All 11 chapters in a single article (Patreon patrons only)
Elvis approached the control room door, deep in the tower’s basement, and took a deep breath. Around a nearby corner, he could see his favorite Durant, whom he had named “Marciela,” peeking out of the vent nearest the door. He waved at her, and received a delighted mandible clack in response. He stepped up to the door, waited for it to slide open, and entered the room.
It was as big as he remembered. The circular room was lined with instrument panels and computer screens, each with a dedicated operator dressed in green. A large conference table occupied the center of the room, covered in papers and the remains of Ortolan’s breakfast. Ortolan’s three chiefs of staff sat at the table, each with the green uniform and fringed epaulette on the left shoulder that indicated their status. Svelte Hobbes sat on the right with his ankles crossed on the table, with his trademark tailcoat and baton. Minamoto sat in the middle, with his metal and leather gloves, cracking a fist as if he’d known Elvis was coming and wanted to make sure Elvis knew how he felt about the small, disabled scientist. Dunkirk sat stiffly on the left, thickset and powerfully built, her red hair never tied. The cloying scent of Hobbes’s floral perfume and Dunkirk’s usual aroma of steam and oil made an unwholesome medley. None of the three had ever especially liked Elvis, and Minamoto seemed particularly intent on doing violence to him for little reason, or none at all, daring Hobbes’s security guards to do anything about it, but all three of them looked especially untrusting today.
Straight ahead, most of the back wall was taken up with large computer screens, each showing a piece of Ortolan’s operation: the formations of Aggrons and Honedges on the staging ground, the inner Magnemite turbine, the drill, the labs. Ortolan stood in front of the screens, facing them. His earthy green suit contrasted with the bright yellow of the feather in his black hat and the shine of his black shoes. His trim frame did not take up much space against the gargantuan screens, yet he dominated the room. Elvis was almost too scared to speak, but found the nerve: “You wanted to see me, Ortolan?”
“Yes, Elvis, I did,” Ortolan spoke as he turned around, his voice smooth and just barely loud enough to penetrate the computer noise. “I wanted to show you something.”
Elvis approached the front of the room, nerves increasingly on edge. Ortolan put his arm around his protégé’s shoulder.
“We managed to increase the range on the magnet wave today. It’s drawing Steel-types from all over Hoenn now, and sometimes farther. Your design is going to change the world, Elvis. I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with me.”
“If it brings humans and Pokémon closer together, it’ll be a better world,” Elvis responded, taking a close look at the Pokémon formations in Ortolan’s screen. One of the Aggrons took a small, shaky step back, and two of the humans immediately aimed their radio-like devices at it, jerking it back into place.
“So much better,” Ortolan insisted. “It will be our world, made our perfect, and no one will be able to take it from us.”
“Is that what the Pokémon want?” Elvis asked.
“What our new friends and allies do, they do of their own free will, for their good and ours.”
“I designed the magnet wave to tell Steel-type Pokémon that they have friends here, and could come see us if they wanted, and maybe even stay,” Elvis insisted, the look in his eyes increasingly pleading.
“Does it surprise you that so many of them would answer your call?” Ortolan asked with a raised eyebrow. “This world is a dreadful, lonely place. Why wouldn’t they feel it as much as we do?”
A Magnemite broke out of line in the turbine and rushed for the ceiling, only to be blasted back into place by a wall-mounted flamethrower Elvis didn’t know was there, warped and subdued.
“Why indeed,” Elvis answered pensively. “I should get back to work.”
“Yes, of course.” Ortolan gestured for the door. “I shan’t keep you from paradise.”
Elvis walked out of the room, and stopped next to the vent. Marciela was still there, and clacked her mandibles in acknowledgement. Elvis gestured back the way she came, and she turned around, walking in the wall next to her friend. The number of rooms and other halls branching off diminished until, in the final stretch, only Elvis and Marciela made any sounds. At the end of the hall was a sitting area, big enough for six people, built into a bubble of reinforced glass that stuck out beneath the sea. Elvis sat on the ring of plush cushions set into the base of the bubble, and Marciela knocked the vent open with her metal head and climbed down the wall to him. As Marciela rested her head in his lap and closed her eyes, he released his Pokémon. Pangoro, resembling a scruffy panda with a bamboo stalk forever in his mouth, sat on his haunches on the floor next to Elvis and put an arm around him. Unlike Ortolan’s, this arm felt reassuring. Swadloon sat in Elvis’s lap, next to Marciela, and kept her eyes closed as her head rested against his chest. He looked out into the radiant blue, watching Mantines, Remoraids, Seakings, and Qwilfish pass by in great schools, silent for a long time, clutching Swadloon tightly, running his left hand along Marciela’s carapace.
“Something’s wrong,” he said at last. The three Pokémon reacted by cuddling closer. Elvis’s thoughts turned to his magnet wave, and how each second made it harder to believe Ortolan’s claim that the designs the Pokémon were enacting since they arrived were their own. Elvis’s thoughts turned to Lizabeth of the People of the Water, whoever she was. In his reverie, he only just noticed the red lightning. When he opened his eyes, he was astride a Gorebyss rushing across the ocean surface, and barely managed to hold on as the thrashing Pokémon skidded to a stop.
“You,” Gorebyss barked at Elvis. “You’re back.”
Elvis steadied himself on Gorebyss’s back, trying to catch his balance and his bearings.
“This isn’t a dream, is it, Gorebyss?”
“No, not-Lizabeth, this is very real. Real enough that Lizabeth and I are heading to you—er, her.”
Elvis craned his neck upward as far as it would go, and just barely made out the outline of Ortolan’s tower. “So I see.”
“What’s your name? I’ll tell her when she comes back.”
“Elvis Alicea, who hasn’t had a people in a long time.” Elvis was quiet for a while, examining the deep purple trim of Lizabeth’s pink top and the triangle of exposed midriff its cut enabled. “You’re much less freaked out by my being here than you were last time.”
“Lizabeth figured out what is happening,” Gorebyss answered, its cutely tiny pitch belying the seriousness in the words behind its repeated name. “Heart Swap.”
“Lizabeth and I met Manaphy a long time ago, when he was a baby. He’s trying to tell us all something by making us meet.”
Elvis was quiet again, thinking. “I’m going to open the underwater entrance. Look for the bright green buoy shaped like a Magneton.”
“I will let Lizabeth know.”
This time, Elvis saw the blue antennae pop out of the water and emit red lightning.
Buffeted by high-altitude winds, Jessie, Jane, Meowth, and Flannery clung to their avian mounts as though they weren’t securely strapped in place. Flannery rode a powerful Talonflame, her confident posture belied by the look of concentrated terror on her face. On either side of her, Jessie held on to a Fearow, and Jane was astride a Pidgeot with Meowth.
Lacking earpieces and radios, the four could only communicate by shouting and luck. Jane complained loudly over the gale, “I miss the balloon!”
Jessie smiled at the thought. “I don’t know any balloonists who owe us favors, or I might have considered it!”
Meowth pointed ahead, to where Ortolan’s tower and its island loomed increasingly large in their vision: “We’re almost there! It’s bigger than I thought!”
Jane, Meowth, Flannery, and Jessie began loosening their restraints. As they approached the shoreline, they split up. Jane and Meowth guided Pidgeot to a horizontal path aligned with the tower’s roof, opposite the eastern staging area with its hundreds of Pokémon. Jessie and Flannery pulled their mounts up, high above their landing zone.
With a kick, Jane spurred her Pidgeot to burst forward, fast enough to confuse any onlookers in the windows below and high enough to stay out of most of their sight. She leapt from her saddle as the bird halted at the roof’s edge, holding Meowth in one arm and Growly’s Pokéball in the other. Releasing the Arcanine, she landed on her Pokémon’s back as the great beast skidded across the roof. Above her, Jessie leapt from Fearow’s saddle and fell straight down for a second or so before releasing Gyarados to catch them and carry them the rest of the way down.
Flannery pulled her Talonflame a bit higher, and then jumped. She released her Torkoal and maneuvered the red and black tortoise until she stood on its belly, aiming its shell at the roof. She shouted, “Overheat!” The vents in Torkoal’s shell began to glow, and then blasted forth a beam of white-hot fire directly into the roof. In seconds, Torkoal’s Overheat burned through the roof and perhaps more, making a hole that Flannery and Torkoal would have fallen into if she hadn’t reached for Jessie’s hand at a critical moment. She recalled the still-falling Torkoal with her other hand and then swung to a still-intact surface. All three gave their former mounts the signal they were shown to send them flying home, and then Jane and Jessie turned to Flannery. Flannery’s posture wilted under their incredulity.
“What? There’s no door up here. We needed a way in, and you can’t tell me that wasn’t awesome!”
Jessie sighed in frustration. “Well, here’s hoping that that gigantic beam of fire in the sky didn’t get the attention of everyone on the entire island, somehow.”
Flannery looked defeated and fussed with her Pokéballs. Jane and Meowth examined the edges of the hole. Jessie began walking toward them when it looked like they’d found something, and admitted over their shoulder to Flannery, “That was awesome, though. Seriously, whoah.”
Lucy finished a third lazy circle around Ortolan’s island, neither drawing attention to herself nor seeing a covert way in, when an odd green buoy popped out of the water a few hundred meters ahead of her. As she watched to see what would happen next, a dark-skinned woman riding a bright pink Gorebyss, her long blue-black hair done up in an elaborate bow, approached the buoy. With a moment of concentration, the Gorebyss encased its rider in a bubble of air and dove beneath the floating Magneton statue. Sensing an opportunity, Lucy told Milotic, “Dive.” A similar bubble coalesced around her, and her serpentine mount followed the other woman into the deep.
Lizabeth crept along the chain holding the buoy in place. It led a long way down, longer than she had expected. She reassured herself every few links, Manaphy wouldn’t set a trap for me. About ten minutes of concentrated descent later, she saw the hidden door that had been left swinging in the current for her. With a deep breath of concern, she directed Gorebyss to enter the enormous airlock. The heavy door swung shut behind her automatically, and the water in the room began to drain out of the floor. Ahead, a similar door with a small window led to the basement interior. As the drain gurgled to nothing, Gorebyss dropped its diving bubble and Lizabeth dismounted onto the damp floor. Both edged to the side as the inner airlock door opened, seeing no one as they peeked over the threshold. They crept into the hallway, listening to the door swing shut behind them. A minute of forward creeping and careful listening later, they heard the outer airlock door open again and froze. They watched the door in battle-ready positions, Gorebyss ready to launch a watery assault on whoever had followed them, Lizabeth holding Corsola’s Pokéball.
Lizabeth heard a voice from behind her: “Lizabeth!” She turned to face the hall again.
“Elvis!” she called back as he started running toward her, beaming. He stopped suddenly a few meters away as the inner airlock door opened, expression thunderstruck, able to stammer out only the question:
“Pike Queen Lucy!?”