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MEW-CHILD: Ch.15: Hopeless

by NonAnalogue

NonAnalogue Is it worth it to struggle in the face of inevitability?
Visions danced through Mel’s head, ethereal and ephemeral. As soon as she got a glimpse of one, it vanished, only to be replaced by something equally incomprehensible.

A purple coat, discarded on the ground.

A terrible machine, wreathed in thick cables.

Red gemstones, floating in the darkness.

The number ‘1’, written in blood.

A familiar figure, clad in ragged clothing and bearing a wide, impish smile.

A small pinkish-purple blob.

Pink fur cascading across a curious, cat-like face.

Mel’s eyes shot open. “Just once,” she muttered as her senses returned to her, “I’d like to have a dream where I understood more than half of it.”

Or rather, that was what she would have said, but before she got past the first word, Mel realized that there was a cloth tied around her head, through her mouth – a gag. She let out a muffled yelp, equal parts surprise and anger, and tried to stand, only to find that her arms and legs were likewise bound behind her back, forcing her to stay seated in the chair she found herself in.

Okay, Mel, think. Think. What’s going on? Where am I? Mel’s eyes darted across her surroundings. Dim, flickering fluorescent lights hummed above her, the only noise breaking the silence. The room was small enough to be a closet, albeit one that was walk-in, and the walls, floor, and ceiling were all a uniform slate gray. A table, gray, sat in the corner a few feet away from the chair, also gray, that Mel was tied to. A single gray door with a frosted window led out, and on the same wall, some feet above the door, was an air vent, which was, curiously, white.

With interior design like this, I can’t imagine who this room belongs to, Mel thought, rolling her eyes. Time to focus. What do I remember? I was at Birth Island. I talked to the Mew-child. But then No.2 stole the things from me and knocked me out. And she had those legendary Pokemon, she realized with a chill down her spine. Two of them. That’s bad news.

Wait, hold on. Where’s Repeat?

“I see the… subject… is awake,” came a voice from somewhere in the ceiling. Mel jumped – she hadn’t seen a speaker or anything where it could have been emanating from. It sounded like No.2 filtered through a few layers of static, but Mel could still hear the disgust dripping from the words.

“What’s going on?” Mel tried to ask. What actually came out was, “Mmph mmn mn?”

“I expect the subject wishes to know more about her circumstances,” No.2 continued. “Ordinarily, the subject would be advised that no such information would be forthcoming. However, in this circumstance, there appears to be no harm evident in enlightening her.”

“Mmn mm mph mmmph,” said Mel, which meant “get to the point.”

“Number nine.”

Mel frowned. Number nine? What does that—wait, she doesn’t mean—!

“I see the subject understands. Yes. The subject will become Neo Rocket No.9. Now that the subject has been properly restrained, our tools for the erasure of memories and emotions will be present shortly. The subject is advised to enjoy her last moments as herself. Inasmuch as she can, anyway.”

The loudspeaker cut off with a squeal.

A weight settled in Mel’s stomach. No. No. I can’t let that happen. There’s too much at stake. I have to find Repeat. I have to save Janine and Bill and the Mew-child. I have to get out of here. If they get in my head, it’s all over. The only other people who know what’s going on are Hyacinth, Izzy, and that professor. Mel swallowed. She could feel her heartbeat speeding up, and the world was beginning to spin around her. She squeezed her eyes shut. Okay, okay, calm. I need to be calm. Can’t afford to panic. If I think it through, maybe I can figure out how to get out of this. I’m tied up. How do I get NOT tied up? These ropes are tight. I can barely move at all. Can’t call for help. Nobody would be able to hear me, and besides, I’m sure everyone around here is a Neo Rocket anyway. Can’t just wait for someone to waltz in and save me; that’s not going to happen.

Despite her best efforts, Mel could feel the fear rising up her throat. What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?! I—I—!

The fear subsided.

Mel’s heart slowed.

Her eyes opened.

She spread her arms experimentally, and the ropes fell to the ground.

The bindings around her legs and her mouth followed shortly.

Mel stood.

Were those… not as tight as I thought? Mel asked herself, staring at her hands. Was I panicking over nothing?

A muffled voice, speaking indistinctly, drifted in from outside the door – a Neo Rocket. Right, Mel thought. Thinking later. Escaping now. She dragged the chair to the wall, underneath the air vent, and clambered up on top of it. Balancing on her tiptoes, Mel could just reach the vent, and she pried the grill loose, letting it fall to the floor with a clatter. Right as the doorknob began to turn, Mel grabbed the lip of the vent and hoisted herself up, mentally giving thanks to a workout routine that was heavy on the pull-ups. The duct was only barely big enough for her to scramble inside and draw herself forward, disappearing into it just as someone entered the room behind her. The last thing she heard before the banging of her hands on sheet metal drowned everything else out was the Neo Rocket’s voice – “She’s escaped into the ductwork.”

When it came to dangerous situations, the average reader would have been hard-pressed to name one that Septimus Reus, he of the Collected Journals, had not thrown himself headlong into in the name of tracking legendary Pokemon. As a matter of fact, one of the sections of his final journal was ‘Dangerous Situations I Have Not Been In,’ and it was an otherwise-blank page. In his essay describing his search for the rumored Genesect, Reus went into detail about the abandoned Plasma facility he infiltrated by climbing in through the air ducts.

“When you see people crawling through air ducts in the movies,” Reus wrote, “you don’t get the whole story as to why it’s actually a bad idea. Have you ever laid hands on sheet metal? It’s noisy stuff. Plus, it’s usually got jagged edges, which essentially make ductwork noisy, painful tunnels. Don’t even get me started on how small the ductwork tends to be – and you’d best pray that you don’t come across a 90-degree bend in the duct, because those are a bear to get around when you can barely move.

“All in all,” Reus continued, “I give air ducts one of my lowest safety ratings of all: a scant 0.5 Koffing out of 5. It’s really not worth it. If you can, just find a door and save yourself some heartache.” By way of comparison, Reus gave ‘touching a Magcargo barehanded’ a rating of ‘1 Koffing’ and ‘exploring Mount Moon without any Repels’ a rating of ‘0 Koffing’, also known as the vaunted ‘Skull and Crossbones.’ When a colleague asked Reus why zero Koffing was the ‘Skull and Crossbones,’ since no Koffing at all would actually be safer than, say, five Koffing in one’s immediate vicinity, Reus wrote them back an angry letter, the contents of which were never published but were assumed to be sufficiently scathing.

The air vent Mel had climbed into hit Reus’ trifecta: a loud clang echoed all around her every time she so much as moved her hand, she could barely raise herself up past her hands and knees, and she’d already opened three different cuts on her hands and arms from the sharp metal.

It was, as Reus would have put it, a very ‘0.5 Koffing’ sort of day.

Only the sparse light peeking in through other vents gave Mel anything to navigate by. She crawled to the one nearest to her and looked out through it. The vent hung above an empty room, outfitted much like the one she’d escaped from; the only difference was that instead of a table and a chair, it had a locker and a cot with neatly-folded sheets.

Bedroom, thought Mel. Nothing here. Keep going.

Before she could pull herself past the grate, though, the loudspeaker in the room squeaked into life. “Subject Mel,” said the droning voice of No.2. “I am aware you are listening. You should not be fooled into believing that you have given us the slip. You can only go so far. Exit the ventilation system now, and we will proceed with your induction.”

And why is that a good option?

“It is the same thing that would have happened anyway,” No.2 said, as if reading Mel’s mind, “but as it is a foregone conclusion, it will save you some trouble.”

Mel rolled her eyes and began crawling past the bedroom. The next room past it was also a bedroom, but as she looked into it through the grate, the door leading in opened and one of the grunts entered. They had purple hair, but Mel could tell that they weren’t Janine – and that was confirmed for her when the grunt took their mask off after grabbing a bottle of water from the locker. They looked fairly androgynous, and their hair was thicker and more unruly than Janine’s. Mel recognized the face, but not enough to put a name to it – she vaguely recalled seeing it in some TV show about the gym leaders of Johto. The grunt put their mask back on after taking a drink of water and tossed a Pokeball to the ground, releasing the Scyther Mel had last seen on Birth Island; the two of them left the room.

So they have more than one gym leader… Mel thought. I wonder why that hasn’t been bigger news… is it because that was a Johto leader? What’s their obsession with collecting leaders anyway?

“Subject Mel,” came No.2’s voice, again through the loudspeaker. “Make no mistake. We will find you. There is something to be said for giving up the fight when a loss is inevitable. Why continue to struggle? You have no hope left. To continue on in the face of certainty is foolish. Idiotic. Do you understand this, Subject Mel? You are undertaking idiotic actions. You are idiotic.”

Must be getting on her nerves. Mel couldn’t sense No.2, but her words were evident enough. The third bedroom she arrived at was identical to the others, and in this one, a grunt was already in there – they too were putting their mask on, but not before Mel could catch a glimpse of their face. Unlike the last one, Mel recognized this grunt immediately.

It was Blue, the ex-gym leader of Viridian. His orange-brown hair, his piercing eyes, his striking resemblance to his grandfather – they were all unmistakable. Mel couldn’t stop a quiet gasp from leaving her mouth. She knew that Blue was no longer a gym leader – he had, some years back, voluntarily ceded the position to another Pallet trainer named Green so that he and the champion Red could travel the world. The last Mel had heard, Blue and Red had popped up in Alola, but that had been ages ago and she didn’t know what had become of them after that.

What if they have Red too? Blue is bad enough, but… The thought was sobering. Red had been known as the best in the world in his day, and even after he’d secluded himself at the peak of Mount Silver, trainers were chomping at the bit to test their mettle against him. Blue was a nightmare to battle, Mel knew that much from word of mouth, but Red had beaten him every time they went head-to-head. Neo Rocket with both Red and Blue, Mel thought, might be nearly invincible.

“Subject Mel,” No.2 said from the loudspeaker. “I trust you are finding your unauthorized excursion through our base illuminating. Here is something I hope you find equally illuminating. Do you know what I feel towards you, inasmuch as I feel anything?”

Silence followed. Is she expecting me to answer? Mel thought. Has she lost it?

“Hate.” That one word had more venom dripping from it than anything else Mel had heard out of No.2’s mouth. “Hate, hate, hate. I loathe you, Subject Mel. I harbor unbridled hatred towards you. If you were to replace every letter in A Relentlessly Thorough History of the Pewter Museum of Science with the word ‘hate’, it would scarcely approach one-tenth of the bile that I reserve for you, personally.”

What did I even do to you, lady?

“We have defeated you. Multiple times. We defeated you in Fuchsia City. We defeated you on Birth Island. The only reason we did not defeat you in the Tanoby Ruins is because of your violent associate. And yet, you refuse to accept the inevitable. We will defeat you once more, now that you are isolated from your colleagues and your Pokemon. You must know this. It is within our power to kill you, Subject Mel. It would be a simple task. An Absol’s blade can cut a human’s neck as easily as a Pokemon’s. The sole reason why you are still alive is that we require you to unseal the Mew-child. Once it is free, with the gym leaders under our command, the Mew-child will easily be captured and will likewise fall into line. We will have unparalleled power, Subject Mel. And the only obstacle that stands in our way is you.”

The gym leaders under their command… Mel thought. That’s right! If Neo Rocket has a collection of some of the most powerful trainers in the world, controlling any Pokemon they caught would be a snap! That must be how they’re getting Uxie and Mesprit to obey them! If they’re smart about it, they could walk away with any legendary they can find!

“So why do you persist, Subject Mel? Why do you not give in? You have no hope. There is nothing you can do. Your struggle is futile. Worthless.” No.2’s voice steadily grew louder and louder until she was nearly shouting. “Why? Why? Why, why, why, why—”

The loudspeaker cut off.

Mel couldn’t move for a moment. She was pretty certain she’d just heard, broadcast to the entire base, the sound of someone finally losing their tenuous grip on reality. She shuddered, tried semi-successfully to shake it off, and kept moving.

The next grill overlooked, not another bedroom, but some kind of jerry-rigged Pokemon Center. A healing machine that had almost certainly been stolen lay to one side, cables and wires connecting it to a power source through haphazard holes in the wall. A ramshackle metal shelving unit sat next to it, barely supporting stacks upon stacks of Potions of every flavor, Full Heals, Revives, and a rainbow of other items.

There was only a single Pokemon in the room, resting on one of the shelves and staring at the closed door.

Mel’s eyes widened. “Repeat!” she said aloud before remembering where she was and clapping a hand over her mouth. When Repeat failed to hear her, instead continuing to stare at the door, Mel reached out and grabbed the grate, tentatively shaking it. He must be terrified. Can’t do anything but just watch the door, waiting for someone to come for him. Hold on, Repeat, she thought, I’m coming. I’m gonna save you.

The grate refused to give more than a fraction of an inch; unlike the one in the room Mel had been interred in, this one was tightly screwed to its frame. Mel shoved against it a few more times, then exhaled. Shoot. No dice. What are my options here? I could try and climb down somewhere else, but then I’d have to find my way back to this room – and I’m sure they’ve gotta be on high alert for me. That’s not gonna work. What else? I could leave, track down Hyacinth and Izzy, and come back guns blazing… except I don’t even know where I am. That’s no good either. Think, Mel. Think. Think! With her eyes screwed shut, Mel slammed her hand against the grill one more time…

….and it fell out, screws scattering across the floor.

Mel blinked, then hissed as the stabbing pain in her fist finally made it to her brain. She grabbed the lip of the vent and pulled herself out, trying to ignore how sharp the metal was; with an inelegant tumble, she was on the ground.

Repeat still didn’t shift his gaze from the door. “Repeat?” Mel asked, wiping away some of the blood from her palms off on her pants. “Repeat? You okay?”

There was no response.

“Hey, come on, man. It took me longer than I wanted, but I still came for you. You don’t have to give me the silent treatment.” Mel approached him, her hands shaking, and gently rubbed him on his back. “Say something, buddy…”

Repeat turned to her. “Oh, sorry, you were talking to me?”

“Of course I was, dummy!” said Mel, a smile spreading across her face as relief coursed through her veins. “Who else would I be talking to? Now let’s get outta here, huh?”

“Um.” Repeat cast an askew glance at her. “Who are you, exactly?”

Mel paled. “…What?”

As Repeat’s words sunk in, the door to the room swung open, slamming hard into the wall. No.2 strode in, her pale skin and blood-red hair letting Mel identify her easily even though she was still dressed identically to every other Neo Rocket. “Subject Mel,” No.2 said, her words dropping out of her mouth like tombstones. “You behaved exactly as I expected you to.”

“You expected…?”

“Naturally.” The vibes around No.2 pulsated like a heartbeat, radiating anger, hate, and disgust. Mel could feel it rolling through her head, coating her mind in No.2’s sludge. “Given that you had escaped, it was only logical to assume that you would attempt to rescue your miserable excuse for a Pokemon. So I waited for you. And now, Subject Mel, we will undergo a journey together.”

“What’re you talking about?” Mel growled. “Undo whatever you did to Repeat before I cave your head in!”

No.2 waved a finger in Mel’s face at an angle seemingly precisely chosen to maximize irritation. “No, Subject Mel. We will, together, explore the reasons why you continue to struggle in the face of inevitability.”

“And how’re you gonna do that?”

“That is easy enough, Subject Mel.” No.2 snapped her fingers, and one of the guardians of Sinnoh – Uxie – appeared behind her. “We are going to examine your memories. And then we will erase them.”

Uxie opened its eyes.

Mel couldn’t stop herself from looking.