TEEN: [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems

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Thread: [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems

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    Default [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems

    Hello, ladies and gentlemen. This story, PKM Rangers, began when I was fifteen years old and unsure of the direction of my life. Having read a lot of fan-fiction on the Internet, it was my intent when writing this story to attempt new things in what a writer could do with a relationship story and a fan-fiction story. Whether I succeed or not depends entirely on your tastes, of course, and it is true there is no single original thought left in the world today. But it is my hope that in the years I have been writing and rewriting this story there exists some creativity that entertains you, as that is always my intent. At the age of twenty-three, one might think it a good idea to give up on the joys that captivated my childhood, but I always swear to be a fan of Power Rangers and Pokemon until the day I die. Despite my frequent pauses in writing this story (real life has become more difficult with each passing year) it is my intent that this story is one day completed, and I hope you join me on my journey to finish it.

    This is an updated version of the original story, which is probably still available somewhere on the Internet (on Serebii), and this updated manuscript was completed with help from LuciferIX, without whom I might not have ever returned to continue this story. I decided to create a thread for the story on this website, given that I am exceedingly prone to not doing work on it, and hopefully by making it available to a wider audience I will encourage myself to finish it.

    PKM Rangers was originally M-rated, as it began at a time in my life when I was immature and wanted to shock people. This updated version is T-rated for violent scenes and some sexual situations. A great deal of effort has been placed into this change, so if you have the time try to drop me a review letting me know if my changes were worth it. The ages for the (current) primary characters of the story are as follows:

    Agent 1078: 28

    May Birch: 28

    Sarah Birch: 5

    Max Birch: 25

    Brock Harrison: 33

    And without further ado, enjoy...

    Morph One: The Man From Nowhere

    The dark man walked towards the towering building, his face shrouded in shadows. No one stopped him, no one asked directions, no one interfered in the least as he walked forward, interested only in the convention center in front of him. His dark attention was firmly fixed on the giant double-doors before him. Hands in his pockets, he slugged forward, his shoulders shifting from side to side as he swayed. He barely noticed the other creature standing on his shoulder, a quiet yellow mouse about the size of a basketball that took in the center through its beady little eyes, its nose checking the scents of the venders and the wares inside. The man didn't notice, and pulled one gloved hand out of his pocket, slamming his palm against the clear glass door, and hot air blasted at him, an alteration from the cold, crisp air of the January morning. Shrugging off the new heat, the man walked into the center, the door falling back after him as he relieved the tension that his hand exerted, and placed his hand back in the pockets of his dark pants.

    It had been a while since he had stopped traveling, since he had stopped his journeys and explorations with his friends. He had pursued a different goal in life than Max or Brock. He had found another path, separate from Misty or Tracey. They had all done what they had wanted with their lives, and were still doing it. Dawn, after all, hadn't fallen from light. She was a coordinator now, like another, certain someone that the dark man knew. It had been a while since he had seen Brock, Max, even Gary. It had been a while since he had been home, or even had a place to call home. He was on a "break," a break that had been standing for about two years now, without showing signs of stopping. But he didn't know if he wanted it to stop, because even if he did, nothing could be done. For a long while now, his only friend was the one sitting on his shoulder, looking through the vast crowd of people that was swooning around, searching for any signs of the dark man's old friends.

    The young man hadn't changed much since the old days, when he had been excited, an eager trainer waiting to make his mark in the world, to become the greatest Pokemon Master ever born. Except that he wasn't the greatest Pokemon Master ever born. Drawing influence on the dark man's personality, his clothes would not have been out of place in an otaku conference. He had ditched the hat, first of all, tired of the trademarked look. His hair was now free, and mostly unkempt, several times its original mass, though it still stuck up like it used to in the old days. Most of it was tied in a ponytail, which served no purpose other than to direct the unkempt hair in the correct direction. Instead of the hood and the nice shirts he had worn in the days past, a plain yellow t-shirt fluttered around his stomach with each step. The pants were black and baggy, rather than dark blue and neat, but beneath them steel-toed combat boots clunked against the polished floors he walked on.

    There really wasn't anything interesting about him. He was above-average in height, a few inches above six feet. The baggy outfit the man wore concealed the broad and powerful muscles he had, and did exactly as it was designed to do, hide his physique. A chain jingled around his neck, made of what appeared to be either silver or stainless steel, connected by interlocking links. At the end of the chain hung a simple symbol, a ring crafted out of gold that might have fit on his fourth finger, had he worn it there. The man glanced down at it, and took a deep breath. After all this time, he still felt the brutal sting of what the ring symbolized. But what did he expect, to wake up one day and the pain wouldn't be there?

    "Damn," his muttered, looking up once more from the ring. He felt it hit his chest every time he moved. The pain was stronger here, in this place. He looked around, watching the people, knowing that he shouldn't, but secretly hoped, that he would see her again. It wasn't as though he didn't have some form of contact with her, he did, after all, have to send the check to her every month, his precious money which, by order of law, he was required to pay, handing her money which paid for someone he wasn't even allowed to see. He almost, but not quite, chuckled at the irony of how his money was used. Sometimes that was just the thing about life, in that it could sometimes kill you with stupid irony.

    The mouse riding atop his shoulder, an electric type, looked at him with its beady eyes. His eternal companion, its red cheeks sparked as it checked him out, making sure that its trainer was alright. At the same time, its small, long ears perked, listening in for something, or someone. Its tail, shaped like a powerful lightning bolt, stuck out from the back of the man's head, or, at least, it looked that way if you were on the right side of the man. It too, looked older, but it still held the spark that the dark man had forgotten.

    The man looked around, then sighed again. "So, where is she?" he muttered, looking up at the atrium's main arch. He had been walking down it, the atrium was just one of many entrances to the center, heading towards the battle arenas. A sign was draped over the atrium's exit, proclaiming Saffron City Pokemon Contest- Invitation Only in bright purple lettering. The mouse on his shoulder issued a squeak with an eager "Pika!" The man just shook his head, and scratched his chin with one gloved finger. "Well, I hope she brought Sarah. You shouldn't leave a little girl at home alone." Picking up his feet once more, he made his way through the columned atrium's exit, and entered the convention center's main battle arena section.

    At once, the moment he left the comparatively quiet area of the atrium, bright lights issued from all round him, colors swirling in front of him. He could see everything: people fleeing across the floors in search of food, circles of spectators watching as below them, contests were being won and lost, thanks to some ingenious design in the center's layout that had battles below, with glass ceilings above where the spectators watched, allowing for more focus, as the combatants couldn't hear the cheers or boos their performance generated. The dark man passed over the battles, mostly ignoring them, as he headed for the registration booths to pick up an identification badge. There are way too many people here. The man yawned at the thought, he was getting bored already. Sighting the booths over on the other side of the center, amidst a sea of people standing in line waiting for them, so that they too might partake of the festivities and watch the matches. Making his way over to the area, the dark man turned to the yellow rodent. "Are you sure she'll be here, Pikachu?" he asked.

    As the dark man blatantly ignored the long line to retrieve an all-access badge, and headed straight up to the receptionists, the mouse nodded. "Pi!" it squeaked, confirming exactly what the man had said. Its eyes were scanning the floors below, the contest matches that were taking place, in search for her, or any other familiar faces in the crowds. The man knew she would be here, of course, since she was one of the top coordinators from Hoenn, but he really didn't want to catch her at an inopportune time. There was also a good chance that the others were here, supporting her. He didn't exactly want to see them, as he hadn't parted on good terms with them. After all, he was the one who had caused the demise of the relationship, not the other way around, and his former friends could never understand his point of view.

    The people waiting in line didn't seem to take his point of view either, as a few of them were shouting at him for barging to the front of the line. As the man turned to the receptionist, a young redhead girl, he felt a strong poke jab him straight in the back. Annoyed, but not tempted to violence, the man bent his head to the girl, leaning onto the tall blue counter set up in front of her. "Reservation," he muttered, pulling out a scrap of paper from his pants pocket, and handing the folded sheet to her. "An all-access pass, please." The girl took it from him, and smiled at him with her emerald eyes.

    "Just one moment," she answered, looking down to her computer terminal. The man nodded, and felt another sharp jab, this one to his lower back, followed by a vehement exclamation demanding to know exactly what the man thought he was doing and who he thought he was. If the nerd who was hitting him got any lower, the man silently decided that he would deck whoever was behind him. Fortunately, when the receptionist said to wait a moment, she really meant it, something very rare in the man's experience. "Here you go," she answered, handing the man a small, clip-on badge in the shape of a rectangle with a famous coordinator on it smiling at him. The man took it without looking and placed it into his pocket for later attachment.

    "Thanks," the man grumbled, before turning around to see the offending person who had had the audacity to touch him. A tall, Goth boy, with pale face paint over his skin, with dyed raven hair was looking directly at him, a slight snarl embedded on his black lips. The dark man was unmoved. "What do you want?"

    The Goth seemed angry about something. "I want to know why you think you can skip clear to the head of the line without waiting like the rest of us," he demanded, his various chains jiggling all over his dark attire as he shook his fist at the dark man. "What makes you better than us?" The crowd chorused its agreement.

    The man considered answering them, but decided against it. Instead, he turned towards the mouse riding on his shoulder. "Want to get something to drink? I'm thirsty." he asked it, deliberately dodging the question the Goth had so kindly wanted him to answer. The mouse nodded, issuing one squeaking "Pi!" The dark man nodded, and began to scan the surroundings for the nearest drinking establishment. One caught his attention, a bar made up in the theme of a Orre cantina, that he liked the look of. The double doors were open, so he started walking forward, leaving the line without another word. What is this, a nerd convention? I would think she would have a better rep. He decided against asking anyone, including himself, the answer to that question, considering that he himself came here every year, so that would make him one of the 'nerds' that frequented these kinds of events.

    "When's our first match?" the dark man muttered, shifting his face to look at the Pikachu. The little mouse shook its even smaller shoulders, and gave out a long stream of squeaks and murmurs, all of which either used the whole or part of the word "Pikachu." The man nodded. "I'll consult the chart later. They said I wouldn't start until tomorrow anyway." Both trainer and Pokemon made their way through the public, the man making sure that he didn't draw any attention. He didn't want anyone to recognize him. That was the precise reason that he had grown out his hair and changed his clothes from the ones commonly associated with him. He preferred privacy, one of the main reasons he kept such small contact with other people, and why he dressed himself differently. He didn't want the paparazzi after him, the media hounds that had ruined his life once. It had taken an entire year to ditch them. Now, he blended into the crowd, another passing, forgettable face.

    The dark man pushed open the revolving doors to the bar, and took in the scent of cheap booze and drunks. This was one of his safe havens, a place that he go could to without being hounded, where he could enjoy the simpler things of life, and for a few hours just forget about his problems. The atmosphere was hazy, the reek of tobacco beckoning him from all over, swirls of smoke tracing the wooden ceiling above him. The TV was muted, but turned onto some coverage channel, most likely one of the matches that was going on. Twenty people were assembled in the dank bar, not counting the bartender, all of them staring into their bottles of hooch, or at the screen, where a Blaziken was blasting an Aipom with a Blaze Kick, followed by a Sky Uppercut. The man ignored the drunks, who all seemed to be slewing in some sort of misery. He had his own problems, so he didn't engage any of them in conversation, as they could get the impression he cared. He heaved himself forward, and took a solitary seat on one of the barstools in front of the bartender. Pikachu, mimicking its trainer, hopped off its perch, and settled down on the table in a laid-down position.

    The man opened his mouth. "Give me the darkest beer you've got," he grunted, looking up at the bartender. "Now." The man placed a hand in his pockets, drawing forth a few bills and his access badge. The bartender took them up, and peered over the information, studying the dark man's face. When he was satisfied, the bartender handed the badge back to the man, and took the money.

    The bartender, a grubby looking man with an eye patch over the left side of his face, nodded his head, pushing back the blond locks of his hair. "Coming right up," he answered politely, but with a slight growl. The dark man nodded, and the barkeep walked towards the old fashioned register next to the taps, ringing up the sale, and collecting the change from the tin. The bartender grabbed a mug from under the counter, and took out the tap for the darkest Orre swill he had. Pressing down on the button attached to the nozzle, a steady stream of dark beer poured into the cup. The keep tilted the mug, the foam falling out onto the floor as the container was filled. When the mug was full, the bartender raised his other arm and coughed hard, making sure to keep it away from the drink. The bartender then placed the drink down onto the shiny surface of the counter, and shoved it down towards the dark man, who caught it without glancing at the bartender.

    "Here's your change," the one-eyed man muttered, handing back a few coins to the other, who just took them in his gloved hand and pocketed them. The man stared at the drink, while the bartender reached into his pocket to obtain the pack of smokes he kept in his pants, along with a small lighter with the image of a naked woman embossed on the surface. He opened the pack and grabbed one of the slim joints, shoving it into his yellowed, stained mouth, placing the pack back into his pocket and lighting the smoke with the flames from his lighter. Putting the lighter back, the bartender took a deep drag from the cigarette, before removing it from his mouth to blow more of the carbon monoxide-created haze into the air.

    The dark man looked up to the bartender, who appeared to be immensely enjoying the burning joint, and made a slight face of disgust with his mouth. "You know, that's bad for you," he said with a solemn voice, before raising the tankard of beer to his lips. As the bartender watched, the man took a deep draught from the mug, emptying about a fourth of the contents into his mouth. He stopped to let the alcohol take its natural course, as drinking too much at once was a hazard, and set the tankard down.

    The bartender laughed. "Yeah, the alcoholic tell the smoker that what he does is bad," he coughed. The dark man joined in, chuckling at the irony with him. "What I do to myself ain't much worse then what you do to yourself, ya know."

    The dark man nodded. "I'm not an alcoholic, buddy," he replied, raising the glass once more. "I just like the taste is all." The barkeep chortled as the man made about half the contents of the tankard's original amount of liquid vanish mysteriously into his stomach. "Hey, you want some, Pikachu?" The mouse looked up, but shook its head. "Give my friend here a glass of milk." At this, the rodent nodded vigorously. The bartender just sighed, but got out a platter of milk for the Pokemon. Pikachu gave out an almighty squeak of thanks to its trainer, before it shoved its face into the drink and inhaled. The dark trainer fished out another few bucks, and passed them to the barkeep. "So, what's going on there?" he asked, pointing towards the television in the corner. The Blaziken had defeated the Aipom, and a play-by-play of the last move was being displayed, along with the scores.

    The barkeep shook his head in confusion. "Don't ya know who that is?" he asked, pointing a finger at the screen. "That's the girl who's gotten the most bets placed on her. She's the favorite to win this year's Contest." The dark trainer grunted in acknowledgment, as a new picture came on the screen, displaying the girl in question. "The Contest started today, with the semifinals and finals taking place tomorrow. This kind of event is pretty good for me, 'cause most people come here ta drown their sorrows after losing in some booze."

    The man wasn't paying attention to what the bartender was saying, focusing his attention on the woman in the picture, who was waving energetically and smiling. Her soft auburn hair fell down, slightly obscuring the azure eyes that were sparkling with triumph. She had grown out her hair, he noticed, since he had last seen her.

    The dark man finished the glass, draining every last drop down his throat. "I suppose you are right," he muttered, staring through the empty bottom of the mug. "I'm one of the contestants, and it ain't exactly a peachy day for me either." The man looked down at the badge he had taken from the registration booth, and groaned aloud. The coordinator he had just seen on the TV stared back at him, her face fixed into a smiling grin, with two fingers sticking out of her fist, making the bunny signal.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Unnnnnccccle Maaaaaax!"

    Deep, deep down, Max Birch loved his niece. Honest to goodness he did. He had been there when she was born, and had personally overseen her childhood with May for the last two years. He was perfectly willing to do whatever he could to protect her, and would do almost anything for her. This did not, however, change the fact that he would have done practically anything to avoid guard duty when May was off doing a match in the Contest.

    Sarah Birch, the single most energetic girl that Max had ever met, gripped her uncle's hand with a strength that didn't seem to Max normal from a five-year-old. Plowing through the crowd, Max made certain that he didn't lose track of her, partially because he was a loving and caring uncle, but mostly because of the threat the little girl's overprotective mother had administered to him prior to heading for her match. Max chuckled sheepishly, keeping an eye on the little girl so that she wouldn't cause any trouble, one of the single greatest challenges he had ever faced.

    Why May always picked him for guard duty, he never knew, though silently he screamed in exhaustion as Sarah somehow got behind him, and he suddenly felt a slight burden on his shoulders as she leapt up. Max groaned as he felt his eardrums burst, Sarah shouting for a piggyback ride as though he was standing on the opposite side of a battlefield. Already, his dark jade shirt was creasing, and beads of sweat fell from his face. His feet ached, an after-affect from chasing the little girl around. He needed to recuperate. "Hey, think we can sit down for a sec?" he asked, panting vigorously.

    She giggled, grabbing the front of his neck as he tucked her little legs under his arms. "Yee-hah! Go, Uncle Max, go!" she squealed, kicking him hard in the side, like a cowboy spurs a Ponyta. Max reared in shock, but reluctantly neighed for the girl as he lumbered in the direction of the nearest place to sit. He looked around quickly, as he needed a place that would both let him sit and keep Sarah occupied. Deciding that his back was more important than spoiling dinner for Sarah, Max buckled towards an open food court, which seemed to house all sorts of different venders selling stuff. Passing through the crowd, Max panted as he approached one of the booths, and set the girl on his shoulders down onto one side of the table atop the large cushioned seat that spanned the outside of the table. She bounced around happily as Max deposited himself on the other side, panting roughly, and wiping his brow.

    Sarah, easily distracted, looked in the direction of one of the arenas, where someone was losing. It was an exhibition battle, not part of the actual tournament, but the little girl turned towards Max, and smiled. "Is Mommy gonna win?" she asked, her high, assertive voice trailing over all the commotion going on around them. She dropped her head and popped onto the table, though her eyes remained trained on her uncle.

    Max grinned, and raised his thumb. "She'd better win, or we're all gonna be in big, big trouble," he replied, pushing himself into an upright sitting position. It wasn't that he didn't mind babysitting Sarah, it was just that she somehow always managed to make him feel so old. Living with and watching a baby niece was definitely one of those things that could put grey hairs on Max's head, though thankfully the dark locks had remained intact since his old journeying days. They were a little longer now, and needed occasional brushing out of the eyes, but were otherwise fine. Max still wore glasses, though the style he had now was thinner and narrower than the kinds he had worn as a child. Sighing, he adjusted the lenses, making sure that they were firmly attached to his head. Blindness was not a good thing when watching Sarah. "You want something to eat?" Max looked round the venders, taking stock of what each was selling. "I think one of these guys should have some pizza for ya."

    Sarah, at the very mention of the word 'pizza', changed, suddenly beginning to drool from her mouth, her foot shaking itself into a frenzy. "Pitza!" she shouted happily, mispronouncing the word as she always did, raising her arms. She hadn't learned yet how to properly say her favorite food, but she was far too cute when she said it for anyone to correct her. "Pitza!"

    Max chuckled, shaking his head. "Sure thing, kid," he replied, rising from where he was sitting. He spotted the pizza vender, which wasn't that far from where they were, only a few feet away. Sarah jumped up from her seat, and followed her uncle, grabbing his larger hand as they went. The vender, a large man, whose lower face was covered by an unbelievably heavy, thick, auburn moustache. Max thought the man smiled, as the hair inclined upwards at the edges when they approached.

    "Tell him what you want, squirt," Max said, nudging her forward.

    As Sarah, in rampart detail, explained to the vender exactly what she wanted, Max looked at her, and smiled. He was a lucky guy to have such a cool niece in his life. And she was, of course, May's daughter, which meant that the dark, almost raven, auburn hair shined in the convention center's light, glowing with an inner beauty that plenty of guys would be stunned by when she grew up. Sarah, unlike her mother, was big on the shopping deal, having inherited the feminine gene from her grandmother that drove crazy women to shop. So she wore designer jeans, even though she was five, with a small yellow shirt that was tucked into her pants. She even had running shoes on her feet. But it was probably the eyes that Max always noticed the most when he saw her. Eyes that could freeze a Charizard in its tracks. Pools of midnight black, which carried a strange combination of fierceness and gentleness.

    They were his, the eyes of her father, and Max knew well enough not to mention them. Even so much as saying his name near Sarah or May warranted a death sentence according to his sister. But still, he had left his mark on his daughter, and he never ceased to feel amazed at exactly how intense the gaze was. I wonder if she even knows who her father is. It was May's revenge against him, and Max sagged his head in dismay. No matter how much I hate him, no child should be kept away from her father. Sarah looked up to him, and offered a wide smile. Max replied with a grin, and paid the vendor, taking the receipt from the man, and walked back to the booth to wait for the entire, large pizza pie that Sarah had ordered.

    He sighed, staring at the ceiling. Times really have changed since it happened… As Max drifted off, Sarah began to demand attention once more, and it wasn't until a firm shoe slammed into his knee did Max return to reality, shaking his head. Sarah wanted the now-finished pizza from the vendor. Max chuckled, and nodded, rising to get it. She was such a happy child, for all she had been shielded from by her mother and family.

    "Hey, Max!" The man, caught off guard, failed to notice as he was grabbed roughly in a giant, unbearably painful hug, as he set the pizza down on the table for Sarah. Max grunted in annoyance, though he knew the master of the voice. Brock Harrison squeezed a final time, before releasing Max to recover breath, laughing his head off. Max grinned, turning round to clasp the hands of his fellow Gym leader. He hadn't known that Brock would be attending, but it was a nice surprise nonetheless.

    "Hey, old man," the younger man chuckled, shaking Brock's hand in welcome. Brock grinned, his fox-eyes nothing more than friendly slits on his face. They hadn't changed, just like the Brock that Max, May, and little Sarah knew and loved, his personality still bright and optimistic, if slightly more perverted than the old days, as Max could see Brock staring at one of the surrounding women out of the corner of his eyes. Brock's hair was a little longer, though it still gave someone the impression that he had stuck a pin cushion on his head and colored it brown. The spikes were longer, bent at the ends, and held up by a dark blue headband. He seemed to have gotten more tanned since Max had last seen him, and wore a dark brown vest with a navy blue shirt underneath. He wore black cargo pants, and nice, highly polished boots that in themselves qualified as a light source. "It's been a while, Brock. Good to see you."

    Brock issued a giant laugh. "Same here, buddy!" he retorted, passing the younger man. "Scoot, squirt." Sarah cheered, moving hurriedly so that Brock could settle himself down next to her, and he patted her on the head, ruffling her dark auburn hair. "It's good to see you two here." He bent towards Sarah, and winked. "Now, have you been behaving for your momma, Sarah?" He pulled out a box of chocolate, a special Kanto delicacy that he gave the little girl every time he saw her.

    The girl nodded, and snatched for the candy, which Brock kept just out of range. "Yes, Uncle Brock!" she squealed back. Chuckling, Brock lowered his hand, and handed her the candy, which she thoroughly inspected before tucking it away in her pants pocket. She then eyed, and began attacking, the pizza, tearing off a slice of the cheese-based product and gobbling it up.

    Max grinned, looking at the exhausted form of Max, who was munching on a slice of his own.

    "And have you been a good girl for Uncle Max?" he asked.

    "Nope," the other man muttered, a final pant escaping his lips. Brock and Sarah laughed. "She's a little demon. Aren't ya Sarah?" She laughed, and nodded her head.

    Brock, deciding the moment was too good to waste, deepened his voice, taking on the sterner, more adult accent he once used on his own brothers and sisters when they misbehaved. "Sarah," he lectured, wagging his finger at her as if he was displeased, "say sorry to Uncle Max."

    The little girl giggled, and bobbed her head up and down. "Sowwy, Uncle Max," she chirped sweetly. "I'll be good from now on!" Brock thanked her, while Max decided they would have better luck figuring out a way to make 'from now on' last longer than the hour it usually did.

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    The sounds, the chaos, the unending satisfaction of victory.

    May Birch grinned in triumph, as her favorite Pokemon delivered the finishing blow on the small purple monkey in front of her, smashing its flaming arm in a fierce uppercut, sending the simian flying into the air, smashing its annoying, grinning face on the glass ceiling, with the crowd above cheering as they looked down into the match. Flashing a smile for the camera nearest to her, the young woman's pearly whites dazzled the audience, the shining azure eyes capable of stopping cars in the street smiling along with her mouth. She raised her hands high, as the judge roared her name.

    "And the win goes to…May Birch!"

    The crowd above them erupted into echoes of cheers and hoots, fan boys and girls alike chanted her name like crazy. Her opponent, a young prodigy about half her age, had already recalled his Aipom, and seemed to be fuming as he left, walking towards one of the elevators on his side of the arena to the above floor, where the press would be certain to annoy and harass him on his crushing defeat. She almost wished that she hadn't beat him. Almost, because she had wanted to win, and no amount of coordinators was going to stand in the way of that. Grinning, she recalled Blaziken, raising the Pokemon's red and white containment unit, its Pokeball, to shoulder height. She pressed down on the button in the center, and a streak of bright, crimson light erupted from the little orb. The light encompassed the large Pokemon, and reverted it into the same color, before the whole Pokemon vanished into the light, disappearing into the ball with an audible whoosh. Her match completed, May reattached the Pokeball to a small clip on her belt.

    She chuckled to herself. Winning matches like this, completely and utterly dominating her opponents, was one of the few, simple pleasures that she had never denied herself. Brushing the long strands of brown hair from her face, she flashed another smile at the otaku standing above her battlefield, who all shouted in approval above her platform, her blue eyes twinkling at them. Dusting off her hands, May turned round, now that the match was over, and made for the elevators leading up to the upper floors. She passed through a small corridor, before reaching the glass lift. She pressed the button on the side, and the double doors whirled open in response. May stepped through the doors, and hit the button for the main deck, the floor above her.

    The elevator whirled to life, and the doors closed slowly before her, and she felt the small jerk beneath her as she started to rise from the lower level, where the battles took place, and the upper deck, where most of the non-battling activity was going on. Through the glass, she could hear the venders selling their wavers, otaku running around in search of their favorite coordinators, and the various other goings-on common with an event such as this. The complex design of the center was made solely to accommodate multiple battles and a different form of spectator viewing. With the battles taking place below them, the viewers were given a different point of observation. Contests were growing in popular culture nowadays, almost on the same par as regular battles. As such, famous coordinators such as herself were normally swamped with incoming fan mail and attacked by paparazzi, not to mention swarmed by fans. May's fan mail alone could have more than capable of keeping an entire region happily supplied with paper for months. Sometimes this lifestyle gets on my nerves. She sighed, shaking her head, the machine slowing down as she approached her destination. She chuckled, hoping that her brother hadn't gotten overrun with guard duty, or else she might have trouble finding Max and his charge.

    She was dressed plainly, she thought, looking over herself as she stepped out of the elevator. She didn't like to think she was beautiful, despite the fact that both Playboy and Penthouse had asked her to pose for their magazines on multiple occasions. She was about five foot seven, with a lithe build and complex that masked her surprising strength. She didn't exactly like drawing attention to herself, even though every person in the building knew who she was. So she dressed simply, wearing black leather pants, high heel shoes, and a red blouse. She didn't wear makeup, because she thought it made her look tacky, but her family agreed that she looked stunning with the stuff on. That was all, nothing more. Nothing that would draw attention, except from, of course, her fans…

    She had just exited the elevator when the cry of the average central-Kanto fan boy rang out clear through the crowd. "Hello beautiful!" echoed a nasally voice from within the surging crowd, followed by a giant horde of intense whistling. May groaned inside, as the man who had issued the catcall, a stereotypical fan, emerged from the crowd. A large beefy man, with more chins that a phone book's pages, grinned at her with bucked teeth, pointing to the extremely tight shirt he happened to be wearing, which displayed a wider version of her own smiling face, stretched over his tubby pectorals. The man grinned a second time, rubbing a fat hand through his gleaming, greasy black hair. "How you doin'?" he asked, in a deeper, more annoying voice.

    May rolled her eyes. "Here we go again," she murmured, rubbing the top of her head. "Okay, let's do this. Which one of you guys to I have to beat up for everyone to stop bothering me?" She turned to face the gathering of sweaty nerds, or, in particular, the sweaty nerd who had catcalled her, and cracked the knuckles on both her hands. She knew exactly how to deal with annoying fans: beat them up.

    The otaku who had spoken to her, obviously the leader of the gaggle of nerds, stood tall in the face of her demand, walking boldly towards her, his massive hips swaying with his hands. His nostrils flared, and his cheeks turned a deep scarlet, his heart thudding in his chest so loud that everyone could hear, though that was mostly due to his clogged arteries. "Come on, baby, don't be like that," he swooned, grinning through his disfigured teeth. "I mean, I'm sure that a nice, lovely woman like yourself needs some…manly comforts now and then. And considering as you don't have a man no more, and you haven't for the past couple years, I decided it would be a good idea to extend to you an invite into my pants. You look like you need some loving anyway."

    May's hand curled up into a fist. "You're just begging me to beat you down, aren't you?" she asked calmly, though her flushed face displayed that inside she was beginning to burn with rage.

    The nerd raised his hands. "Hey, Miss, I was just saying that I'd be better than that chump of an ex-husband of yours. What was his name again?" He would later come to regret the decision to bring May's ex into the conversation.

    May flashed white with rage. "I'll take that as a yes," she hissed through gritted teeth. "And I'm happy to oblige." She walked very, very calmly towards the otaku, with that special glint in her eyes usually reserved for those people who, soon after being seen, grab a shotgun and go searching for a bell tower. The instant she was within striking distance of the nerd, she obliged. Throwing out her foot, she struck the otaku hard against the face with a heeled foot. Time froze in between the kick, and the distance that the otaku traveled immediately after the backlash was administered. The nerd was lifted clear off his feet, and knocked into the metaphorical next week. In unanimous agreement, the crowd that had supported the large man parted, allowing the nerd to travel several feet before a massive thud was heard, his giant girth making friends with the solid ground.

    The group parted even further away from May as she walked forward, hands on her hips, and bent over the nerd, who was wheezing from the impact. The otaku winced as she approached, and she smiled, like a hungry wolf preparing to feed on her prey. "If you, or anyone here, mention him to me again, and you will pay," she growled, her eyes taking on a predatory look, glaring at him. Fuming, she spun round on her heel and left the crowd speechless, looking around for the nearest drinking establishment, feeling a desperate need to blow off some steam. It took her only a moment, and a sign advertising an Orre-style cantina. One that the nerds, judging by the acne on their faces, could not follow her into. Perfect, she sighed, making a quick dash for the bar, dodging through the relatively light traffic on the walkways. She almost collided into someone, even, just to get there as fast as she could. A light drink, just to take her mind off things, was exactly what she needed to unwind.

    Opening the revolving doors, she took a quick survey of the room. There were only a couple of people inside, the only one of them which appeared conscious was sitting at the counter, his shadowed face turned towards the TV in the corner, checking out the match that her rival, Drew, was fighting in, though he didn't appear all that interested in it. A half-full tankard sat in his gloved, strangely large hands, containing a beer color that bordered on black-amber. On the counter next to him, a small yellow rodent was curled up, snoozing peacefully, with a half-finished saucer of milk by it. A Pikachu, she thought, her heart briefly skipping a beat when she saw it. He had a Pikachu, she thought, though she hadn't seen him in years. The man before her looked nothing like him, with strong, powerful muscles, albeit compact and not body-builder-size, with long hair, the raven color was the only thing that she could say reminded her of him. The man wore a yellow shirt, which was almost golden-colored if seen in the light, and hung around the man baggily, like the rest of his clothes.

    She walked towards him, deciding that sitting next to him wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. She looked at him as she sat on the stool, and offered a quick smile, which went unnoticed by the man himself, whose face was covered by heavy bangs, and who seemed engaged in the activities on the television. Holding up her hand, she signaled to the barkeep, who came over a moment later, obviously bored out of his mind. "Could I please get a Mai Tai?" she asked, resting her elbow against the counter. The bartender looked her over once, before his working eye widened when he figured out who she was, and nodded his head.

    "Ten, please," he muttered, grabbing various rums and juices for the drink. May groaned, and pulled her wallet out of her pocket. She flicked it open, and rooted through its contents, coming up with only five in bills. She looked up, watching the barman work, and grinned sheepishly.

    "Do you take credit cards, by any chance?" she asked, revealing her empty wallet. The barman looked at her, and shook his ruddy head. May sank her head, but lifted when the man next to her coughed, having apparently woken up from his thoughts. She watched as he put a hand into his pocket, and dug up a twenty bill, and threw it in the direction of the bartender.

    "It's on me," the dark man muttered, scratching the ears of his Pikachu. His attention was still on the TV, watching as the Roselia delivered a very nice Body Slam to its opponent. "You look like you've had a rough time." He sighed, then raised the glass to his lips, draining the last half of his drink. "Another one, barkeep." The dark man tossed the mug at the barman, as the one-eyed drinks mixer handed the Mai Tai to May. The barman grunted, and poured out another cup for the trainer.

    "Thanks," she murmured, raising the lithe glass to her lips and sipping, the light rum burning lightly in the back of her throat. She set the glass on the wood counter, and rubbed her head. "It's just that groupies make me sick sometimes. Paparazzi hasn't left me alone for years…"

    The dark man beside her grunted, and shifted himself so he was facing away with her, and nodded his head. "Yeah, life sucks, doesn't it?" he asked, his voice a dull growl, as the bartender handed him his third beer for the afternoon. May nodded her agreement, chuckling lightly, before he spoke again. "What's your story, anyway? I thought people wanted to be famous." The dark man raised his glass, and took a small gulp out of the beer. May sighed, but shook her head.

    "It's nothing really," she answered, taking a second sip from the small beverage. The bartender, sensing he was not needed from a hand motion from the dark man, decided to occupy himself with a dusty glass beneath the counter, keeping his one eye on the match on the TV. "Just the life of every celebrity you read about, you know? Marriage, divorce. That kind of stuff." The man nodded his head, scratching the head of his Pikachu, its happy face peaceful and content. It was actually pretty cute, she thought, almost like his Pikachu. "You ever get into things like that?" She waited for him to answer, taking another drink from her Mai Tai.

    The dark man chuckled, nodding behind his back. "Yeah, I've been in stuff like that," he replied, taking another sip from his tankard. "The way families are like nowadays, it's tough to find the 'ideal' family. Yeah, I know what you're talking about." He coughed into his drink, then took another draught. "I used to have a wife, and a kid too. Didn't work out the way I had planned, so my wife made me leave." He paused, then offered a small chuckle. "I still pay alimony, I'm not a deadbeat like most, but the funny thing is that I can't even see my kid. When we split, she got a court order saying that I couldn't come near the kid. So, I don't exactly know my own kid."

    "Oh…" May dropped her face, looking at the combat boots the man wore. "I sort of do the same thing to my ex-husband. He can't see my baby girl, because I got the same kind of order from the courts. I still get the checks like clockwork though…" She touched her chest, it hurt talking about her former husband. "But I think he deserves it, after what he did to me, and how much he hurt me."

    The dark man grunted. "Don't you worry about how he feels? I mean, not being able to ever see his daughter must be horrible for him."

    She snorted into her glass in response. "It doesn't matter," May retorted, sipping in her drink. "I don't want my daughter around that kind of people anyway. He's the one that did it me, and not the other way around. He destroyed me, so I really don't care about his feelings on the subject." She looked up at him, noticing a slight change in his voice. It seemed sadder. "Hey, are you in the Contest, big guy?"

    The man nodded. "Yeah. I'm in the semi-finals tomorrow. I was transferred in as a wild card, so I haven't been in the earlier rounds. I hope I have some decent competition this time, I haven't lost a fight for a good long while…" He sighed, lifting his head to stare at the ceiling. "You are, I know that. I saw you on the tube. You weren't bad, but there's always room for improvement."

    She grinned. "Well, I'm pretty stiff competition, you know. I'm a top coordinator from Hoenn, so it shouldn't be a cakewalk for even the best coordinators." She raised her eyes, sizing him up. "I'm May Birch," she said, finishing her drink, and settling in on the counter. "What's yours?"

    The dark man sat up straighter, paying attention. "Does it really matter?" he asked, cocking his head up. "I don't use my real name in events like these. Got a chart on you for the next matches?" May shook her head but, as if on cue, the match ended on the TV, and displayed the next round. May smiled, looking at her own face displayed on the monitor. Drew's face was there, as well, along with Dawn's beaming gaze. And then…she looked at her own opponent, who bore a very strong resemblance to the man she had been talking to. The dark, raven bangs covered the eyes, but his face was set into a half-smile, as though he had tried to smile, but had somehow failed. They couldn't hear what the announcer was saying, but May could see the names underneath the faces. Hers, Drew's, and Dawn's she knew, but the mystery man she didn't.

    Keean Toby.

    May scratched her chin. "I've never heard of you, Mr. Toby," she said. "How have you avoided the paparazzi?" The dark man heard her, but didn't answer the question, so she changed the subject, looking towards the Pikachu waking on the table. It's eyes were fluttering open, and it yawned deeply. "How long have you been training that Pikachu?"

    When the mouse was fully awake, it stared at May for a moment, as though having an experience of déjà vu. When it did, the man bent his head down to his Pokemon, and grunted. "Kachu," he muttered to the rodent, who nodded and kept quiet. "Pretty long," he answered, as the Pokemon climbed back onto his back, and settled on his left shoulder. It blinked, then began to whisper to its dark trainer rapidly. "We've got to get going." The man stiffened, then rose to his full height. Nodding to the barman, he turned to face the doorway out. "It's been nice talking with you, May Birch. I'll see you around." With that, he waved, and shoved his hands into his pockets.

    She raised her hand. "See you later, then," she answered, as he left the bar, to stew in her own thoughts and guilt.

    The man who called himself Keean Toby exited the bar, and started to the left, taking in the surroundings again. He ignored the calls from the vendors, the faces in the crowd, and blended into the environment. He didn't speak, but began to take note of all of the surroundings, checking the entrances and exits, the emergency evacuation areas, and areas that small objects could be concealed. Things that most normal people wouldn't look for, but things he needed to look for nonetheless. Ten minutes into his investigation, his pants began to vibrate, stunning him momentarily, but he adjusted. "It's for me," he muttered to the Pikachu, reaching into his pocket. He retrieved the small, cell-phone device and flipped it open. The blank screen glowed to life, and the man ducked into a corner, head swerving round as he checked to make sure no one had noticed him.

    He sighed. He hated when he boss called. The dark man pressed a button on the silver phone, and pressed it against his ear. "This is Agent 1076," he muttered. The man turned to Pikachu, and nodded his head. Without a word, the yellow rodent hopped off his shoulder, and scurried away in the direction of the crowds. "My Pikachu is covering the target for me as we speak."

    "Agent 1076," said a voice from the receiver, a dark growl that almost made the man flinch. Almost. "Status report. Has the target been identified?"

    "Target has been identified. The target is presently in an Orre-style cantina, and is preparing to meet up with the rest of her party. Assumptions that she won have been confirmed, meaning she will be attending the dinner later tonight. I shall be attending as well, under alias." The man took a deep breath, then continued. "Now, cut the crap, and tell me what is wrong. You know I can handle something this easy without a checkup."

    The person on the other side grunted, and the man could hear the faint scratching of a pen as his report was taken down. "We have received confirmation that a terrorist organization unknown to us is planning to attack the event. Their purpose is unknown, but the conditions of protecting your target have changed. To that end, a second, superior agent is being dispatched, and is on route to Saffron. A specialist agent with the kind of firepower to combat a terrorist threat of this nature."

    Inside, the dark man groaned, his face sagging into an angered frown. "You're sending me one of the spandexes?" he demanded, a feeling of deep annoyance welling up within him. "Listen, 003, I can handle a terrorist. I don't need someone in flashy tights showing up to steal my thunder." He growled, striking the wall behind him with his free arm. "I can handle this on my own and you know it."

    Agent 003, if he cared, ignored the comment. "Your orders have changed to correspond with this. Orders to protect solely the target have been terminated. Orders to continue incognito within the Contest have remained, with the added measure that you will forfeit if you may win. New orders are to receive Agent 0, Gold, and secure a safe passage for his operations. You will subordinate directly to him, obeying all commands given, without question." The voice paused, and a small sigh transferred over the phone. "You are otherwise allowed free reign of your assignment. Try and have some fun, 1076. I've read your files, you had to give up a lot for us. Do something for yourself for a change."

    The dark man rolled his eyes. "How nice of you to care, 003. Blow it out your ***," he finished, pressing down hard on the red button, cutting the line dead. Sighing, he flipped the phone shut and stuck it back into his pocket. His jaw set, the man slammed his fists against the wall, grunting in irritation, as a wave of depression and frustration rooted itself firmly in his stomach. "Just what I need," he grumbled, looking out into the crowd. "Another idiotic, annoying encounter with my favorite spandex." As he stewed his feelings within himself, a flash of yellow prompted his attention, and within moments, the little mouse Pikachu was sitting on his shoulder, looking at him quizzically. "You ever think I made the wrong choice, Pikachu?"

    The mouse shook its head, and shrugged its shoulders. "Kachu, pi," it replied. The man sighed, of course the mouse wouldn't know. Only he did, and he couldn't figure it out. The dark man removed himself from the wall he was leaning on, and started to shuffle through the crowd, soon losing himself in the wanderings of the other people, trapped amid his own thoughts.

    He sighed, feeling the pain of the golden ring hitting softly against his chest. "I gave her up. I gave both of them up, and this is the result," he murmured, glancing through the crowd. He could see the couples, walking arm and arm together, laughing away their time. He saw families, children holding onto their mothers and fathers, wandering around. His face broke into a soft smile, as he remembered how he used to do that, with her, and with their child. Walking in the street, as if they had all the time in the world, his little girl taking her little baby steps in between them. "It's nothing but a memory now," he whispered to himself and Pikachu, vanishing into the couples and families, nothing more than a passing shadow. A darkened stranger in a cascade of light.

    "Damn."

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Max passed the time waiting for May by recounting a story from his own years of traveling for Brock's own amusement. He lowered his voice, while Sarah assaulted the pizza in front of her in a manner that classified as third-degree manslaughter, as some of the stories were never suitable for small children. Brock's mouth widened, and he gasped as Max finished. "So, let me see if I have this straight," he murmured, as Max took a sip from the soft drink he had purchased. "You mean to say that you and she were—" He paused, making sure Sarah was preoccupied, "alone of various periods of time?"

    Max, who was undisturbed by the question, continued drinking, but inclined his head, confirming the secret message in Brock's question. "That, my friend, would be correct," he answered, setting his drink down onto the table. "But I'll fill you in on the…other information later though."

    "Max, are you boasting about stuff you can't back up?" The voice jolted Max out of his normal, relaxed state, and he turned to see his sister standing behind him, a sharp glare on him. Max grinned, and feigned ignorance to what she was inferring to. Hey, Brock," she said, smiling at the big man. Brock concurred, and wrapped her in a powerful hug. "Great to see you, buddy."

    Brock grinned. "Great to catch up again, May. Sorry I was late, a few cases back in Pewter kept delaying me. I caught a train here a few hours ago…" He then noticed that May was having trouble breathing, and released her from his grasp, chuckling to himself. "Sarah, climb!" he ordered. The little girl, now finished with her meal, jumped on the table and tackled Brock's back, assuming the piggyback position with expert timing.

    Sarah laughed, then jumped off Brock to land on May, who hugged her daughter tight. "Hi, baby girl," she said to Sarah, tickling her belly. "Were you good to your babysitters?" Max, upon hearing the question, immediately began shaking his head from side to side, and Brock slapped his back to stop him.

    "Mommy!" Sarah cried out happily, holding tightly onto her mother. "Win, Mommy?" she asked.

    She grinned, raising her thumb. "Yep," she answered. "Win, baby." Sarah shouted for joy, grabbing her mom hard. Brock and Max high-fived.

    "That means we get to go to that dinner tonight, right?" Max asked, hoping for high-class, free food.

    May nodded, and Brock said, "How about we carry this celebration somewhere else, huh? If we have a dinner to go to, we'd better go get ready! I need to rent a tux…"

    "Okay," May replied, setting Sarah gently down on the floor, keeping the little girl's right arm in between her grasp. "Then let's get going, gang." Max took the lead, and led his sister and niece in the direction of the nearest atrium exit, Brock following behind the three, checking out the women as he went. Fortunately, he restrained himself, wanting to set a good example for Sarah.

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    The dark man watched as they left for the dinner, surrounded by the massive ocean of people still traveling through the center, shrouding him from their live eyes. He forced himself to watch, like he always did, as the little girl laughed in happiness, the joyful face that the girl made when she saw the woman. The pained feeling within him throbbed every single time his heart beat, growing every time in intensity. "She'll never look at me like that," he muttered, his head falling to watch her go. He took a step forward, walking into the food court just behind them, but far enough away so that they didn't see him. He wanted away from the groups around him, the couples and the families, feeling the urge to be alone again. "I wish she knew me, Pi."

    "Pi, Pikachu," the rodent answered sympathetically, patting the dark man's head with its small paw. "Kachu." The dark man nodded, and lifted his head slowly, wanting to catch a final glimpse of the girl before he left.

    Just as May headed down the atrium, leading Brock and Max behind herself and her daughter, Sarah turned around, taking one last look at the center before she left for the day. Her dark, raven eyes flew round, checking everything they could see, before they stopped, for just a split second, resting on the dark man standing alone, apart from any crowd, the Pikachu sitting quietly on his shoulder. He looked to her, and his heart fluttered, beating wildly, though the pain had lessened in that moment. In that moment, she had seen him, even though she didn't know who he was, or what she meant to him. But, in the next moment, the girl vanished, lost in the void of the crowd surrounding the atrium, heading for the world beyond, Saffron City, leaving the dark man standing where he was, hands in his pockets, with his mouth slightly opened.

    He sighed, his head falling back to stare at the polished ground beneath his feet. "I love you, Sarah," he whispered sadly, his tone full of loss. "And I love you too, May." Those were absolutes, the things that would never change about the dark man, no matter where he went or what he did.

    Pikachu felt the pain coursing through its trainer, and nodded. "Pi," it squeaked, before pointing to where they had come from, the main atrium that led out of the center into Saffron.

    The man shrugged his shoulders, turning away from the exit. "Yeah, I know," he replied, turning away from the door. He couldn't push May and Sarah, his lost love and daughter, from his mind forever, but he could put away the feelings until he had time for them. "It's time to go to work, isn't it?" The mouse squeaked its reply, and the dark trainer walked forward, his combat boots clunking on the floor. A second later, he was gone, vanished in the sea of people, non-existent to anyone who saw him. As he said it, he was nothing more than a passing shadow, a lurking memory that was never forgotten, but never fully remembered. Déjà vu, as his colleagues put it, to be seen by the public then dismissed just as quickly.

    The people in attendance continued with their lives, shopping, battling, and messing around to their hearts content. And only one person in the crowd, Keean Toby, knew the fate that could befall them if he failed. Nothing changed for them, the public was perfectly happy, ignorant of what was coming, concerned solely with enjoying themselves, and having a good time. The terror threat wasn't known to them, or the responsibility shouldered upon the dark man, now that he was burdened with their lives. It was the furthest thing from their vacant minds. Only he knew, and he wasn't even allowed to do anything to stop it without spandex approval. It made him sick.

    The only light left in the dark man wondered about his daughter. He wondered who she was as he wandered in the direction of the exit. He wondered how she was, whether she missed not having a father, or even if she knew she had one. It was one thing to see his daughter, to just look at the little girl. It was another to know her. He was a stranger to her, even though he knew her better than anyone outside her mother. If he could just talk to her, hold her within his arms like other fathers could. He wanted to tell her who he was, and how much she and her mother meant to him. Is that so much to ask?

    Even though it was one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, and one of the most secret, the dark man hated his life as a PKM Agent. He hated what it had done to him, and what it had, in the end, cost him forever.

    Author's Note: This thread will be updated a minimum of once a week, depending on my schedule. The life of an adjunct instructor and a PhD student is not an easy one.

  2. #2
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 2, Part 1

    Hello, again! Because this story is rather long (I'm currently in first draft stage on chapter 42) I will be posting a piece of a chapter everday to catch up. I will still abide by the rules regarding waiting between posts, but I wanted any moderators checking out this thread to be aware of my posting schedule and not think I'm spamming my own story. I just thought it would be fun to do this catch-up in a daily, serialized edition for new readers and give older readers that might not remember the story an easy way to dive back in. With that out of the way, we continue.

    Morph Two: The Golden Ranger Arrives, Part 1

    Max, after glancing at his reflection in thought, decided that he had once again failed to learn how to properly tie his tie. Why, out of all the difficult things that he had mastered how to do, such as flirting in a form that in no way resembled Brock's, controlling Sarah, and managing the gym back in Petalburg, was he still unable to attach a simple piece of cloth to his neck? He groaned, undoing the stupid-looking loop hung on his neck, irritated. He walked away from the mirror, and headed towards the slightly-ajar door that led to the living room. "May, can you come help me please?" he called, raising his hand to his lips. May shouted back something he couldn't quite understand, mainly because she was helping Sarah get changed into her dress.

    "Give me a sec!" she called back, somewhat muffled, followed by a shout of excitement from her daughter. A moment later, a slightly disorganized May walked into the room, shaking her head. "Max Birch, after all these years, have you still not learned how to tie a tie?" With a soft noise from her mouth, she walked behind Max, grabbing the tie and attaching it tightly around her brother's neck. She wound it quickly, but smartly, so that the green tie looked half-way decent, something it would never be if she left him to it alone. "There. Now you just need your jacket and we'll be done." She slapped Max on the back, and walked out of the door, as she herself needed to add on some final changes to her dress. Max chuckled, placing the black jacket over his deep jade shirt, and observed himself in the mirror. He didn't look too bad, he might even pick up a phone number or three, depending on if Brock decided to put on his own moves. Brock was always sure to drive off at least one woman.

    "Ready!" he shouted. He brushed his hand through his hair one last time, and straightened his glasses before he walked out of his adjoining room where Sarah was waiting on the couch, watching another match on TV. She had obviously changed, as she now had one a small, very plain black dress, and her hair was made up with chopsticks. Another door opened, and Brock emerged, in a navy blue suit with a black bowtie attached. Brock never had problems when it came to dressing himself, so he always wore the more difficult bowtie to taunt Max.

    "Phew, am I glad to be out of that center." Brock breathed a sigh of relief. Max agreed, relaxing in a small chair by the sofa. Brock sat on the other side, fingering his bowtie. "It's good to be out in the world again, where the fresh air is." Max chuckled, glancing at the TV. Sarah shouted in triumph when they showed the Aipom being blasted. "They're replaying the matches from today." Brock pointed at the screen. "I think they're doing some sort of analysis on May's match."

    "Huh." Max turned back to Brock. "I swear Brock, every year we have to go to this contest that center gets smellier and smellier," he jested, covering his noise with his left hand, pinching the nostrils shut. "It always smells like a bunch of otaku in there!" Brock laughed and slapped his knee.

    Sarah, having heard a word that was unknown to her, turned her head in the direction of her uncle. "What's otaki mean?" she asked, looking up as May exited her room behind Max.

    "Are we ready to go?" Max twisted his body to see May in a crimson ballroom dress, with lightly laced black gloves on her hands. Brock instantly blushed, while Max turned back to Sarah. "Here, little girl." Sarah obeyed and hopped off the couch to stand by her mother's side. "What are we talking about?"

    Sarah looked up at her mother. "What's otaki mean, Mommy?"

    Max stood up with a big grin on his face. "It means one of the big, sweaty nerds that hang out at the contest, Sarah," he explained. To demonstrate, he held his hands out in front of his stomach to simulate a fat person, and he started panting heavily.

    Sarah looked to Brock. "It means Uncle Max?" she asked, as she placed her thumb into her mouth and suckled gently.

    May couldn't control herself and burst out laughing, along with Brock, while Max's face was stained a fierce scarlet. "Come on, otaku," May said between several small giggles, and Max reluctantly followed. "Let's go scope the people downstairs. I want to see that opponent of mine again." Brock nodded, and as they walked towards the door, Brock opened the door to lead them out. He waited until the mother, daughter, and uncle team were out before he himself exited, and shut off the room's lights by clapping twice.

    "So, who exactly is your opponent tomorrow?" Brock asked May, as she hit the button to call the elevator. "I didn't exactly get a chance to check the roster for tomorrow's matches."

    May shrugged. "I know that Dawn's up against Drew tomorrow, and I'm up against this wild card guy, Keean Toby." Brock's brow arched curiously, and she nodded in agreement. "I have no idea who he is either. I met him today, at that Orre-style cantina, but he didn't really say much."

    "What's he like?" Max asked.

    May scratched her head, trying to find the right answer. "He…he reminds me of someone," she replied. "I don't know why, but I kept having the weirdest sense of déjà vu while I was talking with him. He's dark, I'll say that much. Mysterious too."

    "Got any idea of how he fights?"

    May shook her head. "He was with a Pikachu, a pretty powerful one too, from the looks of it. Maybe that was what felt so familiar… Well, we'll see him downstairs, all of the semi-finalists should be at the dinner." She thought of the Pikachu again, it had seemed familiar too. It had looked at her funny, like it had seen her before. Brock touched his chin, wondering about Keean Toby.

    "You don't think that maybe…he…" Brock pondered aloud.

    May firmly shook her head. "No, I don't think so. For one, the guy was totally different. Even if he had a Pikachu, I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Nothing more." But even as she said the words, she wondered how much she really believed them. "I mean…he can't come. He wouldn't…"

    Sarah pulled on the strings of May's dress. "Who's coming, Mommy?" she asked.

    She shook her head. "Nobody, baby. Just someone we used to know."

    Thankfully for May, the elevator opened. The cheesy elevator music trailed off as they turned a corner in the hotel's lobby and towards the dining room that had been reserved for the dinner. Max opened the double doors for the group, and the brightly lit room became exposed to them. It wasn't all the big, mainly because the dinner was for the semi-finalists and a few select members of their friends and family. A few social figures were there, May could see the Gym Leader, Sabrina, standing next to her mother and father and talking to someone that she didn't recognize in the far corner. About five tables sat in the center of the room, all circular and arranged for five people each. White linen cloth was draped over them. "Well, how about we press the flesh?" Max asked, and began scoping the general area for beautiful women, while Brock drooled in Sabrina's direction. May nodded, spotting her friend Dawn on the other side of the room. Keeping a tight grip on Sarah's arm, knowing how much her daughter loved mischief, May gave a loud shout in Dawn's direction. The other coordinator turned, and a big smile lit up her face.

    "May!" she exclaimed and wrapped her arms around her friend. May grinned, it had been a few months since she had last seen Dawn, but she was still energetic and ready to have fun. She had cut her hair short, so it only fell to her neck, but she was nevertheless inducing stares from Brock, a fine compliment if a woman took it that way. She wasn't in a dress, but rather a snowy white kimono, complete with a black wrap along her waist. She looked up at May and smiled. "It's wonderful to see you again." She reached down to pat Sarah's head. "You too, Sarah. How have you been?"

    Sarah nodded. "I'm okay," she replied with a grin.

    "We've been good, Dawn," May answered. "Some wins, some loses. You know the drill. All in all, everybody's fine in Petalburg. I think my dad's getting tired of being used as Sarah's horse, though, so Max does double duty as the Gym Leader and babysitter now."

    Dawn laughed. "Poor Max, like he didn't have enough work." She turned and bent down to look at the little girl. "Now, you behave for your Uncle Max. He loves you very much, but that love needs to go both ways, alright?"

    Sarah nodded, with a twinkle in her eyes. "Okay, Aunt Dawn."

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    The dark man adjusted the gold tie on his neck, and looked himself over again. He looked exactly what he was supposed to look like: a boring, unnoticeable coordinator. His hair, while still slightly unkempt, was nicely groomed for the dinner. He felt stiff and uncomfortable in the black suit he was wearing. He looked completely different from the kid he had once been. He noticed his jaw was set into a thin, permanent line as he checked for stray lint or hairs on the fine suit.

    Pikachu was out on the veranda of their large hotel suite, enjoying the night breeze of the city, so the man didn't bother to disturb it just yet. His suit, specially ordered from the finest tailor in Saffron City, looked like something out of a spy movie. The shirt beneath was the same color, exactly as he had asked, with the dark gold tie very noticeable against the black. The man hesitated for a moment, before he reached into the coat pocket beneath his lapel, removing the sunglasses within, and placed them over his face. He needed to remain incognito, something difficult to do in a room crowded full of people he knew from a past life.

    Deciding that he could have looked more like a mafia boss than a coordinator, the man walked from the shiny, porcelain bathroom. He clapped off the lights with two taps and headed through the living area, a rather nice space which was mostly styled after Kanto architecture, with a kneeing table for eating, and a small, plasma TV that was he had personally requested. Some paintings hung on the faint, cream-colored walls. They were modern, not a genre he preferred. Nothing modern in art really qualified as art to him. His head turned to look at the portraits as he passed. To his left, a full king-size bed awaited his later use, though he would probably spend the night resting on the hard floor. Years of travel had affected his needs for comfort and warmth, to the point where he honestly didn't feel that comfortable lying on a soft mattress when there was a perfectly good space on the floor.

    He opened the glass sliding door and walked out onto the small veranda where his Pokemon sat in a chair snoozing peacefully. The man closed the door, slightly harder than needed, so that Pikachu would wake up. The yellow mouse's eyes flickered open, and it straightened its little body. The man nodded his head, and the Pokemon relaxed. He walked to the second chair, and sat down next to it, scratching its head.

    "He's going to be here soon," he muttered and looked out into the vast city before him. Lights and neon signs glowed in the distance, below the twentieth floor they resided on. "I really don't want to see him again." Pikachu nodded its agreement, it wasn't all that happy with having to work with the famous Agent 0 of the PKM either. The Golden Ranger, aside having the most powerful equipment the whole of PKM had ever designed, was not one of their favorite people. Sighing, the man looked to his wrist and pulled out the small, digital watch that had hidden itself in his coat sleeve. "It's almost nine," he murmured, looking to the mouse. "We'd better get going." In response, Pikachu crouched and leaped up to its trainer's shoulders. The man patted its head once, before he rose from the chair to straighten the suit.

    The man walked back into the hotel room, closing the door to the veranda as he went back in. As he headed towards the door, a knock issued from the outside of his room. The man's hand automatically went to the waistband of his pants, where he had concealed a small, inconspicuous revolver. He cautiously approached the door, reaching for the handle and turning it gently. As he opened it, he saw one of the bellboys standing there waiting for him, a smile on the his face and a tray in his hand.

    He looked down on the young bellboy. "What do you want?" the man asked. In response, the young man tipped his grey cap, and opened the covered tray with a flourish, revealing a small gray chip sitting in the center of the platter.

    "This was delivered to the hotel, with requests that it be taken to your room, sir," the bellboy answered. The man nodded and snatched the chip up in his hand. "Were you expecting it?"

    The man shrugged. "Sort of," he answered. He shut the door behind him and walked back into his room. The man ignored the bellboy behind the door, who was still hopeful that he might get a tip, but after a few tries he got the message and left. The man, alone with the Pikachu once more, waited on the other side of the door with his hand inside his pocket, until the faint buzz of the communicator's vibrator flared to life exactly as the man predicted. He lifted the silver device from his pants, and flipped it open. Sure enough, on the small screen, a single number was displayed as the caller-ID.

    0.

    He raised the receiver to his lips. "Agent 1076 here," the man muttered dryly. "What do you want?"

    He heard a soft cackle from the other side of the line as an older man answered. He felt that string of annoyance stir up within him. "Agent 1076," 0 replied. His soothing voice repulsed the man. "How very nice to hear from you again. I was hoping to run into you sometime this year. How have things been?"

    "Cut it out," the man retorted. He stared at the strange silver cartridge the bellboy had delivered. "What's this silver thing you've given me, and what does it do?"

    "Call me 'sir'," Agent 0 answered, completely ignoring the question. "Call me 'sir,' or no orders for you, Agent 1076."

    The man grinned. "That suits me fine, 0. I'll just kick everyone's *** at the Contest tomorrow, and we won't have to see each other. That works for me, though HQ might say otherwise. What's say you just give me the orders from PKM?"

    "You, 1076, are absolutely no fun," droned the dark voice in response. "Fine, since you're so curious. If you look at the cartridge, you will notice a special number on the bottom. Read it out to me." The man looked to the little cartridge. There was nothing on the front, so he flipped it over to see a small number etched in black on the bottom.

    "SA-06."

    "Exactly," the Ranger answered. "It is an SA Cart, which connects to your PKM com-link. I procured it for you from 003's department. It can be inserted in a special slot in your com-link when you need to carry out PKM duties without revealing your identity. It has been decided by higher ups to temporarily promote you to Special Agent status. Your temporary designation will be SA 06. Congratulations."

    "I don't want a promotion," the man retorted, and clenched the fist holding the cartridge. "I just want some orders."

    "You want orders, rookie?" the voice spat back. "Your orders, SA 06, are to secure your entry to the Contest. You are to remain under your alias as Keean Toby, and you are to engage your former wife in battle tomorrow. Your secondary orders are as follows: defeat your wife, and your promotion to SA 06 status will be rescinded, and you will return to the grunt rank of 1076. Lose, and your promotion becomes permanent. Is that understood, SA 06?"

    The SA grinned. "I won't lose, then," he retorted stubbornly. "But you aren't making it easy, setting me up against her of all people tomorrow. Got any particular reason for it?"

    "I know it will be hard. That is why, SA 06. I am aware, as are PKM, of the attachments you have at the Contest. You are not to interact with them outside of tonight's social event, as the temptation is something you do not need. Do not let your heart cloud your judgment. That is the one thing that keeps you from Ranger status." The voice stopped, letting the dark man process the information. "I understand what you feel. Do not let it blind you to your duty. Is that clear?"

    "…Easy for you to say," the man mumbled before he terminated the conversation. "You don't have attachments like I do." He scowled and shoved the communicator and the SA Cart into the jacket pocket of his suit. He turned to face the window, seeing himself once more, only in a different light than before: in self-loathing and despair. "That's all they are to him, isn't it? Attachments." He saw his powerful muscles, concealed beneath the disguising suit. He saw the dark tan that traced over his body, an after effect of a southern mission. He was totally different from how he had been four years ago.

    "Get out of my house! I never want to see your face again!"

    The man flinched, as the memory's echo ran through his mind. He hated when that particular sound rang through his mind, as it did every once in a while. The dark man suffered from extensive insomnia, brought forth by that exact memory. He'd tried sleeping, he really did, but nothing he did would banish that nightmare from the recesses of his mind. No matter how many years passed her scream, and his loss, would remain sealed in his mind, awaiting him the moment he dropped his guard. It never left his head. The tears she shed that night, the endless sobs, they tormented him, even after all this time. Every time he had fallen asleep, when he dropped his guard, the nightmare and the image of that night returned, the last time he and his wife loved each other. The last time he had held her, the last time…

    The man looked up, staring into the dull emptiness of the room. It had been a while since he had slept, since he had relaxed his guard. He was prolonging it, because he never wanted to see it again. "Ever since I became an agent, the very first day, I knew what was going to happen. I…I just didn't want to believe it would happen. I tried so hard to stop what I was becoming, Pi, but the instant I was inducted my fate was sealed." He felt one of the headaches that came with his insomnia and ignored it. A headache was not going to help him. "She would have never understood, even if I could have told her." He was never allowed to tell. He was sworn to keep who and what he had become to protect her a secret to the grave. And how could I keep the secret from her, when I love her with all my heart?

    Pikachu nodded and mumbled something that the dark man alone could understand, because he rose properly from where he had leaned against the wall. He turned towards the door, rechecking the watch on his wrist. He cursed under his breath, he was going to be late if he didn't hurry. The man wrenched the door open with little restraint and slammed it shut behind him. He attracted a few stares from some of the other people on the floor, but with a well-placed glare they promptly found something else to be interested in. The man marched through the corridor and headed for the elevators to the main dining room where the party was taking place. The doors opened a minute later, and he stepped in. The cheesy music instantly irritating him. He glanced at himself again in the elevator's mirror, then slammed the button for the main lobby.

    "Let's get things moving," he muttered while he fought the urge to punch out the mirror. The elevator started to hum, and the man got the impression that he was falling slowly to earth, the normal sensation which informed him that the lift was working. Pikachu kept still, as it didn't exactly like elevators that much, so the man propped himself against the rail to yawn. The need for rest was getting powerful, and he always seemed to get tired whenever he was an assignment like this. He pushed his tiring body to function and reminded himself that he just needed to wait until he got back to the room to get the fix needed to keep him awake.

    Without love. He cursed, as the voice rocked through his mind, grabbing his head in annoyance. The headache was worsening. "Shut up," he ordered himself and straightened up in an attempt to keep himself calm. He hated when he talked to himself. His attention, thankfully, was saved when the ding from the elevator door informed him that he had reached his destination. As he moved forward, he felt the rodent's paw on his head. It whispering words of encouragement to him. "I know, Pi. I do. But this is something I can't fight like a criminal or a terrorist. This is about my emotions, and those are more dangerous than anything we've had to fight."

    "Kachu," it answered with a tinge of sadness in its tone. The man lifted his hand, and patted its yellow head. A forced smile appeared on his lips. He chuckled, though he didn't mean it, before he headed for the dinner room. He made a last-minute adjustment to his sunglasses. He wasn't acting to play Keean Toby, he didn't need to. Keean Toby was a dark warrior, a person without remorse or pity, though he was courteous. He did not engage others in conversation and preferred being the stereotype of a loner. He was a man who would stay for as long as he needed to in order to establish his identity, and then he would leave. And above all, he would avoid if possible any interaction with his former friends, who might see through the disguise.

    The man became Keean Toby, and stepped into the room.

  3. #3
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 2, Continued

    Morph Two: The Golden Ranger Arrives, Part 2

    "Now Sarah, no more attacking the waiters, okay?"

    May suppressed her chuckles, watching as the injured man was walked away by two other servers with his hands feebly clutching at his stomach. Sarah just blew a raspberry at the man, obviously very pleased with herself. The waiter just grumbled and resisted the urge to remove himself from his friends in order to teach the girl a lesson. But he was led away, leaving Max and Brock to search for a new server to order their drinks from.

    "Awight, Mommy," she answered and bobbed her head up and down. May found it impossible to remain angry at her daughter, so she patted the little girl on the head and gave her a reassuring smile. She opened her mouth to remind Sarah exactly why she shouldn't tackle people, when the doors opened, and the dark figure entered the room. For some reason, time seemed to slow down for May as the man walked in and the doors closed behind him. She didn't mistake him for a moment, she knew exactly who he was. The aura that seemed to waft from him, the scent of danger and excitement. Sarah didn't seem to notice, so she pulled on her mother's dress. May snapped out of the strange spell cast by Keean Toby and looked down to her daughter.

    "Baby girl, why don't you go play with Uncle Max for a minute?" she asked, her eyes still on the man. "I'm going to go say hello to the person I'm up against tomorrow." Sarah nodded, and skipped in the direction of her uncle, just as he had gotten a small, amber-filled glass. May straightened herself, brushed down any creases in her crimson dress and checked her hair, before she approached the man. His Pikachu spotted her ahead of time, and whispered something she couldn't understand into his ear. Just like last time, the man muttered something back in the Pokemon's unique tongue, and the little rodent hopped off, darting across the room and vanishing.

    "H-hello, Mr. Toby," she murmured, bowing her head in acknowledgement towards the dark man. "It's nice to see you again." She lifted her arm, offering a handshake to the man, but he surprisingly didn't take it, deciding to place his hands into his pockets. He lifted his head from the position it had held earlier, staring at the floor, to look at her face. She was slightly stunned by his facial appearance. His back had been to her in the cantina, so it was strange to see the hardened face and the sunglasses the man wore. He didn't smile, but his face softened when he saw her.

    "Miss Birch," he replied, nodding his head. "It is nice to see you again. Please, call me Keean, Mr. Toby was my father." She chuckled at the small jest, and Keean snapped his fingers to signal a waiter that he wanted something. A young man, with a shaved head and blond eyes, arrived almost immediately. He rushed through the spread tables and small crowds towards Keean, eager to take his order. "I want a beer, kid, and if I don't have it in two minutes, you're in trouble." His mouth lifted in a small smile, as the young man tripped over a chair in his haste to get to the kitchens on the other side of the ballroom, to retrieve a bottle. May giggled, looking up at the mysterious coordinator.

    "You're mean," she answered delicately, while she wagged a finger at him. "You're my opponent tomorrow, right? It's strange that I've never heard of you before, I usually keep up with famous coordinators around the world." Right on cue, the waiter returned with a fresh bottle of beer for Keean, who took it and waved the boy away. The waiter huffed, somewhat annoyed by the rude display from Keean, but ran when the dark man turned toward him and gave him such a stern glare that his survival instinct kicked in and he tripped on another nearby chair from one of the tables.

    "I am your opponent," he answered carefully, as he lifted the neck of the amber bottle to his lips and took a small sip. "It figures I get the best coordinator in my first round." He chuckled lightly, and walked with May in the direction of one of the vacant tables nearby. Keean pulled out a chair for the young lady and allowed her to take her seat before seating himself beside her.

    May's face flushed briefly. "You flatter me, Keean," she answered. "But, I must ask how you have kept out of the public's eye. Like I said earlier, I've never heard your name before." She lifted her brows suggestively. "What's your secret?"

    Keean Toby looked around, as if someone might overhear something he might want kept confidential. Then, he leaned in close, resting his arms on the white-clothed, circular table, whispering, " Don't tell anyone, but I'm not really a coordinator. I'm really a secret agent." He then grinned, displaying his pearly whites. Then he chuckled again.

    May giggled. "You have a strange sense of humor, Keean. Not bad, just different." Keean nodded his head, leaning into the back of his chair. "So…what style do you use?" she asked, crossing her legs. Keean arched his brow.

    "What kind of style?" he asked, repeating the question aloud. "Well, I dabble in all sorts of things. I only have one Pokemon, so I have to it train extra hard to make up for that shortcoming. You won't be able to beat me though…or, at least, I think I'm pretty confident that I can win against you."

    May raised her eyes. "Cocky, aren't you?" she answered. "What makes you think you have an edge over me?"

    The big man grinned. "Unless you can read my moves, you won't be able to beat me. That's the plain and truth of the matter. I've got an extra skill that always comes in handy when I'm losing, one that has never failed."

    "What's that?"

    "I know how to pull a fire alarm if things get bad."

    May couldn't help it. She burst out laughing and a tear trickled out of the corner of her eye. She felt a hand on her shoulder, which snapped her back to reality, and turned her head to see a pair of bright green eyes staring back at her. Keean looked up too, to see the slightly younger, but apparent friend, of May.

    "Drew!" May smiled, jumping out of her seat at the sight of the man. Drew grinned, holding her tightly against him. Keean remained where he was, observing them, as they separated moments later. May hadn't gotten to see her friend around the Contest until tonight, given that both of them were on opposite sides of the Contest draw-up. May grinned, ruffling the emerald bangs on Drew's head, something that she knew he hated. The young man chuckled, reaching into his jade lapel to pull out one of his trademark crimson roses, and bowed as he handed it to the young woman.

    "It's nice to see you again, May," he answered with allure, as she accepted the flower from him. "I'm sorry we had to wait for so long before we could talk, my match today kept me from interfering. Plus the fans, plus the ladies…" He could have gone on but stopped, having learned years before to control the timing and nature of his rants. He instead looked past May to the dark coordinator that had been sitting with her. He extended his hand, but Keean made no motion in response. "Hi, friend. My name's Drew. What's yours?" The man looked up to Drew.

    "Name's Keean Toby," he answered politely, if a little forced. "I'm the wild card up against Miss Birch tomorrow." His glasses moved up, taking in Drew. "You're the guy in the other match, against Dawn, aren't you?" Drew nodded and gave a thumbs up. "That's interesting, but from what I've read, you won't be of a challenge. We do things differently in Orre."

    Drew nodded. "So, you're an Orre trainer, huh? That explains your strange accent… Well, we have two Hoenn legends, a Sinnoh expert, and one Orre unknown. This Contest should be interesting."

    Keean's mouth shifted into a light grin. "I don't expect it to be easy, but you should know that us Orre types don't play nice. Maybe you should do some last minute prepping before tomorrow. I don't plan on going soft." He took another drink. "Got a lot riding on tomorrow." He bent his head, and muttered sharply at the floor something that neither Drew nor May understood offhand. Instantly, a yellow flash bolted across the red carpet, and a little mouse was on his shoulder, its beady eyes looking directly at May. "I'd love to stay longer, but I was just passing through tonight. I have some last minute things that need taking care of." He bowed his head.

    May and Drew returned the bow, the glow of friendly rivalry in their eyes. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Keean Toby. Maybe we'll see each other on the battlefield," Drew said, grinning at the thought of taking on the dark trainer. Keean grabbed his bottle.

    "I look forward to fighting you tomorrow," May added, bowing her head in response.

    "I'll bet," he replied, tipping his bottle to her. Keean tilted his head, looking behind May to see a little girl that bore a strong resemblance to his opponent hanging on the neck of a young man with glasses. He smiled and pointed to the child. "Is that your daughter?" May turned, and an exhausted expression appeared on her face at the sight of Max and Sarah, though she also found it highly amusing.

    "Yep," she answered, beaming. "That's little Sarah."

    His sunglasses trailed over the girl for a moment, his smiled flickering. Then he focused his attention on May. "She's very beautiful, Miss Birch. It must run in the family." He looked her up and down and grinned lightly when he saw the slight tingle of red on her cheeks.

    "Thank you for the compliment, Keean," she breathed, rubbing her cheek where the crimson was most prominent. The man was very charming for an Orre trainer. "You're very nice looking as well."

    Keean shrugged. "I do alright, I guess," he muttered. "Anyways, I have to leave. Look forward to our match tomorrow." He then looked to the Pikachu on his shoulder, who nodded. "I have somewhere I need to be, so if you will excuse me…" He waved once with his hand, before clicking his heels and turning round. Keean moved forward, returning from where he had come, opening the doors leading to the rest of the hotel. May watched him go, feeling a slight flutter in her chest.

    She felt a tap on her shoulder, and Dawn giggled as she pointed to the crimson spots on her friend's face. "Who was that?" she inquired, pointing her other hand to the door at the disappeared form of Keean Toby. "He was cute."

    "Hey!" Drew felt left out of the conversation. "I'm cute too, Dawn," he muttered softly to himself.

    "No you aren't," she retorted. "Who's the new guy?"

    May shrugged her shoulders in response. "He's Keean Toby, my opponent tomorrow. That's all we know about him."

    "Really?" Dawn rubbed her chin in thought. "I get the strangest feeling that I've seen him somewhere before…"

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    The dark man returned to his room, physically and mentally drained. He stumbled and collapsed onto the floor a few feet into the room groaning. Pikachu jumped off just in time, sighing. He had overdone it, the first time in a long time. It had been forty-five hours since its trainer's last dosage, so it knew what he was suffering. About a year's worth, give or take, of sleep deprivation was flooding through him. The little mouse abandoned its trainer, running into the bedroom where an opened suitcase lay waiting for it. Pikachu jumped in, searching for the syringe that its trainer always carried with him with the special serum. Grabbing the needle in its mouth, it found the tube with the soft azure chemical inside. Holding it carefully in its palm, Pikachu jumped out, running on three legs to its trainer.

    "Pi," the man groaned, looking for his Pokemon. "Where's the formula?" His Pokemon leapt to his side. The man pushed himself up, forcing his body into a sitting position, resting his back against the wall. He fumbled, took the small needle from his Pokemon, and opened the back to place the serum tube inside. Hurriedly, the man tore of the suit jacket, not bothering with what state it would be in later, and pulled up the sleeve underneath trying to find his vein. His vision was getting hazier, he needed the serum now.

    "I would not do that, SA 06," hissed a voice, drawing the dark man's attention. He had just found the vein, but something stopped him from pushing the needle into his skin and injecting himself with the chemical. He knew that voice and knew that its presence in his room was never a good thing. He hesitated, and in that moment the lights went off, sending him into cascading darkness. He lost the vein and dropped the syringe to the ground. He heard it clatter for a moment and snatched it back up, when it was joined by a second noise. Footsteps echoed through the hazy darkness around SA 06 as he heard the person he despised above all others walking towards him.

    The Golden Ranger.

    "0," the dark man mumbled, tilting his head to see a darkened figure standing before him. "I need the serum…let me take it." He heard his request laughed at and felt the Ranger's hands bend down, taking the syringe from the dark man's grasp. "No…" He groaned, feeling 0's glove slap him on the side of his face.

    "SA 06," 0 muttered, his voice trailing through the darkness. "How nice it is to see you again. Can you not stand for your guest?" He chuckled at his joke. "It seems you need some assistance though." 0 looked from the needle and to the man who required it. "Without this little baby, I am afraid you are going to die soon. Your body cannot take the strain you are being bombarded with. I wish you would just sleep instead of prolonging your nightmares. It will only make it worse when you do finally have to sleep."

    "Give me the serum!" the weakening man roared, using the last of his strength up in an effort to obtain it. He extended his legs, grabbing 0's feet, and jerked, forcing the Golden Ranger to lose his balance. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears as he reached for the syringe, feeling it in his slowly numbing fingers. Rushing, because he was running out of time, the dark man found the vein in the dark, and drove the needle deep into his skin. He pressed on the button on the side of the needle and felt the serum flood into his veins, coursing through his body. He sighed in relief. As his body returned to normal, his vision cleared and he regained his balance.

    "Why do you have to keep trying to kill me?" he demanded loudly, throwing his foot out to kick 0's stomach. The Ranger didn't make a single sound, though it probably didn't hurt underneath all the armor he wore, and climbed back to his feet. "You know I need that formula to live now!" The man couldn't see the Ranger's face, but he knew he must have been beaming.

    "Your reliance on that drug will get you killed one day," 0 retorted, waving his arm indifferently. The man ignored him, adjusting to the darkness of the room. "You should wean yourself off it soon if you wish to continue your life. One day you will not have that with you, and the time will tick down, and your body will collapse into a coma."

    "Let me worry about my own well-being," the other answered stubbornly, "and you worry about yours. Now, what the hell are you doing here? I thought I made it perfectly clear that I don't need you here. It's just a terrorist threat. That's just basic training, especially for me. I can handle this on my own, without you."

    "PKM says differently, SA 06, and that is who we both answer to. That is what has been decided, and that is why I am here. Your only order is to obey my commands as the superior agent."

    "Bull," the young man snapped back.

    "SA 06?"

    "What?"

    "Could we please dispense with this petty bickering and just get to work?"

    "Fine." The man and the Ranger walked towards the balcony, 0 opening the sliding glass door leading outside. The man looked at Pikachu, who nodded and remained where it was, standing guard. It would leave later, to follow the target in the man's absence. The man closed the door behind him, and turned to the dark city that spread before him. He looked towards 0, whose body was still shrouded in darkness.

    "Use the SA Cart," 0 ordered, feeling the man's gaze on him. "I don't want civilians identifying you. We need to maintain a low profile here."

    The man shook his head. "I'm not using the Cart unless the target's life is in danger. I can just use the grapple gun and a mask. Before we go, I'm going to change into my work clothes. I hate suits." 0 nodded, and the man returned inside. He noticed that his Pokemon was already gone, working in its assignment. He walked into the bedroom, stripping off the suit quickly, leaving him in nothing but socks, boxers, and a tight shirt. He reached into his suitcase, pulling out a regular shirt and some pants, and shoved them on. As an afterthought, the man reached down to take the coat from inside, and grabbed the pair of combat boots sitting next to him, lacing up and ready. When he was finished dressing, the man made certain that he had his communicator with him, along with the SA Cart, and put a black ski mask on over his face which would serve to mask his identity in the streets.

    "Now for the tools," he muttered, putting the gun he had concealed in his suit down, and taking from inside the suitcase a pair of strange black gloves, which reached to his forearms. Placing them on, he loaded the grapple cables inside them, knowing that it was highly unlikely that 0 would consent to taking a cab to the convention center. 0 liked to do things the dangerous way. Finished, and having taken only two minutes, the man returned to the veranda, where 0 stood. He had not moved an inch since the man had left. "Ready to go?" The Golden Ranger nodded, and wordlessly jumped off the balcony, plunging to the streets below. The man waited a second, before he followed, leaping off in a single bound, the bright lights flashing before his eyes as he plummeted downwards.

    The man was already bored, diving down head first, as he moved one of his grapple gloves up, firing through a palm activated trigger one of the cables. It latched onto a nearby building, and the man waited for the jerk, adjusting his weight so he fell at an angle rather than straight down. As the cable's tow stopped, he felt the jerk as he began to move forward, swinging like an Aipom with a vine through two narrow buildings. As he passed the arc and started moving upwards, he detached the cable he had released, letting it wind back into his glove, while a second one was already aimed and firing at another grapple point. The man didn't see 0 as he continued, the Golden Ranger was probably moving at a much faster pace towards the center than he was. The man shrugged it away, focusing solely on his next grapple shot.

    It took him about five minutes to reach the convention center. He landed hard on the concrete ceiling of the center, slowing himself down by grappling at high points, and lowered himself carefully so as not to break any bones. In the shadows near a fire escape door, his commander was waiting for him. The man saw the slight glimmer of gold in the darkness, and headed for it.

    "Open the door," 0 ordered, pointing to the escape opening. The man nodded, and pulled out a small set of keys from his pocket which he had been given at the beginning of the assignment. He put the first one in and the key turned, and the hatch opened. The man opened the door and waited for 0 to go inside first, before entering and shutting the door behind him and locking it so no one would know they had been there. "I will disable the cameras," the Ranger murmured, lifting his head to look around. So far, they hadn't been spotted, and the agents wanted to keep it that way. The Golden Ranger reached to his belt, pulling out some kind of transmitter, and switched it on. Static shot from it, and the other man covered his ears at the brief, beginning noise, before it was quiet once more. "Electronic systems are jammed within a hundred meter radius of the transmitter."

    "Hey." 0 stopped, and turned back to SA 06. "Do you think you could morph back from the spandex? You know that your suit makes me sick. Plus, I don't think it looks very comfortable in that stupid thing. How hot is it in there, really?"

    0 did not answer, and the man did not push the issue. They continued into the darkness, the man's hand tracing its way along the wall, making sure he didn't lose where he was. "So, what exactly are we doing here?" the man asked, as the Ranger slowed down, finally stopping altogether.

    0 turned to the second agent. "I do have a face underneath this cowl, rookie," he said softly, touching the metal helmet that he was wearing. "But the face that hides beneath is not my real face. The true face is my mask, and the face beneath the true mask." The man groaned, he hated when 0 started quoting books.

    "That makes absolutely no sense," he retorted, brushing past 0 as he continued. "For once, I wish you wouldn't bug the hell out of me. And what are we doing here? I checked everything out earlier today. Nothing lethal in sight."

    "You will never be a Ranger," 0 replied, ignoring the man, "unless you can learn to embrace the mask's darkness. You will never hope to become what you what to be." The man stopped ahead of the Ranger, before turning round, fists curled, as the Ranger continued past him through the narrow corridor. "That is why the nightmares come."

    The man spat at him. "You don't know anything," he whispered as the Ranger passed, turning to follow the other man through another door in the center. He could see below him the different layers of the center. He saw the cantina he had met her at, he saw one of the arenas the coordinators fought in. It didn't have the same feel as earlier. It seemed dead and lifeless without the people that ran and shouted through it. "The only thing you understand is what you took from me when you made me one of you." He felt the anger brimming within his veins, but stopped it, suppressing the rage. "You could never imagine the pain of my loss, what you took from me."

    0 didn't turn around. "I took nothing from you, SA 06. The person responsible for your faults and the collapse of your relationship is you. You took from her, and thus, you stole from yourself. She was, or is, a part of you. Your soul mate. Or, rather-" And he turned over to the man, looking him square in the eyes "-she was your soul mate, until you became unable to handle the difficulty of juggling your assignments and your personal life." He barely spoke, lowering his voice to a whisper, but the man that walked behind him could hear every single, solitary word. "You are the real reason for your failed marriage, and that is the fact of the matter. A true agent would have been able to balance both, and keep her in the dark. You are not a true agent."

    "If I recall correctly," the man replied, fighting the urge to slam his fist into the back of the stupid visor of his superior agent, "you didn't give me much of a choice that day. If I recall, you're the one who made me do it."

    "You always have a choice, SA 06," the Golden Ranger answered, vanishing into the darkness of the center. The man followed, albeit not as well, slinking through the shadows. "The question is, what was the choice you made?"

    "To hate you," he growled instantly, though 0 refused to answer the threat. The man clenched and unclenched his hands, wanting nothing more than to strangle the egotistical moron. How dare he lecture me, when I am the one who…never mind. When their work was done, and he was able, he would deal with his anger in the manner of his choosing. He wondered how much the Ranger armor of PKM protected someone…

    "You hacked into the files like you were ordered to, correct?" 0 asked, breaking the man's train of thought.

    "I got the job done," he grunted, nodding his head. "You were briefed at PKM already about the threat and the prior mission objective. Hacking isn't my strong suit, but I managed to get myself into the Contest. What more do you need?" He didn't wait for 0 to answer, and flipped out the security badge he had obtained for his match the next day. "Everything's taken care of at my end."

    0 nodded. "That's very good, SA 06." 0 tilted his head, admiring the arena below him. It allowed such a different angle of viewing the match, he could not help but marvel at its ingenuity. "The target, which I presume you have set your mouse on, is the primary objective, but there is a secondary condition that I myself must take care of. The target may have originally been to observe the Contest and ensure civilian safety, but an anomaly a spy of ours found suggests the plot is deeper than our target."

    "What's the anomaly?" the other muttered, focusing on the mission rather than his personal problems, tucking the badge back into his pants pockets.

    0 nodded and continued. "In addition to May Birch, we now have to neutralize a bomb threat placed on the contest. PKM has analyzed the problems associated with a leveling of the center, and has confirmed the fault lines surrounding the building would cause a chain reaction throughout the city." He paused for a moment, allowing his associate to absorb the information. "Do you understand what we are up against now?"

    He nodded. "I've got it," he replied. The situation was much worse than originally thought. "We look for terrorist devices. Internal bombs, outside attacks, everything. I'll be sticking to the original target. I think the attack, when it comes, will be centered around her somehow. If she, along with the many people here, are assassinated, it will spark an international incident. Hoenn and Sinnoh against Kanto. You know that, right?"

    "May Birch," 0 answered, placing his hand on his chin. "Perhaps your hypothesis is correct. You always did have high intuition. However, it is strange that every year, you take this assignment, though this is the first time you have competed. Out of all the interesting cases you qualify for, you select this one: guarding May Birch at a contest. Are your ties not as severed as PKM believes?"

    The man shifted, placing his hands into the pockets of his dark coat and leaned against the corridor wall. "My connections with her and my friends were severed years ago, 0. You know that. I come here to see my daughter, if only for a few days. It isn't too much to ask once a year, now is it?"

    "She does not need to know you, SA 06," 0 murmured, lowering his head to the ground. "The daughter you once had belongs to you no more. She, along with your wife, are part of the past. You are in the present, and nothing can change that."

    The man chuckled. "Why don't you try going like I do, without your own flesh and blood knowing who you are?" he retorted, sensing the burning rage returning. "Knowing that she doesn't even know you exist." He knew that 0 wouldn't answer. The ranger kept to himself under his mask, reserving his own thoughts. The man felt a jolt of rage. He knew better, but sometimes he wondered if there even was anyone inside the uniform. Whoever, or whatever, 0 had been before he was the Golden Ranger, he wasn't that person anymore. Time had transformed the ranger into the spandex that stood before the tall man, turning him into a calculating, battle-hardened machine incapable of understanding the emotions that the dark man still held inside his heart.

    "It does not matter now," 0 stated. "What matters right now is the mission, which is more important than whatever lingering feelings you have. They must be held back until the mission is complete. Do not disobey what you what you have been ordered to do." The man grumbled, but knew the ranger was right. 0, satisfied that he had made his point across, reached into his utility belt to pull something out. "I have something else that you need to have." He threw a small, watch-like device to the younger agent. "Put it on."

    "What's this?" the second agent asked, staring at the midnight-black watch. It looked expensive, with gold numbers and hands in the circular center. Curious, he put it onto his right hand, where it clamped itself into place, binding both of its sides together. "What does this thing do? It looks like a-"

    "-A transfer medium," 0 explained. "A prototype from PKM that they designed for me. It cannot be removed by anyone, including its wearer. If you will notice the detail, it contains a small tracking system, which will allow you to switch between systems on it. It has a small button on the side which allows you to track people and communicate with me easier. It also serves a second purpose."

    The man twisted his wrist, finding that the watch, while it didn't move, didn't impede him from moving. It was light, and he could barely feel it on his skin. "What's the secondary purpose, 0?" he asked, turning his attention to the ranger. His hand fell to his waist, as he listened.

    "The transfer medium, in addition to acting as a second communicator, will also conserve my powers. PKM has taken into account fatalities with rangers that serve in the field on a regular basis and, while their technology is destroyed if they fall, the technology is equally difficult to recreate. That in mind, my morpher has become equipped with the ability to be transferred to a secondary agent if I should be killed in action." He looked towards the other man, who was not moving but staring at the transfer medium in bewilderment. "Do you understand what that means then, SA 06?"

    He slowly nodded. "PKM standard procedure," he recited. "Maintain the illusion that a ranger cannot be defeated. When a ranger is destroyed, they are combusted along with their weapons and morpher. A new ranger is then promoted. You've just sped up the process in between the two. It means that, if you die, I am going to become a PKM Ranger." He looked up to the man, giving him a dirty look. "I know what you're putting in my hands, 0. I've done it before."

    "I know, SA 06," 0 replied, beginning to walk once more. "I remember well."

    The man didn't want to answer, knowing that 0 was just goading him on, but he couldn't help himself. "I remember how you got me into this crappy job," he growled, stomping after the Golden Ranger. "If you hadn't interfered that day, I wouldn't have-"

    0 lost his patience, swerving back to face his junior agent. "Would not have what?" he demanded, with such a fierceness that any man less that the other agent would have backed away. "If you had not done what you had to do, your wife would have died, along with your child. If you had not done it, you would not have realized your destiny. And, if you had not done it, you would not have become what you were born to be. So tell me, SA 06, what would not you have become?"

    The other met the ranger square in the eye. "I wouldn't have become a stranger to my daughter," he answered firmly.

    "She is not your daughter anymore," 0 retorted. "She does not know your name."

    "No one knows my name," the man answered. "I haven't had a single day…when I am granted peace from her unknowing face." He raised his hand to punch the ranger, but overcame his primal urges to attack and lowering his arms. He wasn't proud of who he was, what he had become to protect them. "If I had known what it would cost me in the end, you know I would never have agreed to it." He lifted his face. "But there wasn't a choice. I had to help those people, because you couldn't. I remember you gave me a chance to back out, but I had to save them. I didn't take that choice, did I?"

    He felt the gloved hand rest on his shoulder, and 0 looked up to the second agent. "You had a difficult choice to make. The choice was your own, and you must always bear that." The dark man nodded, but that didn't make the pain any easier. "I gave you the choice, to walk away and not to travel down my road of life. You chose to accept the responsibility. Your choices, and what occurred afterwards, are of your own consequence."

    "I don't regret saving those people," he admitted, though he did not meet 0's gaze. "But had I known, I would never had done it. I didn't know what I was getting myself into when you gave me that choice, 0!"

    "Really?" 0 perked up his head, highly interested in the statement. "Would you, even if you knew what would happen if you did, and what would not have, take back your choice? Would you rather be a civilian, and your wife and child dead, rather than be an unknown to them when they live? You are being selfish, SA 06, and this conversation is over." Finished, and his point made, 0 started moving further into the contest center. Fuming, his anger rising to the boiling point, the man followed, his dark form vanishing into the shadows with the Golden Ranger.

    Author's Note: The next chapter will begin serialization tomorrow.

  4. #4
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    Default Chapter 3, Part 1

    Author's Note: I'll also be posting updates on how the new material is coming too, so make sure to tune in for status updates on that.

    Morph Three: The Perfect Defense, Part 1

    There wasn't much he could do in a giant convention. Of course, he could always stop by the booths, but there was nothing he would be interested in. So he kept his head down as he walked, hoping to be unrecognized in a crowd of strangers. His match was in about ten minutes so he decided that it was a good idea to start heading to the arena. He heard his fake name blaring through the loudspeakers and scratched his head. He glanced to Pikachu, who gave a nod of encouragement.

    The communicator in his pants vibrated, so the agent dipped his hand inside to grab it. He flipped open the device, and growled lightly at the caller-ID. He clicked the button and put the phone to his ear. "What do you want?" he grumbled as he continued through the crowd.

    "Get her alone," the dark voice grunted back.

    He stopped briefly, halting the traffic behind him. His hand tightened around the phone. "What do you mean, 'get her alone?'" he asked, resuming his long stride. He veered off to the left and headed for the arena.

    "I want you to put a tracer on her," was the response. "Put the tracer in your communicator on her somehow, so we can keep track of her motions. Is that understood, SA 06?"

    "You can't do this yourself why?" the man retorted stubbornly.

    "Because I want you to do it, SA 06," answered the Golden Ranger. "Do not question my orders, only follow them. I expect you to be on your guard for danger."

    The trainer cut the line dead, nodding his head. The little mouse on his shoulder watched him place the communicator into his pocket and resume his stride, his head trained at the floor. The swirls of the crowd passed before him, but he ignored it, and was in return forgotten by the eyes of others. He noticed a few people staring at him, possibly whispering about his upcoming match, but not enough to cause a public stir. He had a natural talent for blending in with his surroundings, his ability to go anywhere without creating a problem with his work was renowned.

    He lifted his head and turned to Pi, who was simply staring ahead, its beady eyes tracking any potential threats in the area. "We can do this, right?" he asked the Pikachu, who blinked and turned its head to look at its trainer. It mumbled something to him and he nodded his head, softening the grim expression on his face. "This isn't just another assignment, Pi. This one's with her. I don't want her hurt." He chuckled and lifted his hand to scratch the ears of the yellow mouse. "This is a very conflicting mission, Pi. In more ways in one." The Pokemon nodded its agreement.

    It only took another minute to find the battlefield. His side was surrounded by a crowd of people, all of whom appeared to be holding some kind of sign or poster or shirt proclaiming the name of his opponent. As he drew nearer, they began to jeer and annoy him to no end. For a moment, he considered having them shocked by Pikachu, but decided against that. Working all night with 0 had drained him significantly and he hadn't had any alcohol that morning. He was in perfect condition to fight but not to be harassed by his opponent's fans.

    "You're going down, rookie," sneered one close by him, a youth of prominent proportions in the mid-section. Likewise, a woman with a sign batted at the air around him, urging him to turn away, to throw the fight, rather than submit to defeat at their favorite's hands. He took it all in and dismissed it just as quickly. Insults he could handle, he was used to it in his line of work. Getting worked up for no reason got him nowhere, so he needed to keep calm to a small degree. Eventually he found his way towards the elevator at the center of the crowd and took out his identification badge. Pressing a button on the side of the machine, he swiped his card through a scanner, which registered his false name and the Pokemon of his choice. He lifted his head as the doors opened with a slight whooshing noise and stepped through. The sounds of her fans followed him, even as he descended down the elevator shaft, which was not, as he had been told prior to the event, soundproof. Apparently hearing the jeers was some sort of psychological torture the creators of the battlefield had designed.

    "I wish they would be quiet," he muttered and watched the door. "It makes things much simpler in the long run. But I suppose she would want to hear her name, right?" The mouse looked at him, and shook its head, muttering to itself. Hearing what it had to say, the man turned to it, his brows contracting around his sunglasses. "Well, I have a right to be hurt, don't I?" The Pokemon terminated the conversation. The trainer pressed it no further and waited for the double doors to open and admit him into the arena.

    It was brighter than it seemed from above, the lights adjusted to shine on the two trainer platforms. He walked forward with an air of completely unconcern hanging over his head, the exact nature he wished to give off to his opponent. She would underestimate him and she would suffer the consequences. He even yawned, though he was not tired, stretching the arms he had placed in his pockets as he walked into the arena. He saw her on the other side and the pang in his chest started anew. He controlled himself by taking soft, slow breaths before he stopped in front of the platform's end. With a nod to his Pokemon, Pikachu descended from his shoulder to the battlefield below, a metal surface that would be of great use to him.

    He turned to his target and, in a loud clear voice that trailed over the dregs above him, asked, "Want to get this started?"

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    From an undisclosed location in the contest center, the darkness hung round the warrior called 0 like a heavy shroud, masking him in the pitch-black of his surroundings. He stood, arms folded across his chest, and stared at the monitors before him, overlooking the people through the contest. Only the glow of the screens cast any light on the Golden Ranger as he traced the people through the center, watching their every move, waiting for a sign of his adversaries.

    It was amazing, he thought, the capacity for neglect that humans held. He stood in the abandoned third floor, something that had even been forgotten by the staff of the building. Not that he minded, of course. The floor had its uses to him after all. It allowed a convenient way to observe his target and to order around SA 06. He chuckled to himself, watching the boy wade through the sea of people, eventually wandering into the elevator that would lead him to his battle. He silently watched the approach of his impending battle.

    He was at peace, completely isolated from anyone else. The darkness that crept through the third floor, its hallways, even the passageways that led up to it, seemed to reflect the inside of the ranger's mind. It was dark, mysterious, and silent, a hidden puzzle that none would solve. So, hidden above the battlefields, secluded from the public eye, 0 had made his base of operations with a few machines he had brought with him. Nothing too fancy, just standard equipment to tap into security and whatnot. It had been easy to do, PKM's technology was far more advanced than whatever software the convention was using.

    He tilted his visor down to stare at the uniform he wore. 0 had worn it for so long that in fact that it represented his true self more than his actual body ever had. "My face is my true mask," he recited, whispering into the void that surrounded him, "and my mask is my true face." That was the way he had led his life as a ranger, as the leader of the rangers.

    He watched, switching the security feed he had been viewing, as SA 06 made his way through the crowds, heading for the fourth platform. His expression was one of dejection, certainly, but also of motivation. Some agents could handle complete separation from their attachments, others couldn't, and SA 06 fit into the latter category. "Perhaps his attachments are not a weakness," he pondered, scratching his chin with his fingers. "They serve as a reminder to him, it tells him what he had lost in his line of duty." The memory of loss could often strengthen the resolve of a person, 0 had noted, in his past.

    The Golden Ranger then decided that he did indeed have a lot of time to think.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Oh! Booth babes!"

    May inwardly sighed, watching the influence of her friend Brock work on the impressionable mind of her younger brother. In the years since their travels through Hoenn, May had watched time and time again Max reprimand Brock for his unethical behavior in front of women, normally with a violent ear-tug. But here they were years later, a grown-up Max observing the beautiful women that happened to be adorning a nearby area selling food with Brock, the raging hormones of his teenage years still running rampart through his adult body. So, while Sarah clung to her, May tried to think of a way to keep them away.

    "You guys are perverted," she murmured, brushing the hair out of her eyes. Max just shrugged and looked to Brock, who nodded in encouragement. "At least control yourselves until later. I think the party for the winners tonight will have a lot of girls at it." Max's eyes perked up at that.

    "Fine," he replied, resigned to the fate his sister had dealt him. His head drooped for a moment but he cheered up shortly after. "So, are you nervous?"

    She shook her head. "Not really. After a few years you kind of get used to it." She took a deep breath, steadying her nerves. "You just need to keep your cool."

    "If you say so, sis," he replied, his eyes still firmly trained on the babe booth with Brock. "If you say so…"

    "Hey." May grabbed his hair, yanking him back into reality. He yelped, and she released him, only to repeat the process on Brock, who simply turned away from the girls rather than screaming in pain. He was too used to being physically injured. "No booth babes for you two. I need you to watch Sarah while I fight." Max rubbed the offending part of his head, grumbling.

    "Yes, Ms. Birch," Max retorted sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "You know we will. You don't have to check up on us like this."

    "That, Max," May answered, pointing at the scantily-clothed women, "is the exact reason that I have to keep an eye on you. You're getting worse by the day. Don't let Brock corrupt you with his unending perverted antics."

    "Hey!" Brock objected hotly. "What's with the talking about me like I'm not here?"

    "The point Max-" she answered, firmly ignoring Brock "-is that you guys had better not take Sarah anywhere that would require me to kill you afterwards."

    "Yes, Ms. Birch," Max retorted again, rolling his eyes for the second time. "Just win you're match, okay? Who are you fighting anyway?"

    "Keean Toby," she answered. "He was at the dinner last night."

    Brock looked up. "Keean Toby? Was he the guy in the black suit with the Pikachu?" May nodded her head and he replied, "Never heard of him."

    May nodded. "You're not the only one. I looked him up in the tournament roster last night, but I couldn't find anything except for his name and his Pokemon. No credentials, no family, no nothing. It's like the guy just turned up out of nowhere. No one on the Internet could tell me anything either."

    "Really?" Brock scratched his chin, pondering. "Well, if no one knows him, that means you don't know what tricks he'll try. Don't underestimate him, and don't hold back." He patted her head, and took Sarah from her, lifting the little girl onto his shoulders.

    She lifted her thumb. "Sure thing, Brock." She looked up to Sarah, who was busy pulling the big man's hair, and giggled. "Now, you be a good girl, Sarah, while I go win this thing." She squeezed her daughter's hand for a moment, then released her. "Keep these two out of trouble, okay?"

    Sarah nodded, pulling out a small strand of Brock's hair, which caused him to yelp. "Sure thing, Momma."

    "Kick his butt, May!" Max said. "We'll be watching in the stands."

    She grinned. "You got it."

    She left them then, heading swiftly for the arena. Around her, an assorted crowd of her fans began to gather and shout encouragement from all sides. She smiled, speaking to a few of them as she passed, but waved away the requests for autographs, explaining that there would be time for that after her victory. When she approached her elevator, she slid her entry card through the slot and the doors opened wide to admit her. The crowds cheered, so she waved to them as she walked in. A moment later, the doors closed behind her.

    And, as the crowd cheers echoed above her, she waited a while for Keean Toby, who seemed to have either vanished, scared to challenge her, or was waiting for a dramatic entrance. Whichever it was, the giant man showed up moments before the match was to begin with a look of utter confidence of victory on his face.

    May watched as her opponent climbed the stairs to face her on the opposite side of the battlefield. Keean Toby didn't seem nervous, like she was. His motions were perfectly natural, as though he wasn't concerned in the least about the battle. He simply yawned, and turned to his Pikachu, who nodded its head and leapt from the trainer platform to the ground below, landing easily on the hardened earth of the battle arena. He then stuck his hands into his pockets, and shifted his head to her.

    "Want to get this started?" he asked, in almost a bored tone. May's heart skipped a beat as she reached to her belt for her Pokeball.

    "You were almost late," she answered, glaring lightly at him. "Were you trying to get disqualified?" With a small shout, she hurled the ball into the arena. It exploded with a white flash, and from its contents a giant Fire Pokemon emerged, clad in burning flames. The Blaziken roared, beat its chest, and stared down at Keean Toby's Pikachu like a small appetizer.

    "If I was," he retorted, bringing his hand up to his lips, "I certainly wouldn't tell you." He turned to the emcee, waiting for the signal to begin the match. "Besides, I like to make dramatic entrances."

    The emcee was an elderly gentleman, with a bald spot so shiny the light refracting from it was causing injury to the above audience. May could hear her own name being shouted by the masses, with advice to maul the unknown challenger. Not a single voice was heard to be screaming Keean Toby's name, but that didn't seem to phase the giant man. On the contrary, from the way his grin stuck out from his face, it seemed like he was enjoying being the underdog, because that would make it sweeter if he won.

    If, she reminded herself silently. If he won.

    The emcee raised his hands, and Keean Toby leaned over the side of his platform, like he was trying to get a better view of the battlefield. The moment the emcee's hands dropped, Keean Toby's face transformed from a lazy slacker to one of concentration. His gritted his teeth and his brows narrowed above his sunglasses. May took the initiative, ordering a Blaze Kick from her Pokemon. Blaziken nodded, and charged forward, planning to end the fight quickly.

    Keean Toby made no move, and his Pokemon didn't move a muscle as her Pokemon approached. May grinned, it looked like he was going to be a pushover after all. Then Keean Toby made a move that, to May, was unprecedented in all the fights she had ever taken part in before.

    He leaned over and shouted, "Kachu, Pi!" The second before Blaziken connected, the mouse vanished. Keean Toby followed up, blaring a second command in gibberish. "Pika, Pi!" His grin broadened, as his Pokemon reemerged behind the Fire Type, and shot out a streak of lightning from its bolt-shaped tail. May didn't even have time to command her Pokemon to dodge, and the electric attack struck home, smashing into her Pokemon's right leg, circulating through its system. The yellow Pokemon backed away with a grin on its face.

    Keean Toby grinned too, and waited for May's reaction. She glared at him, then the emcee. "So this is what you meant," she said to him, clenching her hands. This would require an entire rethinking of her strategy. Few trainers knew how to converse with their Pokemon in their native tongue, because Pokemon understood human language. But, humans couldn't exactly understand the Pokemon languages, not without training. Keean Toby grinned, and threw out his fist.

    "That is correct, May Birch," he answered loudly, before turning to his Pokemon. "Kachu Chu!" Pikachu nodded and began to run forward, transforming into a bright yellow streak on the floor. May glanced round, but Pikachu started to circle her Blaziken, moving far too quickly to be tracked by a common trainer. Keean Toby, however, seemed to know exactly where his Pokemon was, because he whistled loudly at the blur. The mouse started to generate friction in its legs, creating a spark sound when its paws hit the floor. May stared frantically, trying to figure out his game. She had no idea what the Pikachu was doing, it was worse than being blind!

    "Blaziken, get out of there!" she shouted, needing breathing room. The Fire Type nodded, leaping boldly from the circle of death. Keean Toby looked up and smiled.

    "Chu!" he roared, pointing at his Pokemon. The moment Blaziken's legs touched the ground, lightning began to course through the floor. The chicken didn't have a chance, and was fried to a crisp. Keean Toby flashed his teeth and his Pokemon stared at the panting Blaziken, as though waiting for the final order to decimate its opponent.

    May had been so absorbed in Keean Toby's strange fighting style, she hadn't noticed the cheering had stopped. Her crowd of fans was stunned at the abilities of the stranger, and May looked for the first time to see that her point meter was dropping, while her foe's was full. He's using the arena better than I am, she thought, glancing around. The field had changed from the day before, from a harsh earth terrain to a sleek metal surface. His ability to direct attacks that May couldn't understand aside, Keean Toby had the natural advantage in an arena that conducted electricity. Keean Toby was smarter than he appeared.

    "Hey!" May's eyes snapped up to where Keean Toby was standing. "You giving up, May Birch?"

    She shook her head. "No way! I'm just getting warmed up!"

    Keean Toby grunted, in a manner that almost sounded like a dry laugh. "May Birch, you interest me. How's about I treat you to lunch after the match?"

    She flashed him a smirk. "If you beat me."

    At this, the crowd surged its approval, and Keean Toby returned his attention to the battle at hand. Contests were not his specialty, but he knew how to fight, no matter what the territory was. He glanced briefly at the clock, noticing that he had only a minute or so left. The emcee was blabbering about something, possibly commending the boldness of his attack, but he didn't care. Now was not the time for praise. "Pikachu Pi! Kachu Chu!" His Pokemon nodded, bracing itself for its next attack.

    May thought hard, trying to figure out a weak link in Keean Toby's strategy. It was flawless, perfect. She couldn't understand him, only the Pikachu could. Blaziken could understand common speech in the Pokemon languages, so it could be assumed that Keean Toby was using some form of code, even in the Pokemon tongue. He's much smarter than I am, she thought. While Keean Toby had attacked her twice, she hadn't scored a hit. And, with another attack imminent, she needed time to think.

    Time she didn't have.

    "Blaziken, Agility!" she ordered, deciding to fight rather than cowardly wait to lose. Her Pokemon darted forward, burning a trail through the sparking floor. "Now, Sky Uppercut!" Blaziken's right fist came up, burning with white light. Pikachu sat there, perfectly willing to wait for whatever punishment the Fighting Type was preparing to administer. It wasn't until the very last second, again, that Pikachu moved, dodging to the right. Blaziken tried to strike it still, but the injury in its right leg still pained it. Pikachu dropped its tail to the floor, slicing the ground with an Iron Tail attack. The bolt tail caught onto May's Pokemon's leg, and it lost its balance, falling flat on its face to the ground. Keean Toby grinned, watching the final seconds count down. When the final bell rang he smiled briefly, as the crowd erupted into cheers, though he attributed it more to the fact that he had won lunch with May than his actual victory.

    "Ladies and gentlemen! The winner, and your second finalist…is Keean Toby!" roared the emcee, but Keean Toby wasn't interested in what the old coot was saying. He shouted his Pokemon's name, and the mouse leapt up from the ground, climbing up to where its trainer stood, arms folded. He was beaming, grinning wildly.

    "May Birch!" he shouted over the crowd. "How about we get that lunch?"

    May was far too stunned with what had just occurred. Keean Toby had decimated her so quickly that the time limit that seemed so long in her other battles had gone by surprisingly fast on the other end of the spectrum. He had done it with such a simple strategy too, commanding his Pokemon in a manner that couldn't be understood by his opponent. It gave him a permanent edge of surprise. "So that's what he meant," she mumbled, sinking her head against her chest.

    "May Birch!" he shouted again, this time gaining her attention. She looked up, and he softened his face into a smile. "How's about we grab that lunch?"

    She sighed. A bet was a bet, after all. "Sure," she answered quietly. "Meet me upstairs." She turned to her Pokemon, raised the little ball in her hand to recall it. Blaziken was noticeably dejected, and quickly vanished in the puff of crimson light. He nodded in response, bowing his body lightly. With that, he turned round, and began to walk towards his elevator. May grudgingly walked towards her own, pressing the button a second time to open the machine.

    It wasn't the loss, not at all, which got to her. Only the ease that she had lost ate at her, and she would make a point to ask him exactly how he had managed to master his Pokemon's language. Exiting the elevator, she waited for him to come to her.

  5. #5
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    Default Chapter 3, Continued

    Morph Three: The Perfect Defense, Part 2

    He exited the elevator to a stunned crowd of the target's fans, all of whom appeared very angry at him, but didn't seem to have the nerve to do anything to him. Still clutching their signs with her picture, they watched as he blatantly ignored them and headed for the other side of the arena where she was waiting for him, leaned against the elevator. She was disappointed, and she had a right to be, having lost in such a humiliating way to such a humiliating strategy. But he did not care. All that mattered was that, at the end of his mission, the promotion to Special Agent status would be terminated. 0 would be highly displeased, clearly the Golden Ranger had been hoping to keep him an SA to increase the chances of him being promoted to full ranger status one day. Over his dead body.

    He stopped about a foot ahead of her, allowing her a moment more to contemplate her loss. Then she did something he did not expect, and raised out her arm. "Great match," she said, congratulating him on his victory. Awkwardly, he raised his hand as well, accepting her handshake. "You creamed me."

    "Not too badly," he answered calmly, releasing her arm. "You lasted the time limit. Most people don't last ten seconds with me. You are to be congratulated." The crowd whooped and hollered in a manner he had seen practiced a few times in barns back in Orre, which mildly distracted him from his objective.

    "Uh…" May glanced around, seeing nothing but cameras and eager faces. "Do you guys think we could have some privacy?" she asked the paparazzi. As one, the group shook their head, and she sighed.

    "I've got this," he muttered, whistling loudly. At once, his Pikachu started to charge up electricity. "I will make this very simple, paparazzi." He turned to the crowd, all of whom were staring at the mouse with caution. "If you are not gone within five seconds, I will order my Pikachu to send several thousand volts through your bodies." He arched his eyebrows, as the group had not scattered. "One…two…three…" As he counted down, the group spread, disappearing quickly. "Five." Pikachu unleashed a single bolt, frying the one fan boy who had the nerve to defy him. She giggled, and watched as the guy wobbled away, sobbing to himself. "Let's go."

    "Sure thing," she answered, smiling. "It'll be a nice change, normally I have to leave a region to get some peace and quiet from them." She sighed, shaking her head. "You're lucky, no one knows who you are."

    He nodded, putting his hands in his pockets. "Kachu," he murmured to his Pokemon, who nodded its head. Pikachu darted off his shoulder, and vanished into the crowd. "Thought we should have some privacy, even if it's only for a little while." She nodded her approval, and they wandered around the convention, finally coming up on a decent restaurant, a nice Kanto café. He opened the door for her gently, as he didn't want to break anything, and followed her inside after sweeping the area in front of the restaurant for paparazzi. Pikachu would take them out if they dared approach, but it never hurt to double-check.

    It was a quiet place, with soothing, peaceful music playing in the background. The dark man followed the lady to the back of the café to a private booth. He settled himself in, and found it a bit cramped, though he made do. The coordinator, on the other hand, easily slipped into her side of the table. A waitress appeared moments later, on cue, to deliver menus to the two. The agent waved his away, but the lady took hers.

    The waitress, clad in her shirt and skirt, bowed and left, allowing them time to decide what they wanted. The lady glanced at her menu briefly before she set it aside and looked to him. "So tell me about yourself," she said, resting her hands on the table.

    "Excuse me?"

    She chuckled again, he was an odd one. "Tell me about Keean Toby," she replied playfully. "You asked me out, so I get to ask about you. That's the rule."

    "Well…I'm from Orre," he answered slowly, choosing his words very carefully so as not to contradict anything he might have said before. "I have one Pokemon, and my favorite drink is beer. I used to have a wife, but now I don't." He counted these items off on his fingers. "I think that's it… How about you? Tell me about you."

    She leered at him, grinning devilishly. "Well…Mr. Keean Toby, I'm pretty average too, by today's standards. I'm from Hoenn, and I have quite a few Pokemon. My favorite drink is cola, but I also like tea. And I had a husband, but now I don't." Like him, she counted off her fingers. "Plus, I have a daughter Sarah."

    The waitress returned quickly, noticing that both seemed to have made their decisions. "Have you made your selections?" she asked. May nodded, and handed her menu back to the young lady, who tucked it under her arm. "What'll it be?"

    "I'd like some green tea please," May replied politely. The waitress wrote down the order, then turned to the man, who was tapping his hands on the table.

    "And for you, sir?"

    He looked up, and grinned. "I'd like a beer, if that's not too much trouble."

    Her eyes widened slightly. "This early in the afternoon?" she asked. He nodded politely, and she wrote it down in her small notebook. "Okay, one green tea and one beer. Those should be out for you in a moment." She bowed again, then caught herself. The lady, recognizing the glint in the waitress' eye, groaned inwardly. "Hey, you're…"

    "Yes…" she murmured, lowering her head.

    The waitress' eyes shot wide open. "Can I, like, have your autograph," she asked eagerly, holding out her notebook and her pen to the famous coordinator. She sighed, but took the book from the waitress anyway.

    "Sorry," she told the waitress, "it's just that after so many times doing this, it starts to get a little old." The waitress nodded, and apologized, but the lady shook away the apology with a brush of her hand. "Being famous isn't all it's cracked up to be." She smiled, and scribbled her name down on the pad before handing it back to the waitress.

    She took the notebook away, and bowed a third time before disappearing to get their orders. "Nice kid," he muttered, chuckling. "Bit of a blonde, though the color's gotta be fake." She laughed in agreement with him.

    She came back a minute later, holding a steamy mug of water with a tea bag on the saucer in one hand and a bottle of cold beer in the other. They thanked her and settled in with their respective drinks. It wasn't bad, thought the man, sipping on his beer, listening to her stories. It was actually pleasant, a nice distraction from what he was there to do. He didn't talk much about himself, there wasn't much really to tell, and not much that he was really allowed tell her.

    His phone vibrated and jerked him away from their talk. He took it out of his pocket. He groaned inwardly at the caller-ID. "Sorry, I've got to take this," he muttered, excusing himself from the table. "Be right back." He stood up from the table and headed for the bathroom, vanishing down the corridor and into the room. He ignored the smell in the room, which bore a vague resemblance to some strange flower. "Talk."

    0's voice seemed rushed. "SA 06, we have a problem." No wonder, thought the man, leaning against the wall.

    "I'm with the target now. What's the situation?" he asked.

    "I have received word from our sources that a bomb has been detected within the vicinity of the target. The origin is unknown, but it is safe to assume that it will be used on her."

    The agent nodded. "Details. What's it look like?"

    "Unknown. But tiny, not particularly large. Search for small objects around the target."

    "Got it." He shut off the communicator, and exited the bathroom. He tucked the phone inside his pocket and put on his most cheerful face, which was without a doubt his most Herculean feat. He didn't do cheerful very often. He sat down at the table and looked it over, searching for anything suspicious. But there was nothing out of the ordinary. Just his beer, and her tea.

    "Hey." He looked up, snapped out of his scanning mode. "You alright?" she asked, a look of concern on her face. "Who called? Was it bad?"

    He shook his head. "Nobody important," he answered truthfully. "Just a work thing, nothing that big." He sniffed the air, detecting something odd. "How's your tea?"

    She took a sip of the green tea. "It's not too bad," she replied. "It's got a kind of weird taste to it, but it's not bad."

    "May I try some?" he asked, setting down his beer. "I've always wanted to try green tea before."

    She nodded, and held out the mug. "Certainly," she said. "But not too much."

    He chuckled. "Of course." He raised the cup to his lips, and pretended to drink, pursing his mouth. He sniffed the surface, detecting the strange scent he had noticed earlier. The vague smell of sulfur. And, within the small tea bag, a slight blinking device that was speeding up.

    He tossed it, smashing it against the wall just as the bomb detonated.

    The dark man lunged forward, grabbing onto her with both of her arms, and threw her on the floor, shielding her with his body. The explosion rocketed through the café, sending smoke everywhere. Around him, he could hear children screaming, men crying out in pain as the impact struck them, and women running away for fear. Blaring into his ear, the target's shouts of confusion burned a hole in his mind, weakening his concentration. When the last fragments of the blast fell to the floor, clattering against the tiled floor, he lifted his head, turning to the booth they had been sitting in.

    "Miss Birch," he whispered, so only she could hear, "get everyone out of here. I shall try to see what is going on." Scared, but not letting it get the best of her, she nodded her head, and crawled out from underneath his frame. He watched as she hustled the injured out of the café, and turned his attention to the hole that had formed in the center of the wall, where a person was entering. And the agent had a sneaky suspicion he wasn't from the maintenance department.

    It was a spandex.

    Well…not exactly a spandex. It didn't seem to have the same costume as the spandexes that PKM had created. This one, rather than having its color on its chest and visor, was clad entirely in black, with an ebony gem embedded into its chest. Its head turned, staring from the decimation it had created to the dark man, whose hand was reaching into his pocket, pulling out a silver phone from his pants, along with a small cartridge.

    "What are you?" the dark man demanded. The spandex-wannabe glanced at him with apparent indifference. "Answer me!"

    It took a step forward. "Where is May Birch? Tell me, idiot, and I may allow you to live." The trainer grinned, taking a step of his own.

    "First off," he said, lifting the hand with his phone, "I'm not an idiot. And secondly, Miss Birch doesn't seem to be any of your concern. Can I help you?"

    The thing almost seemed to smile, underneath its dark visor, before it blurred before the dark man, smashing its fist deep into his gut. The dark man chocked, then felt his feet leave the ground for a split second, before he smashed into the wall, sinking to the wall amidst the falling debris. The thing, its attention once again focused upon its quarry, began to walk out of the diner and into the world beyond.

    He was not amused.

    "0!" he roared, bursting out of the rubble that surrounded him. "Get your *** down here and do something about this!"

    The phone rang, and he jammed it to his ear. "What do you think you are doing?" the Golden Ranger hissed, blaring into his eardrums. "Finish it!"

    "How? It's not like I do the damn pose!" He ran to the ruined door and watched the thing make its way through the crowds, apparently requiring no directions to reach wherever she was hiding. "Get down here!"

    "Do it yourself, SA 06," he retorted. "What do you think the cartridge is for? An accessory? Do it!"

    He levered the cartridge towards the phone as the line went dead, and the communicator opened up as if commanded, exposing a containment unit for the cart to be slipped inside. "You've got to be kidding," he muttered, as his hands moved against his will to fit the device into the com-link. "I've got to do this again?"

    He had a choice to not do it. He didn't take it.

    "Let's do it!" he roared, firmly slamming the phone shut. It started flashing, binding him with a suit of armor. It seemed strange to him that a suit of armor would materialize anywhere, much less upon him, but he had done it before, and was adjusted to the strange transition that accompanied it. Silver and black armor clad his form, the same color as the SA Cart. A silver helmet covered his head, with a black visor masking his eyes with a thin line just barely visible. Black gloves and boots covered his hands and feet, with the rest of the uniform being pure gray, save for the ebony belt.

    "Transformation complete," he muttered, rushing forward the second the light died down. The suit's visor instantly got to work, operating on overdrive to detect the opponent. "Suit, scan for the target." The suit did so, locating by way of heat sensor's the exact place that she was being trampled by dozens of others eager to escape the building. Sweat formed on his brow, the suit was rather warm, as he rushed through the crowds. They parted easily, despite the easily visible identification on his back that read in bolded letters he was from PKM, and he burst through them.

    "Pikachu, where is it?" he demanded, opening the channels of communication for his Pokemon. It responded in an instant, telling him that the thing was only a few yards away from her location. He sped up, utilizing the strange gears and propulsion systems used in the SA uniform's legs to press on.

    And there it was. She, on the floor, terrified out of her mind, and the thing, holding up a sharp black knife above her head. He increased his speed, watching the knife fall…and reached his arms out to stop it.

    He grabbed the arm of the thing, just before the knife impaled itself in her skull, hunched over in rage. "You are under arrest for attempted murder," he said, as the thing strained against his grip. "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you." He lifted his head, his visor staring into the darkness of his foe's costume. "Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?"

    In response, the thing attacked him, giving him the impression that it not only understood, but that is also didn't care. It tried to break his grip on its arm and slashed at the SA uniform he wore. He dodged quickly, ducking under the blow, knowing that even the armor the SA uniform provided him would be cut under his opponent's dagger. It slashed at him again, attempting to decapitate him.

    But the young agent had not gotten to where he was by being a slacker, and easily avoided the attacks. He drew the thing away from her, forcing it to deal with him rather than her. By now, most of the center was away, and he could hear police sirens outside, though the police wouldn't come anywhere near the inside. 0, with all his expertise, would have already finished telling them to remain outside as backup, as a PKM agent was already on the scene.

    "Hey, 0," he muttered through the communicator in the suit. "What are the rules?"

    "None," answered a crackled voice. "Dispose of the body in the manner that suits you best."

    He grinned beneath the mask. "Got it."

    He grabbed the thing by its arm, and very calmly, but very forcefully, tore the knife from its hand, throwing it away. It embedded itself into the wall, and the dark trainer followed up his attack, smashing his fists into its head, downing it in two blows. His breath was ragged, watching its body fall to the ground and cease moving. His hand was still extended, until he noticed her again, and returned it to his side.

    "In a few moments, the police will come," he muttered, his voice reverting to monotone. He still needed to preserve the false identity he had given her. "You need to get out of here before then." He extended his arm to her. "I will help you."

    She sat there, crouched on the floor, staring up at her silver savior. Tentatively, she reached up with a shaking hand, touching the gloves that masked the man's hands. "W-what is that?" she asked with a quivering voice, looking towards the thing that lay on the ground.

    "I do not know," he answered as best he could. "It was after you. Do you know why?" She shook her head in response, but her knees gave in, and she fell lightly, only to be caught by the silver warrior, who held her gently in his arms. "The police will be on the scene with their forces momentarily. You need to be gone from here before then or else it will only be worse for you." He noticed her weight shift around his arms. "Can you stand?" he asked her and she nodded delicately.

    "Who are you?" she asked him, her savior. His head turned away for a moment, then he looked at her again and he knew she could feel the sadness that came from him in waves, radiating from his body like an aura.

    "Mommy?" Both of them turned, surprised that a third person would be present, and turned to see the little girl with the pigtails, whose eyes were full of tears. "Mommy?" she asked again, Sarah Birch's eyes full of confusion. She shook lightly, and the silver agent released the woman in his arms, allowing her to comfort her child. Besides, he thought, it would hardly be a good thing for a child to see her mother being held by a stranger wearing a mask, even the stranger who had saved her mother's life.

    "She is fine, little one," he whispered hoarsely, his breath growing ragged. His heart rate was increasing, which was strange considering the threat had been neutralized. He watched the mother and daughter hold one another, standing apart. Then he coughed slightly, prompting their attention. Both turned towards him, with glowing eyes, and he felt the space in his chest throb. "We need to leave. Now. They will be here soon, and we need to get away by then."

    "Mommy's okay, right?" the little girl asked, unsure of whether to trust the stranger's words.

    He nodded, straightening himself. "She will be fine," he promised the little girl, tilting his head downwards to stare into her coal black eyes. Her trembling face and his faceless visor looked into each other. "If you will let me, I will get you both out of here." He glanced to the side, hearing voices and the sounds of footsteps, and jerked back towards the girls. "Let's go!" He extended his hand to the woman, who took it carefully and ran for it, hurrying away from the entrances and towards the exit.

    For just a moment, when he touched her hand, he remembered the times before the uniform, before he began hiding from her. But he brushed the memories aside, and rushed onwards. Thankfully, he got them out in time to avoid the masses that spread into the convention center, dodging the people that fled into the center. Through the communications in the visor, he heard 0's voice saying something, but it was blotted out of his mind, replaced by the urge to get her to safety.

    He made it to the elevator that he and 0 had used earlier that morning, raising his communicator and issuing a command. "Open," he ordered the lift, and the door opened automatically. He jumped in, beckoning the others inside. They leapt to join him without question. "Close." The doors shut on command, and the elevator whirled to life. He watched her cling to the child, and released his grip on her hand, as there was no longer any need to hold it.

    "Pikachu, take us to level three," he ordered privately, using the secondary communicator to speak solely with his Pokemon. He heard it squeak in response, and his stomach jerked as the elevator rose. He waited, motionless, until the dim glow of the center faded away into total darkness, and it grew to a slow halt.

    Then the trio plunged into total darkness.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Hello?" May asked, blinking repeatedly. She couldn't see anything, not her daughter, not her mysterious savior, not even the nose on her face. The faint breathing of her silver hero had ceased, she could sense him standing only a foot away from her, waiting for the elevator doors to open. The door hissed as it opened, and he stepped through quickly, sure of his footing. "Excuse me." The footsteps stopped, and May took a tentative step forward, hesitating briefly before she left the elevator, her hand securely attached to her daughter's. "Where are we?"

    "Somewhere safe," the silver warrior answered carefully, masked in the darkness that surrounded him. He touched her shoulder as she approached him, remembering that she could not see through the dark as he could. She was guided by the man forward, towards several sets of glowing screens yards away, in front of which another masked figure was waiting, arms crossed and face crestfallen.

    "0," her savior started, but the second figure held up his hand, and the rescuer fell silent. The man called 0 took several steps forward to where they were standing, and slapped the silver-clad man across his visor. May's rescuer jerked his face to the side for a moment, but then turned himself back to his superior, staring down at 0 with a contempt that May felt radiating through the air.

    "SA 06," 0 retorted in a low hiss, his distain evident through the impatience in his tone. "I demand to know what they are doing here." He turned his head, glancing May and Sarah up and down, sizing them up. "This violates protocol, SA 06. Bringing a target to the base of operations unless a dire need is present is a direct violation of the rulebook." He took a step forward, leaning his head up to the junior agent so that barely an inch of air separated their visors.

    SA 06, as he had been called by 0, was apparently in no mood for any of the other agent's garbage. "The public was preparing to compromise our position, 0," he protested calmly, trying as best he could to hide the hatred in his tone. "Weren't you paying attention to what was happening downstairs, 0, or were you fine with watching a real agent handle things for once?"

    0 betrayed nothing in his voice. "The threat was already neutralized," he stated calmly, turning back to his computers. "The only threats are the police that cannot even maintain law and order in this facility." He jerked his thumb backwards, pointing at Sarah and May. "You have jeopardized yourself by bringing the two of them here." SA 06 felt a strange jerk on his uniform, and noticed the little girl hiding behind his uniform, clearly afraid of the darkened gold 0 wore. May joined her daughter, siding with the silver savior.

    "You're wrong," the other snapped, turning his head to May, who nodded her head in encouragement, despite being unsure of what all was going on. "If you feel that strongly about it, I can use my Eraser on both of them to make them forget about this place."

    0 nodded his head. "Afterwards, remove them from the scene. Leave no traces."

    "E-excuse me." Both men turned to May Birch, who had taken her daughter in her arms, very confused. "Could you please explain what's happening here, and what just happened downstairs?"

    The one called 0 shook his head, while SA 06 took something out of his belt, a small stick-like object. "You are a target of an unknown terrorist organization, May Birch," 0 answered mechanically. "The being that attacked you has been detained, but is probably not the only one of its kind looking for you. If necessary, we have reason to believe they will kill you." He lowered his gaze down, to the little girl. "And you as well."

    "Mommy?" Sarah asked, looking up to May.

    "You will both be fine," he continued, looking to SA 06, who had prepared the device for use. "In a moment, we will be taking you back to your hotel room, where you will awaken without any memory of this place." He nodded to the silver agent, who approached them, his hands holding the stick up to their eyes. It wasn't very big, only a little bit taller than his palm, with a red, glowing 'eye' at the end. "Are you ready?"

    May shivered, but nodded her head. She glanced from one to the other, from the one who gave the orders to the one that followed them. SA 06 did not hesitate, but from his still movements she could sense that he was reluctant to follow the orders he had been given. "Who are you?" she asked suddenly, right before the bright flash.

    "We are PKM," she heard, as the flash of light engulfed her senses. "We will be protecting you." What she found odd was that the voice did not belong to either SA 06 or 0. It was warm, and oddly comforting. It was familiar, and it warmed her heart.

    It was his voice. Though it was hazy, it sounded just like him. The voice of the dark warrior.

    Author's Note: So, I'm back at work, which is fun, but it definitely prevents me from writing new material. Nonetheless, I can confirm that three thousand words of new material are already done, and I'm on track to finishing Chapter 42 by the end of the month.

  6. #6
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    Default Chapter 4, Part 1

    Morph Four: It's Morphing Time!, Part 1

    He watched her through her window, still clad in the silver uniform that he had worn to rescue her. On his shoulder, his Pokemon chirped at him and he shrugged. "0 told me to take her to the hotel," he answered, pulling out a set of binoculars from his belt. "He didn't say come back, so I'll leave when I'm ready."

    He had been there for an hour, ever since he had snuck her in through her hotel room window. She was resting peacefully, though she would sometimes twitch in her sleep. Sarah was in bed with her, snuggled calmly against her mother's body. He just watched them sleep.

    Suddenly, the mother shot up, eyes wide with fright. Her lips moved as she called out for someone, and his eyes widened in surprise as he read what she said. He watched as her head swung around in the darkness, clearly confused as to where she was. He suppressed his grin, considering that she looked pretty cute terrified. She always had. Only difference from then and now was that he couldn't wrap his arms round her and protect her.

    It was pitch-black in her room, but darkness was a handicap the agent had long ago dealt with. His target, however, squinted for quite some time before becoming adjusted to the shadows. She was breathing heavily, scared. He didn't blame her. He had only erased the time between seeing 0 and his promise to watch over her. The rest was there. The explosion. His uniform. He had decided against deleting everything. It would have leaft her without a way to defend herself. She would be on guard now, and it was all the warning he was allowed to give her.

    She stood up from the bed, her eyes gazing tenderly toward her child. Sarah was at peace, resting comfortably underneath the covers, her thumb tucked safely into her mouth. She softened, and walked around the room. Her hands lowered onto the phone and her hands dialed the lobby. He watched her speak for several minutes before she hung up, sighing in relief. Must have been about Max and Brock. Neither of them had died, though both had sustained fairly serious, but treatable, wounds.

    She stopped by the bedside and brushed her daughter's hair. His eyes widened underneath his visor, and he pressed the binoculars into his eyes. He glanced to his Pokemon, who nodded solemnly. "0 said nothing about interaction either."

    He collapsed the binoculars and stored them into his belt. He reached for a small grapple gun and aimed for the balcony of her hotel room. He pulled the trigger and a long coil burst from the gun, striking hard in the steel of the wall. He detached the rope and fixed it to the edge of his lookout point. "Pi, head back to the contest center, and see how we're doing. I'll be back soon." The Pokemon nodded and vanished into the night. The agent grabbed onto the rope, and jumped off the building, sliding down the coil to her balcony. He felt a slight warmth on his fingers from the rope, but ignored it. Under him, the lights of the night had come on, displaying a wide variety of signs and cars.

    He landed on the balcony with a small thud, and his rope detached from the metal surface of the wall. He wound it up, though it took some time, and placed it into his grapple gun. Behind him, the sound of the sliding glass door alerted him to the fact that he was no longer alone. He didn't turn around, but waited for her to walk out onto the balcony. She had seen him from inside her room. "Hello," she murmured, with a slight note of fear in her voice.

    "Hello," he replied carefully, placing the gun away, and leaning against the wall, firmly staring at the building he had just come from. She approached him from his left side, her stride cautious.

    "A-are you the man from earlier today?" she asked as her eyes trailed over his uniform. He folded his arms, but nodded his helmet. "Thank you."

    He remained silent for a minute. Her voice was soft and calm, an exact opposite what ran rampart through the dark man's mind. It was difficult to maintain his composure around her. "It was nothing," he answered her. "I just did what I had to do."

    She rested herself against the wall beside him, though her head was tilted to watch his. Every fiber of his body wanted to turn to her, to touch her, even in the SA uniform, but he resisted, and forced his arms to stay folded against his chest. "Thank you for watching over me and my daughter." She glanced back at her daughter's sleeping form. "She always needs someone to look after her."

    He did not look back at her daughter. "It is my duty to protect you. That protection extends to your daughter, May Birch." He stopped suddenly, as her arms wound their way around his own, and he felt her head rest against his shoulder. "My orders are to keep you safe."

    "Your orders…?" She glanced up at him, a look of confusion in her eyes. "What is going on?"

    "That information is classified."

    "Classified?"

    "It means I cannot tell you."

    "Why?"

    He sighed, and bent his head. "It would place more danger on you, and your daughter. Knowledge is power. Until then, please protect yourself as best you can. I can only do so much."

    She nodded. "Of course," she replied. Then, a thought entered her mind, and she looked up to him. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

    "If it does not violate my orders."

    "Who are you beneath that mask?"

    "Nobody." That was the definition of a PKM agent. "This suit is designed to protect me from anyone knowing who I am. I am a nobody, just a protector."

    She nodded. "Of course," she replied again. "Did you ever have a name?"

    "I did," he answered. "Before I was an agent, I used to have a name. It was lost the day I joined, along with the face beneath this mask. I used to be very happy, before I became part of this. I used to be."

    "It sounds terrible," the lady said, snuggling closer to him. "Why do you stay in it, then, if it cost you your happiness?"

    He moved for the first time, and tilted to glance down at her. She looked up into his dark visor. "There is someone more important than my happiness," he answered. "Someone that I sacrificed that happiness for. It is terrible, but it was a choice that I made of my free will. And it is worth it sometimes, when I remember that I was able to save that person."

    She sighed, gazing up into his mask. "Do you ever wonder if that person thought that your happiness was worth it?"

    "I do not know the answer to that question," he said, and returned his gaze towards the building in front of him. "People change. I have changed. How they change is the reflection of their choices. In the end, I would never be able to answer for that person like that. I'd like to think that person is the same as when I saved them, but I will never know. I do not exist anymore. I am a nobody."

    She shook her head into his shoulder. "You're not a nobody," she murmured. "You're our hero."

    He straightened himself, pulling away from her. "Do not be so quick to judge me. I wear a mask, my shield against my true self." He turned back to her, pulling out the grapple gun from his belt. "Never judge a book by its cover."

    He aimed, and fired the cord against a building in the distance. It latched, and he grabbed the robe, jumping onto the balcony's edge. "It was nice talking to you," she said behind his back.

    He didn't look back. "I will be continuing my surveillance of you elsewhere. I may have already alerted other parties to this location." He lied, knowing that anyone after her already knew where she was. The truth, that he couldn't bear the pain weighing in his chest any longer, was probably best kept confidential.

    "I'll be seeing you, May Birch," he finished, before he jumped down from the building. He heard a slight gasp from the balcony, but he was far away before too long. He descended in an arc, propelled by his momentum. The wind rushed around his helmet, and his monitor showed the coordinates he should take, which would lead him back to the contest center.

    "I'll be seeing you," he muttered to himself, before he lost himself within the swings and leaps that accompanied his mode of transportation.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    The dark man entered the center the next day, and everything was as it was. He passed the area he had had drinks with the target, and noticed that it was closed due to faulty wiring. PKM had worked fast, he thought, and glanced over the ruined space. No one else seemed to notice it, he saw, looking over the crowd of strangers. Something had changed in the sea of people he swam through. For one, some looked at him, whispering amongst each other in low voices. They were talking about his win the previous day, hushed murmurs that ceased the moment he spotted them. The crowd seemed to part away from him, allowing him the space to move freely.

    The official story that PKM had circulated was an electrical over-surge. Everyone had bought it, at least after they had lost their memories. Erasers were truly remarkable instruments, capable of deleting anything inside a person's brain. Usage of them was, of course, strictly limited, but he tucked his own onto his pocket, just in case.

    Today was business as usual at the center. Both he and 0 had made certain that tracers were now in place to determine any potential threats and the tracker that he had placed on the target's Pokeball would be invaluable. For now, however, he had to go to a battle, or a Contest, whatever it was they were called. Either way, he was scheduled to lose. He didn't want the glory of a victor's laurel. That part of his life had ended some time ago.

    His final battle would take place in the second arena, so that was where he headed, ignoring the blatant stares of the crowd. On his shoulder, his Pokemon was hard at work, sniffing around to be certain that everything was all right. Its nose was far more powerful than most of the sensors anyway.

    "Anything yet?" he asked it, but it shook its head, murmuring something to him. "Well, give it some time. Most terrorists don't give up on the first try." Pikachu nodded, then squeaked to him again, asking about the night before. He groaned lightly in response. "Nothing happened, Pi. We just...talked. I gave her a little heads up on what's going on so we don't have to protect her to an extreme. She'll be on her guard."

    He terminated the conversation, and straightened out his dark leather jacket. "I packed too much gold," he murmured, ruffling out the shirt he was wearing. "I think it gives 0 ideas." Thought it wasn't official protocol, more often than not Rangers themselves wore their color even in civvies. And for some reason, all civilian gear assigned to him kept coming up with some bit of gold in it when he was assigned away from PKM. He sighed. "Better than if they gave me blue I suppose." His name had come up more than once in papers for filling the vacant Blue Ranger position. His excuses were terrible, often running the lines of the fact that blue simply was not his color, or that he wasn't a big fan of the number 2. But so far they had kept him out of a spandex.

    Before the match, the organizers had organized some kind of publicity stunt for the photographers and the cameramen. He spotted his opponent, Drew, already flexing and posing for the cameras. The boastful cries from his opponent were incredibly annoying, thought the dark man, as he stepped up onto the platform.

    The judge, the old man from the day before, was shouting out the name Keean Toby into the crowd, and they booed. Again. He shrugged his shoulders.

    He noticed a microphone shoved under his nose, and glanced at the judge. "We were wondering whether you'd like to answer some questions from the crowd," he explained.

    "No." He glanced at his opponent, who seemed to have lost all of his focus by staring at a rose. "Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words, after all. So, if my opponent wishes to make any statements, or the crowd wants to, how's about doing it in combat, where it matters?"

    The crowd shouted its approval of the statement, while Drew looked as though he had just been slapped. His face became flustered, and he started ranting, but the dark man simply tuned him out, and enjoyed the fact that Drew was only getting angrier. Pikachu copied its trainer.

    "You're…you're going down!" he finished, pointing his rose at the trainer. "You hear me?"

    "No," he murmured, just so that Drew could hear him.

    The judge, with a bit of effort, took the microphone away from Drew, who fumed for the rest of the introductions. Then, the semifinalists who had not gotten into the finals stepped up. Dawn beamed alongside May who, while disappointed, played the crowd well, and threw her support to him.

    One of the audience members, a beefy otaku, asked a question. "What do you think of the match today, May? Who do you think will emerge the winner?" he inquired with a nasally voice.

    She just laughed. "Well," she answered, glancing at the dark man. "I think both have great chances today, but I really think that Keean Toby will come out on top. His impressive strategies, and his quick thinking, despite the fact that he's not well-known by the Coordinator community, make him the best choice."

    Drew's face turned bright purple with suppressed rage.

    "And what about Drew?"

    She grinned and looked towards the man. "If he can put away his rose and concentrate, he just might have a chance." The crowd erupted into laughter.

    Beside himself, the dark man chuckled, covering his mouth with his hand to suppress his laughter.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    May Birch noticed that, the moment the pre-match insult fest ended, Keean Toby ducked away, vanishing into the swirl of reporters and fans. She looked around, and finally spotted his fleeing figure well away from the crowd, heading in the direction of the Orre cantina she had met him in. She turned to Drew, whose face was still bright crimson. "I'm gonna go with him. He's kind of flaky, and I'll make sure that he makes the Contest."

    Drew just grunted, and turned away from her to a crowd of fan girls that had gathered around him. Smirking, May dove through the paparazzi horde like a pro, ducking past the fan boys and their questions, until she reached the giant shape of Keean Toby. She reached up, and gave him a sharp tap on his left shoulder. He turned around, just as she dodged to the right, confused. Shaking his head, he jerked as she surprised him, standing in front of him with her hands on her hips.

    "You planning on ditching?" she asked.

    He shook his head. "Just getting something to drink. I haven't had anything all day, and I think some beer would hit the spot right before a big fight."

    "Is beer all you drink?" May inquired, cocking a brow.

    He nodded. "I like the taste," he replied before he resumed his stroll. She picked up the pace, as his massive strides covered more ground than her legs could, and started walking by his side. Strangely, when she was with him, she noticed that fewer otaku bothered her, and the few with the guts to try turned away at the sight of Keean Toby.

    "Hey." Keean Toby looked down towards her, and glanced to the right. She followed his gaze and saw what appeared to be a large, hairy man with a camera staring at them. "Looks like a nerd wants some shots of you, Ms. Birch. Whatever shall we do?"

    "Let's ditch him," she suggested and Keean Toby nodded his approval. He took her hand and ducked into the swirling masses that surrounded them. The large man jerked out of his hiding spot in confusion and scanned the vicinity for them. Meanwhile, Keean Toby led May away into the sea surrounding them, both wanting nothing more than to simply find someplace quiet to relax before the match.

    They resurfaced in what appeared to be a small bookstore. Keean Toby was amazed. The Center appeared to have everything a person could possibly want out of an event like this, though further reflection reminded him that this was such a huge event it would be more unlikely for it to have every kind of ware that could be brought under its roof. The patrons inside were very confused, some concerned, as the two bolted inside and slammed the doors shut, trapping the dreaded paparazzi out of the store.

    May felt tired, her face was red from the chase, despite the fact that lately she had been going to a gym specifically to dodge the paparazzi, most of whom were out of shape in comparison to her. She leaned herself against Keean Toby to steady her body. "Well, that was fun," she muttered dryly, and giggled.

    Keean Toby softened his face, his mouth almost formed a smile. "If you say so, Ms. Birch," he remarked, and helped her to her feet. "It probably wouldn't be a good thing for the Contest for someone to be trampled to death. Bad publicity."

    May, as she was helped by Keean Toby, couldn't help but notice that she spent a lot of time staring at him and his tanned, muscled body, probably the result of whatever training he had undergone in Orre. The giant mesh of ebony hair that shot everywhere and nowhere, covering everything above his nose on his face. She felt his hands lift her to her feet and marveled at how they contradicted his fierce appearance. They were hardened, certainly, but with a touch of softness that May had felt somewhere before, she sensed that, but could not remember where.

    "Where do you work out?" she asked.

    He tilted his head as if in confusion, then chuckled. "Nowhere. It's an after-effect of my training," he replied. "I don't have much to do, so I tend to do what I can to stay active. Pi and I work out a lot, and train for various Contests and matches. That's how we earn our keep."

    She almost blushed at him. "It-it really suits you," she stammered, doing her very best not to stare.

    "Thank you for the compliment," he said rather awkwardly, and fell silent. He wanted to change the subject, so he pointed outside the door and feigned a grin. "So, how long have you been fighting those idiots? I'm an unknown, so I wouldn't know how it feels to be hounded day and night by those lunatics."

    "I guess you get used to it after a while," she answered, "or, at least, you're supposed to. To this day, I still have to keep a lock on my underwear drawer at home." Keean Toby laughed and May blushed, amazed that she had told him that. "Come on, let's stay here for a while. At least it's quiet." She smiled up at him, though she could sense that he knew she was simply distracting him from her statement.

    He nodded and decided it would be best to forget what she had just told him. "Of course, Ms. Birch," he said politely and began to follow her into the bookstore.

    They wandered through the small area, and Keean Toby would sometimes find something entertaining to glance over. He didn't try to hit on her, which was unprecedented in May's experience, having gotten so used to the limelight that it was almost unheard of. He would walk behind her, allowing her to lead him anywhere she wanted, but he seemed distant and quiet, as though observing her for some reason. She shrugged off the strange feeling of déjà vu welling up inside her and laughed, a genuine giggle rather than the false one that she tried to cover up her real laugh. As a result, he did not notice when a small book came at him and pelted him in the face.

    Keean Toby staggered as he rebounded from the blow, knocking into a few of the shelves as he recomposed himself. He heard the vague buzz of laughter coming from May and groaned. "This is funny how?" he asked her, rubbing his nose. He winced, feeling a sharp sting from the blow on the bridge of the nose. "It's not nice to throw stuff at people…"

    May bowed her head in apology. "I'm…so…sorry," she gasped between giggles, attempting to cover her mouth. "I was trying to…gain your attention…and you looked out of this world. I didn't mean to knock you down."

    Keean Toby straightened himself and saw that he had caught the book in his hands with his reflexes. "Nice you find it funny," he grumbled. As he rose from where he had bumped into the shelf, a very irritated person, probably the owner, came up towards them, shaking his finger at them. He glared up at Keean Toby particularly, barely taller than the Orre trainer's chest, but with a moustache that drooped over both sides of his face.

    "Hey!" he shouted, smacking Keean Toby hard on the head, despite their differences in height. "You two young things keep it down! I have things to sell to much nicer people than crazy people who bang into things in my store."

    Keean Toby said nothing, not used to being reprimanded by people half his size, so May answered for the both of them. "Sorry, mister," she said, bowing deeply. "My friend and I are trying to find out where your nonfiction section might be. Could you tell us where?"

    The manager snorted, but pointed his finger in a direction to their left. "Over there," he mumbled, before he pointed his finger right back into the Orre trainer's stomach. "But keep him away from the merchandise." He raised his brow. "He looks like a shoplifter." The manager then left them alone.

    Keean Toby grumbled at the bookkeeper's back. "Thieves don't look as good as I do." He turned back towards May, who was already leading him into the shelves. The bookkeeper shook his head, and muttered something under his breath before he returned to his shelving.

    Keean Toby tucked the book under his arm and followed her into the store, all the while wondering exactly why May had thrown the book at him. "Hey, why'd you throw this at my head?" he asked, and glanced at the book's title. "What's this?"

    May stopped, and her face was tinted with a slight crimson. "It's just a little something that helped me get through a rough patch in my life. I've noticed that you always seem pretty…" She looked up, as though she had trouble placing the word she wanted to use "…lonely. Aside from that Pikachu, I haven't seen you really speak to anyone outside the Contest."

    "I like my privacy," he answered and tucked the book back under his arm. "I don't have any friends except for Pi. I've been with that Pikachu for a long time, it's smarter than most people I end up meeting." He turned to the shelves and found something that caught his attention.

    "Allow me to return the favor," he said, and reached up to pluck a small tradeback from the book racks. "I'll give you something to read too then, a book that got me through some tough times as well." May thanked him and took the book from his hand. She skimmed over the title, she had never heard of the book before.

    "This is a comic," she said, flipping through the pages of illustrations.

    Keean Toby chuckled. "Don't be so quick to judge," he said, bowing his head. "You may find that you might like it."

    She smirked and tucked the book under her arm. "Then I'll read it," she promised and they began to walk to the register to pay for their purchases. "As long as you promise to read my book."

    "It's a bet, then."

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    The dark man exited the shop with the lady, confident that that the paparazzi that plagued her had moved on to other people and other events to cover. She had purchased a pair of sunglasses and a small bandana to hide parts of her face, at his suggestion, so she could travel safely through the crowds, or with a little bit more privacy. The small book he had bought for her was inside her bag, while the book he had received in exchange was tucked under his arm. Both walked through the crowds, aiming for the arena where his battle would take place. They had over an hour so there was no rush. They passed through the crowd's current gentle as if separated from the world that surrounded them.

    "Is there anyone you would like to see before we go to my match?" he asked her as he stared resiliently at the ground. "Are there any friends or family with you?"

    She nodded. "Actually, I should probably check up on my babysitters." She giggled, but he retained a straight face. "My daughter's here, so I have to keep a couple of people around her to make sure she doesn't get in trouble. She's really feisty." Then, her eyes lit up, and he looked towards her, feeling a small pit inside himself grow. "Hey, how'd you like to meet her?"

    He stopped thinking for a moment, and accidentally ran into someone in front of him. He apologized, though the ice-cream soaked man didn't seem to appreciate it, and turned back to her, suddenly flustered. "M-meet your daughter?" he asked, trying with every portion of his being to control his emotions.

    Even though she found his flustered outburst a little strange, the mother nodded her head. "Her name's Sarah," she explained. "I'm sure she'd like you, Keean Toby. You're a very interesting person."

    In this perfect moment, one that the agent had been wishing of for the longest time possible, he felt the communicator in his pants vibrate, signaling that the perfectly-timed Agent 0 wanted something. He faced her, his expression bittersweet, and opened the phone, placing it to his ear. "Keean Toby," he answered with his pseudonym.

    "SA 06," muttered the dark voice of 0. "Come to the control center immediately. We have a situation."

    "Got it," the rookie agent replied, ending the call. "Something's come up, ma'am. I'm afraid I'm going to have to take a rain check on meeting your daughter." He stuffed the communicator into his pants.

    "Oh…" Her face drooped slightly, he could tell she was a little disappointed. "Sure."

    He felt a seething rage, not at her, but at the ranger that was waiting for him, for having to leave. "I'll try to be back before my match starts. At the very least, I'll meet up with you all after I beat the tar out of Drew." He bowed his head, and ducked into the crowd, rushing through the small spaces between people towards the elevator.

    He found the unused elevator quickly and swiped the entry badge for the Contest through it. The doors opened and he ducked into them before anyone could spot him, and punched the key for the command center. The doors closed and, to his surprise, he began to move downwards instead of upwards. He grumbled, and assumed that 0 had moved camp with the breach in security that the SA had caused by bringing the target.

    "0!" he roared, the instant the elevator drew to a grinding halt and released him. The gold ranger was in front of him, standing with his arms folded. The dark man wanted nothing more than to punch the golden visor that hid his superior's face. He settled for grabbing 0 by his shoulders and lifting the Golden Ranger from the ground. "Mind explaining to me why you dragged me away from you, before I rip you apart for it?"

    0 wasn't phased. "Release me, SA 06, before I make you regret every threat I have endured from you," he retorted and threw out his arm, striking the rookie straight in the gut. "Do not be deceived by lures, SA 06. That makes it all the more easier for the fisherman to snatch you." He shook his head, and watched as the dark man clutched his stomach. "When will you accept that what you want can never be?"

    "Never," the other growled back as he raised his body angrily, bracing his arms into fists. "Stop trying to make me into a copy of you."

    0 stood silently, and waited for the young man to regain his military composure. After a few moments, the rookie calmed down, though the fists were still present. "Tell me something then, SA 06, why are you still an agent, if you hate what you are?"

    "You know why," he answered cruelly. "You stole my family from me."

    0 lifted his head. "Then why, SA 06, do you bother to stay here? Even with your…unique ability…you could have easily sworn secrecy and returned to your family. Why do you stay?"

    The dark man fell silent, for the first time, in face of the Ranger. He did not give an answer, and 0 did not press the issue, having made his point quite clearly. "You know that the wheels have already been set in motion. There is nothing either of us can do to change that. Do not fight the chance you have been given to save this world."

    The dark man looked down at him. "Every time I've tried to do anything for myself, you've stopped me at every turn. All I ever wanted was to be a Pokemon Master. That was all I ever wanted. To be a Master, and live in peace with my family."

    "There is no such feeling as peace," 0 snapped. "There is only the absence of battle. To survive, you must commit yourself to that in this line of work. Now-" 0 turned his back on the agent, and began to lead them to the computer terminals "-we have more important duties to tend to. A report has just been filed, and its urgency cannot be overestimated."

    "Have the terrorist organizations found the target?" SA 06 asked, grudgingly returning to the work that 0 had out.

    "Correct. Today we received a report from 003 that terrorists have indeed located the target and have the means to destroy both her and this entire facility." He snapped his fingers, and the computers whirled to life. "This enemy is different from most we've encountered, as it is wearing a uniform style similar to the one worn by PKM Rangers."

    "Another kind of Ranger?" he asked, squinting through the darkness at the screen. "Can you get a visual on him?"

    0 nodded, tapping a part of the screen. Instantly, a dark spot showed up on a map of the Contest Center, along with a red one, presumably the target. The dark one was quickly catching up to the red. "You have the transmitter, correct?"

    The dark man raised his right hand, where the watch remained fastened. "Got it," he replied. The watch glowed faintly, almost as brightly as the ring on his chain.

    "Good. Keep it with you, and man the communications from here. Should anything happen, you know what to do." 0 paused, making sure the rookie understood. "Correct?"

    The rookie nodded. "Only until a replacement can be found," he answered, telling 0 the honest truth. He could not be a ranger, if 0 died. "I cannot take your place."

    0 gripped the other man's shoulders, and shook his head. "I wish it were that simple, rookie. I do." He removed his arm, and began to walk into the darkness, vanishing into the swirling void that surrounded them. "Goodbye, SA 06."

    The dark man nodded, and said he would wait for 0's return, but knew deep down in his heart that this was to be the last time he would hear the Golden Ranger's voice.

    Even if he didn't want to admit that.

    Author's Note: Work's still fun, but I haven't gotten any new material written this week. Hoping to get some more work done over the weekend, but we'll see.

  7. #7
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 4, Continued

    Morph Four: It's Morphin' Time!, Part 2

    0 was like lightning.

    Fluid and unseen, he passed among the crowds with ease. Like a bolt of lightning, he burst through the sea of people, preferring to keep to the tops of the booths when he could. The ebony shadow hurried, certain that it was only a matter of moments before the terrorists struck again. The computer, before he had left, had shown the site of the next explosion, and the target was approaching the vicinity of the blast.

    He felt light as a feather as he soared through the rooftops, locating the area through his visor's computer navigation. He was nearing the terrorist's domain, where he knew the battle would take place. He had done his homework and discovered who was behind the attacks. This particular threat was deadly, yes, but not undefeatable. If he could only find the person, who was more of a demolitions expert than physical combatant, it would be a simple matter of disarming and neutralizing the threat. But his mind was on other things, like how the dark ranger the day before had held technology similar to his own. He had sent the specs to be analyzed by PKM, hopefully 003 would have something before a few days.

    He felt no regrets at what he was about to do. The scanner built into his suit had shown him exactly what he was dealing with, and what was waiting for the target. He had said his goodbye to SA 06, and he had meant it. The mission was more important than he, something the Golden Ranger had learned long ago.

    Did he wish it could be different, that there might be another way? Of course he did. The bomb, after all, would harm innocent civilians if he did not stop it. He, on the other hand, was not innocent. The boy, SA 06, knew that well enough. His life had been a hero's trials, but what right did others have to call him one? Or what right did even he have?

    There was much 0 had told no one. He was the strong, silent type, who shouldered their burdens on themselves, rather than irritating others with their problems. He had seen the boy in his uniform, long ago, and knew that only SA 06 could become the Golden Ranger. The boy had gone through struggles and trials, the same kinds 0 himself had fought through. He had sacrificed everything, and had lost everything in return.

    In the visor's sensors, he spotted the target, who moved rapidly in the direction of the terrorist. The suit's systems detected the sulfur in the atmosphere and found the bomb. Rapidly, he snapped his fingers and a bright golden light formed in his hand. He shouted and hurled it into the ground. It landed just in front of her, creating an explosion that stopped her. The drive was a very useful system, he thought, as the people began to flee. They would only get in the way. Now that she had stopped, he generated the light a second time, leaping from the vendor shops to the ground, his fist smashing into the floor. The light coursed through the floor, aimed directly at the nozzles on the ceiling.

    Water rained down from above, the sprinklers fooled by the energy surge into believing that a fire was taking place. People screamed, raising their hands to shield themselves and their clothes from getting wet. They filed out, eager to escape the area. The intercoms came on, urging people not to panic and that technicians were working on the faulty system. People never believed that, thought the Golden Ranger.

    The moment the area was clear, he landed on the ground. 0 sprinted forward, headed directly for the target and her family. To him, nothing else presently matter. The fact that his suit was wet, or the knowledge that he could die, everything was irrelevant to him outside the fact that he needed to protect the target and fulfill the mission.

    Then the thing of darkness, which looked so very much like the thing from yesterday, but at the same time was incredibly different, emerged from the chaos, water trickling down its sleeves. There was a white boulder in the center of its chest, and the thin visor it wore was ivory. 0 looked down to its side, where it was carrying a missile launcher, a simply giant one that resembled a bazooka.

    "I am here to kill you," it hissed. 0 walked in between the family and the dark ranger, his head bent, and his arms braced in a defensive stance.

    "No. No you will not," the Golden Ranger replied, scanning the potential power of the weapon it wielded. "May Birch, get away from here now. When it is done with me, it will come after you again. Go!" Behind him, he heard the scampering of feet, and knew she had obeyed him.

    The ebony monster was not impressed. "Fine," it spat, holding up the launcher, "I'll kill the most powerful Ranger in the PKM, then I'll go after her!" It held up the launcher, pointing it at the Golden Ranger's chest. "You're nothing, Agent 0 of the PKM, compared to us!"

    0 vanished into thin air. The dark ranger spun round, but couldn't find him. The Golden Ranger appeared moments later, directly in front of his foe. The ebony ranger could practically see the smile beneath the visor as he struck out with a roundhouse kick. It ducked, barely, and rebounded with a swing with the launcher. Again 0 vanished, too fast for the eye to see, and smashed it in the back, sending it to its feet. "Really?" he asked, folding his arms. "It seems the opposite would be true, dark ranger. Now, who are you working for?"

    The dark ranger was furious, clearly it had been expecting a simple match against the Golden Ranger. It was too confident. But it was also deadly. With a savage roar, it turned, aiming the barrel of the bazooka at the fleeing target. "Time to die!" it cackled savagely.

    0 bowed his head sadly, even as the dark ranger prepared to attack. "We could really use someone with your talents in the PKM," he murmured, and ran forward.

    "Too bad you guys don't have a 'Blow Crap Up' division," it retorted, as it squeezed the trigger. "And, as of right now, you have failed to protect your target!"

    The missile burst out in a fiery explosion, roaring. The sound echoed through the center. "One of us," 0 murmured, though none could hear him, "is worth a million of you. In the PKM, we are never alone."

    He vanished, blurring to superhuman speeds. The next instant, he was right in front of the missile. He jumped up, soaring for an instant in the air, before he landed directly on the projectile. The missile didn't even stop, its ballistic force was too great to be halted by the momentum of someone landing on it. The Golden Ranger bent his knees and changed the trajectory of the bomb.

    It was difficult. 0 barely had the ability to move it. He grabbed onto the neck of the missile for added strength and piloted it upwards. He could not simply smash it into the ceiling, that would be dangerous. So he did the only thing he could think of.

    He started to turn the weapon again, this time so he was flying upside down. He kicked at the missile with his boots and it turned towards its owner before rocketing forward. Underneath his visor, the Golden Ranger must have been grinning, even in the face of his imminent fate. The dark ranger seemed to be in a state of panic, as it attempted to run away, to try and dodge the missile it had just fired.

    "Care for a taste of your own medicine?" 0 roared over the missile.

    A communication entered his visor, and SA 06's voice began to shout at him. There was some kind of warning, a demand, but the Golden Ranger ignored the subordinate agent. This is the only way for me. Ahead of him, he noticed the dark monster ducking and it ran as far away from the impact area 0 was aiming for.

    The bomb struck the ground, creating an explosion that rocked through the center. 0 stretched out his arms as he was blown away. It happened in an instant. 0 was at peace, and felt nothing as he died. The Golden Ranger simply disappeared amidst the flames and explosions. The suit shredded, destroyed by the burst that not even its powers could protect against, and the Spirit that dwelled within it died with its Ranger. The morpher vanished moments before the rest of him did, and the person known as 0 was lost.

    And yet, the final thoughts of the Golden Ranger were not of his fate. The recordings showed that his last words were for someone else. Someone close to him. Someone he had known for so long, but was still a stranger to.

    Good fortune… The last word, like the Golden Ranger, was forever lost.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    The dark man roared in anger, smashing into the computer screen with his fist. This wasn't happening, it couldn't be possible. But he couldn't deny that last image on the screen, which had showed the Golden Ranger's final moments. The center was destroyed, with a massive crater in the middle. He cursed his own foolishness at having destroyed the computer, which could have shown if there was a life signal, but there was probably none.

    0 was gone.

    He raised his hands to his face, shouting in frustration. His wrist, which held the special watch, glowed with golden light and he cursed violently as slight lightning stripes began to appear along its surface. The morpher was being transferred to him, proof that 0 was gone. When a Ranger died, their morpher was forfeited to another agent, passed onto the one who held the medium. And this time that person was him.

    And it was done. The morpher was attached to him, the last remnant of 0's will. The trainer had always cursed the Ranger, at how 0 would never force him to do it. And yet here he was again. It wasn't fair, but then again life never was. He would have to do this again and he would feel the pain anew, the pain of his loss and the pain of his sacrifices.

    He had the choice. Always, always he had the choice. The first choice, which had brought him into the PKM's fold, and had made him an agent. The second choice, which he had embraced to protect her. And this, the third choice, to leave behind any chance to reclaim his past and to accept his destiny forever. He glanced down at his right hand, where the morpher glowed in the dim light. 0 had been a soldier to the end. The ranger had sacrificed himself, just as the agent had. 0 had bought time for her with what little he had to pay with.

    He took a step forward, and noticed a hole in the third floor that led down into the world below. "Pikachu," he said, raising his golden morpher to his lips. "To me!" He heard a scampering behind him as the mouse leapt up to join its trainer, perched directly on his shoulder. He looked to it, his heart racing. "Pi…" His throat was dry, so he took a deep breath. "We've got to do it again, Pi. We have to save them." It nodded and leapt down to face him. "Pi, this time there won't be any going back. You'll be…" He lowered his head, looking straight at the mouse. "Will you become my Ranger Spirit again? Will you fuse with me once more?"

    Pikachu knew that its trainer, if he had a choice, would never allow it to do this. But it also knew that he didn't and that there wasn't really a question in his mind that it wouldn't do it. It looked around, saying a silent goodbye to the life that it would leave behind forever, before grinning. It thumped its chest and nodded, lightning crackling from its tail one last time. "Pi!" it shouted, staring at its trainer with its resolve. "Pikachu!"

    He nodded, and pulled out the silver communicator and the SA Cart. He dropped them to the ground and smashed them into dust. He took his new morpher and pointed it at his Pokemon. It whirled to life as it detected the Pokemon in front of it. "…Pokemon detected…" it murmured. "…Please press the red button for capture…"

    He glanced down at his Pokemon, his Pikachu, who nodded and bowed its head, waiting for the beam. To save their friends, the way they used to in the happier days. "Ready, Pikachu?" he asked, preparing the scanner the second time. This time it would be permanent, and his Pokemon would never escape from it. Vaguely, he remembered how they had first met, when Pikachu had hated containment of any kind. It wouldn't even go into its Pokeball. Now both of them would be trapped. Neither he nor his Pokemon would ever escape.

    "Pokemon Analyzer," he said clearly, pressing the red button on his watch. "Capture Pokemon Spirit!"

    Pikachu stood tall even as the red light struck its body. It grunted and watched its body slowly vanished, contained by the morpher. The dark man tried to look away, but found that he could not as his first and most powerful Pokemon, his only friend, the one who had stuck by him all these years in the PKM, vanished in front of him, its eyes glimmering in determination as it disappeared into the morpher to leave behind the world it had roamed forever. The morpher went to work at once, creating a uniform for him to use in battle.

    "...Confirm Agent for PKM Ranger Mode…" the morpher commanded. "…Please state your Rank and Number…"

    After this, there would be no going back. He knew why it needed his number and rank: to lock the system to his voice so that no one else would ever be able to use the morpher again until he died. That was how the Golden Ranger's morpher worked, and it did so because 0 himself had designed it that way.

    "Agent Rank- SA 06."

    This was he needed to do. To save them, he needed power. To gain power, he needed to sacrifice everything to protect those who could not protect themselves. That was what being a ranger was all about, and he knew that. Serving in PKM meant to protect Pokemon and Mankind, regardless of the cost one paid to do so.

    "Number- Agent 1067."

    There was no going back. The morpher whirled again, locking the number, rank, and voice into its memory, resetting its systems for combat. "Agent…accepted…" it replied dully.

    The morpher transformed, its surface shining a sleek gold in replacement of the black. The bolts of lightning that carved over its surface turned dark, clashing against the pure gold color upon his wrist. The preparations were complete for his accession. 0's plan had been fulfilled.

    He heard the screams downstairs and took a step forward, standing in front of the hole. "I have no name," he recited, modifying the words that 0 used to often say. "I am 0, also known as the Golden Ranger."

    He lifted his morpher to his face, bringing up his other hand so that his finger just grazed the red button. "This will be my curse and destiny." He pressed the button, using words that he somehow knew as the vocal command to transform. "Golden Spirit!" he roared, pressing down on the switch. "Pokemon Power!"

    A bright flash of gold enveloped him and he transformed.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    May screamed for help, tucking Sarah under her arms as she ran. The masked assassin, almost like the one from the day before, yet different, was still coming. It was jet-black, with a white oval in the center of its chest and a white square visor. The people of the center surged like a sea, all of them panicked and searching for the exit. Some were trampled, while others were neglected. In the giant crater, shattered limbs of the injured lay, groaning in agony.

    "Help!"

    It would be there soon, she was certain of it. It didn't matter how fast she ran, or how far she got, it would get her. That was how it always was. Even though it held no weapon anymore, it was still dangerous. It was taking out everyone who dared stand against it with simple, quick blows to the neck and send them falling to the ground, where they laid still and unmoving. "0!" May screamed, her voice rang out as a final resort. Seconds later, it was upon her, as it had spotted her through its visor in the crowd. Sarah was crying, shrieking in fright, but the mother kept moving.

    To stop meant death. Whoever it was that kept pursing her, they were going to kill her if they caught her. Behind her, someone smashed into her back, tripping her. She turned as she fell, trying to shield her child from harm. Her back collided with the floor and she cried out in pain. Sarah's tiny arms gripped her in fear and May opened her eyes to see the dark ranger. In its white visor, she could see her reflected face in its horrified glory.

    "May Birch," the cold voice whispered as it pulled back its arm. "I am here to kill you. You and that brat you hold."

    The center seemed empty, devoid of anything remotely human. Only the four remained: Brock, May, Sarah, and Max. Both men were afraid, they felt it in their bones, but not once did they show it. They stood proud. Max stood in front of his sister and Brock stood by his side.

    "This is as far as you go," Max ordered, taking a small red and white ball from his belt. "No one, whoever they are or how late they are for Halloween, messes with my big sister without going through me!"

    Brock cracked his knuckles, bringing out a Pokeball of his own. "We'll show you the door," he murmured, clicking the tiny ball's switch, causing it to grow.

    Whatever was underneath the ebon mask started cackling at the threat. "That seems all right," it hissed, chuckling merrily. It didn't give them time to unleash their Pokemon and rushed forward with both hands raised. It slapped away the silly little balls and, with a quick thrust of its arm, smashed against Brock's chest, dropping him like a fly. Brock's eyes widened in surprise, before he gasped, the air fleeing from his lungs, and fell soundlessly to the ground.

    Max stared in shock as his mentor dropped, then the dark thing turned towards him, kicking Brock's body in the chest for good measure. Max stuck the ball back to his belt, and put up his dukes. The monster attacked, though Max fought back, punching it in the helmet. Crippling pain overwhelmed his arm, as the visor he had hit didn't break. It rammed its fist into his stomach moments later, sending the young man flying back. His head hit the floor and a pool of blood began to trickle down his face. May tried not to look as tears crept into her eyes. Though he was gone, she cried out for the Golden Ranger to rescue her.

    "Help me!" she screamed, putting herself in between the dark thing and her daughter. Sarah cried out in terror, her eyes mad with fear. "Someone, please save us!"

    The monster giggled. "No one is coming," it whispered, turning towards her. It stalked her like an animal, circling round her in a predator's stance. Its fingers extended into claws, eager to tear into her flesh. "No one can save you."

    "Save me," May breathed as it pounced, its hands leading the charge in fists.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\ /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Golden light struck the center and blinded everyone inside. The ebony monster screeched in pain, though it did not recoil its fist. It did not, however, connect with the lady. It smashed into something else, something that glowed with a bright flash of light. A moment passed, and the light faded away. It took several seconds for everyone to adjust to the dimmed light, but when they did they saw that the black ranger wasn't moving, caught by the grip of a second warrior. Shielding her daughter, the lady opened her eyes carefully and gasped in shock.

    It was the Golden Ranger.

    The visor revealed nothing, but the growl that echoed from his voice certainly did. "Did you miss me?" he asked. The other, startled by the reemergence of the ranger, stuttered some vague threat at him, but 0 didn't give it the second chance to attack. Concentrating his power, 0 delivered a kick that sent the ebony demon flying and it slammed against the nearby wall of the center, creating a crack that traveled up the ceiling. It screamed in agony but 0 knew it was not done. The scanner built into his visor told him that much, showing the heightening heart rate of his foe. The Golden Ranger ignored his opponent and turned towards the lady and her daughter, extending an arm. "Are you alright?" His body still glowed with an otherworldly light; he knew that she couldn't quite see him, but she still grasped his hand, and rose to her feet, careful to support Sarah.

    "0?" she asked, wondering how that was possible. She had just seen him die, blown into pieces in the explosion. "Is it…really you, 0?" Suddenly, she felt her face grow rather hot, and realized that she was blushing. He glanced down at her, the visor scanning for any damage she might have taken. Turning his focus to the daughter, he nodded.

    "I am 0," he answered, his voice synthesized into the former ranger's thanks to the technology that supported the uniform. The voice match within the suit performed the function automatically, so that every time he spoke it was the former Golden Ranger's voice. It assisted in casting the illusion that a PKM Ranger could never be destroyed. "I am here to save you."

    The light softly died down around him and she breathed in surprise as she received her first true glimpse at the Golden Ranger's real form.

    His chest was golden, shining brightly in the light the center gave off from above. There was gold on his gauntlets as well, which stretched to the middle of his forearms and the covered the backs of his hands. His boots were golden too, going up to his knees. The visor on the center of his helmet was the same, fashioned into an upside-down triangle that covered the majority of the helmet's front.

    Everything else was a wreath of black, from the armored leggings he wore to the gloves on his hands and the protection under his gauntlets and up to his shoulders. His helmet was a crown of darkness, save for the visor, and completely masked his true identity. The ranger's body rippled with muscle, proof of the hardened years of training that had built up to this moment. The lady's eyes then trailed to the symbol on the direct center of his chest.

    It was black, a mouse-shaped image embedded on his chest, stretching from the black-and-gold belt to the tops of his pectorals. A triangular face stretched upwards, branching eventually into two long ears, before coming down once more to complete the picture, two red cheeks as crimson as blood on either side of the face. It was a Pikachu, the spirit of the ranger.

    0 had been reborn.

    And he was ready for combat.

    He turned from her as the costumed assassin appeared again. "Nice of you to come back," he said, bracing himself into an attack stance. Neither 0 nor the thing expressed nothing from their face, but cracks of electricity burst from the Golden Ranger's uniform issued a nonverbal threat. "I will not allow you to harm the innocent."

    The murderer laughed. "I kill who I am told to, PKM Ranger," it replied dully, as it materialized a sword from nowhere. It extended an arm, and a short katana emerged, its surface etched in black color, out of a strange light that it generated from its fingertips. "You hold no power over me and my decisions, so save your sentimental speech for someone who cares to listen."

    The Golden Ranger glanced at the sword and clenched his hands. "As you wish," he answered, and jerked his head back to the woman. "Get yourself and your daughter, and everyone else, out of here. I will handle this." He needed her out of the way so that he wouldn't have to worry about her while he fought.

    To her credit, she was far braver than he would have expected and nodded. "Come on, baby," she said, turning to Sarah. The little girl was still staring at the Golden Ranger, afraid, but she allowed herself to be picked up by her mother. Max and Brock both got up, despite the crippling pain, and the four bolted from the scene. 0 faced the dark ranger alone, waiting for it to make its next move.

    "Now," 0 muttered, cracking his knuckles, "where were we?" The scanner inside his visor operated on overdrive, scanning the sword in the other's hand. The ranger uniform that he wore, while state of the art, would not protect him from the blade's sharp edge. I need a plan, he thought, crouching in preparation for his opponent's rush.

    In the visor's screen, a small icon appeared in the shape of a dark mouse. "Welcome 0," a voice said into the com link. A voice that was high and squeaky, just like a certain mouse that the ranger knew. "I am your Pokemon spirit. I am here to assist you."

    "Is that you, Pi?" 0 asked incredulously, scarcely able to believe it.

    "Correct, 0," Pikachu replied, its voice barely containing its excitement. "It seems that the suit you are presently in was created by my bond with you. Because of this, I have the ability to directly communicate with you, my voice translated into your human language for easier use. This should be enjoyable, don't you agree?"

    "I'm just glad to hear your voice again," he replied, chuckling. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad after all, considering his best friend was still with him. In spirit, anyway. "Now, how's about we figure out how to deal with the guy with the sword? Got any ideas?"

    "Affirmative." A screen appeared in the left corner of the visor, which seemed to indicate some sort of program. "Activating Ranger weapons."

    "What is that?"

    "A new type of combat strategy. A melee or firearm weapon can be directly downloaded from a ranger's morpher for easier usage," Pikachu replied, showing a small weapon icon. "A weapon's strength is directly proportionate to a Ranger's bond with their spirit. The stronger the bond, the stronger the weapon." It paused, as it would take 0 a little bit of time to sink in the information. "This is a new standard, which was not perfected last time."

    "Got it," the ranger replied. "Activate the melee weapon." The mouse Pokemon confirmed the order and a bright light formed into his left palm. A weapon hilt began to take shape, coal black and at least a foot long. He wrapped his fingers along the handle, and watched as a lightning bolt shape began to emerge, as the handle finished formed, but the rest jutted to the side rapidly, growing into a monstrous curved blade which resembled a fang, but the design, especially in how the back edge was connected to the right side of the hilt, made it look more like part of a curved lightning bolt. The sharp edge of the giant blade was pitch-black, but the remainder was pure gold.

    The dark ranger looked towards the massive, easily six foot long, blade with a wavering that showed in its battle stance. "Are you sure you can even lift that sword?" it mocked, noticing how 0 had yet to lift the blade's tip from the ground. It swung its own, compact sword above its head.

    Underneath the visor, the Golden Ranger grinned. "Sure I can," he answered, lifting the massive weapon like a twig. His bond with his Pokemon must have been strong, he thought, running his eyes over the giant blade. "And I'd be willing to bet money that any chance you had of taking me on and winning just shot down the tubes." He slung the sword over his shoulders, deciding that he probably couldn't run the way he was holding it. The dark ranger rushed forward, and the Golden Ranger charged.

    0 slashed with the massive sword, forcing the dark ranger to leap above him. The sword swung in a giant arc and the Golden Ranger continued it into a circle, just barely missing the black thing as it came down behind him. The tiny katana attacked, and 0 lifted his sword like a shield, easily blocking the blow and delivered a sweep kick to the sword hilt, sending the katana flying behind the dark thing. He reared back his left fist and smashed into the dark ranger's visor. The thing stood still for a moment, before it flung back skidding across the floor.

    It stood up, though it was clearly scared, shivering. "W-what are you?" it asked. Its voice radiated fear from his last attack. 0, under his mask, smiled broadly.

    He thought about what it had asked, unsure of how he would answer it. He was a mixture of things, most of which he was not proud of. A liar, a savior, a warrior, and now a ranger. He lifted his sword, tilting its edge to the side. "I am a protector," he decided, before he started to rush forward, "of the people I love."

    The sword came down and the Golden Ranger heard the shriek of pain as it slashed through the body of his foe, splitting it in two. He felt as its body crumbled into dust beneath his feet, melting into a fine dark powder.

    He had won.

    Author's Note: Managed to actually get some work done today for a new chapter. Also scanned a whole bunch of articles. Guess which one was actually fun to do?

  8. #8
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 5, Part 1

    Morph Five: The Ranger in White, Part 1

    0 stood atop a nearby rooftop and watched through his visor the scene below. Rescue vehicles had been moving in and out of the area on a constant basis, most particularly the fire engines, which needed to be replaced every few hours. The fires were still burning out of the giant crater that made up the Center's ceiling, licking at the concrete surfaces. The Golden Ranger knew from the transmissions that his helmet was picking up that there were no fatalities, but quite a few people had sustained severe injuries. PKM had not called in reinforcements for him, which suggested that they were not pursuing the matter any further. This time, they would not be able to cover up the story, it was already being exposed by the media. PKM was a secret agency, but only in operations, not public knowledge. Most of the regions knew about the rangers that PKM implemented in their missions, but the governments of the various regions that employed the agency required it to be kept as best a secret as possible what all it did.

    "Guess that won't be happening this time," 0 muttered to himself, having kept the silence for long enough. So far he hadn't been spotted by anyone in the streets or on any of the television stations, they were far too busy with the matter of containing the fire in the Center before it spread to other buildings. This story couldn't just be hushed up. "I'm going to have to explain the circumstances to HQ…great. I hate talking to those windbags."

    In his hand sat a small device that he had managed to get out of the Center before the media captured his image. It looked like a single black stone carried on a chain. It was worrying for two reasons: one, it was likely the transformation device the other ranger had used; and two, it meant that someone, somewhere, had the ability to produce rangers of their own, something that was incredibly dangerous. He had had Pikachu analyze some of the basic components of the stone and found that it did not operate on any known power system. It was alien to anything 0 had ever seen.

    "Agent 0." The Golden Ranger looked up and noticed the icon in his visor displayed Pi's face.

    "Yes, Pi?" he asked.

    "There is a communication coming directly from PKM. I am patching it through to you."

    "Okay." One of the more interesting abilities of the suit was the media ability that it had. It could allow him to speak to anyone with a phone or a means of contact, surf the local news channels for anything of interest, and best of all let him scan for anything he needed in the direct vicinity. The communication link started and he said, "This is Agent 0," into the communicator. "What is it?"

    "1076," came an annoyed voice. It was 003 again. "What are you doing in that suit? Where is the real Golden Ranger?"

    0 shifted uncomfortably. That was strange, normally PKM were always on top of things, information-wise. "The former Agent 0 was KIA, and the situation required a Ranger. I assumed the mantle in his place." He took a deep breath. "I am the Golden Ranger now," he muttered harshly.

    003 scribbled something down, probably notes for later use, before he returned to speak to him. "Your ranger status will be determined later," he ordered. "For now, PKM has decided that you will return to headquarters for evaluation. The Contest has been called off due to the terrorist attacks and our services have been withdrawn from Saffron. Have you anything else?"

    "Yes." 0 lifted the strange morpher towards his visor. "I confiscated some sort of morpher from the terrorist that attacked. I'll be bringing it in for you to take a look at."

    "Very good. You will be given your next assignment at HQ after debriefing."

    "Roger." 0 lowered his arm. "I'll be back in three days, give or take on the wind."

    "You have one, 1076." The line went dead, so 0 secured the stone into a special compartment in his belt.

    "Idiots," 0 grumbled, and looked at his morpher again. The golden-black surface reflected back at him. "Only for a few days, Pi, I promise," he muttered and hoped he could back up that claim. "Well, we have one day to get there, and it takes twenty hours to fly. What do you recommend?"

    "Well, I believe we should probably practice using the Golden Ranger powers," it replied, its voice strangely mechanical. "After all, this time you won simply out of blind luck. Next time, we might have a real problem on our hands if they send people that can match us."

    "Hey, Pi?"

    "Yes, 0?"

    "How's about we tone down the robot talk?" 0 asked. "Is that really how you speak?"

    0 could almost hear the relief in his partner's voice as it returned to normal. "Oh, thank you 0," it answered with a sigh. "I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to do, so I guess I wanted to play the part of a real spirit." It laughed and the ranger chuckled.

    "Don't ever talk like that again, got it?" 0 replied. "I might have to sound like a machine every now and then but there is no way I'm letting you do it too. Trust me, in a little while we'll be free of this ranger system and you'll be able to run around out here."

    "Thank you, 0."

    "Don't mention it, buddy," 0 said, before swerving his head away from the wreckage. "Come on, let's get out of here. Before we leave, we'll do a sweep of the target and make sure she's alright, then we'll head out and check up on the two knuckleheads that thought it would be funny to pick a fight with the bogey yesterday."

    "Sounds like a plan," Pikachu confirmed. It was enjoying the new voice that it had, which was a sort of mechanical mesh of its original one. The suit that it had created, along with the watch, allowed an even better method of communication between trainer and Pokemon. "The fastest way to the target is…" A screen emerged on the visor, a nicely shrunken map of the city. Two dots, one for the hotel and another for the hospital, emerged, with a small spot of yellow to show their current location "…right here." An arrow began to trace its way to the hotel from the yellow dot.

    0 looked at himself. "I'm going to take off the uniform now," he said, pressing down the button on his morpher. "Power down!" Golden light flashed and surrounded him in an almost ethereal glow as the suit began to transform into civilian clothing. The golden chest plate became the dark yellow shirt the dark man wore; the leggings became black pants and the shoulders and arms became a leather jacket and fingerless gloves. The whole process took a grand total of ten seconds. The light died and Agent 1076 stood alone on the rooftop, his mesh of black hair hiding his face, all save for the grim look fixed onto his lips. "Let's get rolling." His combat boots clunked against cement and the ring on his chain jingled in the dark night's light breeze.

    He took out an earpiece and linked it to his morpher. "It'd look weird if I kept talking into a watch," he explained to Pikachu, who agreed. His Pokemon's voice in his ears, the Golden Ranger set off in a brisk jog, heading for the fire escape of the building he was on. Underneath his feet, the streets were alive with activity, but he paid them no heed, even as he exited the building and began making his way east. All the while, in the blaze of artificial light, he could think of nothing but the promise she had made to him, to finally meet her daughter.

    He hoped she was alright.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    May Birch shivered and drew baby Sarah close to her. The day had been far too tiring for both of them, and they were scared. It wasn't often that someone tried to kill them; in fact, neither of them had ever been through anything like it. The dark ranger still haunted their minds with its weapons and its cruel cackle. May drew the blanket tightly against her daughter, seeing a flash of the white visor the thing had for a face leering at her through the darkness, followed by the hiss that it had for a voice.

    0 had saved them, that brought her courage. Somehow he had risen from the dead once to save their lives twice that day. The first time, deflecting the missile and the second, in combat. She sighed, burying her face into Sarah's hair. The Golden Ranger amazed her. May, deciding that it would be a good idea, decided to talk to Sarah, for the little girl hadn't spoken since the police had left them alone in their room.

    "Are you alright, baby?" she whispered to her child, hugging her tightly. "Did the bad man hurt you?"

    The little girl shook her head and looked up to her mother. "Momma, was that man in black a bad guy?" she asked, shivering. Sarah tucked herself into her mother's warmth, snuggling her. "Was the man in gold a good guy?"

    May nodded her head. "The man in gold was a ranger, Sarah," she replied, and brushed the hair out of her daughter's face. "They do amazing things for people like you and me. They protect us from the bad guys, like the man in black. The bad man tried to hurt us, but the Golden Ranger beat him up. He defended us."

    "Then why did the man who looked like a ranger try to hurt Momma?" her daughter asked, her bright eyes fearful. "I don't want Momma to go to the hospital with Uncle Max and Uncle Brock."

    May held her child close. "I'm not going anywhere, baby," she reassured Sarah and patted her head. Sarah yawned and May chuckled. "Why don't you try to get some sleep, baby? Today was tough, and it's past your bedtime."

    Sarah nodded. "Okay, Momma," she answered. May picked up the little girl, and set her down into the bed. Sarah was a quick sleeper and instantly curled up into a small ball, tucking her thumb into her mouth. Within minutes, May could hear the faint breath of sleep from her daughter and wished that she could sleep as easily as her daughter did.

    May almost jumped out of her skin when she heard a knock on the door. "Hey, it's me," a voice whispered between pants. It took a moment for May to realize that it was Keean Toby and that he was probably panting from the effort of running from wherever he had come from. She stood up, still clutching the blanket close to her body, for she wasn't really wearing much underneath it save her pajamas. She crept up to the door, her brown hair trailing across her face as she unlocked the door to let him inside.

    Keean Toby burst into the room, his entire face disorganized, as though he had somehow meshed his hair into something. His mouth was open, drawing deep gulps of air into his lungs. He coughed, tasting what seemed to be his blood in his mouth, and leaned against the door. "I…came as soon…as I heard…" he rasped in short breaths. "Are you…all right?"

    For the first time, May reached out, and wrapped her arms around him. She buried her face in his broad chest and a tear slipped from her eye. "Yes… We're both fine. We got out…just in time."

    Keean Toby seemed taken aback, for his heart began to beat at a much faster fluctuation. Awkwardly, he reciprocated the action and enfolded her into his clumsy embrace. "I'm glad for that," he answered, his voice shaky. "I was very worried when I saw the news. Are you sure you're both alright?"

    "We're fine, Mr. Toby." She felt warm and safe with him. His giant frame seemed to protect her from the darkness of the room. "We're fine." She, without even knowing she was doing it, snuggled into his body, pressing herself against him and pressing him against the door, and noticed that she was dressed rather immodestly, and that Keean Toby was blushing. She pulled away, at least so that she was no longer pressed against him and looked up at him with a smile. "Did you do that thing you said you needed to do?"

    He nodded. "I did." His voice conveyed to her that he really didn't want to talk about whatever it was he did. "I'm sorry that I couldn't be there. You were in trouble, and I could have helped out."

    "There was nothing you could have done," she answered. "The Golden Ranger saved us though, one of those guys from PKM."

    "Oh…yeah," he replied. "I remembered hearing something like that on the news."

    "Thank you though, for wanting to be there," she murmured.

    Keean Toby chuckled lightly. "I feel sort of pathetic right now," he told her, a sense of relief flooding his veins. "It sucks when you aren't the guy that saves the day, you know?" He scratched his head. "I have no idea what I'm saying. Sorry for the blabbering."

    "It's okay," she whispered. Keean Toby looked down at her, then turned his head to see Sarah sleeping peacefully in the bed.

    "Is…that your daughter?" he asked softly. May glanced down briefly and noticed that his palms were sweating.

    "Yes," May explained, nodding her head. "She's baby Sarah."

    Keean Toby nodded very slowly. "Sarah," he repeated. "She's very beautiful." He glanced at her and grinned. "Just like her mother."

    May smiled. "Yeah. She'll be a real looker in a few years."

    "I suppose so," he answered. Keean Toby smiled, something that genuinely took May by surprise. It was only a facial expression, but to May it seemed so much more. The gentle curve of his mouth brought a soothing peace with it, one whose origin could not be found. "Too bad I can't meet her, but at least she's safe. I won't trouble her by waking her up." He looked up and from the window he could still see the wreckage of the center. "Is the Contest being cancelled?"

    May nodded. "The Center was destroyed, and I don't think they plan on relocating it so quickly. For now, it's been called off."

    "Any idea of what you'll do now?"

    "Well…" May sat down in a chair. "I was planning on taking a small break from the limelight. So I'll be heading back to Petalburg, take some R&R with Sarah, that kind of stuff. My brother is the Gym Leader, so I'd be more than welcome back home." She watched as Keean Toby followed her example, seating himself in a chair opposite her and placing his feet on the coffee table in front of them.

    "Petalburg," he repeated in monotone and she nodded. "I have a friend there." He grinned, and looked up. "Maybe if I'm in the area, I'll look you up. For now, it's probably best I make arrangements to return home to continue my training." His smile faded and his mask was reset. Keean Toby was a stranger again. "But I promise that I'll come back soon, okay? For now, just look after your kid, got it?"

    "I know," she replied, resting her head in her hands. "I just feel really tired right now. Like the whole of me has been utterly spent."

    Keean Toby smirked. "You've never been in a death match before," he joked. "Orre trainers are a lot tougher than others." She chuckled and he decided that was a good sign. "I'd better get going," he muttered, rising from the chair. Briskly, he headed for the door, but stopped when he felt her take hold of his hand.

    May tightened her grip on his fingers. "When will I see you again?"

    He turned back to her and she saw a pained expression pierce through the mask he wore. "Sometime soon," he answered. He squeezed her fingers suddenly and released her, ducking out through the door. He was out and gone before May could even blink. The woman pressed herself against the door, almost against her own will. There was a dull throb in her chest, one that she could not remember from where, but only that it gave her a chilling sense of déjà vu.

    She was alone again, all save for baby Sarah, snuggled up in her bed. In a time when she most needed others, she stood alone. Just like before, when she had stood without him for the first time. Keean Toby had reawakened something she had not felt for so very long.

    Sighing, May Birch wondered for the millionth time where her dark warrior was.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Agent 0 arriving."

    The voice that chimed above 0's head was definitely annoying, with a dull mechanical tone that left the ranger wondering why PKM never bothered to get equipment that wasn't made before he had been born. The doors that led into PKM opened up and 0 stepped forward into the secret HQ of PKM. Steam, for some reason, followed him out of the elevator, and he coughed.

    "Baby!" blared a voice to the far left, the exact moment that he chose to set his feet down onto the narrow metal corridor. 0 felt someone grab him roughly and shove him violently against the floor. He groaned, which didn't make things any easier, because whoever attacked him took the noise as encouragement, and proceeded to shift him onto his back and straddle him. 0 grabbed his molester by the long strands of white hair and groaned again in annoyance.

    Through his hair, he noticed that Agent 3 of the PKM was the one currently entwined around his waist with her white hair strewn around his body. "Get off me," he muttered, trying to pry her off. He failed, forgetting that her lithe frame concealed the surprising strength the woman had. "Please get off me. You know exactly how I feel about you tackling me…"

    "And you know how I loooove tackling you, big boy," Serena Brine, replied sweetly, grinning at him devilishly with her emerald eyes. "I mean… You know I don't know my own strength." She grabbed his wrist and pinned it to the ground to check out the new morpher he wore. She chuckled like a maniac, and positioned her face only a few inches away from his. "Or should that be sir? Guess you couldn't keep away from the wonderful feel of spandex after all."

    "It's a temp thing," he answered and finally managed to push her off. "I want to be demoted as quickly as possible back to my old grade." He stood up, irritated. Serena knew exactly how to grind his gears. "I'm not a ranger. You and 0 are."

    Serena also knew how to milk a show. "Pwease…Baby? Pweese be a ranger for little Serena?"

    0 stood up and shook his head. "Not going to happen, 3. Now, where am I getting debriefed, so I can get it over with and return to the field?" He never liked spending much time at HQ. Serena stood up with him and he noticed vaguely how much he towered over her. Then again, he reminded himself, she was barely breaking five feet as it was. Without the heels. "Go away."

    She was too beautiful for an Agent, the small voice in his head that retained the maturity of a teenager noted. She had the body of a model, even though she was short, with long, flowing silver hair and bright emerald eyes. A lithe body as well, hidden by the ranger uniform she wore: the black jacket, pants, and white shirt with a 3 engraved on the side of her jacket. The little voice also noticed her prominent cleavage, which jutted out of a low-cut shirt.

    "I know you want this, big boy…" she giggled and laughed at his straight face. "And I don't just mean my body." She smacked his chest. "Get off your high horse and take that promotion you found your way into." Then, without warning, she grabbed his arm, and began to steer him straight through HQ, without waiting for a response from him. 0 tried to jerk away, but strength hid itself well inside his companion's well-toned body.

    0 groaned. Out of all the people who worked at PKM, out of everyone in Orre, out of everyone in the world in general, why did she always have to pick him? And, since she was a ranger, he had always had to go along with her orders, considering he had only been a grunt agent, despite the fact that they had started at the same time at PKM. His brain briefly reminded him of every single thing she had done in the name of what she called 'training', from bumping into him with her chest to surprising him in the shower of his own room.

    "3, I can find my own way around here," he protested, planting his feet firmly against the ground. "Let go, 3!"

    She obeyed and sent him sprawling to the ground, eliciting another groan. Serena always seemed to cause him injuries in some form or shape. "As Agent 1076, temporary Golden Ranger, I order you to calm the hell down, Agent 3." He didn't like pulling rank for her, but it seemed the best way to get her to stop. She did so and allowed him to recompose himself.

    "Pulling rank is a fun toy," she whispered, grinning madly. "Come on, it's time for you to see the Council."

    "The Council?" he asked. "What for? I thought all I needed was a debriefing and a bunch of forms for a reduction."

    "Well, you would, if you weren't a ranger right now, which means you report directly to the Council." 0 followed her begrudgingly, knowing that a meeting with the Council could never be good. "Council wanted me to meet you so that they could summon you for a report on exactly what went down in Saffron."

    "Just great," 0 grunted, shoving his hands into his pockets. He was still in plainclothes as he hated wearing the regulation PKM uniform. The rangers, though, wore special uniforms, such as the white in Serena's. 0, if memory served correct, had owned one, though the present Golden Ranger had only seen it once. 1 had had one, as had 2, a while back, before he died. 0 decided it didn't matter a great deal and put the colors of the uniforms out of his head as they neared the Council chambers.

    Serena stopped just before the two giant doors that hid the Council chambers. 0 looked up at both, took in their wrought-iron color, and diverted his attention to a small console on the side that Serena was approaching. The Council, ever the old farts, enjoyed security in the most discreet fashion and as such had to have the biggest doors in the place. 0 guessed it was some form of reverse psychology to any enemy. He certainly didn't get the method.

    "Now, for a normal agent," Serena explained as she pulled out her morpher, a white version of his own dark morpher, "you just swipe a card when you want access to a place. For rangers, we scan our morphers into databanks which can confirm our DNA and our designation. So you go like this."

    She cleared her throat and placed her morpher near the screen. "Agent 3, White Ranger." The screen flashed and somehow read her morpher, displaying a very detailed sketch of the interior networks of the device.

    "Ranger locked…" the computer droned. "White Ranger is scheduled for appointment. Please verify guest for admission to Council chambers."

    She turned to him and gave a smile. "You're up," she said, moving away from the machine. "Just repeat what I did, but with your data."

    "Sounds simply enough." 0 stepped in front of the machine and pulled up the sleeve of his leather jacket, exposing his own dark morpher. He held it in front of the screen just as she had done and did as she did. "Agent 1076, acting Golden Ranger," he recited carefully. "Also currently acting Agent 0."

    "Ranger locked…" it repeated and flashed a detailed description of his morpher's blueprints. "Acting Golden Ranger scheduled for debriefing today, with White Ranger as escort."

    Immediately, the doors began to creak open, the sound irritating the Golden Ranger's ears. 0 knew the Council's notoriety for intimidation and the ploys it used to weaken other Agents who came before it.

    He did not intimidate easily.

    "Agent 1076 may enter the Council chambers escorted by Agent 3," the machine droned in monotony. 0 never liked going to see the Council, debriefings were normally handled by the Intelligence division of PKM. Seeing the Council always seemed to remind him of the lectures that his mother used to give him once upon a time ago. The two came to a standstill in the center of the circular room and looked up to the panel of strangely similar looking old men with varying degrees of gray in their hair. The Council sat ten feet above the people they ruled over, possibly to compensate for something, 0 thought snidely. They were trying to frighten him.

    He did not frighten easily.

    "Agent 1076," stated the foreman of the Council, who normally spoke to 0 whenever he was summoned to the Council. "You have been brought before the Council to be evaluated on the subject of the past Agent 0, also known as the Golden Ranger, and his passing, as well as your coming into possession of the morpher that he was issued. There is also the matter of your new temporary rank of Golden Ranger." 0 noted that, while he spoke, the other old men whispered to themselves, judging him. "Do you understand this?"

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "I do."

    "Agent 3, Serena Brine, has requested to testify at this hearing on your behalf. We shall begin the hearing now." The man shuffled his papers, as if to get things in order, and coughed, as if to get the dust out of his lungs. "You are presently in possession of the Golden Ranger's morpher. Display it."

    0 flashed his right wrist, which displayed the dark morpher clearly to the shrouded men. "The old man gave them to me right before he died, through the transfer medium. I have contained a Pokemon, my Pikachu, as my Ranger Spirit. I was forced to do this under extreme pressure from a terrorist." He lowered his arm and took a deep breath. "There was no other option. The situation called for a Ranger, so I became one to properly complete the mission." He dug into his pockets and retrieved the evidence from the dark thing that had attacked: a sample of the dust and the stone. "I also found these artifacts, which seem to be similar to PKM Ranger technology."

    "Agent 1076?" the voice of the foreman asked.

    "Yep?"

    "Cut the crap right now. The Council knows full well you do not behave like this. It will not buy you brownie points to patronize this Council."

    "Okay," 0 replied with a cheerful smile. "I'll cut the crap. I want a reduction back to my old grade, before this mission. I want the morpher off, I want my Pikachu back into real life instead of the virtual hell it's stuck in right now, and I want a beer. I do not want to be a ranger."

    "Those requests are null at this point," the foreman answered. "The fact is that you cannot be removed from the morphing technology so simply. These artifacts that you say you obtained will be handled by Agent 3. Upon transfer to your next assignment, you will hand them over to her for analysis." Papers ruffled again. "Now, on to the debriefing. Report, 1076."

    0 took a deep breath. "The assignment I requested was to observe the Contest in Saffron City. I do this once a year, because even I have feelings, and I like to watch my ex and my little girl, if only for a few days." He lowered his head and clenched his teeth. "I guess I'm still human and have human attachments."

    "Enough sentimental rubbish. Talk."

    "I infiltrated the Contest under the alias Keean Toby. During that time, I noticed several enemy agents, possibly from other organizations, that began to attack the Contest. For this reason, the former Agent 0 was dispatched to assist me and I was promoted to the SA class of Agents. During the battle, Agent 0 committed suicide and I assumed the mantle in order to complete the mission. I have reason to believe that someone may be planning against her."

    "We have prepared for that eventuality," the foreman said. "Because of the terrorist threat utilizing similar technology to our own, we have decided to use May Birch as bait, as these terrorist rangers seem to be attacking her. To that end, your terms of employment have changed.

    "You will retain your position as the Golden Ranger," the foreman decreed. "In addition to this, you are assigned to this case due to your prior knowledge of the target. Your mission will be to obtain additional information on this terrorist organization so that we may properly combat them. You will also protect May Birch." Then the foreman, who had a grand total of ten teeth that 0 could count, smiled boldly. "And Miss Brine will be assisting you."

    0 stiffened. "Excuse me?" he asked. "Oh, no no no no no no n-"

    "Yes."

    0 glanced at Serena, who was beside herself with joy. "If you are successful with your mission," the foreman lured, "you will receive any reward you can think of, including a reduction or promotion in rank. Until the completion of the mission, however, you will retain the rank of Golden Ranger." He glanced at one of the other men, and pointed a finger. "Play the tape transmitted from the former Golden Ranger to the newly appointed Agent 0."

    0, realizing that he would have absolutely no say in his situation, resigned himself to the fact that he would be shacked up with Serena for an indefinite amount of time and began to imagine various defenses that he would have to organize around his person. Not to mention camera jamming equipment in the shower. The tape began to play and 0 heard the dead man's laugh fill the chamber.

    "You've really messed up now, haven't you boy?" the tape hissed, gloating over him. "I'm glad you finally accepted your responsibilities, it means I can finally have my retirement. Now then, fear not 1076, or should I say 0 now? This state is not permanent. There is a way to reverse the transformation from man to ranger, and it is located in the morpher you wear on your arm. But you won't find it, because you don't want to be a ranger, and you must want to be one to become free of the curse." It cackled. "Live a little, I hear ladies love a man in spandex…"

    The tape stopped and 0 growled. "The transmission cuts off here," the foreman said. "Or, rather, the less deranged commentary on the transmission cuts off here. Do you have anything else to say on this matter?"

    0 looked up. "I don't think it would matter if I did," he answered.

    "You are correct," the old man replied swiftly. "Then this matter is settled. You will retain your rank of Agent 0, Golden Ranger, until such time as your mission with Agent 3 is completed. Congratulations." He shuffled his papers and stood up. The remainder of the Council did the same. "This meeting is adjourned."

    0 didn't look at Serena but got the vague impression that she was staring at him. He turned and bolted from the room at a fast pace. The clattering of shoes behind him told the Golden Ranger that she was following him. "Damn that old man," he growled as the doors opened in front of him. "I hope he's burning in hell."

    He headed for the one place he could find solitude in the whole of PKM.

    Author's Note: Well, it's officially the weekend for me, which means that I can actually get some work done. New chapter is currently a third of the way finished, with one of the hardest sections already finished. See you tomorrow!

  9. #9
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 5, Continued

    Morph Five: The Ranger in White, Part 2

    There was always one place that was peaceful for him.

    0 stopped just short of his personal room and reached into his pocket to retrieve the card key from his wallet. Serena glanced at it and 0 kept it close, not wanting to let it fall into her hands. He swiped it through the scanner by the side of the door and a small green light flashed above the scanner. The door opened and he stepped inside.

    Immediately after entering the small room, 0 punched a small button, sealing the door behind Serena. He lifted his head and stared at the simple accommodations that he now called home. He passed through the metal atrium and the blank walls of his room looked back at him. It was noticeably vacant of any personal items, Serena noted. A desk, a chair, and a bed was all the furniture he had ever bothered to obtain. Underneath the bare bed, which looked more like a cot than anything, was a locker with various clothes. 0 hated all forms of comfort, as he had spent too many years living in the wilderness during his travels. He was more at home on the bare earth than a cozy inn.

    Carelessly, he discarded the golden shirt to his bed. Serena licked her lips at the hardened muscles that clad her fellow ranger's body. She also noticed a few bruises that he must have obtained during his last mission. 0 kept his back to her, not wanting to expose his pectorals to the light. "0..." he heard Serena's voice purr to him, which was followed immediately by her arms slinking around his waist. 0 focused his energy on keeping his footing, but Serena once again proved the strange strength of her tiny body and tossed him into the bed, landing on top of him. Somehow, she had turned him in midair, and he cursed under his breath.

    Serena increased her grasp on his waist. "My, my, Agent 0. Getting a little frisky, aren't we?" She maintained her grin. "I mean, throwing me on your bed like that… You must really want some White Ranger love…"

    0 attempted to remain calm and retain his composure. "You threw me onto the bed," he pointed out, forcibly detaching her hands from his waistline. His head was beginning to hurt, he must have hit it against something when they collided with the bed. She stood up and he remained lying in the bed, a noticeable red tinting his cheeks. "That's called sexual harassment, 3."

    She stuck her tongue at her superior. "Wrong. See, that only works if the person above you is sexually harassing you, not the other way around." She chuckled while he just shook his head. "Come on," she urged, producing a small parcel from behind her back, "I have something for you anyway."

    "It had better not be handcuffs again." 0 shuddered, remembering the time she had decided to give him an impromptu lesson on the various usages of handcuffs, one that had forced him to tear apart his headboard to release himself. He rubbed the back of his head, where a small bump was forming as a result of his collision with the bed. "If it is, you're out of here for good."

    She shook her head, but filed away the idea for future reference. "Even better," she answered. She tossed him the parcel and he noticed that his new number was printed on the side in gold. "Bakaguru recommended I give this to you. He said that it would make your promotion more official."

    0 felt the package, it seemed to be light and made of fabric. "Just what is this?" he asked, bouncing it with one hand. "Feels like clothes."

    "Correct," Serena answered and settled herself down onto the chair. "Put it on, you'll see for yourself."

    0 sighed. "Okay, but this better not be a trick." He stood up and tucked the package under his arm. "Be right back." He walked towards the cramped bathroom to change into the new clothing.

    Serena waited until the bathroom door was shut before she stood up. "Now, where's his underwear drawer?" she wondered aloud, just loud enough for him to hear her. She heard something smash off the counter inside the bathroom in response, and her emerald eyes glinted as she giggled. The man had yet to figure out the effect he had on women…

    "What is this?" 0 demanded from the bathroom, having opened the package and removed its contents. "3, there is no way I am wearing this stupid thing!"

    "Put it on!" the White Ranger instructed. "Don't make me do it for you!" She heard a sigh and then the ruffle of clothes being removed. 0 must have decided his modesty was worth more than his fashion sense, Serena thought, considering the possibility of simply bursting in on him in the middle of changing clothes. She resumed her search for anything she could steal from the new ranger and looked over to the desk for any clues of the whereabouts of his valuables and delicates.

    Her eyes trailed over it briefly, before settling down on the small frame that was placed face down on the desk. Serena glanced briefly at the bathroom door, which was firmly locked, and curiosity overwhelmed her. She had never seen a personal item of 0's before. She grabbed the small, wooden frame and checked out the picture on display beneath the glass. It was 0, from a few years ago, but there were others surrounding him.

    0 was in the center of a crowd of people. To his immediate right was a tall man with jagged black hair and the grinning eyes of a fox, his arm around 0's shoulders. To his left was a younger man, probably in his late teens, who wore glasses and patted 0's head. There was a woman with the fox-eyed man with bright orange hair with a smile on her face, her azure eyes sparkling. There was a blue haired girl, and an older woman with auburn hair. There was even a tall man in the background with a sketchpad next to an old man with a lab coat. There were many more people, far too many for Serena to look at. She was focused on the fact that 0 happened to be smiling a true, sincere smile, with his arms wrapped against the body of a young woman with bright brown hair and cool blue eyes.

    And in the hands of the woman, a small bundle was wrapped, a little head poking through the fabric with dark brown, almost black hair, blinking at the bright light around her. Serena felt a lump in her throat and swallowed it as she stared at the picture.

    "Thanks for waiting." Serena jumped up like a child caught peeking at a present by their parent. 0 exited the bathroom dressed in his brand new uniform. He dumped his civilian clothes on the bed, and stared at himself in disbelief. It was a PKM uniform, similar to hers, but designed for the Golden Ranger. The pants were black, as was the jacket that he wore, but the shirt was bright gold. On the back, just like her, there was a number, a golden 0. He looked up, and his mouth hardened as he noticed what she was holding. "3..." he muttered, walking towards her. "Put that down."

    For some reason she couldn't, and stood up, pressing the picture against her chest. "No," she retorted stubbornly. She looked at the woman in the picture again. "Is this her? The one who hurt you?" She held it up and pointed to it. "Is she the reason?"

    0's face was blank. "That is the woman that I sacrificed for this, 3," he answered, lowering his head. "That is our new target, whom we have been assigned to protect. And that-" His throat felt dry as he looked at the bundle in her arms "-is her daughter, Sarah. And people that I called my friends."

    "I know that," Serena snapped at him and tossed the frame back down onto the desk. "So, what's gonna happen, 0? Did you get this assignment on purpose, so that you could get back with her somehow?" 0 didn't answer, but sat down onto his cot. Serena continued. "Well, that isn't going to happen, 0." Her hand clenched into a fist. "You're too important to this agency." You're too important to me.

    He shook his head. "I don't want this like you do, 3. I've said that for as long as I can remember. I'm here because I have nowhere else to go now." He looked up at her. "I don't want to be a Ranger," he said softly, attempting to control himself. "0 took everything from me. My wife, my friends, and my daughter. Everyone I held dear." He stood up from the cot and began to walk towards her. "You know that feeling just as well as I do, 3."

    She did, and Serena nodded her head. "I know that I've lost people, 0, because I came here." She grabbed him and shook him, trying to make him understand. "But I haven't given up yet. I stayed here, and I don't regret it." She felt tears in her eyes. "You know who I lost. You know what we went through." She smacked his face, and he let her. "Where's your mark? You carry my scars with you, but where's the one that ties you to that woman!"

    Her eyes trailed down his chest, to the golden ring that hung on his chain. "I never take it off," he answered. "That makes it easier to remember exactly why I'm here, and exactly what I lost to protect her." He felt his chest, where the scars of his past were more easily accessible underneath his uniform. "I bear your scars too, 3, only the one I carry for my past weighs more heavily on my heart." He glanced at the morpher on his wrist. "Drop it, because I am not in the mood for any guilt trips today. I've become a Ranger. That doesn't mean I still want any part of this world."

    She nodded her head, though she felt a strange disappointment in her heart. He's just a plaything, she reminded herself, and shook it off. "Come on, 0," she said and started for the door, "Council said that I should show you some things for your Golden Ranger equipment."

    0 just grumbled. Being a Ranger came with too many changes, though at least he wouldn't have to worry about his wardrobe. For some reason it was already stocked with gold clothing already.

    When 0 exited his quarters, he noticed that the agents around him reacted differently. For one, the instant he exited the door he couldn't help but catch the fact that about twenty people halted their work to salute him, including one junior agent who dropped a massive stack of paperwork.

    "That…isn't necessary," he murmured, though he saluted back. Serena just giggled, mostly because this action was repeated at least ten times before they made it to the Research and Development Laboratories, a sub-division of PKM that specialized in the weaponry used by the agents and Rangers. "Why are we here?"

    Serena just smirked. "Why do you think we're here?" she quipped and stopped just before a pair of tall, pale doors. "We're here because, as a ranger, you get all kinds of special goodies. Comes with the territory." She opened them and stepped through. Reluctantly, 0 followed her into the realm of the man called Agent 003, or…

    "Bakaguru!" the Golden Ranger shouted, the moment he entered Research and Development. The small confines of the lab seemed to shift abruptly as Agent 003 flinched at his voice, his large mass quite able to do so. 0 and Serena found him making final adjustments to a strange motorcycle. 0 leant against the tool table, while Serena hugged the rather large man, though unable to fit her arms around him.

    "Serena," he murmured in a high, nasally voice. "What brings you down here?" The giant man straightened himself and rearranged his glasses. "And what's he doing here?" He pointed a fat finger at 0, who ignored him, his interest stimulated by the vehicle Bakaguru was working on.

    "New Golden Ranger, Bakaguru," Serena explained. "We're here to set in his stats as a Ranger, and reconfigure the Morpher."

    "What is this?" 0 asked and pointed to the motorcycle. It was one of the finest machines he had ever seen. It looked like a motorcycle, but hovered off the ground with magnetic pulses. The sleek design was golden and black, exactly like his ranger uniform, and was obviously meant for going very, very fast. It looked sort of like a modified Kanto cycle, the handles located in special ports rather than extended from the front frame.

    "It's called the 0 Cycle, Gold," Bakaguru answered. "It's a special vehicle designed for the Golden Ranger for transportation; It's a beauty, isn't it?" He pulled out a rag and wiped up his greasy head. His matted hair glistened with sweat, and he stuck the rag away in his pants before continuing. "The only engineering flaw is that there are no breaks installed, by request of the former Golden Ranger." He straightened the massive frames of his glasses. "Other than that, it depends on the skill of the driver. It has optimum steering, perfect balance, and a top speed of two hundred miles per hour."

    "Just don't crash it into a wall," Serena offered with a sly grin.

    0 groaned and shook his head. "That's reassuring, guys," he muttered. "Is there anything else I should know, like how the steering column works?" He placed a hand onto the surface of his new vehicle. "Have you ever seen me fall off even a scooter, 3? This'll be a cakewalk. What's next?"

    Bakaguru pointed to a door on the west side of the laboratory. "Head over there," he murmured, returning his attention to the motorcycle. "That's the Golden Ranger's room, where we keep all your weapons and such. You'll need to register your morpher and morphing spirit there, so that you can access this nice 0 Cycle and everything you might need on the job. You can't carry it around with you."

    "Did you say weapons?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "I did. So what?"

    "I already have one," 0 explained. "When I morphed for the first time, me and Pi managed to create this kind of sword. Can't I just use that?"

    The technician's brows rose. "Excuse me?" he asked. "Did you just say you formed a weapon on your own?" The ranger nodded. "That's highly unusual. Your Pokemon's bond with you must be one of particular potency to do that… I might have to run some tests with Jessie."

    0 smiled. "Hey, is James here too?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "Yep. Got them and the Meowth working on something big for ya both. They'll be in the Weapons Testing room, next door to the ranger rooms. Keep it legal, you two." 0's face crimsoned while Serena giggled. Bakaguru waved goodbye, before resuming work on the 0 Cycle. "Don't distract them too much! I have them on a tight leash already for that annoying theme song they whine about all day!"

    "Got it!" Serena replied, heading straight for the Golden Ranger room, a small door with bright gold paint on it in the form of a "0" written at eye level. "Here's where we keep your junk. Welcome." She pressed a small control unit on the side of the door and inputted a small password. The door beeped, and then opened. "Come on!" She grabbed his hand and pulled him inside.

    "Wow," was all he could say. The whole room, and bear it mind it was a decently sized room, was painted in gold and black. It was also mostly empty, save for a giant sword that hung on the wall opposite them. The sword he had summoned with Pikachu gleamed in the dim lighting. "Hey, my sword." He walked over to it, ignoring the comments being made by his partner about size. It seemed bigger to him, a few inches taller than he was, in fact.

    "Compensating much?" Serena purred. Then she giggled, tossing her hair out of her eyes. "That's a nice blade, if you don't mind me saying… Is it in direct proportion to your 'short sword'?"

    "That is none of your business."

    She just laughed and motioned for him to follow her. He obliged and she led him to a computer terminal in the center of the room. "Here's where the data goes into," she explained, pointing to the monitor. "And there's where you need to swipe your morpher." She pointed to a small scanner on the side of the machine. "After you do that, we can register everything in this room for you to access at any time. Except the sword, which is weird, considering you shouldn't have been able to form it without the program. That's automatically saved to you."

    He nodded. "I think I understood that," he answered. He held out the morpher and pressed it against the scanner. It beeped in confirmation. A giant page about him and his service record came online, displaying his rank as a ranger, before transferring to a blank, golden screen "Now what?"

    "We make them," she replied sweetly, like a mother explaining to her infant. "Pi, want to lend us a hand?" She pressed a button on the other side of the machine and 0's morpher glowed. He raised it to his face, but an instant later the face of his morphing spirit emerged on the terminal's monitor.

    "Hello!" Pi chirped in a very happy voice. 0 grinned. "Nice to see you again, Serena."

    "Same, little buddy," she said. "I think you've lost weight. What's the secret?"

    It laughed. "Get digitized."

    "How've you been, Pi?" 0 asked.

    "Fine," it answered. The screen zoomed out and the Pikachu's whole body was displayed sitting down lazily, a grin on its face. "It's nice in here, sort of. I guess it'll take some getting use to, but it's better than a Pokeball. At least here I can create programs to roam in virtual reality. Though I do sort of miss having to eat…" It stopped talking and stood up. "So, what exactly do you need?"

    Serena shrugged. "Nothing much. We just need to run a few tests to make sure that as a morphing spirit, you're properly connected to your ranger. Then we need to activate his secondary weapon, considering you already made the primary one for him earlier."

    "I did?" it asked, confused. "Oh, you mean the sword. I didn't make that. He did."

    Serena swerved towards 0, who wisely remained silent. "Well, we'll check out the creation of that sword later. For now, think you can give me a hand?"

    "Certainly." Pikachu opened a file and began to create a weapon. "What kind of weapon did you have in mind?"

    "Tradition has always stated that all rangers normally have one melee weapon and one projectile weapon," Serena answered. "Considering you both already created the melee weapon in the form of the giant sword, how does a blaster, or something like that, sound?" She turned to 0 for his opinion.

    "That sounds fine to me," he stated and folded his arms. "Good offensive."

    "Okay. I should be able to cook something up," the little mouse answered and closed its eyes. "How does this look to you?" The program it had opened shifted, altering into a weapon. "Here comes the gun weapon!"

    0 felt hard metal form in his hands and a bright light flashed from the computer and his hands. A teleportation, he figured, as the weapon began to form in his hands. It was gold and black, just like the theme of the Golden Ranger's uniform. The weapon resembled a sawn-off shotgun with twin chambers. "How will that work?" Pi asked its trainer.

    "Interesting," Serena muttered. "It's a lot smaller than the other one." It fitted perfectly for one-handed usage, which would free up the other arm for attacking.

    "That'll do, Pi," 0 said with a grin. He twirled the handle in his fingers, but didn't fire. "I might need some practice using it, but I'm a fast learner."

    "Rangers don't need practice," Serena interjected. "All ranger uniforms come equipped with programs to help you fight with your weapons, considering the inexperience some rangers can have with the weapons their spirits create."

    "Pi, disable that," 0 murmured and stopped playing with his gun. "I want it all natural." Pi squeaked its approval, but the White Ranger shook her head.

    "Let's call it the Lightning Laser," the Pikachu suggested.

    0 shook his head. "Something better, Pi. Nothing clichéd."

    "My weapon. My name."

    "My weapon. My having to call out its name."

    "Overruled," Serena murmured, setting in the name on the computer. With another flash of light, the Lightning Laser vanished from 0's right hand. "Next, the name of the sword."

    "Bolt Blade," Pi answered with enthusiasm, its face grinning. 0 groaned, but Serena smiled and inputted the name. The Bolt Blade glowed but stayed where it was, while the Lightning Laser emerged on the wall beside it, ready to be summoned.

    "Such originality," 0 grunted, rubbing his head. "We need anything else?

    Serena shook her head. "Nope. That'll do it. Thanks for the assist Pi."

    "Not a problem, 3," the Pikachu replied cheerfully. "Please feel free to contact me should you require anything else." The screen flared, then Pikachu vanished, downloaded back into the morpher and waiting for summoning by 0.

    Serena rolled her eyes. "I think Pi has more personality than you do," she giggled. 0 sighed, she had already forgotten their earlier quarrel. "I think he's the side of you that remembers a tiny thing called fuuuuuun."

    "I'll file that away in my brain," he retorted dully. He turned round and started out of the room. "I think we're done here. Let's get ready for the mission. Be ready in two hours." Serena heard the door open and shut.

    She fumed and stood up. "I need to get laid," she growled to herself. "And that boy's the only one who will do…" She grinned and headed out the doorway. Like 0, she too had things to prepare. Namely several cases of luggage filled with clothing.

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    When 0 returned to his quarters, he cleared out his room. It didn't take very long, considering he had few personal possessions and all he was really going to need was extra clothing for his cover. He grabbed the locker underneath his bed and hauled it onto his desk, opening it to check its contents. A few Pokeballs from the old days, all emptied of course. When he had joined PKM and left his family, he had been lucky to get away with only Pikachu. The rest were with Professor Oak, his old rival. "Hope Gary's taking good care of them with Tracey," he muttered. He ignored the photos and dumped some of his clothing inside. "Pi, how are we doing on time?"

    "We have one hour, thirty minutes, and twenty-seven seconds."

    0 nodded. "That's good." He looked onto the desk and grabbed the picture that Serena had messed with. He sighed. "Pi, can I ask you something about this mission?"

    "Certainly," the Pokemon answered. "Would you like to know anything further about the mission specs or the details?"

    "Neither." The Golden Ranger picked up the gun and knife he kept underneath his cot and tucked the weapons into holsters beneath his clothing. "It's 3. Do you think she has some sort of ulterior motive in coming with me on this assignment?"

    "Well, since you are going to be partners on this mission, I think you should start by calling her by her name, rather than her designation," it suggested. "For all the trouble you think she causes you, I think she's genuinely concerned about you. She is your friend."

    0 laughed. "She annoys me," he murmured, stashing away some food from his stores into the locker. He found only a few bottles of beer, but he took what he could find, along with several doses of serum. "She lives to make me feel uncomfortable, Pi."

    "Don't worry about it too much," the Pikachu replied soothingly. "I recall you used to be just like her a few years ago. Guess it comes with adulthood and all. Maybe she's trying to help you have some fun. I know for a fact you could use some."

    "I was not a horndog when I was young," 0 grumbled, shutting the locker. "And I didn't let myself get worked up over a little photo." He pulled out the strap attached to the locker and slung it over his shoulder. He looked at the picture and groaned. "I miss those days, Pi. But I also know that they can't happen again." He tucked the picture away into his pockets and started for the door. "This isn't a fairy tale. It doesn't have a happy ending for me."

    "It would if you'd let it, friend," Pikachu answered.

    "Let's just get going," 0 said, terminating the conversation. He exited the room and started directly for the hangers. It wouldn't take long, but he liked to be early. It helped him make his decisions when he had more time to make them. His door hissed shut behind him and didn't look back, his attention focused on the narrow corridor ahead of him.

    "Do not salute," he ordered a passerby, who had the look in their eye of a new recruit, who still obeyed the guidebook to the letter. "I hate salutes." The recruit, who seemed to be very scared, wisely followed the direction he was given and ran for cover. 0 grinned. "I like this."

    "Don't scare newbies," his Pokemon reprimanded him.

    "Why?"

    "Because it…isn't nice?"

    0 snorted. "Whatever gave you the impression I was a nice person?" he asked the mouse. "I'm not a nice person."

    "Yes you are."

    "Shut up."

    "Nope."

    0 decided not to argue with Pi and turned left. The hangers weren't located too far away from the living quarters, considering PKM had to be on standby twenty-four-seven for deployment. Serena had told him the departure was at the second hanger, so he had naturally made absolutely certain that that was true. He opened the door to the first hanger, where a private helicopter was waiting for him on the launch pad. Personnel still were handling it, making sure it was at optimum performance before departure.

    "Hello, sir," a voice behind him quipped and he jumped. A small technician was smiling at him through dark-rimmed glasses, her hair in a bundled up ponytail. "How are you doing this evening, sir?"

    "You called me 'sir' already," he muttered. "You can stop."

    "Okay, sir," she answered on impulse, before bending back into her clipboard. "Would you like a report on the efficiency of the helicopter you will be piloting? Do you know how to pilot this craft? If so, would you like me to take you to a simulation?"

    0 held up three fingers. "No, yes, and hell no," he answered, counting down each answer on his fingers. "The only thing I want to know is where the nearest beer is."

    "Alcohol should not be consumed before flight, sir, as it decreases the brain's ability to properly handle the controls of a flying craft," she pointed out, pointing the eraser end of a pencil at him. "Anything else?"

    "Yes," he answered. "Please get someone to get me a beer, since I work better with it in my system." He lifted his hand and gave her a thumb's up. "Do so now. Posthaste, in fact."

    She grumbled, but he put his thumb on the bright golden 0 on his uniform, so she obeyed and scurried off somewhere. "That wasn't nice," Pi muttered from the morpher.

    "I'm not nice, and I'd like some booze while I wait for 3 to pack every single shred of cloth she owns. It's gonna be a while."

    And he was correct. Fifteen minutes later, the technician returned with a frosty mug of ale and he thanked her kindly. He asked her to then leave and she did, returning to her other duties for the helicopter launch while he waited for Serena to reemerge. Which she did, ninety minutes later, with numerous grunt Agents in tow carrying her belongings.

    "Well, that took you long enough," he sighed and watched as the poor, backbreaking Agents began to load the helicopter with her belongings. "Ten bucks says the machine doesn't hold all your junk." Serena fumed but sat down beside him.

    "Is that all you brought?" she asked incredulously, pointing at the locker by his feet.

    "It's all I need," he answered. He took another sip. "Anyway, what's the big deal with being so late? Is it really necessary to pack so many clothes?" Then he noticed what she was wearing. "And why exactly are you dressed like that?" The touch of red stained his cheeks for only an instant, but an instant was all Serena needed for ammunition.

    She wasn't wearing her uniform anymore, far from it. Having opted for something more causal, she now wore jeans so tight they looked painted on. Her navel was showing too, considering the white shirt that hung on her on spaghetti straps only reached to the middle of her stomach. A few bracelets adorned her arms, disguising the white morpher on her right hand, while her snowy locks were bundled up into a bun. Needless to say, the majority of her helpers were male.

    "I like it," she decided. "You can't go out in public in military gear. We're gonna have to take you shopping."

    "Not going to happen," he retorted and took another swig of ale. "Besides, I'll change once we reach the safe house in Petalburg." He scratched his head. "I have clothing of my own, none of which look like that."

    "You sound like my father," she murmured, pushing her seat next to his. 0 noticed that she wasn't wearing a bra, simply from her proximity. "I want to have fun on this mission, so I wanted to wear something that would help me blend in with the surrounding culture."

    "I'm fairly certain that you will not blend in wearing that," he muttered, looking away. "You will be standing out in the crowds." The technician came over, thankfully interrupting the ever-uncomfortable conversation.

    "We've loaded all of Ms. Brine's equipment into the helicopter," she announced. "Would you like to proceed to the helicopter for takeoff?"

    "Thanks. We will." 0 stood up and lugged his locker in the direction of the helipad. The chopper in question was small and black. For covert operations, he thought to himself, opening the door. He threw the locker underneath the seat and took his place in the captain's chair. "Get in, 3."

    "Lock and load," she replied eagerly, climbing into the co-pilot chair. "Any chance of joining the mile high club while we're up there?"

    "Not a Vanillux's chance in a volcano," he retorted, placing on an earpiece for communication. "This is Poke 122, requesting permission for takeoff." He glanced over at Serena, who had placed on a helmet for protection. "All parties ready for liftoff."

    "This is control tower," crackled a voice into his ear. "Poke 122, you have been cleared for takeoff. Opening shuttle doors now. Takeoff at will."

    "Will comply," 0 answered and buckled himself into his chair. The hanger doors ahead began to open, revealing to 0 the moonlit Orre desert. He punched a button and gripped the throttle of the helicopter. Serena, always the daredevil, stuck her head out of the window, grinning as the chopper blades began to swing above their heads. "Let's get going, 3."

    "Good luck, rangers," the control tower said.

    "Roger." 0 felt the strange jerk of motion as the chopper lifted itself from the ground. He pulled the controls up and the chopper lurched forward. "Get your head in the chopper," he ordered, noticing that she hadn't bothered to even buckle her seatbelt. "Do so now." Then he grinned and jerked the chopper around in the air, banging her head against the window. "I said get ready."

    Serena stuck her tongue at him, rubbed her head, and returned to her seat. 0 pushed on the throttle and the craft began moving forward. "Adios, PKM," he sighed, as the helicopter reached the optimum altitude to properly launch from PKM's hangers. "Are you ready for the mission, 3?"

    "Yeah," she answered, strapping herself into her seat.

    "I wonder how Hoenn is at this time of year," he sighed. "It's been a long time since I was sent out there… This should be entertaining." Ahead of them, the Orre desert bloomed into their sights, an endless sea of desert that spanned the horizon. "It's bright. How is it so bright at night? I wish I had the shades."

    Both Rangers discontinued any conversation.

    Author's Note: Sorry about the late posting today, just entirely too busy outside of the Internet. Happy weekend!

  10. #10
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    Default Re: [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems

    This is pretty awesome.



    I Claim Groudon.Yay

  11. #11
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    Default Chapter 6

    Morph Six: Life in Petalburg

    "You doing alright?"

    He had noticed that, in her anxiousness, she had begun once again to play with her hands, one of her many nervous habits. It was actually funny, considering she was usually the calmer of the two of them. He took one of her hands and held it gently. "It's just a routine checkup, honey," he assured her, before leaning in to peck her cheek. "Just to see how the little guy's coming along."

    "Or girl," she pointed out, resting her free hand on her already bulging belly. "I thought we agreed we wouldn't find out until the baby's born."

    He nodded. "Of course I remember that. The deal was I could name him if we didn't learn what he was before he comes."

    She chuckled. "You really want a boy, don't you?"

    "Girls are fine too. But a boy's an excuse for me to play with all my old toys."

    "Excuse me? Sir, ma'am?"

    They looked up at the nurse, a plump, friendly woman in her forties. "Dr. Heinz will see you now."

    "Thank you, Agnes," he replied, and helped his wife to her feet. Agnes, the kind woman that she was, held the door open so that his heavily pregnant wife wouldn't be troubled. "We'll be out in a little while."

    "He'll be with you in just a moment," she added with a wink, closing the door behind her. He looked around the office, searching for a place to sit. He spotted a place right next to the examining table and dashed for it, while his wife took her position on the paper-covered table, her legs dangling off the edge. Upon the request from the nurse, his wife had taken off her jacket and worn the shirt she had to put on every time they visited for checkups. Dr. Heinz, a man that both thought had an uncanny resemblance to their friend Dr. Oak, came into the room only minutes later, which was speedy. He held in his hand both a chart and a cup of coffee.

    "Well, it's a pleasure to see you both again," he said cheerfully as he set down his java. "It's coming soon, isn't it?"

    "Aren't you the doctor?" the father asked, jokingly.

    The doctor scoffed. "That's what the stethoscope is for, sir," he said with reverence and dramatically pointed to the medical instrument that dangled from his neck. All three laughed while Dr. Heinz opened the chart. "So, how have you and the baby been doing, ma'am?"

    She brushed her auburn hair out of her face. "We've been fine. Lately the baby has taken to kicking whenever we watch television."

    "What do you watch?"

    At this, her husband's cheeks turned slightly red. "We've been watching the non-stop coverage of a Pokemon Championship being held in Johto. I think he likes the noises of the Pokemon."

    The doctor raised his brows. "Well," he murmured, writing it down, "I'm not the least bit surprised, considering who the father is." Her husband merely grinned with pride. "Well, how's about we check on that baby?" She nodded in agreement and laid herself down on the paper sheet of the table. Dr. Heinz wheeled over the ultrasound machine and removed the transducer from its holder. "Ready?"

    She took a deep breath. "Yes, Doctor."

    "Okay." For some reason, the transducer always felt cold against her bare belly. The doctor flipped on the monitor, where at once a fuzzy image began to take the shape of a developing baby. "Hear that?" Both parents listened to the little one's movements and a very strong thumping noise followed. "That's the baby's heartbeat. So far, there's nothing wrong with the child other than that."

    "What's wrong with it?" her husband demanded, rising from his seat.

    The doctor paused, then looked at the screen again. "It's not a bad thing, just abnormal. Come over here and look at this." He joined Dr. Heinz by the monitor, where the doctor pointed at the heart rate. "See that? It's much stronger than a normal baby's."

    "What does that mean?" asked the mother.

    The doctor scratched his head. "Well, it could mean that your child had larger blood vessels for a fetus, or it could just mean that there is more blood than average circulating. It's not a bad thing, just strange."

    "Is the baby going to be okay?" she asked.

    Dr. Heinz nodded. "Of course. You have a perfectly healthy baby, ma'am." Both parents sighed in relief. "And, with that, I think we'll conclude the ultrasound." Dr Heinz removed the transducer from the wife's stomach and she rubbed her swollen belly protectively. "So," he added, removing his gloves and tossing them into the nearby trash basket, "have you thought of any names for the baby?"

    "He gets to name the baby," she answered, pointing to her husband. "Direct questions related to that to him."

    He laughed. "I've thought of a few, but I'm still not sure which I should put more emphasis into checking out. I decided that, if it's a girl, we'd name her Sarah, after my late grandmother."

    "That's lovely," Dr. Heinz said.

    The husband just blushed. "Man, I really wish I knew what our kid's going to be." His wife pulled on his sleeve and he grinned. "It's only so I could know whether to buy a red or pink Pokedex for the little guy or gal."

    "Let it be a surprise, darling."

    "And if it's a boy?" asked Dr. Heinz as he begun to write on the chart.

    "Well, I was thinking maybe…"


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    "0?"

    The Golden Ranger snapped out of his trance. He wasn't piloting the helicopter anymore, having had the foresight to plot a course on the autopilot long before they arrived in Hoenn. It had been a several hour flight from Orre and he had spoken very little since their departure. 0 broke the silence only to confirm their location with PKM headquarters. "Yeah?" he asked and turned his head over to where his partner sat half-asleep.

    "We almost there?" she asked, somewhat dazed.

    0 checked their coordinates. They were approaching the vicinity of North Petalburg, only a few miles by the outskirts of the actual Petalburg City itself. "We'll be there in a few minutes," he replied. "I'll activate stealth mode for the chopper while we cross over the city." 0 flipped the switch next to the dashboard and the outer hull of the machine converted from the sleek paint job PKM had given it into a camouflage backdrop that would make it all but impossible for the naked eye of both humans and Pokemon to find it. "Do you have an address for the safe house?" He hadn't been to Petalburg in years and as such was not as certain of the cartography as he once was.

    Fortunately, Serena had had the instinct to bring a map of the city "It should be here," she murmured, her finger pointed at an unseen portion of the map. "Turn the chopper north ninety degrees and we should be there in ten minutes." 0 input the coordinate changes into the autopilot and the helicopter made the adjustments. "There should be a space large enough for us to land down there." 0 glanced down and saw the building. It was a moderately tall one, probably some sort of apartment complex. 0 counted ten stories total in its height. Across the street was the gym, but the ranger ignored it. He instead focused on the landing area below them.

    "Is the helicopter going to make a lot of noise when we arrive?" he asked and engaged the landing gear. "I have it on stealth mode, but that really only helps with surprise attacks."

    She shrugged. "I think that normal people are far more unprepared than the organizations we attack. We should be good."

    "Thanks," 0 answered. The autopilot did everything perfectly, and soon 0 felt a jerk in his stomach as the landing gear touched down on the rooftop. "Get your stuff out. I'll convert the helicopter into capsule form and get out one for your luggage too. Move." 0 grabbed his satchel and jumped out of his side of the chopper, but it took Serena a much longer time to get everything out.

    0 shut the door, then felt a spasm shoot through his body. He groaned and leaned against the chopper for support. I need more serum. He made a mental note to take some the moment they got into the apartment and pressed his brow against the cool helicopter's surface until he heard Serena shut her door on the other side. "Ready, 3?" he asked.

    "You could be helping me here!" he heard her shout from the other side.

    He chuckled. "Group it together and I'll see what I can do," he replied, then pressed a small button on the side of the chopper. The entire machine flashed red and then dissolved into a small capsule on the rooftop. "I'm glad they managed to figure out how to do this with Pokemon, but they worked a miracle with these capsules." He grinned, and looked over to Serena, whose face was very red and whose luggage was in a random jumble. "Are they within five feet of each other?"

    "Yeah, yeah," she muttered. "I don't have any capsules. Lend me one."

    0 nodded and rummaged through his pockets for something of use. He found an empty one and withdrew it. "I'll do it. Stand back," he ordered. Serena obeyed and stepped away for 0 to capture the luggage. The ranger clicked the bottom of the capsule and tossed it into the luggage, where it impacted and captured all of the pieces of luggage in one red burst. The capsule, having performed its function, fell onto the roof, where 0 reclaimed and pocketed it. "Let's get inside, it's cold out here. Contact HQ and let them know we got here okay."

    As he wrenched open the door to the inside of the building, he caught snippets of the conversation. "This is PKM Agents 0, Gold, and 3, White. Poke 122 has landed safely and we are heading inside." He heard a confirmation from the other end, then heard something that terrified him. "And, as per our agreement, no double beds, correct?" And then, another confirmation. "Thanks guys. Nighty night!" She clicked off her communicator and smiled at 0's deeply concerned face. "What?" she asked innocently and widened her smile.

    "Those guys are completely incompetent," he grumbled. "Tell whoever that was that, whatever else is wrong with me, at least you'll have more room."

    She followed him inside. "And why is that?"

    "Are we forgetting I don't sleep?" he asked sarcastically.

    She grumbled softly to herself. "Stupid serum. Stop taking it."

    He shook his head and began descending the stairs towards their apartment. "It's a tough habit to kick, 3, especially when if you take it as long as I have. If I went off it now I'd be in a coma tomorrow."

    "Does taking advantage of an unconscious person constitute rape?"

    0 ended the conversation then and there. He led his partner down the flights of stairs towards the third floor. "What room number is it?" he asked as they neared the floor.

    "Apartment 308," she answered.

    He held his hand out behind his back. "Give up the keys. I know you've got them somewhere." A jingle issued and the keys promptly fell into his fingers. "Thanks." He took the one for the main door and stuck it in the keyhole when they reached the modest-looking door. He undid the lock and opened the door for Serena. 0's hair brushed against the tiny door's frame as they walked inside. 0 switched on the light and shut the door behind him.

    Like the hallway, the walls were painted a light cream color, probably to make the apartment seem bigger. The main room was made of only about eight or ten tatami, 0 really didn't bother to count. A TV in the corner, and a window which displayed the nearby gym in full view were most of what he noticed, along with a kneeling table with two cushions sat in the center of the room, with a stove, oven and, of course, microwave, standing on the right side of the room atop a silverware cabinet with drawers and a little fridge. She'll never use those. Serena had already opened the sliding doors on the other side, which revealed a small sleeping area and a door connecting to what was most likely a bath. There was only one mat and Serena squealed when she saw it.

    "Don't count on it, 3," he cut her off. "I don't sleep, remember?"

    She pouted. "Ohh, we'll see about that." She grinned. "So, how about the luggage?" 0 offered her a grin in return.

    "Oh, we'll see about that," he replied with a smirk as he dropped his satchel to the floor. "Depends on how you behave tonight."

    "That could be taken in so many different ways," she purred at him.

    0 groaned and tossed her the capsule containing her luggage. While she dealt with her things, the ranger headed towards the curtains on the other side of the room. With his hand, he parted them to reveal a large window across the wall, which happened to be in perfect viewing of the Petalburg Gym across the street. "We need to get the surveillance equipment over there as soon as we can." He turned to Serena, who was organizing her luggage. "You did remember to do that, right?"

    She looked up. "Do what?"

    "Bring the equipment."

    "Maybe. It depends on how well you behave tonight." She stuck out her tongue.

    0 shuddered. "There's really only one I will probably be able to take that," he mumbled under his breath. "Just get some sleep. I'll review the case documents during the night and keep watch."

    She stuck her tongue out again, but complied with his order. She closed the bathroom and before long he could hear bathwater running. 0 walked towards the small bag, the only article of her luggage she had brought down with her, and retrieved the file folder that she had left for him. It was at least fifty pages thick. "Well, at least I have plenty to keep me occupied tonight."

    "0," said Pi.

    0 held his hand up to his ear. "What's up, Pi?" he asked and tucked the folder under his arm.

    "Just a tiny reminder, you should probably take the serum soon," it answered. "We don't need another episode like when the old 0 tried to stop you from taking it, remember?" 0 groaned.

    "I'll take care of it right now." 0 bent over and picked up his satchel from where he had deposited it and proceeded to rummage through it for his serum and syringe. Once his located one of the vials and a sterile needle, he loaded the serum into the syringe and lifted up his uniform sleeve to expose his pincushion of a right arm. "Heh. If I didn't know any better, Pi, I'd say this was a drug addict's arm."

    "You are an addict, 0."

    "Yeah, but it doesn't interfere with my work, so it isn't bad for me."

    0 dug the needle deep into one of the vessels in his arm. While it stung a bit, 0 was no stranger to pain, so he pushed down on the syringe's trigger to send the serum shooting into his bloodstream. Once the vial had been emptied, 0 removed the needle and set it onto the table. A small amount of blood was trickling out from his skin, so he used his other hand to stop it. A small bit of pressure and a minute later, his skin had started to clot and the blood had stopped. "All done," 0 muttered. "I'll sterilize the needle for another shot later.

    "So, Pi," he said as he stood up, "tell me about out target."

    "You know about the target, 0."

    "I knew the target at one time. Refresh my memory."

    Pi sighed, but relayed the information to him in the manner of a person who was explaining to another person something considered very common knowledge. "The target is in her early twenties and is named May Birch. Listed as living in Petalburg, a recent change of address to the Petalburg City Gym has been confirmed, which is owned and operated by the target's brother, Max Birch, the current Petalburg Gym Leader. Has one daughter, name Sarah Birch. The father is unlisted, as alterations to the birth certificate were made by permission of Petalburg City's court system. The target's father is Norman Birch and the mother is Caroline Birch, both listed as living in the Gym.

    0 nodded. "Recent accomplishments?" he asked with a slight grin.

    "I'm not going to continue. Read the report."

    0 chuckled. "Sorry, Pi." He pressed the button for the elevator and, after a few moments, the machine opened. "I love our high tech society," he said sarcastically and hopped on. He opened the folder as the doors closed. "No security forces nearby working with her…no shadowing… Good. The last thing I want is for this to be messed up by Jenny."

    "Wouldn't Jenny be an asset?"

    "Not in this kind of operation. The Jennys are more suited to active protection, not covert. If there's collateral damage they'd be perfect for the job, because we're only here to protect the target from the assassins. Jenny can't do that because she's too noticeable. Covert means 3 and I can't draw attention to our civilian identities. That's the reason for Ranger uniforms."

    "Really?" 0 could almost see Pi's raised eyebrow. "I thought that was for giant fights or something."

    "Little of both," the ranger admitted. "The only reason I'm probably here is because of my prior relationship with the target. Remember when we started we had to go to so many places that were far away? It's because of my former celebrity status." He ruffled his mane of hair. "Had to grow this giant mesh and get the 'super tan' just to be let out in cities." He flexed his mouth. "And the Orre-dialect lessons weren't fun."

    "I thought it was pretty funny, watching you forced to say the word 'ball' about twenty times before you got the right pronunciation." Pi laughed and 0 grumbled.

    As he scanned the basic data for the mission, only a few things caught his full attention. Aside from the locations of the target's living quarters, there was a single number on the sheet, displaying a PKM contact in the vicinity of Petalburg. "I can use this," he muttered and opened the channels for Pi. "Buddy, think you can get me in contact with an Agent 415? Number 555-333-0339?"

    "Are you sure you want to at this hour?" it asked. 0 glanced at his morpher, which displayed the time 6:03. He nodded and heard Pi dial. "There you are. Connecting now."

    Dial tone filled his ear. "Thanks." The phone rang for about half a minute before the dial cut off and someone who had been in the middle of a very important snooze answered.

    "Who… Who is it?" a voice asked groggily. From the sound of it, 415 was a man who deeply enjoyed sleep early in the morning. "I am perfectly happy with my insurance, if that is what you are calling about."

    0 tried to keep his snickers to himself and decided to have a little fun at 415's behalf. "Yes. This is Agent 0. How are you? Hard at work?" At the announcement of his rank, 0 heard a violent smash in the background, followed by an even more violent curse, issue in response.

    "Is this a secure line?" came the answer, which was followed by a stifled yawn.

    PKM communicators were one of the finest pieces of communication technology on the planet, virtually untraceable. "Yep. How've you been? Working hard?"

    "Yes," he replied. "Always pounding my nose to the grindstone."

    "Well, that's good to hear. Listen, the White Ranger and I are new in town, and we wanted to see some sights with you. Think you can arrange something for tomorrow?"

    "Of course," 415 answered. "Where did you have in mind?"

    "Can you come by the house?"

    A cough issued. "Afraid not," 415 said. "I cannot disclose my whereabouts to you and I cannot come to your safe house without worries that someone else will find out my identity. Can you think of a public place where it would be safer?"

    0 thought about it. "How about the mall on the east side of town at about noon?"

    "That works. See you at ten," he answered. 0 disconnected the link and Pi returned to his ears.

    "Don't be so mean."

    0 arched his brow at the mouse Pokemon's kidding voice. "Why do people think I'm a nice person? I keep telling them I'm not…" His voice trailed off and he caught a glimpse of the sun rising. "Do we have to go back downstairs? You know she'll be snoring like a Snorlax in there."

    "We face our fears," the Pokemon answered sagely.

    "I suppose so," he admitted. "But how about before said facing of fears we grab some chow?"

    "Some alcohol for you, and some food for Serena," Pi suggested. "Good idea. I'm sure she'll be hungry when she wakes up."

    0 nodded. "I think there's a gas station around here that sells bento. What's our budget?"

    "We can afford things to eat, 0."

    "Then out into Petalburg we go then, Pi."

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    She stands alone on a small hill in southwest Kanto, taking in the breeze of the nearby sea. It smells of salt and water, something she has always found exotic, considering she had lived in the mainland of Hoenn in her early years. It is far vaster than any lakes she has visited.

    She wears a lithe sundress, for it is the middle of summer, and too hot for much else. Her hair is tied into two ponytails, and beside her is a small picnic spread she has cooked herself, with some help from her mother-in-law. It isn't much, just some foods and a bottle of wine, but it will be enough for who she is waiting for. She giggles to herself, and feels quite a few years younger than her age, almost like a schoolgirl with a crush. He is late, of course, as he has a bad concept of time. But she has learned to tolerate his tardiness, knowing that he frequently brings a present to make up for them.

    As if on cue, ten minutes late, she catches him pedaling up towards her through the grass. His face is red, as if he has hurried the mile it takes to ride from his house to the beach, and he is panting. She notices, rather unusually, that his shoulder is bare. "He must have left Pikachu back at the house," she muses.

    He arrives moments later. "Sorry, honey," he apologizes, while he gasps for breath. She forgives him, as she always does, by leaning in for the first kiss of the day…


    May Birch disliked early mornings.

    It had taken her years to realize that the day did not have to begin at seven in the morning, long after she had stopped traveling around with her friends. Unfortunately, since Sarah had been born, the choice of when she would wake was not often up to her. So on days like this, when Sarah was busy chasing around Max's Pokemon in the training areas, she relished the feel of the warm, fuzzy sheets against her body.

    It was several hours past sunrise, at least nine in the morning. Max would already be up, hard at work training with his powerful team of Pokemon. He always got up at six so he could get at least four hours worth of training before the Gym officially opened. She giggled. Her brother had gotten so serious over the past few years that, were it not for his sense of humor and knowledge, she barely recognized him from the little boy who had so often critiqued her about Pokemon.

    Slowly, because she was sometimes lazy in the morning, she started to stretch her sleep-filled muscles under the blanket and rubbed her eyes. It was almost a quarter after nine when she actually had enough energy to get off the bed. Yawning, she began to walk in the direction of her mirror. She sat down on the stool and began grooming her massive, tangled clump of auburn hair.

    It felt like such a long time, but in actuality only two days had lapsed since the attack at the Contest. She shivered. Jenny had told her that there wouldn't be any police protection, and only promised her that she was being looked after. Maybe it's that ranger that showed up. Or Keean Toby. She would have appreciated either's presence, or just some sort of confirmation that she, Sarah, and their family would be protected. And again her thoughts drifted to the dark warrior. He had been appearing with increasing frequency in her dreams, always holding her. I wish he would leave me alone, she thought bitterly, and finished combing her hair. She grabbed a shirt and some pants, and headed out to the training fields.

    Since the training grounds were on the ground floor, she had to descend down two flights of stairs before she entered the massive facility. Since her father Norman had retired, Max had redone much of the Gym. Now, the whole place looked like a combat field in Orre. Max himself was training in the corner with Gallade and Grovyle, instructing them in sparring training. Another of Max's Pokemon, a Mightyena was running around the circular Gym arena, outstripping the Buneary doll it was supposed to be chasing.

    Max spotted her as she entered the training room, and signaled to Gallade and Grovyle to continue training alone before approaching her, grabbing a towel off a nearby rack. "Morning big sis," he greeted, bowing his head. "You here for training?" He patted his sweating brow.

    She shook her head. "Not yet, kiddo. The Pokemon can still train, but I'm taking it easy for a little bit."

    He nodded. "Sure. I think Skitty's running around here somewhere." Then he arched his brow. "And don't call me kiddo. I'm bigger than you are now." To illustrate this point, he looked down at her and glared through his glasses.

    "Kiddo, kiddo, kiddo," she chanted with a smile.

    Max's lips tightened, then cracked into a smile. "Given recent events, I'll allow this regression into childish antics. Go get something to eat. I think Sarah's demolishing Mother's stores of food as we speak."

    May sighed. "Thanks, I'm kind of hungry." She winked at Grovyle and Gallade, who responded with bows. "Don't work too hard, okay?"

    Max laughed. "Come on, we've been training for three hours. We've barely started today's work." His Pokemon seemed to agree with him, and shouted fiercely at her, thumping their chests. "Let's go guys!" Promptly, May noticed that she was ignored, for Max was very dedicated to training. The dark warrior influenced him so much… she thought, before she turned to the kitchen on the other side of the dojo. She smiled at Beautifly as it flew above her and opened the doors to the smells of breakfast.

    Speaking of the dark warrior… She caught Sarah's eyes first, as she always did. Her daughter instantly brightened up and began to charge, even though she was halfway through with a bowl of cereal at the moment, in the direction of her mother. The bowl went flying to the ground, and May felt two little arms wrap around her.

    "Morning, baby girl," she said with a smile. "Why aren't you in school today?"

    Sarah laughed. "Mommy, no school today, remember? It got cancelled for a few days because of the thingy."

    Caroline chuckled. "The teachers went on strike for a couple of days. They closed it down for the week while they negotiate with the unions."

    "Oh, I see."

    She picked up Sarah and set her back onto her stool. "Eat up, baby girl. You want to grow up big and strong, right?" Her daughter nodded eagerly, then returned to shoveling down her food. Making a mental note to continue teaching Sarah proper dining etiquette, May wandered into the kitchen to see what was up for breakfast. Caroline had made plenty for the whole family.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Twenty bento, and a six pack of Kanto imported."

    The teenager behind the counter opened his eyes a little wider at the order. It was far too early for most to be awake, but 0 felt quite refreshed and energized, as he did at any time of the day. But 0 wagged a few bills in the boy's face to divert attention away from his strange order, and soon the cashier was busy totaling up the cost of the dark man's purchases. A satisfying ding issued from the old register, and the boy handed 0 his receipt and change. "Thank you," the ranger said, addressing the portion of the teen's head that he assumed the eyes were located in, before packing away the bento and beer away in two paper bags. "I'll be back."

    "You've got a weird getup there, mister," the clerk said before the customer could leave. 0 turned around curiously, and noticed that the boy was pointing at his uniform. "You some kind of cop?"

    In his haste to prepare everything, 0 had foolishly forgotten to change into civilian attire before stepping into the real world. He was still wearing the Golden Ranger uniform Serena had made him put on. Without missing a beat, 0 looked up and replied with an air of indifference, "Cosplay," before letting himself out of the store.

    Halfway down the street, the earpiece switched on. "Good answer," Pi said.

    0 smiled at Pi's approval. "I'm new to the secret identity thing," he muttered. "Being a regular agent was easy, at least you could wear civilian clothes. If we get busted by a gas clerk one day into the operation, we're going to have serious problems later on when the terrorists start taking shots." The Pikachu laughed into the earpiece. "Let's get back to the apartment. Twenty bucks says the Snorlax is still asleep when we get inside."

    "I'm not taking that bet."

    "You know I'll win," 0 replied with a grin. "Besides, I figure if we make her something nice to eat, and you know how much she loves bento, she might not attack me today. I need her in a good mood before we go to meet Agent 415." He heard a slight cackle in the receiver. "Have some confidence in peaceful resolutions, Pi."

    "With Serena as your partner?"

    "Good point," the ranger conceded as he neared the apartment.

    0 quietly opened the apartment door, as he did not wish to anger his housemate by awakening her without a peace offering. The moment the door swung open, and 0 debated whether it was his hand or the sounds coming from the sleeping area that opened it, 0 got the impression that in his absence a pack of wild Munchlax had managed to get into the room, devour Serena, and settle in for a week-long doze. "Well, let's wake up the sleeping beast," he decided and headed over to the fridge to stuff nineteen bento and the six pack inside, leaving one lunchbox out for the microwave. There are only three things that will wake 3 up: food, sex, and danger. And, as the third was null and he was unwilling to perform the second, 0 stuffed the bento box into the microwave and punched in the five minutes needed to heat it up. Shortly after, a wonderful smell began to issue from inside and a swift kick issued from the other room, smacking into what sounded like the wall. "That'll do it." 0 headed over to the fridge for his morning dose of alcohol.

    As he opened the can with a satisfying hiss, a very sleepy Serena poked her head through the sliding door. She sniffed the air hopefully then looked towards the microwave. "Food?" she asked hopefully, and reminded 0 very much of a wild Pokemon.

    0 smiled and nodded. "Help yourself," he answered, gesturing towards the microwave as it finished preparing her meal. He took a swig of beer as the White Ranger made a mad dash for the food. "I hope you slept well. We have a meeting today that we can't miss." He sat opposite her on a cushion in front of the table and was forced to watch the carnage that was Serena eating.

    "Wi' 'oo?" she inquired between inhaling pieces of vegetables with her chopsticks.

    "Our contact in this city, a person carrying the number 415." 0 held up one of the documents on the table, partially for emphasis and also to keep stray food from flicking over it. "His information is listed here. I gave him a call last night and set up a meeting with him this morning."

    Serena nodded from her lunch box. "Makes sense," she said, stuffing down another carrot. "What time are we going to go see him?"

    0 checked his morpher, which informed him that it was getting around the time he had told 415 to come to the meeting. "Around ten, right after you finish eating. He said he wouldn't come to the safe house so we arranged to meet at the mall. So, if you hurry up, we can leave and still have about twenty minutes to spare."

    The other ranger finished her meal with a loud sigh of satisfaction, then stared at 0 with utter confusion. "Uh…0?" she asked.

    0 looked up. "Yeah?"

    She pointed at him or, more specifically, at the fact that he was still in his uniform. "I know I said I love men in uniform, but you aren't seriously going to go to the meeting in that thing, are you? It sort of stands out in a trendy mall."

    "You've got a point there…" He glanced down at the very glaring uniform and decided that maybe just once it would be a good idea to take Serena's advice. "I'll change into some street clothes from my satchel. No peeking."

    She groaned. "That takes all the fun out of the idea."

    He ignored her, set down his bottle, and grabbed the bag he had previously tossed away. 0 pushed the sliding doors shut and, for additional measure, propped the strewn mat she had slept in as a secondary buffer. He stripped down relatively quickly to his underwear and kept to the shaded side of the room, just in case Serena had been seriously considering peeking on him. He removed a pair of pants and shirt from the bag and dressed hastily. He donned the black pants and golden shirt, slipped his boots back on, and readjusted the chain of his necklace before exiting the room to reclaim his seat.

    Serena purred. "Very nice…"

    "Whatever." 0 picked his beer back up and drank his alcohol, staring out of the window. "As soon as possible, we need to add surveillance inside the Gym. I'm fairly certain that the target doesn't stay cooped up in her room all day, so we should probably make sure Pi can track her via cameras." Serena, her mouth full, expelled several pieces of rice agreeing with him, several of which landed on his face. His mouth twitched and he wiped the rice off. "What do you think Pi?"

    "That should work. I can upload plenty of information into the morpher, so a camera system wouldn't be a problem."

    "Then let's go!" Serena announced, having finished her bento and tossed it into a trash can. She grabbed 0 with a virility that he did not expect from a half-conscious woman and threw him out the door, locking it on their way out. "We've got a target to protect!"

    "Voice down!" he snapped, as she hauled him out of the apartment building. "Do you not realize we have a cover to maintain?" Fortunately, the street was relatively empty, save for a homeless gentleman who was far too busy soiling himself to notice their conversation. "Let's take the bus."

    Serena raised her brows. "Why?"

    "Because crazy people take the bus," he explained, marching her to the stop on the corner. "I figure you're safest amongst your own kind." She stuck her tongue out at him, but wisely did not argue the matter. He then received the pleasure of having his foot crushed by her heels. It wasn't until then that he noticed she had somehow changed her clothes, from the very revealing attire she had worn the night before to a business suit with giant glasses and high-heels.

    He arched his brows. "How'd you get that get-up?" he asked, not quite able to stop himself from staring at her.

    She smirked and held up her white morpher, which looked exactly like his: a digital watch. "Mine's equipped to change clothes to a few different settings I have. Each of us have different settings modified to our morphers. For instance, I think 4 has some kind of holographic distortion thing set up."

    "Interesting," he mumbled back, making sure that none of the others waiting for the bus could hear them. "Do you think mine's got anything on it?"

    "Not if you haven't specially programmed it. I had to get Bakaguru to make mine." She dangled it in front of him. "Want to see what else I can wear?"

    "No," 0 said firmly, as a large bus skidded to a stop in front of him and wheezed open its doors. Thanks to his past living arrangements, 0 knew the bus system around Petalburg like the back of his hand, having had to return to the city numerous times.

    "By the way," Serena said, as they took seats in the section furthest away from other people, "have we decided on our aliases while working down here?"

    "I'm Keean Toby, if that's what you're asking," 0 replied.

    She smiled. "Then I'll be Serena Toby."

    "No. That would contradict the story I told the target at the tournament. I'm divorced, which shouldn't be hard for me to play. I'm also single, so we're not married." He allowed her to lean into him so they could whisper. "How about brother and sister?"

    She shook her head. "With what we get up to, I'm surprised at you." To emphasize this, she decided to press her chest against his arm. "We're not from Arkansa, after all. I don't have the complexion for an Orange Island tan."

    He sighed. "Roommates?" Another shake of the head and an increase in the amount of her body she pressed into him. "In a relationship, living together. That's the final offer."

    She nodded, and squealed, which he took to mean a yes. "I think I'll call you Kee-chan. Do you mind that, Kee-chan?"

    He hated it already and disliked the seductive tone she was using. "Call me whatever you want, 3," he muttered. "Just don't let it distract you from your job."

    She increased her hold on his arm and he felt her using the left side of his chest as a pillow. "You're so serious, Kee-chan. What's wrong?"

    He groaned. "You say that like you don't know," he replied sarcastically. "I'm…just a little tense with the situation, that's all. Our job here…I like it, but at the same time there's a whole lot going on in my head. You know that."

    "Want to talk about it?"

    "I thought we were."

    "I meant in bed."

    Despite her protests, the conversation did not resume after that.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Sarah Birch loved to draw.

    Her Uncle Tracy, who stopped by Petalburg every now and then doing research for Professor Oak had shown her many of his own drawings of people and Pokemon, several of which involved Contest scenes and Nurse Joys. The little girl loved when he came to visit on holidays, when she'd show him some of her best pictures. And Uncle Tracy, with his kind smile, would always take one for himself for safekeeping. At one time, she suspected that he didn't really keep them, but about a year or so ago he had come to Petalburg with a small book full of her pictures especially made for her. The originals, he said, were kept inside his traveling scrapbook.

    So, when she got tired of playing with her family or the Pokemon that roamed around the Gym, or when she was home from the Pokemon Trainer's School she attended, she spent a lot of time in her room drawing pictures. Most of the things she drew were funny little doodles from her imagination, like the one that showcased her Uncle Max's crybaby face after losing a Gym battle, which to this date she had never actually seen, or the one that had Uncle Brock surrounded by crowds of women, something she had also never seen before.

    Now that she had finished her breakfast and play, she took up her crayons and grabbed a clean sheet of paper to draw a new portrait. Her materials in hand, the little girl sat down in her chair and settled the crayons and paper on her work desk. Before she started, she opened the box of crayons and poured them all out onto the table to decide which she would use, because she was simply weird and organized like that. After a few moments of careful selection, she picked up a crayon that was of a light dark color, and shoved the rest to the side to start drawing. Her hand holding the paper steady, she scribbled a bit of the color onto a corner of the paper to make certain she had chosen the correct one, then began the outline of the portrait figure.

    As the outline progressed, it took on the image of what looked like a tall man, mostly because Sarah, though she was loved by her Uncle Tracy, did not quite have his skill. The head was a circle, the body looked like a rectangle with arms attached, and the legs and feet looked like a regular L and an inverted one. The hands looked like paws. She paused briefly, then laughed, pleased with the result. For detail, she gave the man a big nose, mostly because she could never decide on the size of a nose, and bigger noses were funnier than small ones. She drew in some coarse eyebrows that almost connected, and a giant mesh of hair that little a great deal like a mane. The hair covered the majority of the man's upper face, and completely obscured his eyes. With a giggle, she finished the face with a mouth, which was nothing more than a line. It looked like a cross between a smile and a frown.

    "There!" she said with satisfaction. "Now for clothes." Sarah put down her grey-black crayon and grabbed a gold one to cover the man's chest with the color. When this was finished, she picked up a pitch-black one and filled everything else in. To complete the picture, she drew a tiny little Pokeball in his left hand with a red crayon. "There we go. That's perfect!"

    In fact, she deemed it so perfect that it needed witnesses to its perfection, so the little girl jumped right out of her chair and ran out the door, eager to show the picture to whomever she ran into. She turned and bolted down the stairs, headed for the Gym training fields, where her uncle was sure to be practicing at this hour.

    Author's Note: Whole chapter today, because it's a shorter one. Now I'm off to make my girlfriend dinner!

  12. #12
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 7

    Morph Seven: In Which There Are Several Meetings of Importance

    0 glanced out the window. The sky was filled with clouds and cast the road ahead in a sheet of dark grey. Serena was sleeping, as she often did, her head draped on his shoulder. He was thankful that her mouth was closed, she tended to drool if left unattended. Even though his partner was asleep, he had to be wary of her hands, which had not stopped their attempts to snuggle her body against his. 0 spotted a sign on the road, and sighed with relief. "Only two miles to go," he murmured and rested his head against the back of his chair.

    The mall, which was the simple name that 0 had designated it years ago, was a massive behemoth of modern architecture and as such normally caused him to instantly feel as though his eyes were bleeding, as he preferred more traditional building styles from these new fangled modern constructs brought upon during the time he had spent in the PKM. The color was sleet grey like the sky above, only unlike the sky, which was rather pleasant to look at, the mall itself seemed made solely for the purpose of gaudiness even with its drab color. Columns were draped outside in foreign design and odd-shaped windows displayed the wares on sale within. He did not like it so he looked for the stop that he and Serena would have to disembark at.

    He nudged her with his shoulder. "Get up," he whispered. "We're here."

    Serena's eyes slowly opened and she looked around. "We're already here? That was quick," she mumbled, then yawned.

    0 turned away from the approaching building and checked the clock built into his morpher. "Yep," he said. "And with time to spare, just like I said. Come on, 3. Let's get this over with so you can go back home and sleep while I work." As the bus began to slow down, 0 stood up from his seat and prepared to disembark. After a few moments, Serena did the same, just before the bus came to a complete stop in front of the very busy mall. Several others were eager to get off as well and 0 forced Serena to wait until the roughly half-dozen others got off. He and Serena went last and got off just before the doors shut. 0 held his breath as the smelly bus shot off a bunch of smog before it rolled off.

    0, as he was maintaining a cover, allowed Serena to wrap her arm around his. "Keep close, 3," 0 muttered to her. He began to lead them towards the walkway. "This place can get kind of hectic, so you could get hurt." Serena, in response to his genuine concern, scoffed loudly at him.

    0 turned to her as they stopped for the light. "Now, Kee-chan," she purred seductively and for good measure trailed her hand just a tiny bit further up his arm, sending what she could only hope to be shivers down his spine. "I'm a big, bad girl. I think I can handle the dangers of a crowded mall." With her other hand, she cupped his ear and lifted herself to just graze it with her lips. "Let the bad girl Serena do her thing, and you do yours? How's that sound?"

    "I'd think it sound great, if I could hear you," he retorted. "Retract your tongue from my ear." An elderly man in front of them turned around with an excited look on his face, but the equally terrifying one from 0 convinced him to turn right back around. "We have a meeting today, so would it kill you to be professional? At least in public?"

    "You can make jokes?" Serena asked incredulously. "I didn't know you could make jokes." 0's expression did not change, so she stuck her tongue at him. "Fine. I'll behave for now." She lowered her hand, but maintained a very secure grip on his arm.

    The light changed to red, so 0 and Serena followed the crowd of shoppers across the street and into the mall. "I'll contact 415 once we're in the mall. We're meeting him at the food court." Serena nodded and 0 opened the door for her. She rushed inside, as her very, very tight business suit must have been very cold, what with the miniskirt and the winter weather. Come to think of it, as he glanced around, he noticed that some people were staring at him oddly, simply because he wasn't bundled up in roughly three layers of coats, but in his plain t-shirt. "Note to self, get some clothes that blend in later, 3," he muttered. "Not today, but get something downloaded into both our morphers to suit Petalburg."

    "That's a good idea," she answered in a low voice, not wanting to be heard by anyone nearby. "I can ask Bakaguru about it later, after the mission."

    0 chuckled.

    "What?" she asked.

    0 shook his head. "Nothing. It's just… You think all the time we spend in Orre would make us cold-a-phobic, but we seem to be doing better than most of the civilians."

    "You're right, Kee-chan." She giggled. "In fact-" She snuggled up close to him, partially because it was getting a lot more crowded as they attempted to get through the mall store and into the open area, but mostly because it allowed her to make him feel about as uncomfortable as humanly possible.

    0 ignored the rapidly expanding pit of irritation welling up inside his stomach and kept a tight grip on her. She reciprocated again and 0 inwardly wondered whether he, in all his travels in his youth, had ever done something to offend any of the Legendary Pokemon he had met to deserve such treatment in these stressful years of his life.

    The Petalburg Mall had two levels for shopping, along with a third near the food court that had been converted into a movie theater. The majority of the clothing stores were scattered throughout the mall, as whoever had built it had clearly wanted men to suffer. Food dotted the areas between and 0 thought he caught a few game stores or toy shops. So he had to keep Serena focused forward and away from any store that might entice her interest. As they passed a photo booth, 0 caught a glimpse of a suit store, something he was determined to not allow Serena to notice, so he dragged her as carefully as he could, for he did not wish to arouse her suspicion. A little while later, he saw something that filled his heart with dread: a lingerie store, something equally undesirable, but for another reason altogether from the suit store. But his luck, for once, was on his side, as both stores were to the left, and 0 could block the view with his gigantic body. Serena noticed nothing, far too busy making sure circulation was halted in his arm.

    After a few minutes and several backtracks, 0 managed to locate the food court, a massive food buffet, as many food courts commonly are. There were foods from all kinds of places, such as a Johto bakery in the corner, and a Sinnoh café right in the middle, offering free samples of lattes. "See anywhere we could sit?" he asked his partner.

    Serena glazed over the area. "I like that very private corner right over there," she answered, and pointed out said private corner. "No security cameras, and only people coming directly towards it could see us."

    "We will not sit in that booth," 0 decided, and led her away from her booth of choice to one of his. It was located in a loud section of angry mothers who appeared to be engaged in all-out warfare with their insolent children. 0 sighed, then bent his face to Serena's ear to communicate with his Pokemon. "Pi, hack into the security camera system. Make sure we're covered." Serena, true to her part, giggled and displayed a tint of red across her cheeks as they took their seats in the loud booth.

    After a minute, Pi answered. "Done, 0. All access granted without any problems. I'm keeping an eye on you right now. I'll alert you if I see anything weird."

    0, to keep himself inconspicuous, grunted his response to the rodent. However, when he sat down at the table, he noticed strangely that Serena had not taken her seat and was shooting daggers from her eyes. "What?" he asked, slightly confused.

    She fumed and shook her hair from her eyes. "You are supposed to help a lady to her seat. That's the rule, dummy," she snorted.

    0 gaped. "You're a lady?" he asked incredulously. "I didn't know you were a lady!" Pi roared with laughter in the earpiece. "Hang on, hang on." He grabbed Serena before she left and pushed the chair next to him out for her. "Happy?"

    She sat down, and proceeded to scoot her chair until their legs were only centimeters apart. "Very much so," she responded with a leer.

    0 checked his watch. "He'll be here in a bit," he announced, then settled into his hardback chair to wait.

    At precisely ten in the morning, someone did show up to see them. It was difficult to tell, mostly because neither 0 nor Serena had ever heard of 415, and all they had to go on was his incredibly nerdy voice. To their surprise, when 415 approached their table, they noticed one of two things. Firstly, 415 did not have an incredibly nerdy voice, as she was panting from carrying multiple bags of clothing. And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, 415 was not a 'he'. 415 was a young woman, who set down the vast amount of bags clutched in her hands like to many oversized bracelets and took a sea across from them.

    Without speaking, 415 began to divide the bags that she had amassed into several smaller groups of shopping bags. 0 couldn't really tell what she looked like, as she was heavily bundled and was wearing a hat and a scarf to match. So, 0 resigned himself to watching 415 finish dividing her new belongings before she finished. He guessed one stack was for clothing and the others were for…whatever else it was women shopped for. He didn't particularly care about it.

    "Pardon me, miss," he said, with an innocent tone. She looked up. "Can we help you?"

    Serena nodded in agreement. "Yeah," she muttered. "Buzz off. My man and I are kinda in the middle of something here." Then she dug her fingers into 0's inner thigh. 0 jumped and his knees bumped against the table's undersurface. "Right, Kee-chan?"

    0 silently swore vengeance when he returned home with Serena. "Y-yeah," he stammered and seethed quietly as he was forced to play the role of boyfriend for the stranger in front of them.

    The woman in front of them looked them over for a moment. "Get over yourselves, both of you." She looked at both of them in disgust. "You two are supposed to be the rangers I am tasked with dealing with? Can you not at least act the part?"

    Even though he had been suspecting it for a little while, 0 was still quite shocked. "415?" he asked, his mouth wide open. "But you're a-"

    She cut him off by ripping off her scarf and hat and raising a gloved hand. "I am aware," she replied with a chuckle. "But the cover identity I have assumed must be maintained." She noticed that he was still rather dumbstruck. "You should see the apartment. Everyone in my complex thinks a big smelly fanboy is living in my rooms. I had Bakaguru construct me something useful when I received this assignment. It greatly resembles him." She took a deep breath, then continued. "Jessie and James helped too. I suppose I should thank you personally for their defection to the PKM." She bowed her head courteously to 0.

    0 returned the gesture. "I thought they might like building stuff for us better than the prison sentence they were going to be given after we took down Team Rocket. At least Bakaguru seems to know how to keep them and that Meowth of theirs in line." He laughed to himself, Jessie and James brought back funny memories.

    415 nodded in agreement. "Bakaguru's department improved drastically with their acquisition." She lowered her face to the table, and whispered, "Why Giovanni wasted them in the field never ceases to perplex me. Rumors I heard insist they are designing something very big for the ranger program."

    "What?" Serena asked.

    She shrugged, then leaned back in her chair. "Hence the statement that I heard, not saw, that something was being built," she murmured, and removed several of her layers, allowing both 0 and Serena the chance to see 415 properly. Without all her layers, she looked like a completely different person. Her eyes were shaded with heavy mascara, and her hair was tingled with a dark brownish shade of dye. 415 smirked at the commanding officer, her mouth covered with black lipstick, and leaned to Serena. "Serena Brine, can I ask you a question?"

    "Of course."

    415 jerked her thumb at 0. "Is he always this dense, or is it just today?" 0 was speechless, and could not stop from staring. "I thought rangers were supposed to be smart." She turned her attention to 0. "Hey!" she shouted, and snapped her fingers at him. "Up here! Affix your attention to my face."

    0 protested. "I wasn't even-" She cut him off with a short hiss. "I'm not going to win this argument, am I?"

    "No, you are not," she replied pleasantly. "Here is the information you requested." She bent over to one of her bags and pulled out what appeared to be a small folder. "All the information you will ever need for this job. Everything about Petalburg in one little folder." She handed it to Serena, not trusting 0 with such special information. "Crime rate, a list of recently arrived residents to the area, and a full analysis of every convicted criminal involved with murder, kidnapping, and sexual offences."

    0 glanced at the lithe folder with skepticism. "It seems sort of small for all that," he noted. Serena passed him the folder, and he opened it to shift through the few papers inside. "All that is on five pages of research?"

    415 shook her head in irritation. "Idiot!" she exclaimed and batted him on the head. "Those pages are the summary. This-" And, as she insulted him, she drew out a small file disk from her coat "-is the information. It turns out my theory was right."

    "What are you talking about?" 0 asked.

    She sighed. "It has long been my assumption that you rangers are pretty good in battle, but not good for much else. So, instead of making a big paper report, I thought perhaps a computer program with bright colors and pictures might make it easier for you to find information."

    0 clenched his hand into a fist. "Why I oughta-"

    "-I will take that," Serena interrupted and, to make sure 0 stayed in line, squeezed his thigh to shut him up. "You've got to understand, 415, his specialty is Pokemon combat and offense tactics. He's the dimwit fighter for this mission. I'm from tactical operations and communications. Talk to me."

    415 brightened up. "Very well," she replied cheerfully. "Would you like some gum?" From wherever she drew things from, she produced a few sticks of gum.

    "I'd like some," 0 said and reached for one.

    415 closed her fist. "I do not recall offering you any," she retorted. "Serena Brine?"

    "No thank you," Serena answered politely. "I'm fine for now."

    415 shrugged. "As you wish," she murmured, and popped one stick into her mouth. Her mouth chewing, she continued. "Now, listen up, because this is classified." Both 0 and Serena leaned in closer to the table. 0 watched her cheeks wrestle with the gum. "My intelligence suggests that someone is after May Birch. My network has confirmed that there is a large, underground organization coming for her."

    "What organization?" 0 asked.

    "Unsure," she said between chews. "But it is massive. Like Team Rocket, before PKM brought them down. They want her, but I do not know why."

    "We had already guessed someone was after her," 0 explained. "We just don't know-"

    415 held up her hand to shut the ranger up. "When I want your input, genius, I will ask for it. Serena Brine can do the talking. You just sit in silence." She then smiled, and turned to Serena, leaving 0 to wonder why 415 disliked him. "Moving right along, something came up a few nights ago in my network. Dark Gems. Ever heard of anything like that?"

    "Never," Serena answered and shook her head. "What are they?

    "Unsure," 415 said. "However, they seem to be connected to the organization attacking May Birch." Her eyes swerved back to 0, who seemed to want to say something. "And if you say 'Look who's talking' I will help neither of you." Wisely, 0 remained stoic and silent. "Anyways, I cannot discuss it right here, but look for it in the file. Review the material back at your safe house." She held out her wrist, and checked a watch. "I must go now."

    "So this is all the information?" Serena asked.

    415 pulled all her layers back on and donned her hat and scarf. "Yes, Serena Brine. That is all the information I have for you now."

    "Thank you, 415," 0 replied. "You've been a great help to us."

    415 looked back at him as she grabbed all of her bags and shrugged. "I know I have," she muttered sarcastically and snapped off a salute to him. "From now on, only call me in the event of an emergency. I hate when people call my phone late at night. Especially when I am sleeping." She then vanished back into the swirling crowd of people. 0 and Serena, left behind, sat in silence for a few moments, stunned.

    0 and Serena turned very slowly to look at each other. "Wow," 0 muttered. "That… That was in no way anything resembling what I was expecting."

    Serena nodded. "No kidding, Kee-chan."

    "From her voice, I could have sworn she was going to be someone like Bakaguru." He whistled. "Really good cover."

    "Well, now that that's over with," she started and tucked the folder under her other arm, "we should probably head out soon. We still have to discuss some of the issues we were talking about earlier, remember?"

    "You mean the surveillance equipment?" he asked.

    She shook her head, and squeezed his thigh to provoke his usual reaction: a sharp bang as his knees connected with the underside of the table. "No, silly," she murmured and leaned in to graze his ear with her lips, softly breathing, "I was talking about the bedroom. Personally, I'm more privy to the right side of the bed. You want to take the rest, or should I just make it narrower so we can cuddle?"

    0 groaned. "I'm leaving," he grumbled, and began to head for the exit. Serena was on him fast and grabbed his arm. All the while back to the mall's exit, Serena protested strongly against his response, allowing 0 to leave the mall with the grace and dignity often reserved for lepers. He managed to catch glimpses of some of the mothers in the crowd, all of whom would have to field questions from their children after catching snatches of Serena's one-sided conversation with him involving viable options besides the bedroom, options that he never wanted repeated anywhere to anyone.

    When he got outside, he felt the cold air on his skin and relished the freedom. Or, at least he did for roughly two seconds, during which time Serena managed to catch up to him and grab his waist with such force that it sucked the air out of 0's lungs.

    "Please let go, 3," he ordered, attempting to draw breath. "I beg of you."

    "Never!" she squealed with a giggle, obviously not concerned with the level of discomfort she was not only causing 0, but the entire populace surrounding the walkway. If he were in an anime, 0 thought that steam should begin to form around his head from the absolute anger and irritation he was experiencing.

    He tried to move her but she wouldn't budge from where she was connected. "Let go of me!" 0 snarled and violently shoved her away from his body. Serena stumbled, unable to hold her balance, and fell flat on her face. In the middle of the street. The angle at which 0 had tossed her caused her to be propelled right into oncoming traffic. 0 looked up and saw that, to his horror, the light was green, with a hoard of cars heading her way. "3!"

    "Keean!" she screamed and, to her horror, turned to see a bus streaking towards her. Like a Stantler in the headlights, she froze and shrieked. "Save me!"

    The com-link in 0's ear exploded from Pi's warning. "Save her-"

    "Got it!" the ranger roared.

    CRACK.

    For a moment, 0 wasn't quite sure what was going on. When he heard the ominous crack, he glanced up, unsure if it had been lightning. The sky, while still cloudy, had no signs of a thunderstorm, so he looked back down. To his shock, everything was moving at a snail's pace. The bus, driving straight in the direction of his partner, was hardly moving. He could see the driver put the brakes on, though it would be too late to save Serena if 0 didn't intervene. Serena herself was upright, trying desperately to run back to 0, but she was moving as though trapped in molasses. 0 looked around and, to his shock, no one was even breathing. No one was moving. No one, save him.

    "Pi?" 0 called out into the earpiece. There was no answer. "Pi!"

    Alright, let's just go with this. 0 started to run directly for Serena. The cars got slower and slower, and he could swear that Serena's expression was slowly trying to change from fear to disbelief. He could see the air around him part to allow him to speed up. His ears were filled with the lengthy scream from Serena's mouth and an odd roaring that was coming from inside his body. He grabbed her just as the bus' headlights were about to smash into her. She swung into his arms as 0 burst towards the other side of the street.

    CRACK!

    The world reverted to its normal speed the moment after the second crack echoed through their ears. 0 managed to reach the curb, and stopped just on the pavement. 0 looked around, but nobody was focused on him, but rather what he was clutching rather protectively in his grasp. Serena hadn't even noticed that her petite body was being cradled by 0's powerful arms, she was too interested in finding out why she was no longer running towards safety. "3," 0 muttered to his partner and she looked up. "A-are you alright?" He felt something red spread across his face and the pit in his stomach lurched awkwardly.

    Serena gulped, but smiled as she realized exactly where she was and snuggled into his chest. "Y-yes, Kee-chan," she stammered, apparently quite flustered. "W-what was that thing you did?"

    He shrugged. "Hell if I know," he muttered. "I just started running."

    "Let's just get out of here," she murmured. "People are staring." 0 looked around and saw that she was correct. A couple of elderly gentlemen were hollering their approval from across the street. A few mothers were, once again, expressing disapproval, though 0 thought he saw a girlfriend nudge her gentleman with a bit of jealousy. 0 nodded and lowered her gently to the ground.

    "You're sure you're okay?"

    She just grabbed his arm again. "I'd be more worried about you, Kee-chan. Whatever that was, it wasn't something I've ever seen before. It was like…"

    0's communicator flared to life. "It was like Agility, wasn't it?" Pi asked.

    "Sure seemed like it. We were moving pretty fast, Pi," 0 answered. "But how did we manage to pull that off?"

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "You sure you're okay with doing this?"

    0 glanced back at his partner, who was already manning her position in front of the window, a pair of high-tech binoculars clutched in her hands. "Not a problem," he replied with a thumb's up. "I'll be back before you know it. Just make sure you cover us."

    Serena nodded, so 0 shut the door behind him and headed up to the roof. "Pi, make sure you cover me too," 0 added to his earpiece. "I'm not just relying on 3 for this one, right buddy?"

    "No way I let Serena have all the fun, 0," Pi chirped in helpfully. "You're approaching the doorway to the rooftop now." Sure enough, 0 reached the top step and opened the door to the night's air. It was chilly and a breeze surrounded him. "Good thing you wore the jacket, right?"

    0 nodded. "Right." His PKM jacket stood out in the civilian world, but hopefully its bright gold insignia wouldn't be noticed by too many. It was late and the majority of Petalburg had retired to bed long before he had decided to venture out into the night. He approached the railing that protected him from falling to a most gruesome and painful death on the street several floors below, lifting up one of his boots to perch on its metal. He looked into the streets below, and raised his right hand to his earpiece. "Nothing's moving in the streets. Can I get a confirmation from your end, 3?"

    His partner's voice crackled in the receiver. "Everything's fine from my angle, 0. My guess is the street's been quiet for over an hour." 0 glanced at his morpher, which informed him it was indeed a much later time than most people would care to stay up for. "No movements by my radar and all the lights in the apartments around us have been extinguished. You are clear to morph."

    The Golden Ranger felt a slight twinge of uneasiness pass through his stomach. "3, are you sure we don't have any stealth gear of some sort in those suitcases of yours?" he asked hesitantly. "I'm not sure if I feel comfortable with doing this even in ranger mode."

    Serena's laugh was broadcasted loud and clear to him. "Sorry, 0," she apologized, every syllable dripping with sarcasm. "I must have been so busy putting so much surveillance equipment into the cases, plus my wardrobe, that I plum forgot to bring you a little spandex jumpsuit for you to grease your way into." 0 sighed, but his barely-noticeable objection did little to curb Serena's banter. "I must have just assumed that, because you have the most powerful ranger uniform in the entire PKM, you could maybe use that to break into someone's house and plant surveillance equipment." He heard a few strokes of a keyboard. "Was I mistaken? Should I have packed you a little uniform that even a dwarf in a barrel of butter couldn't have squeezed into?"

    "You are getting reprimands when I get back, 3," 0 growled.

    She cooed into his earpiece. "Sounds good to me," she moaned. "I love it when you dominate. Reprimand me! Reprimand me! I've been such a naughty little subordinate…"

    0 was thankful she trailed off. "Is there a particular reason you can't do this?"

    He heard her slap her forehead. "Because, my little superior, there are colors that don't work well in shadows. And you're talking to the White Ranger. Your golden spandex is perfect, because it only reflects light. It'll blend right in. Now mush! The moon's about to disappear behind the clouds. You won't get a better shot at this."

    0 looked up and noticed that the moon was indeed fading behind a cloud cover. "Roger," he confirmed, and used his left hand to press the little red activation button on his morpher. "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!" 0 made a mental note to reprimand himself for being forced to use such a lame call signal for his voice confirmation while the morpher activated. His civilian clothes and his jacket were exchanged in a brilliant flash of yellow light for the Kevlar-like bulk of the Golden Ranger uniform. 0 lowered his face, and the view showed the Gym. "Pi, scan for all moving persons inside the Petalburg Gym, and display their coordinates in real-time. 3, keep a watch for anyone coming by." Oddly, when he spoke, he noticed a change in his voice tone.

    "Got it," the Pokemon answered. "Scan shows five humans and multiple Pokemon. Displaying members of the Birch family." In moments, five heat signatures appeared on screen, combined with the regular visor display. "All of them are upstairs in the sleeping quarters of the Gym. Now adding the Pokemon." The visor showed at least ten Pokemon on the lowest level of the Gym.

    "Judging from the heartbeat rhythms I'm getting, I'm sure everyone's asleep, 0," Serena chimed in. "You're still clear street-wise."

    "Pi, it's getting dark. Switch me to night vision." A moment later, his standard vision changed to shades of green. "Good. 3, how should I get over there?" he asked.

    He heard more typing. "Pi," Serena said, "convert primary energy in the ranger suit from all-around to feet. It'll allow 0 to jump across the street and it'll minimize the shock absorption when he lands. I think that'll take care of it, seeing as 0's version of the ranger uniform doesn't come with flying capabilities."

    "Okay," the mouse replied. 0 noticed an energy gauge on the lower left of his visor fluctuating. "All done. I didn't know I could even do something like that."

    "That suit has a lot of different functions available. Must be because of its design," Serena noted. "It has a higher amount of power stored in."

    "Can we just go, if you haven't finished the science lecture?" 0 asked impatiently. "Sooner or later someone's going to notice someone cosplaying up here. I need to get out of sight while the moon's still covered."

    "Oh! Yes, you're okay to jump."

    "Best news I've heard all day," he retorted with sarcasm. 0 crouched, as he would for any other jump, only when he released he soared forward across the street. For a moment, he was worried that he had put too much force into the leap, and would overshoot the Gym's roof. Fortunately, he had not, and Pi's modifications managed to pay off. "Pi, brace for landing! Cushion my impact so it won't make any noise!"

    "I'm on it!"

    0 landed smoothly, with just a small scratch sound made thanks to the fact that he rolled upon landing, rather than smashing down with both feet into the roof. "I'm here," 0 reported and looked back to Serena in the apartment now across the street. "Disable all their security systems. I don't want an alarm buzzing me." He didn't want to wake someone and disturb their sleep, especially when what he was doing was technically illegal. "You done?"

    The keyboard strokes ended moments later. "All finished," Serena announced. "Blueprints of the Gym have been downloaded, and are being loaded into the uniform's processor. Pi, make sure 0 doesn't take any wrong turns."

    "I'll try," Pi replied. "0, open the trapdoor three feet to your left and proceed down the stairs to the second floor."

    "I already knew that, Pi," 0 muttered. "I used to be a part of this family, remember? I think I know how to get in." He looked down and grabbed the knob on the door. He opened it gently, as it creaked a little when he started to pull. He took a deep breath when no alarm sounded and began his descend into enemy territory. As soon as he was inside he shut the door, not wanting to alert the family to a strange new gust of cold air in their warm home. He walked down a small, narrow flight of stairs and into the second floor living quarters of the Birch family. In his ears, he could hear an odd typing from Serena's keyboard.

    "Now running on silent mode," Serena declared. The visor changed again, adding a small X at the top of the screen. "It's safe to talk now."

    0 looked up, and stopped just before he left the staircase. "Hang on, 3. What's silent mode?" he asked. He also noticed that his voice had returned to normal.

    He heard a sigh. "It basically mutes you to the outside world," Serena explained. "When rangers go into battle, their voices are altered by a speaker built into the lower section of the helmet. That's why your voice was sounding so mechanical. It's part of the disguise. Silent mode allows us to freely communicate in areas where noise sensors are. I'm just doing it so we can talk freely without waking the family."

    "Oh," 0 said. "Good idea."

    He could practically see Serena smirk on the other side of the communicator. "Don't forget, 0," she replied, and he could also see her wagging her finger, "just because you're the commanding officer for this mission doesn't make you the best ranger. I'm more seasoned with PKM equipment, after all. Pi isn't ready to use all the functions that it can access, and neither are you. Just deploy the cameras, and let me worry about the rest, okay?"

    "Yeah, yeah," he murmured. "Pi, transfer me one capsule. I want to get this over with as quickly as possible. I don't feel comfortable being back here." The Pokemon squeaked its confirmation, and 0 glanced in his hand to see a dull red glow in the palm of his glove. The tiny capsule formed, sort of how the sword had in his battle, and fully materialized with no problems. "I'm deploying the micro cameras. Pi, 3, make sure you get good angles so we can see everything we need."

    "Not to worry, 0. Deploy them." With the Pikachu's assurance, 0 took a deep breath before he held out the capsule and pushed the trigger down for its release. The capsule burst noiselessly in his palm and transformed into a cloud of microscopic cameras that flooded the air of the second floor. "Now guiding cameras." The cloud slowly dispersed, scattering to the corners of the hallway and into the cracks of the lightly opened doors of the Birch family bedrooms. 0 remained motionless before Pi's voice penetrated the silence in his helmet. "First wave complete," it confirmed. "Proceed down to the first floor and repeat at the foot of the stairs. Shouldn't be too bad."

    "3, where's the camera function on this suit?" 0 asked.

    "There isn't one," she said. "Camera testing shows one hundred percent visibility on the second floor. I can't show them to you right now because it would overload the uniform's system, but they're good. Now head for the first floor and come back home. Make sure those Pokemon don't catch you, otherwise there's going to be trouble."

    "I figured as much," he answered. The doors at the end of the hall were ajar, but he ignored them for the time being, focusing on avoiding the extremely creaky stair located near the middle. Treading softly, he successfully reached the bottom, which led him into the kitchen. He glanced to his left and saw the Gym. The heart signatures on his visor still indicated he hadn't woken anything. "Next capsule. Now." Pi materialized the capsule and 0 released it just as he had the first.

    "Here we go," Serena grunted and the cloud began to swirl around and spread throughout into rooms that 0 had seen before, but didn't wish to revisit. "I think that covers everything. Head back to the roof and deploy a final capsule outside so we can get all the viewpoints we can, and jump back to our apartment building. Understand?"

    "Understood. I'm going," he answered. He returned to the second floor. "Wait… Hang on for a sec." Curiosity overwhelming him, he tried to remember who's door it was on the left side of the hallway that had been left slightly ajar.

    "0, you need to get out of there now!" Serena hissed. "What if someone sees you?" 0 didn't seem to notice her concern and quietly opened the door just a slight bit to expose the bed. "Are you out of your mind?"

    "How much time do you think would be safe to check a few things?" he asked.

    "What are you doing?"

    "I'm going to check on some old friends," he answered. "Deactivate silent mode. Keep her from overriding, Pi." The X at the bottom of his visor vanished, and 0 grinned underneath his helmet. The Golden Ranger, keeping his breathing to a lithe hissing of mechanical monotone, stepped towards his former wife's bed. From the slight breathing he could detect from her side, he guessed she was still safely asleep.

    After three years, he still thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Instead of a woman, it was as though a piece of art slept happily before him. She had a loveliness that seemed unearthly to him and, like a piece of art, he knew would never be something to be touched by him. Her curly auburn locks were strewn across her sleeping face, her eyelids concealed the azure he had once loved to gaze into for hours on end. He looked down her body and noticed that she was wearing very little for a night like this: just a tank top and some sleep pants. Her arms had trails of goose bumps running all over. Of course, he saw this through the night vision. Her hair was a sea of green to him, but he still found it beautiful nonetheless. He raised his hand to his chest and found that through the uniform his heart was throbbing faster than he could remember it ever doing.

    Suddenly, she moved, and tossed herself to the side unexpectedly. 0 had already moved deep into the shadows, even though the curtains were drawn inside the room and darkness shrouded him safely. He could not wait any longer so, as an afterthought, he returned to her bedside and drew her blankets up for her to warm herself. She snuggled up inside the bundle and 0 was forced to abandon the room before his emotions got the better of him and he spoke. He heard a slight murmur of sleep-talk before he closed the door, and his heart raced.

    0 could practically see Serena sitting with rage at her laptop, unable to stop him. He almost laughed, but stopped himself before a giggle escaped his lips. He still had one more stop to make before he left, one that would be worth all the trouble that he had had to perform that evening. He walked across the hallway to the second door and pushed it open, thanking his lucky stars that neither Serena nor Pi could do anything to stop him.

    The room he found himself in had changed considerably from the last time he had come into it. 0 looked at the corner of the room and saw a small drawing desk that now occupied where the baby crib had once been stationed. The wallpaper, however, was intact, with plenty of happy Pokemon designs that he himself had picked out a long time ago. He touched the surface of the wall and hoped it still had the warm feeling he could not detect through his ranger uniform. Various toys were scattered amidst the rug-covered floor, so he had to be careful not to step on any of them. Finally, only when he had viewed the pictures that surrounded the girl's desk and memorized them, he cast his gaze onto the tiny little bed in the middle of the room. Inside the bed, having crawled into the many blankets that 0 was certain her mother had made her use, was a little girl that 0 hardly recognized from the last time he had had the chance to see her. Three years had apparently changed more than him, he thought, as he looked at Sarah Birch.

    His daughter was far bigger than when she was two, as was to be expected. Her mother had allowed Sarah to grow out her hair from the last time he had seen her close up like this, it was in two little pigtails. He looked at them and knew where their color had come from. The eyes were closed, but 0 knew where those had come from too. He did not touch her, but was very glad that the visor that he wore was hiding his face and was inhibiting the display of his emotions. His face felt very hot and, if he hadn't known for a fact that he couldn't, he was certain that he might have been crying.

    "Sarah…" he whispered hoarsely. He cursed himself afterwards for his clumsiness, he hadn't meant to speak at all! He looked at the little girl, she was still asleep, or so his visor's readings said. He had to leave, so he stood up from the bed and, taking one of the pictures for himself, escaped the daughter's room as quickly as he was able to and practically did all but run to the trapdoor on the roof.

    "Okay, I'm ready to come back," 0 stated mechanically and made sure he had a good grip on the paper before he jumped up back to the apartment complex. He landed without comment, he figured Pi and Serena could take care of the mechanics of the uniform. "Power down." The order was instantaneous and the suit surrounding him disappeared in another bright flash of golden light. 0 sniffed the fresh air of the cold night, the uniform had toxin-free pumps that, while destroying any deadly chemicals in the air, also took away the freshness. "I'll be in soon. Give me the last capsule." As he headed for the door, the third and final capsule materialized in his hand. He clicked the top, just as he had with the others, only this time he threw it in the direction of the Gym. Not bothering to see the cloud disperse, 0 shut the door to the outside world and headed back home.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    When 0 reached the apartment, he opened and closed the door without comment. He glanced at Serena's curious face once, then ignored her as he tossed his set of keys in her general direction. "Mission complete," 0 announced without any interest whatsoever. "All the cameras are in place. We get what we need?" Before Serena could reply, 0 had already started for the fridge, where a cold beer was waiting for him to drown his sorrows in its long neck.

    Serena waited for him to crack open the bottle, using the table as an opener, before she spoke. "Are you okay?" she asked as he sat down and consumed roughly half the bottle in one swig. She set her laptop aside and scooted over to her cushion on the other side of the table. Something felt wrong to her and she was pretty sure she knew what it was. 0 was normally in one of two moods: cheerful or gloomy, and his current state suggested the latter. "Did something happen while you were with Sarah?"

    0 took another sip, but nodded into his bottle. "Sort of," he mumbled. "I mean, I saw her at the Contest, but not up close like tonight. If you had a two-year-old and, suddenly, she sprouted into a five-year-old before your very eyes, you'd think it was strange too." He hung his face so she could only see his lips quiver as he spoke. "I had to break into her house in my ranger gear to see my daughter. I can't just walk up to the house and ask to see her. I can't even…" He stopped and drank again. "I haven't seen her up close like that for years, 3." His mouth twitched, and he looked up at her. He wanted to say more, but halted and finished the rest of his bottle. He then got up for another and returned to his cushion at the table.

    Serena tilted her head so her emerald eyes shined through her ivory locks. "0, you're starting to worry me," she said and took the hand that wasn't holding the bottle into hers. "Are you sure everything's fine?"

    In response, 0 slammed the bottle's top against the hard edge of the table, releasing the cap with a satisfying sizzling noise. "Yeah, 3," he retorted and started drinking again. "I've never felt better. Maybe I should run for mayor."

    Serena noticed his hands were shaking. "Poor baby," she cooed. He wasn't resisting her holding his hand, so she decided to be a bit bolder. She slowly began to edge herself around the table until she was sitting next to him. She released his hand and, as gently as she could, wrapped her arms as far as they would go around his chest, circling her hands on his shoulders. "It's okay." She pressed her face against his chest. "I know you won't cry, but it's okay." Suddenly, for a strange reason, she noticed the size difference between herself and her partner. She felt his strong heartbeat thump against her cheek, and realized with a warm sensation that her heart matched the rhythm. He didn't resist her, he was clearly too upset to. I could have him right now, and he would do nothing to stop me.

    But she didn't. Instead, she took his bottle from him and set it aside on the table. "Hey," she said and looked up at his savage face. "I'm always going to be here for you, okay? I promise it'll be all right." She gulped. "That you'll be all right."

    0 didn't know what to say to that. This wasn't the Serena that he had spent the majority of his PKM career avoiding the advances of. His jaw was locked, for he was immersed in deep psychological battle against himself. Nothing wet dripped down his cheeks, but eventually his heartbeat calmed down. "T-Thanks, 3," he mumbled, after a few minutes of quiet. "I needed that. Thanks." He hugged her gently, not wanting to crush her, and also not wanting her to misinterpret his gesture. "I'm glad you're my friend."

    "It's nothing, 0, really," she stammered when he let her go. "Come on, let's get Pi hooked up into the camera system. It'll make lookout duty all kinds of easier." She held out her hand invitingly.

    He took it with a smile. "Sure. How?"

    She picked up her laptop and placed it onto the table. "We just need to jack Pi into the circuits so it can control the cameras. It'll help us because we won't have to handle the hassle of constantly keeping an eye on May. Think you can handle that, big guy?"

    "It doesn't sound like something I can't handle," it replied in 0's earpiece. "Hook me up."

    0 relayed the message. Serena nodded and brought out a wire that she connected to her monitor. "Here," she said and extended her arm. "Give me your morpher so I can perform the linkup." 0 gave her his wrist and she hooked them up. "Ready, Pi?"

    The screen flashed briefly and Pi's form appeared in the computer. "I'm in," it confirmed. "Download it into the morpher." Serena typed in a few things into the keyboard, 0 didn't really notice what, but assumed they had something to do with the download. A moment later, a bar streaked across the bottom of the screen. "Download complete. I have access to all the cameras. Every one of them is functioning." It smiled and ran around in a circle. "Mission accomplished!"

    Author's Note: The next chapter will begin immediately after I finish posting this one. The girlfriend and I were out late last night and I didn't get an opportunity to post.

  13. #13
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 8

    Morph Eight: Serena's First Mission

    "…And that's what happened, Bakaguru," 0 explained into the laptop's screen. Inside the PKM Research and Development Sector, the engineer mused thoughtfully at the information he had been presented with, softly sipping on tea from a steamy mug on his desk. "It was…it was like nothing I've ever felt before. For what felt like eternity, time stopped just long enough for me to save 3."

    Bakaguru wrinkled his acne-encrusted brow, and wiped his lips on his lab coat. "That's very abnormal, Golden Boy. I've never heard of something like this before. A ranger using a Pokemon ability? It's…unheard of." He scratched his chin. "Wait a moment," he answered. "It might be possible that you didn't stop time, but you just tapped into the fight or flight response."

    "The flight or flight response?" 0 asked. "Never heard of it. What does it do?"

    Bakaguru sighed and the flops of his cheeks swayed with his head. "The fight or flight response is a mechanism inside our nervous system. But, because you are not the smart ranger, I shall inform you of what it means via colorful, easy words."

    "Shut up," the ranger retorted.

    "I doubt you want that," Bakaguru countered. "Anyway, the fight or flight response is a sort of pumping up for fighting or running away. The body fills with adrenaline, and you perform one of those two reactions. You know how you hear of men being able to tear off jammed seat belts to save loved ones, or how a woman can remove chunks of rubble from a collapsed building that even a professional bodybuilder would find difficulty in displacing? The concept is the same." Having finished his scientific explanation, Bakaguru proceeded to enjoy yet another sip of his tea. "However, based on what you have explained to me, I do not believe this to be the case."

    0 rubbed his forehead, and uttered a groan. "I figured," he replied. "But why'd you have to keep up with the boring science stuff if you knew that wasn't what was going on." 0 leaned into the screen. "Spill it. Is something wrong with me and Pi?"

    Bakaguru shook his jelly head, his greasy hair swinging. "No. I cannot see any problem with your present status. However… I must still do further research on this phenomenon. Tell me, have you managed to duplicate the effect again?"

    "Well…" 0 grinned. "Not really. I mean, it did only happen yesterday, and a lot of stuff happened yesterday. Plus, I don't think 3 is all that eager to go running in front of a bus again on the off-chance that it might work," the ranger explained. "Pi's pretty sure we used Agility, but it might be something else. I'll let you know if it happens again."

    "Very good then," Bakaguru murmured. "Well, from what I can tell so far, I might be able to give you a hypothesis on what happened." Bakaguru reached for his tea, and took a slight draught before continuing. "Now, it is my understanding that you and your ranger spirit, the Pikachu, have a very, very close bond, correct?"

    "That's right," 0 replied. "Pi and I have been tight for a very long time."

    Bakaguru widened his smile. "Well, that might be the key," he said. "You see, when PKM Ranger status is reassigned to a new agent, that new agent will only have access to a uniform created with the ranger spirit and the morpher. In all the time we have had ranger technology, we have only had one exception, and that is you and your ranger spirit. Unlike most rangers, who are only capable of utilizing the standard equipment, you both were capable of manifesting a melee weapon immediately. Without a single download program installed from my labs. I think this can only mean one of two things, Gold."

    0 arched his brow. "What are those?" he asked.

    Bakaguru paused to adjust his eyeglasses. "Hypothesis one: the prior Golden Ranger, your predecessor, chose willingly to commit seppuku. Your positioning at the Contest was not accidental and, when he died, he transferred a previously unknown installed weapon in the event you would ever require it. Does that make any sense to you?" he asked.

    "Actually, that does kind of make sense," 0 answered. "When I was an agent, all the old guy would ever do was bust my chops about my so-called destiny. Every single time I saw the guy he reminded me that his job would be mine one day. To be honest, it sort of got annoying after a while. But what's the second option, Bakaguru?"

    At this, Bakaguru's eyes grew rather dim. "I am afraid the second option is worse, Gold. My second hypothesis is that your morpher is malfunctioning due to the strength of your bond with your ranger spirit. PKM agents to not usually utilize Pokemon, you are one of the few specialists. As a result, rangers are normally assigned a Pokemon to work with when they are promoted to the position. However, you are the exception. You and Serena. Thus, because of the strength of your bond, the Pokemon's abilities might be fusing with your DNA."

    0 was still confused. "What does that mean?"

    The engineer groaned with irritation. Instead of answering, Bakaguru lifted his cup and finished what remained of his tea. "Why must you be so unintelligent? All of you rangers, excluding Serena, are completely incompetent in thought processes!" He leaned into the screen. "It means, buffoon, that because of your strong bond with your Pokemon, the ranger spirit's abilities might be crossing over to you, such as the rather unique ability to move faster than the blink of an eye. And, at the same time, you are merging with your ranger spirit, which allowed it to form a weapon specifically calibrated for you without any need for downloading. Can I be any more clear, or do you require a picture book?"

    "Okay, okay. I got the message," 0 retorted. "Why is it everyone feels the need to rip on me for doing the slightest thing wrong. I'm new to being a ranger, remember?"

    "Because, Gold," Bakaguru explained, "you, despite your intensely novice experience, are also the highest ranking PKM Ranger. You are Agent 0, and with that comes a little thing called responsibility. You are supposed to know how your morpher works and you don't. You are supposed to lead your team yet Serena seems to be doing everything for you. By the way, I thought that I should mention that you did pathetically bad last night. I watched the tapes. I have not seen such a horrid demonstration of a ranger's abilities since you and Serena were assigned to retrieve 2 and 4 four years ago."

    "Hey!" 0 barked. "We did the best we could in that situation. And if I recall, you didn't foresee what would happen either. You share as much blame as we do."

    Bakaguru coughed loudly, though 0 knew he would never admit any fault occurred on his part for any reason. "Anyway, Gold, returning to our original point. I will continue research on your condition to determine its causes. Contact me immediately if there are any further developments. Especially in civilian form. The mere fact that you were capable of tapping into your Ranger Spirit's abilities is immensely interesting. Good day." The screen flickered for a moment, then Bakaguru's ugly face distorted into static, then Serena's screen saver. Briefly, 0 considered deleting the obnoxious photo she had of both of them, then decided it would be a better use of his time to look through 415's information.

    0 opened the channel that connected him to Pi. "Anything interesting today?" the ranger asked, retrieving the disk from the folder's insides.

    "As far as I can see, everything's quiet at casa de Birch, 0," the mouse reported cheerfully. "The family's up, and nothing suspicious is going on."

    "Have you managed to find out anything about yesterday?" 0 asked.

    0 mentally pictured Pi shaking its head. "I've been checking the morpher's database all day. So far, there are no irregularities in the system. No extra downloads. There's nothing wrong with it. But, about yesterday, I honestly can't even remember what happened. I just started shouting then…well, nothing. I heard a big crack, and that was kind of it."

    "Do you think there was some kind of problem with what happened when I digitized you into the morpher?" he asked. "I already hate that we had to do that to you. I don't want to screw anything else up."

    "Don't worry about it, 0," it said happily. "Nothing's gone wrong so far. So I'm a ranger spirit and you're a ranger. So what? I remember when you used to love the idea of being one of the spandexes."

    0 plugged the computer disk into the laptop and waited for the computer to start loading the file. "That was a really long time ago, Pi," he muttered. The laptop opened the file which, to 0's surprise, had a password encryption. "Hey, Pi? Do you have any idea of 415 mentioned a password anywhere." He grabbed the loose folder and rifted through a few pages. "Just great. All this info and no way to get at it. I swear, the whole of PKM is starting to get on my nerves."

    "You just don't have the best luck with women, 0," it replied sympathetically. "Worse than Brock, even. First May, then Serena, and now 415. Even Bakaguru seems to have it in for you. What have you done to deserve such terrible misfortune?"

    "I've done something to some Legendary Pokemon that caused them to despise me and doom my relationships with women for the rest of my life," 0 muttered dismally.

    "Yep!" Pi replied cheerfully.

    At that very moment, a giant moan issued from the sleeping area Serena was currently occupying. "Well, the Snorlax is up," 0 muttered. "There's no way I'm going to be able to get any work done now. The eating machine wants breakfast." Sighing, the ranger rose from the table to rouse his partner with a microwave bento.

    "Hey, 0?"

    "Yeah?" 0 stuck the platter in the microwave and started to nuke it.

    "Well…what's your beef with Serena anyway? So she likes you. It's not like that's a crime."

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    ...Four Years Ago...


    The forests of west Kanto are quite beautiful, especially just outside the small community of Pallet Town. You could see Pokemon everywhere, from the bugs that crawled across the earth to the bird Pokemon that soared through the trees. Amid all this, in a tiny clearing just outside the town, was a small cottage. It looked like something out of Norman Rockwell. Two storey, painted off-white with a slanted red roof, and a small black chimney poking out of the top. A picket fence separated a small garden of flowers and vegetables from the outside forest, along with what appeared to be a small plastic child house colored yellow. It was outside this house that a family was saying goodbye to one another. The man, clearly distinguished as the one departing, held a small briefcase in one of his hands. The other was wrapped firmly around his wife's thin waistline.

    His wife, however, did not seem to mind the unnecessary attention, as she was blushing furiously. Wrapped in her arms was a small bundle with a tiny face protruding. The husband's left hand glittered with the tiniest bit of gold around his ring finger as he kissed her goodbye one last time.

    "I promise, honey," he murmured into her ear, "it's just going to be for a couple of days. Just two days out kicking butt, and I'll be right back." The red did not die across his wife's face, if anything it intensified, as he continued to whisper exactly what he was planning on returning to.

    "Yeah, right," she grumbled. "That is never going to happen. Not while Sarah's in the house."

    "My mother can baby-sit one night," he countered and scooped both his wife and his daughter into his arms, and pecked the blushing woman's lips ever so gently. "It'll be fun, I promise. You'll love it."

    If it were possible, he could have sworn he saw steam erupt from her ears. "Let me down this instant!" she ordered between giggles. He, albeit unwillingly, complied and set her down on the grass. "Just be glad we live out here, where no one can see when you do stupid displays like this. If you ever pulled this kind of stuff in the city, I'd die of embarrassment."

    His grin grew wider and she giggled furiously. "Trust me, May. If we lived in the city, I'd do so much more…" He allowed May's reddened face to complete his sentence and chuckled. "Anyways, I'll make this up to you when I get back from this tournament. I'll take you out to that restaurant you love." A loud squeak issued, actually more like a whine, from the bundle wrapped in May's arms. Defiantly, against her mother's cooing for quiet, little Sarah poked her tiny head out into the world and butted her face in the direction of her father. "Give her here," he said and took the baby girl into his arms.

    He smiled at the girl, and she smiled back, happy to be with her daddy. "Don't worry, baby Sarah. Daddy will be back before you know it. I promise." The girl squeaked in happiness as he bent down to kiss her brow, and she giggled. She seemed a little disappointed when he handed her back to her mother, but perked up again when May started tickling her stomach to induce laughter. "You two be good, okay? Sarah, behave for Mommy."

    May cuddled the baby. "Don't worry about a thing, tough guy. Max should be stopping through tomorrow on his Kanto run. He'll be sorry he missed you on the way."

    He shrugged. "Sucks to be him," he countered and chuckled. "Eh, I can train him some other time. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort for me to whip his butt in a match."

    "Be nice to my brother," she retorted and feigned fuming.

    "Yeah, yeah…" He reached under his shirt for his belt or, more specifically, what was on his belt. The small Pokeball unclipped easily from its holster. "I'll take Z to get to my plane, and I should arrive sometime tonight. I'll call you guys when I get there." He clicked the trigger button on the middle of the sphere. "Z, let's get going!" he shouted and tossed the ball into the clearing outside the picket fence. It exploded with red light and a giant, orange lizard emerged from the flash of red energy. It atomized and reformed into one of his most powerful Pokemon, and primary mode of transportation, Charizard. Easily twelve feet tall and significantly larger than the average Charizard, Z roared at its liberation from its Pokeball and beat its great, leathery wings. It did this only for a moment however, as it glanced down and noticed that Sarah was there, and quieted down quickly. It growled cheerfully at the family and Sarah giggled at its fearsome face.

    "Ready to go, big guy?" the trainer asked his Pokemon. Z nodded its agreement and lowered its body to allow him to mount its back. The trainer put his fingers to his mouth and whistled for the second Pokemon he had with him, and his dearest friend. "Pi, let's get out of here! We gotta get rolling!"

    In response, a small pet-like door at the foot of the house's door burst open and a vibrant yellow mouse stampeded in the direction of its best friend. The Pikachu launched itself, as it was accustomed to doing, and landed perfectly onto the man's left shoulder. He saluted his wife and his daughter one last time before he jumped up onto Z's back. The Charizard, used to much heavier weights, didn't seem to mind. Pi jumped up and latched onto its pointy head, securing itself by digging its little paws into Z's skull as gently as it could. Z grumbled with a little annoyance but ignored it.

    "Kick it, Z!" the trainer shouted. In response, Z roared, smoke belching from its nostrils. Flapping its powerful wings, the muscular creature lifted from the ground in a manner very similar to a helicopter. He waved goodbye to his family until Z started to move, upon which he grabbed the Charizard's neck for dear life. Z roared one last time then shot off into the distance in a massive burst of speed.

    The wind blew through his raven hair as everything began to transform into a giant blur. The trainer opened his briefcase, his thighs keeping a tight grip on Z's midsection. Inside the suitcase were a pair of goggles and what appeared to be a work jacket, both of which he retrieved. He put on the rough jacket to shield himself from the cold air from Z's speed and he put on the goggles to make sure that his eyes weren't hit by something in mid-flight.

    "Hey, Z!" he shouted to the Charizard. The Pokemon acknowledged that it heard him with a quick roar. "We're meeting the chopper at the far south part of the forest, by the ocean! Take us down there!" In response, Z roared its confirmation and sped off even faster than before. In what seemed like no time at all, the trainer spied the black helicopter waiting for him at the outskirts of the forest. Z began to circle around and landed on the ground right next to the helicopter.

    Next to the machine, two pilots waited dressed in black Kevlar, which couldn't have been comfortable in the warm weather. Both snapped off a salute as he approached and he returned it. "Agent 1076 reporting in," he announced. "Z can fly ahead and keep lookout. Pi will stay with us. Got it?" In response, the Charizard swept up its wings and propelled itself into the sky. 1076, along with Pi, boarded the helicopter with the two pilots, who started takeoff procedures immediately. 1076 chuckled as his Charizard sped off, clearly intent on showing up the pilots' skills.

    "How we doing, guys?" 1076 asked. "Pass me those headphones. I hate loud takeoffs." One of the guys must have heard him, because he was passed a com-headphone immediately. He grabbed the microphone built into the headset. "PKM, this is Agent 1076. I've been picked up, and we're heading back for home. My Charizard is accompanying us, you'll spot it before you see the chopper. Z's always been faster then most of PKM's gear." The pilots didn't seem to like the comment, but Pi squeaked its approval. Z soon began an orange speck in the distance as it began to pick up speed and 1076 could tell that the pilots were attempting to keep up with the giant Charizard. It was actually kind of fun, considering how boring most chopper rides with PKM pilots were. In next to no time, though it was probably several hours, 1076 could see the skylines of the Orre desert, the hideaway for his secret organization and the real reason for his business trip.

    "This is Poke 226," one of the pilots stated into his communicator. "We're almost home. Can you see the Charizard?"

    The radio crackled its response. "Roger. We're flagging down the Pokemon. We've picked you up on the radar, you're about two kilometers away from the target landing point. Over and out."

    "Got it," the second pilot replied and turned to 1076. "Welcome home, sir."

    The agent grinned and shook his head. "I'll be back home when this is over with. I've gotta think of something to get my baby girl as a present." Sure enough, within a few minutes, he caught site of the headquarters, which appeared to the untrained eye to be a small-time cantina. As always, it has its closed sign on the door and there wasn't anyone nearby, so it was child's play to land the chopper in the concealed area behind the cantina.

    "Sealed and confirmed. Poke 226, welcome home," said the mechanized voice once they had landed. 1076, along with Pi, were the first out of the transport vehicle.

    Agent 1076 looked exactly like the posters of him portrayed him as. Wild, raven colored hair streamed across his face while his goggles shielded his eyes from the sands and winds of the Orre desert. His rough jacket, a PKM model with his rank sewn on the shoulders, was black with red trimmings, denoting his status as one of the top standard agents of PKM. 1076 retrieved Z's Pokeball and then turned over to the lizard. "Good work," he said to the Charizard. "We didn't even stand a chance, buddy." He clicked the trigger button on the ball and pointed it to the lizard. Z roared with pride one final time before it was digitized into red light and returned to its Pokeball to rest.

    "So, let's go see 0, right Pi?" he asked the Pikachu. Pi nodded eagerly and hopped up onto his shoulder as the agent started down the hallway. "I wonder what he wants me to do this time. Must be important, to call me away from home on such short notice like this. Bet it's a really cool assignment."

    The mouse agreed eagerly. 1076 was highly recommended for the most difficult assignments out of all the standard agents for his utilization of Pokemon, whose strength found rivals benefiting the Special Agent corps. Plus, he had celebrity status in most areas and could infiltrate the most difficult and exclusive regions of the globe. 1076 and Pi talked all the way to the briefing room, which wasn't too far away from the launching docks. PKM prided itself on efficiency, which meant agents needed to be ready at a moment's notice. That mandate was slightly more difficult for a married man like 1076, but he made it work through his special arrangement with the Golden Ranger. 1076 whistled as he waited for the briefing room's door to hiss its way open.

    Two people waited inside. The first was a familiar face, the person who had brought 1076 into the organization. The Golden Ranger, a man never found without his mask, stood behind a desk in the large briefing room. The room was massive, and arranged so roughly thirty people could be briefed at the same time, though thankfully thirty people were not seated in the rather uncomfortable chairs in the room. Instead there was one person waiting, notebook in hand, a pencil in the other. 1076 saluted 0, who returned the gesture, and took a seat next to the woman with the notebook.

    "Agent 1076," the Golden Ranger stated in his mechanical, synthesized voice. "Thank you for agreeing to take this assignment on such short notice. We greatly appreciate it." 1076 waved his hand at the thanks and awaited the instructions.

    "Before I begin, I would like to introduce you to Agent 7423," the ranger said and pointed to the girl next to 1076. He glanced at her, as he hadn't really noticed what she looked like when he walked in. She was short, much shorter then he, with short white hair and emerald eyes. She appeared somewhat nervous and frightened, as she kept fidgeting every second or so. Her fingers were also trembling. She looked like a newbie.

    "Hey," he said to her and offered her his hand. "I'm Agent 1076. Nice to meet you, 7423." She blinked, as she had difficulty keeping eye contact with him, but took his hand in a very weak handshake.

    "N-nice to meet you too," she replied in a fluttery voice.

    The Golden Ranger coughed, clearly feeling that they had had enough time to get acquainted. Both grew silent and faced forward to allow the ranger to continue. "This mission is heavily classified, 1076 and 7423. Discussion of the contents is expressly forbidden by the Council. Is this understood?" Both agents nodded.

    "The Blue Ranger, Agent 2, and the Black Ranger, Agent 4, have both gone missing under assignment in the Orange Islands." At this 7423's hand tightened and her lips quivered. "The other PKM Rangers and myself are too pressed for time to handle this situation, so we are sending you, 1076, to retrieve them if alive or recover their morphers if they are dead. Is that understood?"

    1076 nodded. "Got it. Request SA equipment for a mission like this. If there's someone out there with 2 and 4's morphers, I want every possible resource."

    The Golden Ranger shook his head. "I cannot give you SA equipment for something like this." Just as 1076 was about to protest, 0 retrieved something from on the desk: a white wristwatch. "You are being authorized this instead, 1076." The Golden Ranger tossed the watch to the agent, who caught it casually and glanced it over.

    "Is this-"

    "It is a PKM Ranger morpher, 1076," the ranger replied. "The decommissioned White Ranger morpher, to be precise. I was authorized by the Council to give you this, 1076, because it is my belief you are ready to join my team. The Council, however, has disagreed on that aspect, so this morpher is only for emergencies. Understand? Use it only if there is no other option."

    1076 nodded. "I understand, sir," he answered and glanced at the morpher. "Pi and I will only use this if 7423 and I are left with no other choice."

    The Golden Ranger seemed to smile. "Excellent. Head for the hanger, where a chopper is waiting for you. You will be given coordinates when you're in the air." Both 1076 and 7423 nodded and stood up in unison. 1076 tucked the morpher away into his work jacket and Pi boarded his shoulder as they rushed back to the hanger. His boots clunked against the ground and, to his surprise, 7423 seemed even more eager than he was to reach the helicopter, as she blazed past him. Not wanting to be outdone by a rookie, 1076 increased his speed, but even then was only just able to keep up with her on the way to the hanger.

    Just as 0 had promised, a freshly fueled chopper was awaiting them. 7423 jumped straight into the driver's seat. 1076 did not approve. "Hey!" he panted, exhausted from their jog. "Get out of my seat, rookie. I'll be flying this thing." She didn't seem to want to argue, so she just hopped right over to the co-pilot's chair. 1076 closed the door and started the takeoff sequence immediately.

    "Welcome, Agents 1076 and 7423," a nasally voice murmured through the communications system. 1076 recognized it and smiled. "It's a pleasure to be working with you both. Prepare for takeoff."

    "Whatever you say, Bakaguru," he replied. 1076 punched in the ignition code. "This is… Hang on. 7423, what's the number on this helicopter?" He hadn't bothered to check the door. She shrugged and faced forward.

    "It's 644," Bakaguru answered.

    "Thanks." Into his receiver, 1076 muttered, "This is Poke 644, requesting permission to takeoff."

    "This is Control Tower. Permission granted."

    1076 grinned and glanced to his partner. "Ready, 7423?" he asked. She gulped and nodded eagerly. "Then let's go!" He started the chopper blades, and the chopper took off. Still with a smile on his face, excited about the mission, 1076 guided the chopper out of the hanger and into the bright Orre sun. Checking the coordinates Bakaguru was sending him, he oriented the helicopter to head due southwest, the location of 2 and 4's last sightings.

    "So, what's the story, Bakaguru?" 0 asked as he set the machine on autopilot. "How'd two rangers get kidnapped? I thought 2 and 4 were supposed to be some kind of unstoppable duo or something. What happened?"

    The radio crackled. "The official story is that they're MIA somewhere in the southern Orange Islands. Their morphers were last active on the Island of Corefo, which is where you two are heading now. Corefo is located roughly two hundred miles outside your current bearing, so you should be there in two hours at optimum speed. Be careful, agents."

    "We will, Bakaguru," 1076 replied. "Thanks for the tips. Poke 644 over and out. We'll contact you when we land."

    "Roger. 003 over and out." The radio died out so 1076 and 7423 had only each other to speak to all the long way to Corefo. The agent took off the headphones, as the cockpit was rather quiet, and turned to his new partner. "So, you're 7423, huh?" he asked the girl. "Why were you assigned to this mission?" She was a much more junior agent than he was; the seven-thousand agents were only in their first years, some only in their first few months. 1076 hadn't been in PKM long either, but he had managed to rise abnormally quickly in the ranks.

    "I was assigned because of my family," she replied, not looking at him.

    1076 nodded. "Is one of the rangers who disappeared your brother?" he asked.

    She shook her head. "Both."

    "Oh. Is that why you were assigned to this with me?" 1076 reclined his chair and rested his head. He waited a while, but for some reason 7423 didn't seem to be in the mood to talk. "Hey, kiddo, what's the matter?" he said and looked towards her hair. "Don't worry about Blue and Black. I'm sure that they'll be fine. Missions like this, usually the tracker on the rangers' morphers just got broken. I've done this before. This one time, we thought 1 got lost in a tsunami, it turned out he just wound up off course at a day spa." He chuckled.

    He heard a giggle from her and knew he had hooked her in. "So…you're 1076?" she inquired and looked back at him. "You're a pretty laid back guy for such a high rank." She glanced at the white morpher he kept fiddling with. "And you're gonna be a ranger. Did you complete the course or something?"

    He shook his head. "Naw. I was admitted into the PKM under special circumstances. I accidentally saved 0 and, well, the rest is history. I'm kind of a weird agent. 0 likes to call me an anomaly." He leaned to her and grinned. "Hey, want to know a secret?" he whispered.

    She rolled her eyes. "What?" she retorted.

    1076 pulled up his goggles. "Guess who I am." She peered into his face for a moment, unsure of herself, then her mouth widened in surprise.

    "You're-"

    "Yep." 1076 put his goggles back on. "The one and only."

    "What're you doing here?"

    He shrugged. "Right now, I'm making the world a better place. But other times… That's why I've gotta wear the goggles. PKM thinks I draw too much attention, and for some reason everyone seems to recognize me by my eyes. Plus, Pi's really good at espionage, so we make a good team." The yellow mouse nodded and hopped onto 7423's lap, clearly wanting to be scratched behind the ears. "I'm also one of the few agents that uses Pokemon in the field, making me really useful. It's why I have such a high rank."

    "Me too!" she answered and pulled out a Pokeball from her pocket. "I only have one though."

    "That's a good start," he said. "I carry five extra Pokemon with me, not counting Pi. I like to bring muscle, especially since I do most of my work undercover at Pokemon tournaments and stuff like that." He stretched out his hand to shake 7423's. "I'm 1076, like 0 said, but most folks call me the Golden Boy, or GB for short."

    "I-I'm Serena," she said, and took his hand. "Serena Brine."

    "Nice name, Serena. Much better than a number."

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    1076 opened his eyes wearily. For some reason, his entire body ached, and his head was killing him. He was on the floor of some kind of room…it was all faded. "Serena," he moaned. He tried to rub his head, but for some reason could not. His hands were stuck together behind his back and didn't seem to want to move. On his stomach, he rolled over, breathing heavily. "Serena, you there?" A groan issued in response and 1076 turned his head to see his partner huddled in a heap on the other side of the room, arms bound. "So that's why mine won't move."

    "GB?" she asked. "Where are we? What happened?"

    "Don't know, Serena," he mumbled. "Weren't we talking about something…?"

    "Yeah. Numbers or something."

    Then 1076 snapped up, and regretted the choice immediately, as shooting pain ripped through his body. "Pi!" he shouted out. His vision focused. He was indeed in a room and not a helicopter that he last recalled being in. Strangely, the room was like a cavern. There was a wide space for himself and Serena, but bars cut them off from the rest of the room, including an exit he spotted through the dim light. However, the yellow mouse wasn't anywhere to be found and 1076 glanced at his belt. His Pokeballs were gone. "My Pokemon are gone!"

    "Mine too." Serena was trying to reach into her pocket, but it was obvious that it was empty. "Mine too." She looked up, there were tears in her eyes. "My brothers gave me her for my birthday."

    "Stay with me, Serena. Let's see if whoever did this was smart enough to check my boot." It took a bit of work, but 1076 managed to slink his hands low enough to grab the small knife he had his in the sole of his shoe. "Guess not, then." After a few moments, he cut himself free then crawled over and did the same thing for Serena. "You okay?" He noticed that she had sustained several bruises, but nothing too damaging.

    "My side hurts, but I think I'm alright," she answered.

    He nodded. "Good, because my legs are shot." Something had damaged them, so he propped himself against the wall. "They hurt like crazy, but they'll be fine before long. I just won't be able to walk for a bit." He glanced around the cavern. "See what time it is. I can't tell much in this light."

    Serena agreed, and slowly stood up to hobble over to the iron bars. "I think it's past midnight, GB," she murmured. "I can see moonlight from the entrance over there." She pointed to an exit in the cavern that led out of a small lake inside the cave. "But these bars are too strong to break without any help." She slumped in the corner next to 1076.

    He tried to get up, but his legs were stiff. "I have to find Pi. It's-" He coughed, and lowered his head. "I have to get back with it. My wife…my kid. I just have to get back." He tried to get up again, but slinked down again. "I can't do it," he grunted. "Serry, check my pockets. The morpher should still be in there."

    She blinked. "Serry? Who's that?"

    He chuckled, and some blood trickled out of his mouth. "It's you. Figured you could use a nickname too. Still, check the pocket." She did as he was told, and managed to locate the white wristwatch. "Great," he mumbled. "It won't work without a Pokemon, but at least we still have an active morpher. Just gotta send a distress signal, and we'll be rescued in no time." He tucked the morpher away for later. "Serry? Hear those footsteps?" A distant clinking was making itself known, it sounded like two people walking towards them. "Get ready, it looks like we get to meet our kidnappers." He coughed again, then spat up some blood on the ground. The feet got louder.

    "Do you even remember what happened?" Serena asked.

    He shook his head. "I guess we must have crashed or something. You have a couple of burns. Still, I don't know why they're bothering to keep us alive. These must be the guys who got 2 and 4, so they're going to be dangerous." He looked up and brushed off the dust on his goggles.

    The two people who entered the cavern were both of equal height. They were both of equal weight. They were both men. In fact, the only thing that was different about them was the fact that one was wearing blue on the left, while the other wore black. Both of them, through the darkness, gleefully chuckled together, their green eyes piercing into the cage. One ruffled his hair, his very noticeably white hair. Serena stared in shock.

    "W-What?" she asked them. "Is it you, brothers?"

    The one dressed in blue grinned. "Yes, little sister," he answered, and stretched out his arm through the bar. "Come to us. We won't hurt you." Serena smiled and stood up like the Blue Ranger asked, holding her hands out in joy.

    "Serry!" 1076 shouted hoarsely. "Don't! Get back here!"

    She wasn't listening and took her older brother's hand through the bars. His grin widened and he grasped her arm. He giggled, as she grunted in discomfort, and pulled her in to kiss her lips. He spat in her mouth and shoved her back down to the floor. 1076 shouted in protest, but the man formerly known as 2 turned to his partner. "You want to have her for a while before we kill them?" he asked casually. "I don't think her partner's going to be able to do anything about it."

    4 chuckled. "Maybe later," he replied. "Right now I'm fairly certain little sister and the Golden Boy have a few questions they'd like us to answer." He bent down to his little sister and his smile glowed through the translucent light of the cavern. "Would you like that, little sister? Some answers? Only a few, though. Some other things are best kept to ourselves for now."

    Serena looked up with them, her eyes red with tears streaming from them. She was sobbing and curled up in the fetal position. "I got a few questions," 1076 answered. "Where's our Pokemon?"

    The Black Ranger tilted his head, as if in deep thought. "You mean the mouse and the little balls you had on your belt? Well…the balls are being sold tomorrow to some kind of Rocket thing and the mouse is currently powering our generator at full capacity. In two hours, it will have produced enough to run this place for years!" His grin widened. "Of course, that also means it's going to die from overproduction, but it's still amazing how strong it is! You should be proud." He stood up, but not before kicking some dust into Serena's face. "We'll be back a little later. I promise we'll bring some whips for you to enjoy, Golden Boy. They can be very…exciting…" He laughed and, with 2, left them to ponder their fate. On their way out, 4 took the time to smack all the bars on their cage, each one issuing a resounding ding.

    "Serry," the agent muttered. His partner didn't budge from the ball she was curled up in. "Serry!" He groaned shoved himself roughly from the wall, and began a very slow, painful crawl, during which he got to listen to her wracked sobbing, and the fact that she was somehow curling up further then he was certain he was capable of doing. With one final pull, he managed to reach her, and touched her hand. "Serry…"

    "Don't touch me!" she screamed, and jerked her hand away. She spit, a lot, at the bars, as if by doing so she would be able to remove the memory from her mind. "Big brother!" she shrieked at the bars. "Please! Don't leave me like this! Don't…leave me…" Whatever was left was lost amidst her crying.

    "Serry!" 1076 groaned as he forced her to face him, the pain shook through his lower body. "Serry, listen to me. I need you to listen to me!" She sniffed, but the tears weren't stopping. "Serry, we have to get out of here. Now," he whispered. "The longer we stay here, the more danger we're going to be in. We can't wait for PKM to find the distress beacon in the morpher."

    She stared at him and then her eyes flittered to where 2 and 4 had disappeared to. "B-but my brothers. My brothers." She shoved her head in between her knees, drool collecting in her mouth. "Why…why?"

    "Serry." He lowered his voice, he needed to stop yelling at her. "Serry, I need you to stay with me. We'll get out of here and get help. We have to get your brothers some help. But I need your help, Serry. I can't walk. I need you to help me help them. Okay?"

    She sobbed a final time then, through her willpower, looked up with her reddened eyes. "Okay, GB," she croaked. "We'll get out of here and get help." She glanced around their cage. "How?"

    1076 chuckled. "That's where I come in," he replied and sat up. With Serena's help, he managed to rest his back against the bars. "The bars have to have some sort of mechanism to them. When the Black Ranger was ringing the bars, I noticed that two in the center had different noises then the rest." He pointed up, to the ones he was leaned against. "My money's on the fact that they can be bent and opened." To prove his point, the agent smacked them both with his fingers. Each one sounded hollow. He banged the ones next to the center bars, both of which had full dings. "Piece of cake."

    She giggled briefly. "Wow," she murmured.

    He put a finger to his lips. "Keep quiet, though," he whispered. "They might catch wind of this. We've gotta wait for my legs to start working again before we can get moving." With that, 1076 lowered his arms and started massaging his legs to repair the damage to his limbs. "See I can feel the legs, but they're so stiff from injury that they won't move without extreme pain. No broken bones, no nerve damage. So I just need to tend to them a little bit. Here, help me get my pants off." He unclasped his belt and started for his zipper. With Serena's help, his bruised legs were free from the pants so he could have better access to them. "Thanks, Serry."

    "No problem," she answered. His legs were severely damaged, but mostly through purplish lumps and small cuts in his flesh. His tendons, however, were intact, so it wasn't that hard to restore semi-painless motion to his limbs. "Are you ready?" 1076 looked to Serena; she looked almost ready to explode. He put his pants back on.

    He nodded. "Yeah. Can you help me up, Serry?" She supported him as he struggled to apply pressure to his legs. He groaned in irritation but managed to overcome the pain and keep on his feet. "Okay," he said, his arm around Serena's shoulders. "Now, let's turn towards the bars to I can bend them." She did as he ordered and he took hold of the bars to support his body. "Let's hope this works." He took a deep breath and, with as much strength as he could muster, pulled the bars apart with a short grunt. "Let's get moving, agent." He grinned and Serena helped him through. 1076 made sure he had his knife in hand before he started stumbling forward. "Come on. We've got to save the Pokemon first. We'll beat up 2 and 4 on our way out. Their morphers are busted anyway, and I can take regular agents, even if they were rangers!"

    The partners continued down the path into the cavern. Fortunately, the darkness was not complete and they were pretty capable of seeing through the translucent light. The passage kept going for about a minute or so into the earth, until they noticed a small amount of light at the end of the tunnel. 1076 motioned for Serena to stop and she came up beside him. "What do you think, Serry?" he asked.

    She peeked over his shoulder into the small glow of light. "Might be your Pikachu. The poor thing's probably half-dead by now. We have to get it safely released now!" Her whisper echoed, but GB nodded.

    "All right. I'll get Pi out of whatever it is they have it trapped in. You find the rest of our Pokemon. They'll be in an easy place to find. Your brothers don't strike me as very mentally competent." He regretted saying that the moment his mouth closed, but Serena must have chosen to ignore the comment and followed him into the glowing room.

    1076 suppressed an urge to gag when he entered the room. It looked more like a dungeon from a fetish video then a base of operations. He noticed whips, collars, everything a masochist would love, all adorning the walls. The pieces of furniture inside appeared to have been designed purely to torture someone. He saw spots of blood in various parts of the equipment and, in the corner, a small but growing pile of dead women. "Serry, wait outside the room," he muttered, and stopped his partner.

    She protested. "But GB-"

    "-Do it," he ordered. He didn't think she needed to see this. Reluctantly, she did as she was told. She didn't need to see the women in the corner, or the fact that all of them had horribly dyed white hair. He headed for the electricity machine at the far end of the room, where his best friend was being tortured. It was a small glass box, very similar to the kinds Pi had been getting out of for years when Team Rocket came calling. However, 2 and 4 had obviously thought of this, and had strapped Pi down inside the machine with electricity-absorbing bonds.

    He put his finger to his lips, signaling that Pi had to be quiet, even though the mouse was overjoyed to see its trainer again. He spotted the Pokeballs nearby on a bench and reattached his five before grabbing Serena's and tucking it into his pocket. "Sorry I lost you, guys," he murmured, then turned to the contraption his Pokemon was trapped in. Pi helped him, by mouthing the instructions in its mouse language. GB smiled and pressed the correct buttons on the control panel to open the machine and release his friend. Pi collapsed in its trainer's arms and GB made sure the Pikachu was fine before he started back the way he came.

    He got out of that horrible room and repressed a shudder of disgust as he approached Serena. "Ready to go?" he whispered. She nodded and he led them back through the cavern, leaning heavily against the stone wall. It was exhausting, he needed to find some kind of hospital to get treatment for his injuries. They made it back to the room they had been imprisoned in, and Serena rushed forward in front of him suddenly, screaming. 1076 tossed Pi into the water before anything happened, but was too late to rescue himself. A harsh whip came down, wrapped around his legs, and pulled him down. He tasted sand and heard Serena continuing to scream in the background.

    He had been caught by 2, who seemed a bit too excited about his capture. GB heard giggling as he was turned over, and propped up against the wall by the villainous ex-ranger. Without even thinking, without even considering, GB shifted through his pockets and tossed a wristwatch and a Pokeball in the direction he knew Serena was cowering in. The brothers paid their sibling no heed, much more interested in the specimen they were about to torture.

    "What do you want to do, brother?" the Black Ranger asked and traced the shirt 1076 was wearing lightly with his fingers. "Want to make him squeal before we deal with little sister?" The other brother nodded, so 4 in a causal gesture ripped off the shirt and sent the fabric flying into the air. 1076 was breathing harshly, he had bumped his head on the rock. "Let's see how much he likes the whip…"

    The weapon struck down hard, diagonally across his stomach. He groaned, as fresh blood began to trickle down into the sand. A second lashing, this time to the left pectoral, made him grunt. "He seems to like it, brother," the Blue Ranger noticed, despite the fact that it was obvious that 1076 was straining the last strands of his will to not scream in agony. Blood dripped from his mouth where he had bit himself to keep from crying out. "I will try his side." The whip struck hard against the side of his abdomen and he screeched, his face purple.

    "S-stop," he muttered. "Please…" Images were flashing before his eyes. His family. His wife. His daughter. His friends. His Pokemon. Again and again the lash came down, carving a new scar into his chest. Eventually, the former rangers grew tired of simply slashing open his chest and kicked him down so his back was exposed to them. They tore off his jacket and struck again and again. "Please!"

    "Stop it!"

    Both the Blue Ranger and the Black Ranger, wondering who was brave enough to interrupt their fun, turned around to see their little sister standing defiantly against them, something in her hands. Something white. It was the wristwatch, a trinket, and yet she held it like a holy artifact and placed it on her wrist. "Stop it right now, my brothers, or I will kill you both where you stand!" she ordered and her eyes flashed with fury.

    "What're you doing, little sister?" 2 cooed.

    "Yeah," 4 agreed. "You can't do anything to us. You're our little sister."

    She shook her head. "Not anymore!" She raised the morpher to her ear and pressed the ignition button. "PKM Spirit…Activate!" she roared and the entire cave was engulfed in a brilliant white light. 1076 vision was blurry, but he distinctly saw two figures being decimated by a heroine clad in white. His eyes closed and he started to dream, amidst the chaos that engulfed him.

    He heard screams of pain, an explosion. He had no idea what was going on, but when he came to, he was in a hospital. He blinked a couple of times, wanting to be certain that this was true, and even pinched himself once to make sure, though it hurt him to lift his arm. There were needles everywhere, some inside the veins of his arms, there was even a catheter. He coughed, his chest hurt for some odd reason, until he looked down and noticed all the bandages from his wounds. "Am I…dreaming?" he asked no one in particular. The dimly lit hospital room seemed empty.

    "Nope." He turned his head, and that's when he saw a lump of short white hair resting by the side of his bed. "Not even close, hero boy," Serena replied and raised her head. It was obvious she hadn't gotten any sleep for a while, there were bangs under her eye and she was suppressing yawns. "How are you feeling?"

    He grinned. "Never better Serry," he muttered. "Actually, to be honest, I'm feeling kind of hurt right now. Any morphine available? Morphine's always good for situations like this." She nodded and pointed to a small drip on the other side attached to his right arm. "Good. Morphine helps." He looked around the dim room, searching for a small, mouse-shaped body. "You have any idea where Pi is? Is it okay?"

    "It…" She took a deep breath. "Your Pikachu was in pretty bad shape, even worse then you were. We rushed it to the ER. They worked with it, and it should be fine soon. They're still treating it though, and you, so you can't go see it just yet."

    He sighed and relaxed his head. The pillow was somewhat hard. "Good. I can wait if it'll be fine." He coughed and was very glad for the morphine that was circulating through the body. He lifted his left hand and felt his face. "My goggles are gone," he muttered and glanced to Serena. "Serry, you didn't tell anyone, right? My identity is supposed to be classified, okay?"

    She took his hand, and he noticed a small wristwatch she was wearing. "I didn't tell a soul," she promised. "Besides, you were knocked out. This is a PKM hospital. We didn't need any medical records to keep you alive."

    1076 turned Serena's hand, taking note of the morpher. "So, you're the new White Ranger, right?" he asked with a grin. "Congratulations."

    She nodded and glanced down at the morpher, as if unsure if it was real. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to steal it from you. I just…wanted to protect you."

    He waved his hand. "It's fine, Serry," he replied. "I threw it to you so you could stand a chance at rescue. I knew you'd be able to use it. So it'll be yours from now on, okay?"

    "Okay. Hey, if you want, Bakaguru said that there are now two vacancies in the ranger team. If you wanted, I'm sure you could just ask for one and they'd give it to you."

    "No. I appreciate the gesture, Serry, I do. It's just that I want to earn my morpher, not ask for it. That sounds kind of conceited, doesn't it?"

    "I guess you're right."

    "Damn right I'm right," he said with a smirk. "Now up the dosage on my morphine! My legs are killing me." She went to go get a nurse, and GB attempted to doze off into sleep.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    ...Present Day...


    0 watched in silence as Serena devoured her food. Every few seconds or so, the White Ranger would have to part her hair so it wouldn't get in her mouth, but her locks were rather stubborn. One minute of feeding later, Serena looked up through exhausted eyes, issued a groan similar to a satisfied Snorlax, and pushed her plate away. Wanting to appear polite, 0 cleared her box away by tossing it into the trash.

    "You know," 0 muttered, nursing a bottle of booze in his hands, "that cannot be good for your complexion."

    She blinked. "What?"

    "Your face." He pointed to what he could see under her unkempt bangs. "I just don't think your face is good for you. Maybe we should ask Bakaguru about getting you some surgery to fix that." He laughed.

    She fumed. "You're dead," she hissed and jumped across the table to tackle the Golden Ranger. 0 was ready and dodged as she passed over the small table. Serena, not to be outdone, caught his shirt with her nails and shoved him down into the ground, cackling. 0 used his superior weight to pin her to the ground with his back. "Get off me, you jerk!" She squirmed under his grasp, but eventually succumbed to his superior strength. "Okay, I've had enough. Let me go, please." He let her go and she panted for air.

    "Sucker!" she squealed and pounced on him. 0 grunted, but was unable to dislodge her. She grabbed him and pinned the Golden Ranger down on the floor, straddling his waist and her hair draped all over his face. "Call uncle, or I make you scream my name." And, when she said this blatant example of her sexual desire, Serena made certain that her lips were just a breath's distance away from his earlobe.

    "I have a better idea," 0 retorted.

    She grinned. "Is it kinky?"

    Then he grinned. "Nope. Pancake."

    "Pancake?" she asked, confused.

    Because Serena had chosen a position that roughly required her to press her entire body against 0's, the Golden Ranger flexed his muscles and, in a single movement, rolled over to force Serena into the exact same position he himself had just been in, only 0 weighed significantly more than his partner did. 0, to complete the exercise, proceeded to get up, then sit on her stomach. Chuckling to himself, 0 grabbed his bottle and continued to drink.

    "Get off me, you lummox!" Serena gasped. He was rather heavy, but not heavy enough to cut off her air. 0 just snickered and took another drink, ignoring the tiny little fists of his partner as she struggled to dislodge him. The Golden Ranger, rather humored by her antics, continued to drink until his bottle was drained. He smacked his lips in satisfaction before setting the bottle down on its coaster.

    "I love a good drink in the morning," he murmured. "Keeps the fuel cells running." He glanced down at her and smiled. "Have we learned our lesson, 3? Ready to give up and call uncle?"

    "Uncle!" she gasped. "Uncle! Now get off me, you Wailord!"

    He shrugged. "If you say so, Snorlax," he replied, and rose. "Now come on. You've got to give me the password to 415's research. I don't think she likes me very much, but maybe she found it in the vacant space where her heart presumably used to be to give you the password."

    Author's Note: Now back to work I go on the new material!

  14. #14
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 9

    Morph Nine: An Educational Adventure

    The computer's keyboard made the kind of clinking noises usually reserved for those who have horrendously wronged the person doing the typing. For 0 in particular, it was very difficult to watch a soap opera when the sound from Serena's laptop seemed like a herd of Snorlax stampeding through the living room. Here he was, squinting to read the subtitles that scrawled across the screen as the laptop was making far too much noise for him to hear what the actress was saying about her plotting to murder her husband. But, after a while, even the Golden Ranger's somewhat-infinite patience was waning.

    He lazily tilted his head towards her the moment the commercials started. "3," he muttered, and somehow he was heard. "If you don't stop banging on that laptop, I'm going to have to take it away." In response, the White Ranger shot him a rather irritable look, and stopped typing. "No, no. I didn't say stop. I said quiet." She stood up and it was at that point that 0 noticed that she was wearing very little. In fact, the little she was wearing was probably worse than if she had been naked. "Stay there." For some odd reason, she misinterpreted this order as a request to come forward, wearing nothing but a very tight bra and what 0 prayed was underwear underneath her translucent robe. "Do not do that."

    She crawled on her hands and knees towards him, a sly smile on her face. "Hey, baby," she murmured, and it was at this point 0 realized what a great idea it would be to begin moving away from her. Somehow, though, she managed to back him into the nearby wall and her advance was probably more terrifying then any horror he had ever witnessed during his years in the PKM. She crawled up onto him and 0 thanked whatever Legendary Pokemon that had given him the hindsight to wear heavy clothing, because she started wrapping her bare legs around his waist, and played with his shirt with her fingers. "What's say we make like the Pokemon in springtime, huh?"

    "3...this is very unprofessional," he replied, as he attempted to dislodge her from his person. She resisted rather well, in fact the endeavor to remove her was making the situation worse. "Get off. Immediately." She was choosing a very annoying time to play deaf, as she inched her face closer and closer to his ear. The soap opera playing on the television was growing monumentally less important by the instant.

    She continued to defy him. "Well," she said into his ear, his lips just grazing the lobe, "I want you to know that, the moment you drop your guard, you're mine. Also, I've managed to hack into 415's files and, if you'd like to look at them, we should." Having succeeded in transforming 0 into the skin-tone equivalent of the freshest cherry, Serena slowly dislodged herself, giving the Golden Ranger plenty of time to feel her slide off him, which helped matters in no way. By the time she had gotten off him and wandered right back to the computer, making sure that her eyes traced his outline, 0 felt ready to explode.

    "You couldn't tell me this in a calm, decent, moral manner?" he asked, seething.

    She slowly shook her head and her hair bounced across her perfect shoulders… 0 diverted his eye contact from her. "Where's the fun in that?" she asked and patted the seat next to her. After much consideration, 0 yielded and sat down to face the computer. "Ready to see it?" She twirled her hands over the keyboard and in seconds the content of the data file was displayed in a small folder on the screen.

    He nodded. "Yeah."

    She smirked. "That's good. Give me a back rub."

    "Excuse me?"

    "A backrub." She decided to slow down, just in case he couldn't figure out what she was talking about. "It's that thing you do with the massage oils and the candlelight. It's normally followed by rough and very passionate encounters." She threw her hair back, obviously in an attempt to seduce him. "I want a backrub before I show you my research."

    0 considered it. "Fair enough. But, since this is 415's research, not yours, I figure I get a free ticket to the show. Punch it up, 3. We don't have all day."

    She snorted. "What else are we gonna do besides trade jabs?" she asked, slightly annoyed that he had managed to get past her otherwise infallible logic for getting a backrub. When he didn't answer and turned to the computer, she sighed and activated one of the files inside the folder. "I managed to get some data on those Dark Gems she was talking about. Remember?"

    "Yep," he replied. "Sounds like nasty stuff."

    "Tip of the iceberg," she said. When the file loaded, an image was displayed with several precious gems in some kind of case. To its right was another photo, this time of some ancient drawing. Beneath was a paragraph or so of text. "Basically, it says that these things are bad news. They're some kind of energy source, like our ranger spirits."

    0 glanced momentarily to his morpher. "These things work like Pi?"

    She shook her head. "Close, but no banana, monkey man. Our morphers are activated using a ranger spirit, which is made from a living, breathing Pokemon. So, to utilize a PKM morpher, a live Pokemon is required." She clicked on the images and close-ups of the Dark Gem photos were displayed. "These things could, according to the theory in 415's text, be modified to operate with a different kind of morpher. Similar to ours, but really, really different at the same time."

    "How so?"

    She paused, as if truly disgusted by what she was about to tell him. "These things harness the power of dead Pokemon. Not Ghost Pokemon. Dead ones. Dark Gems are capable of absorbing the dead souls of Pokemon and corrupt themselves with that power. With the right tech, you could make a morpher and fashion a ranger uniform from it." She pointed to the gems themselves, and 0 noticed they were all of different colors. "The color denotes how many souls it can absorb. Onyx ones are the weakest, normally able to get one or so, but some of the stronger ones can house up to a thousand souls of innocent Pokemon!"

    0 grimaced. "That's really sick," he muttered. "That's…really sick, 3. I can't imagine anyone doing something like that."

    She nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, and that's not even the worse part."

    "What could be worse than that?"

    "These things are kind of kind the antithesis of our morphers. We use a living Pokemon, which means our power is based on that living Pokemon. It's a safe, and stable model, but it also limits our maximum power. These Dark Gems aren't inhibited by something like that. They trade stability for raw strength. Basically-" She lowered her eyes, and stared at the ground "-if someone got their hands on enough Pokemon souls, they could create a massive force that our tech won't be able to handle."

    0 clenched his hands in fury and smashed the ground in irritation. "So you're telling me that my morpher, that our morphers, which are the most advanced technology of this day and age, are completely useless against some ancient theory?" His voice was rising. He breathed heavily.

    Serena put her hand on his shoulder. "Ain't that how it always is? Anyway, these Dark Gems are supposed to be incredibly rare, only six have ever been reported being found other then onyx types."

    "We've got to find them," he decided. "If we can, they can't be used, right?"

    "That's an unlikely theory," Serena answered. "According to some of 415's research, it says that for roughly five years there have been some random break-ins in various museums around the world. All of them had displays of various gem shows in display. Several claim that a bunch of onyx gems were taken, but a few have had other colors stolen. Someone's already started stealing them."

    0 sighed, and shook his head. "How…how many?" he asked.

    "Couldn't say. But…" She grinned. "There's one that 415's tracked down. A nice, shiny emerald. If we pick it up, we should get a little bit of edge on the bad guys."

    "I'm sensing there's something else in this," he replied.

    She nodded and, in a deeply worrying moment, her smile brightened. "There is one, and only one way, we are going to be able to get at the Dark Emerald. It's being held at, conveniently enough, the museum an hour or so away from here. The problem is, this museum is off-limits to normal walk-ins. It's for tour groups and things like that. You need a reservation or something to get in."

    "That doesn't make any sense."

    "Nope. Fortunately, I managed to find a solution that not only lets us get in tomorrow, but it lets us do it with style."

    0 sat up. "That's fantastic, 3. How?"

    She smirked widely. "Undercover. There's a school that's going on a tour of it tomorrow, and they're low on teachers because of some kind of strike. I called PKM, and got us employed as substitute teachers. I'll be doing history, you'll be battle theory."

    "I'm sorry," he said. "It sounds like you got us jobs as teachers. Please tell me that is not what you did."

    She grin broadened. "Perfect cover. It'd explain why Keean Toby's suddenly found housing in Petalburg, and it'll give you a chance to do something you've wanted to do all your life."

    "What?"

    "Have you ever wanted to see your daughter in school?" she asked. "We're substitutes at the Petalburg Pokemon Academy, where little Sarah Birch goes to school, and where our target has accepted a substitute position of her own as a Contest tutor. I figured it would be the best place for us to hide out, and earn some side cash until the strike's over."

    0 scratched his chin, and felt some slight stubble that informed him he was well overdue for a shave. "Yeah," he muttered, as though not quite aware of what he was agreeing to. "Yeah, we can try it, if you think it'll work. Is she-" He looked up, and 3 caught a glimmer of hope in his smile "-is she going to be in my class?"

    Serena nodded. "I made sure for you."

    He chuckled. "Thank you, 3," he replied and grabbed her quickly in a bear hug. "Thanks a lot!" He started laughing, and Serena started screaming, as her partner started to twirl her around in the air.

    "Let go!" she demanded, her eyes spinning. "I'm getting dizzy!"

    He grinned and did as she requested. Serena went flying right into the wall. Fortunately, his partner wasn't quite the ditz he knew she pretended to be and planted her legs against the surface, propelling herself right back to knock his jaw with one fist. 0 went down, as he had not expected an attack from her. A sharp knock from below the floor issued, probably someone tired of the commotion they normally caused. Both looked to each other and felt rather childish.

    "So…" Serena said, making a vain attempt to sound all business. "We're going to have to set your morpher up with a clothing program. You'll need to look the part of a lecturer at a private school." She sat down at the laptop and started typing. "What do you want?"

    Clothing program, that would probably help, he thought, and sat down beside her. "Uh… I suppose that we could put in some dress clothes or something like that for the work." Serena's fingertips whirled on the board and a comfortable, yet professional black suit emerged with rough dress pants, a sports coat, and a lithe sweater underneath. "Perfect," the Golden Ranger muttered. "Next, my PKM uniform, complete with goggle system for emergencies." Serena complied. "And some casual clothes for other times. I figure that'll be enough."

    "Okay," she answered. "Now, can you give me your hand real quick? I need to jack the morpher into the system to download the program." He presented his morpher and she extended a jack into the wristwatch device. "I'm adding a few more I think you'll like too. They'll help out." 0 watched the loading bar slink its way to the right and when it finished Serena removed the jack. "It works pretty much the same way as our ranger outfits. Only difference is that they don't require a morphing call to activate. Just press the red button and the morpher will cycle through what you want with a single tap. A double tap alternates the outfits."

    He nodded, and cycled to the business casual suit. His street clothes glowed red and, in a small burst of light, transformed seamlessly between the two outfits. "This'll work," he said and looked himself over. Serena grinned, and flashed him a very odd look with her eyes. He looked through the remainder of the clothes, but stopped on one specific one he took notice of. "Uh…3?"

    "Yes, Baby-chan?" she asked innocently.

    "Why is there an option for erotic underwear in this?"

    Serena looked back down to her computer and refused to comment.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Hand me the cycle capsule," Keean Toby asked, as he stepped out from his apartment with his lady friend, Serena. She happily complied and produced a tiny little container that held their primary mode of transportation. He clicked the top without thought and tossed it into an empty parking space in front of the curb. It exploded and a slim motorcycle emerged. "Think this'll work?" he asked and tossed his girlfriend a helmet, which she caught casually and stuck on her head. Her snow-white hair escaped at the bottom.

    She nodded. "Yep, Kee-chan," she replied with a smile, though he couldn't see it from underneath the helmet's visor. The giant stuck on his own helmet and boarded the machine. Serena walked up behind him and swung her hips onto the contraption. "So I suppose I'm riding shotgun?" she asked sarcastically and dug her fingers into his stomach as she wrapped her arms around him.

    "Retract your claws," he ordered, and she did so, but replaced her nails with sensual massage. "And stop clinging. We're trying to make a good first impression, not get ourselves banned from being within a hundred yards of children. If you're going to be a teacher, at least behave like one." He revved up the engine and put up the kickstand.

    "Oh, are we feisty today, Kee-chan?" she asked. "Don't worry, you can have me all to yourself when we get home. I promise."

    "This is going to be harder than I thought it was going to be," he retorted and, with a final rev, started the motorcycle. It was surprisingly quick, and handled superbly. Within moments, Keean Toby got a basic grip on the motorcycle and was gunning through early morning traffic in the direction of the Petalburg Pokemon Academy. Several of the cars didn't seem to share his enthusiasm and honked with gusto as he soared between their stagnant hulks. The motorcycle, a far more agile and subtle creature then the automobiles, was more then up to the task of getting through the traffic. Soon, they bid a fond farewell to the morning snail trail and revved their way in the direction of the school. Serena enjoyed the ride, Keean Toby looked at it like business.

    "Got any idea where this place is?" he asked over the loud engine.

    "Gotta turn left on the next street. It'll lead us right there."

    "Huh. Pretty close by."

    "Guess our little princess doesn't like her little princess too far away."

    Keean Toby caught sight of the school a few blocks away. It was actually larger then he thought private schools were supposed to be. The campus seemed divided between three different buildings separated by multiple battle fields. It actually looked rather nice. The man stopped the bike right in front of the main building, where Serena had said that they had to check in with the office administrators. She got off and handed him her helmet, and he capsulated the bike with one flick of a button right next to the dashboard. It flashed red and he pocketed the small container.

    "Ready, Kee-chan?" she asked sweetly.

    He groaned. "Let's just try to survive this trip," he replied and offered up his arm, which she took greedily. Playing her part, she allowed him to lead her into the building while whispering directions to him as to where to go. "Where are you going to be headed?" Her job description was noticeably different then his own, as his would probably mean standing outside in the battle fields while hers would be lecturing.

    She pointed to one of the classrooms. "My itinerary said that I would be discussing the differences between Kanto and Orre Pokemon Leagues. You're supposed to talk tactics with kids."

    "Aren't my strategies too advanced for five-year-olds?"

    "Dumb them down then."

    "This must be it," he said and pointed to a door which apparently housed the administration office, judging from the small sign on the door. He opened it for Serena and stepped inside the rather cramp office, wherein several office ladies were typing away at monitors. Only one, apparently the head of the office, eyed the door with the look of someone desperately bored. She jumped up from her desk when she noticed Serena and outright gasped when Keean Toby crammed himself inside.

    "Who are you two?" she asked and straightened her glasses.

    Serena smiled. "I'm Serena Brine and this is Keean Toby. We were drafted to fill two teaching positions. I'll be doing Region Studies, while my gigantic friend here is scheduled to lecture on battle theory."

    The woman squinted suspiciously with her eyes and then glanced down at some papers on her desk. "Yes well, it says you're on the list, so welcome. Thank you for filling in on such short notice. As you can guess, we have been rather understaffed as of late." She glanced to the clearly overworked women and sighed. "We should have gone on strike with the teachers," she murmured with some longing. "Come. I will show you your classrooms. Ms. Brine, you will be in the history section on the third floor here, and Mr. Toby, you will be on the first floor in the third building. Now, you know that after regular hours some of the students have signed up for a trip to the museum, correct?"

    "Yes, ma'am," Keean Toby replied. "We're supposed to do that too, right?"

    The woman, whom upon closer investigation had Penning written on her nametag, nodded. "Normally, we use our own teachers, but until they return to work next week, we have to rely on the few that remained and the subs we can get. Come," she said for a second time and showed them out of the rather depressing office. Keean Toby glanced back with pity and one of the women gave him a mournful glance before returning to the computer screen, so he followed Ms. Penning and Serena down the hall. After ascending some stairs the trio found themselves in a modest classroom, probably for twelve or so children.

    "Sure you can handle this?" Keean Toby asked.

    She smirked. "Sure I can, Kee-chan. Have fun."

    He waved goodbye and Ms. Penning looked immensely displeased at their small gesture of affection. He grinned to her and shrugged as they headed out into the battle fields. "So, I'm guessing the both of you are involved, right?" Ms. Penning asked coyly. Keean Toby chuckled.

    "I suppose you could say that," he replied.

    She appeared to be fuming, as though disgruntled by this information. "Well, don't let it get in the way of work!" she snapped and raised her finger to him. "You men always let your hormones boss you around, so don't forget you're supposed to be an educator today!" She glared at him as she walked, giving Keean Toby the impression he was being reprimanded for being in a relationship.

    "Yes ma'am," he answered sheepishly. They crossed the battle fields quickly and entered the building.

    "Do you have a Pokemon?" asked the secretary.

    "Uh…" Yes, yes he did have a Pokemon, but did not have immediate access to it. "Not at the moment, no."

    She fished into her jacket and tossed him the red and white ball. "Here you are," she said. He caught the ball in surprise. "That's a rental. Lose the Pokemon and it's coming out of your pay." Disregarding him, she proceeded down the hallway towards his classroom.

    Keean Toby glanced at the ball. It was strange, he thought, finally holding a Poke Ball after so long. He had used many as a trainer, but ever since he had entered PKM full time he hadn't really thought of using them ever again. A mental image flashed in his head of his other Pokemon at Professor Oak's. I should go see them. It's been years since I went home. He put the thought out of his mind for now, as the administrator had stopped for some reason at a single room from which the sounds of playful children echoed.

    "Have fun," Ms. Penning said in an almost, but not quite, sweet voice, and left him to his fate, whistling briskly as she headed back to her den of offices. He braced himself and coughed.

    "Be brave," Keean Toby told himself. "They're just kids. You've handled terrorists, robberies, bomb threats, and evildoers in spandex. You can handle children."

    How wrong he was.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Sarah Birch was rather absorbed in her drawing and as a result didn't see the person that had come to teach her class for the day. The other students gasped in awe of this figure who seemed to radiate masculinity and coolness, but the happy little girl was far more interested in putting the finishing traces on the portrait of her mother. It was only after she had properly scribbled in the last hints of brown in the hair did she bother to glance at the person who had somehow quieted the entire room by entering it. None of her other substitute teachers had even made it that far.

    When she did see him, her eyes bulged.

    He was fearsome, even in the amazingly spiffy suit he had on, like a well-dressed wild Pokemon at rest, waiting to pounce. His dark mane hid most of his face, but his lips were pressed in a slight scowl, almost as though he was incapable of moving them outside of that position. In his hand was a Poke Ball, the same hand that had a cool-looking wristwatch.

    "Good morning, everyone," he said in a gruff Orre dialect. "My name is Mr. Keean Toby. I am to be your instructor for today's lessons." He paused to take a breath. "If you will all-"

    "You're the guy that beat my mom!" shouted Sarah from the back. Keean Toby glanced up at the girl and she saw his lip quiver for a moment, as though some sort of realization had assaulted his brain. "You're the meanie who beat my momma in Saffron."

    He gulped. "Yes," he replied. "I was asked personally to help until the teacher strike is over. We will now move on." Keean Toby decided not to look at Sarah again, as he proceeded directly to the desk where his lesson plan sat waiting. He picked up the sheet of paper, rifted through it briefly to get the gist of it and put it back where it was. "You are here to learn special tricks to Pokemon Battles, right?" The class nodded. "Okay. I think I can let you in on a few secrets."

    "How do you talk to Pokemon?" Sarah asked suddenly.

    He kept looking at the class, as if unsure who had spoken, though Sarah was quite sure he knew it was her.

    "In the fight with my momma, you talked to your Pokemon. How?"

    This question generated many from the students.

    "You can talk to Pokemon?"

    "What do Pokemon think?"

    "Are you a witch?"

    Keean Toby held up his hand and, as if by some magic spell, the entire class silenced itself. "Talking in Pokemon language takes a lot of time to learn. But it's very important that you understand what Pokemon are trying to tell you." He lifted the Poke Ball and clicked the button. The ball exploded in a beam of light and a small little dog-like creature appeared on the desk.

    Keean Toby glanced at the small blue critter. "This is a Riolu," he explained. "What can you tell me about it?" The Riolu itself was asleep and he didn't feel like waking it rudely. "Raise your hands." The class silenced itself in the middle of its shouting fest. One boy in the middle of the classroom raised his, and Keean Toby called on him.

    "It's a Fighting Type," the boy answered. "It's also the Emanation Pokemon, and will evolve into a Lucario if its happiness level is high in the daytime."

    Keean Toby processed the information. "That told me nothing," he muttered and glared at the kid. "Where'd you learn that? From a Pokedex?"

    He nodded.

    Keean Toby sighed. "Between you and me, a Pokedex is good for very little. Sure, it can tell you about Pokemon you don't know about, but that's about it." He glanced to the Riolu, who had just woken up and had begun stretching. "I asked you to tell me about this Riolu, not about Riolu in general. Who can tell me anything about this Pokemon?"

    No one raised their hand, perhaps because they misunderstood what he was asking for. Serena had told him to be light-hearted with the students, but this was proving vastly difficult for him, as he wasn't sure he could dumb it down any further then he already had. Finally he grunted and the class jumped in fear. "Look at the Pokemon," he said and gestured to Riolu, who had started punching the air for its workout. "It has a sleek coat, what does that tell you?"

    "It's well fed?" ventured a voice in the background. Keean Toby glanced to the origin, a girl seated in the back.

    He smiled. "Very good. What else can you guess from it?" Now that one of them had figured out the trick, it would be easy for the rest to play the game. He turned to the Riolu and decided that impressing the group wouldn't kill him. "Lu, Rio," he muttered to the Pokemon, who gazed at him in shock, having never heard a human speak its tongue.

    "Riolu Lu," the Pokemon admitted and nodded its head. The class gasped in awe.

    Keean Toby faced the class. "Riolu has just informed me that our suspicions were confirmed. It has plenty to eat but, as you could maybe tell from its claw imperfections, it has not been receiving a balanced diet. The imperfections in the color give it away."

    "How do you know that?" asked the boy in the middle of the classroom.

    The man sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "Sorry, I keep forgetting you guys are just kids. I've been doing this for a long time, so I make it look easy, but it's supposed to be really hard to memorize this material. I guess that's why they give you this easy class instead of something that'll get you ready to take care of your Pokemon when you get to be of age." He lowered his hand. "All I can tell you is that being a trainer is very hard, and the first thing to do as a good trainer is to notice little stuff like that with your Pokemon. Treat them well, and they will reward you with their loyalty and respect. Trust me, a friend of mine named Z took forever to trust me when it evolved." For some reason, lecturing appeared to be getting easier, and Sarah Birch noticed he had unknowingly began to pace. "Speak to them. It takes forever to master the Pokemon language, but Pokemon can understand our dialects anyway, so it's just a cheap parlor trick. What's important is that you trust your Pokemon and that they trust you."

    It was quite moving. The harsh, gruff sounds of his Orre dialect seemed insignificant in comparison to what he was saying. Even Sarah, who disliked the man who had painfully defeated her mother, found him oddly intriguing. She raised her hand and he called on her.

    "How do we get them to trust us?" she asked.

    At this, Keean Toby smiled. "What's your name, girl?"

    "Sarah Birch."

    "Well then Sarah Birch, why don't we go find out?"

    The odd Orre man led the children out of the room in a single-file line, after making sure to grab Riolu for the purposes of his demonstration. The dog Pokemon rode on his shoulder as a mouse once did and all the way Sarah Birch watched him suspiciously. She knew this man from somewhere, she felt it as instinctively as she felt the need to annoy her uncle. He looked exactly like a picture she had drawn, which had suspiciously gone missing recently. Was he the man from the picture come to life? She wanted to know.

    He stepped out onto the battlefield and Riolu gracefully leapt down from his back. "The object of a Pokemon Match, whether it's a Battle or a Contest, is to constantly protect your Pokemon." He looked down at the Riolu. "Lu, Riolu!" he ordered and the Pokemon nodded with a grin. Both Pokemon and human faced one another and bowed to each other. "I am going to engage Riolu in battle, since I don't have a second Pokemon to demonstrate with." He removed the fancy jacket he wore. "Is there a place to put this?" After glancing around the field, he placed the jacket on a nearby bench.

    "Are you gonna fight the Riolu?" Sarah asked the apparently suicidal substitute.

    He nodded. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll go easy on it."

    "But teacher said we weren't supposed to fight Pokemon ourselves," one of the other students complained. "We're supposed to fight with Pokemon."

    Keean Toby, though he didn't mean to, glared at the kid. "Your teacher isn't here. Your Pokemon should respect you and you should respect them. Right Riolu?" He returned to his stance of defense and the dog nodded. "Then come!"

    The Riolu kicked up some dust, snorted, and charged forward. Because the Riolu was roughly a third of Keean Toby's impressive height. it had nowhere near the amount of muscle on the substitute, in spite of it being a fighting Pokemon. It lunged with a sharp kick to the substitute's left ankle. Keean Toby grunted, as the Pokemon had somehow hit a very painful nerve. Keean Toby swung his fist down to grab the Pokemon, but Riolu somehow managed to get behind him and kick the backs of his knees, forcing the giant down. The children gasped.

    Riolu rushed to deliver the final blow and that was its mistake. Keean Toby rolled out of the way just as the blow was thrown and tossed a kick at the Pokemon. Riolu was forced to dodge left, right into the waiting grasp of the substitute. Keean Toby grabbed Riolu by the scruff of its collar and hauled it up with him as he stood back up. He checked himself and discovered he had only accumulated a small amount of dust on his immaculate shoes.

    The Riolu struggled, but wasn't quite able to do much of anything. Keean Toby smiled. "See? I captured the Pokemon, all on my own," he explained. "Some trainers prefer to use their Pokemon as work horses. Others liken them to slaves. But they aren't. They are our equals and to treat them in any other way is just degrading." He lowered Riolu to the ground, where it now stood by its side, disappointed by its loss but nonetheless satisfied by the fight. "Understood, children?"

    The class applauded.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "So…" Serena purred and leaned in just a little too close for comfort, "how'd your first day as a teacher go?"

    0 glanced out the bus window and attempted to drown out the noise from the back seats. "Fine," he replied and ignored her. He kept staring at the Poke Ball in his hand.

    "When'd you get a new Pokemon?" she asked and looked it over.

    He decided to put it away. "I got it for my services today. Ms. Penning said I did such a good job she'd give me the Pokemon instead of a paycheck. I took the Riolu." He didn't know why either. "I guess I got nostalgic for my old days as a trainer. It'll be fine, right?"

    Serena sighed. The big lug had such a big heart sometimes. "Yeah, it'll be fine. We can put it up in a small training mat so it can sleep, I can stock the fridge with Poke Blocks. You can train it on the roof of our building. We'll make it work. It'll be like a baby…" She grinned at him.

    0 groaned. "I knew you would say that. Please don't make our living arrangement any more awkward then you already do."

    But Serena was already on a roll and, from the looks of it, she wouldn't be stopping anytime soon. She whined on and on about their new 'family' all the way to the museum exhibit. It wasn't that long of a drive but he was fairly certain that any short trip could be incredibly extended by Serena's badgering. By the time the bus finally pulled up to the museum, he had had his ear talked off and rather wanted to escape the confines of the small bus and the even smaller set of seats he was sharing with Serena.

    The bus pulled up to the driveway and 0 assisted Serena with the disembarking of the students. The majority of them in the bus were from his class, so it wasn't particularly difficult to get them to move. They lined up single-file and awaited further instructions. 0 tried to ignore the girl with the pigtails in the back, but found himself glancing at her every few minutes just to make sure she was okay.

    "Are there any more buses, Ms. Brine?" he asked Serena.

    She glanced at the incoming traffic. "There's supposed to be three more arriving after us, Mr. Toby," she replied. "They'll be here in a few minutes. They got stuck behind a red light on the way down here."

    "Okay." 0 took out his student roster and shouted off the names on the list to make certain everyone was there. He hesitated momentarily before he saw Sarah Birch's name, but called it out anyway to avoid suspicion. When he finished, he saw the three other buses headed in the direction of the museum. When they disembarked, 0 received the shock of his life.

    In all honesty, he shouldn't have been shocked by her appearance there. After all, the lack of teachers must have required her presence. Together with her brother, she led a gaggle of children down the steps to meet the rest of the field trip groups. Her hair almost fluttered in the cool breeze. He thought she looked magnificent, but turned away the moment she arrived so he wouldn't be noticed right away.

    Fortunately, he wasn't the first person who caught her eye. "Mommy!" Sarah shouted loudly, causing several people to cover their ears from the noise radius. She waved, jumped, did everything, until her mother noticed her. When May did, she smiled, and headed over to Sarah to hug her daughter after telling her brother to keep an eye on everyone in their groups.

    "Hi, honey," May said and picked up her daughter. "Did you learn a lot today?"

    "Yup! We had a good sub today, even if he was mean to you."

    May was confused. "What? Sarah, who are you talking about?"

    Sarah pointed to 0. "Mr. Toby!" she squealed.

    "Oh really?" May asked. "Well, think I can have a chat with Mr. Toby?"

    0 suppressed his urge to leave as May lowered her daughter back into his ranks and seemed to glide over to him. "Well, well, well Mr. Toby," she said and held out her hand. "We meet again."

    0 played his part to perfection. "My apologies, Ms. Birch," he replied. He took her hand, shook it gingerly, and released it. "I hope you'll allow me to look after your daughter for a little while longer."

    "I suppose I can see my way to allowing that," she replied. "By the way, have you met my brother Max?" She glanced over at her brother, who was rapidly becoming overwhelmed by the children. "Uh-oh… I should probably go help him. He's not good at handling kids."

    "Perhaps I will meet him some other time, Ms. Birch," 0 said.

    She chuckled and 0 detected an odd hint of a blush in her face. "I hope you do. Are you in town for long?"

    He nodded. "Because of my coverage in the conference, I was asked to come here to help out for a bit, but I might see my way to staying a little longer. It's a nice city."

    May pulled out her purse and grabbed one of her cards. "Well, if you get a chance, call me. I'd love a rematch with that Pikachu of yours."

    0 gulped, but she didn't notice. "I have many other Pokemon, Ms. Birch. Variety is the spice of life."

    She looked him over and smiled. "I agree." She tilted her head, then went back over to where her brother was attempting to dislodge a vast amount of children who seemed rather eager to see how many injuries he could sustain to his legs. 0 breathed a sigh of relief, but was slightly worried. He thought he had seen a facial expression from May that he was used to only seeing from femme fatales he had met on his adventures. Or Serena.

    "Okay!" Serena shouted, breaking 0's deterioration of thought. "Everyone please line your students up and we'll go inside!" This announcement was hailed by the children, who apparently were very excited to learn for reasons that eluded 0, who was expecting to be bored while inside the museum. At Serena's orders, all eight groups of children began to shuffle in the direction of the main lobby of this vast museum and meet the tour guides. May and Max's guide came first and 0 watched them herd the jabbering animals towards the east wing.

    "Where are we going first?" 0 asked, when Serena rejoined him.

    She shrugged. "I'm pretty sure that we're visiting the north wing first. I made sure we'd go there first, it's where the Dark Emerald is located. Make sure your com-link is working and get Pi into the security system. It can disable cameras and we can use the kids as cover to take it."

    "Why would we want it?" He didn't like the idea of having a Dark Gem in their apartment.

    "Well, the alternative is waiting around for the terrorists to take it. Do you think you can pull off that super-speed trick again? It would definitely help."

    "I don't know," he replied. He had been trying to, all day in fact, but he hadn't been able to make anything slow down like he had that day. "I'll give it a try later." He grabbed the com-link in his pocket and tucked it into his hair on his ear. "Pi, you with me?"

    "Is it true we're getting a new Pokemon?" it asked, a hint of excitement in its voice. "I can't hear much in your stuffy pocket."

    "Yeah, I got a Riolu at the school. It looked a little unhappy being stuck in a Poke Ball all the time, so I thought I'd take it in lieu of payment for today. You don't mind, do you?" He didn't want Pi getting jealous.

    "No way! The more the merrier!"

    0 chuckled. "Good to hear it. Now-" He lowered his voice so the children wouldn't hear him "-when I give the signal, disable all security systems in the north wing of the building. Go and hack into the mainframe to set it up. I don't want anyone to even know that anything is wrong."

    "No problem," replied the Pikachu. "Think you can give me…oh…ten minutes?"

    "More than enough time," 0 answered. "Get going." The link went dead, but 0 knew the mouse would respond when the job was done. "How are we going to get the Dark Emerald out of here? Museum staff will notice if it goes missing during our visit."

    Serena grinned. "Got it covered," she replied and pulled a green stone from her pocket. "Replicate. Switch them and we'll be good to go. They won't notice for days, and by then it'll be impossible to trace."

    0 pocketed the stone and nodded. "Okay. Let's do this." The tour guide, a young man with an obscene moustache, arrived to take charge of the group.

    "Alexander Anderson," he said and held up his hand. 0 took it while trying to avoid looking at Alexander Anderson's upper lip. "I'll be taking you all on the tour."

    "Keean Toby," 0 said. "Serena Brine." He gestured at Serena. Alexander Anderson gave Serena a slightly lewd look, which she reciprocated in an endeavor to distract the youthful tour guide. It worked, as the happy-go-lucky Alexander Anderson took Serena by the arm and led the group to the north wing, leaving 0 to bring up the rear of the two classes, which he was perfectly happy to do. It gave him some time to figure out how exactly he was going to slow down time long enough to swap the gems, or even how he was supposed to slow it down period.

    "Mr. Toby." 0 looked down, and discovered that Sarah Birch had broken ranks and was now standing next to him.

    "What is it, Sarah?" he asked as they walked. She followed him.

    "What're you going to do with that Riolu?"

    He chuckled. "I decided I would keep it. I'll be training Lu from now on."

    "Who's Lu?"

    "That's Riolu's name, Sarah," he explained. "It told me so."

    "Wow," she said, her eyes in wonder. "So you can talk to Pokemon. How come?"

    He took a deep breath. They were coming up to the exhibits. "Because I love Pokemon, Sarah. They are my friends, my companions, and my strength. And in return, I hope they think I am their friend. And that's why I can talk to them. I listen to them, and they taught me every language." He didn't tell her why he had done so. He had needed to bury himself in work, anything, after he had left.

    "Cool."

    He smiled. "Well, I'm glad you think that it's cool, Sarah. Now go have fun with your friends." He glanced to the others, who were crowding around the exhibits. "I'm sure they'll think it's weird you think a fossil like me is more interesting than the ones on display."

    She shrugged. "I don't care." But she took his advice and rejoined the class. The com-link activated again, and he put his hand to his ear.

    "Pi, tell me you're ready."

    The mouse laughed, and 0 envisioned the Pikachu's grin. "Too easy, 0. We're in. I'm ready when you are."

    "Okay. We can only have five seconds. They'll notice anything longer than that, and even five seconds is cutting it." He glanced around. "There's no sign of the Dark Emerald yet, so standby until we're ready."

    "Roger."

    "Oh, and Pi?"

    "Yes?"

    "Any idea for how we can do that trick again? The one with the slowing-time thing?"

    "Why?" Pi asked. "Do we need it that badly?"

    He nodded. "3 reckons our best bet is to cut the security, slow down time, and switch the gems before anyone else notices. Any ideas how to do it?"

    "Not really," Pi admitted. "Can you recall the feelings you had when you and I did it?"

    "Uh…" He tried to remember that exact instant. Serena was about to die, Pi was roaring in his head. "Urgency. Panic. Something like that."

    "So did I," the Pikachu said. "Maybe it has something to do with the bond Bakaguru mentioned to you. If we sync up our movements, or our emotions, maybe we can recreate the effect. Think we can give it a try?"

    "It's worth a shot. Want to count to three?" 0 suggested. Pi agreed.

    "One," 0 said.

    "Two," Pi replied.

    "Three," they said together.

    0 glanced around. No one was moving, not one was doing anything, in fact. Serena was halfway in mid-laugh with Alexander Anderson, who's upper lip was pointed in an odd fashion that 0 didn't want to think about. It only lasted for a few seconds though and then everyone reverted right back to normal. The class moved into the second room of the exhibit and 0 followed.

    "Well," said the ranger, "I guess we know now, don't we? Pi, maintain on standby until I need you."

    "Copy," acknowledged the Pokemon. "I will root myself in the system. Five seconds will be more than enough."

    Serena glanced back at 0 and winked as she lavishly draped herself along Alexander Anderson, under the impression that the Golden Ranger would feel a pang of jealousy. It failed, for 0's face remained stoic, so she turned right around and began to pet Alexander Anderson's hideous moustache before he began his lecture on the next room, which happened to be filled with a vast amount of bright shiny things that 0 took no notice in.

    "There are a multitude of precious gems in the world," Alexander Anderson said and began pacing in front of the students like a waddling drill sergeant, passing occasional glances at Serena. "How many of you have heard of diamonds?" Everyone raised their hands. "How about pearls? We have every kind of gem you could think of here. Emeralds, rubies, sapphires. Even gold and silver. Topaz and amethyst. Look around and enjoy." The entire class swarmed over the displays, but 0 moved towards a specific display in the corner.

    The Dark Emerald was on prominent display in a small wreath of other emeralds, but 0 knew enough about precious gems to tell which one it was. The one in the center, it almost looked pitch black, except that it had an ominous green glow to it. "Jackpot," he muttered. "Pi, disable the security system for five seconds. Immediately after, prepare to use the trick."

    A moment later, Pi answered, "Security is disabled. On go."

    "Go."

    Time froze again. This time, because 0 and Pi were working in sync, he guessed that it would last longer, but didn't take any chances. He lifted the glass case quickly, the alarm didn't sound, and grabbed the Dark Gem in the center. He shoved it into his pocket and took out the fake gem, putting it right back on the pedestal. He realigned the glass case and stepped right back where he was standing. He somehow released the synchronization with Pi and time reverted back to normal.

    He glanced at Serena and nodded when she looked at him. She smiled and proceeded to continue flirting with Alexander Anderson, who was saying something about his fancy villa in the Orange Islands. 0 focused instead on Sarah, who was busy being wowed by the gems on display. She seems so happy, he thought, and absent-mindedly felt the gem in his pocket. It gave him a bad feeling, but at least he had it, and not the terrorists. He would live with that. After some thought, he took out Lu's Poke Ball and put it in another pocket. Lu probably wouldn't want to be in the same place as the Dark Gem. He felt slightly calmer.

    Which is why it made it more ironic when, once again, something exploded.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Interestingly enough, it was not 0's first reaction to protect the Dark Gem, something all of his training would have caused him to do. Instead, he made a beeline for Sarah but was intercepted at the right moment by Serena, who grabbed him to make it seem he was protecting her. Making a mental note to thank her later, he threw her to the ground to protect her from the shifts beneath their feet. The ground was starting to convulse.

    "Get the kids out of here right now!" 0 ordered. Alexander Anderson, who had been panicking, suddenly remembered that the beautiful Serena was in the room and an act of heroism might be exactly what she'd need to come with him to his villa.

    "All visitors follow me immediately to the front of the building!" he called. The screaming children chased after him down the hallway in a mad dash to escape.

    "Pi, disable all security cameras on this wing for ten seconds," 0 ordered. "3 and I will get into our goggles so no one will place us here when our Ranger selves show up.

    "Done 0," said the Pokemon. "Clear."

    0 and Serena switched their clothing using their morphers to the PKM regulation uniforms 0 had had the foresight to demand put there. 0's golden-and-black and Serena's white-and-black PKM uniforms emerged, along with a pair of goggles on both their faces. The goggles completely covered their heads, all their identifying marks. "PKM goggle mode ready. Pi, what are the cameras showing?"

    "0, 3, we have a huge problem."

    "What kind of problem?" 0 asked.

    "That thing that attacked us at the Contest…there are about fifty of them out here!" Pi shouted, a hint of panic in its voice. "They're coming your way! And…"

    "And what?" Serena piped in, able to hear their communications now thanks to her goggles. "What else is there?"

    "There's something else here. It's like those ranger things, but it's blue!"

    "Blue?" 0 gritted his teeth.

    "What does that mean?" Serena wondered.

    "It means that those black things are just underlings. You could call them Rangerlings, I guess. The blue one will be the one leading them, right Pi?"

    "That's what I'm guessing."

    "If that's the case, our goggle gear won't be enough. We'll have to morph when they-" He was unable to finish, as the Rangerlings arrived immediately. 0 and Serena assumed a defense stance, but oddly enough the black critters didn't attack instantly. Instead they lined up in an eerily orderly fashion along the sides of the room. "This is just great. I took down one of these no problem, but I don't know if we can handle all of them."

    "Don't worry, 0," Serena replied. "These things aren't anywhere near our ranger power level. We shouldn't have a problem. You're inexperienced. You don't know how strong you are."

    "Our power level is inferior?"

    0 and Serena turned to face the source of the question: a man clad in spandex so blue 0 was certain it was sapphire. The entire costume was sapphire, save for the knee-high boots, long gloves, and square visor, which were black. There was some strange symbol on his chest that they couldn't understand, but that was black too. The ranger looked to the agents and tilted his helmet in interest.

    "Didn't you hear me?" he asked, and it sounded almost like a young boy to 0. "What makes you think my friends and I are inferior to you?"

    "Pi, are authorities en route?"

    "On their way. I will send a transmission telling them to remain out of bounds."

    "Keep them busy with keeping the building structure stable and recovering the civilians." To the ranger, 0 growled. "How's about a name, Sappho?" he asked. "Meeting new people and all, the least you could do is give a name."

    "Oh yes, how rude of me," he replied. "I don't remember. But I think I'm supposed to be the Dark Sapphire Ranger. You guys must be the people I was sent to fight…wasn't that right?" He began to ramble. "Oh wait, wasn't I supposed to get the Dark Gem? I guess I can kill you both and do that." He giggled and took a step forward. "Why don't you transform? It'll be so much more fun when you become rangers. It'll be a real fight then." He sounded almost excited.

    Footsteps echoed along the hallway and 0 almost groaned when he saw the two people who could only make his situation worse: Max and May Birch, who had apparently disregarded any sense of caution and rushed to the room. "Sarah?" May asked. "Honey, where are you?" Max was the first one to notice the mass amounts of evil villains and grabbed his sister.

    "May, I think we have bigger problems," he said.

    "Idiots!" 0 shouted at them and they noticed the agents. "What're you doing here? Get back to the police right now!"

    "My daughter's here somewhere!" May retorted. "Who are you? Where is she?"

    "Shut up right now!" the Dark Sapphire Ranger shrieked. "You're May Birch, aren't you?" He glanced at the woman, who had apparently realized the error of her ways, but was nonetheless rather adamant about getting Sarah. "Well, May Birch, this is PKM." He gestured at the two agents. "I'm here to kill them. And take a shiny thing. And, while I'm here, I don't see why I shouldn't kill you. Three birds with one stone. Can't beat that kind of a deal."

    "No…" May whispered, as the Dark Sapphire Ranger lunged.

    "Go!"

    Author's Note: No news to report today, other than the fact that the remaining seven chapters have been completely mapped out, and we are on schedule to release Chapter 42 by the beginning of next month. I have a lot of projects due in the next couple of weeks from school, but I think I'm doing a great job prepping for them, so they shouldn't be the case for any delays.

  15. #15
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Jan 2013
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    Default Chapter 10

    Morph Ten: Synchronization Ignition

    "Go!"

    Sarah Birch watched in panic as the masked man in goggles vanished, only to reappear right in front of her mother, grappling with the spandex man in sapphire. He had called himself the Dark Sapphire Ranger, whatever that was, and now he was going to attack her mother! Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought to herself. She knew she shouldn't have stayed. But then the bruise on her head annoyed her, and she remembered that she had been knocked down trying to get out with Mr. Toby and the others.

    "I won't let you hurt them," the masked man vowed fiercely. "And you're not getting the Dark Gem!" The man spoke with such passion, and such rage, to the evil ranger. Sarah didn't like the look of the bad guy, he and his friends looked like the people who tried to hurt her momma at the Contest. "You hear me, Sappho?"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed indifferent to his name calling. "Nope. Stone deaf at the moment!" he exclaimed cheerfully and twisted the goggle man, forcing him on his back. Goggle-Man recovered, just in time to avoid the bad guy's boot from hitting his back. Sarah bit her lip, determined to keep quiet until she could get to her mom. Goggle-Man leapt to his feet and forced the bad man back, right into the waiting grasp of Goggle-Girl, who helped her partner fight the Dark Sapphire Ranger. The bad guys on the sides did nothing, maybe because they were politely waiting their turn. Sarah wasn't sure, but the man called Sappho didn't seem to mind fighting the both of them and what resulted was some sort of fighting that Sarah had only ever seen before on her Saturday morning cartoons. But Sappho seemed to be beating Goggle-Man and Goggle-Girl, because he hardly seemed to be breaking a sweat. His odd footwork and swaggering style made him look like someone who was dancing, not someone who was fighting. And Goggle-Man and Goggle-Girl couldn't keep up, so both of them were easily tossed to the floor.

    "That's pathetic," the bad man murmured to them, wagging his finger in triumph. "Really now, is this the best PKM can offer me? A bunch of whiny little babies? Morph now, or I kill you!" Sarah was fairly certain that couldn't be good. Goggle-Man and Goggle-Girl grimaced, but rose to their feet.

    "He's right," said Goggle-Man and raised some strange wristwatch that Sarah could have sworn she'd seen somewhere before. "Let's show this idiot how we do things in PKM."

    "Thought you'd never ask, sweetheart," Goggle-Girl retorted and lifted her own wristwatch, only hers was white instead of black like Goggle-Man's. "Let's dance with the funny man."

    "Ready?"

    "Right!"

    Both of them pressed a red button on their watches.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    "PKM Spirit, Activate!"

    Both Goggle-Man and Goggle-Girl flashed a bright color, golden and white, and two PKM Rangers appeared where they had been standing. Sarah stared at Goggle-Man, who had become the Golden Ranger, in awe. His entire body was armored with tough fabric, covered in muscle and raw strength, decked in golden and black. And then she saw the beauty that was the White Ranger standing beside him. Where the Golden Ranger was gold, the White Ranger was white, down to the little skirt she had added to her uniform. A picture of a water Pokemon, Sarah thought it was a Dewgong, adorned her chest where the Golden Ranger's Pikachu was.

    "Pure as the fallen snow," said the White Ranger and struck a dramatic pose too elaborate for Sarah to remember completely. "PKM Agent 3! White Ranger!" As she did this, it almost seemed like it got colder in the room and Sarah's mother and uncle looked up, like they expected snow to fall gracefully from the cracked ceiling.

    At this, both the Golden Ranger and the Dark Sapphire Ranger turned to stare at the oddly-posed 3. "What was that?" the Golden Ranger asked, in an entirely incredulous manner.

    "What do you mean, 0?" she replied. "That was my battle pose. I do it every time I morph. All rangers do it."

    "Are you making fun of me?" Sappho asked with a slight growl. "I don't like being made fun of." He tilted his helmet and snapped his fingers. All of the little black men jumped to attention. Sarah dug herself deeper into hiding.

    "Just don't do it anymore!" 0 ordered. "It's incredibly embarrassing."

    3 groaned. "Can we please just do this?" 0 nodded and focused again on Sappho, who seemed immensely annoyed at the apparent lack of attention he had been getting. "Download Frost Fan!" 3 ordered and tapped her helmet's right side. A white light formed in 3's gloves, before a white war fan roughly two feet long emerged in her fingers. She opened it, to test its speed, and then sealed it again.

    0 tapped his own helmet. "Download Lightning Laser!" he ordered some unknown individual and a large gun formed in his hands, like some of the toy shotguns Sarah had seen some boys her age playing with in parks. 0, however, seemed to be able to wield it with significantly higher proficiency because he spun it around by the trigger, waiting for the bad guy to make his move. Sarah watched the shotgun's twirling in wonder.

    "That's not fair," Sappho whined. "I wanna weapon too. Not fair!"

    "I don't play fair with terrorists," 0 retorted stubbornly and shouldered his gun. "Ready for round two, dirt bag?" He turned to his partner. "3, get the civilians out of here right now. I'll bring up the rear with any remaining people and the Dark Gem." At this, however, Sappho laughed gleefully, which seemed to irritate 0. "Got a problem with that, Sappho?"

    "Oh yes indeed," he replied, almost cheerfully, and dangled something that looked suspiciously like the Dark Emerald from his fingers. "You need to be more careful where you put things, Golden Boy. Anyone could easily pickpocket something like this…" He started to laugh, but didn't really get the chance, as 0 fired a bolt of lightning straight at his visor. He flipped backwards, dodging the attack rather gracefully, but not gracefully enough to stop 0 from charging forward with 3 to reclaim the shiny emerald. This time, though the little black men moved forward to protect their master, forcing the Rangers to fight multiple opponents.

    "Rangerlings! Tear them apart!" They howled their approval of their master's order and dove into the fray.

    The Lightning Laser swerved and, almost like a sniper, the Golden Ranger laid waste to ten of them in five seconds. At the same time, he swung the shotgun down, knocking down anyone as he moved to protect Sarah's momma and uncle. May was terrified and Max was, despite his immense disadvantage, doing his very best to keep one of the Rangerlings off her, relying on what little fighting prowess he had. Finally, he had enough and summoned both his Gallade and Mightyena to the fray. "Get 'em, guys!" he shouted and they hastened to obey him. Mightyena snarled and clamped its jaws on the nearest Rangerling it could reach, upon which said Rangerling emitted a loud shriek of pain, which ended with a punch to the face from Max, who bruised his knuckles but downed the enemy.

    Meanwhile, the beautiful White Ranger wielded her war fan with such proficiency that it might have scared Sarah if 3 wasn't trying to help her. The Dark Sapphire Ranger, once so quick and calm, was becoming more and more erratic. The White Ranger was far more graceful in their dance of death, and the bad guy appeared to be losing. Again and again the war fan struck him, forcing him to hide amidst the Rangerlings, who fared even worse than their leader. 3 was cool and collected, unlike the violent 0, and dodged them all, smashing through the white gem-like thing on their chests, which seemed to have an adverse affect, because they fell down and didn't move after it was broken.

    "0!" shouted the beautiful lady to her partner. "Smash the white things on their chests! It's the Rangerlings weak spot!"

    "I figured!" he shouted back, and blasted three dead in the chest. They absorbed the majority of the impacts and their chest gems held, so 0 switched to using his ranged weapon as a melee one and smashed at their chests with the gun barrel before unloading a burst of electricity. It seemed to work, because one just exploded in a puff of black smoke. 0 repeated the process on the six closest to him. Sarah noticed that none of the bad guys were waiting around. Everyone was fighting, which made it significantly harder for her uncle and his Pokemon, 0, and 3, to focus on just one opponent. The Rangers definitely did a better job of it, but Uncle Max and his Pokemon held as best they could. One of the Rangerlings was thrown into the air by the Golden Ranger and smashed the glass case that she had been hiding behind. She covered her head as glass rained around her. She felt something bite her hand and noticed she had had been cut by a shard of glass. It hurt and she accidentally cried.

    "Momma!" she sobbed. "I hurt myself!"

    "Sarah!" May shrieked and finally spotted her daughter. Ignoring anything that stood in her way, her mother rushed for her, and even 0 stopped to stare at her determination. When a Rangerling foolishly decided to get in her way, her mother shoved it out of her way and kept going. The Dark Sapphire Ranger noticed this too, however, and stepped in to stop her.

    "Get out of my way," May ordered and put up her fists. Sappho laughed.

    "I think not, May Birch," he replied happily and punched her in the face. Her mother dropped like a sack of potatoes. 0 roared in outrage, as did Max, and both rushed towards her defense. But neither got there as quickly as Sarah did. Ignoring the throbbing pain in her hand, the little girl ran up and began to wail on Sappho's leg, for she wasn't tall enough to do much else. Something green fell from his belt and landed in the pile of emeralds scattered on the floor. Sappho looked down and kicked her full in the stomach, downing the daughter like he had her mother.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Go!"

    0 was beyond furious.

    The berserk Golden Ranger roared as he lunged at the Dark Sapphire Ranger. Time slowed down and he smashed Sappho right in the face with the Lightning Laser's gun barrel, sending the evil ranger flying into and through the nearest wall. "Pi, analyze and determine life readings," he ordered the Pokemon as he fended off the Rangerlings who were attempting to swarm over Sarah and May's bodies.

    "Calculating…" Pi replied. "Both are unconscious. May Birch has head injuries, but nothing life-threatening. Sarah Birch has a broken rib. Both will require medical attention. May is bleeding from her head injury. I'm alerting the authorities outside to send in SWAT teams to recover them and that the paramedics need to be on standby."

    "Thank you, Pi." Despite his calm voice, Pi knew 0 was quivering with rage. "Download Bolt Blade!" He wanted to slice these things up. The shotgun digitized itself and vanished from his hands. A golden light exploded and a giant gleaming sword emerged in his hands. 0 glanced down at the black and gold surface of the metal sword, then cleaved a Rangerling in half as if it were a slice of bread. The second one he killed went down painfully, as it refused to simply allow itself to die. First 0 had to slice through its arms to rid it of its defenses, then he sliced it in half from the helmet to the groin. 0 relished the revenge, but kept his head as best he could. He could wail on the Rangerlings all he wanted, but that wasn't going to change that May and Sarah needed medical attention.

    "You," he said to Max. "You are related to them, correct?" His mechanical synthesizer made sure that his voice was warped, there would be no chance of Max Birch knowing who was behind 0's golden visor.

    "Y-yeah," Max replied. "I'm Max Birch. I'm May's brother."

    "I will cover you. They need medical attention immediately or they will die," he explained, as calmly as he could. "Can you get them out of here?"

    He nodded. "I can," Max answered.

    "Good. They are after one of those emeralds over there. Take one with you and some of the Rangerlings will follow you. SWAT teams will be waiting in ambush, but can you create a diversion?"

    "Yes. It'll be dangerous, but I've done dangerous stuff before," Max said. "Mightyena! Gallade! Help me get May and Sarah! We need to get out of here right now!" Both his Pokemon snapped to attention and obeyed without question. Gallade helped 0 fend off the opponents while Max helped load Sarah's body onto Mightyena, before picking up May. "Okay, Golden Ranger, make us an exit!"

    "Roger," 0 replied. He rammed through the remnants of the Rangerlings still attacking and, with much gusto, used the gigantic Bold Blade to cleave a path for Max, Mightyena, and Gallade to get through. "Go! Don't look back, and don't come back!"

    "Got it!" Max charged through the room and managed to evade the Rangerlings long enough to get out of ranger. 0 watched them leave, then turned his attention to helping 3 clear up the rest of the Rangerlings. He sliced open one behind her and joined her.

    "Having fun?" he asked.

    "You sure know how to show a lady a good time," she replied. "Next time, I want to go to the park for a date."

    "Don't count on it," he answered. "Sappho will be back soon and I don't think the little freak's going to be happy."

    And, as usual, 0 hated when he was right. The Dark Sapphire Ranger burst through the already weakened west wall he'd been punched through and even thought he wore a visor he still gave off the aura of someone incredibly angry. What made this situation worse was the fact that he was closer to the Dark Emerald, as he stood right next to the pile of fallen gems.

    "Rangerlings, distract them!" he ordered with glee and the last five drove 0 and 3 back.

    "We've got to get to that gem!" 0 groaned and sliced through two of the Rangerlings at once. Sappho inspected the pile and found the one he was looking for. He then exclaimed in triumph and jumped up and down with happiness.

    "I'm on it!" 3, because she was apparently much more limber then 0 was, ran to the wall and kicked off it, soaring over the last three Rangerlings to go fight Sappho. 0, in the meantime, took advantage of the fact that the Rangerlings stupidly chose to stop and watch 3 soar over them by cleaving all three through their chests. They fell in unison and 0 charged towards Sappho to defeat him.

    "3, duck!" 0 swung the behemoth Bold Blade horizontally, and the White Ranger did the splits to avoid it. Sappho, however, seemed pretty confident in himself and took the full blunt of the blade. 0 felt satisfaction as the sword's sharp end smashed into Sappho and sent him flying. Then, he felt confusion, because Sappho picked himself right back up and dusted off his spandex like nothing had happened.

    "Wait, why didn't the idiot get sliced and diced like the rest of them?" 3 asked.

    Sappho seemed genuinely offended. "How dare you compare me to these trinkets?" he asked in a heightened voice. "My Dark Gem is a sapphire. Those onyx class freaks can't compare to someone of my magnificence." He grinned and held up the Dark Emerald. "See? Told you I was brilliant!" He didn't even stick around to kill them. He bolted for the exit and disappeared.

    "He's going outside," 0 said.

    "There are civilians outside," answered the White Ranger.

    "If I might make a suggestion," said Pi, who had been working the whole time, "why not take the Zero Cycle? I can download it with your confirmation."

    "Let's hope my Driver's Ed paid off," 0 replied with a grin. "Download the Zero Cycle!" Instantly, the Bolt Blade vanished and the Zero Cycle emerged, its engine primed and ready for its owner. Without hesitation, 0 boarded the machine and activated it. "3, get on, and hold on." She obeyed him without question and disengaged her Frost Fan so she could keep a better grip. 0 revved the engine. It roared and 0 kicked it off. The motorcycle tore through the room and to the outside world, where it exploded out of the doors and down the stairs into the streets.

    0 located the nearest police officer. "Where did the guy in blue go?" he demanded. The cop, far too terrified to lie to the Golden Ranger, pointed down the eastern road.

    "He killed two of my men and took off in a police car!"

    "Thank you." 0 revved the engine and took off again, this time racing through the streets.

    "3, what do you think is the best way to track Sappho?" 0 asked, as he zoomed through the hole in the police barricade the Dark Sapphire Ranger had created. He kept going straight, right into the now-oncoming traffic.

    "Are you crazy?" she shrieked and held on for dear life. "Slow this thing down!"

    "Guess you forgot," 0 muttered and merged into the right lane. "Bakaguru designed this thing without breaks to increase optimum speed. Pi, what are our best bets?"

    "The Dark Sapphire Ranger is being tailed by a few news crews. I'll hack into their signal and trace where he's going. For now, follow the accidents." Pi was referring to the vast amount of damage Sappho had taken the time to do as he zipped through the wrong lanes. The Dark Sapphire Ranger was a good driver, but 0 was even better. He took the fastest lanes, used the super speed of the Zero Cycle to leap over wrecks with wheelies, and followed the bread crumbs Sappho had left. "Got it. He's heading to the intercity lines between North Petalburg and Petalburg City. Turn south here. It'll be faster than following his route."

    "Copy." 0 swerved and turned with pinpoint accuracy. Multiple cars honked, but no collateral damage resulted, as 0 pivoted the Zero Cycle right into oncoming traffic. "Upload the best possible map into the visor's map." After a few moments, the visor's screen changed into something from a video game. 0 saw arrows and signals from Pi's coordinates displayed in real time with the street, which even calculated the best lanes to be in to compensate for any traffic. "Thanks." He accelerated.

    "You guys are really getting the hang of this," 3 grumbled.

    0 laughed. "What happened to the exciting and dangerous 3 I know?" he retorted and merged into the left lane.

    "You know damn well I only get excited in the bedroom!"

    "I knew no such thing," he answered and pushed the Zero Cycle to its optimum speed purely to spite her as he turned left and found himself directly in the route of the annoying Dark Sapphire Ranger. They were right behind him. "Pi, does this thing have nitro?" 3 screamed in protest.

    "It'll be located right next to the nozzle," it explained. "A little red button."

    "Good," said the Golden Ranger. "And what weapons do we have equipped to this thing?"

    "Machine gun turrets mounted to the front of the vehicle. The activation button will be a black switch next to the nitro booster."

    "Hang on, 3!" 0 shouted and punched the nitro booster. 3 shrieked as the world became a massive great blur. Cars seemed insignificant, but thanks to Pi's help, 0 avoided every last one. They passed the insane police car.

    "We passed him, you nitwit!" 3 shouted at him and dug her hands deeper into his stomach. "Do something!"

    "Okay!" 0 performed what had to be the most insane stunt he could think of: a high-speed U-turn, which would result in skid marks on the street that the city would spend many months attempting to clean. 0 switched off the nitro and activated the machine gun turrets, blasting the squad car to bits. 0 didn't waver his guns, and the end result was that the squad car came to a screeching halt mere feet away from the rangers.

    Then the Dark Sapphire Ranger exploded out of the car and 0 leveled him with bullets. Sappho fell, and the rangers didn't move from the vehicle. "Pi, activate my loudspeaker system," 0 ordered.

    "Done."

    "This is PKM," 0 broadcast to the Dark Sapphire Ranger. "Stand down immediately, or we will continue the barrage. In a few moments, we will be taking you into custody. Hand over the Dark Emerald now."

    "What is he doing!"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger rose, right as rain, the Dark Emerald clutched in one hand, a scimitar in the other. "You think a little bit of bullet rain is gonna break me, suckers!" He cackled again and swung his sapphire scimitar. "I have the unbreakable body! I can't be touched by the likes of you weaklings!" He slashed his sword through the air and skipped to one of the passerby civilians that happened to be standing around. "But these people? Oh no. They're quite vulnerable. Watch!" He slashed his sword down and it stuck into the arm of the woman, who shrieked in agony. "Let's see how much of a pincushion I can make of her!"

    "Go!"

    This time, however, the activation was different. Some kind of gauge emerged at the side of the screen, timing him. He didn't really notice it, he was much too focused on stopping Sappho from cutting the girl again. She was already bleeding heavily. He smashed Sappho to the ground before the gauge emptied and the scimitar was removed. He collected the girl, and passed her to who looked like her father. "Look after her." The father nodded and shouted for someone to call the hospital.

    "Pi, did you see that gauge?" 0 asked.

    "Yeah. Something's happening with the suit's programming."

    "What?"

    As if to answer his question, the visor did indeed change. A new display, located on the bottom of the screen, started forming and charging itself. "Synchronization Drive activated. Charging up." At this, 0 grew confused. That hadn't been Pi speaking.

    "What's a Synchronization Drive?" 0 asked.

    "No idea," answered Pi. "Try using it when the gauge is full."

    "Roger," he said, then turned to 3. "3, help me buy some time!"

    "For what?" 3 asked, though she jumped straight into the fray to fight Sappho.

    "Don't know!" he shouted. "Just do it!"

    Both of them struck against Sappho, forcing him back. The Dark Sapphire Ranger struck back, but the tough fabric of 0's ranger uniform prevented any significant damage from occurring. "How many bruises do you want, Golden Boy?" the Dark Sapphire Ranger asked. "I can cut them for you now and save the trouble!" He retrieved his scimitar and resumed his onslaught.

    "Just enough to get this!" 0 retorted. 3 ducked beneath him and Sappho and in one swift motion grabbed the Dark Emerald. Sappho shrieked and threw his sword downwards. 0 shoved 3 out of the way and grunted. The sword sliced through his armor, right into his shoulder. 0 gasped in pain and Sappho shivered with pleasure. "Now you're in trouble." He grabbed the sword's blade and kept it inside his shoulder.

    "What do you think you're doing?"

    "Synchronization Drive charged," said the mysterious dark voice. "Producing options." The gauge transformed into two choices: Agility or Volt Tackle. 0 smiled through his pain and started to laugh himself.

    "What's so funny, Golden Boy?" Sappho demanded and drove the sword deeper.

    "Let's find out what this baby can do!" He activated it. "Synchronization Drive: Volt Tackle!"

    "What're you babbling about-" Sappho stopped taunting and shrieked in agony. 0 groaned as a vast amount of electricity burst through his body and conducted itself through the metallic sword. Sappho's screams were unbearable, but 0 didn't really notice them on account that he was experiencing the worst electric shock he had ever had. After years of being shocked by Pi, he had expected immunity from the pain at this point. But this was different: his body was creating the electricity, and it was ripping through him. He roared in agony and vaguely heard someone shouting at him.

    Both rangers experienced an equal amount of pain and finally the area around them exploded in an electrical storm. 0 was thrown away from the blast radius like a rag doll. He heard 3 scream and someone was supporting him. He glanced dimly around. The Dark Sapphire Ranger was gone.

    What had happened?

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Serena Brine panicked. Never before had she seen anything like what her partner had just done. She lowered the ranger's body onto the alley's pavement gingerly, not wanting to hurt him any more then he had already been. Her analysis had told her that he was still alive, but his heartbeat was irregular from the electric exposure. She patched herself into 0's link to talk to Pi. She glanced around but no one disturbed them.

    "Pi? You have any idea what's going on?" she asked.

    "We're…okay…" it replied, its voice ragged. "Just…he's gonna be out for a while… He's awake…just in constant pain"

    "Do you have any idea what happened?" she asked.

    "Can't be sure. He activated something called a Synchronization Drive. Do you know what that is?"

    She shook her head. "We should probably return to our civilian forms and get home." She deactivated her ranger uniform and Pi did the same for 0. His shoulder wound looked pretty bad, and she gasped when she saw it. "We can't take him to a hospital. I'll need to get him home and use the first aid gear."

    "Will it be enough?" Pi asked.

    She smirked. "He's been through a lot. He can handle something like this." She lifted the hulking 0, which was impressive, since she was dwarfed by her partner's size. The little ranger huffed and headed for the street, where she hailed a cab. After a minute, one pulled over.

    "Where to, lady?" the cab driver asked.

    "My husband had a little too much to drink," she explained and shook 0 to prove it. 0's gigantic coat hid his still-bleeding wound, and she shoved him into the backseat. "Can you take us to the gym? Our apartment is right across from it." The cabbie started the meter and pulled away from the curb, heading for the gym.

    Serena fingered the Dark Emerald in her pocket. It was spooky, sure, but at least they had gotten it. But then she looked at 0. The color in his face was gone, and she was pretty sure that wound in his shoulder was going to kill him if she didn't do something quickly. Fortunately, the cab ride took less time then she expected. For some reason, people didn't feel like driving, so most of the streets were empty. They stopped ten minutes later, which felt like an eternity to Serena, who thanked the cabman by tossing the money she owed and hauling 0 out of the car as quickly as she could.

    She took the elevator to their room and slammed the door shut. Before she took care of 0, she locked the door to make certain she wouldn't be bothered and lowered 0 onto her mattress. "Pi, I'm turning on my laptop so you can watch and surf the net." She flipped open the computer, and Pi's worried face appeared on the screen. "I'll go get the first aid kit." She retreated to the kitchen, where she located the kit and returned to 0's side. She stripped him of his shirt and his coat and he groaned loudly.

    The wound wasn't infected, but it was deep. The sword had sliced quite neatly into some of the muscle and tissue, drawing a steady amount of blood that had begun to clot. In addition, the electricity had taken an even more severe injury. She pressed onto the wound, and the ranger grunted in agony. The bleeding stopped, and Serena thanked whatever Legendary Pokemon that looked after 0 that his shoulder injury was minimal. The problem was the electricity that was still running rampart through his body.

    "I don't know what to do Pi." Serena's voice was shaky and hesitant. She bandaged the wound as best she could and turned to the mouse on the computer. "Pi, what can I do?" she asked. "I don't know what to do!" Her face was warm and her eyes hurt from the tears she was trying to hide.

    Pi was even worse off, and regretted the fact that it could not even touch 0. "Wait," it said and looked to the White Ranger. "What about short-circuiting him?"

    "What?" she asked and rubbed her eyes.

    "If we put him in some water, the electricity tearing his systems apart should short out and stop," Pi explained. "He used to do it to me when we had solar flares."

    "You want me to…put him in the tub?" For a moment, the seriousness of the situation evaporated and she grinned. "Sure… I can do that…"

    "Serena, please!" Pi scolded. "Now is not the time to be thinking like-"

    Serena closed the laptop and headed straight for the bathroom. The apartment was simplistic, and so was their bathtub, which was little more then a man-sized sink with some extra faucets. She started the water, and warmed it up to a nice temperature. When the tub was filled halfway, she shut off the water and turned to the hulking, groaning mass that was her partner. He was already half-naked, so she slipped off his boots and his pants. He murmured something, she couldn't make it out, and she dragged him to the bathtub. She shut down everything electronic in the apartment, knowing that something bad was probably going to happen the moment she put him into contact with water.

    "Don't worry, big guy," she whispered to him. "Serena's gonna make you all better." If he heard her, he didn't acknowledge it, but apparently very grateful for the fact that he had been allowed to keep his underwear on, because he didn't fight her, not that he really could. She stood him up as best she could and helped him into the tub, moving away the moment his skin touched the water.

    The water started hissing, and Serena noticed crackling electricity running down 0's muscles. It should have burned him, but it didn't. A scraping sound echoed from him, and he screamed loudly. For a moment, Serena lifted her eyes to stare at him writhing, but knew that if she touched him she would die. Then, the light abruptly stopped and 0 started coughing loudly. Serena approached him, but kept her distance.

    "A-are you okay?" she asked him.

    "S-serum," 0 groaned. "And alcohol. Now."

    "I really don't think those are going to-"

    "Now!" His voice was hoarse and she didn't dare disobey him. "In my jacket."

    She retreated to where his blood-stained jacket was and retrieved the already-loaded syringe and a beer from the fridge. She placed them on the floor near him so he could reach the materials, as she wasn't sure whether the water was still electrically-charged. After what appeared to be an extensive struggle with his muscular system, his arm slunk down and grabbed the needle. He drove it into his skin immediately and shot himself full of the dark blue liquid. He groaned in satisfaction and smiled.

    "T-thank you, 3," he muttered and grabbed the beer. "I'll be alright now." He drank heavily from the bottle and soon finished it. "Okay, that's better." He got out of the tub, thought he was shaking, then simultaneously realized that he was almost naked and that Serena was standing directly in front of him with a facial expression that was rapidly becoming dangerous.

    "3, could you look away while I find some clothes?" he asked. Serena's stunt with the bathtub had gotten him dripping wet. He was wearing only a torn shred of underwear that barely managed to cover him. He stepped out of the bathtub, but slipped on some of the water that had split out of the tub during his thrashing episode and accidentally fell.

    Serena grinned and her instincts took over as she allowed him to fall on her, in an effort to make it seem as thought she was just trying to help him. 0's gigantic body was crushing, but warm at the same time, especially since she wasn't wearing the maximum amount of clothing for the weather outside.

    "Ow," she grumbled and rubbed her head. She then noticed that she was staring at him. His long black hair was draped over the majority of his face, but she could still see the hardened line that Serena had long since learned to distinguish as his lips. "Hey, 0?"

    "Yeah?" For some reason, she thought his voice sounded significantly deeper and throatier then normal.

    She kissed him. It was just for a moment, but in the moment their lips touched, her heart soared. "That's for saving me," she said and felt a slight tingle creep on her face, which was nothing compared to the blush on 0's face, which had transformed it into something resembling a cherry.

    0 stood up immediately and used his wristwatch to change into his PKM uniform, which was better then lying on Serena almost naked. "Uh…you're welcome," he replied and did not look her directly in the eyes. He removed the goggles and sat down at the table, where he put the headgear. "So…" He appeared quite flustered from her gesture. "Can I take a look at the Dark Gem?"

    She nodded. "Of course," she replied and produced the near-black gem. 0 took it, but dropped it almost immediately.

    "3, is this the gem you took from the Dark Sapphire Ranger?" he asked. "Are you absolutely certain?"

    She nodded. "It's the only one he had."

    He looked up and groaned. "This isn't the Dark Emerald."

    "What?"

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Don't worry, Mr. Birch," the doctor said with a smile. "I'm certain that both your sister and niece will be fine. A few hours sleep, and I promise they'll be right as rain."

    "Thank you," Max replied and boarded the ambulance that Sarah and May were going to be traveling in. His parents were going to be meeting them at the hospital, he had just called them to let them know what had happened. They were shocked and his father Norman had almost gone for his gun rack to go deal with the Dark Sapphire Ranger himself when he heard what had happened to his daughter and grandchild, but persuasion from Max had kept the retired gym leader from going on a vigilante streak. Still, as he sat next to the unconscious bodies of Sarah and May, he wasn't quite sure why he himself hadn't stayed with the Golden and White Rangers and fought.

    His hand curled up into a fist. Inside that fist was a very small, but very noticeable, emerald.

    Unknown to Max, the Dark Emerald began to pulsate as it bonded itself to its newest host. However, by the time they arrived at the hospital, the fusion was complete, and Max thought he could hear someone laugh as he put the emerald back into his pocket.

    Author's Note: We're officially one-fourth through the story! Dance party for everyone!

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