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Pokestar Studios Productions

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Rosa glanced at her brother as they followed the Pokéstar Studios official through the streets of Virbank City. His hair was more of a flyaway mess than usual, indicating that he had been brushing a hand through it, as he did when he was nervous. Due to this, his visor was askew, and hung over his eyes to obstruct his view of his surroundings. She elbowed him in the gut.

“Ow!” he grunted, but didn’t otherwise respond.

Rosa elbowed him again, this time with more force.

Nate batted her arm away with a mumbled, “Stoppit.” He ran fingers through his hair again, and, noticing Rosa’s regard, quickly stuffed his hands into his pant pockets and hurried after the agent.

“Is little brother nervous?” Rosa wondered sweetly, batting her eyelashes at the boy as she came alongside him again.

Nate attempted to brush her off again. “We’re the same age, Rosa. I’m only three minutes younger than you.”

Rosa smiled her best arch grin. “Well, you know how much three minutes can matter in this day and age,” she observed. “But that’s beside the point. What’s the big deal with Pokéstar Studios that’s got you worked up?”

Nate frowned at the big blond agent’s back. He had ignored the conversation so far, as he was probably obliged to by contract. “It seems way too convenient that he happened to be scouting for trainers while two poor, nobody trainers from Aspertia City were in town. There are plenty of stars working for the studio already; why are they looking for new talent when they have a steady stream of people going in for auditions?”

Rosa had to think to answer that one. She hadn’t even considered the possibility, too caught up in dreams of fame and fortune. “Well, this way they catch talent that would otherwise never go to the studio,” she reasoned. “With our badges from Roxy, we would already be on the boat for Castelia if it weren’t for this guy.” She gestured to the agent ahead of them. “So that’s probably why they hunt for talent, rather than just waiting for i- ooooooooh.”

She had been cut off as the agent led the two young trainers through the huge gates to the Pokéstar Studios campus. Behind them, in the downtown of Virbank City, there was smog, and discoloured buildings, everything coated in a layer of sooty grey. Here, in the theme park that was the centre of cinema in the Unova Region, everything was painted with bright colours, and the buildings flashed with neon signs. Spotlights lit the sky, and people in elaborate costumes wandered back and forth along the concourse they had just entered on, also called the Main Mall.

Ahead of them, the agent turned on to one of the side streets, towards a squat building covered in posters. Through a door and up a set of stairs the two were led, and finally into a bright, opulent room where a pair of couches faced each other over a low coffee table. An older man with a shock of bright yellow hair around is massive bald spot was pouring himself a cup of tea at the table.

The agent bowed slightly before the man. “Mr. Deeoh, these are the kids I found in Roxy’s place.”

The man looked up to turn an excitable gaze upon the two trainers. “Ah, welcome!” he gushed. “Do sit down. Would you like some tea? Coffee? Cookie, either of you? Oh, please don’t be shy, we like to be sure our interviews are as casual as possible.”

Nate and Rosa shared a glance. “You want us to act for you?” asked Rosa, keeping her expression as friendly as she could.

“Oh my, yes,” said Mr. Deeoh. “We always want new talent here. Our agent here told us that you had a wonderful presence while you battled Roxy in her Gym.

“That’s what we really look for, you know,” he confided, leaning far forward. “Everything else can be taught: lines, costuming, scriptwriting, that’s all secondary. What an actor really needs is a good presence on the screen, and the intuitive knowledge of Pokémon that has allowed the two of you to earn Gym Badges so far.”

Both young trainers preened a bit at the excessive compliments. It was Nate who spoke next. “So, if you’re so sure about us, why have an interview? Was it just to get us here in the campus?”

Mr. Deeoh clutched theatrically at his chest. “Ah, you’ve got me, darling. This isn’t so much an interview as it is a chance to explain how things work here on the Studio. You know who I am, I assume?”

Nate and Rosa both looked blank. “We… don’t watch many movies?” offered Rosa apologetically.

The man threw himself across the cushions on his couch melodramatically, laying the back of a hand across his forehead for effect. “Ah, you wound me, darlings!” he gasped. “I am the inestimable Stu Deeoh, founder of the Studio. I was the star of the Unova film round for years uncounted, and I pioneered the three-short film system right here on the campus.”

Nate and Rosa shared another long, confused glance. “So, uh, Mr. Deeoh,” Rosa began, raising a hand tentatively. “If we’re going to try this business, what are you talking about?”

“Well, darling,” the man told her, regaining his seated position. “I won’t reveal trade secrets if you’re unsure whether you’ll be joining our family here at the Studio.” He smiled, so wide and enthusiastic that it looked like he was splitting his face.

Rosa turned a hopeful glance to Nate, who groaned. “One film,” he grunted at Mr. Deeoh. “We’ll start with one, and see where things go.”

“Perfect!” Somehow, Mr. Deeoh managed to expose even more blindingly white teeth. “Now, allow me to explain.

“When we make a film, there are three phases to the shooting. In the first, actors follow the script and the director’s guidance. The second shoot gives actors a chance to play with their characters on the set, and there are no limitations upon what they do before the cameras. The third and final shoot is where we allow actors to stretch their writing muscles and create their own script based on their director’s. You see,” he said, now looking even smugger than he already had, “our goal is to train actors in writing, to produce the next generation of screenwriters. It also gives audiences a chance to see what their favourite actors can produce on their own.”

Nate and Rosa each raised a single eyebrow in confusion, and stared at Deeoh. He sighed. “Let’s just get things started without delay. Monroe,” he snapped his fingers at the agent standing behind his seat, “get me Brycen on the phone. I have costars for that new script he accepted last week.

“Well, darlings,” he said to Nate and Rosa, “I’ll see you at the Premier of your first film next week!” He rose from the seat with a flourish and sauntered out the door.

“Did he just say-”

“Brycen?”

Nate and Rosa’s jaws both dropped in unison. “We get to be in a film with Brycen?”

Chapter Text

Good

The beautiful evening at Nimbasa City’s amusement park ended with the arrival of the Masked Man.

The ferris wheel, adorned with the lights that made the city famous, ground to a halt, and, as spectators began to wonder why, a shadow leapt from its apex. He landed with a resounding crash, sending people scrambling away from the resulting dust cloud.

Lit with a thousand spotlights, a Vullaby and Pawniard appeared from within the cloud. Directed by an unseen master, they savagely attacked the stalls and attractions of the amusement park. As children ran, the control panel of the carousel was ripped out with a slash of the Pawniard’s arms, bringing the ride to a shuddering halt and casting it into darkness.

A few brave souls advanced on the settling dust, but retreated at the sight of the man within it. His tattered cloak hanging limp, Brycen-Man straightened his jagged mask and grinned coldly at those who had attempted to fight him. “Fade away, fools,” he growled at them.

Before they could react, Brycen-Man’s Vullaby appeared from behind and cracked every one of them upside the head. They fell like so many sacks of potatoes.

Then a young girl stepped forward, her long pigtails waving in a light breeze off of the desert. “Stop it, Brycen-Man!” she cried. She leaned down to check one of the men who had fallen.

“Foolish, idealistic girl,” the Masked Man snarled. “Pawniard, use-” But he was cut off as a new voice joined in.

“Riolu, Force Palm!”

From the warren of stalls, now lit only by flickering street lamps, a blue blur streaked into the light and collided with the bladed Pokémon, dealing a mighty blow with an open palm. Brycen-Man’s Pawniard flew away, to land at the feet of its master. The attacking Pokémon vanished away again before anyone could register what it was.

“The Messenger of Truths and Ideals, the Riolu Kid enters!” came a young voice as a new player dashed onto the scene. The Riolu Kid wore a dramatic red mask to hold his unruly hair back, a colourfully patterned and perfectly symmetrical costume, and a yellow cape to compliment his red gloves. “Stop right there, Brycen-Man!”

The Pawniard half-rose before collapsing, unconscious.

Brycen-Man produced a deep, throaty laugh. “A single hit to knock out my Pawniard! You are something special, aren’t you, Riolu Kid? But can you combat my dark, secret arts? Vullaby!”

The vulture Pokémon swept across the battlefield, knocking the girl over as it clipped her with its wings. As she fell, Brycen-Man vanished and reappeared instantaneously behind her, dragging her to her feet by one pigtail.

“Rosa!” cried the Riolu Kid. “Let her go!”

“Muahaha!” Brycen-Man cackled. “Now you know the stakes of interfering with the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm, ‘hero’!” he spat the title as if it was distasteful to him. “Move aside if you want your precious Rosa returned in one piece.”

The Riolu Kid flinched momentarily, then steeled himself. “You can’t threaten me,” he asserted, raising his head high. “I’ll protect the ideals of peace and fun, even if I have to make sacrifices. Bring it on, Brycen-Man!”

Bystanders were gathering now, watching the interplay of hero and villain. A few wiped away tears at the Riolu Kid’s speech. One young man, at the back of the crowd, couldn’t see, and asked, “What is it? Is it tonight’s hero skit?”

Brycen-Man’s eyes locked on the innocent, insulting bystander. “Hmph. You will be dealt with in due course.” He flung out his free hand towards the Riolu Kid, his purple gloves dull in the lamp light. “Vullaby, use-”

“Ice Punch!” Riolu Kid ordered his Riolu. With another burst of blinding speed, the Pokémon launched itself from the shadows at the Vullaby, freezing its fist as it made contact with the bird’s outstretched wing. Crippled by the attack, the Vullaby spiralled for a moment before coming to earth, its energy exhausted. This time, the Riolu flipped in midair and landed next to the Riolu Kid.

The dumbstruck Brycen-Man dropped Rosa to the ground, where she lay, nursing her hair. “Another one hit knock-out,” he breathed. “How is this possible?”

The Riolu Kid stood tall, facing his foe with Riolu by his side. “I will protect the amusement park, Brycen-Man,” he declared. “When you attack the ideals of innocent people, you attack me. Don’t try it again.”

The hero and the villain stared each other down for several moments, neither giving an inch. Finally, Brycen-Man looked away. “Very well. The Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm shall leave, for tonight.” He drew his cloak about him and stood tall. “But this is not the end. We will meet again, Riolu Kid. Then, you will face my dark, secret arts!”

There was a flash of smoke, and a rush of hot air that forced all the onlookers to avert their eyes. When they could see again, Brycen-Man and his Pokémon had vanished without a trace. Only Rosa remained where he had stood.

“Rosa!” The Riolu Kid hurried forward and knelt beside the girl, carefully lifting her slightly. “Did he hurt you?”

Eschewing the assistance, Rosa picked herself up, still rubbing her scalp where Brycen-Man had grabbed her. “Only my pride, Riolu Kid,” she told him. “I don’t know much about villains, but it almost seemed like he wasn’t here to win.” She looked pensive.

Behind his mask, the Riolu Kid’s face took on a pensive expression. “I know. This could be just the beginning.”

Meanwhile, the crowd had closed in on the pair. “Wow, the Riolu Kid was so great!” someone said.

“I filmed it on my Cross-Transciever!” a teen girl yelled from the back. “Check out my channel on PokéTube later, everyone!”

Riolu Kid smiled slightly. “I should leave, before they can guess my secret identity,” he said quietly to Rosa. “Do you need a lift home?”

“Not tonight, thanks.” Rosa dusted her skirt off with a negligent gesture. “Someone has to help all these people, and I have other stuff to do tonight. See you, Riolu!” she chirped to the small blue Pokémon, who yipped at his master.

The Riolu Kid nodded to his Pokémon. “It’s time to go,” he agreed. “I’ll see you in school, Rosa.” With a wave, the Riolu Kid raced away, faster than the eyes of the crowd could follow. He and his Riolu left the city at a breakneck pace.

“And we’ll see the Riolu Kid the next time the Unova Region needs protecting from the likes of Brycen-Man,” promised Rosa.

 


 

 

Bad

“Come on, silly, just get on the ferris wheel!”

“No! It’s so big. What if it swings or falls? Remember that time a few years ago when some Team Plasma guy had a fight with someone on the ferris wheel, and it fell?

Rosa glared at the boy, but that didn’t help her anger. He could be such a coward. “Nate, it’s probably the safest ride in the park. Just think! We’ll be able to see the whole park, maybe even all the way to Castelia City! And with all those lights at night, it’s just so romantic!” She sighed, her long tails of hair fluttering around her.

“Uh… Romantic?” Nate looked aghast, and backed away a bit. “Really? Do… Do we have to go on this ride?” He straightened his visor nervously, despite the fact that the sun had set hours ago.

Rosa’s expression darkened further. “I will get you on that ferris wheel if I have to drag you.” She snatched up his hand and strode towards the entryway. Nate, unresisting, followed with reluctance.

Just as the pair came directly under the great wheel, it ground to a halt. As if they had been cut off, all the lights on the attraction flickered and died. “Wah! What’s happening!” cried Nate, as a shadow appeared at the highest point on the wheel.

Rosa silenced her date with a gesture. “Look there,” she indicated, pointing at the nondescript scrap of darkness. “What do you suppose it is?”

Before the nervous boy could venture a guess, two shapes flew down from the shadow and barrelled past the pair. Rosa was knocked to the ground by a mass of feathers, but Nate remained standing.

“R-Rosa, I think I should deal with this,” Nate stammered, then ran into the shadow of the ferris wheel’s small lobby.

The shapes that had rushed down upon the two teenagers had been revealed as a pair of Pokémon, a Vullaby and Pawniard. They tore through the amusement park, ripping the stalls of souvenirs to shreds and tearing out power cords, sending the surroundings into an ever deeper gloom. A deep laugh floated down from the ferris wheel. The larger shadow made a flying leap, and landed lightly in the open space before the ferris wheel, his cape spread wide.

“Go, my Pokémon! This place of worthless, idle dreams has stood for too long!” declaimed Brycen-Man, pointing an accusing, gloved finger at the amusement park. “The dark, secret arts of the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm shall tear this monument to consumerist fantasy to the ground.”

Rosa carefully rose to her feet, keeping quiet, and backed up against the ferris wheel. “Nate, we should get out of here,” she murmured into the blackness of the lobby.

Then, as Brycen-Man’s Pawniard flowed past the square to find a new stall to ravage, Nate’s voice issued from inside, “S-stop right there, Brycen-Man!” Unfortunately, his slight nervous stammer remained.

“Eh?” the villain asked, turning around. “Who dares to speak to me so?”

“I do!” Nate’s voice, to Rosa’s astonishment, gained some power. “The Riolu Kid, the Messenger of Truths and Ideals, will stop you!” And he stepped into the half-light afforded by the distant lights of Nimbasa City.

To Rosa’s eye, Nate looked faintly ridiculous in the hero outfit. His mask, clearly meant to hold back his bird’s nest hair, was dramatic enough, but the choice of primary colours for his outfit had clearly been the wrong decision. The worst was the bright red gloves, which looked so big they were about to fall off.

Brycen-Man’s glare was contemptuous. “I hardly think a fledgling hero will be able to deal with my dark, secret arts,” he huffed. Rosa privately agreed.

Nate frowned. “Riolu, attack!” he called.

From behind him, a streak of blue emerged, and moved, faster than the eye could follow, to strike Brycen-Man’s Pawniard with a crushing open-handed blow. There was a brief scuffle, but Riolu had a clear advantage, and the villain’s Pokémon crumpled.

“Hmm, so you do have some skill,” conceded Brycen-Man. “This may just be an entertaining fight. Prepare for my dark, secret arts, Riolu Kid!” he howled.

The ‘Riolu Kid’ took a step back, intimidated, and produced a small squeak of protest. Brycen-Man laughed and gestured to his Vullaby, who had alighted beside him as the Pawniard fell.

Before Riolu could react, the Aerial Ace had hit. A shocking blow across the face, and Vullaby sailed away, only to strike again from behind without any reprisal from the small Pokémon. Riolu collapsed and made no attempt to rise.

“Riolu!” Riolu Kid called to his Pokémon, but there was no response.

“That’s it?” Brycen-Man seemed slightly disappointed. Perhaps he had expected a better fight. “Well, that didn’t even require my dark, secret arts! All the better, I suppose. Now, Riolu Kid, just wait over there like a good failed hero while I deal with the amusement park.”

The Riolu Kid sank to his knees, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. Rosa, still behind him, her back to the ferris wheel, made a disgusted noise. “Useless boys,” she observed, moving forward.

Brycen-Man had turned away, and was pulling out a Revive from a pocket in his cloak when Rosa struck. An elbow to the gut and, as the man bent double, a calculated strike at the pair of nerve points in the neck. Before the villain even hit the ground, Rosa had backed away and was brushing off her hands.

Nate stared in undisguised wonder. “R-Rosa, how did you…” he could only trail off in disbelief.

“Return your Riolu, ‘Riolu Kid’,” admonished Rosa, adjusting her buns, which had been knocked off-centre by Brycen-Man’s flailing arms. “We’re leaving, now.”

Outside the Nimbasa Amusement Park, Nate asked again. “Seriously, what was that?”

Rosa cast a dark look at him, and he flinched. “None of your business,” she snapped. “By the way, you’re still wearing your ‘hero’ getup.”

Nate gasped, apparently noticing for the first time that he still wore the gaudy outfit and mask of his superhero ‘alter ego’. To the stares of passersby, he ran down the street to the nearest public washroom.

 


 

 

Strange

The Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm, Brycen-Man, sat in the gloom behind Nimbasa City’s ferris wheel, his fingers steepled before his face. Tonight would be the crowning achievement of the crime wave he had masterminded, and would finally destroy the obsolete notions of truth and ideal in the Unova region. Tonight, garbed in his tattered cloak and dramatic mask, he would tear down the amusement park and destroy the foolish dreamings of the naïve people of the region.

His Pawniard marched up to him, steel appendages shining like oil in the shifting half-light. “Is all in readiness?” asked Brycen-Man. The Pokémon saluted and nodded.

“Very well. I am prepared. No hero shall stop our power tonight!”

A few minutes later, the ferris wheel creaked to a halt, and every light on it went out. The charges set in the control room had done their work. The clouds, reflecting the glow of the city that never sleeps, silhouetted the Masked Man as he stood astride the ferris wheel, a dramatic shadow that the people below quickly noticed and pointed to in their terror.

With a casual flick of his cloak, Brycen-Man threw himself into the air from the ferris wheel. He did a flip halfway down, and nonchalantly ploughed into a bystander to break his fall. The onlookers screamed and backed up into each other. When Pawniard and Vullaby joined the chaos, it quickly became a panicked stampede, and visiters were trampled in the press.

“And now, the amusement park… shall fall!” Brycen-Man raised his arms in the air, and sets of charges throughout the park began to explode, adding to the chaos as showers of sparks fell from the festive lights. An ever-widening area around the ferris wheel began to go dark, an area in which Pawniard and Vullaby took free rein to destroy attractions and merchandise.

Then, just as the boiling mass of people exploded onto the streets of Nimbasa City, a new voice, amplified a thousand times by the park loudspeakers, said, “Stop right there, Brycen-Man!”

Standing with a Riolu on the top of the carousel, the hero was suddenly lit by spotlights from all sides. He wore a suit, all in primary colours, and a cape that flowed behind him to alternate the colours of the top and bottom in the glare. His mask held back a cloud of brown hair. “I won’t let you destroy the amusement park!”

Brycen-Man stared for a long moment, until the little hero started to look uncomfortable. “A child,” he spat. “Not even a functional hero, but a worthless lump of a pampered child.”

Then he pulled himself together. “You think you can stop me, little hero?” bellowed the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm. “Before we begin, tell me your name. I enjoy knowing the titles of those I crush into the dust!” Pawniard and Vullaby returned to his side, and together they prepared for battle.

The little hero puffed his chest out. “I’m the Riolu Kid, the Hero of Truths and Ideals! You can’t stop me and Riolu!”

“Let’s see about that. Face me, and my dark, secret arts.” Brycen-Man leapt out of the way at the same moment as Pawniard and Vullaby surged forward.

The panic exuded by the Riolu Kid was palpable. “Riolu, Force Palm!” he screeched.

The blue Pokémon lurched into battle, looking confused. It swung once, twice, and a third time at Pawniard, but the bladed Pokémon dodged every strike with ease before hitting the smaller animal with a ringing uppercut.

“Oops,” breathed the Riolu Kid. “We missed…”

Brycen-Man was aghast. “Your Pokémon can’t even hit right?” he wondered, incredulous. “Why are you even here? This… ugh, this is the worst of insults. Do I not rank even a proper hero to try and stop me?”

Riolu Kid hung his head as Brycen-Man continued to rave. “I went to so much trouble planning tonight, but now you’ve ruined it.” He sounded close to tears. “All the terror will be for nothing if everyone knows that there wasn’t even a real hero here to try and stop me, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“If I’m not regularly defeating heroes, I lose my credit as a supervillain, and then I can’t get into the lounge under Reversal Mountain. I won’t get the support I need for events like this from the Castelia Business Guild, and then I’ll have to go into legitimate business to fund my agenda.

“Well, you get on rebuilding the park, little hero,” he said, finally. “I’ll collect the support I need for another crime wave, and then I want a real hero sent for me to defeat, alright?” With that, Brycen-Man faded into the shadows around the ferris wheel and vanished into the night, presumably to visit the supervillain lounge and describe his excursion to the other villains there.

Riolu Kid, still shocked at his failure, left the park without another word, leaving his crew to pack up their equipment and hurry the spotlights back into storage. To the side, a young woman, a bystander during the attack, was talking on her Cross-Transciever.

“Yes, he wants a real hero sent next time,” she said, and waited while a string of unintelligible yelling emerged. “Yes, I understand that there aren’t many, but I don’t think a novice like Sora can go after real criminals yet… Yes, I’m his manager, but you warned me about the attack on the amusement park tonight without telling me who would be attacking… No, I can’t go after him now and clarify who he wants sent after him. How would that look, a hero’s manager walking into the lounge like I’m out for Sunday brunch? They aren’t supposed to know that we know who they are, and if I go talk to Brycen, they’ll find the cameras we placed in their lounge.”

Finally, the speech from the other end calmed enough that it could be heard. “Rosa, you need to train Sora so that he can deal with this quickly,” a masculine voice ordered, crackling through the secure channel. “The Riolu Kid is dropping in the polls, and we need a new angle for him. Clumsy new hero isn’t going to work for much longer before we have to drop him and switch you to a new assignment.”

“Understood, sir,” chirped Rosa. “I’ll get right on creating an actual arch-nemesis for Brycen-Man. I’ll need to put in a new training room for Sora, and I might need some of those competence inducers from the research division. Riolu Kid will be ready the next time Brycen-Man appears. Do you want him to take him out, or to get taken down?”

“That’s your prerogative, Rosa. Do what’s better for the drama. The Kanto audience loves drama.”

“I understand. Thank you, sir.”

“Good luck.”

Rosa hung up the Cross-Transciever and stretched for a moment. She would be working non-stop until Brycen-Man’s next attack. Not only did she have a hero to train, but she would have to coordinate with Brycen’s manager to plan out a plot for the next clash, and produce some coherent build-up on camera, with the two separated by an entire region the whole time.

It was time, she decided, to start running the angst and revenge angle with Sora. She had been planning it for months, of course, but this defeat was perfect to set it up. Very soon, the Riolu Kid would be Kanto’s favourite hero. Right after he got an angst booster in his neck tonight. Rosa held up the needle and grinned. She loved her job.

 


 

 

As the three stars burst out of the theatre, Rosa groaned and hung her head. “That was so awful,” she moaned. “I feel dirty for having been in a film like that.” She scrubbed at her arms to try and rid herself of the feeling.

Brycen, known for being inhumanly stoic while training at his former gym in Icirrus City, actually laughed. “Everyone’s first film is horrible,” he told her. “I think that it’s a test to see who can actually make the film good while dealing with an awful premise. You were lucky to get a costar like me,” he joked. He preened shamelessly in front of a group of fans, who took pictures and squealed, then continued walking towards the doors.

Nate looked a little shell-shocked from the noise of the crowd in the lobby. “Are there always so many people here?” he asked, blinking in the light of a thousand flashing cameras.

“You’ll draw crowds like this eventually,” Brycen assured the young trainer. He posed in front of a crowd of reporters for a picture, then continued, “All it takes with this lot is a few good movies and they’ll love you forever.”

“That was not a good movie,” Rosa complained, still making gagging motions barely disguised behind her ponytails.

Nate shrugged. “The third short wasn’t too bad,” he pointed out. “Was that your idea? We never discussed it during the shoot.”

Rosa grinned and chuckled evilly. “Yes, it was my idea. I rather enjoyed the stunned silence of the audience.”

“I will warn you that the audience will expect the sequel to be better, and keep some of the elements you two got into this film,” Brycen pointed out, looking with some relief at the exit, which they had nearly reached.

“Sequel?” Nate and Rosa asked together.

“Yes. Didn’t you know?” Brycen was puzzled. “That collection was good enough to collect some fans, and now the studio is going to latch on and go big with the series, and you two. I wouldn’t be surprised if you both go on to do a whole career’s worth of movies in the next few months.”

Nate and Rosa looked at each other, quite terrified. “I, ah, need to do some training,” Nate choked, and nearly ran for the doors.

“Me too,” agreed Rosa. “And we might not be back for… ever?” She was clearly worried at the idea of having fans.

Brycen seemed very amused at this. “Yes, well, here come some fans now.” He gestured to an approaching crowd of people, most far younger than the two new stars.

Brycen turned around and snapped a selfie as the newly created swarm of fanatics converged on Nate and Rosa, making sure to catch the clump of screaming teens and the horrified expressions on the actors’ faces.

Chapter Text

Good

The setting sun over the sea illuminated the Royal Unova, standing with great pomp at the Castelia City harbour. The ship was preparing for a rather longer than normal voyage, carrying passengers from the Unova Region to Olivine City in the Johto Region. Among the guests in the luxurious suites rested a secret cargo that had to be protected at all costs.

A klaxon on the wharf blared. “Passengers, final boarding will now commence. If you have a ticket and have not yet boarded, please come forward now.”

From the back of the crowd gathered to see the ship off, a disturbance began to work its way forward. Someone at the foot of the pier shoved into the tight mass of people, a pair of Pokémon forcing anyone who got in their way to the side to clear a path for their master. Curses and complaints crescendoed momentarily, but then a fearful silence fell in a widening circle.

His cape billowing behind him in suitably irate snaps and swishes, Brycen-Man stormed through the gathered crowd to the front. When he reached the check-in counter, the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm cast a tablet computer down on the table in front of the terrified stewardess. “My ticket,” he stated, smiling under his mask. His Honchkrow and Scrafty arrayed themselves like bodyguards.

“E-eh, I-I,” the stewardess stammered, reaching for the panic button under her console.

Brycen-Man’s expression cooled. “Check my ticket, or get out of the way,” he snarled. His Scrafty flexed its arm threateningly.

Just as the stewardess was about to flee, cowering back from Brycen-Man’s forceful personality, a familiar voice blared over the megaphone. “Stop right there, Brycen-Man!”

A Lucario leapt onto the pier, apparently from the sewer outlet beneath its end. From within the crowd, a young man stepped forward, throwing off the hooded longcoat he had worn to hide his costume. “I thought you might come here, Brycen-Man!” the young man declared. “Too many people in one place to avoid putting on a show.”

“Riolu Kid,” said Brycen-Man in acknowledgement, sneering slightly. He stepped away from the check-in counter, towards his young nemesis.

The boy straightened his mask and raked a gloved hand through his mess of brown hair. “Actually, it’s Lucario Kid, now,” he pointed out, in a conversational tone. “Riolu had to go and evolve, and I’ve had to change my name. Want to see if we can still bust your team up?”

Brycen-Man cast a worried glance at the Royal Unova before growling at the Lucario Kid. “I’ll make this quick.”

“Sounds good,” agreed the Lucario Kid. “I’d hate to miss dinner.”

Brycen-Man took a threatening step forward, and his two Pokémon swarmed past him as people scrambled away. The Lucario Kid danced backwards, drawing Brycen-Man farther from the lineup.

A young woman broke through the crowd, which approached the point of panic as the hero and villain began to circle. She leaned in to speak to the stewardess, who stared in shock after the Masked Man. “Continue boarding the liner,” the girl muttered, tugging nervously at one of her buns.

Shaken from her shock, the stewardess gestured imperiously for the passengers to approach her. She snatched up the tablet and handed it to the young girl standing in front of her. “Take it and get on board,” the woman ordered. Legally, a criminal was untouchable by local law enforcement on board an international voyage, and liners like the Royal Unova jealously guarded this distinction. The safest place to ensconce Brycen-Man’s ticket was on board the ship.

Meanwhile, Brycen-Man gestured to his Honchkrow. His team had been in training ever since his embarrassing defeat at the amusement park, and even the ungainly crow-like Pokémon moved such that the Lucario Kid could only guard against the astonishing attack. Lucario blocked with steel-hard paws, but the momentum slid him back dangerously. Lucario nearly collapsed under the barrage, but kept his feet through force of will.

As Honchkrow returned to his side, Brycen-Man noticed the moving line before the Royal Unova. The Lucario Kid had circled around so that he was between the villain and the ship, leaving the Masked Man stranded. His only response to grind his teeth and curse the Lucario Kid. “Get out of my way, brat!” he howled.

The Lucario Kid grinned. “Why would I?” he asked insolently. “You’re not getting on that boat, and that’s the reality of it.” He laughed at his own joke. For some reason, he was absurdly chipper.

Brycen-Man groaned, loud and long. “Get out of my way and shut up. We have nothing to discuss.”

The smile dropped from the Lucario Kid’s face. He and his Lucario took a ready pose. “Get through us.”

This time, Honchkrow’s attack was repulsed by a persistent wall of force, Lucario’s aura. When Scrafty followed up, the Lucario Kid himself stepped forward and took a jab at the thuggish Pokémon’s sensitive eyes. No actual hits were landed, and each soon backed down.

The line of passengers was nearly gone, the Lucario Kid noticed, taking a glance over his shoulder. Nearly done. He just needed to keep Brycen-Man occuppied a little longer, and they were home free.

Lucario and his trainer took the defensive stance once more, but all present were shaken suddenly by a deafening announcement from the stewardess. “Th-this is the last call for any remaining passengers,” she stammered, speaking far too close to the microphone. “Please proceed to check in and come on board.” A few onlookers, ticket-holders who had taken a moment to watch the battle, jumped and raced for the ship.

Once more, the Pokémon clashed. Honchkrow, driven by desperation now, could not touch Lucario, not even when Scrafty attacked from the side. This time, the Lucario Kid was ready for Scrafty’s attack, and he dropped into a low kick that swept the desert Pokémon’s legs from under it.

The ship’s horn sounded, blanketing the entire city in a solid wave of sound. The engines thundered to life, and water churned as the Royal Unova left port. Turning his back on the battle, the Lucario Kid took a moment to wave to Rosa, who stood at the rail, an impish smile on her face as she waved Brycen-Man’s tablet at him.

Brycen-Man, for his part, gaped in disbelief. “No!” he wailed. “My pride and arrogance cost me the ticket! Those things are expensive!”

The crowd leaned in close as the Lucario Kid began to speak. He and his Lucario had expressions like Purrloin who had just gotten the cream. “I can’t believe you were so predictable, Brycen-Man,” he said, sounding almost as if he admonished the villain. “Rosa and I had a back-up plan if you got on the ship, and then there was a contingency for if you somehow gained access to the black diamond you were looking for. We didn’t expect to catch you here on the pier.”

His fists clenching and unclenching in frustration, Brycen-Man gazed after the receding ship. He growled low in his throat. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he recited, decisive. “I refuse to give up the black diamond!”

With a violent gesture, Brycen-Man ripped his cape off, casting it to one side. Then, before the audience or the hero could react, he had thrown himself over the guard rail, his two Pokémon following after. The Masked Man landed in a smooth dive, and resurfaced, striking out for the ship.

The Lucario Kid could only stare, incredulous. “Those were his desperate measures?” he wondered aloud. “I suppose that the dark, secret arts are something similar.” He called after the man, “I don’t think you can catch up!”

Some fragments of the Masked Man’s mostly incoherent ranting reached the pier. The Lucario Kid understood something about ambition and sacrifices.

There was silence on the pier as everyone watched Brycen-Man, the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm, paddle his way out to sea. When they could no longer make out details, the crowd burst into excited chatter.

A group of girls screamed, “I can’t believe it was really the Lucario Kid! He’s so cute!” One of their number leaned on the guard rail, gazing with loving eyes after Brycen-Man, but she paid the necessary lip service to the Lucario Kid’s adorable voice.

Several people began watching the videos they had filmed on their Cross-Transcievers. Already, a film of the battle had been uploaded to Pokétube, and those who hadn’t had a good view of the combatants watched to solidify the details in their memories.

Unfortunately, by the time anyone thought to ask for the superhero’s autograph, he and his Lucario had vanished, as if into the ether.

Later, Lucario and Nate sat together on the roof of the old Plasma building. The sunset was past, and the stars shone down on their heads as they watched the tiny lights of the city below them. Nate had removed his mask. It got sweaty behind it, and the trip through the sewer had been gross enough without a grimy mask to add to it.

The young hero turned on his Cross-Transciever and called Rosa. She picked up immediately.

“Is everything good?” asked Nate.

“The black diamond is safe on board,” Rosa assured him. “I heard some crazy stuff about that fight. Did you really beat up a full-grown Scrafty?” Her tone was teasing, but Nate knew she was actually curious.

Nate laughed and rubbed the back of his neck, a little embarrassed. “I hear there are some videos out already. You should check those.”

Rosa smiled softly. “Yeah, I sho- What’s that?” She looked away from the screen. “I swear I heard something.”

“Rosa, be careful,” warned Nate, suddenly wondering if Brycen-Man could possibly have reached the Royal Unova. “Brycen-Man, he escaped. He might be following the-” But Rosa had ended the call.

Nate looked over at Lucario, whose expression reflected his worry back to him. “We won’t be able to get to the boat in time to help,” observed Nate.

Lucario barked an affirmative.

The mask was out of the hidden pocket and on his face before Nate rose fully to his feet. “Well, we’re damn well going to try.”

The pair bounded off across the rooftops to the pier.

 


 

 

Bad

The Royal Unova rested at anchor, awaiting the last of its passengers for its sunset voyage. This evening was a very special extended trip, and tickets had sold alarmingly fast. The captain wondered why, if these people had bought tickets so readily, they didn’t arrive for the voyage on time. The crowd on the pier had already thinned as onlookers became impatient to be home.

On the opposite side of the liner, a small, nondescript vessel drew up alongside. A pair of men in black jumpsuits lifted a heavy strongbox from the hold and lifted it into a harness hanging from the rails of the ship, high above. The harness rose swiftly and the box was lifted out of sight as the boat vanished into the maze of other boats around the Castelia piers.

As if at some prearranged signal, mayhem broke loose on the pier at the exact same time. A tall man with ice blue hair forced his way through the crowd, knocking the stewardess at the check-in desk out of his way.

Before he could move on board the ship, though, a young man and a Lucario skidded down the gangway and onto the pier in front of him. “S-stop right there, Brycen-Man!” the boy gasped, still pulling on his superhero costume’s gloves.

Brycen-Man all but groaned, refusing to show his frustration in front of a hero. “I don’t have time for this right now, Lucario Kid,” he said firmly. “I’ll battle you some other time.”

“Heh. Yeah, right!” The Lucario Kid had fully entered his hero persona now. Both the Hero of Truths and Ideals and the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm had been improved immensely through continual clashes with each other, and now came the climactic confrontation. “You wouldn’t get past me today, not even if you were running to the bathroom!”

Brycen-Man frowned slightly. The Lucario Kid must be messing with him. “I’m sure you know that Masked Men like me don’t use the bathroom when we’re on the job,” he remarked, stepping back to let his Honchkrow take to the battlefield.

“Eh-hem!” came an exclamation from behind them. The stewardess stood, legs spread apart, and a Poké Ball in each outstretched arm. “If you please, you are blocking the pier,” she remonstrated. “While your dispute is settled, we will continue to board passengers once you move out of the way.”

Chastised, the two shifted obligingly several metres to the side, putting themselves at the very end of the wharf. “Shall we begin?” asked the Lucario Kid brightly.

Almost before he had finished speaking, Honchkrow was executing a picture-perfect Aerial Ace. Lucario barely had time to protect himself, deflecting the blow back upwards into the sky.

With the next swing, Lucario failed to execute the protective aura shield properly. Fumbling under pressure, the Pokémon took a hit to the arm physically evading the strike. Lucario Kid cried out as his friend slid to the ground. Thankfully, Lucario was able to pull himself up again, but he would not withstand a similar strike again.

Meanwhile, the uninterested passengers boarded their cruise, and one young couple even crossed the battlefield to take a selfie in the setting sun. The incredulous pause that accompanied was beyond understanding.

There was a long silence as both Brycen-Man and Lucario Kid stared after the retreating pair. Finally, Brycen-Man burst out with, “What the hell. Can’t people have some respect for a serious superhero versus supervillain battle?” Together, he and Honchkrow shook their heads disapprovingly.

“That was odd, wasn’t it?” Lucario Kid agreed. “Just, why?”

Brycen-Man shook himself, making his cloak ripple spastically, to get back into the game. “Regardless, time is money, money is time, and I am running low on both. Let’s go!” Honchkrow prepared to attack, but Lucario Kid and his partner were still staring over at the boat. Even a supervillain lost credit if he attacked while the superhero’s attention was elsewhere.

A low, rumbling ‘Hmmm’ issued from the Lucario Kid’s throat, very deep compared to his usual voice. “There’s nothing on the Royal Unova you want, you know, Brycen-Man,” the young hero pointed out. “I still think that what you really want is to use a nice bathroom. All the public ones here in Castelia are really dirty and smelly. I wouldn’t even use them to change in.” With a slightly vacant smile on his face, the Lucario Kid finally turned back to the battles.

This speech was dignified with a withering glare from behind Brycen-Man’s mask. “Did you hit your head during that chase through the Desert Resort, Lucario Kid?” was the serious question the villain asked. “I think I told you I’m not using bathrooms right this second.”

“Hmm? No, I’m fine.” The Lucario Kid’s gaze finally refocussed on Honchkrow. “You’re not getting on that boat.” Lucario and the hero took defensive poses.

Now Brycen-Man approached annoyance. Maybe it was the Lucario Kid’s indifference, or his insistence about bathrooms. The information that the hero should probably see a psychologist was filed away in the Masked Man’s mind, and he let himself become enraged by the heroic nonchalance.

“Very well,” the Masked Man enunciated coldly. “Then we will go through you with the full power of the Masked Man!”

Honchkrow soared into action as Lucario fumbled the defensive manoeuvre again. This time, the large steel Pokémon flew into his master’s outstretched arms and sent them both flying into a large pylon, where they slumped and did not move.

Now the thin crowd turned to look, and, seeing the hero lying defeated, scrambled to flee. The stewardess took a single glance and scrambled up the gangway to the staff door on deck, which she locked from the inside.

All the while, Brycen-Man, the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm, laughed at the expense of the hero who had so often thwarted him. “Well, who knew that all that rushing around would finally pay off?” the villain howled, clapping the semiconscious Lucario Kid on the shoulder. “This was a cakewalk, and now I’m off to steal a diamond.”

The Lucario Kid’s eyelids flickered. “Thiss… Can’ be hap’ning,” he slurred, reaching to grab at Brycen-Man’s cloak with shuddering fingers.

“There, there, little hero,” Brycen-Man cooed mockingly, dancing out of the way of the weak grasp. “I’ll make sure they send the paramedics for you and your little friend. Don’t go sleeping, now!” And the villain danced up the gangway and past the droves of helpless passengers. They shrank back, leaving him a clear path all the way to the bottom hold, where he found the heavy lockbox, and the precious black diamond inside.

From there, Brycen-Man vanished for months, while the proprietors of the black diamond grew ever more frantic. It was a unique object, valuable beyond measure for its artistry and its abilities. The reward became astronomical, and then an unsigned letter appeared at the museum the black diamond had been exhibited at. It asked a ransom of twice the listed reward for the diamond, which was paid promptly, and in full.

His villainous deeds done, Brycen-Man purchased an old castle in Kalos and strong-armed the government into declaring him its absolute ruler. On the ransom for the diamond, the Masked Man lived very comfortably, under self-imposed house arrest, for the rest of his life.

The Lucario Kid, or Nate, had suffered a concussion during a previous encounter with Brycen-Man, and had to be hospitalized after the beating he received as a result. His civilian identity revealed, Nate hung up his spandex suit forever, and his friends said he was never quite the same after the experience. What had been a keen strategic mind was spent, and the boy was never again able to train Pokémon, though he could care for their basic needs well enough.

Eventually, this became known to Brycen-Man, and he hired Nate to his household, as well as the girl who had previously been his informant on the Lucario Kid’s movements, Rosa. It became Rosa’s job to train the competitive team that Brycen-Man maintained for the Battle Frontier arenas, and Nate’s to feed them, clean them, and sleep with them at night. Brycen-Man took a sort of malicious glee in this, but Nate, by all accounts, was content with his life, and never realized the identity of his employer.

 


 

 

Strange

Deep in the warren of Castelia City’s many alleyways, the Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm, Brycen-Man, lounged against a soot-stained wall, waiting for his contact. Rather than dirty his tailored asymmetrical cloak, he wore a long trench coat over his usual purple and green costume.

It was to his deep distaste that Brycen-Man found himself here, among the very dregs of society. If he were not sure of the payoff, he would have ignored the message that arrived in the morning, advising him to come here for information about the object he sought. Now he merely had to wait for this mysterious informant to make an appearance, give them whatever they might ask for, and get whatever they had to offer. After that, they would be neutralized as a liability, of course, but there was no need for them to know that.

A group of reeling youths staggered down the street, laughing and whistling with boisterous good humour. Brycen-Man retreated into a deep doorway as they passed. He did not wish to be seen here, even if the viewers would likely not remember him later.

Dust, garbage, and paper scraps flew in the disturbance of the drunken party’s passage. When everything had settled, Brycen-Man emerged, and found himself toeing a large printed sheet, immaculately clean, with a message in the same typeface as the tip-off. Carefully, avoiding any contact with the sullied ground, Brycen-Man liften up the paper.

The message read, “Find it on the Royal Unova. Be quick, I warned another.”

Brycen-Man spared barely a glance at the retreating backs of the partiers. If the informant was intelligent enough to tip him off anonymously, they were skilled enough to pretend at drunkenness. It would do no good to attack the entire group; he only had one vial of the memory serum.

There was a distinct whooshing noise overhead. One that could be produced only by a caped human moving at speed over the rooftops. Brycen-Man had barely processed this when a flash of red and blue leaped down in front of him, blocking the alley. He knew without turning that a Lucario had blocked the other escape route. He would have to go up to get away, and heroes always had the advantage on rooftops.

“You know, I half-expected the tip I got to be bogus,” the Lucario Kid admitted, as if he had met Brycen-Man at a party. “You never come down here, Brycen-Man. Were you feeling homesick?” The hero’s tone was mocking. “Wait, you’d have to go find a Grimer infestation to be among scum worthy of you.” The boy grinned at his own joke, a nasty sort of grin.

With a snarl, Brycen-Man was away. He launched himself upwards and grabbed a fire escape railing, using it to throw himself to a window sill. From there, it was a quick scramble to the brownstone’s roof. It took him a moment to get his bearings, and then he was off towards the pier, where the Royal Unova would be preparing for its sunset voyage.

The Lucario Kid and his Pokémon were not far behind. They trained on these roofs every night, and Brycen-Man did not have a huge lead. Brycen-Man shed the trench coat, tossing it over his shoulder in the hope that it would slow the hero somewhat. Then he remembered his own Pokémon.

The Lucario Kid groaned in disgust as Brycen-Man soared away on his Honchkrow. “Track him, Lucario,” he ordered his Pokémon, whose eyes began to glow blue. “I hate it when a villain flies away.”

Lucario barked something.

“The pier? Royal Unova?” the Lucario Kid translated. He gazed in that direction. “What are you stealing this time, Brycen-Man?”

Brycen-Man descended to the foot of the Royal Unova’s dock just as an automated announcement called for final boarding. His cape swirling, he stormed through the gathered crowd clamouring for tickets, still irritated with the Lucario Kid’s interrupting habits. He had almost reached the check-in desk when the same annoying hero fairly flew off a nearby skyscraper and made a picture perfect landing right in front of him. Noticing what was going on, the crowd quickly cleared a space around them.

“Going somewhere?” asked the Lucario Kid, as his Lucario arrived. Lucario had to bat his way past Honchkrow to reach his owner. “Now, I wonder what you could want on this boat?”

“Ship,” a stewardess corrected absently, straightening her cap.

“Ship,” Brycen-Man agreed. “And it’s really none of your business. If you would please get out of my way, we can both be saved a whole world of trouble.”

The Lucario Kid had to laugh at that. “In your way? How about you stop interfering with my day first? Chasing you down all the time is such a bother.” This was accompanied with a theatrical yawn.

“All right, we’re done talking. See if you can back that up with your actions, Lucario Kid.”

The battle was fairly simple. Honchkrow struck with his wings, and Lucario crumpled. Even Brycen-Man was dumbfounded. “All of that bluster, and this is all you can do? Disgusting hero,” he reprimanded.

The malicious grin that followed made Brycen-Man’s blood run cold. “Lucario, counter that,” the Lucario Kid ordered his Pokémon nonchalantly.

The seemingly defeated Pokémon rose up and struck the unprepared Honchkrow. Injuries blossomed on the crow in the same pattern as they had been on Lucario, and then there was a sickening crack as a wing snapped in two. Unable to stand the pain, Honchkrow fainted and lay on the ground.

Now Brycen-Man unleashed his Scrafty, sure that Lucario would not be able to counter another effective blow.

But the Lucario Kid had other plans. “Reversal, Lucario, and then an Aura Sphere.”

The pair of blows struck before Scrafty could move, before anyone could react. A spiked hand gripped Scrafty’s neck, and Lucario healed himself, transferring trauma to Scrafty. Dodging a shaky swipe, the blue Pokémon threw himself into the air and twisted to unleash the second attack. Lucario’s aura, red with power, punched through one of the Pokémon’s legs, leaving a golf ball sized hold straight through and out the other side.

Terrified, Brycen-Man returned both Pokémon. “We have got to get you two in a healing machine,” he told the Poké Balls. He took several steps back. “The black diamond can wait for another day.”

As Brycen-Man turned to run, the Lucario Kid spoke, “What is this black diamond you speak of? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“It’s beyond your limited comprehension.”

“Try me.” The hero’s tone was belligerent.

Brycen-Man growled loudly. “It’s an object that multiplies the abilities of the user. Its value is insane.”

The Lucario Kid’s eyes lit up. “Such a powerful artifact,” he breathed. “What a hero I could be with that in my hand!” He turned to his Pokémon. “Find it, Lucario! It must be on the Royal Unova.” Once more, the Pokémon’s eyes glowed blue, and he barked the coordinates.

Brycen-Man never saw the resulting manic intensity of the Lucario Kid’s search through the ship; he raced to the nearby Pokémon Centre, barely bothering to change out of his mask and villain costume along the way. In fact, he gave up being a villain to care for his crippled Pokémon.

Meanwhile, the Lucario Kid and his Pokémon tore apart the storage bay of the Royal Unova until they found the strongbox at the very back. A single strike from Lucario’s steel-spiked hands destroyed the lock. Slowly, reverently, the Lucario Kid raised the lid to find the perfectly shaped diamond, sparks swirling under its dusky surface. Each face reflected the masked hero staring at it, and the Lucario Kid frowned at his mask.

The mask removed and tossed to the side, the Lucario Kid became Nate again, and he stared down at the black diamond. “It’ll make me so powerful,” he told himself, then reached out and grabbed it.

For a moment, there was no response. Then one of the spinning lights slipped out of the diamond and into Nate’s hand.

He stiffened and cried out in pain as his glove melted. A ripple of power tore up his arm, and the superhero costume’s sleeve shredded in its wake. Nate crumpled to the floor, convulsing as the sparks within the diamond entered his skin.

Stepping out from behind the door, a young woman appeared. She wore a long black cowl, but her pair of buns and twin ponytails were clearly visible. “The black diamond multiplies your every feature, Nate,” Rosa said softly, her feet making no sound as she walked across the room so stand beside the hero, who was moaning quietly. “And it binds you to the Darkrai who created it.

“I pitted you against Brycen today to see which of you was the more worthy of my black diamond.” Rosa’s eyes glowed blue as she spoke, and Nate began shuddering, falling into a nightmare. “You’re mine now, Nate. Stronger, smarter, and crueller than you were before, but completely subject to my will. Get up.” The last was an order.

Nate got to his feet slowly. The black diamond had sunken into his right hand to form a sort of gauntlet. His clothing had torn off in his convulsions, as he grew both taller and broader, his chest gaining more definition than a young teenager should have had. His eyes had lightened to the same sky blue as Rosa’s, and they glittered with cold, detached amusement. “Shall I destroy the ship, mistress?”

“Please do,” Rosa said, giving her servant an appraising look. “Find some clothing to fit you on the way, would you? We don’t want to be implicated in the sinking of the Royal Unova, and a naked man is ever so noticeable.” Disinterested, she rose above the floor and glided out the door.

Several minutes later, the Royal Unova disappeared in a fireball. In the confusion and the hail of metal fragments, no one saw the slight young woman and her distinguished bodyguard trotting purposefully away into the city. She was just another ingenuous tycoon’s daughter, and her bodyguard, though hulking, was dressed in a tailored suit and fine gloves, nothing too noticeable on the streets of Castelia City.

 


 

 

“I feel dirty.”

“That wasn’t fanservice, Nate. We couldn’t have your clothing grow with you. It would break the suspension of disbelief, which was already being tested by the quality of the computer graphics.”

“No. It was fanservice, Rosa,” Brycen agreed with Nate. They had just exited the theatre after seeing the premier of the second movie in their series. “Between my cleavage-licious costume and shirtless, mind-controlled Nate, I’m surprised that this hall isn’t full of crazed dominatrices.”

At that moment, a squealing band of women in black leather crossed their path.

Rosa watched them in silence for a long moment. They were avidly discussing the implications of the scene where Rosa had taken control of Nate, in a very fascinated tone. “Very well. I see your point, Brycen. Maybe it was fanservice.”

“What am I doing with my reputation?” Nate asked himself dully.

“The same thing I did with mine, a very long time ago,” Brycen informed him. “Why do you think my leader outfit has a neckline down to my navel?”

Nate put his head in his hands and mumbled something unintelligible, blushing terribly all the while.

Rosa smiled and laughed. “Well, just try to have a better idea than I do about the third ending next time, Nate!”

Together, the three actors pushed open the main door of the theatre, and emerged to greet the crowd.

Chapter Text

Good

From Nate’s secret base in the penthouse of an Opelucid City hi-rise, he had a view across the skyline and up Victory Road. From the huge glass wall in the living space, the entire city of blue steel was laid out, like toys from such an altitude. The ongoing construction on Victory Road marred the vista somewhat, but was only a small concern.

The centrepiece, though, was the Opelucid City Gym. Drayden’s edifice to the eternality of Dragons towered above the rest of the city, a perfect sculpture of marble and obsidian, glistening in the midday sun.

With a cool glass of tonic water in his hand, Nate lounged on his recliner. This was his weekend sanctuary, away from the demands of school, friends, and the heroic deeds he spent his weekday afternoons on. These days, those deeds mostly consisted of rescuing Skitty from trees and helping out when classmates lost their homework. If a real crisis arose, Rosa had his Cross-Transciever number, and his Braviary could have him anywhere in the region within half an hour. Not that anything had happened in months, ever since Brycen-Man’s disappearance with the black diamond.

Rosa had been knocked unconscious, and the black diamond stolen, before Lucario Kid’s arrival on the Royal Unova. Since then, nothing had been seen of it or of Brycen-Man, and regional authorities had declared the villain to be missing, presumed dead a few weeks back. It was a frustrating close to the rivalry between the hero and the villain.

To be honest with himself, Nate was bored without his arch-nemesis. It didn’t seem like anything else of interest happened in the region. So he retreated here, when he could, to escape the ennui and relax.

Nate’s Cross-Transciever, sitting on the island in the kitchen, began to ring, blaring Rosa’s favourite song, Simple and Clean. At the same moment, Nate’s eyes snapped to a movement on the side of the Opelucid Gym. An ear… being blasted off of the reinforced structure? Sparing hardly a moment to put down his drink, he raced into the kitchen, where one of his Lucario had just jabbed the answering button.

“We need to replace that ringtone,” Nate quipped, starting to rip off his pyjamas as he walked.

“Nate? This is really serious. The government just tried to contact you about-”

“I see it,” Nate replied, moving to the bedroom, where he kept a spare costume. Lucario followed, carrying the Cross-Transciever. The other Lucario stuck his head out of his nest at the foot of the bed, and padded out to join them.

“Yeah, well, I bet you couldn’t see that the perpetrator is some sort of green-and-purple assault plane, with a pair of Mandibuzz as the entourage.”

“You don’t think…” Nate paused in pulling on his spandex shirt.

“Iris does,” confirmed Rosa, and there was a crackling in the background, as if a television was playing. “I’m getting live footage now. The white dragon’s head just came off – I hope Drayden wasn’t up there. The plane is moving down into the city- uh oh.”

“What is it?” Lucario tossed the Cross-Transciever to his trainer as Nate returned his two Pokémon to their Poké Balls.

“A Mandibuzz just saw the drone camera, and- Yep, that’s a camera gone. No eyes, now.”

“No need.” Nate hurried back out into the living room. “We have real eyes.” He clicked a button on the wall, and one window slid up and out, leaving a doorway-sized space. He whistled for Braviary. “Anything else I should know?”

Rosa responded with her usual promptness. “If it is Brycen-Man, he must be amping up that plane with the black diamond. Be careful, and try to separate him from it.”

“Right.” Nate didn’t hold up much hope of that, and let his scepticism colour his voice. “Well, talk to you after this fight!” He hung up the Cross-Transciever and leapt out the window, just as Braviary swung by underneath.

The Lucario Kid and the mysterious plane arrived in the street in front of the gym at the same time. Panic had struck the streets, with wreckage from the gym falling from the sky. Braviary had to make a few passes before he had enough space to throw himself into a roll on the ground without hitting a fleeing civilian. As Braviary soared away and Lucario Kid ran forward, a familiar figure slid down the barrel of the huge gun mounted to the front of the plane, which hovered in place above the street.

“Brycen-Man! It is you!” the Lucario Kid roared. “I knew I’d see you again!”

The masked villain flicked his cape back to reveal his costume, which matched his plane perfectly. “Yes, it is I, Lucario Kid. Face the power of my Awesome Brycen Jet, powered by the black diamond.”

Lucario Kid paused in releasing his Pokémon. “Okay,” he said, frowning, “let me get this straight. You stole a gemstone from a ship in the middle of the ocean, laid low for months designing a mammoth airplane, upon which you mounted a cannon that can house a grown man.”

Brycen-Man was nonplussed at the summation of his deeds. “Yes. You may call it the Awesome Brycen Cannon, if you wish. I could defeat you with it, but it’s more suited for wanton destruction than what I have in store for you!” With a gesture, he summoned down his two Mandibuzz. The Vulture Pokémon hopped forwards, crooked necks stretching towards the Lucario Kid.

“These two lovelies have been in the presence of the black diamond enough times for it to improve their fighting prowess,” Brycen-Man informed the Lucario Kid, in his best gloating tone. “You can’t defeat them!”

The Lucario Kid closed his eyes to focus for a moment, then reopened them, and set a ready position with his two Pokémon. “I must do this!”

“Right! Right, right, right!” Brycen-Man yelled, his face contorting with glee. “That’s exactly how my nemesis should sound just before I finally pound their face in!”

Brycen-Man’s acting strange, the Lucario Kid noted to himself. Could it be the black diamond?

“But that’s not all,” Brycen-Man observed to himself. “Now, I can personally pound your face in, Lucario Kid! The black diamond’s enhancing ability has made me more powerful than any human alive!” With this, Brycen-Man launched himself at the nearest Lucario.

“Lucario! Test his strength! Endure the hit!” ordered the Lucario Kid. The Pokémon curled its more delicate body parts in as Brycen-Man struck, but was sent reeling as the man launched himself into the air off of the Pokémon’s back. As the acrobatic villain did a roll in midair before sticking a perfect landing on top of his jet, a Mandibuzz hopped forward to take his place.

The Lucario Kid could see that his Lucario was struggling. It could barely keep its feet, and was swaying as if nearly unconscious. “Reversal!” he commanded, hoping the Pokémon would still strike first.

The legendary speed of the Lucario served the Pokémon as it lurched into the attack. Lucario hit with all of its remaining strength, and the Mandibuzz was sent flying. As it landed, it shimmered, and the illusion faded, revealing a Zoroark. The Pokémon whined loudly as it regained its feet.

Brycen-Man snapped his fingers, and the fox-like Dark Pokémon trotted forwards gingerly. Without warning, its jaw snapped wide, and it launched a cone of fire at the offending Lucario. With no defenses against such a sudden strike, Lucario collapsed, its wrist spikes beginning to melt in the intense heat.

The Lucario Kid returned the Pokémon as Brycen-Man laughed. “See? You can’t hope to win!” he crowed.

The hero tucked the Poké Ball away under his cape, then turned back to his nemesis, his jaw set. “Lucario, Force Palm,” he commanded.

His other Pokémon, which had vanished into the rubble during the fighting, streaked out to strike Zoroark, then vanished again as its opponent crumpled. Zoroark did not rise again.

A slight frown marring the part of his face not covered by his mask, Brycen-Man stepped into midair from his jet, and landed lightly upon the ground. “Unexpected, but my arch-nemesis should be able to compete with me,” he said to himself. “Now, watch me defeat you and take the wo-” He broke of in a rasp, and began to cough.

The Lucario Kid scratched his head in confusion.

Brycen-Man raised his head, stared at his hand for a moment, then began to laugh quietly, a weak, rough rasp. “Heh… This can’t be…” he muttered.

The Lucario Kid’s eyes flicked to the shadow of a large fragment of obsidian, beside which Lucario was hiding. “Now!”

A rent in the front of Brycen-Man’s costume appeared as Lucario whizzed by, and a steady drip of blood began to fall. With a bound, Brycen-Man was back on his ship, safe from the Pokémon. His wound was already closing, but the skin revealed by the tear appeared oddly bruised.

To take Brycen-Man’s place, the real Mandibuzz, whom the Zoroark had copied, hopped forwards, glittering eyes flashing back and forth to spot Lucario.

From a hidden location, Lucario tore across the arena once more, clipping feathers from one of Mandibuzz’s wings, and leaving a gash across its front. The Mandibuzz, squawking, took to the air, and began to circle, trying to spot its foe.

While its attention was focussed on his Pokémon, the Lucario Kid had clambered to the top of a piece of rubble, and he caught hold of the Mandibuzz’s leg as it flew by him. From there, as the Pokémon flailed and squawked, it was quick work for him to grab the other leg with his free hand, then swing his legs up to kick the vulture Pokémon in the face.

The Lucario Kid threw himself to the side as Mandibuzz dropped to the ground, an unconscious pile of feathers.

Again, Brycen-Man descended to the ground, his cape swirling menacingly. “You dare?” he rasped, colour creeping up his neck. He loomed over the young hero. “I will end you with my bare-“ he began to cough again, and bits of spittle flew into the Lucario Kid’s face. When he moved to wipe them off, he glanced down at his costume and saw red flecks on the fabric. Blood from Brycen-Man’s mouth.

When the Lucario Kid took a swift step back, Lucario struck again. And again. Each time, the wound closed, leaving sickening bruises, and each time, Brycen-Man loomed larger in his terrific rage. Finally, though, he collapsed, coughing harder than ever, and beginning to rasp his breaths through his mouth.

“I think we should call it a day, Brycen-Man,” the Lucario Kid advised. “You’re in no condition to fight, and I don’t think that Drayden will be as merciful as I am when he arrives. You should leave now, and get rid of that black diamond.”

Brycen-Man coughed once more, and raised his head. Bruising was creeping up his neck now; he was bleeding internally. “I won’t… take your pity, Lucario Kid,” he groaned. “Not even as the black diamond leaches my life from me. I’ll fight you to my last breath.

“Which will come a lot later if you leave now and recover,” observed the Lucario Kid. “The thing is, my life is really boring without you to strive against. I want you to go and heal up, then come back, and we’ll have a real final fight. No jets or cannons or diamonds: just us and our Pokémon. Agreed?”

Slowly, as if considering, Brycen-Man nodded. “If you’re going to keep that promise, help me to the jet.”

Very carefully, the Lucario Kid and his remaining Lucario helped the man to his feet. He was a dead weight, but they managed to bring him beside his garish jet plane, which helpfully unwound a set of steps for them.

Once inside, the space was too cramped for three humanoids to walk abreast, and Brycen-Man was reduced to only having the Lucario Kid for support. To hold himself up, he grabbed hold of various articles of machinery in the cockpit, and dragged himself by them. On the console at the very front, under a glass display that showed readings on the surroundings, lay the black diamond, sparkling in the dim light through the front window.

With ferocity that surprised the Lucario Kid, Brycen-Man smashed the glass and ripped the black diamond free. He threw it against the wall, and it shattered into powder, the lights beneath its surface spinning in the air for a moment before vanishing.

Brycen-Man straightened, suddenly looking much healthier. Though bruises covered much of his face, and his hands were mottled black and blue, he could support himself, and he smiled at the hero. “I’ll see you again, Lucario Kid,” he promised. “As my archrival, I’ll make sure you’re tipped off when I’m ready.”

“I look forward to it,” the Lucario Kid quipped as he turned to leave. He hopped down the gangway and was quickly away with his Lucario as the plane lifted off.

Later, back in his apartment, Nate called Rosa back. She was livid.

“They couldn’t get another drone in there until the fight was over, Nate,” she hissed at him through the connection. “What were you doing, helping Brycen-Man into that stupid plane of his? And what was that huge energy signature we picked up a few moments before you left the scene?”

Nate grinned to himself. “I’m sure you can see the fight on PokéTube, Rosa,” he assured her. In fact, he had a video of the battle open on his touchscreen as he spoke. The comments were awash in theories as to what had happened in the aftermath, and Nate wasn’t ready to dash the hopes of some of the fangirls that he and Brycen-Man were friends, or even – gasp – lovers.

“As to the energy burst, I’m sure that was Brycen-Man breaking the black diamond. It was killing him, you know.”

“Yeah. I could tell,” Rosa observed snidely. “You knocked him about pretty bad, but Brycen-Man doesn’t suffer anyone to touch that face of his, and it was blooming like a rotting flower. Is that it? Did you give him a send-off so he can find a place to die?”

“No, we’ll see him again. But we’re going to have a rematch, and I won’t let any bystanders get hurt this time.” Nate continued through Rosa’s frenzied questions, “I’ll explain some other time, okay? We’re not done, though, he and I.”

With a loud sigh, Rosa acquiesced, then hung up in her usual blunt way.

Nate was grinning as he looked out over the nighttime lights of Opelucid City. He and Brycen-Man weren’t done yet, and it was such a good feeling to have a purpose again.

 


 

Bad

Rosa was on a trip through Opelucid City’s historic district. The western area of the city was a mass of hi-rises and shopping centres, but the east district remained as it had been before the rise of urbanisation. Cobblestone streets were backed by large villas with sweeping gardens, and every few streets there was a market square filled with hawkers selling everything from bread to Pokémon Dolls. At the district line between the two zones of the city rose the Opelucid City Gym, partly religious structure dedicated to the worship of the Dual Dragons, and partly a comemmoration of the power of humanity for progress.

For Rosa, this was a near-perfect day. The only factor that might have made it better would be the presence of Nate, but he was staying in the tech district, making the rounds as a Hero of Unova. The Lucario Kid’s work was never done, he told her, even though Brycen-Man had been eliminated.

There was a rush of air over Rosa’s head, and several people facing the opposite direction flinched as a huge mechanical device soared overhead, clipping the tip of every roof it passed. A vast fighter jet, outfitted with a massive energy cannon, was making a pass over the city. It was painted green and purple, the same lurid colours as Brycen-Man’s costume.

Quickly, Rosa judged the trajectory of the plane, and decided that it was aiming for the Gym. Without a second thought, she was running in that direction. The Lucario Kid would be there, and he might need her help against that monstrosity. Could it be Brycen-Man’s return, or was there another force at work, masquerading as him?

Rosa skidded to a halt the street before the gym, blocked by a slab of marble taller than her. The eye of one of the double Dragons that made up the Gym. Whoever this was, they were going for the spectacular, to draw the Lucario Kid out. That could be the only reason they were attacking this city, rather than populous Castelia or Black City, where all the technological and economical work of the region occurred.

After a scramble over the rubble, Rosa arrived on the scene just as the Lucario Kid was sent flying by a negligent backhanded strike from a huge man in green and purple.

“Is this… the end?” the Lucario Kid murmured, sounding resigned as he hauled himself to his feet.

The huge man gave one of Brycen-Man’s huge, deep laughs and taunted Lucario Kid, “You’re doing my work for me! Agonise until you cannot but fail, Lucario Kid! I won’t even need Pokémon to defeat you, just myself, augmented by the power of the black diamond!”

So Brycen-Man had returned, but in a very different form. He had increased in scale, probably double the mass of an average human, by Rosa’s judgment. When he shifted, muscles rippled under tightly stretched skin, or was there even skin under his costume? It behaved a lot like the surface of his body, and his cape appeared to be under conscious control. Even his plaster mask shifted like skin as his face moved, and there didn’t appear to be eye slits, just a black surface coated with shifting lights.

The Lucario Kid turned and saw Rosa. The persona of the hero slipped for an instant. “Rosa, you have to run! I don’t know if I’ll defeat him.” Then one of his Lucario laid a paw on his arm, and he was back in the character of the impersonal hero. “Lucario, let’s test his strength.”

The Pokémon trotted forwards and took a guarded pose, checking all sides constantly for threats.

Brycen-Man, whose attention had shifted to Rosa with the Lucario Kid’s, returned his mind to the battle. With hardly a shift, he unleashed an onslaught of mental attacks. The focus was Lucario, but excess energy slipped into other nearby minds. Rosa’s body seemed to start on fire, and she could not remember why that shouldn’t be ordinary, though it hurt. In this state, she was subjected to multiple images of graphic dismemberment and torture, her mind understanding that the same was about to happen to her.

When the attack ended, after a seeming eternity, Rosa was on the ground, curled in a foetal position and sobbing. When she returned to her senses enough to raise her head, she could see that Lucario and Nate were in much the same state. Brycen-Man was smiling placidly at them all.

Rosa took to her feet and tried to run, but found herself contained in an invisible cube, unable to run more than a step. Brycen-Man’s grin widened. “We wouldn’t want you getting hurt, would we?” he taunted her.

“I can hold my own,” Rosa shot back harshly. “You’re the only one here who might get injured.”

By now, the Lucario Kid had regained his feet, though he seemed groggy and out of sorts. “We’ll hold out as long as possible,” he grunted to Lucario. “If you can get close, try whatever you think might work.”

The Pokémon barked an affirmative and began to dart back and forth, weaving its way closer to the Psychic giant that was Brycen-Man.

Brycen-Man merely grinned, leaning against the body of his jet. He seemed to ignore Lucario entirely, but then he struck with blinding speed when Lucario was inches from him.

This time, Rosa was plunged into the depths of the ocean, where there is only cold and crushing darkness. She felt herself freeze and be crushed into a pulp, and then she was in a pit, crawling all over with Seviper and Arbok. They began to bite her, inflicting only the tiniest scratches so that she felt the poison flow through her body until she was numb, paralysed, and they began to feast.

After an eternity of this, Rosa returned to herself again, her fists bloody from beating the ground, and her throat raw from screaming. Lucario had crumpled to the ground and was not moving. Nate was slumped against one of the obsidian Dragon’s whiskers, shuddering as if he was having a seizure.

Brycen-Man was frowning. “That was not my intention,” he mused, looking more curious than concerned. “He must have struck his head. Perhaps intentionally. Well, I will have to heal him to continue the fight.” He reached out an arm, and a dark aura flowed out of him. “I wonder what his reaction will be?”

The Lucario Kid’s seizures jerked to a halt, but his eyes, when he opened them, were flat and glassy. “I shall stop you, Brycen-Man!” he roared, leaping to his feet. “By my honour and Rosa’s, this I swear.”

Rosa gagged into one of her bedraggled twintails. Brycen-Man seemed to have turned Nate permanently into his Lucario Kid persona. The Lucario Kid released another Lucario, and nodded in response to its confused expression. The boy’s aura must have changed.

Brycen-Man, on the other hand, had doubled over, gasping. The Lucario Kid’s eyes snapped to this. “Lucario, he is incapacitated! Attack!”

The glint of Brycen-Man’s eye spots as Lucario burst into motion was chilling. Lucario ceased to move, then slumped as a sickening crack knifed through the air.

“I tire of this battle,” observed Brycen-Man. “This ends now.”

With a gesture, he hoisted the Lucario Kid into the air by his cape. Ignoring the boy’s thrashing, the villain stuck him into the huge cannon mounted on his jet.

As soon as he couldn’t move, the Lucario Kid began to scream epithets to the effect of stating that he would always return to fight evil, which led to a tirade on the nature of evil that even Rosa blocked out.

“Well, have a nice ride, Lucario Kid,” Brycen-Man cackled, opening up a command console on the side of his jet. “Let’s fire you… into the Orion constellation, say. Enjoy!” He jabbed a large button labelled ‘fire.’

There was a huge report as the cannon went off. The Lucario Kid was launched skyward, though he never stopped glaring down at Brycen-Man. The cone of light emitted by the cannon obliterated the rest of the Gym as it spread through the atmosphere.

Laughing madly, Brycen-Man pulled himself into the cockpit of the jet and left to decimate the rest of the region. In the following days, he would declare himself king, then emperor, of Unova.

Rosa, though, didn’t move for many hours. It was only in the morning, when a rescue crew struck her with a Hypnosis and carried her off, that she stopped staring up at the distant spark that had been the Lucario Kid, and was Nate before that.

 


 

Strange

The skyline of Opelucid City at nightfall was marred only by the bursts of pale light flashing along its northern edge. With each flash, the earth shook, and buildings exploded into slag. The Opelucid City Gym, the symbol of the duality of the city, detonated with a thundering report, splitting in half down the seam between marble and obsidian. Rubble from the edifice flew in all directions, filling the streets with smoke and ash.

Brycen-Man was enjoying this.

The Brycen Jet and Cannon were living things, responding to his every command as he thought it. Each burst of power from the cannon sent a wave of force through his body, emanating from the black diamond hung around his neck.

One of the Mandibuzz flying outside the cockpit cawed at him, gesturing downwards with its long, featherless neck. Pausing in the assault on Opelucid City Gym, Brycen-Man tilted the jet and looked down at the pavement to see a young man in red and yellow, with a pair of Lucario flanking him.

Brycen-Man activated the speakers on the ship and began to laugh. At the same time, he ordered the jet to descend to ground level. With one last, bellowing ‘Ha!’ the villain allowed himself to be lifted into the barrel of the Brycen Cannon, from which he slid to the ground with a fluorish.

The Lucario Kid looked disgusted. “This is what you spent your time on?” he asked incredulously, not allowing Brycen-Man to speak. “You disappeared for months, and this monstrosity of a plane is all you have to show for it? I had to leave Sinnoh Now to come deal with you!” His Lucario nodded, sharing his sentiments.

Brycen-Man’s rage manifested in one way. There was a wave of power that nearly sent him off his feet, and the Brycen Cannon fired right at the Lucario Kid’s chest. He leapt out of the way with his Pokémon, and dodged behind a large fragment of rubble from the Gym.

The Lucario Kid gulped as Brycen-Man began to laugh again. “Rosa, Operation Psych-Out is a failure,” Brycen-Man heard him saying into an earpiece. “Your source must have been wrong about the black diamond.” There was a pause as Rosa responded. “You want me to what? … Ugh. Fine. If this doesn’t work, we’re all dead…”

Brycen-Man readied the Cannon to fire again, but before he could, the Lucario Kid and his two Pokémon split and ran in three different directions, weaving through the surrounding rubble.

Distracted, Brycen-Man attempted to attack all three at once. The three bursts that the Brycen Cannon behind him fired sent shocks through the black diamond. None struck home, and Brycen-Man gasped at the ferocity of the power pouring out of the diamond. He was suddenly drenched in sweat, but shivering.

“You’ll never defeat me, Lucario Kid!” he yelled, to cover up his momentary weakness. “As long as you run, it’s just a matter of time before I find you!” Brycen-Man began to blast his surroundings indiscriminately to smoke his rival out. As he did this, he ignored the thudding of the black diamond, which became more painful by the second.

The Lucario Kid darted and weaved, and his Lucario were even worse. They appeared in one spot to wave at their enemy in a taunting way, then vanished before he could fire upon them. The Brycen Cannon carved the street to smithereens, but the hero still evaded it.

It was Brycen-Man who collapsed first, in the midst of the flying shards of rock and dust clouds. He clutched at his chest, noting for the first time that his body had atrophied at an incredible rate while he utilised the Brycen Cannon. It occurred to him that the energy of the black diamond was drawn from nearby life-forms, and that he had been its most recent, most extreme source. Several moments after the Brycen Cannon ceased firing, the Lucario Kid and his two Pokémon emerged from the clouds of dust, staring at their opponent.

“Wow,” observed the Lucario Kid, “you look awful.”

Brycen-Man growled in his throat. “Yes, thank you, I wasn’t aware.”

The Lucario Kid reached forwards. “Well, let’s get that diamond off of you and get you in police custody, again. Your usual cell is all set up.”

Brycen-Man batted away the questing hand before the Lucario Kid could grab the black diamond. “No,” he gasped. “I will not face prison again.” He stopped and panted for several moments. “I would rather… Brycen Cannon, target me and fire when ready!”

The Lucario Kid backed away in shock. “You’d go that far?” He gestured for his Lucario to flee, and they shot into the maze of fallen rock.

Brycen-Man began to laugh as the black diamond pulled strength from him one last time. “This ends on my terms,” he told the Lucario Kid. “Brycen-Man, Masked Man of Reality and Phantasm, always has the last laugh.” He burst into a full, deep-throated laugh as the barrel of the cannon glowed with intense white light. “Goodbye, Lucario Kid!”

The Lucario Kid barely had time to throw himself out of the way as the Brycen Cannon fired, and when the light died, he turned to see a smoking crater in the middle of the street. The power of the Brycen Cannon had vapourised several cubic metres of ground, and Brycen-Man was nowhere to be seen. Without the black diamond to power it, the jet stuttered, dipped, and collapsed to the ground. As it fell, the Brycen Cannon cracked in two.

Emergency crews found the Lucario Kid staring at the crater. When they asked what had happened to Brycen-Man, the hero’s only response was, “My God, we’re breathing him in. We’re breathing him in!”

 


 

“Rosa, every time we sit down to discuss scripts, I am shocked and appalled that we always go with your ideas,” Nate grumped to Rosa and Brycen as they stepped out of the theatre after watching the third collection in the Brycen-Man series. “I mean, seriously, that third short wasn’t even all that weird. It was just bad.”

Rosa was a little miffed at that commentary. “The idea of the third short is to create something people will watch with the express purpose of something unique,” she explained in an arch tone. “I think it will be a wonderful success in that area, and the director agreed with me.”

“The director agreed with you because Nate’s idea was an alien attack led by the black diamond,” Brycen interceded. “We run these films on a limited budget, without a huge amount of digital resources. Get some more star power before requesting that again.”

“Why do I feel like our scripts will just get weirder as we get more popular?” Nate sighed through his smile as he waved to some fans who were also on their way out of the theatre.

Brycen returned to the group after signing a groupie’s poster. “If you feel that way, get out of the business.”

Rosa laughed. “The last time we tried to leave, we ran into a crazy clown on the Castelia docks who wanted us to work for him, because he’d seen us on TV. Never again.”

“Then stick around and see where your career takes you.”

“I am looking forward to one thing,” Nate said, grinning with a real smile this time.

“What’s that?” asked Brycen.

Nate held the door open for Rosa before replying. “The next script calls for a female lead.”

Rosa’s cry of anguish was heard at the Virbank docks.

Chapter Text

Good

As the sun set over Accumula Town, a dark silhouette flitted between treetops and rooftops on the town's edge. Wrapped in a skintight black suit, with only the tips of her long streamers of blond hair visible underneath the hood, Rosa, the Sneasel Ninja, was nearly invisible in the thick shadows of dusk. Moments behind her, her signature Pokémon, her Sneasel, also leapt along the skyline.

Right on schedule with the last moments of light, the Sneasel Ninja swung over the electrified fence of the Accumula Research Institute, careful to time her contact with the fence in the moment when the facility switched from the town power grid to its generator, and the power went down for a fraction of a second. Gliding silently through the compound, the Sneasel Ninja made for the building housing the facility's latest invention, the revolutionary dynamatronic engine. While the breakthrough in energy efficiency was already well-known across Unova, Rosa predicted that she could sell the engine for an astronomical sum of money in Kanto or Hoenn.

The code-locked door was no match for the Sneasel Ninja's custom codebreaking virus, which she had uploaded to the Institute's system on a guided tour the other day. Inside, there was only a single sleepy security guard manning the front desk. He started up when the Sneasel Ninja entered, removing her hood and shaking out her long twintails. "Hey- You can't be here now," he accused her, pushing back the veritable brown bush of hair on his head, which had slipped into his eyes as he nodded off.

The Sneasel Ninja flowed forward, and, before the guard could react, she had jumped over the desk and had him in a sleeper hold. As he collapsed against her, Rosa lowered him to the ground, then looked over at his console. Everything appeared to be normal; he hadn't had time to press his panic button before he was engaged in close combat.

Through more doors, all of which opened to a click on the Sneasel Ninja's watch. Finally, she reached a door that did not immediately yield, and had to move aside for her Sneasel to pick the manual lock. Through that door, the last line of defense, and the thief was in the presence of the dynamatronic engine.

Eyes darting everywhere, the Sneasel Ninja skittered forward, and had almost laid hands on the machinery when a loud thud announced the arrival of an interloper.

Sneasel spun to face the Heracross that had just stepped into the room, and blocked it as it made to attack the Sneasel Ninja. Behind the Pokémon, there was a whirring of gears, and a few of the clicks and beeps a running computer produced. A metal-clad boot, followed by mechanically enhanced legs, and finally the bulky chassis of the torso, and a human head, the eyes covered in a lit visor, through which sparks and rectangular displays whizzed with blinding speed.

The Sneasel Ninja backed away, farther into the room. "Mecha Cop," she breathed. She hadn't fully believed the stories of a cybernetically enhanced policeman, for whom justice was the sole purpose of life. Now, she scrabbled for an escape route, but the World Police agent blocked the only entrance.

"Scan complete!" he blurted, staring at the Sneasel Ninja. "Target is the serial thief, the Sneasel Ninja. Well known for stealing valuable artifacts and pawning them on the black market."

The Sneasel Ninja bumped up against a desk at the back of the room. "So, the World Police sent their secret agent to guard the dynamatronic engine, huh? Well, take this! Faint Attack!"

Her Sneasel melted into the deep shadows of the minimally lit room, then struck the Mecha Cop's Heracross with a sudden attack from behind. Unfortunately, the Fighting Pokémon was set in a defensive stance, and absorbed the blow, countering with a vicious Horn Attack.

The Sneasel Ninja gulped. "Meep," she bravely grunted.

Mecha Cop tilted his head, his small white braid sliding to the side. "Resistance. We shall interpret it as hostility. Apunten, ¡fuego!" A pair of hinged metal rings, held together by a length of rigid plastic, burst from a small cannon mounted on his helm, and attached to the Sneasel Ninja's legs, the force almost sending her toppling backwards.

"Gah! What was that?" she groaned, attempting to very carefully lean over far enough to massage her bruised shins. "I use native skill and Pokémon for theft, mister! No fair to attack me with gadgets like that."

The Mecha Cop crossed his arms. He considered. "Hmm. It seems that I am being told off by a criminal. This will never do! Very well, Sneasel Ninja, we fight this on your terms!"

The Sneasel Ninja moaned again. "What a crazy cop," she mumbled to herself. "Well, gotta find a way to win this one, right?"

"No more negotiation!" roared Mecha Cop. "Frontalangriff! You'll never take the dynamatronic engine!"

With shouted orders ringing through the room, the two Pokémon clashed again. Once more, Heracross came through on top, though Sneasel put up a good fight.

The Sneasel Ninja grinned, attempting to bluff through. "Think you can defeat us, Mecha Cop?" She was not given to crippling doubt, or even extended, irrational feelings. Mecha Cop, for all his gadgets, would fight her as an equal for now, so she had abandoned fear.

The Mecha Cop gave a single laugh. "Stai zitto, Sneasel Ninja! This isn't a matter of ability; justice shall prevail, no matter the odds!" He saluted to the air.

Raising her eyebrows, the Sneasel Ninja began to edge around the room. The Mecha Cop moved as well, keeping an equal distance between them. Though she avoided indicating it, she wanted to reach the door and escape as fast as possible.

The Mecha Cop continued, "I'll bring you before a court of law and see you face your just punishment, Sneasel Ninja!"

The Sneasel Ninja sneered. "Just you try it!"

This time, Heracross didn't just strike first. It barrelled through Sneasel, then on to strike the Sneasel Ninja in the chest. She collapsed, winded, beneath the sink. A water pipe under it broke, and began to gush cold water on her face as she spluttered for air.

The Mecha Cop struck a pose. "Mission accomplie, home base. The Sneasel Ninja has fallen to justice, and the dynamatronic engine is safe. Call in local authorities." He turned and left with his Heracross, just as the Sneasel Ninja began to sit up, whacked her head on the lip of the sink, and collapsed again.


Bad

The young security guard was wandering down the halls, swinging his flashlight back and forth. He lamented that there had been no formal training for this particular duty; he had no idea what to do as a night guard, only what he had seen in action films.

He barely felt the momentary prick in the back of his neck, and was too drugged up to realise what was happening as a dark figure with brown twintails lowered him to the floor. He giggled lazily after her as she ran away – those silly buns holding the tails up were hilarious for some reason.

The Sneasel Ninja slipped into the containment room for the dynamatronic engine, slipping her heat-sensitive goggles down over her eyes. Other than the miraculous engine itself, there were no unusual infrared signs, so she darted across the open floor and slowly carved a hole in the glass with the razor-sharp diamond ring on her right hand. She had disabled the security lasers with a computer virus earlier in the evening, but she still took care in removing the engine from its pedestal. Once it was in her hand, she dropped it into a thick sack on her belt, then turned.

A mass of red and yellow bloomed in the infrared display, and there was a whirring, as of a computer starting. An insectoid Pokémon dropped from the ceiling to block the main entrance.

"You weren't there before," the ninja observed, keeping a clinical cool. "A robot, or a psychic?"

As the lights clicked on, a voice came from the heat signature. "Verifying identity." A few seconds of beeping. "The Sneasel Ninja: serial thief in the business of stealing technological breakthroughs for personal use."

"Fascinating. You don't even need to do the homework; you get it done right here. Scared yet?"

"Justice feels no fear, Sneasel Ninja." Out of a nook by the door, a tall man stepped. He had a visor covering his eyes and nose, as well as a reinforced chassis covering the surface of his body. Though he whirred as he took several steps forward, the eyes behind the sparking visor were definitely human.

The Sneasel Ninja quirked up the corner of her mouth. "A biomechanical cop," she said to herself. "Never thought I'd see the day." She spoke louder, "Once I defeat you, Mechanical Cop, you'd better be prepared for some taking of spare parts for analysis."

If the Mecha Cop heard her, he ignored her. "Heracross! Séquence d'activation – action!" The Heracross leapt to the centre of the room.

The Sneasel Ninja smiled wider. "Test its mettle, Sneasel."

The Pokémon dropped from the ceiling without a sound, and vanished again before Heracross could counterattack, but its attack seemed to have little effect against Heracross's defenses.

The visor before the Mecha Cop's eyes sparked red. "Resistance, or hostility," he grunted. "Rather than face an extended battle: aApunten, ¡fuego!"

A pair of advanced handcuffs shot from a cunningly concealed launcher on the Mecha Cop's arm, but the Sneasel Ninja's dodge was deft. "Unfair," she pointed out coolly. "I haven't attacked you, only your Pokémon, and this is how you repay me?"

The Mecha Cop frowned. "I will not be told off by a criminal," he hissed. His head jerked to the side, and a spasm passed over his face. "Very well, criminal, we play by your rules. Heracross, you are granted all powers as of this moment!"

If an insect could grin, Heracross's expression would have qualified as it heard its master's orders. It was a very nasty grin.

A small smile played across the Sneasel Ninja's face as she leaned against one of the smart displays in the room. "How violent of you. I wonder…" Her smile matched Heracross's for wickedness.

With a theatrical twinge, the Sneasel Ninja tossed herself across a nearby desk. "No, there's no way to win!" she sobbed, an unconvincing act, as her Sneasel indicated with a resounding thumbs down from the shadows. She surreptitiously replied with a rude hand gesture. "Ah, Mecha Cop, I'll… surrender." She fell silent.

The Mecha Cop frowned more deeply, then a spark flew from his helmet. His neck twitched, then his head twisted, and his face rippled with muscle twitches. His visor darkened and he slumped. Then, with a whir, he rose again. "A system error. Surrender is not an option."

The Sneasel Ninja stood up again. "An amusing diversion, don't you agree? Sneasel," she commanded.

This time, Sneasel's blinding speed allowed it to run rings around Heracross, lacerating it in seconds. The Pokémon collapsed without a sound. The powder of a small device slipped between Sneasel's fingers as it rejoined its master. A Flying Gem.

The Mecha Cop's expression of shock lasted a second, then his suit failed. In a flurry of crackling metal, he collapsed in a heap. "Halt," he said, mechanically. "Stehen geblieben. Arrêtez. Tíngzhǐ." He repeated this several times before falling silent.

The Sneasel Ninja took a step forward, the dynamatronic engine clanking against her leg, and paused to observe the Mecha Cop. "Fascinating," she observed again. "A defeat automatically short-circuits the program, without any recourse. Well, I'll be back for you before morning, Mecha Cop. I have some investigations to run on you. But first, I have to visit my hideout and get things all set up." She left at a trot.

Out in the hall, she came upon the security guard again. He was still slumped against the wall, his flashlight lying beside him, his mop of brown hair dishevelled against the wall. When she paused beside him, he looked up at her and giggled. "Y'rrrr funny lukkinnn'," he slurred. He creased his eyebrows. "Y'shuddn' beeee'n heeer. I'm s'possssed to keep y'owt." He blinked owlishly, his expression calming. "Bud I dun' wanna do't nowww," he whined. "I'm s'tirrrred." He slipped sideways to lie, giggling, with his legs scissored across the corridor.

"Oddly resistant to the depressant in the dart," the Sneasel Ninja noted to herself. "This will require some testing, and perhaps some conditioning. Sneasel." The Pokémon picked the boy up as if he weighed nothing, though it struggled a bit with the dead weight of a drugged human.

"Many projects ongoing at the moment," Rosa reminded herself as she and her Sneasel headed out the main doors of the facility. "Lots of work to do."

In the cool midnight air, the two thieves and their new project headed off down the streets of Accumula Town, leaving their other next project in the lab for later.


Strange

"Don't know why they think they can keep this place safe from me," the Sneasel Ninja chuckled, easing the air duct open with her Sneasel's help. "Not when something as good as that dynamatronic engine is inside."

Sneasel nodded sagely.

"And through!" she said, pumping a fist triumphantly. "Huh, no welcome party. Shall we let ourselves in?"

The journey through the air duct was windy and very, very dusty. The Sneasel Ninja was thankful for the fabric face cover she had on to protect her mouth, but her poor Pokémon had no such protection. It coughed all the way until she kicked out the outlet in the central room of the Accumula Town laboratory, where they stored their greatest invention yet, the indescribable dynamatronic engine.

The thump awakened the slumbering security guard in his booth nearby. He checked the camera feeds, and noticed that the ones for the main hall had all been hacked into uselessness. In his haste to reach the security activation button, he spilled coffee all over himself.

The Sneasel Ninja suddenly found herself surrounded by blazing light. A mechanical whirring began off to the side, until a human shape stepped into view. The Sneasel Ninja only saw a silhouette for a moment, surrounded as it was in blazing light, then she began to discern details. Chrome plating covered legs, arms, and mysteriously bulky chest. The helmet and visor continued in metal plates all the way down the back of the neck until they joined with the rest of the ensemble. "Code name, Mecha Cop," came a somewhat mechanical voice, from the clearly human mouth. "Security and World Police agent set to defend the dynamatronic engine from thieves."

The Sneasel Ninja groaned. "And now we get to wait through tons of long-winded speeches," she said, with false cheer. "I hate you World Police guys."

"Justice shall prevail," Mecha Cop informed her, with a toneless inflection. "Heracross and I will prove this to a criminal like you."

A smile spread across the Sneasel Ninja's face. "I look forward to seeing you try."

The blue bug Pokémon burst in through the main door, shattering it, and engaged Sneasel. It had a clear advantage, so the ninja's Pokémon ducked and dodged around it. Meanwhile, Mecha Cop rushed the Sneasel Ninja on legs enhanced with mechanics, moving faster than anyone carrying such a weight should move. The Sneasel Ninja danced to the side, wagging a finger.

"No freebies, Mecha Cop!" She swivelled around her opponent applying a jab to the side of his neck with stiff fingers as she passed him. "Ow!" she gasped, shaking out her hand. "You're hard as rock."

The Mecha Cop turned to face her. "And my faith is diamond, ninja," he growled. "You can't defeat me. Take a handcuff launcher!"

From a hidden pocket in his trench coat, the cop pulled a capsule that he threw at his feet. From it, a spinning device rose, and cast itself at the Sneasel Ninja, who barely avoided it. The handcuffs clamped onto a water pipe behind where she had been standing and bit down to close, snapping the pipe in two and sending water gushing everywhere.

"Well, that's terrifying," she said blandly. "Did I try anything like that on you, Mecha Cop? I'm hurt that you would throw things like that at me."

"Hmph. I can take you without any gadgets!"

"Then try it!" And the Sneasel Ninja leapt away, across the room, over her darting Sneasel and its pursuing Heracross.

The Mecha Cop followed, and the dance continued for several minutes. The Sneasel Ninja, her plan a resounding failure, sought only escape, but knew that she couldn't get out through the front door. She wouldn't even get down the hall without a booby trap falling on her. So she avoided the Mecha Cop and tried to manipulate him into breaking a window or something, while Sneasel kept Heracross occupied.

Finally, though, the security guard had had enough of waiting for the all clear from the human security system. He had no eyes in the room, and so had no idea how the fight was going, though he would receive an indication if Mecha Cop deactivated. He flipped up a plastic cover on his security console and jabbed the large, red button underneath. In spite of the coffee stain on his work jeans, and in spite of the horrible debacle this night was quickly becoming, Nate was smiling as he pressed the button. He loved this part of the security system.

In the main room, all four combatants paused at the ominous rumbling, then jumped away as what appeared to be a large pile of mechanical parts began to rise to a pair of many-jointed legs. A red light at the top of the device turned on, and the security guard finally had a camera in the room again. He spoke through the speaker at the front.

"Good evening, idiots. Meet the Destroyer Security System, which is about to ensure the safety of the dynamatronic engine. Have fun dodging laser beams. I'll send the custodian in to mop you up after this thing deactivates." And he sat back, relaxed, and ordered a new cup of coffee. This was going to be some great entertainment.

The Sneasel Ninja looked over at the Mecha Cop as the Destroyer Security System approached. "Any hope?"

The Mecha Cop returned the look with one of disdain. "None. Run now or die, for both of us."

"Great. I love marathons." The ninja pulled out a Poké Ball. "Sneasel, time to go!"

"You too, Heracross."

As the two Pokémon returned, the Security System shot a laser that the Sneasel Ninja barely ducked under, and it carved an arcing hole through a display board, a desk, and a metre of flooring.

Meanwhile, the Mecha Cop smashed one of the windows and tossed himself out, quickly followed by the Sneasel Ninja, who outstripped the heavy cyborg without any trouble. "Yaaaaaaaaah!" they both screamed, running for the edge of the compound with the Destroyer Security System hot on their heels.


Nate was giggling as the group of actors exited the theatre. "I can't believe that my idea was picked up!" he laughed. "That was great."

Rosa checked her nails with a disdainful expression. "They picked your idea because you didn't get a good part for the film," she asserted coldly.

"You didn't complain about it when you were getting that special treatment," Nate shot back.

Brycen yawned hugely. The Mecha Cop costume he wore for this series was bulky and heavy, and he just wanted a full night's sleep before he continued filming. "Nate, do you happen to enjoy acting drugged?" he wondered. "It's happened in two of the improv shorts so far."

More chuckling. "It's fun and easy," replied Nate. "And it makes me the fan favourite." He moved to the side momentarily to say hello to a few fans, and returned with several bottles. "Score!" he burst out as he rejoined the group. "They gave me some lemonade!"

Rosa frowned. "Let's check that for anything funky before drinking it, all right?"

Nate, halfway through chugging a bottle, paused. "That… would have been a good plan," he agreed. He groaned as his stomach churned. "Now I'm scared. Thanks, Mrs. Nocebo."

Now Rosa sighed. "Let's get you back to the hotel room." She hurried him out the door and through the crowd, leaving Brycen behind. He turned and rejoined the group of fangirls.

"Was there anything in there?"

"Laxative, just like you said, Brycen," one of the girls told him, almost swooning at his proximity.

Brycen began to laugh to himself. "I should go catch up with them, to see how this plays out."

The plan had been to indicate to Nate and Rosa some of the danger their fame put them in, but was also a standard initiation technique used on actors all the time at the studio. Brycen couldn't wait to see Nate's reaction.

Chapter Text

Good

It was early morning when the tip arrived at the World Police Headquarters in Saffron City. "Tonight, I steal the Rainbow Pearl. Tell Mecha Cop to be ready." The signature underneath consisted of three neat slashes clawed into the paper; the Sneasel Ninja's calling card.

She had escaped the facility to which she had been confined without apparent difficulty, and had even gone so far as to leave a scribbled message in her cell when she had vanished without a trace. "Nyah nyah, Mecha Cop!" She seemed to exhibit a marked fondness for these little taunts.

Since then, thefts the world over had been attributed to her by increasingly hysterical proprietors of valuable goods. Even with a powerful teleporting Pokémon, though, she could not have hoped to reach all of those locations, despite the triple-slash marks left at every crime. To the contrary, agents predicted that the Sneasel Ninja had orchestrated a crime wave meant to taunt the World Police, avoiding risk to herself by acting through subordinate thieves she accessed through the underground Thieves' Guild. They had predicted that she would build her confidence until an attempt upon a truly impressive target, which was the point at which she was most likely to reveal herself.

The Rainbow Pearl was just such a target. Valuable, antique, a key feature of the Undella Town museum, and generally considered to be invulnerable. It would be the crime of the century if the Sneasel Ninja stole it successfully, and her name would enter historic documents, mostly alongside curse words.

The Mecha Cop was dispatched to the seaside town, and arrived at sundown. A vaguely familiar young security guard detailed to him the security measures afforded to the town treasure. He seemed overtired, scrubbing his mop of brown hair constantly, when he wasn't rubbing eyes, accented by bruise-like marks underneath. When the Mecha Cop asked what was up, he explained that he had been sacked from a position in Accumula Town, and shunted around the region to end up as the only worker in the Undella Precinct. With the recent Sneasel Ninja scare, he was up at all hours patrolling or reassuring residents.

As the security guard returned to the precinct to wait for Mecha Cop to call him, the World Police agent began to patrol the town. He had just passed from the idyllic resort town's famous white sand beach to a more natural colour of surface – a deep yellow, almost brown, with ruddy patches – when he heard soft footsteps on the sand up ahead. Around a tree-covered headland slipped a dark figure, her brown twintails hanging loose again as she edged along the tree line towards the town.

The Mecha Cop's searchlight, a high-powered golden beam, lit up the scene. "Sneasel Ninja! You are captured!"

The girl flinched momentarily, then began to laugh. "Ah, predictable Mecha Cop. You've fallen right into my trap!" she cackled. From the bushes behind her, a Sneasel joined the 'unprepared' thief.

The Mecha Cop cast forth his standard issue Sawk, and backed away down the beach, scanning for other hostiles. "What do you mean, Sneasel Ninja?" he questioned her.

The Sneasel Ninja slouched her way down from the tree line onto the makeshift battlefield. "Were you not briefed on that? Oh, wait, I hacked the briefing so you wouldn't be aware." The girl made an intensely innocent expression of surprise before continuing. "This beach has a strong internal magnetism, which makes your gadgets useless, and the fine grains will quickly work into your machinery and make your body useless. Eventually, the salt and humidity will rust those joints of yours shut. Oh, by the way, I never wanted the Rainbow Pearl at all." She pulled down one eyelid and stuck out her tongue.

It was with an expression of distaste and disinterest that the Mecha Cop had listened to the conversation, and now he expressed his disapproval. "No matter, Sneasel Ninja," he told her dismissively. "I can defeat you without gadgets, and before anything rusts! Sawk!" Trainer and Pokémon both took a ready pose.

The Sneasel Ninja gave a mocking little bow. "Stall them out, Sneasel," she ordered, and her Pokémon began to dart back and forth, building up power as it went.

Sawk made an attempt to follow the Sneasel Ninja's Sneasel, but missed abysmally. As it returned to its trainer's side, the Mecha Cop noticed a purpling rash spreading across the Pokémon's chest. In the centre of the rash, he spotted a small purple object pumping a viscous purple fluid onto Sawk's chest.

He gasped as realisation struck. "A Toxic Orb?" he gaped. "How did you put that on Sawk, du mieser Verbrecher?" Even without the other time pressures of his presence on this beach, this was a serious and immediate danger.

The Sneasel Ninja laughed and waved a small flash drive. "It's amazing how easy it is to get into secure computer systems these days," she mocked him.

The Mecha Cop growled. Enough was enough. "Alloy Net!" he roared, gesturing with one arm, despite a slight, ominous creaking. From the launcher at the end of his arm, a net of tightly woven metallic strands, weighted at the corners with lead, shot at a wild angle. The weapon missed by a mile, but the Sneasel Ninja still jumped away from it.

She looked a little miffed. "Wow, that was a shock." Then she grinned. "Panicking a little, Mecha Cop? It's not long before you'll be completely useless." Her smile became a cruel mockery of the Mecha Cop's usual impassive expression. "Surrender! Isn't that what you always tell me?"

Despite the growing creakiness of his hip joints, the Mecha Cop stood up tall. "Justice is unshakeable, unassailable, no matter the circumstance. Prépare-toi, Sneasel Ninja!"

The Sneasel Ninja rolled her eyes in disgust. "Stop bluffing and give up already," she commanded him, pulling her gloves up a bit higher. "I have things to do."

The Mecha Cop, in response, pointed dramatically at his opponent. "A model answer for villains, Sneasel Ninja! It's worth defeating you, no matter what!"

The Sneasel Ninja hissed through her teeth. "Fine, if that's the way you want it… Sneasel!" The Pokémon leapt at Sawk and dealt a brick-breaking blow with the side of its paw. Sawk staggered, nearly collapsed, but then righted itself.

The Mecha Cop smiled under his visor. "Turn the tables, Sawk. Manoeuvre C!"

With a tremendous effort, the injured Pokémon threw itself upon the unsuspecting Sneasel and pummelled it into the sand. When it was finished, Sneasel lay, unmoving, at the base of a small pit. Clouds of grit had been stirred up, and they cleared to reveal the shocked Sneasel Ninja, who dropped to her knees at the sight of her defeated Pokémon.

The Mecha Cop, creaking tremendously, removed a set of handcuffs from his jacket and applied them to the Sneasel Ninja's wrists. "Under arrest again, then," he told her, almost conversationally.

"You- Ugh- My Pokémon!" the Sneasel Ninja protested.

The Mecha Cop became disdainful as he radioed for support. "In the service of justice, all measures of cruelty are allowed. That is the creed of the World Police, as we crush those who would oppose justice." The security guard picked up the radio in the Undella Town precinct. At his sleepy voice, the Mecha Cop said, "Mission accomplie. The Sneasel Ninja is ready for pickup.


Bad

It was with reluctance that the World Police set Mecha Cop on the trail of the Sneasel Ninja this time.

It was true that she had blatantly announced her intents upon Undella Town's Rainbow Pearl some days ago, and also that no one had kept closer track upon her movements than the Mecha Cop, but the management thought that might just be the problem. The Mecha Cop had avoided active duty for months, and not taken in a criminal since the Sneasel Ninja's mysterious escape. The thief, the only one to ever escape the World Police, had consumed the Mecha Cop, and it was doubtful whether he remained suitable for active duty.

So they watched from a satellite drone as he patrolled down the beach outside Undella Town, and had him trailed by a young man picked up during the first Sneasel Ninja case. The boy was an incompetent security guard, at best, but impressionable enough to listen without question to the organisation's orders. If he thought that it was odd that he had been ordered to follow one of the World Police's top agents, he did not show it.

The Mecha Cop stopped as a faint rustling whistled through the dry beach grasses. He had left the perfect, clear, white sands of the main Undella beach behind, and now stood in a less maintained area of the beach. "I know you're there, fugitive," he told the grass. Red suffused his visor as he activated an infrared camera. "Yes. That's you, Sneasel Ninja, and your Pokémon close behind you!"

A young woman dressed in black rose to her feet from a crouched position in the tall grass. She brushed clinging sand from her pants and casually pawed through her long hair to remove any stray grains. "I've been tailing you since the main beach, Mecha Cop," she drawled, daintily scraping at her gloved hands. "Good that you noticed me now, or my trap wouldn't have worked."

The Mecha Cop grunted, unimpressed. "Trap? No trap can hold me." He tossed out his Sawk. "I'll smash my way right out."

The Sneasel Ninja snorted an unimpressed laugh. "Big words, for the cyborg who just walked right into one of the most powerful natural magnetic fields in the world, and hasn't yet noticed the rust forming in your joints, or the sand catching in your gears," she mocked him.

"Wha-?" As he stepped back in shock, a gear gave a loud cracking sound. He growled, "No! I won't be defeated by this! Sawk!"

His Pokémon began to rush the Sneasel Ninja, but staggered partway there, and collapsed to hands and knees, clutching its chest with a trembling hand. When it removed that hand, it held a spherical purple device, which pumped out a packet of septic purple goo as all present watched it.

Grinning like a cat who just got the cream, the Sneasel Ninja held up a compact tablet. "The wonders of modern technology, my friend." She looked at her own Pokémon, who had just joined her in the grass. "Let's show them what we're about, Sneasel," she ordered it.

The Sneasel glared at the Mecha Cop, and a seething wave of pulsating blackness swirled up around it. After a moment of holding it, Sneasel threw it towards Sawk, who broke the tide around itself, but not before taking damage by it.

The Mecha Cop growled loudly, then yelled something in another language and pointed his arm at the Sneasel Ninja, who backed away, terrified. A loud clunking noise was followed by the wheezing of a failing mechanical device, and the mangled remains of a net churned themselves out of the small cannon on the Mecha Cop's arm. When the last smoking remnants fell to the ground, without having been fired more than an arm's length from Mecha Cop's feet, the Sneasel Ninja began to laugh.

"Feeling panicked yet, Mecha Cop?" she leered at him. "Ready to surrender to me now?" she yelled at the sky, as if she could see the almost invisible drone. "I will bring the world to its knees, starting with you, Mecha Cop!"

Cracking his neck, as if it would help remove some of the sand and rust clogging his gears, Mecha Cop gritted his teeth. "Justice does not end with me, but mine is perfect, unassailable, and I do not surrender!"

The Sneasel Ninja raised an eyebrow. "Impressive, and very saintly of you," she admitted, "but I would face the fact you've lost already."

The Mecha Cop's visor sparked in the corners. "If you can admire the power of justice, simply surrender, villain!" he declaimed.

"That's for you to do, and me to watch! Sneasel!"

It was all Sawk could do to hold back the wave of anger and bad feeling, this time. It collapsed without attacking, shuddering from the poison in its body. Stepping past its trainer, Sneasel struck again and again, and each time Sawk's struggles weakened, until it keeled over backwards, despite the Mecha Cop's orders.

He returned his Pokémon, then, with a metallic, grinding crash, fell to his knees. "Justice… How can I have lost?" He stared up at the sky, as if it held answers.

The Sneasel Ninja frowned. "I can't stand blind righteousness, but I think you had part of me convinced you were in the right, for a while there," she explained. "Clearly your philosophy was a failure, but I will always admire your perseverance in believing it."

The Mecha Cop bowed his head. "I… My faith is gone now. Sneasel Ninja, tell me what to do without a cause to believe in!"

But she had vanished into the night.

As he returned to Undella Town in disgrace, the Mecha Cop encountered the new World Police recruit, who read out loud from his pager, "The Mecha Cop is relieved from active duty and assigned to return to World Police Grand Headquarters for decommissioning."

The Mecha Cop glared down at the much shorter boy for several seconds, then clouted him on the back of the head and ran, vanishing into the wilderness.

It was several months later when the first act of vandalism occurred; the destruction of a World Police break room in Humilau City. Agents who survived the attack described the mechanical human who had ripped apart the walls of the shelter. Despite news of the stencilled graffiti and large, flashy, deadly gadgets he had applied to himself, World Police management declared a worldwide manhunt for the Mecha Cop, who had declared himself the enemy of the organisation by fleeing direct orders and attacking World Police agents.

From his hideout in Black City, the former Mecha Cop listened to this news and was pleased. His old purpose in life was lost, but this new one promised to be very interesting.


Strange

A screen in the corner of the Mecha Cop's visor flickered to life. It displayed a young man seated behind a desk, clothed in a well-tailored black suit, with his fingers steepled in front of him. His mop of brown hair had been trimmed to a more manageable length, and combed to perfection. World Police Dispatcher Nate was a far cry from the inept security guard he had been in Accumula Town.

"Agent 151, Code Name: Mecha Cop," he began in clipped tones. "Your mission tonight, should you choose to accept it, is to continue the hunt for the escaped criminal, the Sneasel Ninja. Following her escape from custody some weeks ago, she has led World Police agents on a chase throughout the Unova region, stealing almost indiscriminately as she goes. At each crime scene, she has left the triple-clawed mark that is her symbol," a grainy image of three deep gouges inscribed on a concrete wall flickered into view beside him.

"We have it on good authority that the criminal will make an attempt to steal the treasured Rainbow Pearl from the Undella Town exhibition hall tonight. Find her, capture her, and see her brought to justice." Nate nodded decisively to himself.

"Nate," the Mecha Cop grunted in reply. "We know that the Sneasel Ninja is after the Rainbow Pearl because she sent us a tip this morning. I have been the agent hunting her around the region. I am in Undella Town, searching the vicinity for the suspect. I was briefed about this mission this morning, before I left headquarters. This is not an appropriate time for distractions." Ignoring the small, unobtrusive screen, the Mecha Cop returned to his scan of the beach around him, searching for heat signatures.

Nate shrugged, cracking his professional veneer. "I just thought you might want a reminder of what's been going on up until now," he admitted. "I was told to keep in contact with you, but I don't have anything else to talk about."

"Indeed." The Mecha Cop advised his dispatcher, "Merely remain in contact for the time being. What I don't need now is to hear more about your girlfriend again." The agent moved cautiously down the beach, away from the tourist beach and towards the ones frequented more often by locals. The Sneasel Ninja might come from any avenue.

Nate sighed and went a bit starry-eyed at the mention of his girlfriend. "Did I mention to you our date at the Nimbasa Amusement Park yet? The ferris wheel wasn't working, but we had such a great ni-" the video cut out for a moment, before returning. Nate now had a worried frown on his face. "Mecha Cop, you just cut out for a moment, and I can't read vitals." The display descended into static. "Control, Mecha Cop is in some kind of trouble," buzzed Nate, before the audio connection cut as well.

Raucous laughter greeted Mecha Cop as he switched off his visor, as demanded by protocol in situations in which mechanics began to malfunction. The Sneasel Ninja was sitting in a small grass hide at the edge of the beach, laughing as she extricated herself from the sandy cloth.

"So like you to fall into that, Mecha Cop," she crowed, shaking out compressed twintails. "The magnetism of this beach causes all your gadgets to malfunction, and now you're exposed and alone."

The Mecha Cop tilted his head. "You never meant to steal the Rainbow Pearl," he surmised. "It was merely a ploy to draw me out into this trap." After all, what could a fugitive thief without Fly or Surf do with a unique piece of stolen goods?

"Good, good," the Sneasel Ninja applauded her nemesis. "Seems we're learning how these things work; but, did you predict this? Sneasel!"

The small clawed Pokémon burst from the underbrush and threw itself at the Mecha Cop, claws first, only to be blocked by a huge blue arm. A Sawk attempted to punt the Sneasel away.

The Mecha Cop nodded to himself without surprise. "A sneak attack from the bushes, a tactic used by villains without fail. I suppose that you have some variety of inescapable time-based doom that will befall me as well?" He looked over at the sea, to the side of them. "Ah. Salt, sand, and water. Clever."

The Sneasel Ninja looked a bit miffed that she had been so easily predicted, but she had not yet been outmanoeuvred. "We'll see whether those neat little ideas help you now, Mecha Cop."

The two Pokémon had tumbled away, locked in combat, and the Sneasel Ninja now stood on equal footing with the Mecha Cop, as she was faster, as well as much more skilled in combat, than the slow, but brutally strong Mecha Cop. Not to mention that the Mecha Cop's gears were already beginning to creak. Nevertheless, the fistfight began.

The ninja struck first, with a stinging kick to the head. The Mecha Cop's head tilted to absorb the blow, then he stretched out an arm and clouted the girl as she move past him.

Bobbing and weaving, the Sneasel Ninja became more cautious, ducking in for a strike at lower joints when she had the chance, but mostly avoiding being hit by her larger opponent.

She saw her chance when Sawk and Sneasel returned. The Mecha Cop's movements were beginning to slow, and he stumbled when the two battling Pokémon collided with the backs of his knees. The Sneasel Ninja ducked around the wheeling arms, picked up a handful of sand, and ground it into the mess of gears and wires that rose up the back of the World Police agent's neck.

The cop froze in a half-righted attitude, then began to babble a string of ones and zeroes, too fast for the Sneasel Ninja to decipher the binary. At some point, he began to speak words, but still almost too fast to be understood, and without any inflection or emotion. The Sneasel Ninja looked on in confusion. "Error," he said. "Saving system information for shutdown. Please wait. Saving," a pause before the babble began again. "Saved. Ejecting emergency packet for retrieval." A small flash drive popped out of a concealed groove at the side of his helmet and fell to the sand, where the Sneasel Ninja swooped in and picked it up.

The cop continued to speak. "System failure in combat. Activating Final Police Solution 2.0 to eliminate threats. Detonation in three seconds."

The Sneasel Ninja jumped back, then rethought herself. She didn't know if she'd get out of the blast zone in time. Instead, she scrabbled onto the Mecha Cop's shoulders, pulling out a large heat-knife as she went. Once settled, as the cop's computer said, "One second," she stabbed the knife directly downwards at the base of her enemy's neck, deep into the chassis, where the computer was no doubt stored. As the Mecha Cop's body spasmed underneath her, she heated the knife's blade to several hundred degrees Celsius.

The cyborg sagged, then collapsed underneath her. Before she could be trapped underneath the heavy metal body, Rosa rolled clear, leaping to her feet as the Mecha Cop rolled onto his back, gasping.

"Dad?" he yelled, as he got his breath back. His voice was very different now, and not just because the panic in his voice was not something the Mecha Cop usually expressed. The tone was higher, lighter than the Mecha Cop's usual seriousness, despite the fear. "Where am I? I can't see anything!" During the final protocols, his visor had slipped back down.

Rosa slipped back to the Mecha Cops side. After a moment of struggling to push the visor up, she gave up. She shifted to get a good grip on the helmet. "Excuse me, but this might hurt a lot," she warned him.

"Huh?" was the man's only response before Rosa, with the help of her Sneasel, heaved the helmet off, pulling several wires out of the base of the suit's neck in the process.

The man underneath the helmet peered around, his long blue-white hair twitching with the movement. Several wires reached up from the computer system on his back and entered his skull. "How did I get here?" he asked, frowning. "Where is my dad?"

"You were chasing me," Rosa explained, with some disdain. "Not without reason, of course. I have no idea what you might have been doing before that, or who your father is."

"Chasing?" The man seemed fascinated. "Does that mean my legs are working? But why don't I remember anything since Dad put me under for the procedure?" He struggled to sit up, and noticed his metal chassis for the first time. "What's this?"

"Your legs were definitely working last I checked, though that might have been purely mechanical." Rosa was intrigued by this situation. "I wonder, do they still work?"

She helped the former Mecha Cop to a sitting position. With all the metal on him, and none of his hardware operable, it was quite a job. When they had done that, one of his feet twitched.

"Yes!" the man crowed. "Now I can be a hero, like my dad's World Police agents!"

Rosa's eyebrows shot up. "Your father is part of World Police?" How could he have allowed what she was starting to guess had happened?

The man nodded emphatically. "He's the CEO, you know. Oh… he says not to tell anyone who he is." A frown appeared again. "He always used to tell me that people can either know him, or know what he is, but not both. I guess it's secrecy stuff."

Rosa's eyebrows went higher. This was not painting a pretty picture for her. "Okay, let's see if we can get you on your feet. I don't want to remove any more of these devices until I know what they do. I probably shouldn't have even removed the helmet."

"Sure," the man agreed. Together, they were able to haul him to his feet.

When that was done, Rosa dusted off her hands and pulled out the flash drive the Mecha Cop had dropped for retrieval. "I bet this would tell me all the specs of that chassis of yours," she said, stroking sand off of it.

"Would it tell me what I've been doing, too?" the former Mecha Cop asked.

"I could tell you that," was Rosa's response, "but yeah, this probably could, too. It might not say everything. For instance, I doubt it could tell me who you are."

The man grinned and attempted a mock salute. He could only raise his metal-coated arm to chest level. "Brycen, from Castelia City. Last thing I remember, I was fifteen and in a wheelchair, going to a World Police lab to get operated on."

"Well, Brycen, the first thing we have to do is get all that stuff off of you, and then find out why you seem to have blanked on about ten years of memories," Rosa told him.

"How?"

"I'll figure something out," Rosa assured him, smirking. "It might not be legal, and a few heads might roll, but I'll get it all figured out."

Brycen considered for a few moments, then nodded. "Sure. That seems fair."


Rosa was cackling to herself as she stepped out of the theatre. "Did you see their faces?" she laughed, as Nate and Brycen joined her. "The entire audience was so confused by the last short!"

Brycen looked thoughtful. "That was probably because it shifted from a comedy in the first act, to the cop film that the other two were, and then to a drama in the final act," he observed. He paused, and posed. "And, of course, because they got to see my face at the end." Like it had been in the film, he had left his hair loose for the premier. Standing, it hung down past his shoulders, with a light wave to it. The places where he had shaved squares out in order to wear his Wired costume were exposed for all to see. Several fans had taken pictures already, and more were swarming in.

Rosa glanced over at Nate. "How's the hair feel?"

The boy shot her a grin. "Fabulously weird," he told her. Rather than his visor, he had no hat on today, to 'experiment with hair' as he had said. After the stylists had decided he should cut his hair for the final short, he had been unhappy with the businesslike style they had given him. Back at their shared hotel room, Nate had arrived home with a buzz cut from a salon in the city, and was enjoying showing it off.

"And what if they want you to wear a wig in our next film?" Rosa pointed out. She had been talking to actresses impressed with her dramatic twintails, and heard enough horror stories of low-quality wigs under the hot lamps of a set.

Nate only shrugged. "I'm playing a security guard for a few more weeks, at least." The trio of actors had been signed on to at least two more Mecha Cop films. "After that, well, my hair grows fast. Maybe I can make it, like, my signature to do a different style every series or something." In Rosa's mind, he was getting far too excited about this.

While the boys primped in front of their fans, Rosa was accosted by several film buffs who wanted to talk about how she played the Sneasel Ninja character. It was several minutes for all three of them extricated themselves and could proceed as a group once more.

"You two make a good writing team," complimented Brycen, as if he had never been interrupted in his earlier conversation.

"Hah!" snorted Nate. "You saw us arguing over this one! Rosa only won her ending because the director sided with her."

Rosa rolled her eyes. "Your infodump of an introduction only got through because you started improvising it on set," she reminded him.

Brycen raised placating hands. "Calm down. Both sections ended up good." As the three of them approached the doors, he observed, "It was fun to act that script."

"And they're not always fun?" both fledgling actors growled, in unison.

The double doors swung open, and revealed a tall, elegant woman in a jacket made from yellow fluff. Her black hair was held back by a Bluetooth-like headpiece and egregious amounts of hairspray. The pair of young blonde models in blue who had opened the doors backed away swiftly behind the posing Gym Leader.

"Elesa," Brycen groaned, making a brave attempt at a smile. He did not get along well with some of his fellow Gym Leaders.

"Evening, darling," crooned Elesa, sashaying through the doors. She discarded the jacket on the way, tossing it to the side, where one of her interns caught it.

"It is so wonderful to be here in Virbank City, my dears!" she burst out theatrically. Elesa caught up Rosa's right hand, and Nate's left. "This studio is so grandiose; I love it already."

"Why are you here, Elesa?" grunted Brycen, slipping back into taciturnity.

Elesa struck another pose, as the crowd of fans oohed and aahed. "Why, everyone's talking about Pokéstar Studios these days. It's become the thing done for a model to try her hand at acting. Now, darling, do step aside so that I can learn the ropes from these dear young actors. I'll be their costar in their upcoming role; the script simply sang to me from the page!"

Gliding smoothly, with Nate and Rosa captured on either side, Elesa left the building. Brycen remained for several minutes before following, and left every rubbish bin in the building overturned when he did leave.

Chapter Text

Good

With a ding, the doors to the residential elevator slid open to allow out the pair who had been riding in it. The woman glided out with catlike grace, as proud as the Sewaddle riding her shoulder, and was followed by a moving mound of bags and boxes. From behind the multi-coloured shopping bags, a young face popped out.

"Do I need to carry all of this for you, Pollyanna?" he whined, sidling precariously through the doorway. "I'm your security guard, not your pack mule."

Pollyanna's straight dark hair twitched as she glanced at the boy. "You were assigned to help take care of me, Nate," she corrected him. "You and that ridiculous buzz cut are here to do what I ask you to do, which includes carrying all of my purchases back here to Village Bridge from Shopping Mall Nine without complaint." With a flounce, she headed to room 007 and took out her key card. "Now, you can tell me how wonderful I am in each of the ninety-one outfits I bought."

The door creaked open in a light draft.

"Huh?" said Pollyanna, and there was a crash behind her as all of her shopping collapsed to the ground. Nate jumped past into the living room, several Poké Balls bristling from his hands.

"Stop!" Pollyanna commanded, striding into the ransacked room and switching on the light.

Nate froze in mid-stride.

"Fetch my brother. I will find the source of this."

His head hanging, Nate began to comply.

"Oh, Nate?"

The boy's head rose hopefully.

"You will collect all my shopping once you've done that, and make sure it's stored properly, right?" she asked sweetly.

With a groan, Nate's head swung down again. "Yes, ma'am."

Nate left, and closed the door behind him. Brushing her Sewaddle down to search on his own, Pollyanna explored the room, noting as she went that, while everything had been overturned, nothing was broken or missing. In the kitchen, she discovered that a window had been neatly removed from its frame and laid on the counter. That was the source of the draft. As she returned to the living room, the bedroom door on the opposite wall inched open.

"Hai!" Pollyanna fairly flew across the room and delivered a crushing blow to the face of the door with her fist. There was a screech of pain behind it.

"Got you, Sneasel Ninja!" Pollyanna wrenched the door open again, revealing the young girl dressed all in black, her twintails swaying as she leaned woozily on the doorframe.

"Wow… ow…" was the girl's only reply for a moment, then she regained her bearings. "Ha! Pollyanna, or should I say Elesa, the Mecha Cop's baby sister!"

The fashion-minded young woman smiled and moved away. She sat down on the back of the overturned couch and crossed her legs. "What of it? We expected you to come after me ever since you heard the planted conversation while you were in prison. My big brother knew you would escape, so he assigned me a personal bodyguard and made sure you would come after me in hiding."

The Sneasel Ninja stepped forward, still wary. "You just sent away your bodyguard," she noted.

"Yes." Elesa shrugged. "My brother's been training me. I can take you on alone."

"Oh, really?" Three Sneasel dropped from the ceiling in front of the ninja. She grinned, a nasty, wide thing with too many teeth in it to be genuine. "I suggest you surrender, and become my hostage against your brother's good behaviour."

At that moment, Elesa's Sewaddle bustled out of the kitchen, carrying a poffin snack. It glanced over at the dark-clad ninja and her three large, dangerous Ice Pokémon, and hurried to its trainer's feet with a terrified squeak.

The Sneasel Ninja began to cackle. "That's your defense? I could take that thing!" Her Pokémon laughed with her.

Elesa stood. "I don't need Sewaddle at all. I'll take you on barehanded!" And she leapt at the Sneasel Ninja, a mass of various martial arts moves that melded together to a dangerous whole.

The Sneasel Ninja jumped back after a particularly vicious jab at her upper chest. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry I teased your Pokémon," she gasped. "Look, here, I'll even give it an advantage if you'll just stop hitting me. Sneasel, Sunny Day!"

Rolling its eyes at its trainer's incompetence, the weaselly creature threw its arms up and summoned a light source to shine from the ceiling.

"Bah! Just like my brother told me." Elesa stepped back and resumed her seat. "Sewaddle, Endure whatever they throw at you."

"You're just going to sit there and take it? Well, bring this battle on, then!" cackled the Sneasel Ninja.

Elesa smiled mysteriously. "We'll show you the results of our training, thief."

"Aerial Ace!"

Despite the shockingly fast attack, strengthened by a small device to improve its power, Sewaddle curled up and took the blows, refusing to faint.

The Sneasel Ninja raised an eyebrow, which had an amusing effect on her cowl. "Well, check that ego, Miss Elesa. Looks like you've lost already."

"Check your own ego, Miss Ninja," Elesa retorted. "No matter what, my brother says that justice will always prevail."

The Sneasel Ninja shook her head as if she spoke to a child. "Your brother needs to understand a few things about the real world. Justice and injustice are decided by the victors, so the only justice is that of being the stronger side."

Elesa's responding glare was chilling. "You're a lying villain, Sneasel Ninja. There is good and bad, and anyone can tell you the difference." She tossed her head, her straight black hair swishing.

"Well, you'll see."

"Aargh!" Elesa screeched. "My brother is right! He's always right! I'll prove it to you! Sewaddle!"

The tiny Pokémon bounced out of its tight curl. It was panting from distress, but threw itself into a wild flailing attack. Emitting a high-pitched wailing sound, the tiny green bug rattled around the room, breaking picture frames and overturning furniture, until it collided with the side of the first Sneasel's head. As the weasel reeled to the ground, Sewaddle bounced to the second's chest, knocking it into the wall.

Next the minuscule destroyer cracked the final Sneasel's legs, one at a time. From there, it hit the ceiling, cracking the drywall, and finally rammed the Sneasel Ninja with all its strength.

Elesa, still sitting on the back of her couch, serene and poised, smiled at her defeated opponent. "And that's a wrap," she quipped. Surrounded by the carnage her Sewaddle had wrought, she looked happier than ever.

"B-but… You seemed so innocent," gasped Rosa, clutching her chest. "Ugh, this didn't go well."

"Do you see now?" Elesa asked. "My big brother was right. You can't win, Sneasel Ninja, because you don't act justly." The woman flounced to the door. "Now, please excuse me, but there's a lovely piece in skintight black leather that I simply must try on. Be good!"


Bad

The Sneasel Ninja padded across the span of the Village Bridge, avoiding the eyes of the many pedestrians who crossed it, even late at night. Reaching the apartment she sought, the black-clad woman climbed the wall as if it were level ground and dodged through the window of room 007.

There was very little worth stealing inside, but that was not really what the thief was here for. No, today was about revenge against the Mecha Cop who had captured her twice. She took a solid silver necklace from the boudoir, and made a show of overturning the furniture. There would be no trouble when her target arrived, but she planned to make it seem that way for her nemesis' benefit.

It had been child's play to discover the identity of the Mecha Cop's younger sister. She was a fixture at the World Police Headquarters, so everyone knew her. Elesa, the elegant, witty teenager whose devastating good looks and charm won over everyone she met. The Sneasel Ninja had left details of her plot to kidnap Elesa at her last hideout, and the ingenuous girl was now hidden and under the direct protection of elite World Police agents.

Not that that would save her. Rosa had hacked into the World Police's systems months ago, and knew immediately when 'Pollyanna' was relocated to the Village Bridge. Now the Mecha Cop would know the wrath of the Sneasel Ninja, in revenge for his callous treatment of her Sneasel during their last battle.

Releasing her Sneasel to watch the door, the Sneasel Ninja retired to Elesa's bedroom, where she lounged on a pile of discarded clothing to wait. There were other heists to plan after this.

The creak of a door in the living room was followed by a burst of emptyheaded giggles. They were cut short in a gasp of shock and terror.

After adjusting her mask, the Sneasel Ninja stepped out of Elesa's bedroom, the necklace she had obtained dangling from her finger. She gave Elesa a look of studied indifference. "You thought you could hide from me, the greatest thief in the world?" she drawled, her other hand negligently stroking the head of her favourite Sneasel.

Her bodyguard, a young man with a military haircut, attempted to rush the thief, readying a full team of Poké Balls as he went. One Sneasel darted from under the coffee table to knock his weapons from his hand. The other two slipped past their mistress and bared their claws at the man, who hesitated. Then the Sneasel Ninja herself rose, wraithlike, from behind him, and jabbed him in the back of the neck. The man fell like a sack of potatoes.

The Sneasel Ninja dusted off her hands. "That's for your ridiculous haircut," she advised the fallen opponent.

"Oh, I quite agree," said Elesa, still standing in the doorway, a Sewaddle in her arms. "Anything longer would suit him better, even the most conservative of men's hair."

"So why not tell him so?"

The woman looked aghast. "Why, darling, I'm a public figure. My job is to give the World Police a good reputation by smiling and acting winsome." She gave a toothy smile. "No one wants the receptionist to tell them that they don't look good today, no matter how true it is."

"Fascinating concept." The Sneasel Ninja crossed her legs and dropped to the floor in a lotus position. "Now, I assume you understand the particulars of this?" she asked. "I'm here to make an example of you so that your brother will stop hunting me. If I can, I'm going to kidnap you, and there's really very little you can do to stop me. I suggest you give up and come quietly. If you do, I'll let you write a letter to your brother telling him what's going on, and I might even let you bring some clothing and snacks along."

Elesa laughed, a silvery, meaningless thing. "Darling, I'm sure you understand, I don't have any choice but to oppose you. My brother has taught me a trick or two, both for Pokémon battles and physical ones. These jackets of mine are meant to cover the muscles I've built in training. I can defeat you without my Pokémon.

"But, I suppose, I should probably fight fair, in the name of justice." Elesa bent gracefully and placed her Sewaddle on the ground. "Fight, my little one."

The Sneasel Ninja gave her Pokémon a negligent gesture, and it leapt into action faster than could be seen. As the Sneasel and Sewaddle scrapped in the middle of the room, the thief took a deep breath and tightened her pose. "So, you do have some skill," she admitted, entirely calm, as the first Sneasel fell back, dazed. "I'm surprised that you assumed I would fight fair, though." A minuscule nod, and the next Sneasel ripped out of the shadows. Surprised, Sewaddle contracted into a ball on the floor.

Elesa made a "Tch!" sound. "It's not surprising that you underestimated me. Since the tender age of seven, it has been my sole concern to be nothing but a pretty face. The façade is designed such that only my brother has seen through it, despite working for an organisation of such calibre as the World Police." The woman flicked one of the tresses of her hair over her shoulder.

"Watch your Pokémon," the Sneasel Ninja advised. Elesa gasped as her Sewaddle withstood a hail of ice crystals. "An ego like yours will always be overthrown by someone like me."

Elesa made a dismissive noise. "And look who says this! If you should believe in yourself so much, perhaps your own ego needs curbing! Mine is the way of truth and ideals; justice, if you will. I shall prevail!" Shrugging out of her fluffy fur jacket, Elesa enthroned herself in an overturned armchair.

Chuckling, the Sneasel Ninja gestured for Sneasel to continue the fight. "Interesting theory, but have you tested it? Those high and mighty ideals of yours don't stand up in the real world, and your truth is nothing but the worn-out aphorisms of an obsolete culture." Eyes closed in a pose of serenity, the Sneasel Ninja tipped her head to the side to avoid a flurry of icicles that continued until they pierced the walls.

Elesa leaned back, thoughtful. "My, what an interesting position for a known thief and pathological liar to take. I'll be sure to take it under consideration.

"Now, despite this engaging philosophical dispute, don't think that I'm about to let you win. As much as your arguments intrigue me, I will continue down my chosen path for the time being."

"I'd expect nothing less from a girl raised by the Mecha Cop," said the Sneasel Ninja. "However, have you considered that I could have merely been distracting you from what's going on right in front of you?" Opening her eyes, the Sneasel Ninja raised one languid hand and snapped her fingers.

A single strike, and Sewaddle collapsed, unconscious, beneath the Sneasel, who returned to his master's side.

Elesa gasped, but quickly regained her composure. "Well. A direct lesson in the cruelty of the world from the great and terrible Sneasel Ninja." With admirable grace and an illusion of calm, Elesa unfolded herself from her seat and gathered up her injured Pokémon in her arms. "Will a villain such as you at least give me a chance to heal my friend?"

The Sneasel Ninja rose and padded to the window, her twintails dangling. Her other Sneasel joined the one already flowing out and onto the supports of the Village Bridge. It was with a wicked smile that the girl turned to her defeated opponent. "I've had a much better idea. There's been a message sent to World Police Headquarters that I'm going after you. I was going to take you with me and send a ransom message in a few days, but that would be far too much trouble. There are other ways to hurt the Mecha Cop than keeping an innocent young woman such as yourself captive, after all. I'm sure I'll see you again, though you may not see me."

With a mocking bow, the Sneasel Ninja began to swing out the window, but stopped, catlike, on the sill when Elesa moved forward.

"But what are you planning to do?"

Another laugh. "I'm sure you'll know when it happens," the Sneasel Ninja assured her. "But, then again, you might not!" And then she was gone, vanished into the night.

Elesa stayed by the window, cradling her Sewaddle and staring out at the Village Bridge. "My…" she breathed to herself. "But that was an exit. If only I could- No! But… what she said. It makes sense."

At a groan from the other room, Elesa turned. "Nate!"

The young man stumbled to his feet. "Owww," he grumbled. "Where'd she go? I can get her!"

"Er," Elesa didn't respond for a moment. Then she said, "I don't know. She just vanished. I think she was trying to scare us."

Nate sighed. "We'll need to move you, then. Come on. I need to call your brother, Pollyanna."

Listening in through the microphone she had left under the couch, Rosa laughed to herself. It was child's play, manipulating a woman like Elesa, who, despite her intelligence, had still been trapped in a box until their meeting. This promised to be fun.


Strange

"Ah, big brother, you have to come see this jacket!"

"Ele- Pollyanna, you know I can't do that now."

"But it looks so cute! And I haven't seen you for weeks! This Village Bridge apartment is so boring, and Nate won't even let me leave to go shopping!"

The girl, dressed in an immaculate yellow jacket and skirt combination, lay sprawled across a red bedspread, her Cross-Transciever held in front of her. Her hair, an artful halo of dark strands radiating across the pillow, twitched as Elesa continued to whine, her impassioned, righteously wronged speech reaching all new levels of woe and misused dignity. From the other end of the connection, there was tense silence.

"If Nate does let me go out, he says I have to wear this ugly blue wig! I mean, I know that the colour and style is in this month, but it's such a ratty old thing! And I can't buy anything, because my credit card can get traced! Oh, I wish that someone would just come and save me from buzz-cut security guards!"

There was a crash from outside Elesa's closed bedroom door.

"Oh? I'll call you back, Big Brother!" chirped Elesa, ending the call. Elesa unfolded herself from her position on the bed and manoeuvred her way to the door through piles of textbooks from her higher mathematics classes.

"Nate, did you drop a plate again? We'll have to buy more if you did," she sang out into the living room as she opened the door.

And was greeted by a scene of absolute chaos.

The coffee table had been overturned and shattered—that was what had made the noise. Nate and a woman in a black bodysuit were fighting their way around the room, their limbs blurs as they struck at each other. Other than overturning the table, they fought quietly. A trio of Sneasel hovered near the kitchen door, their eyes riveted on the battle before them. As the intruder guided the fight with Nate towards her Pokemon, the three of them raised their claws hungrily.

"Nate! Look out!" screamed Elesa, just as the Sneasel leapt. Nate dropped to the floor and rolled out of the way, and the intruders collided and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Nate rolled in the wrong direction. He rammed into a wall, left a dent in it, and didn't even attempt to rise. His attacker, though, did get up, extricating herself from the pile of icy Pokemon.

"Hello, Miss Elesa," said the Sneasel Ninja, leaning against the wall. "Did your brother really think you could even hope to be safe from me here? All it took was tracing the Mecha Cop's calls, and here you were, right under my nose." Her Sneasel fanned out to encircle Elesa.

Elesa drew herself up tall and dropped a Poké Ball to the floor. A Sewaddle popped out. "Justice is on my side, Sneasel Ninja! You won't defeat me!"

"Oh?" The Sneasel Ninja laughed without any real mirth. "Didn't I just defeat your bodyguard? Wasn't your justice on his side, too? In fact, it was because of you that he took himself out, wasn't it? Chew on that for a moment, Miss Hero."

Elesa's eyes went wide as she did think about it. She shook herself. "No! You're a liar, Sneasel Ninja! My big brother's justice is good and right!"

The Sneasel Ninja just continued to laugh, letting loose howls and cackles by turns as her Pokémon closed in on Elesa. The girl, unnerved, backed away into a corner of the room, and her Sewaddle with her. There was a long moment, broken only by the Sneasel Ninja's continuing laughter.

Then Elesa screamed, and struck out at the nearest Sneasel. The blow struck it in the head, and the small Pokémon was thrown backwards for a moment before it recovered. The other two Sneasel took the chance to close the gap between them and Elesa's Sewaddle.

The Sewaddle kicked and bit, throwing itself around in an attempt to hold the Sneasel off of its mistress, and Elesa continued to kick and punch the attacking Pokémon. The Sneasel, though, were not deterred, and never stayed down for long. They came back again and again, each time pushing Elesa and Sewaddle back a bit further into their corner, until the pair of them huddled together, keeping their opponents at bay with frightened glares and panicked attacks. The Sneasel settled in to wear them down, their prey caught with nowhere to escape. Through it all, the Sneasel Ninja laughed at Elesa, an unhinged sound to put any human on edge.

When the mad laughter finally subsided, the Sneasel Ninja rolled to her feet and kicked Nate out of her way. She strode to her target and stood over her. Elesa was crying, the tears rolling down her face as she hugged her feebly twitching Sewaddle. "What's that? Finally worn down?" demanded the Sneasel Ninja, gesturing for her Sneasel to back away now that their work was done.

"No..." gasped Elesa, mostly to herself. "I can never, never, fail. Big Brother says that the just will win, always. He said that I would win, no matter what…"

The Sneasel Ninja snorted. "He hid you away, didn't he? What point hiding if you'll always win?"

"No!" Elesa yelled. "Justice never loses! That was what he said! If I can't win, I must… I must be evil! Big Brother won't ever forgive me…" Elesa subsided, staring into the distance with haunted eyes.

The Sneasel Ninja curled her lip. "You're out of your depth, little girl. Nothing less than a god could be held to that standard. Whatever some abstraction of justice might be, that's not it!" She turned away from the huddled Elesa, and headed for the window she had broken in through, her Sneasel trailing behind her.

"No! Brother, don't leave me!" Elesa screamed after her, her voice heartbroken. "I… I can't win… I'm sorry. Come back! I need you! Brother!" Something in her had snapped.

Long after the Sneasel Ninja had vanished into the night, Elesa remained huddled in the corner, beside Nate's unconscious body. She stared into the darkness and muttered, over and over again, "I'm sorry… I'm sorry… I'm sorry…"


The doors to the theatre opened as if by magic, and there was Elesa, posing and waving royally to the adoring fans waiting on each side of the red carpet. She had insisted that it be set up for her film debut. She was dressed in a daring, low-cut gown, and she flaunted its shimmering texture as she strutted down the aisle.

"You'd think she'd be a little less of a drama queen after her performance on set," Nate growled, as he and Rosa came out of the theatre behind their costar.

"It's her stage face," Rosa told him, shrugging. "In front of a camera, she says, she can let this persona go, but its her way to deal with fans." With Nate absent for so much of this film's shoot, Elesa and Rosa had been able to build a good rapport, while Nate had been working with the director, learning his method.

"She really carried the last two shorts, you know."

"That was the idea. She's not staying in film after this; she wanted to get the full experience of a lead actress in one go, so we worked out those scripts together to give her the spotlight, and let her play different characters." Rosa watched her new friend sashay along the fancy guardrails, signing articles of clothing and memorabilia that adoring fans thrust at her.

There was a growl behind the two young actors, "I wish her all the best back in her own career." Brycen, since he had had a speaking role in the final short, had attended the premiere with the rest of the cast. He was glaring at his fellow Gym Leader without any sympathy.

"Aw, she's not that bad, is she?" Nate chuckled, elbowing his friend.

"She feels like she has to horn in on everyone's business," Brycen groused. "Just because she's famous right now doesn't mean that she can bully her way to any publicity she wants.

"But she's got the looks for it, too!" he howled, aggrieved. "She could be an actress, and that's what I hate the most! It's so unfair! I mean, tell me honestly: do you think I could model?"

There was a long pause, in which Nate and Rosa exchanged a long look. Finally, they said, at the same time, "Yes."

"What?"

"You're totally pretty enough to model, Brycen," said Nate. "I mean, you might need to work on your persona a bit, if you're going to compete with that," he jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at Elesa, who was gliding back along the other side of the red carpet, enjoying the adulation of her fans, "but you could do it, easy." He looked a little embarrassed at his own candidness.

Rosa was about to chime in, but Elesa swept down upon the group. "Hello, dears! Now, we simply must get into town and out to the ferry terminal," she chirped, guiding the other actors around towards the doors. "I arranged for a lovely publicity gala in the Game Freak penthouse later tonight. The four of us will need to chat about what stunts to pull during the evening." She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, thinking.

Nate and Rosa spluttered incoherently, while Brycen looked resigned.

"Hmm. Well, the two of you are too young to cause a drunken scandal." Elesa gestured to Nate and Rosa. "It would hurt all of our careers, rather than fuelling interest. I've already been caught with too many young men during my career; it doesn't cause so much as a note in the papers anymore. Now, you, Brycen, you've never had a scandal attached to you. What would it take to get you and Nate to start an undercover relationship? It's a popular enough idea among your fans already, you know. All it would take is for the two of you to leave the party together tonight."

Brycen didn't so much as blink, though Nate looked flabbergasted, and blushed an impressive shade of scarlet. Rosa just smiled. This was the real Elesa: a calculating publicist who always kept complete control over every aspect of her public persona.

"Now, darling Rosa, what to do for you. And for me. It simply wouldn't do for me to end the evening without capturing at least one magazine's front page. Ah! I know!" Elesa snapped her fingers in inspiration, which also caused some of her interns to jump to open the main doors of the theatre foyer. "I've been keeping it in reserve for someone I really like, and I really do think that you are the one to do it with, Rosa dear. You and Nate could be the next big hit, as long as you keep track of exactly what you're doing to make yourselves known."

Rosa raised an eyebrow. High praise from the most famous woman in the region. "What are you suggesting, Elesa?"

Elesa grinned as she stepped out of the doors, into the night air. "Why, what else? We wait until someone comes over to interview us with a camera, and then we kiss for the tape! Genius, really. I've never yet been seen being intimate with a woman."

"Skyla," Brycen grunted.

"Never been seen, Brycen dear!" Elesa trilled in response. She folded herself into the limousine that had pulled over to pick her up. Rosa, smirking slightly, followed.

Nate looked unnerved. "I get what you mean about her," he said to Brycen.

"Exactly."

"She's going to spin us into some kind of scandal, no matter what, isn't she?"

Brycen smiled helplessly. "Follow my lead, and we'll get out of it without such an awful reputation." He slapped his costar on the back. "It'll be fun."

Laughing, the two actors followed Elesa and Rosa into the vehicle, and it pulled away from the theatre.

Chapter Text

Good

The Mecha Cop's displays scrambled to keep up as he chased a single identity signature through the steel-and-glass landscape of Black City at night. The Sneasel Ninja was leaping among the rooftops, keeping several layers of building between herself and her pursuer, who had to stay on the ground, for fear of shattering windows, or even crucial support structures. She would have to come down, soon enough.

It had taken weeks to track the Sneasel Ninja down again. Her escape had been swift, almost nonchalant; hardly had the door been locked than the cell was empty. No message left behind this time, no leads on her whereabouts to pursue. Elesa, despite her vocal protests, had been shipped to Kalos, where she would be safe. The World Police, not knowing how to proceed, had begun an extensive sweep of the Unova Region to find the criminal. If she were not brought to justice, there would be chaos, as any other delinquents flaunted the laws of the World Police, safe in the knowledge that they couldn't even catch a common thief.

Finally, they had found her, in a hideout between Undella Town and Black City. But she had had too much time to fortify herself there; agents might be lost in an all-out raid on her position. So they lured her out with the valuable objects she loved, then began to drive her in their direction of choice. To keep ahead of pursuit, the Sneasel Ninja had entered Black City, where the World Police had laid a trap of their own.

Police helicopters screamed in towards the centre of the city, their spotlights aimed directly at the fleeing ninja. She attempted to elude them by scurrying down the side of a building with her Weavile, but the lights followed her, unperturbed by the many Sneasel that scattered in other directions. The helicopters cut off the escape routes, and the Sneasel Ninja found herself hanging from a skyscraper, surrounded by helicopters, with no escape route but down, where the Mecha Cop waited. She had none of her usual gadgets; they had all been left in her hide when she made a mad dash to grab the dropped diamond ring from the path. She couldn't short out the helicopters with a well-placed electromagnetic discharge, couldn't baffle sensors with an electrically charged cloud of vapour and vanish in the confusion. Between her and prison sat her Weavile, and its host of Sneasel, who would follow her to whatever end she led them.

The Sneasel Ninja dropped to the street, where the Mecha Cop was waiting. Behind her, the mass of weaselly Pokémon flowed down to her as well. The helicopter spotlights remained trained on her. Civilians, shocked, fled in all directions, screaming. The Sneasel Ninja ignored them, her gaze trained on her nemesis.

"It's been a while, Mecha Cop."

The Mecha Cop did not respond directly. "You tried to kidnap my sister."

"Yeah, and I got my butt beat for that, didn't I? Great Kyurem, what a girl she is!"

"You tried to kill me on that beach in Undella Town."

"Hey, you survived, didn't you?"

"You escaped prison. Three times."

The Sneasel Ninja made a disgusted noise. "Can you blame me? As long as your prison cells are so flimsy, why should I stick around any longer than I have to? The food alone makes it worth leavi- Eep!"

A hail of small capsules rained from a launcher on the Mecha Cop's back. As they hit the ground, they detonated, coating the pavement with a clear, sticky glue.

"The birdlime machine gun," explained the Mecha Cop. "I wanted to try it. Seems you're still too fast for me." He sounded amused, almost.

The Sneasel Ninja, if possible, looked more disgusted. "And you say you're our paragon of justice? I don't buy that. I don't buy that at all." Her Sneasel shook their heads in Mecha Cop's direction, and began to tear up that segment of the sidewalk with their razor-sharp claws, leaving a surface they could walk on.

The Mecha Cop growled at this disregard of his abilities, but ignored it. He gestured to the police helicopters. "Face it, Sneasel Ninja! You've been surrounded! Surrender to justice at last."

The Sneasel Ninja looked up and down the street, and sighed. Even for her, the situation looked dire. "Very well," she said, to humour the officer in front of her, "it does look as if I've been caught. Would you honour my last request, then?"

As much as he could under his visor, the Mecha Cop looked sceptical. "What do you want?"

"Battle me! Once and for all, let's see how I stand up to the World Police!" The ninja's Weavile yipped its agreement.

There was a long pause, broken only by a distant ambulance siren and the whine of the helicopters. "Very well, Sneasel Ninja," said the Mecha Cop, at last. "In recognition of your place as my archenemy, and the ideal of justice, me and my Escavalier will honour your request. Sequence d'activation: Action!" He tossed forth a Poké Ball, which burst open to release an armoured insectoid Pokémon, which gestured towards the Weavile with its lance.

A display on Mecha Cop's visor crackled into life. It showed his dispatcher, Nate, sitting in the helicopter above. "Alright, Mecha Cop. We get it. You have her cornered. Capture her, and we can get her in that isolation chamber we've put together for her!" He was impatient to get back to his desk after this chase, which had redirected a huge amount of World Police resources.

The Mecha Cop ignored the instruction. He watched as the Sneasel gang taunted his Escavalier into a blind rage. "That tactic's beneath you, Sneasel Ninja. Even I predicted that." Escavalier ate the berry he'd tucked away in his helmet and returned to his senses. "Let's see how you deal with my attacks," the Mecha Cop murmured.

Escavalier launched itself at one of the Sneasel, and jabbed it twice with its lance. It attempted to dodge, but found itself hemmed in by its opponent, until it fell to the ground. As Escavalier returned to his master's side, the other Sneasel lifted their colleague up and brought him to the Sneasel Ninja, who had sat down to loosen her twintails from their tight binding around her head.

She rose to her feet, grinning as she pulled her mask down from her face. "You ready for this battle to really get serious, Mecha Cop?" she taunted him.

Ignoring Nate's frantic orders again, the Mecha Cop raised his visor to look at his opponent properly. "I've been waiting for this battle for a long time. I don't mean to let you win."

The Sneasel Ninja danced out into the street, ignoring the helicopters hovering above her, and jeered at the Escavalier. "Hah! These battles really are a blast, you know. I've never had to call out my Weavile for a mission before," she laughed, without her usual malice.

"Oh?" The Mecha Cop glanced over at the Weavile, who was lounging against the side of the building with his fallen brethren.

The Sneasel Ninja darted back over to Weavile and patted him on his headdress. He purred and leaned into the touch. "He was my first Pokémon," she explained. "And he's the sire of the Sneasel I normally use. For a battle like this, I figured it was time to call him back to a more active role in the organisation." She continued to rub her Pokémon behind the ears.

The Mecha Cop smiled, gesturing to his Escavalier to back off for the moment. "This Escavalier is one of the Pokémon I've had the opportunity to train myself, you know," he said softly. "He helped me through a lot of battles before I got my upgrades and had to take standard-issue Pokémon into battle. It took some convincing to let me use him for this manhunt." Escavalier hefted his lance and nodded in a proprietary sort of way, agreeing with his master.

"Seeing you with your Pokémon…" Mecha Cop sounded a bit choked up. "It makes me think: as soon as I met you, I had you pegged as a villain. My programming said so, and I didn't question it. Once that label existed, I didn't need to think about how I was treating you; you stopped being another human being, and turned into a crime statistic." He looked ashamed.

"But… committing a crime doesn't make you less than human. It's taken me a long time to remember that. No matter what a person has done, they still deserve to be treated with basic human dignity. That's the creed I stood for, once… If we don't make that distinction, then what separates justice from injustice? That's what I thought, a long time ago…"

The Sneasel Ninja had looked away during her enemy's soliloquy. She seemed to surreptitiously wipe her face, and then she turned back around, and rose to her feet. "Mecha Cop?"

The Mecha Cop hung his head. "There's a code of justice I can do more than just blindly follow. There's a code I can live by… believe in…" He seemed to be crying.

At that moment, Nate overrode Mecha Cop's speakers, having realised that his agent was ignoring him. "Mecha Cop!" he yelled through the tinny sound system buried in the chassis' CPU. "Headquarters has dispatched riot police to barricade the streets. I need you to cooperate with them and take down the Sneasel Ninja."

The Mecha Cop started guiltily at the sound, and the Sneasel Ninja glared up at the helicopters. She knew where the dispatch was coming from. "I really wish I could short those things out, just to see the look on that stupid security guard's face," she growled.

As a consolation, she bravely held up a rude hand sign in the general direction of the sky.

The Mecha Cop took the opportunity to let Escavalier attack again. Another Sneasel collapsed under the onslaught, just as it tried to knock its enemy over.

Turning back just a moment too late, the Sneasel Ninja blinked in surprise. "Nice underhanded tactic there, my friend," she noted.

"Don't tempt me," said the Mecha Cop. "You have such an advantage of numbers here, I thought it was a fair move."

"Fair point. Please, continue. Just let Weavile collect his fallen sons so that they don't get hurt further."

"Very well."

Weavile rose to his feet and padded over to the unconscious Sneasel. The Mecha Cop watched the Pokémon lay his son out beside the other sleeping body. "You treat your allies most fairly, Sneasel Ninja. Another sort of honour than mine. I couldn't see it before, but you've opened my eyes to it. I feel that I should apologise for all the wrongs I've done you and your Pokémon."

The Sneasel Ninja frowned. Then she shook her head and smiled. "Apologise to Weavile, not to me. And he knows what his sons face when they go on missions with me, so the apology is worth nothing." The remaining three Sneasel, and Weavile, nodded in agreement.

"But still…" The Mecha Cop shook his head. "I have done wrong, but you have committed your crimes. We both have our own, different, punishments to face. Perhaps, once we've faced those… once we've absolved ourselves of our wrongdoing… then we can finally agree?"

The Sneasel Ninja raised an eyebrow. "This isn't the place for that sort of talk, Mecha Cop. Finish the battle, then consider the future. Sneasel! Let's show this scrap cop what we're really worth!"

The battle raged across the street and back. Three Sneasel against Escavalier. First, on the defensive, Escavalier was driven back, finally all the way to the building on the opposite side of the street. His back to the wall, Escavalier set himself and counterattacked, jabbing his lance at the Sneasel, who ducked under the weapon in an attempt to throw their opponent off balance. After some time, Escavalier finally scored a solid hit on the first Sneasel, and it crumpled. Weavile shot across the street to retrieve his son and fled back to his shadow. The Sneasel Ninja and the Mecha Cop watched in businesslike silence as the battle continued. They ignored the arriving riot police, who erected a wall across the street in both directions. The police set themselves behind their shields, and released several Pokémon to guard the air immediately above street level.

Escavalier, meanwhile, was more evenly matched with two Sneasel. He began to drive them back, and finally stepped into the street again. He jabbed with his lance again and again, and finally a second Sneasel collapsed under the onslaught. Escavalier gave a cry of triumph, and the riot police shifted, nervous. One young man near the back screamed, "Yeah, we've got the Sneasel Ninja now! Prepare to be captured!"

The Sneasel Ninja sniffed in disdain. "Captured? By this rabble? Not a chance, even without my gadgets." Nevertheless, she backed away from the Mecha Cop and joined Weavile in the shadow of the nearby building, where he was bringing back the fourth fallen Sneasel.

"Agreed," said the Mecha Cop, giving the riot police a chilly glare. "It would not do for you to interrupt a fair battle between two trainers. I expected a regional force to be better trained than to interfere."

The riot police shrank back and subsided to silence.

"Yeah, right," snorted the Sneasel Ninja, from her place with her Weavile. "It doesn't matter how they're trained, Mecha Cop. People join the police force to be able to get away with whatever they want, whenever they want. Everyone wants a free pass to do the unfair thing!" She sounded bitter.

"After all, Mecha Cop, what you describe as justice is ultimately an obsolete ideal." The Sneasel Ninja turned away and gazed into the distance, pensive. She seemed lost in a memory.

The Mecha Cop took a step back, as if he had suffered a physical blow. "No," he said, very softly, almost unsure. "That's not true. Justice hasn't been abandoned. Not by normal people. It's the ordinary people, the ones who do the right thing every day, even when it's the hard thing to do, that are the just ones. Living by a code like that, a code I've abandoned for far too long, is what makes someone a true champion of justice.

"And that doesn't exclude you, Sneasel Ninja." Tears really were sliding down the Mecha Cop's face now, but his voice remained steady. "If you choose to, you can change, and be as just as those people. It wouldn't take much for you to be more just than I am."

The final Sneasel suffered a direct blow from the lance, and fell. Escavalier, though, was struggling. He panted, and leaned on his lance for a long moment, while Weavile retrieved his young.

The Sneasel Ninja smiled thinly, and rubbed her Weavile behind the ears as he returned. She had slumped to the ground as the Mecha Cop spoke. "Your turn, my dear," she told the Pokémon softly. "Mecha Cop," she said, louder, "there's just one thing that I want to do before the night is over. I want to dash across the rooftops of Unova with Weavile and my Sneasel, just to feel the wind in my face, and the thrill of the height, one last time."

The Weavile stepped forward, and Escavalier shivered. Weavile are intimidating creatures, and no Pokémon battles one without suffering from its effects. Escavalier gathered itself together, though, and the two Pokémon threw themselves at each other, one with claws, one with a lance.

And Weavile reeled back from the clash first, to collapse in the street, unconscious, but not unduly injured, by its opponent. The Sneasel Ninja rose and walked over to her fallen partner. She began to check him over to see if there were any hurts requiring more than a long rest in his Poké Ball. There were none.

The riot police sergeant roused herself. She had been enraptured by the drama playing out before her. "Riot police!" she roared, over the din of the helicopters, still with their lights focussed on the Sneasel Ninja. "We need to cordon the Sneasel Ninja off, and apprehend her! Remember, the fugitive remains dangerous, even without her Pokémon!"

The Mecha Cop silenced her with a gesture. "She won't run this time," he said, very softly, and looked to the Sneasel Ninja. "Isn't that right?"

The Sneasel Ninja looked up from hugging her Weavile as she was surrounded by police officers. She mouthed a phrase in the Mecha Cop's direction. "Thank you."

Some years later, Rosa exited the penitentiary facility on parole. Outside, a man with long, silver-blue hair waited for her, wearing a trench coat to hide the metallic equipment built into his chest. The disguise worked much better know, as the design had been streamlined, and there was much less heavy metal equipment on the Brycen's body. He could have passed for an ordinary person, if he should wish to.

"You got out fast," Brycen noted. "Everyone at headquarters was impressed with your good behaviour after your old escapes."

"What can I say?" Rosa said, flouncing her hair a bit. "Escaping got boring. And anyway, this time, I had someone to talk to." She and Brycen had talked often while she was in prison.

"Ready to get our civilian lives started? I've already got a place ready to set up for the office."

"Rosa and Brycen: Private Investigators. I love it already."

Arm in arm, the two of them walked off down the street, chattering about old times, and the future.


Bad

The Sneasel Ninja glared back and forth as she stood, motionless, in Black City's main square. She was surrounded on all sides by spotlights, police vehicles, and the whirring helicopters of the World Police. In front of her, a figure strode into the brightly lit square, unhurried, his façade of self-assurance unbroken. He threw his trench coat aside to reveal his chrome chassis, and his helmet and visor glittered in light reflected from the skyscrapers all around.

"Mecha Cop," breathed the Sneasel Ninja. "Here to battle it out one last time." She dropped a Poké Ball from one gloved hand, unleashing her Weavile, who screeched a summons to the sky. The sound, a chilling scream to rattle even the most stoic of bones, echoed away through streets emptied of civilians.

The Mecha Cop did not throw his Poké Ball. He merely pressed the button to release his Escavalier, a steel-plated insect who set himself in a defensive position. "There is no point in opposition, Sneasel Ninja," he said, without emotion. "Your defeat is inevitable."

The Sneasel Ninja tossed her head, sending her twintails swinging. "My defeat is about as inevitable as yours, Mecha Cop. We all suffer failure eventually, but I don't believe I shall suffer mine today."

From every direction, high-pitched screeches echoed back to the square. The Sneasel Ninja grinned wickedly. "Do you know the respect that a Weavile demands from its offspring, Mecha Cop? No matter where the parent is, if he calls, his children are honour-bound to respond and assist him. If they do not, well," she laughed, a chilling sound to match her Pokémon's cries. "If a Sneasel doesn't assist his dam or sire in their time of need, his siblings will hunt him down for revenge. Do you think that you can battle that sort of dedication?"

As the clamour of Sneasel cries grew closer, the surrounding police began to look uneasy. The Mecha Cop and his Escavalier tried to look in every direction at once to oppose the oncoming Pokémon. The sound grew louder, and louder, and was joined by the scratching of claws all around, impossible to pinpoint accurately. The Sneasel Ninja dropped to the ground in a meditative pose.

Just as a few of the officers seemed to approach the point of true panic, the sound petered out and vanished. The silence that followed was a dark one, oppressive and watchful. The police helicopters kept their spotlights trained on the motionless Sneasel Ninja, but the beams wavered as if their operators desperately wanted to turn the lights around.

Finally, one of the dispatchers, a young man with short brown hair, laughed nervously. "A bluff?" he asked the general surroundings, his face a rictus parody of a smile. "Their alliance can't be that strong, if they haven't attacked ye- aargh!"

A Sneasel had fallen on him from the side of one of the buildings, and proceeded to whack him upside the head before the Mecha Cop extended one gauntleted arm.

"Apunten, ¡fuego!" he roared, and several capsules burst from a small launcher on the gauntlet. As they struck the Sneasel, who was preparing to leap away again, the capsules detonated, scattering metallic glue everywhere. The Pokémon, unable to move his arms or legs, collapsed in the street and glared at the Mecha Cop.

The Sneasel Ninja's smile widened further. "Now, that's just beneath you, Mecha Cop. I'll give you some options: let me go now, and I will retreat with my Pokémon. Or, we can battle, and then I will escape anyway, after injuring your pride."

The Mecha Cop's eyes widened behind his visor. "Is that a plea for help?" he asked himself. "Can I justly say that I continued to fight when someone asked me to help them in their time of need?" Then he shook himself. "My protocols do not permit surrender, Sneasel Ninja. We will battle."

At a nod from the Sneasel Ninja, four more Sneasel launched themselves from nearby buildings to join Weavile on the makeshift battlefield. "One last battle," breathed the Sneasel Ninja, as she commanded the first Sneasel to strike.

As the Pokémon whipped by, Escavalier's response was half-hearted, reflecting his trainer, who looked pained as he watched the battle unfold.

One after another, the Sneasel struck, and then struck again. No Escavalier falls easily. The Sneasel Ninja looked suspiciously at her opponent, as Escavalier barely defended himself yet again. "You're going easy on me, aren't you?" she demanded.

The Mecha Cop didn't respond for a moment. He looked like he was thinking very hard. "Let the battle be the judge of that, Sneasel Ninja."

The Sneasel Ninja looked disgusted by this reply. "Grab hold of yourself, you scrap cop!" she yelled. "You're World Police, I'm Thieves' Guild. We have to fight! It's at the core of what we believe!"

"Belief." The Mecha Cop heaved a great sigh. "These battles against you, Sneasel Ninja, have taken me to the very limits of my system of belief. I cannot but question my ideals of justice now. Too many times, I have failed against you. Too many times, your power has won out. There's just one thing left that I can do with my own power…" The Mecha Cop began to turn away.

The Sneasel Ninja almost growled with disgust. "Get a grip on yourself, you mechanical crybaby! Hel-lo! Archenemy here! You can't be a pushover now!"

The Mecha Cop ignored her, and continued his monologue. "Justice… what happens when I lose my belief in thee? Innocence lost, never to be replaced with certainty again. What is left in the world without a personal truth to stand for?"

Meanwhile, trapped in the Mecha Cop's glue weapon, Nate the dispatcher was placing a call. "Get the riot police in here," he said into his Pokégear. "I don't want the Sneasel Ninja getting any more reinforcements." He listened closely to the crackling response, without taking his eyes off the battle. The Sneasel continued their onslaught upon Escavalier, all but ignored by the Sneasel Ninja and Mecha Cop.

"Nothing left?" The Sneasel Ninja looked agape at her nemesis. "What are you talking about, Mecha Cop?"

The Mecha Cop attempted a laugh. "Did I ever really believe in justice? Maybe I wasn't programmed to tell the difference. I don't know. Press my command buttons, and I'll recite the code of the World Police for you. It's all I really know how to do anymore."

"Questioning the program now?" The Sneasel Ninja's eyes narrowed. "Quite a change for you, Mecha Cop."

"Change? How can I change?" The Mecha Cop looked morose. "I've only ever been the mouthpiece, the appendage, of the World Police. I'm not supposed to grow, or become my own person."

Escavalier wobbled in place. He looked as defeated as his master.

"Weavile," said the Sneasel Ninja, "put that poor Pokémon to sleep. I can't stomach this anymore." She called back the rest of the Sneasel, who reluctantly left off their easy fight.

A single strike, and Escavalier collapsed, just as the Black City riot police jogged up with their shields.

The Mecha Cop closed his eyes and sighed. "There. Now have I truly lost. Go, Sneasel Ninja, or be captured. I no longer stand in your way." The cyborg dropped to his knees in the middle of the street as he returned his Pokémon.

The Sneasel Ninja shook her head at her former nemesis as she drew a gadget from the depths of her costume. "I can't believe you would allow this, Mecha Cop."

She dropped the detonator and leapt away. When its light faded, she had vanished.

Several minutes later, the paramedics arrived, and swarmed over the Mecha Cop as he began to cry. As he was carried away on a stretcher, he began to mumble a familiar poem. "Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, Tears from the depths of some divine despair…"


Strange

The phalanx of helicopters screamed over Black City, on the tail of a single fugitive. She threw herself from building to building, helped along by a swarming mass of young Sneasel. Leaning from the open side of one helicopter, the Mecha Cop followed the movements of the Sneasel Ninja with single-minded intensity. Struggling to bear his weight up, the helicopter listed heavily to one side and began to lag behind.

"Get inside, you great metal deadweight!" the pilot screamed over the roar of the wind. Despite how busy he was on comms, Nate still found time to yell at his senior World Police agent. "Do you want me to lose control?"

"I have to get down there," was the Mecha Cop's only reply.

"That can be arranged." Nate jabbed the eject button on his console, sick of dealing with this obsessive police agent in his charge. Let it be ground control's problem.

The floor of the helicopter's cargo bay cranked itself from horizontal to vertical too quickly for the Mecha Cop to react, and he was sent flying through the lower atmosphere of the city. At night. Without a parachute. On the way down, the Mecha Cop broke two radio spires, knocked five national monuments from their pedestals to shatter on the ground, and crashed through a small corner cubicle on the thirty-fourth floor of an office building. The clerk who worked in that cubicle was mercifully absent, but the Mecha Cop shredded her computer and broke every piece of family memorabilia sitting on her desk as he tumbled through the office.

Finally, just as the Sneasel Ninja dropped to street level in order to lose the pursuing helicopters, the Mecha Cop came soaring down from above in a swan dive pose. As the Sneasel Ninja watched in amazement, he did a forward roll onto a moving car, crushing its hood into scrap in the process. Then, he leapt to another car, parked on the side of the road, and ground to a halt on its roof. The roof of the car deflated like a punctured balloon.

"And… stuck the landing," the Mecha Cop said to himself. He flicked the tail of his trench coat out so that it swung as if in a strong wind.

The Sneasel Ninja looked nonplussed. "Impressive," she said, very drily. "Just the sort of thing the adoring public expects their beloved Mecha Cop to spend his time doing." Her Sneasel, ranged about her, looked equally blank at this development. She didn't even attempt to run. Helicopters behind, Mecha Cop ahead; it was better to fight this out and then flee.

The Mecha Cop stepped down from his perch and raised an arm. "I see you thinking about fleeing, over there," he pointed out. "Apunten, ¡fuego!" From the end of a small arm-mounted cannon, the Mecha Cop began rapidly firing capsules of birdlime, a glue meant to catch and hold birds for game hunting.

As some of the birdlime spattered on the front of the Sneasel Ninja's jumpsuit, her expression became offended. She opened a mouth and lifted one hand to speak, then paused. She positively shook with rage. "Alright," she said, finally, as Mecha Cop took a step back, "it is one thing to corner me. It is one thing to try and make me pay for the less-than-moral things I've done. It is another to coat this costume, which I spent weeks designing, with some sort of disgusting adhesive. This suit is dry-clean only, you bastard!"

Behind his visor, Mecha Cop's eyes widened in alarm. "Oh Zekrom," he gasped. "I am so sorry. Do you want me to pay for the cleaning?"

The Sneasel Ninja produced a chilly grin. "I don't want your money or your apology, Mecha Cop. Oh no, this calls for some real, bearing-the-grudge-beyond-the-grave revenge. Prepare yourself for a lifetime of hate, Mecha Cop!" She gestured to all her Sneasel to attack at once.

The Mecha Cop backed away, throwing out an Escavalier as he did so.

The Sneasel Ninja summoned a Weavile from the shadows, and together they began to dab at the birdlime on her costume. She looked ready to rip someone's head off. The Mecha Cop had a sneaking suspicion it would be his.

His Escavalier held off the Sneasel well enough, though he became more frantic as the battle raged on. It was a five-on-one match, but Escavalier can outlast most anything if given the opportunity to deal the barest amount of damage with their lances. The Sneasel Ninja all but ignored the battle, and even the descending helicopters behind her, preoccupied with removing what grossness she could from her costume.

Finally, the Mecha Cop had enough of the awkward silence that had ensued. He shifted from foot to foot rather awkwardly. "Uh, I'm sorry?" he repeated, ignoring his Escavalier's disgusted eye-roll.

"Oh, you heroes," the Sneasel Ninja hissed, uncannily like one of her Pokémon. "All of you want to be chivalrous and kind and… and good, but then you go and do something like this," she gestured at herself, "to someone you've got pegged as a villain, and you don't have the confidence to man up and face a punishment for your actions, so you go and apologise. Ugh, your sense of justice is just so old-fashioned!" She didn't seem to be talking to the Mecha Cop, rather at someone else who wasn't present.

This didn't prevent it from offending the Mecha Cop. "Excuse me, but how am I old-fashioned?" he retorted. "I mean, yeah, I can't exactly wear the latest spring fashions, but what do you expect with my upgrades? I'm lucky enough to get a modern-looking CPU and chassis, rather than some clunky great hulk from the last century's research and development labs. With a trench coat over it, I'm about as fashion forward as I can get!"

The Sneasel Ninja did not deign to respond with anything more than a rude hand gesture, which the Mecha Cop's display blurred out of the frame. "Oh. Ha-ha. Very funny," he said to the world at large. "That was supposed to be some kind of humour, was it?"

"Oh, well. I'm sorry that my sense of humour is not up to the peanut gallery's standards!" snarked the Sneasel Ninja.

"And I suppose you think that was funny too. How sad."

"Stuff a sock in it! I don't want to hear anything more out of you!"

"We're kind of battling. Aren't we supposed to be bantering, here?"

"Just because it's what's done doesn't mean I need to buy into it, you Metal Brain!"

"All right, this isn't working," came Nate's distorted voice from the megaphone mounted on one of the helicopters. "You two are both disgraceful. We get it. We're going to cordon off the area and shut down the Sneasel Ninja."

The Sneasel Ninja looked slightly offended. "Well. I suppose that's my cue to leave. But remember, Mecha Cop," she caught his gaze and held it. "you are on my hit list now. I will have compensation for the hurt done to this costume. Get beaten up? My agents. Vandalised headquarters? My doing. Run out of engine oil? I stole it. I swear to Kyurem, whenever something bad ever happens, you will have to wonder whether it's bad luck or me and my lovely weasels." With a flick of her fingers, she unleashed a small hail of smoke bombs. In the resulting fog, she and her Pokémon vanished before the helicopters could land or clear the haze.

Nate jumped out of his helicopter just after it touched down, cursing and screaming. He also pointed a rude gesture at the Mecha Cop, and it was again obscured by the cyborg's visor. Just as he did, a woman in a business suit stormed out of a nearby building and right up to the Mecha Cop.

"You just destroyed my workspace!" she roared in his face. "Neither me nor my company is going to pay for those damages! Get your accursed wallet out, you mechanised bastard." She glared at him. Her dark hair hung frazzled and loose, barely held back with a flower pin.

The Mecha Cop produced his most winning smile. "If you'll excuse me, ma'am, I'm actually tailing a fugitive right now, and she's getting away. I promise you that your office was destroyed in the line of duty for the World Police, and I'd like to direct you to my dispatcher so you can receive proper compensation from the organisation." He pointed in the direction of Nate, who suddenly looked very nervous. "Please direct all your complaints there." Before the woman could respond, the Mecha Cop had fled after the Sneasel Ninja, a chase that had become familiar, and would remain so for many years to come.


Rosa's expression was perfectly composed as she walked out of the theatre with Nate and Brycen. "I hate you," she said, suddenly grinning at Nate. The smile didn't reach her eyes. "I hate you. We had a perfectly good pair of films, and then you created that… thing. And the director bought it."

Brycen yawned widely. "Hey, we've been working on this series for what feels like ages," he said to Rosa, calmly and quietly. "It's good to work out some of the crazy energy you build up on a long shoot with something so clearly stupid."

"That doesn't mean I have to like it." Rosa set her face again.

"Hey, don't I get to defend myself?" Nate looked a little perturbed. Rosa shot him a glare. He ignored it. "The other shorts were so big and melodramatic. I thought that it would be way too much to make the audience sit through another one of those. Anyway, I always make comedy." He shrugged.

Rosa ignored him in turn. The last four weeks of shooting had been hard on her; she would be glad to be relegated to a supporting role again. Her grim face, though, softened somewhat as a young woman fan attempted to make eye contact, blushing furiously as she held up a magazine cover emblazoned with a picture of Rosa and Elesa at last week's gala. "Hi!" she chirped at the fan.

The girl started. "Oh. Hello." She thrust the magazine cover and a pen at Rosa before she could lose her nerve, and stammered, "Could you s-sign this, please?"

Rosa, smiling her biggest, toothiest smile, took the pen and signed the magazine with a flourish. "Wow," she gasped, in Brycen's general direction. "This is my first time signing anything for a fan!"

The girl in front of her nearly swooned. Taking the magazine back in her hands with an almost reverent air, she tried to begin saying something to Nate. She stuttered too hard, and tried again. "I noticed your reference to Chorocojo in the last short," she muttered, her voice fading away as she spoke.

Nate jumped in the air and whooped in response. He stuck his tongue out at Rosa. "I told you someone would get it, but you said I twisted it around too much."

"Oh," gasped the fan. "I've read everything that Choro ever wrote. I wish I could be more like Misty." She seemed more excitable now, as she warmed to talking to her idols.

Nate blinked. Misty was the slightly sociopathic protagonist of one of Chorocojo's early works, who he had quoted for the Sneasel Ninja's last monologue. She was famous for cooking and eating a Zigzagoon, and declaring war upon one of the ecoterrorist groups that plagued the Hoenn region. "Er," he grunted. There was no good response to that admission.

Rosa, with all the good tact in the world, leapt to his rescue. "Oh, it's so wonderful to meet you, but we really must run. In the morning, we start work on our next series, and all of us need our rest!" She extracted them with just a few more formalities, and the three actors walked away, a little briskly.

"I don't have to worry about the next script," Brycen said after a moment of silence.

"What?" gasped Nate and Rosa together.

Brycen shrugged. "The League needs me to fill in the Gym Leader roster for a while; Drayden's going on sabbatical. I told Mr. Deeoh a few weeks ago, so we've put some series on hold for me to be able to do that. You two have a totally new costar for the next series."

The two young actors just stared.

"They've been auditioning actors already," Brycen explained. "Apparently, the next series is supposed to be a major one, and they want to hit the right note with the casting. One of the prospects was in the last short with me; some scientist; I didn't get her name."

Nate and Rosa remained in a shell-shocked silence while they walked out of the theatre, with Brycen chattering nervously the whole way.