uA's "Different Eyes" (May 08: Ch4)
Index and foreword to come at some later date. Below is the first chapter. Enjoy.
Chapter One: Nascency
At first, she thinks she is dying.
She feels the coldness of wires in her skin, tastes galling rubber in her throat. She isn’t breathing. Why am I not breathing?
She remembers how to open her eyes. She floats in an amniotic haze, a world enclosed by the play of light and shadow on glass. Faint sounds. The gleam of light. Was there laughter? She has no certainty, but still more memories flicker by, leaving rivulets of knowledge on her mind.
Questions, no answers. Where am I? Why am I here? Only silence for reply. Dim sight, muffled hearing, no scent at all to know for herself. She cannot remember, and she realises she remembers nothing at all.
More questions, but hesitant now. Who am I? Or what am I? …and why am I? Anxiety. Fear. She struggles to feel.
She feels the world. She feels warm, wet, weightless. She feels droplets of memory land on her mind – the sound of her master reading to her, the glint of a lost coin at night, the metallic smell of blood. Thinking is exhausting. Where there had once been a torrent of thought, now there is barely a trickle.
I do not understand. Is this all a dream? Is it even real?
More memories drip into her mind, this time from before. She saw humans wearing white, felt the prick of needles, heard the hum of machines. She remembers confusion, chaos, strange terror, and then a stranger peace when terror faded away.
There is pain. Insistent, gnawing pain, an itching buried in her skin, as her body does – her body is –
She cannot think what. She knows the pain, but does not remember why it is there. It persists, grows, tugs at her flesh.
A plethora of pain, tugging, aching, throbbing as her body…
What is happening to my body?
Pain as her body tears itself apart.
Her throat tears open in a ceaseless wail. She screams, and screams, and cannot stop.
She woke with a gasp, the sharp coolness bliss to her mouth. She gulped air, closing her eyes against the sudden brightness of the room and clenching her stomach against the wave of nausea that passed over her. She growled through gritted teeth.
When her hyperventilation ceased, and she could bear to open her eyes, she realised she was flat on her back, laying on a soft but firm leathery surface. She tried to rise, but felt her limbs restrained. She pulled vigorously at the unseen bindings and tried to get a look around her, though the nausea had not subsided.
When she looked up, she immediately curled her lip and hissed, her ears flattening against her head. Seated comfortably not far from her was a human, arms folded in his lap and legs crossed, smiling breezily. She kept her stare fixed on him, still tugging vainly at whatever held her there. The room was small, clinically white and empty, save for a small, metal table and the human she hissed at. Even the table was almost bare – a pile of neatly folded clothing lay there, alone.
“Please, there’s no need to snarl at me like that,” the human said. “I’d like to talk to you, okay? Nothing else. Just a chat. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
She felt her ears ease back up, and she contented herself with glowering at the human. She gave up the useless squirming, but flicked her tail back and forth in irritation nevertheless.
“You might want to calm down a little. You might be in shock,” the human warned.
She did not blink.
He bit his lip, and sighed. “Whenever you’re ready, I guess. Now, in your own time, look down at your body.”
She looked down.
And then she froze, tail fluffed, ears flat and teeth bared in a silent scream at what she saw, at what she now was. She frantically struggled to move, writhing desperately against the straps holding her still, screeching and wailing all the while. She finally managed to squeeze one foreleg free and ran her paw over her face. Her warped and twisted face.
She clawed at her jaw, eyes wide and darting from her legs (too long), to her torso (too misshapen), to her paws…
She had always wanted fingers.
She squeezed her eyes shut, and took sharp, shallow breaths.
“Sorry about the surprise,” the human said, sheepishly. “You’ll get used to it pretty quickly. Think of it as evolving, but a different form to the one you were expecting.”
She shot him another look, not knowing what to do.
“You can talk, you know. Try it. How about telling me your name. Do you remember your name, at least?”
She realised she didn’t. She blinked and looked away, unnerved by her unawareness, which expanded until all clear thought evaporated. She panicked again, fearful of having lost all her memories, and dug her claws sharply into her palms.
“It’ll come back, don’t worry about it. Just might take a while. Now just think… you should remember your name pretty quickly.”
Her name was… Sa? Sal…? Sale?
She swallowed, intensely aware of the dryness of her mouth.
“…Salem,” she whispered.
Salem felt a tiny shuddering thrill run up her spine at having spoken. She’d spoken, in human tongue, clearly and without awkwardness. She grinned. The facial movement was awkward and unfamiliar, but it seemed to come naturally.
“Well, Salem,” the human responded. “You’re recovering pretty quickly, all things considered! If you like, I’ll undo those straps for you, now. They’re just there so you wouldn’t scratch my face off in a blind panic when you came to.” He grinned, warmly.
Salem looked back at him, more appraisingly this time. He was a pale, thin creature, not long out of adolescence, with an awkward, angular face and bright eyes half-hidden by too-long blond hair. He dressed simply, in jeans and an unmarked shirt. She stared at him for a moment longer before realising she was expected to respond.
“…thank you,” she managed.
The man nodded, and walked closer to undo the straps round her limbs. “I’m Mark, since you told me your name. I'm just here to make sure your first awakening goes okay and to answer any questions you have..."
He unfastened the last binding, and stepped back. "Let's start with the obvious. Yeah, you're now part human. It’s mainly changed your stature and possibly your mind, so you’re still mostly meowth. And yeah, it's permanent. You may find your head's a bit fuzzy for a few days, but you should remember everything eventually. You want to take a walk, see how you feel?”
Salem nodded slowly, sitting up, and gripped the bed she lay on, slipping her lower body off it and onto the floor. She wobbled, nauseous after the sudden movement, her limbs weak, and abruptly sat down again. She put a paw to her aching head and it brushed against something hard and cool. Realising she still had her charm, she breathed a sigh of relief; she didn’t think she could have dealt with losing it.
“Here, take my hand.”
She reached out to take it and completely missed, her paw finding his arm instead – he was scrawnier than she’d expected. She felt it odd to need support from a creature not half as strong as herself. He laughed, and helped her to her feet, apparently unbothered by her claws pricking his skin.
“You’ll need some time to get used to your new body,” he cautioned.
Salem nodded, and took a step. She’d tried walking on her hind legs plenty of times before, so it wasn’t totally unfamiliar to her. A few paces later, and she could take full steps without losing balance. A few more, and she’d stopped wavering entirely. She shrugged off the supporting arm of the human and took her first unaided step. Despite herself, and the strangeness of human expression, she smiled.
Mark gestured across the room to a full length mirror which stood against the wall. Salem nodded in vague understanding, and crossed the room tentatively to get a better look at her new form.
There was plenty that hadn’t changed, she thought to herself. The charm was untouched, perched on her brow (thank goodness). Her eyes retained their slit-pupils and remained extremely large in proportion to her face, her whiskers had grown if anything, and her ears remained triangular and furry, positioned high on her head, just as they should be.
The changes were mainly proportional. She felt like she’d been stretched on a rack; she was so tall now. At least, taller than before. Her limbs looked – and felt – much more substantial, and her torso, she realised, had nothing like the flexibility she was used to. A more major change was the… enlargement of her chest area. She supposed she’d get used to that, too.
She relaxed her stiff shoulders, after noticing how tense she looked in her reflection, and scratched the back of her neck. All in all, it wasn’t a massive change. She’d been shocked by the unexpected nature of her transformation, but she was still largely her old self.
She stopped her scratching, paused for a moment… yes. She still had her tail. Should’ve checked earlier, she chided herself. Tails are far too important to forget.
The man pursed his lips, motioning vaguely towards her. “You should probably get some clothes on, now.”
Salem tilted her head quizzically, then realised what he was indicating.
“Clothes? Oh… yes?” she ventured. The words came with some difficulty, she realised. Why was she so tired?
The human shrugged, and gestured to the garments lying on the table. She examined them at arm’s length. A plain, short-sleeved, shirt, cream in colour and loose fitting, and similarly plain leggings, designed to fit animalistic legs like hers. Unsurprisingly, there was no footwear, for her hindpaws had remained largely unchanged. Lastly, a black beret, with slots for her ears.
She struggled with the garments, partly due to her unfamiliarity, partly due to the lack of energy in her body. The human simply sat back in his chair.
“You’ll have a few sets of uniform like this, so don’t worry if you ruin this one. They’re pretty sturdy, though, so you should be fine. The beret’s for parades and the like, you don’t have to wear that most of the time…”
Salem stood proudly in her new clothes, looking down at herself bemusedly. She opened her mouth to say something, but paused when she realised she was unsure of how to say it in human tongue. The loss of concentration spoilt her balance, and she wavered again, nearly falling.
“Hey, watch yourself!”
Salem steadied herself before the human needed to intervene, but he took a hold of her arm anyway.
“You need some rest before you start pushing yourself. This is a new body, and you’ll hurt yourself trying to use it before you’re ready. I’ll take you to the barracks and you can sleep there for a while.”
Salem nodded mutely, her head pounding again.
Mark helped her through the door, into a wide, curved corridor, still speaking in his soothing manner. His tone was relaxed and he was easy to listen to, she thought. As she started to walk more than a few steps at once, she began to feel a leaden aching in her limbs, but she pushed the feeling out of her mind.
“…you’ll know me as Nurse Proctor for the most part,” he was saying. “I’m your assigned counsellor. You know, just to help you get comfortable with your situation, sort out any problems you have, that sort of thing. You can talk to me if you have worries, you can trust me with that stuff. It’s my job.”
Salem could only follow half of what he was saying, and decided it wasn’t important to listen. She tuned him out, focusing instead on walking without stumbling. The floor was hard and cold beneath her bare hindpaws, concrete perhaps. The air smelt dry and stale. Mark continued to babble to her in his inane manner, but she’d stopped hearing the words, instead pricking her ears for any other creatures. She thought she heard voices, in pokéspeak no less, not far from her.
It occurred to her that she should probably be terrified, having woken up in a different body, in a strange and alien place, talked to with perfect informality by a human she did not recognise. Yet she felt nothing of the sort.
The corridor was breached by a much shorter, intersecting corridor, down which Salem could see a large room. Mark turned and led her towards it. Once inside the floor changed – becoming soft and warm – Salem purred appreciatively and clenched her paws. They started aching in response, as if she’d been walking for days.
“…but if that happens, just- Oh, you like the under-floor heating, huh? We use underground geothermal power for that, makes us totally self-sufficient, too…”
The room was carpeted, in muted red, hence the softness. It smelt of dozens, maybe hundreds of different people and pokémon, and that was just the fresh scent. She could hear several talking together at that moment. Looking around, she realised the room was one very large sitting room, or something like it. It was furnished heavily with leather-bound sofas, chairs and low wooden coffee tables like the ones she’d seen countless times in her master’s college common room. She noted she could not smell any coffee.
She turned to Mark and cut straight through whatever he was saying.
“What is this place?” she asked, silently congratulating herself for not slipping on the unfamiliar words.
Mark stared owlishly at her for a second before recovering. “It’s the ‘morph lounge. You and other like you can relax here, socialise, that sort of thing. It’s separate from the regular lounge, just to reduce awkwardness…”
“No,” Salem insisted. “What is… all of this place?”
Mark’s brow furrowed. “What, the base? You don’t remember anything, do you?”
Salem flicked her tail by way of reply, but when he didn’t continue, she shook her head.
“Oh, gosh, I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining for you. And you’re probably going to need a trip to Medical to get checked up on…” He groaned theatrically.
“I’ll give you the short version, I guess,” he sighed. “This is a subterranean complex… uh, sorry. This is an underground base owned by a human organisation called the Perihelion Syndicate. It’s a test site for the pokémon hybrid project. Here, the Syndicate creates, raises and trains pokémon/human hybrids. That’s what you are: a pokémorph. We picked you up off the streets of Saffron City, and you opted to go through the process to make you what you are now.”
He paused, allowing Salem a moment to digest what she’d heard.
“You’ve agreed to have some tests run on you, and to go through the same basic training as all the morphs,” he continued. “You don’t have to do anything after that if you really don’t want to, but there’re plenty of choices for a graduate morph. Sorry if this is a lot to take in all at once.”
Salem shrugged, uncaring.
“Maybe that’s why you’re not freaking out?” Mark said, more to himself than to her. “Cause although you can’t remember anything, you still expected all this?”
Salem looked away with a non committal flick of her ears. She couldn’t be bothered to respond either verbally or in human body language.
Mark pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m supposed to show you to your barracks now. You have a couple of days, more if you need it, to get accustomed to your body and the base, and then you’ll be expected to go through basic training. In the meantime, feel free to come to me any time, with any problem. It’s my job, after all. You have five other new morphs in your quarters, so it’ll be pretty cosy in there. …huh, Salem?”
Salem nodded vaguely. She stared at the other hybrid figures talking in the lounge. All, like her, had roughly human proportions, but all, like her, had physical traits utterly in contrast with their humanoid shapes. They had fur, scales, feathers… most had tails. Given the similarities to humans already found in many species of pokémon, they did not seem entirely alien, but there was something vaguely disturbing about their uniformly consistent anatomy, contrasted by utterly distinct features.
One or two of them glanced her way, but they didn’t pay her much attention. They were speaking, she realised, in human tongue, with only occasionally interspersed pokéspeak. She clawed her palms again, though she was not entirely sure if it was from agitation or anticipation. Soon, she thought, she’d be speaking like that too, as easily as she would her mother tongue…
Mark interrupted her train of thought – which he was by now an expert at doing – with a gentle hand on her shoulder. She flinched, reflexively, and he withdrew sheepishly.
“Sorry won’t do that again,” he said, and she relaxed. “I figure that since you’ll still be tired after the morphing process, and with your memory as it is, you should get some rest. You can stay here if you want, or you could go to your quarters… I think a few of your group are already recovered, so you might meet them there, and if not you’ll see them at curfew. …is that okay, Salem?”
“…what? Yes,” she responded, sluggishly. “That is okay.”
She was tired. There was a dull aching in her muscles. Her mind was fogged. She clawed her palms deeper, trying to go back to ignoring it for a little while longer.
“Mark. I want… to know things,” she expressed to his open, curious face. It was a struggle to keep the human words clear. “I want to understand who I am, what I am. I can wait. But I need to know now… why am I here? What was my choice for?”
Mark’s face took on the sheepish look again and she felt like giving up and going to sleep right there on the floor.
“I’m sorry, but I haven’t read your file yet. I should know, but I don’t… I’ll find out for you later, though, okay?”
She was already turning to walk with weighted steps to the nearest sofa, ignoring Mark, ignoring the other hybrids, ignoring everything but the pressing, throbbing fatigue.
She slumped into it, tried to curl up tight and failed miserably. Her body was too awkward, too inelegant to do something like that, and she dug her claws in tighter in frustration. She stretched out on her side, lying her head on one paw – one hand – and blinked wearily.
Her head hurt. Not physically, nor with the strain of forming so many questions, even ones so utterly alien to her… There was something else, behind the fatigue. Something wrong. Something her failing memory could not fathom, but that she felt was there. She could not remember why she had chosen to become a ‘pokémorph,’ to become a hybrid, to become something – someone – entirely different to her old self. A self which she could not even remember…
The rush of thoughts were white-water rapids in her mind, and she closed her eyes against the migraine they brought. Every time she tried to recall, she suffered a pang in her temples. But she knew. Somewhere, buried in her mind, she knew why she was here.
No answers came, merely a yawn. She could start searching her mind later. For now, she let herself fall into an uneasy slumber.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
Huh, a furry fic. I don't know if that was your exact intention, but yeah, there were furries. I don't really like furries, but I'll review this chapter nonetheless.
The introduction was good, you have a certain flair with describing Salem's emotions and thoughts at the beginning, I like that. Another thing was the detail in describing her reactions, of course, its half pokemon, so things like the ears flattening and hisssing were good details to mention. The concept itself is quite different from what we usually see, huh?
This has potential, keep at it.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
Thank you for your response, Jinoga, I appreciate the praise. I make a conscious effort to distinguish my work and I'm glad I've had some success so early on!
The fic may contain anthropomorphic characters and transhuman concepts but it is not at all part of 'furry fandom'.
Chapter two follows; I hope you enjoy.
Salem was in her master’s home; a place she had not seen in more seasons than she cared to remember. She was in his bedroom, of course, perched on top of his wardrobe and looking down at it. She had always loved sleeping there…
Something is wrong.
She realised then she could not smell anything, or feel anything. Her vision was off, too; everything seemed far away, clouded, colourless. She decided it wasn’t important. Feeling kittenish for lying on top of the wardrobe, she jumped down, sat neatly in the centre of the room and slowly panned her head to view it.
One wall was entirely taken up by pokémon posters, of course, like the room of nearly every boy her master’s age. Photographs of several past Elite Four teams, various gym leaders and other such exalted trainers were there: some of the most cherished examples even had autographs scrawled across them by the trainers themselves. There were pictures of some of his favourite pokémon – persian among them – maps of Kanto and Johto, lists of gyms and badges, pages torn from encyclopaedias, everything he could lay his hands on.
He had fiercely resisted all pressure to take his shrine to pokémon training down, even after choosing not to become a trainer… he still added to it when he thought he could get away with it.
No, that’s not right.
He had stopped adding to it not long into his teens. The wall’s posters shouldn’t even be there – he’d torn them all down and hidden them under his bed long ago. Then, Salem finally saw the wall properly: it was almost bare, just as it should have been. Only her pokéball and some of the novels remained, she remembered – no, not remembered, saw.
Salem chided herself for getting lost in her memories, and moved on. Her body felt sore and she had a growing headache, but she ignored that. It wasn’t important.
His desk had school papers on it – worksheets and past exam papers and research notes and such – she loved it when he read them to her, so she could learn with him. It was a complete mess, which was partly her fault for walking all over his work when he was up too late at night studying. Recently, she’d been doing that all too often.
You haven’t been doing that.
She hadn’t been doing that all too often. In fact, she hadn’t done it since he’d taken extra tuition sessions at the weekends, and his work ethic had improved. And that had been ages ago. His graduation certificate was pinned to the wall above his bed. She had just been imagining that she and her master were kittens again, that was all. The pangs in her temples worsened, and she drew back her lip in displeasure.
This can’t be real.
No, everything was exactly as it should be, right down to her master’s stuffed teddiursa doll, smiling, bright eyed and waving. It lay in the bed, under the pokéball pattern duvet.
It’s not real.
No, everything was exactly as it should be, right down to her master’s stuffed teddiursa doll, its body ripped open, the stuffing torn out and the face shredded. It was propped forlornly up against the bed, which was, of course, an insipid pattern of blue stripes.
It’s still not real!
Salem’s temples throbbed, and she whimpered at the pain and confusion.
Nothing here is real.
She looked up, eyes wide, and saw that the walls had gouges and dents in them, like open wounds, the plaster bleeding to the floor. She’d forgotten about that, and she hadn’t noticed it, but it had always been like that, she was certain. She had no idea why it was like that, however.
Because my master was so frustrated he was crying.
No idea at all.
And then you left.
She’d never left, or she wouldn’t be here.
You left, and you know why.
She left, but she didn’t remember why.
You left when it broke.
Near the centre of the room, not far from her, the broken thing remained.
A shattered pokéball, its shards gleaming deep red and cool grey.
It’s not real.
She padded over, her chest tight. She took a fragment in her paw and held it up to see an alien face stare back; only half pokémon, and only half human. She gripped the shard so tightly her palm bled.
Though the blood was stark against the cream of her fur, she felt nothing.
You’re not real, either.
“I was pretty real, last time I checked.”
Salem groaned, blinking blearily as someone shook her awake. Their grip was strong; she was easily rolled over onto her back. A lithe, dark-furred figure arched over her, its eyes bright and bemused. Between them was a golden glint, a gem of some kind, perhaps. Salem put a paw to her charm self-consciously, then saw her fingers and remembered where she was. What she was. She stared at her hand, blocking out the voice of the dark figure as she carefully moved each finger in turn, marvelling at the control she now had over each digit.
“Mind telling me about this dream that was so interesting that you had to keep muttering about it?” the figure asked, grinning. It let go of her shoulders, and Salem saw that its paws were tipped in long, vicious claws. She stared at the creature’s arms and realised they bore more than a few deep scars. Salem felt a sudden sense of disorientation, then the figure blurred, losing focus, and she shook her head to clear it. She looked around the room, and saw no other morphs but the dark-furred one who had woken her.
Salem glanced at it, then looked away. The figure was clearly another morph, feline and female like herself, but that was as far as the resemblance went. “I was sleep-talking?” she asked, embarrassed.
“Don’t worry about it,” said the other hybrid, “it was nothing bad. Not that I’d be one to judge you if it was.”
Salem looked back at the morph, more studiously this time. Her fur was a deep charcoal, well groomed and healthy judging by the sheen. What at first seemed merely like longer, jet black fur around her head was more probably hair, like a human’s. Like Salem, she wore a plain uniform, but smoke-grey rather than cream.
Strangely, she seemed to possess a trio of short, stiff tails and an elongated left ear, each a deep carmine – closer examination revealed them to be feather-like in nature. Salem had heard of far more bizarre species from her master, but this morph seemed uniquely outlandish to her, despite – or perhaps because of – their similarities.
“What are you?” Salem ventured.
The dark morph blinked. “Okay, you’re a slow one. If you’re still suffering the after-effects of the Change you should have this explained to you. I, like you, am a pokémorph: a hybrid of human and-”
“No,” interrupted Salem, still blearily gazing at the morph’s carmine ‘feathers’ and oversized claws. “I know that. I mean… what… what were you?”
“Stop staring, meowth,” cautioned the other morph. “I’m just a sneasel, save your gawping for the serpentine hybrids.”
Salem looked away, and blinked slowly in apologetic appeasement. The sneasel did likewise, grinning drily. Something about her confidence, the fluency of her human tongue and the easy way she carried herself with both intimidated and reassured Salem. Or perhaps it was just those razor claws…
“So meowth, what’s your name?” asked the sneasel, adopting a languid pose, leaning on the sofa’s arm. “Mine’s bloody long, but you can shorten it to Dusk, so call me that.”
“Salem,” she replied, quietly.
Dusk waited a few moments, and when no further response seemed forthcoming, she shrugged, and continued talking – this time in pokéspeak, which suited Salem just fine.
“We’ve been assigned to the same squad, Salem, so we’ll train together, work together, eat together, sleep together – in a strictly chaste sense of course, unless that’s something you’re into,” said Dusk with a grin. She sighed when all Salem gave her was a blank look. “That was a joke. Never mind.”
Salem glanced away apologetically, but still did not understand the joke.
“Anyway,” Dusk continued, “we don’t strictly have a squad leader, as such. Good thing too, or there’d be a fight for the role. I hear you’ve got Proctor as a counsellor, and while he’s a nice kid, he’s got no overabundance of brains, so if you’re the type that needs a mentor, which I’d say you are, best come to me, or Pariah perhaps, he’s a decent guy. If you do want a guide, I’d be happy to start you off with a tour of this lush paradise we find ourselves in, courtesy of our friends the Syndicate.”
Salem did smile at that, which seemed to please Dusk, who offered her a hand – with claws sheathed – to help her up. “Yes, I think I would like that,” she managed, taking the sneasel’s paw. There was a brief feeling of vertigo as she came upright, but Dusk’s grip was firm, and she could steady herself.
“I do not think I have seen any lush paradise yet,” Salem commented, in human tongue, speaking slowly and with excessive care.
Dusk smirked, though Salem was not sure whether it was directed at her attempt at humour or the difficulty she had with human words.
“Jokes aside,” the sneasel commented, still in pokéspeak, “it’s not unpleasant here. Let’s see… for now you’ll need to know your way around the morphs’ floor of course, and I’m sure you’d love to see the surface, that is genuinely pretty close to being a paradise, for me at least.”
Salem cocked her head to ask for elaboration, and Dusk obliged. “This floor has the lounge, sleeping quarters, mess hall, stuff like that, and of course the gym! The surface has a cleared area for the base’s parade grounds, open air gym, and such, but also a large forested area for field exercises. For now, that’s all that’s relevant to you.”
Again, Salem struggled to think of anything to say, but Dusk didn’t wait for her, and instead set off at a brisk walk out of the lounge. Salem followed, inevitably lagging behind. When Dusk noticed, she groaned theatrically and slowed to match her pace.
“You’ll get used to the new legs pretty soon,” Dusk assured her. “It only took me a week before I was darting about in sparring sessions just fine, though I’m still not as agile as I used to be. You might take a bit longer, being an ex-quadruped.”
Salem simply nodded, uncertainly. She found walking bearable, and could imagine running after some practice, but combat seemed an impossibility. She had not even fought in some time… She followed Dusk down one of the three corridors that led out from the circle of the lounge, into the curved hallway with which it connected.
Salem breathed, and tasted the more or less fresh scent of many morphs. “Why is this place empty of people?” she asked, lightly inclining her head towards Dusk.
Dusk grinned. “You fell asleep at the daftest time. It’s two in the morning, most sensible morphs are asleep.”
Salem did not entirely understand why that should be the case, but she accepted this explanation without comment. As Dusk led her around the base, familiarising her with the locations of things and explaining the regularly placed signs which gave directions in written human tongue, Braille and simple pictograms, Salem found that rather than aching more, her legs began to feel natural and her strides became smoother and less awkward. Subtly, Dusk moved gradually faster, until Salem was following her at a brisk pace, and barely needed to think about the motion of her legs.
Most of what Salem saw was merely functional, but despite the mundane nature of the mess hall, sleeping quarters and so on, she was fascinated by the ordered sensibility of it all. As Dusk explained to her, the mess hall served a huge variety of foods suited to most morphs’ palates, and it was not at all compulsory to eat there at particular times, or at all if a given morph disliked crowds or noise. There were similarly several different kinds of quarters, adjusted for the relative size and weight of some morphs, for example. Morphs that insisted on solitude could be even granted single rooms with assessment and permission from their counsellor.
All the while, Dusk kept up a steady rapport, never running out of things to say. Just as she eased Salem into a steadier gait, so she encouraged Salem to be increasingly vocal.
“You never asked what I heard you mutter in your sleep, Salem,” she purred, as they walked down another bland corridor. “Don’t you want to know what you were saying?”
“Do not tease me, Dusk!”
“You do, don’t you?”
“Well,” admitted the meowth, “I do want to know a little. But I do not think you will tell me if I ask. I think you will play with me like a rattata.”
The sneasel’s feather-ear twitched in amusement. “You bet I will.”
“I do not bet,” Salem said, furrowing her brow, “but fine, I will ask. What was I saying?”
Dusk danced ahead of Salem, snickering. “I’ll tell you… but you have to spar with me in the gym, first!”
Salem flattened her ears and widened her eyes. “Dusk, I can’t fight you!” she protested.
“And I can’t tell you what you wish to hear until you do,” insisted Dusk.
The morphs stopped, having come to the end of the passageway. Dusk moved to the side, and held out an arm in the direction of the heavy-looking double doors at its end, in mock-hospitality.
Salem growled quietly. It wasn’t as if she had never fought before. She had her own scars, from spats with other pets, from her master’s attempts at training her… from seasons spent in alleyways scavenging for territory against other strays. Compared to Dusk, though, she was a kitten.
“What are you worried about, Salem?” asked the sneasel. “Seriously, why not?”
The meowth folded her arms in stubbornness, imitating something her master had always done when defiant. “I have barely started walking, I would lose easily.”
Dusk smiled. “That doesn’t matter. The earlier you start sparring, the better. I’ll go easy on you, of course, and I promise you won’t get hurt. It’ll be fun!”
Salem closed her eyes and sighed, feeling that the other morph would inevitably persuade her to fight, regardless of how much she argued. She moved forwards and flinched when the doors opened on their own, but walked through as calmly as she could manage.
The gym was a vast structure, much larger than any room Salem had seen before. She guessed it to be forty or so strides in width, and sixty or more in length. Its height extended up into what she thought must be the floor above – there were windows, presumably for observation, high in the walls. The ceiling and walls alike appeared to have handholds, though she couldn’t guess why someone would need to use them.
Most of the space was taken up by a large enclosure; an arena with the League standard pokéball emblem painted onto it. A narrow walkway ran the length of the gym’s perimeter, separated from the arena by a shield of thick glass. There was a second set of doors set into the barrier, flanked by what looked like a computer. Salem gingerly stepped through. The ground inside was made of sandy earth, which was warm under her paws.
Dusk grabbed her shoulder and pulled her roughly back out of the arena, and she let out a startled mew. The dark type sniggered.
“Silly Salem. We’re not going to fight in this biome!”
The feline gave her an incredulous look, her tail writhing in displeasure. Dusk grinned, and moved over to the computer interface. She placed and held her paw on the screen, then tapped on it rapidly. Satisfied, she stepped back.
A moment later, the doors slid shut and the entire arena sank into the floor, moving down with a deep clatter of mechanisms. Salem tried to peer down into the gaping hole the arena’s absence had revealed, and saw a dimly lit, cavernous space, containing complex machinery and, she realised, several more arenas. She thought she even saw huge tanks of water, but they were gone before she could get a better look.
After a short while, a new floor moved up to replace the sandy one. This time, the arena was grassy and vegetated, with a variety of foliage covering it, mostly leafy ferns and small trees. Dusk strolled through the doors, ears perked.
“I must admit, I really like this one,” she announced. “There’s plenty of opportunities for stealth, the ground cushions your falls nicely… it’s perfect! And we have it all to ourselves, given the ridiculously early time we’re up and about at. We felines, eh?”
Salem breathed shallowly, trying to stay calm and suppress the urge to flee. She stepped inside, and thankfully, she did not tremble.
Dusk stood at ease, head tilted expectantly. Salem took up what she hoped was an acceptable combat pose, crouching with her paws out in front of her to protect her underside, as close to her natural four-legged stance as she could manage. Dusk smirked at her again, shaking her head.
“I refuse to kick your ass without teaching you a proper fighting stance first,” she exclaimed. “Stand straight. Now let me show you…”
Salem obeyed, and Dusk eagerly darted to her side. The sneasel stood parallel to her, demonstrating her own stance; facing sideways in relation to her body with one arm forward, the other at her side.
“A meowth pounces and grapples,” Dusk explained, “but you can’t do that with legs like these. Neither can you claw your opponent in a flurry, or hope to rake their belly with your hind legs. It just won’t work.”
She looked at Salem expectantly, and the meowth hurriedly assumed the same pose.
“So,” she continued, “if you’re in close combat with someone, keep one arm up not to attack but to defend, and the other is there to catch them out if they lunge at you. Obviously this won’t be relevant to ninety percent of situations, but it’s still useful.”
Dusk turned to face Salem, who did likewise. Without notice, Dusk reached forwards to lightly tap Salem’s charm with an unsheathed claw.
“Could have had your head off just then!” she joked. Salem thrashed her tail in irritation.
Dusk laughed. “I’m going to attack you,” she warned. “Block me.”
The first swipe was slow, and Salem’s paw darted out to grab it. Then she felt Dusk’s other claw neatly prod her under the ribs.
“Watch both my arms,” the sneasel admonished, still grinning widely. Salem growled under her breath, impatient to get her embarrassment over with.
Again, the first swipe was slow, but rather than grabbing it, Salem deflected it with a swift jab, and clawed at the other arm. Dusk squeaked, apparently not expecting a counterattack, then laughed again, seemingly endlessly amused.
This series of brief, flurried attacks continued for some time. Each time, Dusk would introduce some new contrivance for Salem to counter, and each time she would anticipate, adjust, deflect, until both of them – though mostly Salem – were covered in myriad scratches. First it was merely different attacks from Dusk’s claws, then kicking and biting, then they circled each other to add movement to the many things for her to think about… There was no plateau, no room to rest or become complacent. Each time Salem adapted, Dusk would change her strategy, and there was little time to adjust.
She felt herself beginning to tire long before Dusk showed any sign of exertion. “What would the point be of fighting me now?” she demanded. “I’m… I’m tired…”
“We’re both tired,” Dusk asserted. “You’re just not hiding it as well.”
“Fine then, what are the rules?” Salem asked, giving in.
Dusk cracked her knuckles gleefully. “First to yield to the other is defeated. That’s it!”
Dusk glowered at her. “If you don’t put up a fight, I won’t tell you what you were talking about in your sleep. Which you want to know, right?”
“Yes… but I still don’t know why you want to fight me,” murmured Salem, wondering if the drops of memory she might gain about her past were really worth the effort of fighting the clearly more experienced sneasel.
“Listen, this is the best way to prepare you for training,” Dusk insisted. “The tougher you have it before you begin training, the easier you’ll have it during training. Most of this squad are pretty hard, and I don’t want you to feel awful cause you’re lagging behind in performance.”
Salem breathed heavily. “Well, who else is in the squad?”
“You and I, obviously, and four others. I was first to be hybridised and you’re the most recent, but a couple of them still aren’t morphed quite yet. They’re expected to be awake and walking in the next day or two, though. The other two that have already gone through the Change? You should meet them in person pretty soon, I think. I’ll introduce you!”
Dusk’s enthusiastic babbling allowed Salem a merciful minute to catch her breath. She decided to take the other morph’s reasoning to heart, and do her utmost to – if not outright defeat Dusk – at least make her work for her win.
“…there are plenty of other squads and more on the way, though, so you should probably just hang around in the lounge, say hello to people…”
Salem realised that Dusk really would toy with her before defeating her utterly and that there was only one way she could make the fight difficult for the sneasel.
She needed to attack first, without warning.
“…there’s one or two humans who are actually good company, though I find the rest merely tolerable…”
Salem tensed in anticipation, waiting. Dusk stopped speaking, smiled.
Salem struck out, landing a blow to the temple. Leaving no time for Dusk to recover, she slugged the sneasel in the stomach, then once more.
Stunned, Dusk lashed out. The jab was easily knocked aside; she kept attacking. A swift swipe raked Dusk’s face. She was too slow – it left only shallow gashes.
Instinct kicked in; the sneasel lunged.
Salem tried to dart backwards, but the slash landed anyway. Pain stung her arm. Adrenaline barely dulled it. The scent of blood suddenly smothered her senses.
Another cutting swipe – too rapid to evade – caught her ear. Dusk was faster by far.
Salem leaped, trying to grapple with the other morph to negate their gulf in speed. She grasped Dusk by the shoulders and they fell together.
She winded the sneasel for scarcely a second. A paw shot up to seize her neck in a vice grip. Dusk’s hold was icy on her skin… and far too strong to shift.
She rained punches down. None were effective. Her head throbbed. Her muscles ached.
Dusk dragged her off, slammed her into the ground, then smacked her knee into the feline’s gut and left her gasping.
Struggling was impossible. She could barely think.
Dusk put a claw to her neck.
Salem choked out something incomprehensible. Dusk released her grip on the meowth’s throat a little.
“I yield!” she gasped.
Several seconds passed before Dusk finally let go, breathing rapidly.
“I offered to go easy on you!” she spluttered, wiping blood from the cuts on her cheek.
Salem smiled uncomfortably. “You never said I had to go easy on you, though.”
The sneasel laughed and got to her feet, before offering Salem a hand to pull her up. She flinched at the searing pain that ran up her arm, but forced herself not to cry out. The wound did not look severe to her, and was already beginning to clot. She wondered anxiously what the pain would be like if she had received a more serious injury.
She felt nauseous as she considered that more serious injuries might be inevitable.
“Fair enough,” Dusk said. “And you did put up more of a fight – although a much shorter one – than I expected. Sorry about being so tough on you, I was just… kind of surprised, I suppose.”
“I do not mind at all,” Salem said with a vague shrug. “Now will you tell me what I was saying during my dream?”
Dusk blinked, and her ears perked. “Didn’t think you remembered your dream. Now I’m curious about what it was.”
Salem gave her a derisive glare, and Dusk threw her paws up.
“Fine, fine! I’ll tell you. You were just muttering weird phrases. Stuff about how something wasn’t right, how things weren’t as they should. I didn’t catch all of it, but you said something about you leaving. You said ‘I left when it broke,’ I think and ‘it’s not real’. You mostly used pokéspeak, except for the occasional human word.”
Salem nodded cheerlessly.
“Hey, at least it wasn’t anything embarrassing,” teased Dusk. Her effort was met with an even more derisive glower and she sighed, giving up. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me about your dream, then?”
Salem flicked an ear, her face inexpressive.
“Fine then,” Dusk muttered. “Be a killjoy. I won’t tell you about all the amazing dreams that I have. They really are something special.”
“I’m sure they are,” replied Salem with a drily amused purr, despite her ashen mood.
Dusk cracked her knuckles. “Care for another round? That was a fun scuffle but I was expecting something more substantial.”
Salem answered her with nothing more than a mute frown.
“Okay, whatever, but you should at least practice regularly or you’ll be sorry for it during training,” opined the sneasel, before sauntering out of the arena. Salem trudged after her, licking bitterly at the gash on her arm.
As she followed the other morph wherever it was she had resolved to take her next, Salem wondered why she had agreed to the terms that came with the decision to become a morph, and whether that choice would be worth it. She knew why she would have made the choice, of course. She was glad she’d made that choice, and was reminded of it every time she smiled, or spoke, or felt her fingers brush against a door handle.
She felt a twinge in her arm wound and growled softly.
She knew why she’d made the choice, yes. She just hoped she didn’t come to regret it.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
"You begin to lose track of time in here," commented Dusk. "You should ask your counsellor for a watch. I'll teach you how to read it if you want."
Salem nodded vaguely and continued to focus on the meal in front of her. She had spent most of the night being dragged around by the tireless morph and now that she had slept in a proper bed for a few hours, she found she was starving.
"It's six in the morning, so you know," the sneasel persisted. Salem ignored her; the taste of raw remoraid easily took priority over the sound of Dusk's voice, which she was by now all too familiar with. Dusk herself was intermittently tearing into strips of grilled farfetch'd, judging by the smell of her plate.
"It's good to be up early," mused Dusk. "You get to the mess hall before the crowds show up; you don't want to deal with them. I'm trying to persuade the squad to get into an early waking habit so we can get training in while the gym is mostly empty."
Salem eyed her disparagingly. "Good luck with that."
"I liked it better when you were mute," quipped Dusk.
Salem declined to reply, instead observing her surroundings and committing them to memory in detail.
The scent of food - mostly meat - permeated the air, as did the sound of it sizzling as it cooked. Plastic benches and long tables striped the room, the floor and walls of which were armoured in ceramic tiling. Counters lined the far side of the room: they contained a varied buffet of foods to suit the diet of any morph, carnivorous or herbivorous – not that Salem fancied trying crispy nincada. There were a meagre handful of other morphs eating, though the room looked able to accommodate at least a hundred.
Amongst the other morphs was one of the serpentine hybrids Dusk had mentioned to her earlier: its body looked devoid of legs beneath the long coat it wore, although its arms were perfectly visible. Its tail – which it rested on – was as thick as its body, and ended in a wicked blade. With it sat an avian morph, whose bare arms were weighted by what remained of its wings and whose face was marked by the beak it still retained. Elsewhere, a dark-skinned morph with a ragged dorsal fin and a gilled neck ripped into a steak of some kind, so rare that Salem could smell the blood still on it.
Dusk snickered. "Don't gawp too much at those guys," she warned. "They're part of the team from Hoenn; they're as hard as nails and will rip you to shreds. I'm trying to copy their habits, including the early breakfast and morning training."
Salem nodded, averting her gaze. "Hoenn?" she queried.
"Yeah." Dusk nodded sagely. "It's a big island to the south of here. Still part of Indigo, I think, but a very different culture. There are about a dozen morphs native to there in the base, and another group from Sinnoh, a northern island. Everyone who gets morphed gets sent here for the Change and training."
Salem pondered this for a minute, while Dusk mercifully shut up for once.
"You said I would meet the others in our group soon," she said. "I think I would like to do that now, or at least hear about them."
Dusk nodded, and grinned toothily. "Sure thing. After you went to sleep I pestered Nathan about meeting us here, he'll be along any time now. He's a decent boy. Then there's Pyre, who's less decent but just as much of a boy, I can tell you... and there's Verity, who's neither decent, nor a boy, nor at all friendly. Watch yourself with her. There's a sixth, but they're still going through the Change, I'm afraid."
Salem’s expression was as dry as dust. "Dusk, that was in no way helpful. I still know nothing of use about them."
The sneasel waved her oversized claws in the air, dismissively. "Sorry, I'm not a psychologist or anything. I barely know them, myself."
"At least tell me what they look like, so I recognise them," pressed Salem. "Nathan is a human name – are you certain he was a pokémon like us?"
"Fair enough," replied Dusk. "Nice idea, but Nathan was born a pokémon like you and me, he was just named by a human trainer, I think. I don't know if humans can go through the Change, but I've never met any morphs that weren't once pokémon."
She paused to sip at her glass of water, while Salem waited patiently. "Nathan is - was - an ampharos. If you've never seen one, he has yellow fur and a stupid glowing ball on his tail. He'll recognise you well enough, since you're the first meowth here. He's friendly, but almost as quiet as you are. You two mutes should get along perfectly!"
Salem smiled coolly. "I think I shall continue to be careful with my words," she responded. "Is there anything else you feel I should learn? I don’t have anything else to do."
Dusk nodded happily, apparently taking Salem's words at face value.
"Pyre is a quilava. Bluish and cream fur, but his real distinguishing feature is that sometimes fire blazes around his shoulders and arse," she babbled. Salem looked sceptical. "I am completely serious! Anyway, he's a little volatile, I think it's because he's young and wants to prove himself a tough one."
The feline nodded, which Dusk took as her cue to continue.
"Verity is a skarmory. Not just a bird, but one with feathers of steel! Soul of steel too, I should think. Verity is a sharp one; she’s intelligent enough to tear down everything you say before you’ve even said it. Best thing is to ignore her." Dusk's ears drooped uncharacteristically for a moment before flickering back up. "And I haven't even seen our sixth member, but I'll see if I can't take you down to the morphing labs to get a look at them."
Dusk's eyes flickered to something behind Salem and she automatically turned round to see. Entering the mess hall was a tall, golden-furred morph, whose gait was slow but confident. His oddly conical ears were striped with black bands, as was his tail, which was tipped in a softly glowing red orb. His paws were shoved inside his pockets and his gaze was calmly attentive. Salem immediately assumed the newcomer was the Nathan that Dusk had mentioned to her, but refrained from calling out a greeting.
Dusk had no such reservations.
"Hey, Nathan!" she called. "Come over here and say hi to the newbie!"
The ampharos smiled drily and strolled over to their table. He bowed to Salem and threw Dusk a lazy salute. From closer up, Salem observed honed musculature and scars as impressive as Dusk's under his fur.
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Salem, I'm sure," he spoke. His voice was soft but clear. "Good morning Dusk, and what arduous task do you have for me today?"
The sneasel grinned, rising from her seat and snatching a handful of farfetch'd strips.
"Look after Salem for me while I go find someone to tie to my bunk, that's what," she drawled, winking.
"Have fun with that," responded Nathan, in a total deadpan. "May your mating be long and loud, though not so much so as to disturb me while I read, thank you."
Dusk sniggered, failing to keep a straight face. "Are you sure you don't want to join me?"
Nathan raised a brow. "I am as uninterested as ever, my dear," he stated, as impassively as before.
"Worth a try though," Dusk shot back. "I am peerlessly attractive, after all. See you later, Salem!"
The sneasel laughed, exiting the mess hall, and the ampharos took up her vacant seat, pinching the bridge of his nose in mock weariness.
Salem blinked slowly. "So... did Dusk mean that?" she asked, hesitantly.
Nathan grinned wryly at her. "I wouldn't know. I've never accepted her offer. I don't think she's serious though; I've told her a dozen times I prefer the intimate company of males."
Salem smiled awkwardly. "So she is joking. I am never entirely sure when to take her seriously and when to disbelieve her."
"Welcome to my life," replied Nathan, with a vaguely amused snort. He picked idly at the remainder of Dusk's farfetch'd, but with little enthusiasm. "Dusk tells me you're the reserved but incisive type, so I'm sure we'll get along splendidly."
Salem nodded uncertainly. She automatically started scrutinising the ampharos. He smelled of unremarkable things; the mustiness of books, lavender, other morphs. His fur hid any bags under his soft blue eyes, but his gaze seemed tired even so. His tail was very still; he was most likely very much in control of his body language, like a human poker player. His gaze was gentle but intent.
"Reserved, you certainly are," declared Nathan. "How about incisive? Why don’t you tell me what you think about me?"
Salem swallowed. She hadn't expected to be tested on her thoughts, and this felt exactly like a test. "Well," she began, as clearly as she could, "You had a trainer, who you were close enough to that they taught you to read, which you do very often, which might just be because you like to be smart, but I'm not sure. You don't sleep well, which is why you scent your bed with lavender. You don't have a mate, but I'm not sure you even want one. You pay attention to other people, but try to hide your own feelings. You're probably rarely happy. You-"
"That's enough, thank you," Nathan interrupted, calmly. "Correct, more or less, on all points. Looks like you are perfectly incisive. Moreover, intelligent – or at least analytical – too. That is good."
Salem merely nodded, expecting the ampharos to continue talking.
"Salem," he said, "I expect you could reel off twenty probing questions. Questions my dear Dusk has thus far failed to answer for you, I should think. I'd be more than happy to answer a few of them for you, should you wish."
The meowth acknowledged him with a flick of an ear, and thought. After a minute or two, she hesitantly ventured a question. "Will I be able to evolve now?"
Nathan raised a brow, and then smiled warmly. "Interesting, that you should ask that first. For morphs, evolution is entirely possible. In fact, the record so far, which is admittedly short, suggests it is inevitable. However, it may not trigger in precisely the same way it would normally... for many morphs, evolving is a painful process. It would take a scientist to explain the specifics but in the simplest terms, I understand their human halves cannot keep up with the changing pokémon halves, and their bodies are put under considerable strain. At least, this is often the case. As with anything related to morphs, it is quite unpredictable."
Salem accepted this; evolving would be painful. That was fine with her. Probably.
"Did you experience that? How painful...?"
Nathan shook his head. "I was fully evolved before the Change. I have asked several morphs who evolved after the Change - they assured me that it was not unbearable."
There were more questions, which Nathan answered eloquently. She was no longer affected by pokéballs, though advanced ones would try and tear her body’s cells apart, which could be disfiguring or even fatal if she could not last until they shorted out. She was likely to grow long fur on her head like human hair, but it was easily cut short. Nobody knew if morphs were fertile. Training was very diverse, but consisted mostly of combat and general education. After training, if she could think of a role for herself other than as a soldier, she could pursue it: she was experimental, not made for any end purpose, and her contract gave her much freedom. The Syndicate was owned by several human individuals and its goals were far-reaching...
Then the conversation was interrupted again, this time by Mark Proctor, whose panting and wheezing rather diminished the impact of his arrival.
"Salem! I wish you hadn't disappeared like that!"
The meowth blinked, feeling this was an especially useless thing to say.
"I found the dossier on you," he babbled, "and it does in fact say why you consented to the morphing program, if you still haven't remembered..."
Salem gave him a terse nod, unconsciously digging her claws into her palms.
"It says, uh... you're recorded as telling a morph interpreter 'I must begin life anew, or I will die, having never truly lived.' I don't know what that means, sorry..."
Salem knew. She knew that life before was like being dead, or at least equal to death. With that knowledge, came a splinter of memory.
She knew that when her dreams became too thin to cover the anger, the resentment, the frustration, it had been better to choose to leave than slowly fade away. She knew that the life she chose, as a stray, had been joyless... empty. That when she’d been offered the chance to live again, she had felt...
She had believed that if her next breath was not just feline, but had a fragment of humanity; her life would mean something again.
...she did not know if she’d been right.
"Thank you, Mark," she said. "That is very helpful."
She could not help but stare at her fingers.
Mark smiled uncertainly, giving a belated nod of acknowledgment to Nathan, whose raised brow and half-lidded eyes smouldered with displeasure at his interruption.
"Is that all, Mark?" the ampharos inquired.
Mark bit his lip. "Well, no, but it can wait... Please show Salem to the library whenever it suits you."
The human swept his unkempt fringe from his eyes, and hurriedly backed out of the mess hall, laughing nervously. Nathan waited until Salem had come to terms with her fingers again before speaking.
"What do you perceive, meowth?"
Salem clawed her palms, blinking. "I wasn't paying attention..."
Nathan's smile told her he did not believe her. “You always pay attention,” he reflected. “To everything around you, constantly.” She smiled back, guiltily.
"Mark is young and rash and does not think things through," she ventured. "You don't like that, because you regret being young and rash and not thinking things through."
Nathan's flickering smile admitted a moment of pain. "For someone so apparently unconcerned with personal interaction, you are singularly talented at seeing the reason behind the interactions of others," he commented.
Salem nodded, flatly, providing no reply.
The ampharos sighed. "I feel I should stop trying to cover myself against you, somehow. You are too perceptive to be deceived. Never mind. Was there anything else you wanted to know, Salem?"
The meowth nodded again. Her eyes remained inscrutable.
"There are a hundred thousand things I want to know," she said, after a moment, a tinge of amusement in her voice. "Most of them I will simply learn by myself, though. I don't think I could keep you patiently answering questions for a whole season."
Nathan grinned then, and got to his feet. "In which case, let us adjourn to a place of higher learning," he said, without the slightest trace of sarcasm.
Salem entered the library with a gasp and wide eyes. She mewed softly as she gazed in wonder upon the rows and rows of bookshelves...
Then she stopped, because Nathan was chuckling quietly to himself.
"Nathan! I like books, and my master only had three shelves!" she exclaimed indignantly.
The ampharos stifled his sniggering. "I love books too, my dear. My trainer never carried more than one or two. I had much the same reaction to the library as you did, if not more so."
Salem blinked at him in apology and went back to staring.
"Everything's arranged by topic," Nathan informed her. "Enjoy browsing. If you need something specific, I would be glad to help. You might also ask librarians if I’m not around. I'm sure that..."
Salem wandered away, eyes already rapidly scanning the shelves, and Nathan cut himself off. Salem heard him chuckle, then leave.
The library was genuinely vast: it seemed a compilation of all the books imaginable. Books of science, history, geography, politics, art, thrills, fantasy, horror, speculation, love.
Salem padded through what seemed to her like innumerable shelves of books. It did not take her long to happen across Mark, who was waiting for her in the centre of the library. There was a collection of armchairs and a table strewn with newspapers, magazines and some books, even a hot drinks machine that resembled the one from...
Salem clawed her palms. The shards of memory pricking her brain worried her.
There were more morphs, too. An avian, with silvery feathers and wearing a sleeveless jacket like the morph Salem had seen at breakfast. However, this bird smelled bitterly metallic. Another avian, green-plumed and wreathed in white and red cloth, was perched on the edge of a chair, clutching a book. It wore glasses, Salem noted. A handful of hybrids drifted between the shelves.
Salem sat down next to Mark and tapped him on the shoulder. He started, then calmed and turned to face her, crossing his legs.
"Hey. I was wondering when you were going to show up," he said, breezily.
"I was wondering what you wanted that was so important," Salem replied.
Mark smiled warmly and produced a small leather-bound notebook from his pocket, holding it out to her. Salem took it in both paws, not trusting her new fingers to hold it securely. The cover was smooth and the pages soft and clean.
"You bought this for me?" she asked, sceptically.
The human chuckled nervously, scratching the back of his neck. "Well, I put in a request for one anyway, but it wasn't essential. A 'just in case' thing. Then, I decided you might need it more. I thought you might like it, it says in your dossier that you have had prior linguistic study... maybe you could use it to help put your memories together? I've read amnesiacs find that helpful..."
"I like it," she said, cutting straight across him. She flicked through the thin pages and purred appreciatively. "I will need a pencil, too. Do you have one?"
Mark nodded and fumbled for one. She took it and pocketed it with the notebook, tail high with satisfaction.
"Thank you, Mark. Why'd you ask me to come to the library, though?"
He grinned. "Well, you put in a request for a library card before you were morphed. All morphs can use the library, but you need a card to take books out. I have it here; I just authorised it for you. As well as that, I also thought you might want a copy of your dossier; your contract allows you one. Finally, I have some books I thought you might like..."
The books did look useful. They covered several topics, from pokémon battle theory, to sociology, to politics. She had only a vague understanding of most, and some she had never heard of, although her master’s tendency to enthuse about his academia to her had given her at least a basic grounding in most of it. Mark had done well, she thought.
As for the dossier, that could contain enlightening – or concerning – knowledge about her past, feline self. Judging from the one thing Mark claimed she’d said before the Change, she couldn’t help feeling it would be easier to forget.
“Was there anything else?” she asked, expectantly, her mind still preoccupied with her returning memory and the unnerving thoughts that came with it.
Mark shook his head. “Nope. Aheh. Here’s your card…”
She took it with a gracious bow of the head, and put it with her notebook. Mark waved at her and walked away, looking ever so slightly forlorn. Salem contentedly took a seat, and started studying the blurbs of the books she’d been given.
‘To be a Master: Pokémon Battling Strategy for your First Badge and Onwards,’ ‘A Breeder’s Guide to Interspecies Communication and Relations,’ ‘Kanto Culture and Government, from Feudal to Federal…’
She hadn’t read written human language in a long time, but she hadn’t forgotten how. It wasn’t even particularly hard… but she found to her chagrin that she still mouthed the words as she read. Mercifully, she didn’t need to read aloud.
“You are an interesting one, my friend,” Salem heard the silvery morph utter. A high voice, cool and calm. Salem guessed it was female.
“That was quite amusing, the way you brushed off that human,” the bird said. She gave an avian trill, which Salem guessed was her way of laughing. “You should try being nicer to him, perhaps. He seemed to like you. He probably felt ignored, you know.”
Salem looked her way, met her eyes gazing back boldly and looked away again after a few moments. The bird’s eyes were amber, warm but intense. Although her face was of course altered, the beak remained prominent. Hair akin to a human’s, though silvery like her feathers, fell around her face. The sheen of her feathers implied they really were metallic, like knives covering her body.
“It’s a shame to see one as intelligent as you be so shy,” she commented. “And yet, you were far from shy with the human. I wonder why that was?”
“Nice to know,” Salem murmured in reply. The bird’s expectant gaze begged a further response, and she relented after a minute. “The human is like a kitten. I do not feel intimidated by him, just vaguely annoyed, but tolerant.”
“A sensible attitude,” the avian mused. “Slightly too cautious, maybe? You are eloquent enough; I doubt you need guard your words as carefully as you do.”
Salem allowed herself a small smile, no more.
“If you’re not feeling too prickly, I’d love to make your acquaintance,” the creature continued, its voice soft and clear. “I am Verity, a former skarmory. And you?”
Salem was silent for a few moments, not meeting Verity’s gaze, merely watching her.
The skarmory was slender to the point of being underweight, her body sharply angular. Relatively wide hips suggested she was indeed female. She did not have Dusk’s athletic build, but she was wiry, tense, and seemed no less lethal. Verity wore a dark, tattered jacket – too old and worn to be Syndicate-issue – and a rather newer pair of khakis much like Salem’s, in gunmetal grey. She wore her jacket open, but her torso was not bare; her chest was covered by tightly bound bandages.
“I am Salem, a meowth,” the feline cautiously replied, at last. “It is good to meet another member of the squad.”
Verity’s beaked face seemed to smile. She held up her own book (‘Mysteries of the Mind: A Study of Pokémon Psychology’) in the same delicate, apprehensive grip Salem used. Her small hands, with long and slender fingers, seemed almost frail. The illusion of delicacy ended at the wrist; gleaming feathers jutted from her arms, sharp as knives and the colour of blood.
“Take it from me, Salem,” Verity began, “you’ll find life a lot easier if you reach out to the right people. That human is your counsellor, yes? If you ever need aid, he’s the one you’ll want to talk to, so it would be a waste to brush him off when he’s trying so hard to make friends.”
The feline nodded, tilting her head politely.
“What I’m trying to explain,” Verity persisted, “is that you should try and talk to people. If you’re always as silent as this, they’ll give up trying to be friendly.”
“…okay?” Salem said, unsure.
Verity smiled warmly. “Don’t feel like you need to make speeches just yet. Small talk might be a start. I’ve not heard about you from the team yet; why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?”
Salem’s tail waved apprehensively. “I’m not sure there’s much to tell. From what I remember, I was a pet for most of my life, then a stray for several seasons. Not very interesting, I think, and the details are still foggy.”
Verity nodded interestedly. “I wouldn’t have thought you were a trainer’s pokémon, but I hadn’t guessed you were a pet, either. You don’t have the naivety of most ex-domestic morphs. That alone is fairly interesting!”
Salem flicked her tail noncommittally. “I’ll let you know if I remember anything much of my probably dull life. …how about you?”
Verity shrugged expansively. “Wild most of my life, had a trainer for a dozen seasons, wild again for not long at all, and finally this. I’m sure my training was pretty typical, and I’m betting anyone who could read before being morphed – as you obviously could – has read about training.”
Salem nodded. “I certainly have. How could you not? I always wanted to know what it’d be like… Not that I ever had the chance to find out, in the end.”
“Was your master not the training sort? Too young? Or just nervous?”
Salem shook her head. “Definitely the training sort. There was some other reason we never went on a journey… It doesn’t matter.” She grimaced. “I’m not so sure I’m prepared to talk about it, especially when I remember so little.”
Verity looked pensive. “Perfectly rational. It took me a few days to trust anyone after I came out of the tank.”
Salem glanced at Verity’s hands, then her own. “It must be normal to feel vulnerable, after awakening in a new and unfamiliar body, thinking with a strange and alien mind…”
Verity gave her a odd look, then held up an approving finger. “Very perceptive of you. I dare say you’re right.” Salem smiled at that. Verity returned it. "Salem, I wonder, have you met the other team members yet?"
Salem paused. "I met Nathan and Dusk today, but only very briefly."
"Nathan's worth reaching out to," asserted Verity. "Dusk, I'm not so sure of. I get the impression that she's a vicious sort of character, that she is neither empathic nor respectful."
Salem touched the wound on her arm unconsciously, and Verity raised a brow. "That was her, was it? How reprehensible of her to start a fight with a morph less than a day out of the tank, with not a tenth of her own combat experience. I'm sure she finds pleasure in defeating inexpert foes."
Salem said nothing, recalling that Dusk had given her a similar warning about Verity. She'd thought Dusk friendly, albeit boisterous – but Verity was showing her a respect that the other two morphs she'd met hadn't. Verity's warning seemed to apply to Dusk more than Dusk's applied to Verity.
Verity gestured vaguely with a slender hand. "Your idea about feelings of vulnerability may explain her behaviour, though. Dusk might be scared of the changes to herself. She could be trying to reassert her competence in combat by 'training' less experienced fighters, in order to feel she's still her old self. What she needs is emotional security."
Salem nodded, still thinking. She hadn’t noticed any insecurity in Dusk, but she had not known the sneasel as long as Verity. "Are you trying to suggest I should fix that?" she asked.
"You said it, not me," Verity answered with an amused trill.
"I'll think about it."
Verity stood, slowly. "It's been a pleasure, Salem," she said, offering her hand.
Salem stood and took it, gingerly. It was surprisingly warm. They shook.
"Hey, Salem? You in there?" came a call from the library entrance. Verity put a hand to her temple and sighed.
"I'm here, Dusk," replied Salem, somewhat less loudly. Dusk immediately darted through, wearing a huge grin on her face that vanished when she saw the skarmory.
"Damn it, Verity, are you giving the rookie a hard time?" the sneasel demanded.
Verity looked to Salem. Feeling compelled to reply, she turned to face Dusk. "No, she is not. We are having a pleasant conversation, in fact."
Dusk frowned. "Doubt it."
"Really, my dear sneasel," said Verity, in perfect, unbroken human tongue, "must you assume everything I do has an ulterior motive, or that I am intrinsically malevolent?"
The sneasel's eye twitched in contempt. "I won't play this game with you," she shot back with considerable fluency. "I don't need to know what 'malevolent' means to see you're a slippery bitch."
"Come now, Dusk, let's not resort to vulgarity."
The sneasel spat something in a dialect Salem did not recognise, but sounded highly obscene.
"Well, Dusk, if you're unprepared to make even the smallest concession to civility, so be it," said Verity, mildly. “I don’t need to waste my time trying to make a rational mind of you.”
Dusk turned to Salem. "We should leave," she stated.
Verity shook her head, sadly, and walked away. Salem blinked uncertainly, gathering together her books and dossier.
"Actually, Dusk, Verity was not giving me a hard time at all. I don't understand why you were so hostile to her."
Dusk scowled. "I can't stand her. I don't want to talk about it."
Salem shrugged, her tail drooping.
Dusk took a breath, and the frustration fell away from her. "I noticed your arm was gashed much worse than I intended it to be. Sorry about that; I’ll be more careful in the future. I have a potion for you, actually. Hold your arm out."
The sneasel drew a small pink bottle from her pocket, and sprayed it liberally over the worst of Salem's wounds. It stung, but only briefly, and they began to heal almost before her eyes.
"Morphs heal fast," Dusk commented. "However, you’ll need one of these for the serious stuff."
Salem accepted the bottle graciously, with thanks.
"Now," announced Dusk, with a toothy grin, "in lieu of dear Pyre, who seems to have gone absent without leave, I'd like to introduce you to the sixth member of the team!"
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
This is very good, an excellent beginning especially that got me reading and didn't let me go.
First off, your writing skills (mainly word usage and ability to have flow and grace) are apparent and this makes your story very easy and enjoyable. The element of mystery and emotion at the beginning is awesome. Just in general, the introduction of Salem as a character and her awakening is epic.
The level of description you provide is very nice as well.
Anyways, keep this up. You are clearly a very talented writer and I'm anxious to see where you go with this!
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
Well, as Legacy said your description is just great. And especially in the beginning.
I really like your writing style, and the concept is new -at least to me- and I think the characters are great, though I've only read the first chapter. But I think I'll continue reading as long as the writing stays consistent.
Just a small note, if you could add a chapter title to chapter 3, it isn't neat to start the chapter like that... then again that's just my opinion.
I very excited to see what happens!
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
I just wanted to pop in and say something about this line:
Depending on whom you ask, any anthropomorphic and transhuman characters will fall into the "furry fandom", at least if the author uses such an anthropomorphic character as a personal avatar.
The fic may contain anthropomorphic characters and transhuman concepts but it is not at all part of 'furry fandom'.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
I meant to get to this last night, but I got caught up finished the latest chapter of my own fic. I'm kinda sorry it took me that long - this is really great!
The first chapter hooked me in nearly immediately. I was instantly curious as to what was going on, and you blended the exposition well with the events going on. Despite the fact that the chapter was essentially an extended tour of the facility, it flowed quite well, and the hints about Salem's past were tantalizing, to say the least. I had a lot of fun guessing what other pokemon Salem encountered during the next chapters - particularly going off the eyes in your banner at the bottom. I didn't do very well, but I did notice something odd. Dusk specifically mentions a team from Hoenn and Sinnoh, and all of the species of Salem's team are native to Johto - except Salem, and possibly the sixth team member. I don't know if you were going for any sort of theme there (nor could I figure out what the species of the other avian morph sitting with Verity in the library was - I don't recall any green bird pokemon off the top of my head), but I'm quite interested in exactly where you're going with this. The fact that these morphs, ostensibly being created "For SCIENCE!", are being trained in combat, and will be walking in parades with ceremonial gear is something I find very suspicious. Of course, I've found that nearly anything with the word "syndicate" in it is rarely something trustworthy, so ulterior motives aren't outside the realm of possibility.
Can't wait to read more! I'm really impressed that you've only been here a couple days and you've already managed to post so much of such a great story. :-)
Re: uA's "Different Eyes"
My goodness, this stream of praise is the most significant boost to my dwindling ego of recent months. Thank you very much for your kind words. I'd hesitate to believe the introduction is genuinely 'epic' but I am extremely flattered you think so~ I'll take note of my 'strengths' that I may exploit them in future.
Originally Posted by Legacy
I'll be sure to make that edit you suggested, no worries. Thank you very much for your generous compliments. I hope you continue to enjoy the fic!
Originally Posted by SaFE
You flatter me too much! I'm very pleased to hear you enjoyed the fic so far, and relieved that the introduction is so effective, although you are mistaken in your belief I posted this in the last few days. Look more careful at the datestamp on my posts and my join date, hehe.
Originally Posted by Feliciano
Regarding your speculation: The two foreign teams are the only Hoenn/Sinnoh morphs for the time being. Other teams are Johto/Kanto mixes. The green bird is a xatu. The Syndicate is not malevolent, and there are esoteric reasons for the morphs' existence I hesitate to reveal so early on! Keep on guessing, though~
Thank you for your reviews, everyone. New chapter within the next few weeks.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes" (Chapters: 3)
First of all, I'd like to say that this is really, really good.
I've never read a furry fic. so it's hard for me to imagine how the characters would look like but I'll do my best. As others have already noted and it's something I have to agree with - your writing is impeccable and I truly wish I had such a great amount of words in my less developed vocabulary. The descriptions are amazing, fluid and everything flows right into each other. Salem, in fact, is an intriguing character herself. I'm assuming she ran away from her trainer or maybe she was released (judging by the broken Poké Ball) but I'll leave that to speculation. You also have a talent for characterization though Nathan and Verity seem awfully intelligent, it's kinda baffling, haha.
But the true question here is - what is this facility for? Why does it even exist? Why are they creating Pokémorphs for in the first place? I'm certain all these questions will be answered eventually, though it's always fun to speculate.
There's nothing else I can say that others didn't say, really.
You're a talented writer. Keep it up!
Re: uA's "Different Eyes" (Chapters: 3)
Salutations, broski! Check it out, I’m now stalking you on the forums :::;D
I’m still going to be reviewing you over at FF.N rather than here, but I had a moment of Fridge Horror today and I’m mentioning it in public rather than on Skype because I want everybody else to experience the same moment of what wait no that I just did. And also because I'm hoping it might provoke debate.
So anyway, presumably all pokemon in this world are intelligent, or at least enough so to be capable of understanding the concept of a ‘morph’ and consenting to the procedure. So... if you eat any kind of meat, you have just murdered a sapient creature.
I guess all the humans could be vegetarian (I’ve never before been so happy that I don’t live in the pokeverse), but then we’ve got carnivorous pokemon running around...
And, given that pokespeech seems universal between species (remind me, I want to babble to you about pokespeech and how does it work? and I guess there must be a lot of emphasis on things like pitch and intonation over the sounds themselves because most pokemon are dealing with a very limited selection of sounds they can make and also the whole inter-species communication part and also does this mean that humans might be able to learn it if they pay attention and also does this influence the way the pokemorphs learn human language because I imagine it would be extremely disorientating for a pokemon to suddenly be dealing with a language where CHAIR always means a thing you sit on no matter what pitch/whatever you use and... yes right I was talking about people eating people.)
Anyway, inordinately long parenthetical aside, this means we’re dealing with a world where all ‘animals’ are intelligent and predators can communicate with their prey and the prey can request not to be eaten. This is going to make the interactions of the carnivorous pokemon extremely interesting: for instance, what would stop them from just ripping another pokemon apart if it annoyed them/looked like it would taste delicious/other random reason? The very fact that they have to murder sapient beings just to stay alive is going to mean that their sense of ethics and morals and empathy aren’t going to be anything which will readily make sense to humans (who generally have a ‘killing people is bad’ mentality and there are humans who will object to the killing of chickens and everybody knows that chickens are dumber than a bag of rocks so in this world I really can’t see the human norm as being anything other than vegetarianism).
Of course you could just say ‘not all pokemon are sapient, some are just dumb animals and eating them is fine’, but that’s the boring option.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes" (Chapters: 3)
Thank you very much, it's helpful to have notable aspects brought to my attention. I'll endeavour to give more detailed description of some morphs, and tone down Nahan/Verity and their intellects, perhaps. As for Salem's pokéball, as the dream implies, was deliberately broken by her. The other questions will be addressed within the next couple of chapters. Your compliments flatter me, thanks again!
Originally Posted by Tsutarja
Good to see you stalking me, Rosie. *brofist*
Originally Posted by R0-S3
Not all pokémon ARE intelligent; the majority of fish and bugs are either nonsapient or barely so. On the other end of the spectrum, some species such as gardevoir have people campaigning for them to be treated as human citizens with full rights. Of course, there are predators that kill sapient pokémon, that is unavoidable. They don't really mind, it's a "circle of life" type circumstance; you die when you die and it's a thing that happens and it's overall good and you probably won't plead for your life. This does lead to many morphs being some kind of mental disordered by human standards, though. For example - the predatory morphs are basically unbothered by deaths in combat and appear sociopathic to human characters.
Your ideas on language are good. I am in fact going with the intonation theory for the time being, though I'm sure paralinguistics are an enormous part of their communication. Pokémon in DE are also extremely good at learning new languages, which is why different species can communicate and why wild pokémon understand trainers, etc. You're right in that experienced humans who work with pokémon can in fact understand pokéspeech somewhat. It's all rather nebulous for the time being, though.
Thanks for the interesting post, either way~
Re: uA's "Different Eyes" (Chapters: 3)
“So… is this one Haze?” Salem asked.
The white-coated scientist escorting the two morphs nodded. “Yes, he is,” she said. “I’m able to answer questions, which you will doubtless have.”
Dusk smiled evenly. “When will he be morphed completely?”
“He won’t be much longer, I assure you,” said the human, “no more than a day or two. He’ll be recovered, more or less, inside of seventy-two hours. See his paws? He is almost completely through the procedure, which is a good sign. Admittedly he’s taken a little longer than most, but that’s not surprising.”
Dusk tilted her head by way of asking for elaboration.
“Oh, he was a scrawny little thing when we found him,” the human explained with a sigh. “Poor little one probably hadn’t eaten in days.”
Salem stared through half-lidded eyes at the unconscious form of the young eevee, floating weightlessly in his tank. His muzzle was obscured by a mask, gifting him air. Many smaller tubes were attached to his body, the purpose of which she could not guess. His paws and ears twitched occasionally.
“How does it work?” Salem demanded, suddenly, cutting through the idle discussion of stray pokémon that the other two had been having.
“How does the Change work? What does it do; how does it do it?” she asked.
The scientist raised an eyebrow at Salem’s sudden interjection. “Certainly. In the simplest terms, it’s evolution. Every pokémon has the power to evolve. They can do this as many times as they need to, which is why it can be halted mid-way through and delayed. That’s why the Change doesn’t prevent further evolution. We just provide the patient with the genetic input to ‘evolve’ into the hybrid form. The details are difficult to explain in simple terms.”
Salem took a moment to consider this, and then flicked an ear. "Why are they in tanks? Tell me about the fluid and the wires,” she insisted.
“Morphs going through the Change have no bodily control, so if we laid them on a bed they'd fall off it," the human explained. "We could strap them down, but they could strain unconsciously and bruise themselves - or they could simply outgrow the bindings as their bodies developed. There's also the issue of bedsores to consider, from lying still for so long. So the fluid is there to protect them - and it also makes it easier to monitor them with the wires."
Salem nodded, satisfied, and looked back to Haze. He breathed shallowly, his fur drifting in the liquid with each movement. He was still not fully grown, but Salem could tell he would never be tall. Judging by his proportions, he was likely to be several inches shorter than her, which she found amusing. He was thin to the point of being underweight, though his long, russet fur would probably hide it when dry.
“You should have a pokémorph present when recently Changed morphs wake up,” said Salem.
“That’s an idea we’ve had suggested to us a few times now,” replied the human. “We’ve considered it, but we’re working on improving the process until a debriefing is not even necessary. The bouts of temporary amnesia are already a thing of the past and we hope that in time, the morphs will not even need to be unconscious.”
Salem shook her head. “No, it would still be helpful. To know that you are not the first to make this change, to see another who is not so different from you.”
The scientist shrugged. “I can’t make it standard procedure, but there’s nothing stopping counsellors taking others into the wakening room.”
Salem’s tail flicked. “I would like to be with Haze when he wakes up.”
“Ooh, Salem’s crushing on the cute eevee boy,” teased Dusk, slipping back into pokéspeak and making heart shapes with her claws. “Isn’t young love just adorable?”
Salem didn’t bother objecting.
“Have you seen enough yet, Salem?” asked Dusk, in human tongue this time, folding her arms. She looked to the human, but she wasn’t paying attention.
Salem twitched an ear to say no, and continued to look around at the tanks containing creatures of varying progression into morph-hood. The hint of memory dampened her mind. i need to breathe Her claws pricked her palms, and she inhaled deeply.
It wasn’t long before more visitors entered the room. Dusk rolled her eyes and tapped her foot impatiently. Salem ignored her and the newcomers completely.
The first was Nathan. Salem had yet to see the second, but she could guess who he was. His blue and cream colourations, and his spiked stare, were enough to suspect he was the Pyre who Nathan had mentioned to her earlier. She nodded briefly to him, and he nodded back in mute acknowledgment.
Dusk, as ever, was rather more vocal, this time in pokéspeak. “Hey Pyre,” she called. “It’s so good to see our local psychopath outside of an arena. I can’t believe you’re here to check up on little Haze. Or are you just curious about the species of your next meal?”
Pyre glared at the sneasel, fiercely. “The reason you only seem to see me angry is because you are particularly obnoxious,” he retorted.
“It comes naturally,” said the sneasel, with a fanged sneer.
Pyre scowled, staring into Dusk’s deep green eyes. Nathan put a warning hand on his shoulder, but he brushed it off. “Dusk, has it ever occurred to you that people don’t like you because you are infinitely infuriating?” he replied, his voice taut with contempt.
Dusk stared back evenly at him. “Only to those who deserve it, sweetheart.”
Pyre made to spit a retort but Nathan stepped forward between the two of them. “Don’t make me play peacemaker,” he warned. “Please. We don’t need admin on our tails before the team is even fully together.”
Dusk smirked toothily at the quilava, who simmered gently. Watching from the background, Salem continued to claw her palms. Nathan calmly walked past the sneasel, brushing her effortlessly aside, and Pyre followed suite, not deigning to look her way.
“Contrary to what you might believe,” said Pyre, more loudly. “I’m not heartless. I’m not actually sure why you choose to make me out as the unbalanced team member, Dusk, given Verity’s razor soul and your own grating personality. Neither you, nor that sociopathic sadist are exactly the best of company.”
Salem fidgeted uncomfortably at Pyre’s description of the skarmory.
Dusk folded her arms. “No, I’m sure you’ll be like a father to our sixth member. I’ll find it really touching, sure enough.”
Pyre smiled to himself, and Dusk, disappointed with the lack of response, made to leave. “Come with me, Salem,” she said. “Time to go eat.”
Nathan looked to the meowth, raising a brow. She decided not to follow. Dusk made no sign of noticing.
Pyre took a breath, composing himself before speaking. “Salem,” he said. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Nathan tells me you’ve impressed him, which probably means you’ve flown to the moon or some such impossible thing.” He grinned, offering his hand.
Salem actually smiled at that, and shook the quilava’s hand. Realising a response was expected of her, she clawed her free palm. “...hello, Pyre. I’ve done nothing so impressive, I’m afraid. I just... told him what I could see, I suppose.”
“That, and she knew more about me after two minutes than my counsellor does after two weeks,” commented Nathan sardonically.
Pyre nodded. “Feel like trying me, too? I’m honestly curious, now.”
Salem nodded vaguely, her anxiety fading as she began to think, actually think about the quilava. Her eyes darted across his figure, and her claws left her palms. The way he stood gave an impression of uneasiness - not discomfort, but the ability to suddenly tense, ready for action. His left ear was split right down to the base, but he had no other major scars. His uniform was made of a different material to the others', something with a strange sheen to it...
She took a deep breath.
"You're a fighter, a good one. You were either wild, or belonged to a trainer who couldn't - or wouldn't - get you proper medical care. Your uniform is fireproof, that implies you can't control your fire, which implies you've got a quick temper. You're from Johto originally but you've travelled far, you change and adapt to situations.”
She paused, looking to him for approval. He nodded for her to continue.
“You don’t show enough emotion when I talk, which means you’re hiding a lot of it. Could be trauma, could be chronic issue. Honest, but always thinking more than saying. Angry at Dusk, even though you dislike Verity more. Probably due to personal feelings, most likely-”
“You can stop now,” interrupted Pyre, tersely.
Salem smiled nervously. “Nathan interrupted, too. Sorry, I don’t know what you’ll not want me to say.”
Nathan shook his head. “Warned you,” he said, chuckling.
Salem tilted her head at Pyre and blinked. “You want to be the leader, don’t you?” she asked. “So do Dusk and Verity.”
Pyre nodded, gravely. “That I do. I was leader for a short while once in the wild and travelled far to escape my failure when it went wrong, so I’m not exactly enthusiastic. However, Dusk is immature and Verity lacks compassion, so I feel I’m the best option there is. Or at least, that’s what Nathan insists on.”
“I appreciate the honesty,” Salem replied, smiling again. Her eyes flicked briefly to see Nathan smiling at Pyre. “I am sure Nathan is right in his judgment of your character.”
“Of course! I always am,” said Nathan, his ear flipping back to indicate that he was joking. “We should get going, though, I’m certainly hungry.”
Pyre nodded assent, but walked up to the glass that encased Haze, first. He gently tapped the tank, and smiled to himself when the growing morph inside twitched slightly. Satisfied, he followed Nathan and Salem out. The human scientist, having watched this discussion uncomprehendingly, just laughed to herself.
Salem caught a brief glance from Dusk as she entered the mess hall. She thought it was a look of disappointment more than anything, but Dusk ignored her for the duration of the meal, though she kept looking back at the sneasel hybrid.
Salem said little as she ate. Her finneon was easily the finest food she’d had in recent memory, if not ever, but she felt too awkward to really enjoy it. Pyre gnawed on the ribs of a tauros, picking every scrap of meat he could. Nathan was less enthusiastic, helping himself to a small plate of salad. After listening to cordial conversation between the two males for some time, she finally ventured a comment of her own when a pause presented itself.
“I would have thought they’d give us pokémon food,” she said. “It would certainly be easier for them.”
Nathan smiled drily, but Pyre actually laughed. The quilava responded first. “True enough, but I don’t think they’d get away with it for long,” he said. “Not many would accept being treated that way, I think. If one of the hall staff offered me the same sort of garbage they feed their pets, I’d shove it in their damn face!”
Salem smiled at the mental image. She didn’t doubt his sincerity.
“I think someone did, actually,” commented Nathan, his mouth twitching upwards the tiniest bit.
“Really? Who would that be?” asked Pyre, licking his fingers.
“The zangoose – the pale-pelted aggressive morph from the Hoenn team,” said Nathan, still holding his tiny grin.
Pyre snorted. “Seriously?”
The ampharos nodded, sitting back. “Yeah. They wouldn’t have been so volatile, but the human server gave them herbivore feed. Zangoose are predators.”
Pyre snickered to himself. “Well, at least they admit their mistakes and try harder. If that takes a few amusing incidents with the Hoennese morphs, that’s fine by me.”
“Mistakes?” asked Salem, inquisitively.
Pyre shrugged expansively. “Sure. There’s typical stuff, like faulty air conditioning, that’s just normal for humans. Then there’s idiocy, stuff that comes from misunderstanding morphs. Used to be that all the doors in this place swung shut so fast they trapped the tails of most morphs. They fixed that one quick!”
Nathan nodded in agreement. “It was I who got them to replace the old plastic chairs with backless metal stools. Since then, they’ve taken the initiative, and done more things on their own. Nobody asked them to offer a saltwater swimming pool for the oceanic morphs, they thought of that themselves.”
“How sweet of them,” said Salem, drily, getting another laugh out of Pyre.
“So, you must have been here for some time,” the meowth commented, more confident.
Pyre nodded, but Nathan answered. “I think I was first, I’ve been awake for three weeks now. I was advised to study, or to practice combat, or to socialise with teams that have started training. They apologised for not having the entire team ready at once but I don’t mind much.”
“Hard to be bored here,” Pyre added. “Nathan reads a lot of books; I watch a lot of movies. That, and give out beatings in the arena.”
“Why wouldn’t you read?” asked Salem.
Pyre looked incredulously at her. “You’re human-raised, probably a pet, right? You had the chance to learn. I never saw a human, let alone a book in the first half my life. I can’t read.”
Nathan shook his head. “It’s not even that. Not many domestics learn to read. They don’t care to. You should remember that you, I and Verity are quite unusual. But then, morphed pokémon usually are.”
Salem nodded, her ears drooping slightly. “I suppose so. I can tell that both of you have problems, and I’m guessing I did, too.”
Pyre snickered childishly and Nathan made a face at the comment. “I suppose that ‘problems’ is one way of putting it,” the ampharos said, coolly.
“Damn problems,” said Pyre. “I’m done here. I feel like fighting, Nathan, if you do. Would you like to watch, Salem?”
Salem nodded, hesitantly. She thought to herself that any opportunity to observe the abilities of her team members would be useful. And it was a good excuse to avoid talking to Dusk a while longer.
As the three morphs left, Salem caught the sneasel looking at her.
The two combatants stood at opposite ends of the arena. Salem, hoisting herself up onto the railing to get an unobstructed view, saw that neither had anything like the stance Dusk had shown her. She guessed the match was going to feature ranged combat with fire and lightning, rather than the rapid melee she’d had with Dusk.
When Pyre’s shoulders and hands burst into flame, she started, nearly losing her balance. She couldn’t help glancing about to ensure no one had noticed the momentary loss of poise.
Salem was surprised to see Nathan make the first aggressive move, firing a bolt of energy towards the quilava. Pyre dodged, replying with several short bursts of flame from his hands. This staccato exchange continued, increasing in rapidity, for a minute or two.
Transfixed by the flames and electricity, engrossed in considering the way Pyre steadily drew nearer to his sparring partner, Salem failed to notice Dusk behind her until she said “good match, don’t you think?”
She nearly fell off the rail, but the sneasel grabbed her waist to steady her.
“Sorry, Salem!” she said, with genuine shock. “I assumed you would know I was here.”
Salem gave her an indignant look on reflex, but turned it into a yawn when she saw Dusk’s anxious face. “It’s fine. I guess my hearing isn’t so good.”
“Well, you probably would have landed safely anyway, a cat like you,” Dusk reassured her, breezily. Salem silently thanked Dusk for not dwelling on her hearing.
“I wouldn’t know if it was a good fight,” Salem said. “I’ve not seen many. None more serious than petty brawls over scraps in an alley.”
Dusk shrugged. “I have. This one interests me because they’re obviously both very experienced fighters, ranged ones too, but they have very different styles.”
Dusk looked to Salem. She nodded, encouraging the sneasel to continue.
“Well, Nathan’s style is classic league-level Kanto. It’s the traditional, time-tested approach that nearly every veteran human-trained pokémon uses on televised battles. You see the way that each attack is very well regulated? The timing is very standard, very precise.”
She paused. “Pyre is more unusual. It’s a wild pokémon’s uncontained aggression, very dynamic. Less well honed, perhaps, but adaptable. You can tell he’s from Johto, too, because of the way he moves about. Kanto pokémon focus on dodging, if anything, but he’s getting in close to throw Nathan off. It’s less about strength or technique, more tactical.”
“Thank you, Dusk. Your great knowledge is very helpful,” said Salem.
Dusk’s whiskers twitched in what Salem thought was embarrassment, but she pretended not to have heard.
“If Pyre gets in close enough, he can use short range flamethrowers that Nathan will be hard pressed to dodge. All Nathan’s attacks that I’ve seen have been long range ones, unwieldy up close. They duel very often and it’s usually very close, so I’m sure Nathan has a way to deal with that.”
Salem nodded, returning her attention to the battle, which was now a flurry of blazing attacks being exchanged at fairly close range. To evade the ever-wider reaching crackles of energy that Nathan was directing at him, Pyre was running, rolling and feinting, all while firing off a continual hail of fire. Nathan remained more or less stationary, save for dodging the fireballs.
Dusk grinned. “Watch this,” she said.
Nathan, seeing Pyre dash in close, darted forward with surprising speed to grip the fire type’s arm and electrocute him. Pyre, utterly paralysed, went into a momentary spasm, and then collapsed. He raised an arm to concede, and Nathan helped him to his feet. Pyre laughed, but Salem couldn’t make out their conversation.
Dusk nodded in satisfaction. “Nathan came up with that himself. You almost never see pokémon innovating, and trainers are rarely really able to see what their charges are capable of. Morphs, however, are in the best position to invent new techniques.”
Salem nodded, mutely, amazed at the effortless agility of Pyre and the sudden ferocity of Nathan. She found herself unable to picture a future Salem, as skilled and violent as them.
“Just wait until you evolve, kitten,” said Dusk, as if she knew what Salem was thinking.
“I expect you’re feeling pretty torn about all your teammates apparently hating each other,” said Dusk, indifferently. Salem shrugged in response. It was true. She wondered how Dusk could read her so easily, especially when they were walking side-by-side back to the lounge. Dusk wasn’t even looking at her!
“If it’s any help, Nathan gets along with just about everyone. There’s no reason you can’t, too.” Dusk laughed, uneasily. “Anyway, it’s not my right to stop you being friends with Pyre just because I think he’s a brute.”
“If there’s one thing Pyre and I agree on, it’s that Verity is poison,” Dusk spat. “I’m just warning you that if you choose to get close to her, you will get hurt, and it’ll be your own fault. If you make nice with Pyre I’ll be annoyed, but Verity? I’d be worried about you.”
“Good!” Dusk rubbed her temple. “Sorry for being a bitch, though. Must be awkward for you. I’ll try not to do that in the future.”
They reached the door to the lounge and Dusk opened it. Salem’s first thought was to nuzzle her friend, but she wasn’t sure if sneasel did that or not. She decided to play at being human.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I wasn’t angry, anyway... I forgive you, if you want that.”
Dusk’s ear flicked in acknowledgement. “Okay, then. I think I’ll grab a drink from the bar, hang out with the Hoennese; you can do what you like.”
The sneasel quietly stole away, and Salem was left standing alone.
Re: uA's "Different Eyes" (May 08: Ch4)
Suddenly, Dusk doesn't seem all that bad of a character. So, now we have Verity, Salem, Nathan, Pyro, Dusk and Haze, who has yet to be fully recovered. I'm still wondering where the plot is, though. Perhaps it's there but I can't see it? I don't know. Your writing is still great as always and those were some nice interaction between the teammates, looking forward to seeing whether Haze will change that dynamic.
I also find it odd how Pyre and Dusk both agree on Verity being harsh, since they can't stand each other, there must be some truth in their statements. Besides, where's smoke there's fire.
Good chapter, keep up with good work!
Re: uA's "Different Eyes" (May 08: Ch4)
As much of a bitch as Dusk is, it was never my intent for her to be a 'bad character'. That's a little concerning. Has she been unlikeable up until now?
Originally Posted by Tsutarja
Since the fic is mostly character/idea driven, plot is not a high priority. It's there, though. I've chosen to set up reasonably slowly, though. I'm glad the interactions have merit, anyway~
Originally Posted by Tsutarja
The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.
Originally Posted by Tsutarja
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Good review, keep it up~ ;P
Originally Posted by Tsutarja