearby lake shimmering in the morning sunlight.
The Dog of Water was watching her silently, concern in her red eyes. Suicune's ability to mother all manner of strays and oddities reminded me somewhat of Mew, now thankfully absent for the past few hours.
I studied the screen without blinking as the Dog used her own body to lift Sashara up onto her knees as she finished her bout of sickness. Sashara's only movement was to reach exhaustedly into her knapsack and pull out a flask, up-ending most of the contents over her head and drinking the remains.
A tap from Suicune's paw and the flask filled immediately with fresh water. A few sips were soon followed by longer gulps as the contents went down and stayed down.
I let out a sigh of relief as I saw some colour return to her cheeks, but she was still far paler than I would have preferred.
And knowing her as I did, she was not about to admit her true physical condition and take a rest.
Not when her final Gym Badge lay before her.
She had the feeling Suicune knew exactly what the contents of that flask contained.
Water laced with Full Restore, Berry Juice, Poison Heal and a number of Pokemon vitamins. The only way in which she could get any kind of nutrition into her body after it had been made agonizingly clear to her that food was no longer an option.
She shivered and leaned against Entei's shoulder, feeling the Dog's inner fire spreading through her back as the lights of Blackthorn City shimmered and danced before her eyes.
One more time.
One more time, one more act, one final badge, and her obligations would be complete.
Then onwards to Kanto, to complete her intended mission.
She held no vague hopes of finding a cure for the disease that was draining and ravaging her body.
Whatever it was, it was something of a blessing as well as a curse.
Nothing to lose, but nothing to live for.
No disappointment, but no hope.
She shut her eyes and felt her stomach churn and settle.
Maybe for him.
The one who she stood to lose, but the one whom she had never gained to begin with.
He deserved better than a bastardised hybrid in a body that was turning on itself.
The Dog of Water watched with unblinking red eyes, filled with distress.
Sashara was failing, or rather, her body was failing, faster than any of them had believed possible. She had immediately sensed what was in the flask and had felt her heart sink in that moment.
She was not going to last at the pace she had set for herself, and yet nothing less than her own strength would take her forward.
But for that, she would need help.
The obvious answer would have been to send Entei or Raikou as part of her team in the final Gym battle. But too many questions would be raised, and the Dogs of Fire and Lightning, while normally both as gentle as a Chansey, were born fighters to the point of lethality. Even the Gym Leader Clair's Dragon team would struggle against one of the Legendaries.
No, this was the time to be cautious.
Some of the more ancient Pokemon water tricks…they would do enough to disguise her true condition for the duration of her battle.
She placed her paw against Sashara's hand and concentrated, trying not to show her nausea as she felt the toxins flowing through the girl's system where healthy blood should have been.
There was little that could be done to reverse the effects of the disease, but at least something could be done to halt the spread at least temporarily.
The glamour spread from the Water Pokemon's body to the hybrid, the old magic shimmering as it enveloped her. The bruises and blotches faded, even some of her lost weight reappeared.
But nothing could hide or remove the pain and exhaustion in her eyes. Only shadows could do that.
Including the shadow she missed so deeply.
An age old Water-type move, normally used by Pokemon attempting to evade capture by humans.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me.
But there was no time for debating the particulars now. This trick needed to stay in place long enough for Sashara to obtain her final Badge. After that, I had little to no idea what she was preparing to do next.
I could only hope her plans would include returning to Mount Caina, to me.
But the little flicker of sentimental thought was quashed by the cold hard water of reality.
She did not want me when she was healthy.
Why would she desire me when she was ailing?
Mew floated silently by my shoulder as we both stared in ever-increasing anxiety at the image on the viewscreen.
The Mirage was holding; Sashara appeared to be in good shape, the darkness in her eyes replaced albeit temporarily with determination. Beside her, Penumbra stood on guard, its coat gleaming with health as it watched the Dragon Leader Clair descend to the battle arena.
'Seven Badges…you've done well, girl.'
Sashara barely nodded. 'Thank you.'
'But now it all comes down to this. Can you face me and my Dragon team, and survive to tell about it?'
I refrained from rolling my eyes. This pathetic forced banter between Gym Leaders and Trainers only served to make me deeply contemptuous of the entire League.
Apparently, Sashara felt the same way. 'Can the chat, and let's do this already.'
The white-haired Gym Leader's expression cooled by a few degrees at this statement.
'So be it. I'll beat some courtesy into you while I'm at it.'
Two PokeBalls exploded into the centre of the arena.
First match – Swinub versus Dragonair.
Fifteen minutes had passed.
The combined attack force of Swinub and Jynx had dealt with two of Clair's three Dragonairs in the first two battles. The third Dragonair however, had managed to take out both of the more powerful Ice-Psychic Pokemon with several well-placed Thunderbolts, and showed no signs of fatigue.
Sashara displayed no anger as she reached towards her belt for her third Pokemon of the match.
'Gyarados, I choose you!'
The Water-Flying serpent roared as it emerged, tail flailing as it sought its balance and its back arching elegantly as it loomed over Dragonair.
A calculated risk. Gyarados was one of a number of Pokemon that was capable of learning Dragon-type attacks, but with that Thunderbolt attack…this would not be an easy battle.
Clair showed no signs of halting her actions. 'Dragonair, Thunder Wave!'
The Electric attack wrapped around Gyarados' body, crippling its limbs in Paralysis.
Sashara ignored the handicap. 'Bite. Now.'
Dragonair roared as the serpent's teeth found their mark.
'Counter with Surf!'
The Water attack did little, if any damage.
Another, louder roar echoed across the Gym as the serpent reared and summoned the Dragon-type energy for the attack. Dragonair winced as the blades of air tore into its body, but did not fall.
The blue tinted flames surrounded Gyarados, and burned without mercy. The serpent was losing health too fast to be recovered, and she knew this.
The only chance now was her sacrifice move. Before the paralysis could do any further damage to the Water Pokemon.
The serpent looked back at its Trainer, now crippled with pain.
It knew what to do.
A ray of neon orange energy burst from its mouth and hit the Dragon Pokemon full-blast. Only some of the most powerful and stubborn Pokemon could still battle after an attack of that magnitude.
Dragonair's eyes darkened and closed as it collapsed backwards in a dead faint.
Another rival Pokemon down.
Another flash of white light lit up the Gym like a beacon as Clair's final Pokemon appeared.
It caught only a glimpse of the seahorse Pokemon before it received a full-power Hyper Beam in kind.
She winced as the serpent hit the ground, the tremors jarring her limbs and stomach. Time to do what was needed. It would not be pleasant, but her seven previous Badges had not been earned through munificence in combat.
The fox-like Dark Pokemon bounded into the arena, golden eyes narrowed in concentration.
Penumbra darted across the ground, evading a pre-emptive Smokescreen and sinking its teeth into the Water Dragon's tail. The Kingdra flinched in pain.
She pressed her advantage. 'Confuse Ray.'
Clair snarled in anger. 'Kingdra! Shake it off and use Hyper Beam!'
Too little, too late.
The purple Ghost energy swirled around the giant seahorse, its eyes growing unfocussed as its mind clouded with Confusion.
It lashed out, catching itself across the face with the half-gathered Hyper Beam energy.
Penumbra stood patiently as Sashara reached into her pocket and dragged out a Full Restore. 'I choose to restore Jynx.'
Clair's eyes widened as she dug through her own pockets. 'Kingdra! Bitter Berry!'
The Confusion lifted and the seahorse growled at the Umbreon, still unfazed.
It did nothing as the Dark Pokemon was hit with a full-force Hyper Beam. It staggered but remained resolutely standing, now snarling in pain.
Beside Sashara, Perdita watched her mate with concern.
'Penumbra, return. Go Jynx.'
The Dark Pokemon limped back, its head held high as a red flash of light lit up the arena. Jynx twirled as it appeared, its injuries now fully healed.
The pain in Sashara's eyes faded for a few seconds, replaced with triumph. 'Ice Punch.'
Kingdra's scream of pain was cut short as it collapsed onto the arena floor, its armour covered in chunks of ice and sores.
Victory to the challenger, Sashara Giovanni.
'You did well, and I'm happy to say that.' The anger in the Dragon Trainer's had vanished at the battle's conclusion.
She smiled and raised a closed hand to Sashara's face. 'I present you with the Rising Badge. All Pokemon, regardless of their level, will now obey you. Use that power well.'
The final badge of the Johto League dropped into Sashara's palm. She stared down at it for only a second before her fingers closed around it.
It was done.
All the badges of the Johto League were now in her possession. This part of her Journey was complete.
She nodded politely at the Gym Leader as she led Penumbra and Perdita out of the Blackthorn Gym, their heads held high with pride and trying their best to ignore the shaking of their Trainer's hands as she walked.
The sunlight overhead blinded them for a few seconds as they emerged.
More than enough time for Sashara to stagger into the alleyway next to the Gym and collapse behind a stack of crates, her hand clamped over her mouth…
I felt my heart begin to race as I stared at her worn-out frame, sprawled on all fours and retching onto the concrete.
The Mirage flickered and finally evaporated, allowing the two Dark Pokemon, Mew and myself to see the true extent of the damage to her form.
The red-black blotches had spread from her torso up to the base of her neck, some patches scraped red raw from her clothing. Her entire frame was far slimmer than it should have been; her rib-cage protruded clearly from her back and sides. Her limbs were shaking from what could have been either an adrenaline rush or sheer exhaustion.
She displayed enough presence of mind to turn her face away from the puddle of vomit before she collapsed onto her side, her ribs heaving from the effort.
Her teeth were gritted in pain as Penumbra nuzzled her face and tentatively licked her cheek, his golden eyes wide with panic.
Perdita was busy keeping watch at the entrance to the alleyway, glancing over her dark-furred shoulder every few seconds at her Trainer.
This was too much.
Too, too much.
I caught sight of Suicune approaching from the opposite end of the alley and turned away from the screen, my eyes burning in pain.
A small pink paw rested against my shoulder as I covered my face with my paws. Mew curled her body around my shoulders and rested her forehead against my cheek as I began to shake with nervous fear.
She was too young to be suffering like this.
She should be at a Pokemon Centre, at a human hospital, anywhere but that alley with no-one but a few Pokemon to tend to her.
She should be back here, with me.
I could look after her, tend to her while I attempted to find some clue, some hint about the disease which was destroying her body from within.
My head snapped up, dislodging Mew from her perch.
My mind started to race as I stared at her.
'It was within her from the start; that was what you told me. What did you mean 'from the start'?'
The tiny Legendary lowered her gaze to the rocks underfoot. I…can't give you the details...
I snarled. 'Don't give me excuses, Mew. What did you mean?'
What she's suffering from…it was created with her, within her body.
I frowned. 'She was created with a disease?'
Not a disease. A condition. One that intentionally defies nature.
She looked distressed. I can't say more than that. But…look to her birthplace for the answers you seek.
'This is one of the times when I don't need you to be deliberately enigmatic.'
Now she glared at me.
It's not my choice, believe me.
A swirl of pink and blue, and she disappeared, leaving me with a head full of unanswered questions and a heavy weight in my stomach from consternation.
Look to her birthplace…
The sun shone like a beacon overhead. Mid-day at the earliest. Not my best time of day.
When was there ever a good time of day for me?
I sighed and raised a paw.
A heavy, rough-hewn cloak appeared out of the ether, the material falling about my shoulders and back. I tugged to hood over my head; hiding my face from view should anyone catch a glimpse of me.
Time to go hunting.
The sight of New Bark Town shimmering in the sunlight below me was something of a relief. My ability to Teleport was limited by both the distance and the official boundaries of the Kanto and Johto regions.
Tugging my cloak tighter around my body, I turned and flew towards the mountains which marked the boundaries of the regions and housed the Indigo Plateau, home of the Kanto League.
Where Giovanni still held power.
I grimaced as the wind tugged at my cloak.
Surely she was not as senseless as to attempt to enter Kanto while her father still held dominion over the League. Team Rocket, while a criminal organisation, was still considered to be a major power within the region, enough to keep Giovanni safely ensconced at the Viridian City Gym.
But with the…condition ravaging her young body, perhaps it was now only a matter of time before her mind was affected.
If it came to that, I was still unsure if I would have the willpower to end her life, should a cure not be readily available.
But there would be no cure at all unless I risked everything by going back to the Cerulean Caves.
The mountains below me started to decrease in height. My musings had taken me safely across the border into Kanto.
I concentrated on my destination.
A painful burst of light, and I felt the pull of the vortex as all of the molecules in my body were transformed into pure Psychic energy and projected through the four dimensions until I hovered high above the bramble-covered entrance to the Cerulean Caves.
I allowed myself a small sigh of relief as I noted the density of the vegetation. No-one had attempted to come here since my first exploration so many months ago.
A low-level Psychic blast cleared the majority of the undergrowth, my Fire Punch doing the rest. I pulled my cloak away from my shoulders and flicked it into the ether with a gesture before returning my gaze to the cave-mouth before me.
There it was. The artificial fault line which delineated the laboratory's camouflage.
I charged at the half-open hatchway and slammed my shoulder into the metal. Painful, but necessary.
I wrinkled my nose at the stench of cryogenic fluid and lingering antiseptic as I entered the lab. Frankly, I had hoped never to return here, but if Mew was determined to be cryptic rather than constructive…
Thankfully the computer still worked, albeit with some rerouted power-lines and a good deal of hope.
I frowned as I studied endless reams of text relating to Sashara's creation and birth. Genetic profiles of Giovanni and the Mew donor, blood types, programmed Abilities, her stats – all present, and all infuriatingly unhelpful.
I rubbed my temples with my paws as I leaned against the computer.
What did Mew mean? There was nothing in the database about any kind of disease or virus or fungi or infection of any kind that had been created with Sashara. Surely the scientists would have been aware if there had been some form of contamination or deficiency and removed it from her genetic pattern…
I pulled up the final report of Professor Zavros and scanned it briefly, hoping that some clue, some word would give me the hint I needed.
…The problem of control lies herein. The subject has repeatedly demonstrated extreme psychotic reactions…believed to be the result of failed genetic manipulation caused by the merging of human and Pokemon genetic materials…
The weight in my stomach began to grow heavier with each word, but there was no discernable reason for--
Failed genetic manipulation.
The temperature of the laboratory seemed to drop to absolute zero as I became aware of my thoughts.
Her genetic pattern.
The gene splicing performed in order to create a hybridized body.
And then the one thought I had only barely acknowledged even in my subconscious pushed itself to the forefront of my mind.
Why had she not been born as a full-grown adult as I was, as the other clones were?
With the nausea making my head spin and my stomach churn, I dug frantically into the depths of the mainframe, pulling up charts and diagrams filled with terminology I could barely comprehend, until one chart made me pause for a second, then stop.
Sashara's genetic profile, the double helix pattern of her DNA swirling across the screen.
As it was originally meant to have been designed.
I studied the pattern. No discernable flaws – a perfect splicing of Human and Pokemon DNA to my eyes. So what was this 'failed genetic manipulation' to which Zavros had referred?
My paws felt strangely heavy as I brought up the files with Sashara's final genetic profile stored within.
Her DNA should have stayed unaltered according to the original profile.
What had necessitated the change?
The screen flickered--
Oh gods, no.
My legs gave way beneath me as the structure of Sashara's final DNA pattern slowly revolved on the screen before me.
The once smooth double helix structure was now deliberately flawed, with sets of key chromosomes removed from the spiral.
Aging and growth genes.
The strands the patterns were based on were not those of genetically manipulated DNA, but RNA. Single helix structures from which DNA could be fused, but this…
This was temporal RNA sequencing. (1)
DNA is designed to replicate within the body, providing unique genetic encoding and instructions necessary for building and maintaining life. RNA however, is based on the chromosomal single helix pattern of viruses, which are short-living by design due to their chemical base of uracil.
From what I understood, the temporal RNA had replicated as normal DNA would have done, and when the uracil base eventually broke down, it created a build-up of the highly unstable chemical known as cytosine in her body, which in turn disintegrated even further into ammonia.
The chemical which was slowly destroying her from the inside out.
Her immune system was not recognising the by-products of the chemical disintegration as being erroneous, and therefore was not repairing the damage.
I rested my head against the cold metal of the computer and tried to breathe.
Her DNA, and therefore her body, was designed to destroy itself if she reached a specific point in her 'aging' process. If she wanted to age, and thus continue living, only Giovanni and the scientists had access to the remaining chromosomes she would need in order to survive. Thus she would have had to stay in the laboratories, or stay close to her father and in his favour.
All designed to ensure she would remain his slave.
If not, she would consign herself to genetic disintegration, organ and tissue failure, and finally death.
Giovanni, you stupid selfish bastard of a human.
But that was not what caused the bile within my belly to churn with increasing distress.
…For security reasons, all original and reproduction genetic solutions, gene samples, and chromosomal treatments associated with this experiment will be stored at the Viridian Gym…
The Viridian Gym.
I knew in that moment what she intended to do, even as I snarled and Teleported out of the lab in a whirl of purple and white.
She believed that there was no cure for her inexplicable condition, and so she was setting out on her last journey.
She had fulfilled her obligations as a Trainer.
But her obligations as the daughter of Giovanni, after all that he and Team Rocket had done to her…
Chop off the snake's head and its body dies.
Along with any hope of curing her.
The race to reach Giovanni before she did was on.
(1) OK, I borrowed the name from Star Trek: Nemesis, but everything else I tried to research as much as I could, then gave up and stuck with getting everything to make as much sense as I could. Sort of.