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You've collected a pokéball

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You've collected a pokéball

Helicopter crash site

There’s a ringing in your ears and the metallic taste of blood in your mouth.

“Hey! Hey! I, uh… this is Abel Township calling, over?”

You do your best to claw your way out of the stifling folds of the parachute. A powerful heat to your right sends beads of sweat trickling down your forehead. You pause a second to press the button by your earpiece.

“Hello! This is – I’m from the helicopter, from Mullins! I don’t know if –“

“Is anyone alive out there? Ugh,” the voice in your ear takes on an additional note of panic “I’m just the… I’m just the radio operator, man, I’m not supposed to handle this stuff! Can anyone hear me at all? Respond if you can!”

“Hello?” There’s no indication the man from Abel Township has heard anything you’ve said.

“You’ve – you’ve crashed near a horde of zombies. They’ve heard the noise! Your only safe path is towards the tower. If there’s anyone alive there, just run!”

You free yourself of the remaining parachute straps.

And you run.

Abel township

Are they all dead? The question hangs in Sam’s mind as he repeats his instructions over the air. Still. We should keep trying to reach them at least a little longer.

“Plusle… I could really use your help right now.” But the pokéball by his mic remains silent, unmoving. Sam drags his gaze back to the camera feeds nearest to the crash site.  If only he could -

There. Movement.

Someone is out there.

Someone is running.

They almost look like – the way they run – it’s almost like –

A door opens behind him. “Sam?” Maxine’s even voice is a welcome anchor to the real world. He turns to see Abel’s doctor grimacing at him, one hand rubbing at her forehead. “I heard the transmissions. Can we expect wounded?”

“I don’t know! Maybe? But! Look!” Sam jabs a finger at the monitor to his right. “There’s someone alive down there, running! Hey, can you hear me?” He and Maxine both hold their breath, ears straining for even the weakest response. “Okay - no answer. But still, just look at ‘em go! Heading for the tower, just like I said.”

Close to the old saw mill, 2km out of Abel Township

Two-way communication is still impossible, but the radio operator from Abel guides you every step of the way. The groans of the zombie horde grow faint behind you – they’ve been attracted to the helicopter crash site, making it far easier to slip away in the direction of Abel than you’d initially expected.

Still. Things might have been very different, without those eyes watching your progress via the CCTV cameras along these deserted, solemn roads. You suck in a deep breath, and your chest aches. You press against it with one hand and wince. No broken bones, but many, many bruises.

“No, we can’t ask them that! They might be injured!”

Now, what?

A second, feminine voice plays over your earpiece. “Well, all the more reason to ask!” The voice pauses, and addresses you directly. “This is Doctor Myers, only medic here at Abel Township. Lord knows I’m sorry to ask you this, but your route will take you almost past the old hospital. We know there are medical kits still there from the first wave of infection - if you could pick up even one or two, that would help us.”

Her voice is calm, trustworthy. Perhaps she’s your contact for Project Greenshoot? You’ve been given no information about who it will be, only that they will seek you out upon arrival.

The first voice, the radio operator, interjects. “It’s too dangerous! You know what happened to Runner Five!”

Sam? You’re pretty certain he said his name was Sam.

He’s panicky, and clearly feeling out of his depth. Unlikely to be the Greenshoot contact.

And yet. There’s something about his voice that –

Bickering over the radio breaks your concentration, and you slow down a little, waiting to be told what to do next.

The doctor seems to win the argument, and she gives you instructions on how to find a nearby hospital. Robinson hospital. You recall the name from the maps of the area around Abel you’d studied as part of your preparation for the mission. Your memory and the doctor’s instructions make the trip easy, and soon you’re standing outside the hospital’s sliding doors, or at least, what’s left of them.

The radio operator’s voice begins to speak to you again, as you step inside the hospital. “Okay, okay… man, that’s great, you’re making good time. No broken legs, I guess.” A nervous laugh. “Hey, uh, listen… I’m gonna call you Runner Five. Um, just 'cause… well, I don’t know your name, and we just lost a runner, in that same hospital you’re running through now. Sorry if that’s, uh, if that’s kinda creepy.”

The voice (Sam’s voice, you remind yourself. He has a name too.) continues, a little higher than before. “She was so fast, really funny, and clever. Me and her, we sort of…”

The brief silence says everything you need to know.

“…she was amazing. But hey! You could be our new Runner Five! If you make it back alive…”

The hospital is surprisingly clean, considering the circumstances. There’s clear evidence of past struggles, and looting. But there’s still so much left untouched. Worth another visit later, perhaps.

Right now though, you have a mission. Supplies, and any important-looking files you can find.

The medical supplies aren’t too difficult to locate (thank goodness for staff who keep keys to inventory cupboards in their desk drawers) and you even find a decent bag to carry them in.

Finding interesting files, though – you’re not so sure you’re going to be able to help. There’s a lot of paperwork in a hospital, even in this (or perhaps, you think, the previous) digital age, and to you it’s all pretty interchangeable. Still, there’s a few specific areas Maxine thinks are worth checking out while zombie activity is minimal. In particular, a records room on the ground floor.

The door isn’t locked. You open it slowly, quietly, just in case a zombie or two is waiting for you on the other side.

Easy does it…

You breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of the zombie-less, tidy room before you and step inside.

That’s when you see it.

A pokéball. It rests on top of a worn-looking backpack, alongside a little pile of other useful items. A flashlight. Batteries. A dead mobile phone.

It has clearly been left in this location intentionally. And from what you can tell – not that long ago.

A trap? The radio operator – Sam – certainly didn’t know about it. How could it have come to be there?

You realise you don’t even know what to do with a pokéball. Do people just… pick them up? Do you have to say something? Use some kind of electronic key? You suddenly regret not paying more attention to the few Pokémon you encountered before the apocalypse.

Crouching down to get a better look, you see a torn piece of paper underneath the pokéball. Avoiding touching the ball itself, you tug at the edge to discover what must have been a patient’s file at some point. The file is mostly illegible now, as someone has scribbled over it in large, shaky capital letters with a blue ballpoint pen: “PLEASE TAKE CARE OF HER.”

Still hunched over, you extend a single, tentative finger towards the pokéball, touching it in the central, white button-like spot. “Anyone home?”

There’s a rather cheerful sounding hum, and a beam of energy shoots from the pokéball to the ground in front of you. And then, coalescing amongst the sparks, is a small, blue and cream coloured creature. It gazes up at you nervously.

“A… blue pikachu?” The creature looks at you sadly. You’d swear it looks like it had been crying. Do they cry?

“Mi-minun…?” it says, keeping its distance.

“Uh. Hi. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m from – well, I guess Abel Township, soon. Apparently I’m their new Runner Fiv-“

“MINUN!” The small creature’s entire demeanor changes, and your heart nearly leaps out of your chest as it closes the distance between you in a second, wrapping its stubby arms as far around your left leg as it can.

“Hey… little, uh, guy…” You pat the blue tips of its rabbit-like ears. It buzzes with an electric purr.

“Okay buddy… you’re gonna need to let go for now. I have some files to skim through and – what? Where are you going?” You follow the small creature over to a desk to one side of the records room.

Abel township

Sam laughs with relief as your figure appears, a good half hour later, on his cameras once again. “Hey, there you are! I’ve got you on camera now. Great to see you, even though you’re kinda blurry.” He squints at the large box in your hands, noting the bag you have slung around your shoulders as well. “Wow, you really went all-out, huh? Look at this, Doc - Runner Five picked up something in the hospital.”

“Oh!” Maxine bends down to level her head with Sam’s, staring at the screen. “That looks just like the kind of thing we’re looking for – Runner Five, I don’t say this lightly - that box could be worth your life to protect. Don’t drop it.”

It’s then that motion appears on the cameras again – but this time, it’s not human.

“What’s that shadow over there?”

Sam lets out a frustrated yelp. “Awww no, no! This was what - when we sent her out, this was what happened! They’re following you, Runner Five - the swarm from the car park, they’re following you! Run! Run for Abel as fast as you can!”

Abel outskirts

This could be it, you think, as the groans behind you grow louder and louder, competing with the thumping of your feet against the earth and the beating of your heart in your chest. This might be all the time I get.

But. You can see Abel. You’re so close. And it’s not just you that needs to be saved right now.

“They’re so fast, why are they so fast?” Sam’s disbelief is palpable. “They never run, why are they running?? Runner Five? Runner Five, they’re gaining on you!

Strangely, Sam’s panic is somehow calming. Because he’s panicking, you don’t need to. He’ll do all the worrying, and you’ll do all the running.

Don’t think.

Just run.

 You try to focus on the gates, the sound of his voice in your ears drowning out the zombie moans.

The doctor cuts in. “Runner Five, you’re not far from the gates now. If you can keep going, we’ll send some people with guns out to meet you. Only one zombie is close to reaching you, just put on a burst of speed, now!”

“Oh, god.” You have to strain your ears to hear Sam’s voice this time. You think you hear the sound of a chair scraping across the floor, too. “Oh, god.”

“Sam?”

“It’s her. I can see her. Maxine, don’t you recognize…? It’s Alice.” His voice breaks. “It’s the old Runner Five. She’s…”

You’re almost there. You put on an extra burst of speed, staring at the gates, afraid to blink. The next minute is a blur of shape and sound, as you give every last bit of strength you have left into pushing forwards. More voices shout to you over the headset, and then there are gunshots, klaxons, and –

You’re inside. The gates lower behind you.

You don’t look back.

A blur of faces meet yours. Someone takes the hospital box from your arms.

 “Sorry about this – just gotta check you over real quick.” Someone pushes back the sleeves of your shirt, while another pair of hands pat down your clothing, presumably looking for bites, bleeding or Bad Stuff of any other kind.

“Looks like you’re clean – Doc Myers will wanna look at you now, though.”

Questions begin flying at you from the crowd. You sway a little and try to focus on each individual voice but your brain just won’t play along.

You feel a hand grasping yours briefly, and then a plastic cup filled with water is pressed into it.

“Hey! Good to see you in the flesh… the totally-unbroken, skin-not-bitten-by-zombies flesh, right?”

This voice. This voice cuts through the rest.

His voice. You glance up to see his face.

His…

You feel a shock pass right through your entire body.

And then you lose yourself.