7 Days of Fiction: Evolution in Steel

I wrote this for a fan-fiction contest for Geek.Kon in 2014. It was the first contest I ever entered for my fiction. In this case, the competition was stiff and I lacked appropriate knowledge in one of the areas I was writing. Never underestimate the importance of research! Unfortunately, putting the story together in under a month without taking time off from work limited my time. I would still like to revisit this story after performing my research, but it is not top priority.

ENCOUNTERS

For a moment, the air was still. The crackle of electricity was countered only by the whipping of vines through the air. The vines struck their target, a green and yellow lizard, who let out a pained cry before leaping and slamming itself into its opponent, a saurian with long blades of grass growing across its body.

“Return, Grovyle,” Jade held out a red and white sphere, which pulled the saurian into it in a burst of white light. The brunette in the green baseball cap glared fiercely at her opponent, strategies racing behind her emerald eyes, before opening another ball. “Trapinch, get ‘im!” A knee-high insect emerged and immediately began to kick up chunks of the floor and launch them at the other creature.

A tall man with wild hair stood on the sidelines, unnoticed. He wore a great brown coat, his hands deep in his pockets. Like others on the platform, the man’s eyes were on the battle, but unlike the others, it didn’t seem to be what he was looking at. “This isn’t Aberdeen,” he muttered to himself. “Or was it South Croyden…oh, I don’t think this is even the right planet. What’s the probability?” This man was the Doctor, an interstellar traveler hundreds of years older than his face – or his often childish antics – would indicate.

A lavender-colored fox-like creature jumped out of the way of a bolt of electricity arcing between a spot on the floor and what appeared to be a sentient version of the devices used to contain the creatures. As the Doctor rushed to intervene in the battle, electricity struck him, causing his voluminous hair to stand out in all directions and the massive, multicolored scarf draped over his shoulders to rise as if magnetized.

The “fox” landed to the Doctor’s side, and looked at him. As they made eye contact, the Doctor felt a powerful mental presence attempting to reach him. “What does the fox say?” he murmured as he closed his eyes and opened himself up. He saw bloody Pokémon battles before humans ever became involved, and new rules leading to fewer casualties. He saw humans and Pokémon forming a familial bond, and non-violent Contests that allowed Pokémon to express their competitive natures without any harm. It was a process of symbiotic evolution, and he, an alien, would not be doing any good by interfering.

The Doctor decided to blend in. Unsure of what to consider unusual in this world, he chose to observe when three youths in shiny silver suits barged into the Gym and confronted those already present. Some link with Espeon must have remained, as he found himself recognizing what he saw when those in the silver suits unleashed a Clefable, a Raichu and a Steelix. “Team Superior is taking over this gym!” one of them shouted, and they began to do battle against Jade and the two remaining members of the Gym.

“Team Superior, thought they might pull something like this.” The Doctor initially thought the statement was directed at him, but upon closer inspection he noticed that a nearby couple was having a conversation. He moved closer to listen, paying minimal attention to Grovyle, the saurian, wielding a blade of grass as a sword against the giant metallic snake.

“I don’t know what this world is coming to,” the man’s partner said. “It seems every time I pick up a paper there has been a robbery or another disappearance.” Grovyle was the first to defeat his opponent, knocking the iron-coated snake to the ground. Not long afterward, one of them gym trainer’s Pokémon beat the Clefable with waves of psychic energy.

Another spectator leaned in. “This past month and a half, I’ve been too scared to walk home alone.” Grovyle was now making short work of the supercharged rodent Raichu.

After watching the Team Superior grunts exit in silent defeat, Jade turned her attention to the jolly man at the back of the gym. “It’s time for me to do what I came here for, Wattson.”

“Wahahaha!” Wattson laughed. “You did great out there! Despite that a trainer, even I, must not throw a match!”

“Throw the match?” Jade scoffed, turning her cap so that the brim was behind her, and away from her eyes. “After you, I’m going to find where Lumin has been hiding, and challenge him!”

“The Champion?” Wattson nodded at Jade. “I hope so; he has been missing for nearly two months. But enough talk! Magnemite, let’s let this girl amuse you, shall we?”

The Doctor had seen enough. There was no need to wait for the result, not when there was a sudden sharp increase in crime to look into. The Doctor stepped out an emergency exit, into a back alley…into complete stillness.

*****

“All this information,” Calder said to his amphibious Mudkip, who sat with him at his table in the Pokécenter, “is being compiled into a database it Littleroot Town!” the blonde excitedly scribbled in his notes, which contained sketches and information about Pokémon he had met. “Imagine a computer that can hold that much information!” Despite his enthusiasm, Calder was distracted. He was waiting for Scarlett, whom he hung out with when Jade was preparing for Gym Battles. Usually they went together to watch the match, but Scarlett was late today.

Who was he kidding? Scarlett probably wasn’t late; she was probably at the Mauville Gym with Jade without him. Why would they want somebody with them who wasn’t into battling? He was already sure that his friends laughed at him more than they laughed with him.

Lost in his thoughts, at first Calder didn’t notice a man and woman, dressed in silver with black lapels, taking their places next to him. “Isn’t that the problem with society, Tina?” the man said, “accidentally” moving his arm through Calder’s field of vision. “A smart kid, with a book full of information probably no one else has, and nobody wants to sit with him.”

“We’d sit with him though, Ben,” Tina replied. “Probably every day.” She looked directly into Calder’s blue eyes over his notebook. “We always appreciate intelligence.”

This caught Calder’s attention. “What use do you, uh, guys have for intelligence?”

Both Team Superior members – for that is obviously what they were – laughed at that question. “Kid that is what we’re all about!” Tina replied.

“Knowledge, moving forward, evolving into a new state,” Ben added. “These are the tenets of Team Superior. We want to improve ourselves. That is why we conduct our research.”

“What kind of research?”

Tina grinned slyly, “Come with us, and we’ll show you.” Calder hesitated for a moment, looking back at the table. “Don’t bother. No one’s coming.”

He looked at her, questioning. “If they were going to join you, they’d be here by now,” Ben added.

Calder paused, then nodded. “Let’s go.”

As Calder walked out of the Pokécenter, with Tina in front of her and Ben behind, he barely heard Tina mutter, “With your help, our plans can proceed.”

*****

“It’s only been a few days,” a red-headed girl said to Combusken, who stood just below her waist when Scarlett wasn’t kneeling down to talk to it. The Combusken clucked, and Scarlett nodded. “You’re right. Of course you are. Jade and Calder will be worried about us.” She looked toward the horizon as Combusken rubbed against her and cooed. Bits of white and grey flecked both Scarlett’s hair and Combusken’s red and yellow feathers. Neither of them noticed; volcanic ash was a side effect of spending time in Fallarbor Town.

The two stood outside the local Contest Hall. “I’ll send them a message,” Scarlett said, which was met with a skeptical look. “I promise. Now, return.” The fowl was instantly bathed in light from her Pokéball, as Scarlett gazed on the Hall, an expression of dismay in her chocolate eyes.

“Excuse me, miss,” a strange man wandered over to Scarlett. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” In a small-town alleyway, and covered in ash, the man resembled nothing so much as a hobo who had lost his way. “That device you used a moment ago, do you know how it works? I’m afraid I’m terribly fascinated by such things.”

Scarlett was stunned. Pokéballs had been used to house tame Pokémon for centuries, and she had never met anybody unfamiliar with them. “What?” she asked. “This It’s a Pokéball.”

“Was it dimensional transference? Are they bigger on the inside?”

“It converts them into energy using a Pokémon’s naturally elastic properties – who are you?”

The man grinned, his eyes like nothing Scarlett had seen outside of a Pokémon. “Me?” he asked, before following up with, “of course me. There’s nobody else here, is there? But no matter. I’m nobody.”

Scarlett twisted her hand in the man’s long, vibrant scarf, pulling his face nearer her level. “I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with nobody,” she growled. “Be somebody.” She let go, and for a moment was nearly overcome with the ridiculousness of strong-arming a man a foot taller than her.

Luckily, if the hobo who had lost his way noticed the ridiculousness as well, he kept quiet about it. “I’m the Doctor,” he said, “and I’m investigating something.”

“Investigating…what, exactly?”

It was clear to the Doctor that this girl had no fear of her elders. It was equally clear that she knew something. “Are you aware that you have ash in your hair?”

“You’re a very strange man.”

The Doctor laughed. “Thank you…I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but you can call me Scarlett.”

“Well, Scarlett, I am trying to work out what sort of crime spree takes place when there are no criminals to be seen.” That had clearly struck something; the girl’s resolve and anger visibly wavered, and she once again became the sad girl the Doctor had seen talking to her pet. The anger was still there, but there was more, as well.

“It’s Team Superior,” she replied, quietly. “You’ve seen them, with their talk of evolution and moving forward and other high ideals?” The Doctor nodded. “They’re up to no good. Ever since they showed up six weeks ago, things have been weird. They’re doing something with the homeless, and I just know these strange things in the paper are their fault.”

“Overzealous scientists and philosophers?” the Doctor questioned her. “I’ve seen their type before, thousands of times, on hundreds of worlds. How do you know they’re up to no good?”

“How…” Scarlett started to reply, choking on her own voice. The tears that she had been holding back for days now threatened to come to the fore. “How do I know they’re up to no good?” So she told him. She told him how she had stopped a gang of Team Superior grunts from torturing a Taillow to see if it would evolve. How they had rounded on her, stating she was an emotional and inferior creature who was holding back the human and Pokémon races. How they said they would prove it to her by showing her how useless attachments are. How they used their Pokémon to break into her house…

She couldn’t tell the Doctor any more. Her face was buried in his coat, sobbing as she remembered the faces of her brother and parents, staring blankly…

ARRIVALS

Jade and Sceptile – formerly Grovyle – walked down Route 121. Today was an exciting day. This route led to Lilycove City, which led to the most difficult leg of the Pokémon journey: the aquatic portion, which the island-heavy Hoenn had made into a challenge unparalleled in the Pokémon Nation, and where the majority of trainers gave up and went home. Jade wished she could share this moment with Scarlett and Calder but, wherever they were, she was sure they were following their dreams as well.

The duo stopped. Blocking the entrance to Lilycove City – and therefore the sea – was a line of people in silver suits, stopping a man from getting into the city. “Listen, I just want to see my family, they’re down at the beach,” he tried to reason.

“You don’t need to see your family,” a Team Superior grunt replied. “They are safe.”

“Safe?!” the man replied. “Apparently they’re being held hostage. What is this?”

“Emotional outbursts are…unproductive,” the grunt replied coolly. “Step into this queue, and you will learn to be more productive.”

“If I step into that line, will I be able to get into the city?”

“Yes,” the grunt replied. “Once you have been through orientation, you will be allowed into the city.”

While Jade was watching this, another conversation was taking place not far away. “Your training has been going remarkably,” Tina said to Calder. “It is time to proceed with the final stage.”

Calder he hadn’t been with Team Superior long, but they had always made him feel welcome. They always wanted his input on plans and ideas. They marched up to what seemed to be the outer wall of one of the outlying buildings. Tina slid a key into the wall, and a doorway opened, leading to a metal staircase going down. They walked into the doorway, and it immediately closed behind Calder.

A few seconds later, somebody else walked up to that wall: the man who had been trying to get to the beach and see his family, led by another Superior Admin in a black lapel. He slid his card, opened the door, and dropped the card while putting it in his pocket. He led the man into the doorway, all under Jade’s watchful eye. Jade – with Sceptile now safe in his Pokéball – followed, picking up the keycard on the ground and using it to open the doorway.

Jade tried not to be seen, to varying levels of success. Everybody who saw her battled her with Pokémon, and she beat them fairly quickly. Her mind was on other things, and when she saw Calder led into a small room and then left their alone, she made her move, rushing in.

“Jade?” Jade opened her mouth to reply to Calder’s shaky exclamation, but heard something behind her. She turned her head and quickly closed her mouth as she heard the door to the chamber behind her. Jade turned her head to see something tall, heavy, and absolutely not human close the door.

*****

“How did we end up on a cruise?” It wasn’t long ago that Scarlett and the Doctor were following thefts in the Slateport Market, and now they were on the S. S. Tidal enjoying a warm meal.

“I always prefer to do my investigating on a nice vessel,” the Doctor replied. “Plus, our quarry is here.”

“I don’t even understand how we got on.”

The Doctor showed Scarlett a blank sheet of paper that he kept folded in a wallet. “Psychic paper,” he replied. “Borrowed it off a CIA agent before I left Gallifrey.” he paused before adding. “I’m the President now. How ghastly.”

“Hey, look!” Scarlett pointed across the hall. “Isn’t that the guy we’re following?”

“He just might be,” the Doctor replied, and the duo immediately walked over to the man. They remained out of sight…until the moment came to rush him before he shut his cabin door.

“What is this?” the man snarled at them. “Get out of here before I call -”

“Before you call security, yes,” the Doctor interrupted. “Security would be very interested to know what exactly it was that you absconded with at the marketplace. Don’t let me stop you; I’m a touch curious myself.” The Doctor seemed to be idly fumbling with something in his hands.

The man glowered at the Doctor. “Oh, you’re out to interfere with Team business then, is it? The Leader wouldn’t like that.”

“The Leader?” the Doctor asked. “And who might that be?”

“Nobody that’s your business,” the grunt replied. “And nobody that you’ll live to see.”

“I think we will,” the Doctor said, very slowly. “And I think you will lead us to them.”

The grunt looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head, as if from a daze. “I’m not leading anybody anywhere.”

“You will,” the Doctor said, before holding up the item in his hands. It was a watch, which began to sway. “Lead us to them,” he said, still speaking slowly. He winked at Scarlett before saying, “take me to your Leader.”

Over the span of the next few hours, the grunt had explained to them that the Leader was from off-world and had strange, Pokémon-like qualities (like the Doctor, Scarlett thought), led them to and even permitted them access to a secret door in a cliff face. Once they were in, the Doctor hypnotized the man further, leaving him asleep in a storage closet.

“Who could it be?” the Doctor muttered as they snuck through the base. It wasn’t as if there were any shortage of culprits. “Has the Master taken to building a cult here?” The pair passed by a window, through which the Doctor could see they were right up against the sea, with a number of fish and Pokémon swimming by. He peered out. “Or maybe Davros is experimenting with the local fauna.” He sighed, disappointed. The Doctor had hoped to see a dolphin swimming by. “Speaking of experiments, I believe I’ve heard something about my old schoolmate the Rani…”

The Doctor was still ruminating when he wandered past a closed door, and heard a voice. Muffled through layers of steel, the voice felt both new and like one the Doctor had known for centuries. “Excellent.”

*****

The creature stood in the doorway, looking down on Calder and Jade. Covered in steel from head to toe, it looked almost like a robot, but there was something organic about it, something awful. Its face gazed on them with two inexpressive circles for eyes, and a black frame around its head almost looked like a pair of handlebars for its brain. Tubes and wires across the creature made Calder think of an astronaut. “Excellent,” it said. “You are not one of our…assistants, yet you come to us willingly. You will make a very good Cyberman.

It turned to Calder. “You have been selected to be our first Cyber Planner on this world. Along with the Cyber Commander that has already been upgraded, you will lead the Cybermen to victory here.”

As if reacting to its words, the machinery in the chamber came to life. Claws reached from the walls to hold both Jade and Calder in place. Then came the whirr of the drills and blades which slowly began to emerge from holes in the walls. Was this chamber human once as well? Calder wondered. A pair of claws headed toward Calder’s eyes. Of course. The windows to the soul must be the first things to go. There was a painful, blinding flash of white light –

With a roar, a Camerupt bursted through the door, narrowly missing the Cyber Leader as it moved out of the way, and damaging most of the appendages and tools that were intending to mutilate Jade and Calder. Through the hole in the door, the two could see Scarlett and the Doctor, the latter elbow-deep in the circuitboard for the door..

The Leader immediately turned its head. “Doctor,” it said.

At the sound of the Cyberman, the Doctor stood. “Cybermen,” he said. “I should have known.”

“We have upgraded since you last encountered us, Doctor,” the Cyber Leader responded. “We are…superior.”

“Superior?” the Doctor sneered. “A jumble of stolen parts in tin cans? At least a Dalek is honest about their wanton need for destruction.”

“Honesty is irrelevant. The need for honesty is an emotional weakness.”

“Listen to yourself,” the Doctor commented. “Objective truth is an emotional weakness?” While the Doctor and the Cyber Leader bantered, Scarlett realized that the Doctor was stalling for time. That, or he was wasting time, which was the same thing as far as she was concerned. She was taking the Cyber Leader’s eyes – and gun – off of her, which gave her time to pry free the restraints holding Jade and Calder.

Once free, the three friends bolted from the conversion chamber. “And another thing,” the Doctor said, “but I left it in the TARDIS.” Spinning on his heels before the Cyber Leader could react, the Doctor joined his companions in the corridor. Late to the party, he found them surrounded by over a dozen grunts in Team Superior silver and armed Cybermen marching toward them.

OBSTACLES

Scarlett, having been honed by the battle against Team Superior, was the first to react. “Shiftry, Razor Wind!” a dwarf-sized wooden imp leaped forward, generating a biting wind that pushed back both Team Superior members and Cybermen. Nuzleaf had been Scarlett’s only Pokémon that was not specially prepared for defeating Team Superior’s Steel-type Pokémon that had not died at the hands of their members, and had thus earned his evolution to Shiftry and his place as the vanguard of her team.

Jade, on the other hand, had trained through a more traditional process. “Altaria, Dragon Breath!” A lithe dragon with cottony wings flew forward, buffeting Cybermen and Team Superior Pokémon with its powerful breath. Altaria was certainly more powerful than many of Scarlett’s Pokémon, but she wondered about its use against steel. Already, the Cybermen were resisting the dragon’s advances.

Scarlett wasn’t the only one to make observations, however. “Clefables, Steelixes, Jolteons,” she said, looking at the monsters arrayed against her. “You’re forcing your Pokémon to evolve, through stones. It doesn’t work that way…you’re not allowing them to reach their full potential.” A determined look arose in her face. “Show them, Espeon!” Jade released the lavender fox-creature that had bonded minds with the Doctor earlier.

“An Espeon can only mature through a deep bond with their trainer!” Jade yelled into the midst of Team Superior. “What Pokémon do you have that can withstand that?”

“You see?” the Doctor said to the Cyber Leader. “Nothing you can muster can stand against the power of – whoah!” the Doctor was nearly knocked off his feet by a blur of motion.

The blur came into focus, a green creature that seemed to have a metallic exoskeleton. It finally came to a halt as it brought its powerful metal pincers down on Jade’s Espeon. “No! Espeon!” She returned the Espeon to its Pokéball. “Altaria, take him out!” Before Altaria could attack the man-sized insect, it was shocked by a bolt of lightning from what seemed to be a giant ball of steel covered in magnets. It reminded Jade of a Magneton, but it was some mutation that had never been seen before in Hoenn – at least, not until the Cybermen started force-evolving Pokémon into unusual forms. Jade reached for another Pokéball, but paused.

Calder shouted to her, “Jade, what are you doing? We have to get out of here! They’re going to – to do things to us if we don’t!” Even Calder’s Mudkip – now evolved into a Marshtomp thanks to his time in Team Superior – was involved in the fight.

Jade stood, with her Pokéball in her hand. “A Magneton. A shiny Scizor. Remind you of anything?” Calder and Scarlett both just stood there, starting to realize what Jade, a huge fan of the Pokémon League, already knew. “This is Lumin’s team.”

As Jade said this, the group realized that both Cybermen and Team Superior grunts seemed to have parted. A Cyberman walked toward them, similar to the others except that he seemed to have an extended brain that went well above where his skull normally would have lay, without the handle-frame on his head. The Doctor stared in recognition.

“I am the Cyber Controller,” this new arrival stated. “You will become like us. We are the future”.

Jade tightened her grip on her Pokéball, but this time Scarlett intervened. “Jade,” Scarlett said. “Don’t let your Pokémon get hurt. It’s my turn.” Jade stepped back as her friend, with a fire in her normally dark eyes that Jade had never seen before, stepped up to the Cyber Commander.

*****

Scarlett felt like the past few weeks had all built up to this one moment. As Shiftry battled Rock, the world-famous Agron, Camerupt fought Scissors, the even more famous shiny Scizor, and Whiscash battled Paper the Steelix, her Pokémon beat overwhelming odds. Her opponents were stronger and more experienced than her Pokémon, but they had fought together and mourned together over the past few weeks, and employed strategy that kept the Cyber Commander reeling.

“You still do not understand,” the Cyber Controller said, “we are the future of this world.” As it summoned its Metagross, the creature began to glow, as did the Cyber Controller’s brain case. “Cyber Technology has allowed us to advance the evolution of the Pokémon race. You cannot hope to defeat Mega Metagross.”

Metagross was already a massive creature, formed by the fusion of sentient metallic life forms whose shells became claws building off a single head at the middle. The Mega Metagross was even bigger, with spikes and claws growing from where none had been.

Scarlett kissed her last Pokéball for luck. “Blaziken, you can do this!” Blaziken – the adult form of what had once been the Combusken the Doctor had seen when he met Scarlett, emerged. The fowl now stood even taller than the Doctor himself, and had a look of determination in her eyes to match Scarlett’s. Blaziken attacked Mega Metagross with martial arts and balls of fire, but nothing she did seemed to hold the mega-evolved monster down for long. After a wave of psychic energy, Blaziken was on her knees.

Scarlett stood next to her friend. “Blaziken, you are our last hope. You -” she looked again at her friend, reeling in pain. “No. I will take up the fight.”

Jade, Calder and the Doctor all spoke out against this.

“You’re crazy!”

“You won’t stand a chance!”

“It will kill you!”

Scarlett looked at them. “If my Pokémon can risk her life against a monster like the Cybermen, so can I. I know the risks.” She looked back, and saw Mega Metagross rushing at her with its huge metal claws. This was it. She was going to meet her parents after all, after all that work…

Like Metagross before her, Blaziken began to glow. Her feathers began to change, becoming more streamlined, and darker. She leaped to her talons, now faster than Mega Metagross could react to. She landed between Metagross and Scarlett with a roundhouse kick, beating back the steel monster and giving Scarlett a chance to move to safety.

With her new Speed Boost, Mega Blaziken took the fight to Metagross. Every punch hit its mark, leaving behind spots of molten steel where she hit and wisps of smoke where she passed. Within a few seconds, Blaziken stood victorious, flames streaming from her wrists as she stood over the unconscious Metagross.

“Now, Blaziken, burn them. Punish them for their evil ways!” Scarlett yelled hysterically. Blaziken looked at her, sadly, not moving.

“It’s not their fault, Scarlett,” the Doctor said quietly, putting a hand on her shoulder. At first, she twisted away, not wanting to be touched, but then she gave in, and sank to her knees.

“No,” she said. “You’re right.

Jade and Calder ran through the base. Where there was a Pokémon, they freed it, and told it to run. Where there was a Pokémon of unknown rarity, Jade would look longingly at its Pokéball, promise to meet it again, and then free it, and tell it to run. Once they were done, the Doctor nodded once to Scarlett.

“Overheat,” she commanded, and her majestic bird friend nodded gravely. The humans left first – Mega Blaziken was more than fast enough to escape a burning building, even one made of molten steel. They stood there, watching, as the funeral pyre of the Cybermen, culled from Hoenn’s best and brightest, burned to the ground. Soon, there would be nothing left but a pool of metal, upon which something could be built…perhaps, in honor of their loss, the greatest Contest Hall Hoenn had ever seen.

*****

“You could come with me, you know,” the Doctor said to the three friends later that day. “There is so much out there, so many worlds, all of space and time…” he gestured widely with his arm to emphasize.

One by one, the three shook their heads. “I want to continue my training,” Jade said, fingering her cap. “The Champion spot is open now, and I want to earn it properly.”

“I have a lot to work out,” Scarlett said somberly. “I think the best way I can do that is as a Pokémon Coordinator. I’m sure my Pokémon would enjoy some time in the Contest Halls instead of in the alleys behind them.”

Calder looked longingly at the TARDIS, and sighed. “There is so much to learn out there,” he started, “but I’m just starting to realize how much I still have to learn here.” He turned away, looking toward the sea. “There’s a whole world out there for me to learn about.”

The three left, and The Doctor closed the door, preparing himself for take-off. All of time and space was available to him, where did he go to next? As he pushed his coordinates into the TARDIS console, one thought occurred to him, though: he had never thought to ask his new friends if dolphins were one of the many creatures with an analogue species in this world.

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