Warning: May contain disturbing imagery
“We have a big order coming in from Kanto, Hoffman, and I’m counting on you to get it right this time! The last client was pissed because the hides were wrinkled as hell and the plumage was all bent. You need to be more careful; you’re not getting another chance. Pack this shipment wrong and you’re gonna be working in the Rainbow Factory.”
“O-okay Seth. I’ll get it this time, I sw-sw-swear!”
“Good. I know how much you hate the Factory…”
The larger man walked off, leaving Hoffman to sigh heavily. The mousy teen hated this job, but because of his young age and lack of an education, this had been the only thing he could find. Not only was he underage and undereducated, but he wasn’t much to look at, either. He was fourteen but looked like he was nine or ten; scrawny and barely four-foot-nine, he weighed maybe one-hundred pounds and had limbs like twigs. His dark blonde hair was tousled and mussed, and his bright amethyst eyes were magnified by ungainly black-rimmed glasses he cursed needing. His reed-like frame was easily swamped by an extra-large white tee-shirt and too-baggy black khakis, and his tiny feet were right at home in size-7 tan sneakers. His complexion was rather pale, despite the numerous hours he spent outdoors.
Shaking his head, Hoffman turned from the open doorway Seth had occupied moments ago, focusing on his “work”. He was sitting in a small room that was more like a large closet, consisting only of a long table and rickety stool that Hoffman had to sit on precariously for fear of it breaking. On the table were a mass of brightly-colored feathers, which he was carefully gluing to wooden fans to decorate them. His eyes lingered on small pile of large, magnificent rust-colored quills, his stomach clenching tightly. They had once graced the body of a regal Braviary, but they’d been brutally torn from its wings in what was referred to as the Rainbow Factory. Hoffman grimaced as his thoughts turned to depressing ruminations on earning his pay.
The Rainbow Factory was a boiler room under the old warehouse Hoffman and his “associates” worked out of. There were no actual boilers in the wide, dark room, just dozens of cages of all sizes. Almost all of them held one poor Pokemon or another, and empty ones were filled within hours. In the back of the boiler room where several tables, also of varying size, that had different kinds of restraints on them. Pokemon were strapped to these tables and their hides, pelts, coats, feathers, horns, claws, teeth, and organs harvested for profit. The Pokemon were always awake and aware; everyone thought it was too expensive to waste anesthetic on them or humanely euthanize them before they were thoughtlessly slaughtered. Sadly, most Pokemon were too broken by their time in the Factory to do much more than stare blankly until their life flowed out them and down the drains installed in the floor.
Hoffman shuddered as the memories of his first and so far only day of being in that wretched place came over him. He’d met Seth online while looking for work; his father had left his mother, who was disabled and only made a small amount of money through Social Security Income. Hoffman had been desperate to help out in any way he could, which was how he’d come to be here. At first he’d been told he’d be working with Pokemon, but no specifics were given. He’d met Seth at a nearby PokeCenter, and they’d gone straight to the warehouse where the goods were shipped from. When he’d been lead into the Rainbow Factory (so called thanks to the numerous multi-colored Pokemon regularly held captive), Hoffman hadn’t understood what was going on. Seth had needed to explain that this was a Pokemon mill, where real Pokemon “products” were obtained and shipped to people willing to pay the right amount of money. Hoffman had been horrified, but there had been no way for him to back out of the offer at that point. He’d seen too much, and on top of that, the pay was ridiculously good. For just a handful of hours of work every week, Hoffman got a good thousand Poke, compared to the measly five-hundred his mother got a month from the government.
“Thank Arceus I don’t have to work down there,” Hoffman muttered to himself, focusing on the feathers in front of him. “I just have to deal with the aftermath. Feathers, fur, packing…” Heaving another breath, the teen stood from his seat and walked to the doorway, whose door had been missing long before the young man had come here. He flicked off the switch and threw his workroom into darkness, stepping into a thin hallway painted in drab white, and a thin gray carpet muffled his steps as he walked. The packaging room was only a few doors down, and he entered it with a cringe. Unlike most other rooms in the warehouse, this one was brightly lit and full of tables, which were piled with various shipping materials. Normally this was simply things like boxes, tape, and the like, but today there were numerous things wrapped in plain brown paper on the biggest table in the room. The paper itself told Hoffman exactly what this shipment was, but even if he hadn’t been tipped off by that, the chill in the room would have probably given him an indication. The temperature in this room could be controlled separately from the rest of the warehouse, to make it easier to preserve the whole bodies clients sometimes requested.
Hoffman swallowed thickly, tasting bile at the back of his throat as the cold air, coupled with his nerves, caused his skin to raise in goose bumps and his fine hairs to stand on end. A shiver that had nothing to do with the chill hit him, nearly making him trip as he hesitantly approached the table, not wanting to know what was hidden under that paper but needing to check to make sure the shipment wasn’t damaged.
Why can’t someone else do the packing? Hoffman silently lamented. Why…why can’t I just work with the feathers and the fur and the claws and the teeth? Why do I have to work with the corpses? Hoffman drew to a halt when he reached the table. Most of the packages were small, the size of a rabbit, and on some of them were stains of dry brown blood. Looking around the bland, uninspiring room, Hoffman steeled himself and focused on what needed to be done.
There were fifteen packages altogether. Hoffman reached for the first and gingerly unwrapped it, flinching from the cold, stiff feel of the deceased creature within. When he revealed what it was he could only stare sadly, his eyes misting with tears. It was a Growlithe pup, probably not even two months old. Its fur was a pale orange, not yet deepened to the natural orange-red of a full-grown Growlithe, and it hadn’t grown its thick mane or tail yet. Its stripes were barely visible smudges on its arms and back, and its eyes were firmly clamped shut in death. Its front paws were close to its chest but its back legs were oddly positioned, stretched out with one resting right on the other. If laid on its side it would look like it was sleeping peacefully.
His heart sinking, Hoffman gently turned the little body this way and that, checking every detail. He hated it, hated handling the poor dead thing, hated having to examine it so closely, but this was better than working in the Rainbow Factory and having to actually be responsible for the deaths of the Pokemon they used. He had to make sure he didn’t screw this up or he’d be down there, becoming emotionally numb like the other people condemned to playing Reaper.
After a few minutes Hoffman rewrapped the body and set it down. The back legs had been put into that position on purpose, made clear by a short note on the back of the paper engulfing the pup. Everything else was in order with the corpse, so he moved on to the next. This was an Eevee, also a pup, it seemed. Its long ears were laid back and its russet fur was glossy, probably sprayed with something to give it extra sheen. The small ruff of cream-hued fur around its throat had the same unnatural shine to it, and its bushy tail was curled to the left. This one had been put into a sitting position with its head slightly tilted, its eyes replaced with brown marbles. The lids were half-closed, giving the Pokemon a look of contentment. Hoffman’s fingers lightly brushed the stiff, cool fur on its head, tears now running down his cheeks as he performed his inspection on the little fox.
The other packages contained the posed bodies of other canine Pokemon pups, including a full set of Eeveelution pups. It was heartbreaking to check the tiny bodies, but after the third or fourth one, his mind switched off and his body relied on auto-pilot to finish the gruesome task. The blood on the paper didn’t seem to come from any of the pups, and it wasn’t staining their fur either; Hoffman would later realize the blood was quite old and that the paper had at some point been used to wrap other things that had been…messier. Finally, though, he was done with checking them. Next was the packaging.
Grabbing a large box and folding it out from its broken-down state, the teen bent down to retrieve a large bucket from under the table. Inside was the pulverized innards of numerous Snorunt; their guts remained a steady negative-forty degrees for weeks after being stored, the process of smashing them releasing a large amount of natural coolant into the goo. It was clear and had no scent; to the uninformed, it could be mistaken for partially frozen, colorless Jell-O. Upon contact with solid objects, the Snorunt guts would solidify into ice, preserving the object for at least a week when left at room temperature. Stored cooler, it could keep things frozen for months on end, perfectly preserved and as fresh as it started out before the freezing.
Hoffman filled the box about a fourth of the way with foam packing peanuts taken from a metal bin next to the table, then donned a set of heavy gloves lying on the table before prying the lid of the bucket off. A blast of super-cold air puffed from the bucket, causing Hoffman’s glasses to fog heavily and making his breath condense into a thick cloud. After several minutes his glasses cleared enough for him to see, and he reached for a long-handled scoop that had been left on the table. He leaned over the bucket and inserted the scoop; even through the thick material of the glove, Hoffman’s hand chilled a few seconds after the scoop was frozen. Gritting his teeth, he withdrew the scoop and held it over the Growlithe pup, gently shaking the scoop and covering the body in an even layer of gooey Snorunt guts. Afterward he very carefully flipped the body, covering the other side. The paper was left on; it prevented the ice from directly touching the body and doing damage to it.
Hoffman performed the action on the next three bodies, then carefully arranged them on top of the packing peanuts. Another layer of peanuts went on top, and the next four bodies were treated. Twice more this was repeated, until the last three bodies were covered with a protective layer of peanuts. Hoffman paused for a moment, staring blankly at the squishy, off-white pieces, then shook his head and closed the box. He quickly taped it shut, putting on several layers to make sure it was secure. Then, with a bit of shifting and excessive caution, he flipped the box upside-down to tape the bottom closed. He mentally cursed for not having done it before; the nature of his shipment had left him shaken and he hadn’t thought about it.
After the macabre package was ready, Hoffman carefully flipped it right-side-up and put the lid back on the bucket, which was then put back under the table. The next task was to move it to the shipping area, where it would be weighed and labeled. There were shallow carts stored in the far corner of the wide, white-painted room, and Hoffman shambled over to retrieve one. It looked like a shopping cart, only it was just a few inches deep and about five feet wide. Length-wise it was about six feet, easily big enough to move the box holding the pups. It was a drab grayish tan color and made entirely of plastic, including the wheels it moved on.
Once the package was loaded onto the cart, Hoffman exited the chilly room and wheeled his way down the long hallway. It was eerily quiet in this part of the warehouse; most everyone else worked in the shipped area or down in the Rainbow Factory. Only three or four other people worked in the back rooms, which had once been offices for the people who’d done honest work in this place. Hoffman didn’t mind the isolation, and indeed found it peaceful not being surrounded by noise and the stink of stale air perfumed by overpowering body odor.
It took several minutes before the offices and long hallway gave way to a wide, low room. The carpet ran out here and the floor was instead cold black tile, dulled by decades of shoes, carts, and other things passing over it. There was a single weak light installed in the ceiling, casting a dark orange light over the featureless room. There was a set of wide steel double-doors on the other side of the room, and the muffled sounds of machinery and yelling could be heard. Sighing, Hoffman pushed his cart to the door and reached out to press the intercom button to the right of the doorway. A small camera above the doors focused on him and blinked a red light; security, making sure the right people were trying to get in. After a second the doors emitted a grating buzz, indicating that they had unlocked. Hoffman used his cart to push the door open, wincing as the unobstructed noise of the shipping area blasted his eardrums.
The next few minutes were ones Hoffman could have done without. Older, stronger, burlier men were heaving large packages left and right, putting them on machines or taking them off belts and onto other machines. Several muscular women worked here too, as obscene and hard as the men they traded insults with. All of them leered at Hoffman as he scurried to the nearest weighing station, breathing through his mouth to avoid smelling the sweat-heavy, humid air. The man working the device snickered at Hoffman’s obvious disgust and unease, dismissing the younger man with a wave. Hoffman was quick to oblige, hustling out of the giant room back into the blissfully quiet, pleasantly-scented office area.
Several days later, Hoffman was in his tiny room carving a set of Donphan tusks into decorative ivory daggers. The pattern had been drawn on the polished tusks, so all Hoffman had to do was trace the pattern with the carving knife he had. The ivory had been soaked in diluted Arbok acid to make it easier to carve; afterward, it would be baked and polished several times to harden it and give it a glossy sheen.
He was finishing the first dagger when a shadow threw itself over him like an insubstantial shroud. Looking over his shoulder, Hoffman found a very unhappy-looking Seth standing in the doorway, his tanned arms crossed over his chest. The man looked like he could be a bouncer with his wide, intimidating build and boxy face, which was currently pulled in a dark scowl. Dark blue eyes flashed in anger as Seth glared at the teen before him.
“Get up,” the man stated, his voice laced with ire. Knowing he’d screwed something up and unable to figure out what, Hoffman set down the ivory and carving knife before hurrying after Seth, who’d already started walking away. Seth said nothing more and didn’t even check to see if Hoffman was following, pushing through doors and ignoring everyone else they passed.
It took only a few moments for Hoffman to realize they were headed to the Rainbow Factory. The teen’s pulse began to race and his heart hammered out a rapid beat in his chest; his mouth and throat went painfully dry, all the moisture seeming to flood his palms and forehead with cold, sticky sweat. His nostrils flared as his breathing grew heavy and labored, and he had to force himself to keep moving and not simply collapse to the floor.
Down several flights of featureless stairs they went, their way lit by dim fluorescent lights installed in the walls every couple of yards. After five flights they came to bottom of the stairwell, and in front of them was a solid, gray metal door. There was a thick silver bar running across from it that opened it when pushed; Seth used a single hand and heaved the door open. A blast of hot, rancid air washed over them the moment the door was ajar, and Hoffman had to struggle not to get sick. Seth didn’t seem bothered as he pushed the door open all the way, grabbing the front of Hoffman’s orange t-shirt with his free hand and dragging the teen through the doorway.
The Rainbow Factory was an appalling, god-awful place that only the psychopathic or emotionally dead could endure for more than a few minutes. The boiler room ran the entire length of the old warehouse, hundreds upon hundreds of square feet in size. All the boilers had long since been replaced by the multitude of cages that held Pokemon in various states of mental, emotional, and physical decline. The ceiling hung low at only eight feet from the cold, black cement floor, and a maze of pipes ran along the ceiling and walls. The only light that filled this place was a low, red glow cast from a few dozen crimson-shaded lamps hanging from hooks on the walls; it gave the Factory a desolate, empty atmosphere that quickly left a creature feeling depressed and even insane if exposed to it for too long. There were no fans or air conditioning, so the air was humid and hot from the combined body heat of so many bodies, and it also reeked of fear, sweat, excrement, and decay. The fetid reek of the place was so thick and heavy that it almost seemed to coat one’s tongue and throat if breathed through the mouth, and once in the lungs it was like suffocating a little. The only sounds came from the Pokemon as they cried, screamed, and raged in their prisons, and occasional noises of broken Pokemon being led to the slaughtering tables.
Hoffman’s breathing, already labored and erratic, grew even more pained and ragged as he began to hyperventilate. Panic ignited in his chest and bloomed through his veins, filling his body with an insatiable need to FLEE. He struggled against the iron grip Seth had on his shirt, but the bigger man didn’t seem to notice as he pulled Hoffman towards the slaughtering tables. Here were two workers of the Factory, their faces slack, their eyes devoid of emotion as they mechanically separated a dead Slowbro into its various components. As one worker skinned the Pokemon, the other deftly began to cut along muscles and tendons to make the flesh easier to peel from the bones. Fresh blood, still warm, stained their bare hands and dirty clothes, splattered on their faces, and flowed onto the sloping floor and down the drain a few feet away.
“Say hi to your new coworkers,” Seth commented as he shoved Hoffman towards the duo. “I told you that if you screwed up that Kanto order what would happen, didn’t I? Did you think I was joking? Did you think I would be soft and give you another chance to screw up?”
“I…I…what…please, God…” Hoffman sputtered, backpedaling from the two men as they heedlessly continued in their work. They didn’t so much as look at him as the teen slipped in a small splatter of blood, and Hoffman himself ignored it as he whirled to face Seth. “Please…please don’t…I can’t…!”
“Then you should have done it right!” Seth snarled angrily. “What the shit were you thinking, man? You used old, bloody paper to send those pups! Why didn’t you use your damn brain, huh? Are you retarded or something? Our client demanded back a fourth of her payment because of that shit! And we had to pony it up or else we were gonna get ratted out! You know how much we had to cough up because of you?” Here Seth made a wordless noise of rage, looking dangerously close to punching something. Or someone. Hoffman unconsciously took a step back from the incensed man, who fixed him with such a glare it would have given a Gengar nightmares. “I warned you. You didn’t listen. Not my problem.” Seth then turned and stalked off, and a few minutes later he was gone.
Hoffman was unaware of time as he stared at nothing, his mind reeling from the idea of working in this horrid place. He quickly tuned out the moans and shrieks of the Pokemon around him, ignoring the wet cutting and squelching as the Slowbro behind him was systematically reduced to so much meat. After a few minutes of trying to process the horrid idea, Hoffman’s mind decided it would be better to simply shut down and save Hoffman’s psyche from further damage. His eyes glazed over slightly and the teen’s legs turned to jelly; he slowly sank to the floor, mindless of the cold as it easily cut through his thin black jeans and settled in his legs and rear.
He didn’t know how long he sat like that, locked away in a quiet little part of his mind, but eventually something cut through the haze that had comfortably cut him off from the horrific things around him. Blinking sluggishly, he focused on the sound of a voice that was crying out. Not just screams of fear or bellows of rage, though, but actual words piercing into his mind.
~NO! LET US GO!~
Confused by the voice and his sudden return to lucidity, Hoffman struggled to get up and investigate. His legs were numb from the cold and lack of oxygen, though, so it took several minutes of stretching for feeling to return to them. He winced as the unpleasant sensation of pins and needles tingled through his legs and feet but forced himself up, wobbling a little as he followed the source of the voice. It was clearer now, sounding closer, and as he tried to hunt down its owner, Hoffman became aware of a peculiar fact; he was hearing the words, it was like they were being beamed directly into his skull. The fact that they were just suddenly there was unnerving and alien, but he didn’t try to shut it out for fear that he wouldn’t find whoever was speaking.
It didn’t take long to hunt down the source of the commotion. A few burly men were approaching two of the smaller empty cages, one carrying a Natu, the other a Murkrow. The Murkrow was limp and unresponsive, most likely unconscious, but the Natu was flapping and struggling mightily against its assailant. For a moment Hoffman wondered why it didn’t use its psionic powers to get free, but then he noticed a thin chain wrapped around its neck and body. It was a Dark Link, a chain imbued with Dark-type energy. It was in essence a normal chain that had been worn by a Dark Pokemon for several months; the metal naturally absorbed the energy a Dark Pokemon radiated, and when touching a Psychic Pokemon, it negated their telekinetic abilities.
The men unceremoniously shoved their charges into one cage each, slamming them shut and leaving without so much as a glance at Hoffman. The teen waited until they were gone before turning his attention to the Pokemon, equal parts sadness and anger mixing in him at the knowledge of their fate. He focused on the Murkrow and found it was breathing evenly and deeply, clearly having been the victim of some sleep-inducing substance or Pokemon attack. Its glossy ebony feathers were mussed and sticking every which way, and its long yellow beak gaped open a little as it slumbered. From its size and appearance, Hoffman judged the crow to be about a year old, though he couldn’t guess its gender.
~Damn you, you cruel, heartless, evil humans!~ the voice from earlier snapped, lashing across his mind with such ferocity it left a physical pain. A headache started up right behind the teen’s eyes as he yelped and looked around for the speaker. It sounded like a woman, or a girl to be more precise, but there were no children around. Bemused, Hoffman turned his attention to the Natu to inspect it, wondering if he’d already lost his mind.
~Yes, that’s right, I’m nothing more to you than a heap of pretty feathers,~ the voice came again, this time full of bitterness and a bit of fear. Hoffman blinked in shock as the Natu glared at him with its small black eyes, its tiny pink legs and feet hanging between the bars of the cage. The petite bird ruffled the lime-green feathers covering its round little body as it spread its wings. The feathers on these weren’t their normal mix of hues, but were instead a deep, stunning gold. The single feather atop its head, which was normally fuchsia, was the same rich color as the feathers on its wings, and the same held true for its tail feathers. ~Yes, look how pretty. Won’t they be nice on your hats or in your pillows?~
“You…you’re talking…?” Hoffman muttered, staring hard at the Natu as the small bird folded its wings. It responded with a sharp chirp, which Hoffman realized was its version of a laugh.
~Oh dear, this one is very intelligent,~ the Pokemon said, its tone thick with a surprising array of emotions. Hoffman could only stare before shaking his head, coming to the conclusion from its voice that this must be a young female. ~You must have gotten this job because of your smarts. I suppose I won’t have to worry about you cutting my throat, you probably don’t know which end of the knife to use.~
“I’m not going to be killing anyone,” Hoffman stated, surprising himself with the vehemence in his words. Natu didn’t reply, choosing instead to simply stare at him as the teen’s hatred of the Factory breathed life to an idea. The whole place sickened him, really, not just the Factory, and even though he’d known it all this time and bottled away because of how badly he needed the pay, now the dam was breaking and nothing could hold back the flood. Turning around, Hoffman let his gaze sweep over the room, over the dozens of captured Pokemon that would, sooner or later, be nothing more than decorations in someone’s house or clothing on their backs or wallets in their pockets. He felt the sadness of their pending death grip him, felt the anger at the senselessness of it swell within his heart. The emotion roiling in his spirit threatened to burst out of him in a scream of his own, but he managed to choke it back as the full implication of this awful, horrendous place crashed down on him. How many of these Pokemon might have belonged to someone? How many were cherished friends and companions? How many might have been stolen away for nothing more than a few Poke?
~You’re different…~ Natu said a moment later, and the anger and loathing that had been directed at him earlier was gone, though her tone was still heated. ~But why do you work here when it’s so obvious how much you hate it? Why take part in this?~
“Because I thought I didn’t have a choice,” Hoffman replied tightly, turning to face Natu. Her blunt yellow beak parted a bit in what might have been a small smile, but it was impossible to tell since she had no real mouth. “And because I was stupid and greedy but didn’t want to admit it. But this…I can’t do this any longer. I need the money, Mom needs the money, but…not like this. Not anymore.” Hoffman then reached for the cage door, which wasn’t locked but instead held shut by a simple clamp. A piece of long metal, bent double, slid between two bars that were placed very close together. Once it was inserted far enough between the bars, the bent metal spread apart, catching on the bars it had passed through if any tried to push it out from inside. The only way to open the cage was to press the bent piece of metal so it could be pulled through the gap in the bars; the cages were designed to be quick and easy for humans to open, but impossible for the small bird Pokemon that were placed inside them to work open.
After opening the cage, Hoffman cautiously reached for Natu. The little bird watched him carefully but didn’t attack, and Hoffman gently picked her up before stepping away from the cage. Balancing her in one hand, he unhooked the Dark Link and unwound it from around Natu’s body. The little bird shivered as the chain came away from her, and instantly a light purple haze encased her small frame. After a second she nodded in what was obvious satisfaction and the glow around her died away. She then spread her wings and took to the air, circling Murkrow’s cage before landing on top of it. The strange glow engulfed her again, and this time a thin tendril of it snaked towards the clamp holding the cage shut. With little effort the telekinetic power squeezed the metal clamp and pulled the cage door open, after which the glow vanished. Natu took flight again, flying into Murkrow’s cage and landing near the unconscious crow’s side.
“A friend of yours?” Hoffman asked as Natu gingerly poked Murkrow’s side with a wing. The little green bird shook her head in response and faced him with a grim expression.
~No, I don’t know him. He was passing by when the humans tried to catch me. He could have just flown away but I guess he’s seen those humans before so he tried to help, but one of those men smacked him in the head when he dove at them. He’s been out cold ever since. I can’t use my powers to check him because of his type, so I don’t know if he’s hurt or just recovering.~
“It doesn’t matter either way,” Hoffman said, anger creeping into his voice. “He tried to help, so we’ll make sure he’s okay, and if he isn’t we’ll make sure he gets the help he needs.” The young man glanced about then, suddenly worried one of the other Factory workers might wander by and overhear the conversation, but there was no one else around. He let his gaze slide over the numerous Pokemon being held and felt a strange combination of fear, uncertainty, and determination stirring along with the anger and sadness already strong in his heart. “We’ll make sure they all get the help they need…but it’s not like we can bust everyone out of their cages and waltz on out like it’s just another day. I know a lot of the people who work in the shipping area have Fighting Pokemon to help with heavy loads, and Seth has a couple of tough Pokemon too. A lot of these guys here are in no shape to fight; we’d be overpowered in minutes.”
~How can these people have Pokemon and stand the thought of what happens here…?~ Natu said softly. Hoffman looked back at her and she made a shrugging motion with her wings. ~I saw the minds of those men when they caught me, I see your memories, I see the broken thoughts of these Pokemon.~ She shook her head slowly, casting her own unfocused gaze over the large room. ~Many of them are too far gone, their spirits broken, minds shattered. Not even a powerful Psychic could restore their sanity. They are already dead, their bodies just don’t know it. Others have turned to their rage and nothing can draw them back to rationality. But there are some who can be saved, though it’s a small number. Whether it’s luck or fate is unknown, but these ones seem strong still, capable of fighting. Capable of getting back what they were certain would be taken; their lives.~ Natu blinked once and returned her attention to Hoffman, who frowned in thought.
“If we can take out Seth and the others, make sure they can’t get away, then we can call the police, let them know what’s going on. They’ll know to bring a few Pokemon Control people with them, and they can take all the Pokemon who can’t be released back into the wild and find a way to either let them live in peace or put them out of their misery as gently as possible.”
~And what will you tell these police? The truth will get you arrested as well.~
“I don’t know,” Hoffman said with a shrug. “But we have to do something.”
~There is another way,~ Natu said, and there was something…sinister…in her voice that made Hoffman shudder. It wasn’t necessarily a sense of evil or treachery towards him, but was rather directed at Seth and the others. Still, Hoffman knew what Natu was going to suggest would be something most unkind. ~Don’t involve more humans. Let those who have suffered be the bringers of their own justice. Let these Pokemon have their chance at peace.~ She paused for a moment, then nodded once. ~There are a few other Psychics here. If we pool our strength we can lock all the doors, reinforce the windows so they can’t be broken. The humans will find no escape, and their Pokemon will either stand aside or fall with the humans that clearly care little for Pokemon. I have a feeling many of the Pokemon owned by these humans have no idea what really goes on here.~
“So basically you’re saying let the Pokemon out so they can murder everyone here?” Natu didn’t reply, and Hoffman once more glanced around to make sure no one was close enough to overhear something they shouldn’t. “Something tells me I should be appalled, that I should find such a thing outrageous. But…I don’t. I don’t feel anything about it. In fact…I think I agree. After all, how many Pokemon have been killed here? I know that even though these people murdered a lot of Pokemon doesn’t mean it’s right to kill them, but I don’t think they deserve a second chance. If they were arrested, they’d get out in a few years and probably get right back into the same business, just set up shop somewhere else. They might even try to get back at me if they had the thought that I had something to do with it. So the best thing for us all would be for them to just…die.”
~Exactly,~ Natu replied, and though she sounded relieved that Hoffman agreed, there was also a touch of sorrow in her voice. ~Killing is never justified, but sometimes it’s the only answer. Even though I hate the humans for catching me and for what they’ve done to other Pokemon, I’m glad I won’t be responsible for any of their deaths. At least not directly, though I suppose in the end it will be my fault for coming up with the idea.~ She shot a look at Murkrow, then faced Hoffman again. ~The enraged Pokemon will only attack humans or Pokemon that try to fight or restrain them. Even though you’re helping they aren’t in the state of mind to realize it. I would suggest finding a place to hide until you’re told it’s safe to come out.~ Hoffman nodded and headed towards the nearest wall, studying the mass of pipes. He found a gap between two large ones that he could squeeze between, and once there he found there was space behind the pipes as well as between them. He slowly moved forward until he reached a section that was heavily shadowed, with only a sliver of red light reaching this particular area, and sat down on a low pipe a few feet off the ground.
“Er, I’m hidden,” Hoffman said aloud, feeling a little silly since he was certain Natu couldn’t hear him. He was surprised when she acknowledged him with a wordless mental nod, the feeling of which left him feeling strangely dizzy.
After a few minutes he heard a sudden commotion; several Pokemon were bellowing and shrieking even louder than normal. A few confused shouts came from some of the Factory workers, but then they twisted into cries of panic when the humans realized there were Pokemon loose. Hoffman shivered and clapped his hands over his ears, but it did little to drown out the sudden screams from the men and woman being set upon. He screwed his eyes shut and hunched over, trying to think of something happy and cheerful as his fellow workers were torn apart by the crazed Pokemon they’d been waiting to kill, their agonized ululations a macabre song echoing through the Factory.
It seemed to go on for ages, but eventually the screams died. Hoffman slowly dropped his hands into his lap, feeling sick and somehow dirty. His palms were slick with sweat, and his whole body felt cold and clammy. Shakily he stood and made his way to where he’d gotten behind the pipes, peeking through the space between them. He couldn’t really see anything except a lot of cages, many of which were now empty.
~It’s safe now,~ Natu’s voice said suddenly, causing Hoffman to jump. He cautiously left his hiding place and went back towards where Natu had been, and as he went he started seeing bodies. They were mangled, some almost not looking human they were so mutilated. Innards and body parts were scattered about, and the floor was slick with blood in some places. Feeling bile burn the back of his throat, Hoffman averted his gaze from the carnage and swallowed thickly.
~They are upstairs now,~ Natu said, and a moment later she came flying towards him. She landed on his shoulder when she reached him, ruffling her feathers and seeming distracted. Hoffman then remembered she was helping keep Seth and the others trapped, and just as the thought occurred to him, he heard faint muffled cries from above. He cringed a little and tried to ignore them, instead focusing on the cages. All of them were open, though there was a large number of Pokemon who either didn’t notice or simply didn’t care. One of them was a little Roggenrola, a small blue Rock Pokemon that looked like nothing more than a midnight blue stone with two tan rocks stuck to the bottom and a long tan on coming from the top. It had no visible face; instead, on the front of its body was a yellow, hexagonal ear, which let the Pokemon sense its surroundings. At first it didn’t seem like there could be any use for such a Pokemon, but those who knew the species were aware of the power core within the bodies of each one. These cores continued to produce energy long after being removed from a Roggenrola, and normally they were ordered by shadier scientists looking for a long-lasting source of power for whatever experiments they were carrying out.
~These are the ones who are dead in mind and spirit,~ Natu said softly, and now she didn’t sound so distracted. Either she was no longer helping keep the other humans in the warehouse or she was using less focus to do it. ~Sadly, the kindest thing to do for them is to let them die in body so they are no longer trapped in a life they cannot live.~ There was sadness in her voice, and Hoffman had a strange urge to wipe his eyes for tears that weren’t there. ~The enraged Pokemon will move off into the surrounding forest. They can find some semblance of happiness and peace in the wild, living as best they can until they, too, are freed from the horrors they’ve endured here. And the others, the ones still capable of starting over, they will do so.~ Hoffman said nothing as he walked over to the Roggenrola and knelt down in front of it, feeling sorry for it and the other Pokemon that would never be able to revel in their second chance.
“What about…?” the teen started to say, but found himself unable to ask the question of what would be done with the remaining Pokemon. Natu shifted on his shoulder, knowing what the human was trying to say. She sighed softly and didn’t answer right away, but when she spoke, it was in such a quiet voice Hoffman barely heard her.
~The other Psychics and I…we will lull them into a deep slumber. They will sleep and dream, and in those dreams they will find a bit of solace before they leave this world. They will pass in their sleep, the most gentle and peaceful method we can use to release them from this broken life they are in.~
“I don’t think I can stand any more of this,” Hoffman replied after several moments of silence. “I’m sick of all this death.” Natu was silent as she took flight landing on the top of the cage, and Hoffman stood as the little bird above him flapped her wings twice, then folded them against her body. She stared at the human before her for a long moment, then at the bodies of the Factory workers strewn about. Her head tilted back and she gazed at the ceiling, a contemplative air surrounding her. Finally she returned her attention to Hoffman and nodded once.
~I have shared an idea with the other Psychics,~ she told him. ~We will help you, as you have helped us. You will not need to carry the sad memories of this place and the deeds done here. We will wipe those memories and replace them with others that are not nearly as nightmarish.~
“I appreciate the concern, but what really matters is finding another job. I only started working here because I didn’t know what went on here at first, and by the time I found out, I couldn’t just walk away. I knew too much and Seth might try to hurt my mom, and we really need the money.” Hoffman sighed heavily and shook his head, doubt and worry beginning to gnaw at his stomach. “Mom doesn’t know what I do, she just thinks I work at a normal warehouse. How am I going to tell her I don’t have a job anymore?”
~We will help you,~ Natu repeated. ~Your act of removing me from my cage and giving us our lives will not be a thankless task. You and your mother shall be provided for. For now, I will take you from this place and its sorrows. There is much to be done…~
“Wait!” Hoffman cried, noticing that Natu was beginning to release a peculiar psychic energy only used in teleportation. He knelt back down and scooped up the Roggenrola, not wanting to simply leave it behind. In fact, he didn’t want to leave any of the poor Pokemon to the sad fate Natu had laid out for them, but there was no way he could take them all and care for them. But this one…maybe it could pull through. Maybe he could save one more. A soft chirp from the little bird above him caused the teen to stand and nod once, indicating he was ready to go.
A moment later there came a bright flash and a faint cracking noise, and when the light faded, the three were gone.
“David! David, you won’t believe it!”
“Mom, what is it?”
Hoffman was sitting in his room, staring dejectedly at the tan carpet covering his floor. It had been about a week since he’d helped free the Pokemon being held in the Factory and given them a chance at revenge and freedom. Since then he’d been working at a temporary company for a dismal paycheck, having needed to find more work after the incident. Natu had teleported him a few blocks from his house and promised to return soon to both clear his memories of the place and help in dealing with the monetary issues he and his mother were having. The Pokemon hadn’t been around since then, though, and after five or so days, Hoffman convinced himself that there would be no help and the whole thing had been a lie.
Now he got up from where he’d been sitting on his bed and exited his room, standing in the hallway that connected to the stairs. His mother, a tall and wispy woman who looked fragile enough for a strong breeze to knock over, was coming up the stairs with an expression of dumbfounded joy spread across her delicate face. Her long brown hair looked a little crazy, as though she’d been running for several minutes; she was also breathing hard, another indicator that whatever had her so flustered, she’d been in a rush to share it. Her slender hands were clutching something close to her plain white dress as she finally made it up the steps.
“Oh my…oh, David, it’s just...well, I was shopping and I decided to take a little bit of money…I don’t know why but I just had the sudden thought to play the lottery. It was like someone was telling me the numbers! And I played them David, I played them and…and…” Suddenly overcome, the woman swayed and reached out, steadying herself with the banister and offering the other hand to her son. Barely able to believe what he was hearing, the teen took a small white piece of paper -a receipt- from his mother’s hand and stared at it.
WINNER: 350,000,000 JACKPOT
“Th-th-three…three-hundred-fifty MILLION… “ he spluttered, eyes going so wide it felt like they’d pop out of their sockets. “Mom, you won…three-hundred-fifty MILLION…” Stunned, Hoffman’s legs abruptly gave out and he collapsed onto his rear, still staring at the receipt as though taking his eyes off it would make it vanish like a cruel joke. He then started laughing, glee quickly replacing his shocked disbelief. His mother quickly joined in, and a moment later a small blue stone came trundling out of Hoffman’s room to see what the ruckus was. Upon seeing the slowly-recovering Roggenrola, a brief stab of guilt struck Hoffman. It seemed Natu hadn’t been lying after all. A sudden urge gripped him and he got to his feet, hurrying downstairs and outside.
A chirp from behind caused the teen to turn, and there on his roof sat Natu. There were a few other Pokemon with her as well; a serene, graceful Gardevoir, a black-skinned Grumpig, and an alien-esque Elgyem levitating between the other two. Hoffman raised a hand and Natu responded by lifting a gold-feathered wing.
~I apologize for how long my return took,~ came the little bird’s mental voice. ~The lot of us felt that something more long-term would help you more than a job that might be lost for any little reason, but we had to wait long enough for our Future Sight to reveal what the lottery’s winning numbers would be. In fact, we only discerned what they were a few hours ago. By the time we were prepared to come let you know, we found your mother was already at the market, so we decided to tell her instead. We had to do it in a way that wouldn’t startle her, so Meka,~ and here the Gardevoir nodded once, ~used a subtle method of telepathy to put the idea of buying the ticket and the numbers to use in her mind.~
“Thank you…” Hoffman said, his chest tightening in abrupt emotion. He sniffed as tears stung his eyes, smiling at the four Pokemon above him. “This is so much more than I expected…”
~Our lives are worth much more than this,~ Natu replied. ~It seems poor compensation, honestly. But there’s also the matter of your memories.~
“Well, about that…I’ve been thinking, and even though I hated that place, I think maybe keeping my memories would be better. I mean I’m not saying I think you guys would mess up or anything, it’s just, I don’t know. It almost seems wrong, to forget everything that happened.” The teen shrugged, unable to find the words to express his feelings. To forget the Pokemon that had been killed, with no one else to remember them, and to forget those that couldn’t be saved, didn’t seem right to him. Even though his memories of the place had been giving him horrible nightmares the past few nights, he found he couldn’t bring himself to forget.
~If that’s your choice then we will abide by your wishes,~ Natu replied. Hoffman nodded once, smiling once again as he heard his mother calling his name in the most joyful tone he’d heard her use in months. Waving farewell to the Pokemon on the roof, he watched at they teleported away before hurrying inside, eager to share the start of happier memories.
Pokemon Going For: Natu, Murkrow, Roggenrola
# of Characters Needed: 25k-50k
Total # of Characters: 46,241
Note: Natu and Murkrow are for Mav.