Becca held her breath as she stepped through the sliding doors of the towering skyscraper. Her pokémon was curiously looking around the room from the safety of a backpack carrier. With a chirp of approval from her companion, the young woman became more comfortable walking up to the reception desk where a woman sat typing on a phone.
“H-Hello.” She said quietly with a shy smile, “I am here to see H-Howard Clifford. Do you know where his office is?”
The woman only stared at her, saying absolutely nothing. Her round black glasses and half dyed hair were definitely not the typical dress code for a receptionist, but perhaps Ryme city was more liberal about clothing policies than back home. She was handed a pink sticky note, which had a room number written on it in messy cursive. Below it was a simple drawing of a face, with two pin point eyes and a curved smile.
“Oh! Uh...” The young woman smiled awkwardly, not wanting to sound rude if she asked for clearer instructions, “Thank you.” She made her way to the elevator and felt Ralts tug on her shirt.
“I know...” She whispered, “I was kinda freaked out, too. But, maybe she was mute... W-We shouldn’t be judging on first impressions...”
The elevator suddenly started moving, even though nobody pressed a button to give it a floor to go to. It automatically began ascending up the side of the building, giving the pair a stunning view of the city below. “Ra...” Ralts waved at a braviary flying past the tower with what appeared to be a bag of mail. The bird pokémon nodded to return the greeting.
“Wow...” Rebecca gasped in awe at the peaceful city, “It is so different here... Nobody has even tried to make us battle them yet...”
The ding of the elevator announced they had arrived, so the girl and her therapy pokémon got off. Before them was a lavish office. Golden statues of mythical pokémon were taller than her surrounded the center of the room. The glass wall gave a view of the city skyline from behind a large desk, where she saw nobody sitting.
“Hello?” She hesitantly called out, “I-I think I may be a bit lost...Is anyone-“
A brown furry pokémon ran up from the corner of the room, ears pinned to its head and fur standing straight. The puffy tail curled under its hind legs revealed that it was more afraid than aggressive. Ralts hid in the backpack, as the woman held her hand out to the frightened normal type, “S-Sorry if we spooked you... It’s okay...”
Its nose wiggled as it took a few hesitant sniffs, inching closer slowly. “You’re fine...Ralts and I won’t hurt you...” She whispered as she took the risk and pet the top of its head. The pokémon pulled away once or twice but eventually leaned into her touch, and rolled over on its back. She could see that it was a male from the pattern on the tip of the bushy tail wagging side to side.
She couldn’t help but feel more relaxed socializing with a pokémon rather than with other people. Becca settled down on the floor as Ralts calmly waved to the pokémon from the backpack. “What had you so jumpy, little guy?” She started talking softly to it as she rubbed its fluffy belly, “You looked like you were running away from something...”
“Ah, there you are, Eevee.” A voice came from the corner of the room, “I thought you might’ve gotten into trouble again, but it looks like you’ve made a little friend.”
Rebecca looked up to see the man himself, Howard Clifford, rolling his wheelchair closer to her with a polite smile. The eevee seemed to reluctantly leave her side and hop onto the man’s lap.
“You must be Becca.” He held his hand out, “Welcome to Ryme city! I imagine you’ve seen quite the spectacular view from the elevator ride up?”
She shook his hand gently, though the man had a surprisingly firm grip, “T-thank you, sir. Yes, Ralts and I were both blown away.”
“Ah, call me Howard, young lady.” He finally let go of her hand, “Ralts is your therapy pokémon if memory serves me.”
Becca nodded, looking to her surprisingly uneasy pokémon, clinging to her shoulder, “Hey, you alright? Did eevee scare you that much?”
“I certainly hope Eevee wasn’t disrespectful.” The man reached down to pet the pokémon on his lap, who seemed to quiver and flinch at the touch, “He can be a bit...defiant.”
“Oh, no no. He was an absolute angel.” She reassured the man, partially fearing for the safety of the pokémon, “He was just a little scared, is all.”
“I saw you befriend him with just a touch. For a few moments, I admit, I was too amazed to say anything. You truly have a gift with pokémon.” The founder nodded, “I knew you’d be the right candidate for this study.”
“I-It’s not like that.” The young woman blushed, “I-I am just more comfortable around pokémon than other people. I just understand them better. It isn’t like a superpower or anythi-”
“Do not sell yourself short.” He interrupted her suddenly, “Imagine what you could do if you were at your full potential.”
“I-I try my best...?” She wasn’t sure if that was a question, “Of course, we both know that sometimes gifts come with flaws... I suck at socializing with other people.”
“Indeed, don’t you wish those flaws could all just... go away?” He looked to her with a twinkle in his eye, “So you could truly be your best self?”
“Uh...I suppose.” Becca shrugged, “I never thought of it like that. Flaws are kinda part of what make us who we are-“
“It was a pleasure meeting you, miss Rebecca.” He cut her off again, “On the ground floor, Ms. Norman has prepared to drive you to the research facility. Safe travels!”
“O-oh!” She gave a nervous smile as the woman forced her to go into the car, “Y-You’re Ms. Norman?! T-that’s a- uh...a nice name!”
Becca and Ralts were both in mental agreement that something was not right here, and they had to get out right now. She immediately looked to the car doors, but as she tried to reach for the handle while Ms. Norman got in her seat, the clicking sound of the locks activating made her jump.
The car started moving. “Ahah...” She laughed uneasily, hugging Ralts without realizing it, “S-So...have you lived here all your life?” Becca was not one to ever make small talk, but at this point she would feel a bit of relief if this woman just said a single word... or laughed even! She wasn’t picky!
“That’s okay... You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to...” She was quiet for a few seconds before trying again, “Wow, look at all these people... I-is Ryme city always this crowded?”
“C-can you talk... at all?”
Ralts reached into her pocket suddenly, grabbing the pink sticky note they had been given by the woman before and crumpling it up. At first, she thought her therapy pokémon was going to throw a ball of paper at her, but instead it was placed in her hands. The pink paper crumpled into a blob like shape, with the menacingly simple smiley face looking up at her.
Becca realized immediately what her companion was trying to tell her. “Y-you’re not a human... are you?” She gulped as she eyed the mirror. After a moment of silence, she saw the woman lower her glasses to reveal two sunken, beady eyes. Her lips curved into a wide smile as she said a single word, “Ditto.”
“... H-how did you even learn to drive?!” That random question came out on accident, “I-I mean, Ditto, or Ms. Norman, o-or whoever you are! Ralts and I have decided we would like to drop out of this study. I-it said we could do that anytime on the contract, s-so if you could just drop us off at the nearest bus stop-“
The car casually drove outside of the city limits, with the driver purposefully ignoring the orders of the passengers.
After passing a vast natural landscape, they finally arrived at their destination. Barbed wire and warning signs surrounded the perimeter of the building. Becca felt a sense of hopelessness sink in
as she saw multiple scientists leave the building and approach the car. They had large syringes and a wheelchair with leather straps on it.
When the car door opened, she used whatever courage she had left to make one statement, “I-I will comply...” She was shaking as she raised her hands up, “B-but you have to let my Ralts go free r-right now, so I can see it!” The adults in lab coats looked at each other, and nodded in agreement.
She looked to her therapy pokémon, both of their hearts torn in two. All she could manage to say after hugging it for a long time was a sob ridden “G-goodbye...” Ms. Norman grabbed and placed the Ralts on the other side of the fence gate, so that the human could see that their end of the deal was upheld.
“A-alright...” Becca closed her eyes, feeling gloved hands grab a hold of her outstretched arms. She watched her pokémon disappear into the trees, feeling a sense of relief that one of her closest friends would not be hurt now. With a sharp burning pain injected directly into the back of her neck, she was out like a light.