4 – A Plan of Questionable Morals
Pixel's eyes were dazzled by the harsh light from the halogen bulbs, made all the more intense by the pristine white walls and tiled floors. Her heavy paw flopped across her face, shutting out the worst of it as she let out a low groan. Her head felt like someone had stuffed it with cotton wool and a dull pulse thrummed above her ears.
“Ah! You're awake!”
She removed her paw and squinted to her left. The unmistakable shape of an ivysaur sat all too close to her bed as he leant forward in his chair. This was confusing. She didn't usually have a chair by her bed. She frowned and placed her paw over her eyes again.
“Where am I?” she mumbled.
“Hospital,” Leaf answered bluntly. “Apparently you fainted.”
“Fain-” Her arm fell to her side as her eyes flew wide open regardless of the pain in her head, and she pushed herself onto her elbow to look around the bright room. “We were flying! Those cracks...” Feeling light headed again, she let herself flop back onto her pillow, fixing Leaf with a look of panic. “What's happening? Have you seen them?”
He nodded and looked down at his pocket computer. “It's all over the news, but the authorities are assuring us it's nothing to worry about. I don't want you to stress yourself over it. Focus on getting back on your feet so we can get back to our base.”
Trying not to worry was much easier said than done. She pushed herself up again and looked around the room. The other beds were empty, and from the looks of it, it was only her and Leaf in the ward.
“Where's Switch?” she asked.
“After I arrived, he left.” The ivysaur looked up at her. “Said he had places he needed to be.”
She sighed and rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. “You didn't give him a hard time, did you?”
“Are you kidding? If he didn't contact me, I'd have no clue you were even here!” He chuckled, drawing a perplexed look from her that prompted an explanation. “He used your headset. Told me you'd fallen from his back, but he assured me you never hit the ground.”
“That's a relief.” She pushed herself up with a groan, rubbing her head. “I was worried the impact had concussed me or something.”
“No. You're probably dehydrated. You've been out for a couple of hours now. Drink some water and see if the headache goes away.”
She accepted a glass from him and downed it in one sitting. He wasn't wrong. She offered her glass for a refill and adjusted her pillow so she could lean against the wall.
Leaf nodded to the table beside her bed. “He left his contact information in case you need it.”
She looked over at the table to see a plain scrap of crumpled paper placed beside her bag. Scrawled on it was a number she assumed was for Switch's pocket computer. It would certainly be convenient, and would save him any more wasted flights. She chuckled and stuffed it in her bag, then leant back and sipped her water.
“Who's at the headquarters?” she asked.
Leaf grimaced and looked away. “No one. Nybble and Byte are on the vulpix mission. I headed down here as fast as I could.”
“So... Cyan Island is...?”
He laughed and rubbed the back of his head. “Well outside the city. We'll have to hitch a ride if we want to catch up to it.”
Pixel felt a looming sense of dread as she stared into her glass. “Those black lines aren't in its circuit are they?”
“Nope. No need to worry there.”
The door opened and they both looked up at it in unison. Hertz the gallade strode in, but he didn't look up at either of them as his attention was fixed on a holographic screen in his paws.
“Pixel?” he asked.
“Hmm?” She lowered her glass. “Am I ready to go?”
“I'm not your doctor,” he said. “Your nurse will be through shortly. I'm here to see if one of your missing friends is a meowstic?” He finally looked up at her.
She stared back at him for a moment then shook her head. “No. Why?”
“I just wanted to check.” He looked back down at the screen and pressed a button. It flickered and vanished into thin air. “One has just turned himself in, but we can't identify him.”
She blinked her eyes in confusion. “Has his data chip corrupted?”
“If he's not a friend of yours, I can't give you any further information. Hospital policy.” He moved out of the door and glanced back at her over his shoulder. “I hope you are feeling better. Take care, both of you.”
As the door closed behind him, Pixel looked over at Leaf. They both appeared to be thinking the same thing. Most pokemon were rendered immobile by the virus, so one strolling into a hospital to turn himself in, although not impossible, was an odd occurrence.
Leaf rubbed his head and looked away from her. “How are you feeling?”
The brief spectacle with the doctor had taken her mind off her head. She smiled into her glass as she realised that dull throb had finally subsided. “Much better, actually.”
“Great!” He leant back in his seat and poked at his computer screen with a claw. “Hopefully you'll be released soon. The longer we wait, the more we have to catch up with Cyan Island.”
“You won't be going anywhere just yet, miss.”
They both looked up as an audino approached the bed. She scanned over Pixel with her eyes with a look that exuded business and took the glass from her paw. Pixel found herself pinned down by her shoulder as a light was aimed into her eyes much to her displeasure. When the nurse stood back, she tucked the tiny light away and scrawled something onto her clipboard.
“Why can't I leave?” Pixel asked as she rubbed a paw over her watering eyes. “I'm feeling better.”
“We need to wait until the tranquilliser is completely out of your system,” the audino explained.
“Tranquilliser?!” both Leaf and Pixel exclaimed.
“Yes. We had to knock you out for a while so we could run tests. It was imperative we made sure you didn't show any signs of the virus.”
“Are you kidding?” Pixel gasped. “I fainted!”
The nurse shrugged. “You visited quarantine, then left and had a fainting spell. We were being cautious.”
“That human didn't say anything about this!” said Leaf.
The audino didn't look up from her clipboard. “That would be because we didn't tell him.”
Pixel crossed her arms and huffed. “I think this is a little unacceptable.”
“Just a little?” Leaf asked.
She silenced him with a wave of her paw. “Why wouldn't you tell him?”
“We didn't want to spook your friend unnecessarily.”
“And what did your tests show?”
“You are clear from any sign of a virus, and that your fainting spell was probably down to a fear of heights.”
Leaf laughed. “Fear of heights?! We live two-hundred miles above System!”
Pixel bit her lip. She knew it was down to what she'd seen, but the nurse seemed oblivious to this. She opened her mouth to speak, but the audino cut her off as she finally looked up from her notes.
“Now.” The nurse forced a smile, but it was still drowned in an air of authority. “In about twenty minutes, you should be clear to go.”
Leaf slumped in his chair and sighed. “It's gonna be a hard trip back.”
Hertz tapped a few words onto the keyboard. The situation baffled him. All results were coming back negative and it caused his head to spin.
“What do you think?!” a voice boomed by his ear.
He flinched and glanced at the exploud sat beside him. “Sample, please. Use your indoor voice.”
The exploud cleared his throat and muttered an apology, glancing at the doctor's computer.
“As for your question,” Hertz sighed, “I haven't a clue.”
“Well if results are coming back negative,” Sample began, “then we can assume the meowstic's clear, right?”
“One would think.” Hertz steepled his claws together and leant back in his seat. “But explain the mutation.”
Sample grunted and looked at the ceiling, rubbing a paw over the back of his pipes. Hertz waited a moment to give the exploud a chance to answer, but he didn't actually expect one.
“You see?” Hertz looked back at his computer. “There doesn't seem to be an explanation, but there must be.”
“Is there a chance,” Sample said slowly, “that he's had the virus and it's gone?”
Hertz said nothing as he stared blankly at his screen, the letters swirling and blurring together as his focus went to the exploud's words. A cure... the meowstic couldn't possibly have found a cure?
But nothing else made sense. The signs of a virus were all there. The mutation – quite unlike the mutations other pokemon had gone through – but it was a change nonetheless. The patient claimed to have forgotten his abilities too, instead using ones he never thought he had.
But then there was the puzzle of a data chip.
Instead of an error, he didn't have one at all.
Hertz let his eyes focus back on the computer screen. “If he has found a cure, then why hasn't he changed back to his normal form?”
“Maybe it's like when you sew up an open wound from surgery and there's always a scar?”
“That would explain his appearance, but what about his abilities?”
He could see Sample scratching his chin out of the corner of his eye. With a sigh, Hertz leant his elbows on his desk and placed his head in his paws.
“I think he has had it,” he said. “But he's immune to it. I think his body killed it off, but it didn't actually heal, and as such he's still suffering with the symptoms.”
“Huh!” A smile spread across Sample's large mouth and he nodded. “That makes a lot of sense.”
“It's the best possible answer.” Hertz looked up at him. “I want that meowstic in his own private room. Make sure it's locked, I don't want any unauthorised access. I'm going to run more tests on him. If we can extract whatever fought the virus, we might be able to stop the spread in our critical patients, and maybe even devise a way to reverse it.”
The exploud's eyes flitted left and right as his face twisted with confusion. “Erm... he's not really in any fit state to put under anaesthetic. He might not survive it.”
Hertz stared silently at the computer.
“I mean, the virus doesn't just change the appearance,” Sample went on. “It attacks everything inside. The heart, the brain... everything! If nothing's showing up in the blood samples, then what do we do? I doubt he'll survive an intrusive examination. And what do we extract to run tests on?”
Hertz rolled his eyes to look up at Sample, remaining quiet for a moment longer as he warred with his conscience.
Finally, he glanced away and said, “Would it really be so bad to sacrifice one life if we can save hundreds of others?”
“I dunno... would you be willing to go through with it in his situation?”
It was easy to agree with such a hypothetical statement, but in reality... Hertz buried his face in his paws and let out a long sigh.
“Exactly,” said Sample. “We'd need his permission, and even then, I don't think it's morally sound.”
“Hundreds of lives are at stake,” said Hertz bluntly. “And goodness knows how many more! Every day, new patients show up with this virus. Every day, many die because of it. If we can save them at the expense of one life...” Everything snapped into place in his mind. He looked up at Sample with such ferocity the large pokemon took a cautious step back. “Gather all the scientists, doctors and nurses working in quarantine. Tell them there's an urgent meeting. Regardless of how it goes, afterwards put him under, because we're starting the experiment.”