More than a month between entries, and this one happens be rushed because...
*flailflailflail* HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BILL.
Yes, folks, I am so creepy a fangirl, I celebrate the birthday of my favorite character by abusing him via fanfiction.
Spoiler:- Excuse me while I EXCITEDLY RAVE ABOUT SOMETHING I REALLY LIKED IN THIS CHAPTER.:
So... yes. If there's any new readers out there, I hope enjoy the chapter (because I certainly did)!
Anima Ex Machina: Fourteen
I know your face.
On the wall of a board room, a screen lit up. Black-and-white stills filled every inch of it, each one detailing a different shot. Some of them were of a group of people in lab coats crowding a nondescript hallway. Others were of two alien creatures: one standing upright and the other crouched in a fighting stance. Still others showed a battle between the second alien and the army of scientists, followed by images of another struggle between the remaining humans and a security force. The last few were photographs of a hole in the roof, the debris beneath it, scorch marks, and bodies – growlithe and people with their mouths forever open in dead screams.
Five individuals sat behind a long table. Each one of them looked roughly the same: pale skin, black suits, eyes fixed on the images in front of them. Most people involved with Project Stardust would never meet them, but these were the Committee, the five individuals who watched over every last activity within each of the government-sanctioned research institutions.
As such, they were hardly pleased to know what happened to Polaris Institute.
At one end of the long table, the man known as Fifth cleared his throat and began, "Our staffing procedures neglected to filter out several members from the organized crime syndicate known as Team Rocket. Their specific goals and the extent of their reach within Project Stardust remains unknown to our own officers, but it is absolutely clear to us now that they wish to acquire both forms of XP-650."
In the center seat of the table sat the head of the Committee itself, a man simply known as First. Frowning, First laced his fingers together and propped his elbows on the table.
"Are they aware of the threat XP-650 poses to humankind?" he asked.
"It seems," Fifth replied, "that they want to use it to their advantage. We have reason to believe that they were behind the creation of Adam, and we are almost certain they were responsible for Abel."
"I see. Is there anything we can do to prevent further activity from them?"
On the other end of the table, a woman, Fourth, spoke, "Investigations have been underway since Abel's creation. Team Rocket has hidden its operatives well within our ranks. Finding them and expelling them will take far too much time, and we have very little of that already."
Without turning his head, First slipped his gaze to Fourth. "Then, what would you propose we do?"
"Allow them to continue their own operations," Fourth proposed. "So long as they fail to escape our facilities, we could use their experiments for our own purposes. After all, while we cannot violate any of our own code of ethics, Team Rocket does not subscribe to the same. They can create the specimens we need to understand the XP-650 species in full."
First exhaled. He knew he didn't have much of a choice in the matter. After all, he could clearly see what kind of damages an ixodida could induce.
"Very well, then," he said. "We will allow Team Rocket to continue operations. Additionally, we will send teams to repair Polaris Institute and outfit the complex with security suited for containing XP-650. The next one to be created will not escape."
"Thank you, sir," Fourth replied.
"Yes." First turned his head to the woman sitting next to him. "Second, do you have the status of the indexed XP-650?"
Second reached forward to press a button on the table. Instantly, the stills disappeared, and in their place was the image of a young, pale woman in a chair.
"Stardust Project: Subject 001, Codename Pandora," she stated. "Operatives in Hoenn have spotted her flying above the meteorite crater near Fortree City known as Point Zero. She was heading east, presumably for Mt. Pyre. Due to the concentration of XP-650 in that particular area, we lost contact with her shortly thereafter."
Her fingers hit the button again. This time, the image that appeared was a black-and-white shot angled down towards part of the nondescript hallway. Standing close to one side of the photo was an armored ixodida. One of his hands was on his head while the other was braced against the wall. He looked forward with a concerned expression on his face; he didn't seem to notice the camera at all.
"Stardust Project: Subject 002, Codename Adam," Second continued. "Shortly after the attack on Polaris Institute, Adam vanished along with Abel. The last sighting of him was over one of the National Defense Force bases in Fallarbor Town. It has been reported that Abel was carrying him southward, presumably to the same point as Pandora. Unlike the other registered XP-650, this one seems to be what is known in their species as a rogue – an XP-650 capable of independent thought most resembling the host. Because of this, his retrieval is priority one. We have not been able to identify a true rogue throughout Project Stardust until Adam, and we need to understand how one is created more than anything else."
"Of course," First replied. "But continue. What of the others?"
Second pressed the button again. Another shot of the nondescript hallway appeared, this time with an ixodida crouched in the center. Electricity arced off its spiky skin, and its mouth hung open.
"Stardust Project: Subject 003, Codename Abel," she reported. "While Pandora and Adam are both monarchs, Abel is what is known as a drone. His behavior is violent and erratic, far more than even Pandora's; however, while Pandora was more dangerous because of her ability to be calculating, Abel was simply mindlessly destructive. He was responsible for the collateral damage to Polaris Institute as well as the deaths of a small portion of the security staff. His status, as far as we know, is the same as Adam's."
She hit the button one more time. This time, the screen blanked completely. Instead, a sound filled the room: the sound of a woman singing. At first, it was simply that, but as it continued, a low, almost demonic rumble began under her vocals.
"Stardust Project: Subject 004, Codename Lilith," Second continued. "The research camp closest to Point Zero recently received this transmission from her. We currently have no further information concerning Lilith or who she is."
First leaned forward, and for a long time, he simply stared straight ahead. The others waited in complete silence. It was difficult to tell whether or not they were even breathing.
Then, he finally spoke.
Second swallowed. "Sir? Your orders?"
"Notify the Agency of Lilith. Advise them to send forces to Point Zero," First replied. "She may be the one we will need to watch the most."
"Is that all, sir?"
Another silence lapsed between all five members of the Committee. First's hand slipped to a button in front of him, and as soon as he pressed it, the screen flared to life. A single image remained on it, that of the metal ixodida standing in the otherwise empty hallway.
"Codename Adam," First said. "A steel-type. Curious. We have no documentation of any other steel-types on this planet."
"Sir?" Second asked.
"Nothing," First replied. "Yes, Second, that will be all."
He pressed the button again, and instantly, the room plunged into darkness.
Early mornings in Mauville City typically involved a thick, chilled fog rolling in from the nearby river. Most residents knew this was a dangerous time to be outside. Human senses weren't adapted to fog, but the ixodida had no trouble traveling in those conditions. So, to the residents of Mauville, fog meant one could never tell if an ixodida was lurking just beyond what human eyes could see.
As a human's pokémon, Chansey knew this very well. She had to treat far too many careless trainers than she cared to count, and she knew that her kind was nothing more than prey to the ixodida. However, she also knew that the best time to go outside, if one wanted to be left alone, was barely a half an hour after the sun rose. At that time, the fog would thin just enough for the average person to see the hazy forms of the city several feet around them, and for pokémon, creatures that relied on their senses of smell and hearing instead of sight to identify approaching dangers, the extra visibility just made things more convenient. The humans of Mauville generally erred on the side of caution by staying indoors until not a trace of fog clouded the streets, which kept the numbers of different scents and sounds at a minimum. At the same time, she was close enough to the pokémon center that a human, if one happened to be watching, could easily see her from the window.
Because of that, she felt at ease standing outside. Her feather-like ears twitched as she meditated quietly in the last remnants of the fog. She waited patiently for something to happen, for someone to arrive.
Behind her, she heard a soft scratch, the slight sound of something scraping lightly against concrete. Turning, she was just in time to see a white glow swing backwards and form the shape of five glowing, sharp claws. She pulled her stubby arms over her head and crouched as the arm swung forward, but before it could strike her, her soft body compressed itself and shrank, melting into a smaller version of her natural form.
Her attacker's arm flailed through the empty air above her head. The rest of his body followed, and before he could process what was happening, Bill tumbled head over heels into the road beyond his target.
When he came to a stop, he forced himself to sit up with a wince. His claws stopped glowing as his hand reached for his head.
"I should have seen that one coming," he mumbled to himself.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of another white light. Looking up, he watched as an egg-shaped object rolled towards him and came to a stop right by his feet. It took another second for him to realize what a glowing egg meant.
A few feet away, Chansey watched with a small, triumphant smile on her face as her Egg Bomb exploded, sending dust and debris sky high. The egg itself sailed out of the cloud in a neat arc before Chansey reached up and caught it neatly. Shoving it back into her pouch, she glanced towards her opponent with a devious grin.
As soon as the dust cleared, she was surprised to find that he was still kneeling exactly where he was without so much as a dent on his body. His arms were crossed in front of his face, and a faint, blue aura surrounded him. Slowly, he lowered his arms while the light faded.
"I can't believe that actually worked," he said.
Neither can I, Adam quipped.
"I told you Iron Defense wouldn't be a worthless move."
I never said it would be. I was referring to the fact that your speed is abysmal.
Bill frowned. "You don't have to put it that critically."
Hm. Bill, focus. The battle is far from over, and it appears our opponent has realized that.
Turning, Bill narrowly dodged the happiness pokémon as she barreled right at him. A streak of gold energy followed her pink body like the tail of a comet, and when she struck the pavement, the road indented beneath her, leaving cracks and a crater where she fell. Seconds later, she picked herself up, clutching her side with one of her paws while she panted.
Double-Edge. A risky maneuver. She must be getting desperate, Adam commented.
"Not exactly," Bill whispered. "With Softboiled, she makes up for whatever health she loses."
A fair point. What do you plan to do now, knowing this?
"What I usually do in this sort of situation," Bill replied, a little too calmly. "Make things up as I go along."
For a second time, Chansey pushed off the ground with both feet and launched at her target with a burst of speed. A golden streak stretched behind her, and she braced herself for impact. As quickly as he could, Bill crouched, shielding his face again with his arms. The same, faint aura that he had produced not too long ago surrounded his body just before Chansey slammed directly into him. His armor took the blow, refusing to bend beneath her strike while his hands lashed out to grab her. Each of his fingers encircled the feathery appendages on either side of her head, stopping her right where she was.
"Got you!" he exclaimed.
Good job, Bill, Adam said. Now. How should we finish her?
"I've got just the thing."
Bill lifted his tail as it began to glow. He could feel the muscles in each segment tense against his metal skin until the appendage was stiff and heavy. In one quick motion, he let go of Chansey and spun around, swinging his tail in a circle around his body.
The challenge in mastering many steel-type moves, as Bill would shortly learn, was that every last one of them needed the user's utmost focus to use. Even a split second of hesitation would result in complete and utter failure.
For example, just before Bill's strike landed, part of him wavered. Would it be too forceful of a strike? Would it actually seriously hurt her? She had just used not one but two Double-Edge attacks, so she was already weak. These thoughts, as quickly as they came, were just enough to cause Bill's tail to relax just a little. It lost its glow a split second before it hit its target, and as a result, it smacked the side of Chansey's head with just that: a smack, not a blow.
Blinking, Bill looked over his shoulder as Chansey opened her eyes. The pink pokémon gave him a mischievous grin as her hands reached up to wrap around his tail. Bill bristled, straightening as every part of him tensed in anticipation for the inevitable ending strike.
Yanking him closer to her (which itself elicited a loud yelp from Bill), Chansey extended one paw and smacked him across the face repeatedly. Then, to add insult to injury, she seized his tail in both hands again. With strength Bill didn't even realize a chansey could possess, she jumped into the air, yanking him off the ground with her. Once airborne, she swung him in a complete circle beside her like a yo-yo and released him mid-swing to send him sailing towards the ground. Her Seismic Toss lasted only a few brief seconds, and at the end, Bill landed with a crack on the pavement. He didn't bother to stir after that.
Just the thing, Bill? Adam scoffed.
Bill didn't respond. He simply stared upwards at the gray sky. The fog was lifting, and the morning sun was filtering through the remaining wisps. Above him, Chansey's face, now a normal size for her species, appeared to give him a sympathetic glance.
"Chansey chan?" she muttered.
She pulled out her egg while it took on a yellow glow. Light from its surface bathed her former opponent, and he closed his eyes and relaxed. Gradually, his mind began to clear enough to let him think straight.
"I'll be all right," he said quietly. "Thank you for your concern."
After a few moments, he sat up and rubbed the back of his head. Chansey took a step back and stuffed her egg into its pouch again.
"Chansey chan chan-sey," she told him.
"You don't have to apologize," he replied. "It was better that you attacked me that vigorously. At least I learned Iron Defense this time around."
"Chan. Chan chan chansey chan. Chansey chan."
"Clear my mind when I use Iron Tail?" He shook his head. "Yes, but I can't help it. Every time I'm about to hit you, I can't stop myself from thinking I might hurt you."
"Chan," she replied sternly. "Chansey chan chansey."
"You're starting to sound like Officer Jenny," he muttered as he gave her an awkward look. "But you're right. If I'm going to help any of you, I need to stop letting myself be preoccupied with that." Glancing upwards at the sky, he squinted. "Perhaps we should try one more time. I need to learn at least one steel-type attack before the Caravan arrives. Just give me a few minutes to rest, and we can begin."
Chansey reached up to pat him on the shoulder. She didn't say anything, opting to let her companion sit and breathe quietly until he felt well enough to stand. In the meantime, the fog completely lifted, revealing buildings block by block until the entire street was visible. Right about then, the low hum of chatter began to filter from the pokémon center as the survivors of Mauville gathered in its lowest floor. Bill listened to this for a while before he stood and flicked his tail. He needed to do this for them, and he knew that.
"Right," he said. "Are you ready?"
Before Chansey could respond, the two of them caught the sound of shoes against pavement and the bark of a manectric. Turning, they saw Thom and Ellen run towards them with Thom's manectric leading the way.
"Bill! Chansey!" Ellen called. "Oh, thank goodness! I've been looking all over the center for the two of you! Why would you come out in the fog?"
Straightening, Bill replied, "I'm terribly sorry. I should have asked to borrow Chansey this morning. She was helping me train."
Chansey nodded vigorously and chirped to confirm his explanation. Ellen glanced from her partner to the ixodida and back and frowned.
"I know you're new to this area, Bill, but it's extremely dangerous to go out when it's foggy. You never know if any hostile ixodida are out," she said. "Chansey, why would you let him train at this hour?"
As the happiness pokémon chirped her reply, Bill cringed in embarrassment. He hadn't thought of the possibility, and already, he was feeling a little foolish for it.
"Never mind that!" Thom said excitedly. "How far did you get in your training? D'you think you'd be able to hold your own against Manectric?"
Shifting a confused gaze towards Thom, Bill replied, "Ah... Well, I mastered Slash and Scratch, and I learned Iron Defense. So, not very far, I suppose. But... why are you so excited about fighting me again?"
"Are you kidding?!" Thom exclaimed, leaning towards Bill. "I've got to do some training too! Just think of how many ixodida I'll be able to kick around once Manectric's all revved up for it!" Then, he paused and leaned back. "Uh, no offense or anything."
Bill shied away from Thom. "I'm... honestly not sure how I should be reacting to that."
"Seriously, Thom," Ellen whispered harshly.
"Oh come on!" Thom protested. "I'd really go easy on him this time! Honest! And it'd be for a good cause!" His voice lowered into a mumble. "And it's not like I was actually saying I'd kill him or anything."
Ellen opened her mouth to retaliate, but before she could, a green glow caught her eye. Gasping, she turned towards its source and stumbled out of the way.
"Wait!" she cried. "Look out!"
Thom, Manectric, and Chansey dove in opposite directions to get out of the way of the incoming beam. Bill, meanwhile, whirled around and stumbled backwards, just in time for the green and yellow beam to slam into the pavement where he had been standing a second ago. He stared with wide eyes at the crater it left behind a moment before he heard the sound of something thumping against the pavement. Lifting his gaze, he noticed a figure running directly at him, but before he could get a good look at the newcomer, she swung at him with a long, metal object. Reflexively, he blocked the object – a crowbar, apparently – with his forearm, but this left his legs wide open for a boot to sweep his feet from under him. He slammed onto his back, and seconds later, the girl was sitting on his stomach, the crowbar pinning his chest to the ground.
"Run!" she screamed.
"What's the big idea?!" Thom exclaimed. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"Saving you!" the girl snapped. "Run before it breaks free!"
"He's not going to hurt you!" Ellen explained. "He's a friendly ixodida! One that thinks just like a human! Just ask him!"
The girl turned back to her captive and glared coldly at his face. In the meantime, Bill lay where he was. He was stunned, but it wasn't because of the attack.
It was because he knew her.
From what he could tell, the woman had been through Hell. Her green dress was ripped halfway up its skirt, revealing legs bound tightly in thick leather boots. The bodice was bound with leather belts crossing her waist and chest, but judging by the knife sheathed on her hip and the poké balls clipped to one of the strips crossing her torso, they weren't for show. Her arms were bound by torn, green sleeves, but even though they covered most of her pale skin, Bill could see scars he knew she didn't have months ago. Even her face looked harder. Her red eyes glared icily at him from behind half-moon glasses, and her mouth formed a thin line as she pressed down on the crowbar a little more.
In the pause as she glared at him, her altaria descended, ruffling her cloud-like wings as she stood and waited for her mistress's next command.
"You have ten seconds to prove her right, or I'll order my altaria to end you right here," the woman drawled.
Ten seconds. In that time, Bill deliberated back and forth between whether or not he should reveal who he was to her. The newcomer was smart, though, and he had no doubt she would recognize him eventually. Besides, it would certainly make things easier for him to have an ally like her on his side. Yet, on the other hand, he didn't particularly want her to see his body the way it was – not her, of all people.
Fixing his jaw, he prepared to speak. If it would get her to trust him, the easier way won out.
"Hello, Lanette," he said.
Ellen stepped back and exchanged glances with Thom. Both of them recognized the name, and why wouldn't they? Lanette wasn't exactly a common name in that region, and the one that came to mind for the both of them had her name attached to the regional storage system. Neither of them had any idea what she was doing there, looking like an amazon ripped from a dystopian comic book, let alone one with a crowbar pressed firmly against an ixodida's chest.
Lanette had no idea that they were staring at her in curiosity. After all, she was busy giving the ixodida her own gaze of wide-eyed surprise.
She sat a little straighter. "How did you...?"
He opened his eyes and gave her a pleading look. "It's me. Bill."
The look of shock on her face immediately dissolved into a fierce glare again as she pressed down on the crowbar. "Who?"
"McKenzie," he choked as he squirmed under the pressure of the bar. "I'm your partner!"
"Liar! The Bill I know is in Kanto. I don't know where you got that name, but--"
"It's true," Bill interrupted. "Lanette, there was... I was involved in an accident. It's a very long story, but the end result is, well..." He gave her a sheepish grin. "I'm here. And I'm stuck like this. Please believe me."
"Why should I?"
She pressed down a little harder. Bill coughed, feeling the pressure of her hold against the jewel in his chest. Adam stirred in his mind with a low growl.
Bill, do something, it hissed. If my core breaks, then we will both die. Therefore, if you allow her to continue, I will be forced to kill her myself.
For a brief second, Bill paused to think about what Adam said. He didn't need to be told twice, especially when it concerned a friend. Resolving himself, he shifted just enough to let his tail slip out from under him. Lanette gasped, looking over her shoulder to watch the appendage rise, but before she could do anything to ward it off, it moved across her back and pushed her down to lie against him.
At the same time, the altaria screeched and reared back, opening her beak enough to let a greenish-yellow light form at the back of her throat. However, she stopped there, waiting for something to happen. She knew she couldn't do anything without hitting her mistress, and her mistress preoccupied herself with staring once again in bewilderment at the creature holding her close – particularly when nothing happened.
"As you can see, if I meant any harm to you, I would have done so already," Bill told her. "Besides..."
Tilting his head towards her, he whispered a password into her ear. She inhaled and pulled away to sit up on him again. He let her, watching her carefully as she stared at him with a startled expression.
"Bill," she whispered.
He nodded once. Lanette's lips parted, but she said nothing to him. Instead, she scrambled to her feet and took a few steps backwards. The crowbar rested at her side, much to Bill's relief. Taking pleasure in the lack of pressure, Bill sat up and kept his eyes on her.
"It's good to see you," he said.
She turned away and began walking back the way she came. Her hand motioned for her dragon to follow her, and with a sweep of cloud-like wings, the altaria closed her beak and fluttered to her mistress's side. Still, Lanette was silent as she swung a leg over the altaria's back.
Bill blinked. That was what he would call an unexpected reaction. He scrambled to his feet and started after her, leaving Ellen and Thom behind and completely lost. Of course, he didn't notice; he devoted all his concentration to the fact that the only person he knew on this island before its quarantine was about to take off.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
Swiftly, she twisted in her seat and blocked his way with her crowbar. He stopped short, staring at the pointed end close to his chest.
"Stay away from me," she growled.
"You have no idea how much trouble you're in right now," she told him. "I've got to go back to the Caravan and notify them of you."
Bill darted in front of the altaria and placed his hands on the bird's neck. The dragon squawked indignantly and shook her head, trying to shrug the ixodida's hold off her shoulders. Ignoring this, Bill leaned towards Lanette.
"You're not talking about the band of refugees, are you?" he asked.
"Yes," she snapped. "Now get out of my way."
He shook his head. "Lanette, please. I want the people of Mauville to go with the Caravan."
"And they will."
"You don't understand. The people of Mauville want me to go with them."
Her eyes narrowed. "Out of the question. Get out of my way, Bill."
He transferred hands to the end of her crowbar and gripped it tightly. "I can help you. Just convince the Caravan to take me with them, and I can help protect the Caravan wherever it goes. I have nowhere else to go anyway; I doubt I would be allowed back to Kanto looking like this."
"How long have you been in Hoenn?"
"Only a few days. Why?"
She huffed. "Allow me to teach you something I doubt you learned in Polaris Institute. You may be able to think like a human, but ixodida have a way of finding one another. If you travel with us, they'll sense you and come to us in droves to see why you're here. In other words, you'll be trouble for us just by existing. Now, for the last time, get out of my way, Bill. I don't want to hurt you."
He let go of her crowbar and let his arms drop to his sides. What she just said slowly sank into his skull. The ixodida could sense him. No matter where he went, they would know where he was. He was smart enough to realize this meant he'd be a danger to the Caravan, but the thought of being left behind to face masses of ixodida scared him, too. Lifting one of his hands, he stared at the claws. He didn't yet know how to fully defend himself, and he needed Lanette's help – or anyone's, for that matter – to understand what he was.
A gust of wind signaled that the altaria had taken off. Looking up, he reached out for Lanette before she or her bird could get far.
"Lanette!" he called.
She pulled on her pokémon's shoulders to get her to hover. When the dragon stopped, Lanette gazed at her former partner once again.
"What will the Caravan do once they know about me?" he asked.
"If you're lucky, they'll drive you into the wilderness and order you not to follow us."
"And if I'm not lucky?"
For a brief second, Bill saw a flash of a sympathetic look cross her face. A second later, it was gone, and Lanette kicked the sides of her bird. Far below, Bill shivered in response to her glance and watched her fly away.