Morph Thirty-One: Trapped…
There was a distinct lack of sensation.
0 looked at his arm. It was ordinary, save for the fact that it was covered in his ranger armor. He looked at his chest; it bore the strange little emblem of Pikachu's face across his pectorals down to his bellybutton. The rest of his body was the same, a mix-and-match of gold and black. There was a puddle in the field. He walked to it slowly, completely uninterested in anything else. All around him, people were shouting, waiting, for him to do something.
All that mattered was the puddle. He lowered his head and looked at himself. A mask stared back.
It was his face. What lied beneath, that was gone. Somehow, he sensed that. His cheeks, his eyes, his nose and lips…they should be there. But they weren't. He was aware of something moving as he twisted his face into a snarl, but it wasn't the muscles underneath the tanned skin he'd once had. That was gone, too. He wasn't sure why, but it was gone.
And all that was left was rage. Rage that, though it couldn't be expressed by the visor that was his face, was apparent from the way his suit trembled. His fingers clenched, forming fists that quivered as he turned around to face the creature that had done this.
The Dark Topaz Ranger. Never had 0 felt something so pure, so complete, as the hatred that boiled through what had once been his veins. Once, he thought, he'd felt something like it. I was holding someone. A bundle of pure love. It was nothing, nothing, compared to the pure rage he felt for Top. He wanted the creature dead. He wanted it ended. He wanted the heaving behemoth torn limb from limb, the gem that gave it its power crushed and turned to dust in the rainstorm.
He roared, a primal scream that tore through the thunder and the lightning, and 0 smelt fear all around him. Perhaps not from the Dark Topaz Ranger, who was merely wary of his animalistic hate, but from the tiny Rangerlings that crowded around it. 0 barely registered them. Those were insects worming around the husk of the true threat, the thing that dared to touch what was his.
The thing that dared harm Sarah.
"0! 0! You have to fight it!" There was a sound in his head, it seemed so irrelevant. "There's still time, you can still change back!" That made 0 laugh. There was no going back. There was no happy ending, or joy, or pleasure waiting for him. It had all been a lie. PKM had promised him the chance to protect his family, and ripped it away. Bakaguru had promised to give him back his family, and in return had only brought the enemy that much closer to him. Serena, Max, 415, they'd sworn to defend each other to the very end, and once again they were useless.
"Once again, it's my job to fix everything," 0 growled. At least Logan and Karin had been honest and took off. Who knew where they were, probably safe with nothing trying to murder them every single day.
There was a little girl on the field. Her, 0 knew. There was no mistaking it. The entire battle had ground to a halt, like it was some sort of movie, just to watch him approach her. There was an arm sprouting from Max's mangled form, but even 415 and the Rangerlings had stopped fighting over him to watch 0.
He reached the little girl, and picked her up. She was hurt. Nothing was broken, maybe a few bruised ribs, but nothing that wouldn't heal. 0 touched her face, careful to avoid the damage on the left side of her face, just below her eye. He shifted her hair so it wasn't touching her mostly-purple face.
The girl's eyes fluttered open. It must have hurt, and she winced several times, but she finally got her right eye open to look at him. She couldn't smile, but her voice was assuring. "D-D-Daddy?" she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear it.
He nodded. "Yes, little girl?"
"I…I'm hurt." She tried to cough, but a little blood dribbled down her chin. "D-Daddy, it hurts." She had started to cry, somehow ignoring all the damage they'd done to her face. "Please make it stop, D-Daddy. I think…" She paused, so she could cough again. 0 held her close. "I think… Is this dy-d-dying?"
0 tried to chuckle, but the part of his body where his vocal chords should have been were disappearing. He still managed to speak. "No, Sarah. Everything's okay. Just a few bruises, nothing worse than falling off your bike. We'll take you inside, wash you off, and 415'll clean you right up. Get you a big Band-Aid for being such a brave little girl."
She tried to nod, but she was too tired. "G-Good. I'd…I'd miss you and Mommy." Then her eyes closed and she stopped coughing.
0 lifted his head. She was still breathing, but only just. "May!" he shouted. "May!"
From the ground, where she'd been lying in pain, May Birch stood up in the rain-soaked field. She crawled past the Rangerlings, past Top and even Dia, until she reached where 0 cradled their child and took her from him.
As she steadied her new weight, she looked at him. She felt something, something so terrifying, that for a second she was afraid. "0?" she asked. "Are you…?"
He nodded slowly. "I think so. Pi isn't sure, but I think so."
He cut her off. "No time. Get her inside and lock yourselves in Ranger Downs. There's medical equipment in there. Use it. I'll send Pi to help." She didn't move, she just stared at him. "Go! We don't have time for this!" She ran, and 0 was left alone. Even the voice in his helmet left, because Pi never needed to be told where he was needed. The door shut behind them, and no one dared follow.
The last link left him. He couldn't even feel the rain as it fell against the fabric of his uniform. He couldn't feel the breeze that swept the battlefield. As he screamed, he noticed that there wasn't any air in his lungs, in fact he wasn't altogether sure where his lungs were. As he ran into battle, he stopped sensing his boots absorbing the shock of his legs hitting the ground.
There was one last feeling, one hate sensation, one last goal, that swept through what was now his body and made him feel whole.
I'm going to kill you all.
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There was a soft whirling hum that gradually died down.
"The analysis is complete, Ranger Gold," said 415. "You may disengage your morpher from the scanner."
0 nodded and gingerly removed his arm from what looked like a miniature MRA machine. It was a machine, built on Bakaguru's schematics and 415's technical expertise, that they had been using to monitor his morpher.
"What's the prognosis?" he asked. He lightly massaged around his wrist.
"One moment. The information is being printed." 0 waited for another machine to spit out paper, which also took some time. When it finally coughed up the data, 415 snatched it up and studied it again.
"Can I please see how the morpher's doing?" 0 asked.
415 glanced at him briefly over the documents. "I am ascertaining accuracy. I am also checking to see if our other morphers might not benefit from such analysis. Cease your pestering, it will not make my research go faster." She returned to work and, ten minutes later, looked up with what seemed to be a content expression on her mask-face. She brushed a red hair from her eyes. "Now it is done."
"The data is mixed. On one hand, it notes that the morpher is beginning to adjust for the extra uses of your ranger system. Your uses of Lucario and Torkoal have increased, and the morpher seems to be learning to accommodate them without continuous usage overloading the system and forcing a demorph during battle. This is good, as it means that our Ailed Morphers might be evolving as well. It warrants further study on my morpher and the morpher of Serena Brine."
He nodded. "Makes sense. And what's the bad news?"
She pointed to a chart on one of the documents that made no sense to 0. "Your morpher is making these adjustments by bonding to you. It is gradual, and there have been no noticeable changes, but its acceptance of you is resulting in you becoming more merged with the technology. There is a possibility that, as the morpher continues to evolve to suit your needs, it may become a permanent bonding."
"So trapped in morph, like the former 0 was."
"Somewhat, yes. The morpher will not force such an extreme transformation without an extreme catalyst for the morph. Say there is a great deal of anger. Were you to morph in such a state, the psychological effects could extend to the morpher and bond you. Mind you, such as transformation would require an exceeding amount of rage the likes of which—"
0 raised his hand. "I get it. No getting angry when I'm about to morph. Keep my emotions clear."
"You say that like it is something you are physically capable of. Were I able to wager, I would place a bet on you being trapped in morph within the year. You are not one for restraint."
"Maybe I'll take up yoga."
"And maybe the mongrel will state something of significance. The point is hypothetical speculation, particularly impossible hypothetical speculation, wastes everyone's time. Dreams are for sleep."
"Speaking of." 0 glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just after midnight. "Shouldn't you be going to sleep? Big day tomorrow. Er, today."
"For you, perhaps. For me, it is another day of simulations. I am not assigned to above ground cover for your children event."
0 nodded. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to get out once in a while. Fresh air is good for people."
"Most people. My appearance changes daily. There is no point in getting to know anyone outside of the group, there is no way to explain my appearance in a way that would remove our cover."
"Well, about that. Why don't you just drop the disguise? We're not undercover in PKM anymore. We're our own group. You could go out, make friends, relax."
She looked up from her work, and her red eyes gave him one of the coldest expressions he'd ever seen. "My appearance is not your concern, Ranger Gold, and the last time I checked, it is not a subject you have say over." She returned to her research.
"I wasn't suggesting that I did have say over it. I just thought—"
She raised her hand and looked up. "Clearly you were not, otherwise you would have kept silent. It is not your concern, Ranger Gold, what I look like under my mask. It is not May Birch's concern, nor the Dark Gem's concern, nor Serena Brine's concern, nor the concern of your daughter. It will never be any of your concerns, so why not spend a bit more time admiring your wife's face instead of complaining about my refusal to—?"
She cut herself off, breathing a bit more unevenly than usual. Her mask seemed to mimic her embarrassment, because its cheeks tinged red briefly. Then it vanished, and she regained her composure.
"You're right, 415," he said. "It isn't my concern, is it? Just thought it might be nice for you not to hide anymore. We're not part of PKM. You're allowed to be yourself once in a while, and not just a ranger."
"This is myself, Ranger Gold. There is nothing deeper."
He nodded. "Sure, whatever. Get some sleep anyway, never know when the Dark Gems are going to start smashing through the city."
"Of course," she said, but he had already started heading upstairs. If he heard, he did not react, so 415 returned to her work.
The laboratory was quiet, aside from the occasional whirl and hum from the machines. She tried to work, but found herself distracted. Again and again she turned to a reflective screen on a nearby monitor, touching pieces of her mask. Every now and then she would shift it, just to be certain it was still there. She went through seven different eye colors and three styles of hair before she heard a set of footsteps on the stairs.
She firmly stared at her research. "If you are here to apologize, Ranger Gold, I am not interested in—"
"Wrong guy, 415." It was Max. Of course it was Max, of all the times for him to visit. "I couldn't sleep, so I started wandering the house. I saw the lights were on down here and thought it might be someone working late in need of some company."
"You were incorrect in your assessment. I am working late but I have no need for your company. I am extremely busy and your presence is always a distraction."
"Is that a compliment?"
"If you consider your mental inferiority and lack of use a compliment. Dark Gem, I am not in any mood to placate your need for attention."
"Hey, you're using my name now. Have you decided I'm a human being?"
"Not as such. It is more convenient."
"Another thing. Since when do you have moods? I thought you had two modes- mean and asleep. Are you starting to get a little bit more normal on us?" Max grinned, but when 415 dropped her research, his smile faded instantly.
"Why is everyone so obsessed with my personal life?" she demanded. She walked away from her machines and started towards him. He tried to turn and leave, but she grabbed his hair and held him in a vicegrip. "Tell me, what is the reason behind your incessant need to spend time with me? Why do you, and everyone else here, insist on bothering me? When I worked undercover, I was alone. No one had any need to disturb me. It was paradise compared to this arrangement."
Max strained, but 415 had always been stronger than him out of morph. "That's because we're a team, moron."
"Who is the one in the vicegrip? You are the moron here."
"And you're the idiot that can't figure out how important she is to this team." He jabbed her sharply in the ribs, and in her distraction she released him. "I know nothing about you, 415. I don't know your name, your family, anything about you before I met you through PKM. All we know is that the Golden Ranger was like a father to you, right? That's why you got so mad at 0. And you know what?" He was panting at this point and his face had turned into a sharp reddish hue.
"What?" she hissed.
"I don't care. None of us do. You think we care about seeing your face? It won't be your face. Not the one you have that changes every day, the ones that are yours. You think I'll never call you anything other than 415, even if your rank is technically 4 now? Your name doesn't matter, nothing about you matters, except the fact that you think you can just put up a shield around yourself like you're still an undercover agent when you're supposed to be part of our team."
She punched him in the face. He barely noticed, so she did it again, and then a third time for good measure. "I am a ranger. Your points are meaningless. I perform my duties and functions. That is all that is needed."
He shook his head as a black eye healed. "Wrong. What matters is that this team is like a family, and you're not some unwanted stepkid. You don't need to act like some kind of living wall around us. We just want you to be part of this family, and the fact that you're reacting this way just proves you're getting defensive because you know I'm right."
"You are wrong." 415 grabbed him, threw him to the floor, and set her heel against his windpipe. "I told you I was in no mood to discuss this. I specifically told you that, and you decided you would ignore my order." She dug her heel in deeper and Max began gasping for air. "Besides, your sentimentality is filled with lies."
"What're you…talking 'bout?"
"I know what you want of me, Dark Gem. I am aware of your heart palpitations in my presence, your direct attempts at socialization with me, even your endeavors to curry my favor. I have studied you, noticed when these correlations intersect with the Dark Emerald, and have concluded you are in love with me."
"I have no idea—"
"Data cannot lie! I know what you are trying to do." He definitely couldn't breathe anymore, he was fighting to stay conscious. "I know what these are. Mating rituals. Courtship. 'Dating', as the common vernacular calls it. Things I have never wanted and will never need." She felt his final spasm before he died.
"I have neither heart to give nor soul to receive in return," she said to no one. "Your attempts are futile." She removed her foot and began picking up her work.
When she stood back up, he was alive again and breathing heavily. "Believe what you wanna believe," he said. He dusted off his pants. "Doesn't change the fact that everyone, not just me, would take a bullet for you in a heartbeat. We'd die for each other, because that's what families do, and you're a part of this one whether you like it or not. So get used to us trying to get close to you, 415. That's what families do, and we're all we've got."
He left her and went upstairs. He still wasn't sleepy, but couldn't stay in that room anymore.
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Serena woke up. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand and discovered it was seven in the morning. Too early, always too early, for people to be awake.
Sadly, she was alone when she woke up. This stemmed from the fact that overnight guests, or really any guests, were prohibited from entering Ranger Downs. 0 had been very clear about that rule the first night when she'd thought she could bring a cute guy home, a guy who ended up screaming and running away in terror when he got a look at 0's expression when he stepped onto the porch.
She slipped out of her sheets with nothing but a shirt on, so she found some sweat pants to wear and rubbed her eyes. It was just getting bright outside and she caught a glimpse of some Pidgey flying east over some of the houses in the distance. "Nice day," she murmured and headed out to the hallway. "Too bad I'm on monitor duty."
She passed by Sarah's bedroom and stepped inside. May's daughter was still tucked in her bed snoozing. Serena chuckled, Sarah frequently had difficulty getting up in the morning and rarely got up without prompting before nine. Since May hadn't gotten here yet, Serena headed over to Sarah's bed and poked the little girl's head.
Sarah groaned and rolled over. "Go away," she mumbled. "Sleepy."
Serena giggled. "Come on, Sarah. I'm pretty sure your mom and dad wants you up early for the events today. Aren't you doing the basketball tournament?"
The little girl refused to open her eyes. "Nope! I'm staying in bed!" She scurried under the covers.
"But Lu and Tork'll miss you if you're not ready," Serena said. "You don't want to disappoint them, do you?"
Sarah peeked out from under the cover. "No. Just sleepy is all."
Serena laughed and tickled her. "Come on, Sarah! Get yourself moving!" The little girl squealed with laughter and threw the covers off trying to get away from her.
"Serena? Sarah?" Both looked up to see May leaning against the doorway with a big grin on her face. "Having fun horsing around?"
Serena blushed. "Sarah here doesn't seem to want to get up. I was just trying to motivate her to get ready for her big day."
"Uh-huh." May turned to Sarah and crossed her arms. "And why aren't you listening to Serena? You know you're supposed to be up at seven every day, little girl."
"But I wanna sleep in, Mom. I couldn't sleep last night and I'm still sleepy."
May smiled and sat down on the bed with the others. "Doesn't matter, sweetie. Still gotta get up. Big kids show how responsible they are by following the rules their parents make. So go get some breakfast. I think your Dad's making some pancakes."
Sarah shot up. "Pancakes?" she asked hopefully.
May nodded and sniffed the air. "I saw him pouring the batter before I came upstairs. If you hurry you can probably get to the first batch before your Uncle Max eats all of them."
"Okay!" Sarah shouted.
"But first thank Serena for waking you up."
Sarah turned to Serena and hugged her. "Thanks, Aunt Serry!" she said, then galloped downstairs.
Serena watched her go and turned to May. "Aunt Serry? Since when?" she asked.
May shrugged. "You're part of the family. And you've been helping with her. Why not?"
She chuckled. "Just that I remember how we met, and neither one of us liked the other."
"To be fair," said May, "you were in love with my husband. And I was mad at my husband. And he was dying. And everything was a mess."
"Oh yeah. Hey, don't think I've given up on him." The two of them shared a laugh. "How is his shoulder doing?"
"I barely notice it. It didn't really have much of an impact on him and he never really brings it up. I guess it's fine."
"So, how are you two doing?"
May smiled. "I think we're doing really well. He did really great readapting to family life while you all were away for the year. And the lull managed to give him and Sarah time to bond. She's still my little girl, but I think it's more balanced. She's letting him in."
"That's good. When I was working with him, that was his big problem. He really missed being a dad."
May smirked. "Do I detect a little bit of jealousy in your voice?"
"How do you mean?" Serena asked.
"I was just wondering if you might be having a little maternal moment thanks to Sarah."
Serena giggled. "Maybe a little bit, but I'm not really the motherly type. I'm more of the 'I miss getting some strange on a regular basis' type."
"Want me to set you up with Max? I mean, he's my brother and all, but he's a nice guy. All of his old girlfriends spoke highly of him."
Serena shook her head. "No thanks. I'm pretty sure 415 would rip my head off if I tried to move in on her man."
May laughed. "She can be really odd with him sometimes." She stood up and checked outside the door to make sure 415 was not around to hear their gossip, then returned to the bed. "I think she just wasn't taught how to do the whole relationship business."
"Well, from what I learned in PKM, she was brought up by the Golden Ranger, so that sort of makes sense. 0 never liked to talk about him, but the Golden Ranger really didn't have time for those sorts of things. He might have just forgotten to clue her in on how to deal with boys outside of ripping their necks out."
"Maybe we should help her. I think Max might like her too, but he's about as dense as 0 is when it comes to romance." At this, both women cackled hysterically.
"So, pancakes?" asked Serena.
"Pancakes. Right. We'd better get down there before Sarah eats them all."
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Brock Harrison woke up.
He gazed out of his palatial bedroom and towards a large window to his left. The skyline of Goldenrod City was beautiful in the morning. It was much nicer than the one over Pewter, which tended to be mostly industrial buildings. Here, tall skyscrapers dominated the landscape, each a different color, shape, and size. He yawned and stretched, then got up and headed over to the phone on the other side of the room.
He dialed the reception desk. "Hello?" asked a friendly-sounded woman on the other end.
"Hi," he said. "This is Dr. Harrison in 3310. I was wondering if I could get some room service for breakfast."
"Certainly, sir. What would you like?"
"Uh…" He glanced over a small menu on an adjacent table. "Could I have the Kanto Continental with extra bacon, please?"
"Kanto Continental with extra bacon? Certainly sir. Will that be all?"
"I wouldn't say no to some scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice on the side."
"We'll have that up for you as soon as possible, Dr. Harrison. Shouldn't be more than twenty minutes."
"Great! I'll see you then. Thanks."
"You're very welcome, sir."
Brock hung up the phone and grinned. Today was going to be awesome, no questions about it. It was his last full day on his vacation. Tomorrow, he'd fly back to his regular life in Pewter City and return to the Pokemon Center to work with Nurse Joy, but today he was going to live it up like a big shot.
He jumped in the shower to groom himself properly for his big day. He shampooed his hair with the most expensive brand the hotel had, anointed his skin with fancy fragrances he would never had allowed near himself back home, and shaved a little stubble that had been growing under his chin. When he was finished, he wrapped a robe around his body and returned to his bed. He watched some morning news until someone knocked on his door.
It was the waiter with his breakfast. "Good morning, sir," said the young man as he wheeled in the rather large meal Brock had ordered. He opened the tray. "I take it everything is to your liking?"
Brock stared at the tray like he might a rather attractive woman. It had everything: freshly baked blueberry muffins, soft pancakes, and plenty of bacon. On the side, he saw a batch of scrambled eggs, lightly salted. An entire pitcher of orange juice stood to the side of his tray.
"It's perfect, thank you," he said, and gave the waiter a generous tip for the speedy service. The waiter tipped his hat then headed out. Brock settled into his breakfast and pulled out a newspaper.
As he ate his way through a mountain of food, he started noticing some odd things in the news. It all seemed to be ranger this and ranger that, and it made no sense. He'd heard something about the rangers that were around the city, but he hadn't personally gotten the chance to see any of them. He'd been shopping in a store where one attack had happened, but by the time he had gotten to where they were, the rangers had already left behind a giant mess to clean up.
When Brock finished his breakfast, he decided to spend the day out in Goldenrod City before the musical at the theater that night. He dressed casually, with a light jacket and work boots, before he left the room and headed down the elevator. As he passed through the main lobby he waved to some of the employees he knew and ducked out into the street.
Even the streets of Goldenrod were different from Pewter. Everyone was out and about, nobody ever seemed to be stopping in one place for too long. Brock watched a couple stop in a coffee shop, pause for a bagel from a cart on the road, and eat both as they crossed the street, all in the span of a minute. He decided to follow their example and grab a cup of coffee for his excursion. Another difference between Goldenrod and Pewter he noticed was that the coffee cost three times as much here.
He headed into the northern districts, interested in the possibility to running into Whitney again. It'd been a while since he'd seen her, maybe two or three years. They used to run into each other all the time at Gym Leader conferences, but since his switch to medicine Forrest had taken over most of those duties. He headed passed the department store and, with the help of a map on his phone, managed to finally find the gym.
It hadn't changed much since the last time he'd been there, and from the looks of the outside it was still active. He could hear some shouting going on inside so he stepped through the gym's entrance.
The aesthetics were very western. The walls were a hardened wood, matching the floor. Brock's shoes clattered against the floor as he headed into the main room, which was mostly the same save for the battlefield itself, which was composed of soft soil with fresh grass. There was a battle already going on, so Brock leaned against a wall and settled in to watch the fight.
"Milty, Rollout!" Whitney shouted. She pointed in the direction of her opponent's Darmanitan. The Miltank nodded and curled itself up into a fat ball and began rolling all over the arena to build up traction. The Darmanitan was confused and scratched its flaming eyebrows.
"Darmanitan, Belly Drum!" shouted the challenger, a woman with gigantic glasses. Darmanitan obeyed and pounded away at its stomach. It smashed its fists thrice, glowed red briefly, and groaned from a surge of power that exploded from its body. "Track Miltank!" The Darmanitan watched the ball of fat keep rolling. Its rotations were speeding up, it was only a matter of time before it would be strong enough to strike.
"Now, Milty!" shouted Whitney. "Finish it off!" The cow mooed and began charging towards Darmanitan.
"Darmanitan, Superpower!" the challenger ordered.
"Darmanitan!" it roared. Its body glowed a violent blue and it turned to the rolling Miltank. It raised both its fists and smashed into the soft dirt.
For an instant, nothing happened. Then, a giant clap of thunder exploded through the air and the ground shook. Shockwaves blasted through the ground and slammed into Miltank, cancelling its Rollout and tossing it into the air. It mooed its name in confusion, but the challenger did not let up. "Darmanitan, Flare Blitz!"
Breathing heavily, the Darmanitan vomited up flames from its gullet to set itself on fire. It crouched, waiting for Miltank to start falling, then launched itself right at it. Brock fanned himself as the heat coming off Darmanitan's body started to affect the weather inside the gym. Darmanitan drew back a fist and connected, driving its knuckles deep into Miltank's chest. The cow traveled through the air and crashed into a wall.
It could not get up. It cried pitifully than fell unconscious. Whitney shouted and bolted to Milty's side. She screamed when she got close.
"Help! Help!" she cried. "Milty's hurt!"
The Darmanitan and the challenger got there first, but Brock was already moving. He jumped across the field and was instantly by the Pokemon's side.
Whitney turned to him. "Brock? What're you—"
"No time," he said. "This is bad. You mind if I take a look?"
Brock nodded and surveyed the damage. It was not promising. Milty's body wasn't on fire anymore, but there were burns on the left side of its body just above the udder. He could see how bad the skin had seared. The burn had even gotten down into the muscle tissue. He thought he saw part of the lining of Milty's first stomach.
He checked its pulse, which was elevated, and its breathing, which was steady. "It's going into shock," he said. "Do you have anything here to help? Potions? Burn Heals? First aid?"
Whitney shook her head. "We ran out last week! I meant to restock the cupboard, but I've had so many challengers that I forgot." She was starting to cry.
He nodded. "Don't panic, we can still help her." He took out two Pokeballs. "Chansey, Swampert, let's go!" The balls exploded and two Pokemon, one that looked like a fat pink oval and another that looked like a blue catfish with legs, emerged. "Swampert, I'm going to need some cool water to soothe some of these burns. Chansey, Healing Pulse. We've got to get Milty back to normal."
Chansey nodded and immediately began channeling psychic energy. It placed its paws on the egg it carried around in its pocket and a ball of pink energy started forming in front of it. Wasting no time, the ball moved away from Chansey and over Milty. It scattered into thousands of little pink particles that covered Milty. The Miltank moaned and opened its eyes feebly.
Brock placed two fingers on its neck. "Pulse is getting back to normal," said Brock. "Chansey, be ready with another one of those in case we need it. Swampert, water please."
The giant Swampert nodded and towered over the little cow. It opened its mouth and a steady stream of water started trickling out over Milty's skin. The burn twitched, and Milty mooed in protest, but Brock held it down with Darmanitan's help.
"Next, does anyone have a Pokemon with teleport?" he asked.
"I don't," said Whitney.
The challenger nodded. "I do. Elgyem, go!" She released another Pokemon, a grey little humanoid, which looked towards them with its beady green eyes awaiting orders.
Brock turned to it. "Elgyem, I need you to take this." He dug into his pocket and withdrew all the money he had on him. "Go to the department store and buy a Full Restore. Go immediately and get back as soon as you can. Do you understand?"
Elgyem looked at its trainer, who nodded her consent. It glowed white, then suddenly vanished.
There was nothing to do but wait. Brock monitored Miltank's condition and kept Whitney calm.
"Couldn't we just take Milty to the Pokemon Center?" she asked.
Brock shook his head. "Injuries like this, you really can't. The technology that puts the Pokemon into its Pokeball won't heal this kind of damage, so it'll just fester. The damage needed immediate attention. Chansey, hit Milty with another Heal Pulse. It's losing a lot of color again."
Chansey complied. "Whitney, I am so, so sorry," said the challenger. "We didn't mean for this to happen." Behind her, Darmanitan slowly nodded its head. It dragged its knuckles on the ground in an expression of regret.
Whitney waved her hand. "It's not your fault, Christie. You didn't mean to do it. We were just lucky Leader Brock was passing through."
Brock grinned. "Actually, it's Dr. Harrison now. Hence why Milty's going to be fine. Aren't you, girl?" Milty mooed softly and nodded its head slowly. "Besides, I might have just done it so I could hit on the both of you once Milty's back on her hooves."
"Haven't changed a bit since I saw you last," said Whitney. There was a sudden flash of light and Elgyem reemerged with a vial of Full Restore.
"Good work," said Brock. "Got any change for me?" Elgyem shrugged its shoulders and Brock forgot about it. "No worries, let's just get this done. Swampert, hold Milty down. She's not going to like this."
Swampert nodded and held the Miltank down firmly. Brock aimed the spray bottle carefully and applied the medicine to the affected area. It screamed and thrashed, but Brock ignored it and emptied the whole bottle into the burn. Milty slowly stopped struggling as the wound closed up and new skin formed over the burn. It was still breathing heavily.
"She'll make a full recovery," said Brock as he wiped his brow. "Close one, though. She wouldn't have made it to the Pokemon Center, especially with your navigational skills. Remember the time we got lost in the—"
Brock stopped talking because Whitney threw herself around him in a giant hug. Brock ignored his baser instincts and returned the hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she shouted with glee. "I couldn't bear the thought of losing poor Milty!"
He patted her head. "It's okay. She's fine, and I'm sure…Christie, is it? Yeah, Christie will use a little more restraint next time she's in a fight."
Christie nodded her reddened cheeks. "I'm really sorry about all this."
"These things happen," said Brock. "Just glad to be of help."
He would have gone on longer, but at that moment there was a huge crash from upstairs and a man came charging out of another door and into the gym. He was panting furiously with a microphone in hand. A few seconds later, he was joined by another man carrying a camera.
"That was awesome!" he exclaimed. He ran up to Brock and wrung his hand in a lengthy handshake. "Derek Anderson, gym reporter for Goldenrod Radio Television. That, sir, was one of the best things I've seen in a while on this beat. Could I trouble you for an interview?"
Brock looked at Whitney. "What's going on?"
She shrugged. "They televise all the matches online for people to watch. It's a fun little thing that helps with the upkeep around here. When something big happens, Derek runs over here for an interview. Would you mind?"
"Uh, sure, but I didn't really do anything too big." He looked at Swampert and Chansey. "What do you guys think?" Both of them nodded and smiled, so he did the same. "Alright, let's do this."
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0 finished the last batch of pancakes and set them on a platter next to the skillet. They smelled great or, at least, great considering he had made them. He still wasn't quite the chef that May was, but at least he had people to learn to cook for now.
"Dad?" 0 looked down and noticed Sarah peering over the counter at the new stack.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Why don't you ever eat anything?" she asked.
He thought about it. "Well, Sarah, that's sort of hard to answer. I used to have nightmares, really bad nightmares, like the ones you get sometimes. I couldn't sleep, so I tried this drink that Bakaguru made and it kept me awake. But I took it for too long, so now I have to drink it every three days."
"Or else what?"
He chuckled. "I'd go to sleep for a really long time. But the drink also covers my need to eat, so I'm never hungry." He took a sniff of the pancakes. "Even though these do smell nice." Sarah nodded. "Why don't you have mine?"
She hugged him. "Thanks, Dad!" she squealed. "You're the bestest."
He held her tight and nodded. "And you're the bestest daughter, baby girl."
"0!" shouted May from the other room.
He looked up. "Yes?" he caked back.
"Might want to get in here! There's something on the TV you'll want to see."
"Mind giving Dad a hand with the food?" Sarah nodded and grabbed the platter of pancakes. 0 took another platter filled with bacon and followed her. 415, Serena, Max, and May were all sitting at the table. Max and May looked incredibly confused by what they were seeing on the television screen.
"What's going on?" he asked as he and Sarah set the food on the table.
May was aghast. "It's…well, it's Brock." She pointed to the screen. "He's at the Goldenrod Gym."
0 looked at the television. Sure enough, it was Brock's face plastered on the screen. A caption underneath his face read "Brock Harrison, P.M.D., Pokemon Rescuer." Brock himself looked very uncomfortable being on camera. Next to him was Whitney, whom 0 recognized from years ago, and another girl he didn't know. Swampert and Chansey were in the background, obviously enjoying the media attention more than Brock.
"Turn it up," 0 said.
Serena grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.
"…Really, it wasn't anything I did," said Brock. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."
"He's being modest," said Whitney. "He saved my Milty on his own using just Pokemon."
An off-camera reporter asked, "Can you walk us through what was going through your mind, Dr. Harrison?"
"Uh…well, I just stopped by because I knew Whitney from my days as a Gym Leader, and I happened to walk into a match she was having with Christie here that got a little out of hand. I then just used my Pokemon to keep Milty stable until we could get a Full Restore from the department store." Brock was sweating. "That's really all there is to it."
"Why didn't you take Milty to a Pokemon Center immediately?" asked the reporter.
"Well, the burn had gotten through the first layer of skin and had actually seared a bit of her first stomach. I knew the burn would keep draining on Milty if we put her in a Pokeball, so I just thought it would be safer to operate on her here and not risk hurting her by moving her or anything happening while she was in the energy form in the Pokeball. And now Milty's perfectly healthy and she'll be good to go for gym matches after a few days of relaxation on Whitney's farm."
Beside Whitney, the Miltank mooed softly and nodded its head. The entire group chuckled, then the screen cut back to a pair of women in the studio, likely the hosts, who started commentating on Brock's bravery.
"So," said 0, "we really should figure out what to do about this."
Sarah ignored the conversation and suddenly became immersed in the nearby pancakes. Max nodded and said, "Well, this confirms Brock is still here. And his arrival in the city fits the timeline for Top and Dia."
"That could be deliberate, though," said May. "Besides, he has his own Pokemon with him. I've never seen a Dark Gem with their own Pokemon before."
"Fair point," said Serena. "Did the Pokemon look familiar?"
"I wasn't sure," said 0 with a shrug. "Swampert looked familiar, but I haven't really spoken to Brock in a few years."
"I have," said Max. "It's definitely his Swampert. Wasn't too sure about the Chansey, those all look alike. But Swampert has a chipped tooth I noticed."
"Okay," said 0. "That means Brock is either Top and is deliberately hiding it, or Top's just shape-shifting to mess with our heads. One way or another, we need confirmation."
"I have a suggestion," said 415.
"What is it?" asked May.
"Use Serena Brine. Brock Harrison's profile suggests he prefers the company of women. Have Serena Brine pose as a woman impressed by his appearance on the news and discern whether he has been corrupted by a Dark Gem."
"That could work," said Serena, "except I don't really know Harrison. I'd need someone who knew him pretty well helping me."
"I can do it," said Max. "Aside from 0, I probably know him the best out of the group here. Let's go." He and Serena rose from the table and headed out.
Sarah looked up. "Dad, is something wrong with Uncle Brock?"
"Not sure, Sarah," he said. "We hope not, but we'll try and find out. But if something is wrong, we'll do everything we can to fix him." Then he smiled. "Okay?"
"Okay, Dad." She seemed to forget what had happened and instead continued feasting on the food at the table. When she was finished she wiped her face on her sleeve and gave her father a syrupy grin. "So, when do we get to go outside and help set up?" she asked eagerly.
"As soon as you hop upstairs and get washed. Whole town's coming out, I'm not having my daughter be the one that looks like a hooligan."
"What's hooligan?" she asked.
"Remember when you first saw me fighting Mom in Saffron City?"
"Remember what I was wearing?"
"That's hooligan. Get upstairs and take a shower. You can come help us set up when you're done," said 0. Sarah nodded then ran up the stairs. 0 chuckled and headed outside with May.
"Did you remember to grab Grovyle and Mightyena from Max?" 0 asked.
She nodded and produced two Pokeballs from clips on her belt. "Sure did. Where are Lu and Tork?"
"Probably out back with your Pokemon. I think they're trying to explain dribbling to Tork."
May giggled and released Max's Pokemon. Grovyle and Mightyena emerged and yawned. Grovyle started at the sun for a few moments, then went off in search of a nice twig from some of the adjacent trees. Mightyena scratched around its ears then became incredibly interested in a nearby grouping of trees.
"Grov, Grov!" shouted 0. "Ena!" Grovyle, without turning its head, nodded and quickened its search. Mightyena barked back a reply.
"What'd you say?" asked May.
"Break's over in five minutes. We've got a little bit more work to do before everything's ready and I can't have Mightyena marking territory all day."
Around the back of the house, Blaziken and Lu were taking turns working with the basketball. To its credit, Blaziken had figured out how to dribble without popping the ball with its claws, something Lu had learned a week ago. Tork's head darted between the two as they played. It occasionally attempted to headbutt the ball when they got close to it, but its stubby feet made it impossible for it to play fairly. Tork hung its head and sighed.
"Don't worry, buddy," said 0. "You might not be able to handle the ball, but Sarah can definitely ride you to the basket." Tork perked up and made a happy noise. It lumbered over and, waiting for the right moment, poked its head out and smacked the ball right out of Blaziken's claws. The ball bounced to Lu, who grinned and jumped up to dunk it on the hoop. Blaziken gave the two of them an ugly look and retrieved the ball for another round.
"Don't drop your guard," said May to it. "I know you're more used to getting through Contest rounds, but just think of it as another performance instead of a human sport." She patted it on the back. "And good job with the dribbling."
"Blaz," it crowed happily, then returned its attention to carefully bouncing the ball.
"Cario," said Lu and stepped forward, demonstrating its claws. Blaziken eyed it warily. Lu made a dribbling motion with an open palm. "Lu, Lu."
"Ziken," replied Blaziken and passed the ball. It bounced past Lu, who ran back to retrieve it. Lu grabbed the ball and demonstrated a way to handle the ball with its palm and completely avoid its claw-tipped paws touching the ball.
"Cario, Lu," it said and passed the ball back. Despite overshooting, Blaziken managed to snatch it up before the ball sailed over its head.
It tried to do as Lu had done, but it found stretching its fingers out difficult. "Blaz!" it groaned.
"What're they talking about?" asked May.
"Lu's trying to help Blaziken with its handling. It figured out a way to stretch out its paw so it has greater control of the ball and avoids clawing it apart. I don't think Blaziken can do it though. Its hand is designed like a claw machine, so it has a harder time bending its fingers in the same way."
"I wonder where Beautifly and Glaceon are?"
"Probably setting up the obstacle course," said 0. "Why don't you head over there? I'm sure Grovyle can lend a hand."
She nodded. "Okay sweetie." She kissed him on the cheek then dashed off to the other side of the house.
When he was alone, he folded his arms and tapped his earpiece. "Hey, Pi?"
"Yeah?" it replied.
He looked at Lu, Tork, and Blaziken. "Do you ever miss that? Being in the real world, I mean."
It chuckled. "Sometimes," it said. "But then I remember that if I was in the real world I'd have to eat your cooking, and I soldiered through too many years of that after Brock left for med school."
The two of them shared a laugh. Then 0 got back to work.
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"Whitney, you've gotta get me out of here."
Brock looked outside. There were no less than ten different news vans converging on the parking lot in front of the gym. No less than twenty cameras were trained on the locked doors, and no less than thirty reporters eagerly wanted to speak with him. Understanding that the doors were sealed, the reporters had just started raising their voices to ask their questions, perhaps hoping he might shout back an answer, but he was having none of it.
"What's wrong with a little publicity, Brock?" she asked. "You saved Milty. Surely you deserve some kind of recognition. I'm pretty sure the mayor would give you the key to the city if you stuck around."
"I'm good, thanks. Just tell me there's a way passed them."
"But if you did some more interviews, the ladies around here would probably throw themselves at you. You know how much Goldenrod loves Milty."
"Well, that might be a—no! As fun as that would be, I've seen the paparazzi harass and annoy a bunch of my friends. I'd just really rather get out of here and enjoy my last day on vacation in peace."
"Okay, okay." Whitney thought about it for a moment. "There's a fire exit out back. I'm pretty sure that they won't find you if I stall them."
"Thanks." He turned to Christie. "You want to come with me? I guarantee if they love me they're going to be mad at you."
"But I didn't do it on purpose," said Christie.
"No, he's right," said Whitney. "Probably best you not get nabbed by the news crews. Head upstairs and find the fire escape. And you!" Whitney turned to Anderson, who had been on the phone arguing with a producer, and snatched up his phone. "No helping! You got your exclusive, so you come help me."
Anderson groaned, but he reluctantly followed her to deal with the press. "Follow me then," said Brock and led Christie upstairs. There were a few rooms but he spotted the one with the fire escape and led Christie to the window. "Alright, let's just take a look and…" He looked down and noticed a pair of reporters looking around the escape. "Oh boy."
"What is it?" Christie asked, then peered down. "Oh."
"Not a problem, I think I can fix this." Brock took out a Pokeball and tossed it down to the ground below. Swampert emerged and confused the two reporters. They looked around while Swampert stared at them warily. It glanced up briefly, saw Brock, then nodded without giving away their location.
"What's it going to do?" asked Christie.
Brock chuckled. "Well, some people tend to frown on using Pokemon against other people, but I fought Team Rocket long enough to know how to get someone blasting off." He raised his arm and gave Swampert a thumb's up. It nodded.
"What's this doing here?" asked one of the reporters. She made the unwise decision to approach Swampert. She was rewarded with a Water Gun directly to the face and fell flat on her back. "Oh, gross! I'm all wet!"
"Now we run!" said Brock and he jumped onto the fire escape. "Swampert, again!" Christie and Brock scaled down the ladders as Swampert lightly blasted the other reporter. His camera flew out of his arms and clattered to the ground. Brock recovered Swampert's Pokeball.
"Oh, come on!" shouted the reporter as he scrambled for the camera.
"One more time, Swampert!" Brock commanded. Swampert spewed water between the reporter and his precious camera and forced him to back down long enough for the three to make their escape. "Return." Swampert vanished back into the Pokeball. They sprinted down a nearby alleyway before the cameras could catch up to them.
They resurfaced a few blocks south of the gym, far away from the paparazzi. There weren't too many people walking the street, so Brock wiped his brow in relief. "I think we lost them. Should be okay to head out."
She smiled. "Thanks, Dr. Harrison," she said. "You were amazing back there."
He shook his head. "I'm not usually one for modesty, but it's no big deal. You're very welcome."
She started to head out, but stopped and turned around. "Hey, how'd you like to grab something to eat sometime? Say dinner?"
He chuckled. "I'm flattered, but I think I'm a bit old for you. What are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?"
She groaned. "I'm nineteen."
"As tempting as that would be, I'm thirty-five. I'm going to have to pass on the dinner." He held out his hand. "Take care, Christie. Try to take it easy in the league, okay?"
She shook her head. "Just passed up a sure thing, old man, but you're a good guy." She held his hand firmly. "At least I got the badge. Only four more to go."
"Good for you. I'll be looking for you when I'm watching the Silver Conference this year," he said. She headed off down the street and Brock watched her go, mentally kicking himself for being too mature to take her up on her offer. "Maybe she… No, no, that's a bad Brock. If Croagunk were here it'd have jabbed you by now. You don't have Max and the others to keep you in line anymore." He sighed, put his hands in his jacket pockets, and headed the other way.
He hadn't made it to blocks when he heard a woman's voice behind him. "Dr. Brock Harrison?" He groaned, but turned around with a smile.
Standing behind him was a woman he'd never seen before. She was a platinum blonde and much, much shorter than he was. She had green eyes and a devilish smile. She also had a piece of gum in her mouth that she was chewing. She held out a stick in her hand. "Gum?" she asked.
He nodded and took it. "Juicy Fruit's my favorite," he said and cautiously unwrapped it and put it in his mouth. "Uh, thanks?"
"Thank you. Saving Milty was much appreciated by the city."
He waved it off. "Really, really wasn't anything," he said, while internally he began thanking every life decision that had led to this beautiful woman offering him gum. No, Brock. Play this cool. He grinned. "Not to be rude or anything, but you wouldn't be a reporter would you?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Just me, Dr. Harrison."
"It's actually just Brock. Nobody calls me Dr. Harrison back in Pewter."
"Such a shame." She looked him up and down and smiled. "Dr. Harrison has such a nice ring to it."
Control yourself right now, Harrison. Do not jump up and down. Do not profess love. Do what normal people do. Do what normal people do. Do what—
"C-Coffee?" he blurted out.
"Uh, coffee," he said. "Would you like some?"
"An invitation, Dr. Harrison? Are you asking out a complete stranger?"
"I know a place a few blocks away," he replied, having not listened to a single word she said. "If you wouldn't mind."
She laughed. "I like you, Dr. Harrison. The name's Samantha. Lead the way."
Brock decided it would be wise to remain silent on the walk to the coffee shop, if only so he would not get down on one knee and propose right there. He supposed she noticed, because after two blocks of silence she poked him in the side.
"Hey," she said. "Why so quiet?"
He coughed. "Honestly?"
"Okay," he said. "Truth is, I have a habit of overreacting to beautiful women talking to me. When I was younger, this would manifest in the form of flowers and music, so I'm trying to keep calm around you."
She giggled. "So, is there a song and dance number, or do you just hear all that in your head?" She poked him again. "Ooh, what kind of flowers?"
He scratched his head. "It depends. Usually roses, those smell nice. And it's a swelling up kind of music, like you get on TV shows when there's a big confession. I have to pay all these royalties. But no, it's just in my head. You don't want to hear me singing. Couldn't find a tune to save my life."
Samantha cackled, and had to stop to bend over and belt out her laughter. "You've gotta be kidding me? Let me get this straight: you can save a Pokemon on national television but you can't meet a girl without getting your mom on speed dial to meet her?"
"It wasn't on national television, and my mom is not on my speed dial."
"Let me see!"
The argument continued all the way to the coffee shop, at which point Samantha wrangled his phone away and started flipping through it.
"You have a Jenny and Joy screensaver?"
"Is that an app for My Little Ponyta? Are you a Bronyta?"
"She is on your speed dial! That's so cute!"
"Give me that!" he shouted and snatched it back up. He made sure to lock it with a password before he put it back into his pocket. "My personal property! No touching!" Samantha just laughed while everyone in the shop stared at him quizzically. "Uh," he muttered, as he noticed the growing amount of people recognizing him, "just go about your business please. Nothing to see here. Just a man regaining his cell phone from a girl with boundary issues he impulsively asked out."
A man stood up and dramatically pointed at him. "It's Brock Harrison!" he cried. Brock tilted his head, confused by the man's stance. "The man who saved Milty!"
Others began to stand. "For Milty!" they announced, then charged towards him.
"How am I this famous already?" Brock shouted.
Later, much later, when the seemingly endless stream of Milty fans left him be, Brock found himself sitting at a small table in the corner of the coffee shop with Samantha, utterly perplexed as to why he had thirteen white chocolate mochas on the table in front of him. Then he vaguely remembered ordering the first one and everyone clamoring to pay for it, which resulted in the caffeine fest in front of him.
"I'm sorry about all that," he said. "I'm really not sure how to turn it off. I have friends that put up with this every day and I really can't imagine doing that. I'm never going to be able to come back to this city."
"Don't be," said Samantha as she picked up one of the cups and took a sip. "It was really funny to watch. And you can come back to Goldenrod. You'll just need to go incognito. Maybe grow a moustache. Then nobody will want to talk to you."
"But then wouldn't you not want to talk to me?"
She shrugged. "Maybe. Depends on how big it is."
"Nope, not worth it. Maybe you can come to Pewter one day."
She eyed him. "You're not seriously asking me to come visit you a whole region away after one coffee date are you?"
"One, possibly. I told you I'm trying to keep a handle on that whole romantic thing. Two, you just suggested you might see me if I come back and brave the paparazzi for you."
She grinned. "Touché, Dr. Harrison." She raised her glass. "Not only can you rescue local heroes, you can also argue reasonably well."
He raised his cup. "Maybe you should give me your number, just in case I need a quick ego boost and visit."
For a brief moment, Samantha's grin faltered. It was only for a second, then it returned as if it'd never gone. "I'd love to, Dr. Harrison." She pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote the number down on a napkin. She passed it over and Brock pocketed it. "So, how does it feel to have gotten a girl's number?"
"Not gonna lie, I feel like doing a little jig."
"Well, don't let me stop you. Dance away."
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"There's no way you win, Sarah!"
0 watched with interest as his daughter blew a raspberry at the child she was playing against, a girl by the name of Molly. Instead of letting the taunt get to her, Sarah instead continued her approach. He noticed she was doing quite well keeping her footing on Tork's shell and briefly reminisced about a race he'd once ridden a Lapras in.
He'd paired Sarah with Tork, Lu, and Blaziken, figuring she'd be at ease with her parents' Pokemon, but hadn't counted on how quickly she'd taken to basketball with them. It hadn't been but a few minutes, but she'd already figured out how to get Lu and Blaziken to work together while coordinating attacks from atop Tork.
"She takes after you," said May. "She's a natural with the Pokemon."
He shook his head. "She takes after both of us. She's the prodigy of a world-class trainer and a world-class coordinator." He reached down and held her hand as the game continued. Across from them, Molly's father was recording the match on a small camera along with a few other parents.
Sarah was assessing the situation. She was down five points already and her opponent had an easier mount. Mightyena growled at the weight, but didn't let up and kept her steady while she directed Grovyle and Beautifly onto the field.
"She should have had this already," said 0. "She has the home field advantage with the Pokemon and the terrain. I wonder what she's waiting for."
"When does she get the ball again?"
"In a bit. If she can block the shot this time."
"You sound a bit disappointed," said May.
"I'm not disappointed. I'm just supporting my daughter."
"Yes, but you expect her to be as good as you. Remember, she can't talk to Pokemon or substitute for the years you've been training Pokemon." She grinned and nudged him. "Don't be such a soccer mom, okay?"
"I am not a—fair point," he grumbled. "Okay, we'll see what she does."
The primary reason Sarah was at a disadvantage was because of Molly's Beautifly. All Grovyle had to do was pass the ball up to it and it could fly over Sarah's entire defense. She was eying it suspiciously as she tried to figure out a way around it. Then Molly passed the ball to Beautifly and Sarah started moving.
"Blaziken, Sky Uppercut!" she shouted. As Beautifly neared her side of the court, Sarah's Blaziken crouched and jumped straight up. Beautifly tried to dodge, but the ball was cumbersome and it dropped the ball. Blaziken grabbed it in midair as it sailed back down.
"Pass to Lu!" said Sarah. "Lu, take it to the hole!"
Blaziken delicately passed the ball right to Lu who immediately started dribbling up the court. "Grovyle, block it!" Molly ordered.
Grovyle had a natural advantage and instantly grabbed the ball with its long, slender fingers. It jumped passed both Blaziken and Tork and tossed the ball into the basket.
0 cursed under his breath. "Keep trying, Sarah!" May shouted over him and tightened his grip on his hand. "Don't be a butt, Keean."
"Right, right," he said. "Go Sarah! Try and find a way around Grovyle this time! You can do it!" He turned to May. "Better?"
She smiled. "Much."
Sarah waved at them and took the ball from Lu. The minutes were ticking down, she wouldn't have enough time to catch up before long.
"Is 415 handling everything, Pi?" 0 asked under his breath.
"She's doing fine with the obstacle course. It was a good idea to only do two events today. Serena and Max are still working on Brock."
"Roger." He turned his attention back to the game and gasped.
Sarah found a way around Molly by going through her. She passed the ball back to Blaziken and charged forward riding Tork. She almost slipped off but held on to the front of its shell. Grovyle tried to slink around and grab the ball from Blaziken, but Lu blocked it off and kept Beautifly from diving down and stealing it. Mightyena, not wanting to be trampled by several hundred pounds of fire turtle, dodged out of the way despite Molly's protests to grab the ball herself. Blaziken jumped and earned Sarah her first point.
"Whee!" she shouted with glee as she retreated back to her side of the court.
0 roared his approval. "Way to go, baby girl!"
May raised her hands. "Go Sarah!"
Sarah turned to her parents. "See? I did it!"
"Great work, Sarah!" shouted 0. "But get your head back in the game! Molly's got the ball again!" Sarah nodded and shifted her attention back to defense. Across the court, Molly's father looked like he growled before resuming filming.
For a moment, he looked directly at 0, who felt a slight shiver that was unmistakable. "Oh no," he said. "Oh, let me be wrong. Please let me be wrong."
"What is it?" asked May.
"Nothing, I just, I just really want to be wrong about something right now."
The rest of the game was uneventful to 0. Sarah managed to defend her side of the court but it was too difficult for her to get passed Molly. Eventually the time ran out and Molly won, but 0 wasn't paying attention to the game anymore.
Molly's father kept staring at him and nodded his head. He stopped filming and went to his Molly, whom he picked up and hugged tightly. Then, before 0 could do anything, they started approaching Sarah.
0 tapped his earpiece. "415! Max! Abandon posts and get over here!" he ordered. "I think we have a situation!" He started moving and got in between his daughter and what he was pretty sure was—
"Hi, I'm Keean Toby" he said and held out his hand. "Great match, huh? Well, we'll make sure Sarah improves for next time. Right, sweetie?"
"Keean, what did I say about encouragement?"
"Yes, dear, but—"
0 never finished, because an instant later Molly's father drew back his right arm and slugged 0 right in the face. 0 crashed into the ground and rolled back up to his feet.
Molly's father transformed. His features melted back into Brock's grinning face. Someone must have noticed it because 0 heard someone scream as Top's face started to bubble and drip off. He started pulling out his Dark Topaz and began wrapping himself in his chains.
Molly giggled. "Hey, golden boy," she said. "I wanna eat your Sarah. Is that okay?" She started jumping up and down as her chains wrapped along her body.
"May," said 0. "Get Sarah out of here right now."
"No, no, no!" said Molly before anyone could move. How had 0 not seen them? Rangerlings, scores of them, surrounded the court. "I wanna eat her! She's mine and I want her!" She turned to Top, who had finished his transformation. "I want her! I want her now!"
But Top didn't move. He just kept staring at 0, as if waiting for the other man to make his move. "Daddy, I want her! I want her now!" When Top still refused to move, she started screaming. "Dark Gem Ignite!" she wailed and finished her transformation. "Why aren't you moving?" she shrieked. "Why aren't you moving?"
And then something terrible happened. A chain shot out of the Dark Diamond Ranger and embedded itself into Top's skull. Though he didn't collapse, he shuddered in place for a few seconds before raising his hand. Satisfied, Dia withdrew her chain and stepped aside. Top grew an extra two arms and started walking towards 0.
What was happening, he wondered. It was suddenly cloudy, too cloudy from the way it had been only a few minutes ago. Could it be starting to rain? There wasn't anybody around anymore except for Rangerlings. Everyone else had taken off.
"Sweetie, baby girl, stay close," he said and morphed.
The bright Pokeball hologram appeared around him and burst open, revealing his ranger gear. He positioned himself between his family and Top. "Pi, recall Lu and Tork now," he ordered. Two points of light issued from the two Pokeballs attached to his belt. "Prepare the Auxiliary Pokemon System."
It only took two seconds, then Cario Form was online. He braced the giant gauntlets and prepared for combat. "Where's the rest of my team?" he asked Lu
"415 will be here soon, sir. Pi is helping Max teleport Serena. Won't be long!"
There was a flash of light next to him. He turned and saw the Black Ranger with her giant magnetic mace in her hands.
"Ready to do this?" he asked 415.
"Target the big one," she suggested. "He will be angered if we target the Diamond first."
"Cover me," he said. "Don't let either get to May or Sarah. Keep the Rangerlings away until everybody else joins the party."
"Understood." She fell back into a support position while 0 advanced to combat Top.
The first blow was mitigated thanks to the gauntlets. They weren't strong enough to hurt Top, but they were powerful enough to block his blows without breaking 0's arms. 0 got behind Top and smashed the back of his left gauntlet into his body. The spike broke through his armor and wedged itself into where Top's kidney would have been. Top didn't scream, or grunt, or do anything verbal, but he slowed visibly, just enough for 0 to reach for his next Pokeball.
Oal Form came online just as quickly as Cario Form went offline. Immediately, 0 took advantage of the gaping wound and smashed his reinforced fist right into it. It tore through more muscle and Top slowed even further.
He might win this yet, he thought. Tork approved and encouraged him to stop damaging Top's body and refocus on some of the Rangerlings that were surrounding him. He grabbed Top's neck and activated Protect, sending the wave of Rangerlings crashing down to the ground and straining Top's muscles even further. Top dropped motionless and 0 switched back to his standard ranger form.
"Pi, download the Bolt Blade," he asked. "I'm sensing an easy victory for once." The blade formed in his hand and he slashed at the Rangerlings.
"Are we late for the party?" 0 looked up. Serena and Max were crashing through waves of Rangerlings to make their way to the center where 415 was holding off most of them by herself. Max roared and tore off one of the Rangerlings' heads, reducing it to dust in moments. He stationed himself around May and Sarah while 415 and Serena took to the offensive and began preemptive strikes on the waves that kept coming.
Top was getting up again. "Pi, switch to compact mode." The blade shrank instantly. "Only way to beat this guy is if we go faster than him."
"Agreed. Should we use Agility?"
"I'm sort of burning through the Synchronization Drive, but this would be the time for it. Fire it up." 0 vanished, too quick for the eye to trace, and managed to score two deep wounds on Top's back. Top roared and tried to reach him, but he was too fast.
"We're going to win!" he shouted with another slash across Top's chest.
"Are you?" 0 couldn't see the voice, but he knew it was Dia. "You think you can just keep slicing at my daddy and expect everything to work. Didn't you kill Sap? The only thing that matters is the Gem. And you'll never hit my daddy's."
She was right. He was scoring victories, but Top kept one set of arms constantly guarding the gigantic gem at the center of his chest. And each time he murdered a wave of Rangerlings, it seemed that two more took its place almost immediately. There were too many.
"Oh no…" he muttered. "There are too many."
It hadn't happened immediately. Dia had been smart, very smart. She'd kept May and Sarah on the battlefield. She added Rangerlings slowly. She'd separated 0 from the others. And Top had been playing with him. 0 swung the sword again and Top caught it easily. The blade bit into his fingertips but he barely noticed it as he grabbed 0 by the throat and started twisting. 0 tried to get away, but not even a fully-charged Volt Tackle could sway him. But Top didn't kill him. Top waited, showing how the Rangerlings kept coming and coming for his family, until finally they were overrun.
Serena was the first to fall, being in the front. She missed one Rangerling with a punch and a dozen more fell on top of her.
415 fared better, swinging her mace in a giant arc over her head to keep them away. But one got underneath the arc and twenty followed.
Max never wavered. He killed scores, droves, everything that dared get within a hair of either Sarah or May. 0 struggled and watched as the Dark Diamond Ranger approached him and performed the same trick she had done with Top. The chain melted into the Dark Emerald Ranger's face.
"How are you good?" asked Dia."What is wrong with you?"
"L-Laaaaade," Max groaned.
"Oh, that's right. You're stuck like that, aren't you? Well, let's fix that." She gripped the chain and, in one move, tore it from Max's face. The Dark Emerald Ranger screamed. He started to glow violently. The world got so bright amidst the rain.
Nothing happened, though. Max became brighter and fell to the soggy ground. "Pathetic," she whispered and turned to the others. She reached 415 and, without even trying, kicked her so hard her ranger system just faded away. She didn't look bruised, but only because her mask would not let her.
"You're all just pathetic, you know that. All I wanna do is eat one little girl. O'm tired of eating the others. They're so fat and old, it's like eating expired bacon." She grabbed 415 by the face. "What do you really look like?"
From the distance, 0 could hear a faint plea from 415's lips.
"What's that?" asked Dia. "Don't take the mask? But what's the fun of a mask if you can't take it off? Stupid old lady." 0 tried to stop it, but Top canceled the morpher and 0 was left powerless to stop what came next.
The mask came off and, for the first time, 0 heard 415 scream.
He couldn't get a good look. It was too dark in some places because of the storm and too bright in colors because of whatever was happening to Max. But whatever 415's face was, in the brief instant he saw it before she covered her face, he felt fear.
Then Dia turned to Sarah.
"No," said 0. "No!"
"Little girlie, come out from behind your mommy," cooed Dia. "Mommies are useless anyway. They just get in the way." She got onto her tiptoes and punched May in the stomach. There was no contest. Without any sort of protection, May fell between her daughter and the monster. Dia stepped over May to get to the little girl. May grabbed her boot.
Dia laughed. "Idiot." She kicked May in the face. May fell, and Dia turned to Sarah. "Come here, dinner."
"Get away from her!" Top tightened his grip on 0's throat. "Get away!" Something was happening, he didn't like it. Something was boiling inside him.
Dia hit Sarah. 0 watched his little girl get smacked in the face, kicked, and punched. Sarah screamed in pain, it was the worst sound 0 had ever heard. 0 started thrashing, ignoring Top's tightening grip, ignoring everything but the need to protect his daughter.
He was breathing heavily. I gave up everything. I gave up my wife. I gave up my daughter. I gave up my life! And now that I have it back, you think you can take it away from me? You think you can take what's mine? Stop touching her! Get away from her! Get away from my family you psychotic freaks!
He screamed and light exploded out around him. He felt Top's hand loosen around him and smashed his elbow into Top's chest. He was released and Top backed away. 0 didn't care, 0 barely noticed anything had happened.
"The morpher will not force such an extreme transformation without an extreme catalyst for the morph. Say there is a great deal of anger. Were you to morph in such a state, the psychological effects could extend to the morpher and bond you. Mind you, such as transformation would require an exceeding amount of rage the likes of which—"
He understood. He didn't necessarily comprehend everything but he understood. He felt so much power building up inside him, so much strength, that it hurt. It hurt so much, it tore through his body.
"No," he whispered, before the pain overloaded him and all he knew was hate. He lifted his head and screamed as the rain pelted his skin for the last time.
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Brock returned to his hotel late that night. It had been a great day, even after Samantha had had to leave on such short notice. He still had her number, maybe he would text her when he was back in Pewter. Maybe he wouldn't. All he knew was that he'd managed to make it through a date with a woman without making a complete idiot out of himself. Well, not counting all the mochas at the beginning.
He slid his key card into the lock and walked into his room. He began to grab his clothes and put them into his suitcases. His flight left at ten in the morning and he was rather punctual. He would get everything ready tonight, then reward himself with a casual morning before hiring a taxi for the airport in the morning.
He was so invested in the packing that he didn't even notice what was in his bathroom the first time he went in. He had missed it completely, opting instead to pick up his shaving kit and pack it. It was only when he realized he'd missed his toothbrush did he go back inside and turn on all the lights. Then he saw it.
Lying in the tub was a mummified girl. Her skin looked stretched over her bones. She was huddled in the fetal position in the shower, no wonder he hadn't noticed. He screamed. His heart was racing. "There's a dead girl in my bathroom," he said to no one, unable to believe it. "She's not breathing, she's not doing anything. She's just…dead."
Then he noticed something else. Something…familiar about the girl. "C-C-Christie?" he breathed. There was no mistaking it. The girl looked like someone had hollowed out Christie and left nothing. "What the—"
"Good. This was taking an inordinate amount of time." Brock nearly jumped out of his skin. Standing in the doorway to his bathroom was another woman with her arms crossed and a sick look of satisfaction in her eyes. "It is lucky for you that you were requested as a live capture. I was growing very impatient."
"Who are—what is—what's going on?" Brock shouted. He ran up and tried to get passed the woman, but she just punched him in the stomach and drove him to his knees.
She bent down and looked him in the eyes. "Brock Harrison. My designation is Ame, and that handiwork there is the talents of my associate Dia. Now that the rangers know Top's ruse is up, you are now the property of my employers until such time as you can be disposed of usefully."
Then she kicked him in the chin, but not before he got out one last word:
Author's Note: Fun fact you might appreciate: a lot of the plot points that start in these chapters weren't in the original drafts of the story. For instance, May being pregnant. I included that in as a nod to the fact that no one ever seems to get pregnant in fan-fiction despite having unprotected sex. Plus, the idea of a growing family is something that appealed to me, because the team in this story is essentially a family at this point. In addition, 0 was never supposed to be trapped in morph, but I thought it was necessary for his character development, which will come into play later.
How are you liking Dia and Top? I always thought that one of the most terrifying things in the world was a selfish child with unlimited power.