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Gastly X Machina


Gastly X Machina


Nikolai Mirovich

Author's Note: This is the fourth story in my series of Pokemon
based fanfics. It is sort of an in between story, taking place
midway through my "Lavender Ghost Story" novella. It's basically
what happens when Miranda goes to help fix Bob's computer while
Misty's off visiting Professor Laurna. Oh, and this one's no ecchi
in any way. Sorry guys, it's a plot episode!

Anyway, there's many people I'd like to thank, but mentioning
their names could get me killed, so I won't. Also, there's an FAQ
for this series, which should be at my ASSTR page
(""), which I've
put together to answer people's questions about the series and
whatnot. If any one wants to add to it, I'll be more than happy to
answer any questions you might have.
Gastly X Machina

With a wary sigh and much head shaking, he hit the power button on
the side of the computer once again. As the machine booted up the
man rubbed his stubbly chin and pondered the problem. "It can't be
a hardware problem," he muttered, glancing at the phone and
wondering if he should call his sister-in-law, "I just got this
thing upgraded. Unless..."

The computer interrupted the man's musings with a loud beep;
although in his frustration he hardly noticed the way the normally
friendly sound had something of a sarcastic tone to it. With a
stern look, he watched as the login window popped up, overlapping
the swirls of dark purple that made up his desktop image.

"Robert Kozlovski," he typed in the first box, before glancing
guiltily over his shoulder and typing his password in the second.
"There!" he commanded the machine, "Now let me in this time!"

"Sorry, invalid password!" flashed across the screen almost
instantly afterwards, the small gray rectangular image that
contained the words wavering slightly.

"What?! This isn't possible-!" he exclaimed, frustrated by the
machine's unwillingness to comply, throwing his arms into the air
in defeat, "Oh, I give up!"

"Vivian!" he called out, hoping his voice would carry down the
hall, "What's Laurna's number?"

"It's number nine on the speed dial, Bob," replied an amused voice
that made Bob lean his head back to see the approaching upside-
down image of his stepdaughter holding a tray with a tea pot and a
rather large mug, "But you'd probably only get her answering
machine. She's going to busy for a while yet."

"Hey, Miri," said Bob in a wary tone, shuffling back down into a
more comfortable position as the courier set the tray down on the
desk beside the monitor, "Sorry, I forgot about your friend's
Challenge today."

"No biggie. Oh, and mom said you were having trouble with the new
system," his stepdaughter replied in a curious tone, her stormy
gray eyes narrowing as she spotted the error message, "She thought
some tea might settle your nerves."

"Bless you both, Miranda," chuckled Bob, pouring the steaming
liquid into his mug as the woman went around the other side and
hit the "Enter" key, "Hey, what'cha doing?"

"Testing a theory," she muttered, waiting as the error message
reluctantly vanished, replaced by the login window once again,
"Hold on a sec."

Bob smiled, and tried not to laugh as Miranda quickly typed, "If
that's YOU in there, you're in for some serious trouble!" before
hitting "Enter" once more.

"That should do it," she said, standing up straight with her arms
folded, a stern look crossing her face.

"That's the look your mother gives people she's angry with,"
chuckled Bob, amazed when the login message suddenly vanished, and
words suddenly appeared floating in the ethereal background image.

"I'm sorry..." they read before dissolving inexplicably, only to
be replaced by "I just wanted to play with the new toy."

"No excuse," said Miranda aloud, causing her stepfather to push
his chair back from the desk and glance back and forth between his
computer and stepdaughter, "You should always ask first. And
besides, I don't want you screwing around with this system. If
there's ONE bit of data out of place, I'll be 'returning' you
until the festival's over. You got me?"

Bob felt an icy chill trace its way down his spine as he suddenly
realized that his wife's daughter wasn't a crazy person talking to
an inanimate computer and getting responses. A moment later, his
suspicions were confirmed.

Once the words had vanished from the screen, dark, vile smoke rose
from the back of the monitor and a sad, apologetic sound issued
from the speakers as it began to congeal.

Bob glanced at Miranda again, feeling beads of sweat forming along
his brow even as she stood confidently watching as a ghostly shape
reflected off the lenses of her glasses.

"Haunt..." pouted an apologetic voice that made Bob jump in his
seat even though he knew what to expect. Nervously, he turned
towards the ghost, trying not to shiver at being so close to a

"I know, but it's no excuse," chastised Miranda, her tone
maternally stern, but not unforgiving, "And look, you've scared
poor Bob half to death!"

The haunter turned towards Bob, whose face had become deathly
pale. "It- It's alright," the man stammered, smiling weakly and
inwardly wishing that his stepdaughter would keep better tabs on
her pet ghost, "Really. No harm done, I'm sure."

"Haunter, haunt!" the ghost assured, nodding enthusiastically by
tilting his whole body forward and back while keeping his
disembodied, three fingered hands clasped together apologetically.

Miranda raised an eyebrow as her stepfather nervously reached for
the keyboard, quickly logged in and began sifting through company
data. "How's it look?" she asked, giving her haunter a warning
glance and making him shrink back a bit.

"Looks fine," commented Bob, his confidence returning as he
noticed how much faster the machine seemed to run, "Better than
before, actually."

Miranda glanced up at the ghost suspiciously, only to find him
with his hands behind himself, looking innocent and whistling
tunelessly. "Hey, the new processor's running at 0.85% faster than
before," commented Bob half rhetorically, glancing up at the ghost
with a smile and trying not to laugh, "Hey, thanks pal!"

Miranda smiled in spite of herself. "Wraith?" she inquired coyly,
trying to catch her haunter's eye as he looked everywhere but at
his trainer, "Just what were you doing in there?"

"Haaanter..." Wraith replied innocently, spinning around and
staring out the window at the seemingly perpetually overcast sky.

"You didn't mess with any of the accounts, did you?" the courier
inquired a little more sternly in a warning tone.

"Haunt!" the ghost exclaimed in denial, his eyes spinning around
his body to face his trainer as his hands came up defensively.

"You'd better not of," Miranda warned, taking out her wallet and
digging out a plastic card.

"I- I'll just check out your courier card," stammered Bob, calling
up the right window as he shook his head at Wraith. The haunter
seeming cautious as he moved his body around in place so that his
strange eyes would be attached to his face and not his back,

Bob glanced at Miranda's card, wiping dust off the magnetic strip
against his pant leg before slotting it into the reader just below
the D:\ drive. A moment later, Miranda's account came up in a
special window and Bob handed the woman back her card.

"Wow," chuckled Bob, going through Miranda's virtual logbook, "I
think we've been overworking you, Miri. These dates indicate that
since you started, the only vacation time you've taken is when the
Halloween Festival is on. And that's really only a few days out of
a year."

"Hey, I took a couple of days off in Cerulean this August," his
stepdaughter replied, leaning on the back of her stepfather's
chair as she moved in close to read the scrawled text on the

"Yes," corrected Bob, nodding thoughtfully as he highlighted a
portion of the log, "But that's only because we didn't have
anything for you except for that mail delivery you did. Goodness
this thing is fast!"

Miranda smirked, glancing up at her still guilty looking haunter
as Bob called up the courier's financial records. "Come here," she
said, holding out her hand and giving the ghost a small smile, "I
think I can forgive you."

Bob leaned back in his chair as Wraith floated past him and into
his trainers arms. "I don't know how you crazy Lav' brats can do
that," he commented, double-checking the records to make certain
that they hadn't been altered.

"But I like ghosts," Miranda replied, unsuccessfully banishing the
defensiveness from her tone as she walked a short distance and sat
down on the couch that was at least four years her senior,
"They're cute in their own way."

Bob found his commented choked off by his amazement as gave his
stepdaughter a startled look. "C-Cute?!" he stammered, trying not
to sound hysterical as Miranda sat with one leg over the other
contentedly running her fingers along the top of her haunter's

"Yes," Miranda responded wistfully, her stern expression replaced
by a look of maternal love as her long fingers vanished within the
strange dark substance that comprised Wraith, only to come away a
moment later, trailing dark ephemerae which she watched dissolve
away soon after, "Besides, if it wasn't for Wraith, I'd still be
having nightmares."

Bob nodded, as always trying to be the understanding fatherly
type, but never quite succeeding. "Funny that," he said, before
doing a double take as he glanced at the updated financial report,
"If I had a ghost in my lap, I think I'd have more nightmares-
Miranda! You won't believe this!"

The courier glanced up as Wraith smiled and closed his eyes. "What
is it?" she inquired, pushing her glasses back up her nose,
causing them to shimmer.

"Well, the good news is, is that you're very much in the red,"
replied Bob, glancing over at her and trying to sound serious,
"The bad news is, is that I think we really need to take a look at
how we pay you guys!"

"Why?" laughed Miranda, her tone indicating she wasn't really
taking the man seriously as she continued to pet Wraith

"Well, um..." stammered Bob, biting his lip and looking from the
courier to the screen, "It seems that you're up 20,000 cred."

"Tenth credits, maybe," she chuckled, shaking her head,
"Seriously, Bob, if you saw the places I've been staying lately,
there's no way I could possibly have saved up that much money in
my travels."

The man shook his head in patient disagreement. "Courier Miranda
Lilcamp," he read tapping a pencil against the screen for effect,
"Current credit balance +20,000 credits."

"That has to be a mistake," commented Miranda, her tone becoming
mildly suspicious as she leaned over to see the monitor, "I could
understand maybe 2000, but 20K? That's just not possible."

Bob sighed warily, holding up his hands in defeat. "The system
says 20,000, kiddo. But I'll do a complete system check just to be
sure," he replied, reaching for his mug and sipping at the finally
cool enough to drink Earl Gray tea, "Would you like some while
we're waiting?"

Miranda smiled. "Thanks," she said with a nod, "But I'll have to
get my tea cup, hold on."

Bob gave her a curious look as his stepdaughter poked the ghost in
her lap playfully. "Wraith, dear," she said playfully, sounding
like a damsel in distress, "Would you be a sweetie and fetch me my

Wraith opened one eye and muttered an affirmative response before
one of his disembodied hands flew up and grabbed the eye. To Bob's
abject horror, and Miranda's infinite amusement, the eye came
loose with a loud, wet popping sound before being carried off by
the hand. A second later, the haunter's other hand followed, and
the trio of ghostly, ephemerate body parts floated out through the

"Three, two..." whispered Miranda with amusement as she stared up
at the faded wallpaper of the far wall, "One!"

"Ahh-! Miranda Lydia Lilcamp!!!" came the angry scream of her
mother, making the room's three occupant's laugh, "If you want
something, get it yourself!"

"Oooh," commented Bob, keeping his amused tone low, "'Power Word
Middle Name'!"

"Now I'm in trouble," the woman replied, giggling as the sound of
a quiet electric motor drew close.

"Yes you are!" replied her mother, gliding into the room upon her
electric wheelchair, clutching a handless teacup in her free hand
and being pursued by Wraith's missing pieces.

"Sorry, Mom," the two human's intoned with amused expressions on
their faces as Vivian glared at them with both with her mysterious
magenta coloured eyes.

"Take care of this thing," the wheelchair bound woman said in a
more neutral tone, tossing the cup in her daughter's direction,
"It was his."

Miranda leaped up and caught the spinning teacup in both hands,
nearly dying of a heart attack in the process. "Yes, Mom, I will,"
she promised, sitting back down and not really noticing that
Wraith seemed unperturbed by her suddenly moving through him

"You'd better," she commented, glancing back at Bob with an
apologetic look.

He returned her glance with a reassuring smile that made Vivian
close her eyes and nod happily. "Sorry," she whispered to her
husband, who shrugged like it was nothing.

"I know you loved him," he said, glancing at Miranda who had
suddenly taken an interest in the portrait of sunset on the wall,
"I know you both did. And that's alright."

Vivian nodded. "I just don't want you to think I love you any
less," she replied, looking over at her daughter worriedly, "And
don't you go thinking I don't care about your father just because
he's gone. He was a good man, and I'll always love him in my own

"I know," whispered Miranda, her voice barely audible as her
mother backed up out of the room.

"So, Miri," said Bob rather quickly as the sound of Vivian's
wheelchair faded down the hall and Wraith finally got around to
reconstituting himself, "it'll take a while to scan disk and
defrag, so while we're waiting, why don't you tell me about
Wraith? I don't recall you ever really mentioning when and where
you picked him up."

Miranda chuckled as she got up once again and poured herself a cup
of tea. "It's a long story," she replied with an amused smile,
sitting back down and going back to idly spinning her fingers in
Wraith's ephemera as though she were winding spaghetti onto a
fork, "But if you really want to hear it..."

"Definitely," assured Bob, trying not to twitch as the courier
lifted her fingers out of the dozing haunter's body and watched
the spirit stuff slide back down to it's owner as though it were a
living thing, "It might help me to understand Wraith a bit better,
and make him less disquieting to me. Heck, it might make all you
crazy people here in Lavender make more sense to me."

Miranda smiled, chuckling quietly as she looked down at Wraith
lovingly. "You knew what you were getting in to when you married
Mom," she teased, "And I think you've lived here long enough to
understand us Lav' brats. There's two kinds of people who live in
a place like Lavender Town, those who embrace the creepiness, and
those who ignore it. Everyone else left ages ago. And besides, mom
came here when she was younger as opposed to being born here, so
she's not really a Lav' brat."

Bob nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I remember the story," he replied,
sipping his tea and glancing at the progress meter, "Your father
brought Vivian and her sister here from Neon Town. But your mother
is loath to talk about the reasons why. Only that it has to do
with your grandparents on her side. But that's not really what I
wanted to talk about, now is it?"

Miranda smiled, nodding in agreement. "You wanted me to tell you
about Wraith," she agreed, holding her teacup aloft and
reminiscently examining the ring of dragonairs that encircled its
outer surface near the rim, "Very well then, Bob. If you really
wanna know, I shall tell you. It all started back three, going on
four years ago now when I was on my first assignment alone after
my rather short apprenticeship with Joshua had ended..."


The early morning sun glinted off the sea of windows that made up
the business
section of Vermillion City, making the courier squint against the
glare as she rode her mountain bike down the still quiet, pre-rush
hour main street. Ahead of
her rose the tall, rectangular shape of the Sylph Co office tower.

Although it was less than a tenth of the size of the main Sylph Co
Arcology in
Saffron, which took up an entire four city blocks, the building
impressive in its own way. The strange apparatus upon its roof,
for instance,
marked it as the only building in the district with a functional
transposition array. Although the technology wasn't uncommon, it
was still
overly expensive, and only large corporations like Sylph and a few
of the
better known poke prof's could really afford them. Although the
later was
often through city council sponsored grants.

The girl squeezed the breaks, dropping her feet off the pedals,
the soles of
her shoes scraping along the ground as the bike skidded to a halt
not far
from the main door. Shivering against the chill morning air, the
glanced towards the double glass doors and checked her hair in the
that faced her.

"I hope they're open," she commented to herself, walking her bike
towards the
empty bike rack and locking it securely before heading towards the

As she approached, the twin reflective doors slid open into the
walls giving
her a clear path into the lobby and a clear view of the yawning
who doubled as a security guard.

"Excuse me, miss," the courier called, bits of dirt and gravel
falling off her
shoes and collecting in a path across the gleaming clean floor
tiles, "I have
a package for professor Iago."

The woman looked up from her coffee and smiled. "I'm afraid he's
in a meeting
just now, miss...?"

"Lilcamp," the courier replied with an ingratiating grin, "Miranda

The woman nodded, looking down at the small stack of papers before
her. "Hm,
seems he's been expecting you, actually," she said with a bit of a
scowl, "He said the package was important."

Miranda nodded. "Can't say what it is, though," she commented,
dragging her
backpack off her shoulders and opening it quickly before yanking
out a large
manila envelope with a large rubber stamped 'Private And
stenciled across it.

"I have a few ideas," the receptionist chuckled, taking a card key
from a desk
drawer "But hey, you can just head up now if you'd like."

"That important, eh?" the courier inquired, taking the card and
holding it up
the overly bright full-spectrum fluorescent lights that all but
covered the white tiled ceiling.

The woman nodded in agreement. "Yes," she explained, "but I'm not
one to
spread rumors about my boss."

Miranda chuckled at the thought and said, "And it's against our
policy to ask
personal questions about our clients, so long as it's nothing

The woman shook her head dismissively. "No," she assured as
Miranda walked
around her circular desk to the bank of elevators and slotted the
security passcard, "It's nothing bad."


A few moments later, the courier leaned back against the wall of
the elevator,
letting out a held breath and shaking her head at the quiet,
almost subliminal
elevator music.

As the elevator ascended, Miranda watched the numbers on the LED
display change,
marking her passage up the building until it stopped inexplicably
at the half way point. "What the-?!" she began, feeling the metal
box she stood in suddenly jerk to a halt, making Miranda horribly
aware of the fact that the lift was only being supported more than
ten stories off the ground by two thin metal cables.

For a moment, Miranda held her breath, listening to the strange
noises just above her head. The awful elevator music, however
continued, not quite loud enough to block out the sounds the
elevator was making as the lights went out and the reddish tinted
emergency lighting kicked in.

"This is not good," she breathed, her voice unconsciously kept low
as the
music suddenly changed, the annoying little tune twisting into a
cacophony of half garbled sounds.

Miranda was certain she could make out bits of music from the
local radio station, snippets of phone conversations, and pieces
of several Sylph Co workers office answering machines in the mix.
But before long, the chaotic garble slowly altered. The dozen or
so voices all uniting to deliver a single message, each voice
contributing but a single syllable to the simple, sinister

The courier shivered as she heard the words, her hand reaching for
the handle of the wooden sword all couriers carried at their
sides. "You're next!" the strange mixture of voices announced
before the emergency lighting gave way to the standard
illumination and the annoying elevator music returned as though it
had never left. A heartbeat later, the elevator jostled roughly,
and began to rise once more.

"That was not funny," muttered Miranda, feeling her pulse race as
she ascended, watching the LED tick off the passing floors with
apprehension until finally reaching the twenty-fifth floor.

As the doors slid open, and the lift let out a polite little
chime, the courier released her grip on her sword hilt and stepped
cautiously out onto the white-carpeted floor.

"Wow," she commented, glancing around at the dozen or so display
cases containing prototypes of several of the mega corp.'s
inventions, and the pictures of various pokemon that lined the
wood paneled walls of the regional VP's office.

"You like it?" inquired a friendly, almost eccentric sounding
voice from across the almost cavernous room.

Miranda turned her gaze to the far wall, where a huge desk
comprised of dark wood sat before a wall that was one enormous
window over looking the city's harbor below. Behind the cluttered
desk was a high-backed chair, swiveled to face the window so the
courier couldn't see the speaker at all.

"Y-yes, Professor," the girl stammered, holding up the envelope
and wishing there was somewhere to wipe her feet as she padded
quietly across the carpet that probably cost more than she'd make
in her lifetime, "I have a package that your associates in Saffron
told me to deliver to you personally-"

"Ah! Excellent!" the man exclaimed happily, cutting the courier
off as he swiveled his chair around and jumped to his feet
excitedly, "The divorce papers at last! Where do I sign?"

"I wouldn't know," laughed Miranda, placing the sealed envelope on
the desk before respectively taking a step back and giving the
corporate scientist the once over.

Professor Iago's wide, toothy grin never left his round,
bespectacled face as he tore open the envelope, and his dark blue
eyes widening with delight as he yanked the small pile of papers
free of their confines.

"Good-bye you conniving, evil, two timing, manipulative- Oh,
sorry!" he muttered before glancing up at the sound of Miranda's
stifled chuckle, "Can I borrow your pen?"

Miranda smiled, reaching into her coat pocket and handing somewhat
diminutive man a writing implement. "No problem," she assured to
his word of thanks before taking off her backpack again to dig out
her clipboard, "Oh, and before I forget, I need you to sign this
as well."

The smiling, happy man looked up as he signed his name for the
third time on the legal document. "Well, so long as I'm signing my
wife away," he chuckled, accepting the clipboard, "I might as well
sign my life away too!"

Miranda laughed and pointed to the ninth space on the sheet of
paper. "Just sign and print your name," she requested, finding the
man's open handed attitude and amusing manner a far and pleasant
cry from what she'd been expecting.

"Hey," commented Iago, glancing at the sheet of paper after
signing the requested signatures, "What's this part here at the
bottom about the Lilcamp Trading Company owning my soul?"

"What?!" exclaimed Miranda, yanking back the clip board and
blushing as the man laughed, "Oh you!"

"Sorry, miss!" he chuckled running his fingers through his short
brown hair in an unconscious gesture, "Just yanking your chain.
But seriously, once I'm done with this I'm going to need to send
these documents back. Would you mind?"

"Not a problem," the courier assured, shaking her head and causing
her glasses to slip down her nose a bit, "I'll just write you up a
quick delivery contract. Won't take a minute."

"Take your time," replied Iago, waving his hand dismissively,
"Just take a seat over there and relax. I'm going to need my
assistant for this last part anyway."


"Yeah, I'm not very good at legalese, I'm afraid," he explained,
sitting back down in his leather backed chair and shaking his head
at the document before hitting a button on his desk, "Excuse me,
but would Professor Kipp please report to my office when she gets
the chance."

"Former lawyer?" inquired Miranda with a bit of a chuckle as she
found the appropriate form and sat down in one of the smaller, but
still comfortable cloth chairs in front of the man's desk.

"Naw, just a master of red tape," explained Professor Iago, "Among
other things..."

Miranda glanced up from her clipboard and was about to inquire
when a concealed door to her right clicked open and swung inwards.
From within the concealed room, the sounds a dozen or so people
working at computer terminals could be heard over the gentle hum
of spinning hard disks and noises of video games being played on
company time.

Through the door, however, stepped a woman who made Miranda want
to take a step back. 'Yikes!' thought Miranda, trying not to draw
attention to herself a woman who was easily over six feet in
height stepped gracefully into the room and casually flipped the
door shut behind her.

"What's up this time, boss?" she inquired in a bored tone, running
her fingers idly through her rather androgynous looking, shoulder
length brown hair before crossing her arms across her chest.

"The papers came in today, Jo," Iago explained, handing the stack
of stapled documents to the imposing woman and making no effort to
hide the fact that he was staring blatantly at her legs, "I just
need you to go over this last part. Looks a little suspicious to

Professor Kipp nodded as she turned several pages over, her light
blue eyes going over the words of the document with calculating
precision. "Yes," she said at last, her tone becoming business-
like, "Basically, it says here that your ex-wife will receive
ninety-five percent of your shares in Sylph Co if you sign here,
but by signing back on page three, and NOT on page five, you've
vetoed that. Unfortunately, though, by signing twice on page
three, you've made it possible for her to take control of the
South Bay research laboratory."

"There are worse fates," replied Iago with a shrug, prying his
eyes off the woman's anatomy for a moment as he looked
thoughtfully out into nothing, "There's not much she can do down
there anyway. Besides play with fish I guess... And if she causes
any real problems, she becomes President Mordeaux's problem, not

"So who's her lawyer for the divorce anyway?" inquired Kipp,
tossing the papers back on the desk and glancing over at Miranda
for the first time.

"Dupont," her boss responded dryly.

"Hm, thought so," the woman smirked dismissively, "Looks like his
work. Freaking amateur. Oh, and who's your new friend, by the

Iago looked a little startled before glancing over the rims of his
wide rimmed glasses in the courier's direction. "Lilcamp, right?"
he inquired with a smile she now recognized as a lecherous grin.

"Miranda, actually," corrected the girl a little nervously,
getting to her feet and placing the completed document on the
desk, "Oh, and all that's needed is your signature here, at the

"Hold on. Let me see that!" replied Kipp suspiciously, snatching
away the paper before her employer could get his stubby fingered
hand on it.

"It- it's just a standard contract," stammered Miranda, chastising
herself for feeling unreasoningly intimidated by the older woman's

Professor Kipp nodded, her eyes scanning the document suspiciously
before handing it to Iago. "Looks good," she said in a lighter
tone, a thin smile crossing her lips as she turned to Miranda and
held out her hand, "Hi, I'm Professor Joanne Kipp. Sorry about
that, but I have to look out for my employer."

"No problem," the courier assured her, trying not to be annoyed at
the thought of being so mistrusted as she took the woman's hand
and shook it, "But I do have something I'd like to ask, if it's

"Sure!" laughed Professor Iago, carefully putting the signed
documents into a new envelope, "Ask away!"

"Well," Miranda explained a touch pensively as she glanced back at
the elevator, "I had a bit of a bit of a problem with your lift on
the way up here."

Kipp and Iago exchanged a quick, surreptitious glance that Miranda
didn't catch. "Oh, we've been having problems with the elevators
all week," the woman assured as the man nodded, "It's nothing to
worry about, though. We have a repair crew working on it."

"But I think that there was a problem with the intercom as well,"
the courier continued, giving them both a suspicious look.

"The intercom?" inquired Joanne, glancing at Iago questioningly,
"Why wasn't I informed, boss?"

Professor Iago shrugged and smiled defeatedly. "That's news to
me," he assured, "but this building is old. There's bound to be

Just then, a polite beep issued from a hidden speaker on his desk.
"Professor, there's someone here to see you," came the paid to be
pleasant tone of the receptionist downstairs.

"But I said I was in a meeting, Joyce," the man replied, pushing a
button on the desk as he spoke, "Can't it wait? I'd like to gloat
for a while longer."

"But you don't understand, Professor Balthaza'ar Iago," answered
the woman's voice, her tone suddenly changing, becoming more
shrill as a strange background noise akin to the sounds of a
thousand shrieking voices filled the speaker before the
receptionist's voice became far more dark and sinister, "You see,
sir, it's just that you're next!"

With that, the voice cut off, filling the room with an
uncomfortable silence as the two scientists looked at each other
nervously before turning to Miranda. The courier folded her arms
across her chest and smirked. "Looks like it's time to fess up,
eh?" she commented half-rhetorically.

Joanne smiled nervously for a moment, looking slightly embarrassed
as she turned back to her boss, her soulful blue eyes going wide
and pleading. Balthaza'ar swallowed hard in response, seemingly
unable to "pass the buck" as the tall woman pouted just long
enough to drive the point home.

"Well- Err, well you see, Ms. Lilcamp," the VP stammered, suddenly
giving the computer on his desk a worried look, "It's our
mainframe. It's been having some problems since we installed this
new bit of software..."

"Problems?" Miranda inquired with a hint of amusement, "Seems more
like someone's given it a strange sense of humor."

Joanne shrugged as she leaned against the desk. "You're partially
right," she replied, ignoring Iago's suddenly horrified look in
her direction, "It does have a sense of humor, but not because we
gave it one. The... System itself developed that on its own."

"Um- What our dear Professor Kipp is trying to say," interrupted
Iago, smiling widely, sweat forming on his brow as he leaned back
in his enormous chair, "Is that we recently completed one of our
most groundbreaking experiments to date. The successful creation
of an independently thinking computer."

"You made an AI?" inquired Miranda with an amused grin, "And some
overworked, underpaid techie got bored and gave it a sense of

"Err, not exactly," muttered Iago, glancing at Joanne, his eyes
reflecting his desperate concern, "You see, it sort of developed
this personality quirk on its own."

"Looks like you did your job a little too well," commented
Miranda, looking back towards the elevator and wondering if it
might not be a better idea just to take the stairs.

"Thank you," said Joanne with an appreciative smile as she turned
back to her employer, "You see, boss? Some people DO appreciate
all the work I do around here!"

Iago folded his arms across his chest and raised a disapproving
eyebrow. "Well, it WAS your project, Professor Kipp," he said in a
suddenly stern tone, keeping the amusement from his voice as he
formulated a plan, "And as such, you are the one responsible for
it if something goes wrong."

"Wha-?!" exclaimed Joanne in a sudden panic, slamming her hands
down upon his desk and staring down at him pleadingly as she
leaned forward, her partially open blouse giving the older man an
eyeful, "But- But Professor, I thought you said we were a team..."

Balthaza'ar Iago smiled, leaning back again as he linked his
fingers over his stomach and seemed to relax. "Yes, Professor
Kipp," he replied, ignoring her sultry pleading tone, "A team
where I am the team leader. And as such, it's my job to delegate
responsibility. And in THIS case, Professor, YOU'RE the one
responsible for the current... 'Malfunction.' So please, take care
of it would you? I'm a busy man, and I believe that we've taken up
enough of Ms. Lilcamp's time."

"But- But-!" she stammered as Iago pointedly ignored her and
shuffled the papers on his desk.

"That will be all Professor Kipp," he said simply as the woman
stood up, straightened her all to short skirt and adjusted her lab

"Fine then," said Joanne, somehow keeping the annoyance from her
voice as she turned to the courier and smiled sadly. "Well, sorry
from dragging you into all this, Miss," she said apologetically,
"but I'm sure I can take care of it eventually."

Miranda shrugged. "No big deal," she said thoughtfully as Joanne
lead her back to the elevator, "But it's too bad my Aunt Laurna's
not in town. She knows a thing or two about computers, and she'd
probably be able to help-"

"Did- Did you say 'Laurna'?!" the scientist exclaimed with sudden

"Err, yeah..."

"Oh my goodness!" laughed Joanne, throwing her arms into the air
melodramatically as she looked at Miranda with renewed interest,
"I went to University with her!"

"Really?" Miranda inquired politely as she began to wonder about
the woman's sanity.

"Oh yeah," continued Joanne, leaning her shoulder against the wall
and looking reminiscent, "She was my roommate for three years.
She's the one who gave me the idea for the AI project you know."

"She thought of it first then?"

"On, no, no!" the woman laughed, waving her hand dismissively, "It
was that gastly of hers, actually-"

"KIPP!" exclaimed Professor Iago from across the room, his voice
suddenly full anger as his round face blazed red.

"Ooops!" the woman muttered, looking embarrassed, "I guess I
shouldn't have said that..."

"Viper?" blinked Miranda, "How did he give you an idea for an AI?"

Joanne's tone became more nervous as she hit the elevator button
several times as hard as she could. "Well, err, ya know," she
stammered, cursing under her breath as the lift seemed to be
taking its own sweet time, "That um, gastly just made me think
that maybe all those scientists before were looking at the problem
the wrong way. That maybe it wasn't software that we needed, but

"Oh dear," the courier muttered, suddenly dreading where the
conversation was going.

"Well, you see," the scientist explained, "first I figured I'd try
something out with my TI-85, but her mind is too structured, so-"

"TI-85?" inquired Miranda, finding her curiosity peaking.

Joanne nodded. "She's my magnemite," the scientist said with a
reminiscent smile, "I picked him up when our class was doing a
unit on 'spontaneous generational' pokemon. Unfortunately, as I
said, she wasn't quite what we were looking for. TI-85 can access
information and give commands, but she needs to be instructed to
do so. It seems that magnemites lack the necessary affinity for
creative thinking that we're looking for. To be honest, their
minds are just too... simple really."

"So you found something a little more complex then?" inquired
Miranda, amused by the elevator's stubbornness as Joanne glanced
nervously over her shoulder at Iago, who was even now holding his
head with one hand and eating a bottle of pain killers with the
other, "Something that had both an affinity for computers and was
more creative than a magnemite?"

"And was more independently thinking," added Joanne with a heavy
sigh. "Yes," she admitted warily, "that's why we sent a team over
to Lavender to capture a few 'test subjects'."

"You could have asked my aunt, I'm sure she'd-"

"Oh no!" interrupted Joanne, shaking her head quickly, "We had to
keep this a secret! Heck, we even hired some kid to go down and
buy a few of those special pokeballs Laurna makes... Which we
still can't synthesize, by the way."

Miranda smirked at the thought, but kept her gloating to herself.
"So you caught a few ghosts then?" she inferred, "And brought them
back here so you could interface them with your mainframe?"

"Err, well, something like that," Joanne admitted quietly,
nervously brushing back her hair as the elevator made a loud -
ding!- and the doors began to slide open, "but to be honest, we
lost an operative in the attempt and only managed to get one."

"So, if it's causing problems with the mainframe, why not just
'return' it-?" Miranda inquired as Joanne moved to enter the
elevator but immediately stopped and grabbed the sides of the

"Dreck!" she shrieked, one leg dangling dangerously over the edge
of the empty elevator shaft as her shoe plummeted downward and the
doors started to close again.

"Professor!" the courier shouted, quickly grabbing the scientist's
shoulders and yanking her back into the VP's office.

As the two tumbled to the carpeted floor in a heap, a sinister
laughter echoed from deep within the void as the metal doors
banged shut with a certain finality.

"Th-thanks," Joanne stammered, struggling to her feet as Professor
Iago ran to her side.

"Are you alright?!" he called in a sudden panic, quickly moving to
help the woman as Miranda sat up and glared at the now sealed

"Oh, I'm fine, I'm fine," the scientist muttered in annoyance as
Miranda got to her feet with a scowl.

"You do have a contingency plan for something like this, right?"
she inquired, glancing at the two as Professor Iago began sweating

"Well, not exa-" he began, only to interrupted by Joanne.

"Actually, yes!" she said triumphantly with a grin, "I can
recontain this thing in no time. I just have to coax it out of the
system and the 'return' the ghost to its ball. Then problem

Miranda gave her a skeptical look. "You're sure it'll be that
easy?" she inquired, glancing up as, as if on cue the lights above
them flickered and died before the emergency generator kicked in.

Joanne and Balthaza'ar glanced up as well, the suddenly dim red
lighting in the room causing them both to gulp loudly. "M-maybe we
should evacuate the building," the woman suggested, causing her
employer to shake his head in dismay.

"Unbelievable," he muttered glancing disapprovingly up at Joanne,
"Look, we can't afford to alarm the other businesses in this
building. This is a Sylph matter and I'm sure you can take care of
it quietly. Blackouts aside."

"I'll get started on a cover story," promised Joanne nervously,
"But first I'll just stop by the computer lab and take care of our
little pest."

"You're sure it'll be that easy?" inquired the courier looking up
at the emergency lights as they flickered and dimmed a notch.

"Not a problem," assured the scientist, brushing off her lab coat
and striding across the plush white carpeting, stained red by the
emergency lighting, towards the secret door she'd come through
earlier with sudden confidence as Miranda hurried after her, "We
have the most powerful computers on the continent at our disposal!
Our technology is infallible!"

"What about our little friend?" came Miranda's query, her stormy
gray eyes widening as she peered into the huge computer lab, it's
dozens of workstations each with its own wage-slave busily banging
away on keyboards that were slightly too small, each competing to
see whom could acquire carpal-tunnel syndrome first.

"I told you, not a problem," came Joanne's reassuring tone as she
slid into the chair of a large, cluttered workstation at the front
of the room facing all of the others to signify its owner's
importance before quickly banished her flying dollar sign
screensaver with a tap of the 'any' key, "I have a plan."

"I've heard that one before," Miranda chuckled, moving away some
of the junk before hopping up onto the edge of Joanne's desk as
the woman's long, manicured fingers danced along the keyboard as
though the scientist were born to hack code.

"Oh ye of little faith," smiled Joanne before scowling. "Oh, he's
good," the woman muttered under her breath a moment later,
suddenly typing one-handed as she reached into her inner lab coat
pocket and produced a white and steel gray, pokeball in storage

"Back-up?" Miranda inquired, tensing slightly as her fingers
absently brushed across what appeared to be a modified toaster
equipped with a few extra dials and some kind of needle gauge
along with its mandatory exposed vacuum tubes.

The woman merely nodded, catching Miranda's eye with a wide smile
as her left hand continued to run through various security
protocols, somehow magically bypassing the continual barrage of
encryptions the ghost sent her way. "Just an old friend," the
scientist assured, smiling as she hit the activation switch on the
ball, causing a wave of light to issue forth and a sudden loud
alarm sounded.

"Warning!" came a seductive female voice with a hint of panic,
"Containment breach in Sector 7G! All personal have three minutes
to evacuate the facility."

"That's bad, right?" the courier inquired as most of the techies
leapt out of their chairs and raced for the fire-exit in a panic
while Miranda glanced at the oddly shaped creature that floated
past her line of vision.

Joanne shook her head. "Don't worry," she replied standing up a
bit to see over her monitor. "Geoff!" the woman called, sending a
bored looking security guard who was reading a newspaper in the
corner a scowl, "we have a slight problem here. Think you can, oh,
I dunno, help out a bit?"

The tall, thin man shrugged from behind his paper, adjusting his
hat as the last few Sylph Co workers scurried past him, their arms
laden with computer components, RPG books, a few live chickens, a
small nuclear device and an assortment of other junk they'd
brought from home. "Eh, I'll do it later," came his mumbled
Scottish accent as Miranda absently dug out her purple coloured
Electronic Parazoological Encyclopedia & Data Input/Output Device.

"Um, shouldn't we be fleeing in terror or something?" the courier
inquired, aiming the pokedex at the floating metallic looking orb
with what appeared to be horseshoe magnets attached to its sides
as it focused its single Cyclops eye at her curiously.

"Naw, relax," assured Joanne, her scowl not penetrating Geoff's
blatant indifference to the crisis, "I can seal the breach from
here. Ti', can you link up with the system, please? I need to
override the containment controls but that little glob of
ectoplasm keeps modulating the password. Can you keep him busy for
a moment?"

"Nemite," assured the metallic pokemon as it turned it's
mechanical gaze from the courier and floated closer to the
monitor. Then, the flat disk that served as it's eye shined a
focused beam of amber light at the side of the bulky screen,
causing the computer to respond with an unhappy clicking sound.

"Odd little thing, isn't it," Miranda commented, feeling strangely
calm as the red flickering lights and slowly pulsing alarm became
strangely easy to ignore, giving her a moment to tap the 'Analyze'
key on her 'Dex.

"She," corrected Joanne, biting her lower lip and giving half a
smile as her eyes reflected the passing numerical codes she
ploughed through, "TI-85's a girl."

"How can you tell?" Miranda inquired as the little screen on the
left side of her pokedex showed a green wire mesh schematic for
the creature that seemed to be assisting the scientist, all the
while scrolling the species's vital statistics across the bottom.

"I just can," said Joanne with a shrug, the pokedex blissfully
silent as the scrolling words read out "Kingdom 'Inanimae,' Phylum

"So, um, what's that containment thing containing exacting?" the
courier inquired, her 'Dex scrolling "Order 'Fulmenos', family
'Voltolae' Genus 'Volto' Species 'Volto magneto', common name

Joanne shook her head as the 'U' shaped objects attached to either
side of TI-85 spun slowly as the little hovering orb shuddered a
little from the seeming exertion. "Can't tell ya," she replied
before smacking down the 'Enter' key with sudden triumph. "Ah ha!"
the woman exclaimed, leaping to her feet and causing Miranda to
hop off her desk in surprise as the woman's chair clattered to the
floor behind her, "Gotcha ya little blob of goo!"

"You got him out of the system?" inquired Miranda speculatively,
raising an eyebrow as "Type steel/electrical, weaknesses Fire,
fighting and Ground techniques; Strong against rock, ice,
plant..." scrolled across the little monitor, threatening its
owner with a bad case of eyestrain.

"Nope," Joanne replied, leaning back in her seat and smiling
proudly at her monitor as TI-85 broke contact and made a small
sound of relief similar to escaping steam shortly before power was
restored and the lights came back on, "but I managed to keep him
out of sector 7G. For now..."

Miranda nodded, glancing up at the ceiling tiles as the computer
countdown voice halted abruptly, quickly changing its mind about
the nature of the emergency. "But not out of less essential
systems, I guess," she replied glumly as the computer voice slowly
altered itself. "Containment field, reinitialized," the female
sounding voice announced before slowing down, becoming distorted
and stammering out a reply, "The eeemmmmmergeeeenccceee, is-is-is
overrr-" the voice shifted radically at that point, taking on a
more sinister aspect, "H-H-H-How-Howeeeever, hacker. You're next!"

"I think he means you," called out the security guard from across
the room as Miranda's pokedex displayed the peculiar nutrient
requirements for TI-85 and Geoff stood up to get a coffee from the
machine at the back of the room.

"Whatever, Geoffrey," muttered Joanne, going back to a bout of
frantic typing, "Look, if you're not going to contribute, could
you at least stay out of my hair?"

The security guard shrugged as he put nearly four credits worth of
change into the coffee machine and gabbed one of the paper cups
the machine didn't actually supply on its own. "Oh, come on now,"
Geoff replied, hitting one of the buttons on the machine several
times to no avail, "I'm just trying to add a little levity."

"Off hand, I'd say this ghost's sense of humor is enough levity
for all of us," Miranda commented as sparks flew from Joanne's
keyboard and her screensaver came of line.

"What the-?!" the scientist exclaimed in aggravation, rubbing her
fingers against each other to restore feeling before tapping
frantically at the keys, "I- I can't clear it. The OS isn't
accepting my password!"

"Try hitting it," responded Geoff, picking up a stack of paper
cups from the water cooler and dropping the lot into the recycle
bin. "There," the security guard grumbled under his breath, "That
ought to be 3.85's worth!"

"Ti, try a direct interface," said Joanne, sparing Miranda half a
glance as she reached over and flipped on the machine the courier
was examining earlier as the floating orb linked itself with the
monitor again, its single cyclops eye showing a flowing pattern of
ones zeros and the occasion two.

"What is it?" Miranda inquired as the machine made a series of
small timed beeps.

"Look here," instructed Joanne, pointing at the black screen of
her monitor. Upon it the words "You're Next!" had appeared,
printed in large purple block letters. The phrase bounced/moved
about the screen; rebounding off the edges of its limited space in
a seemingly random pattern. As it did so, the machine on Kipp's
desk responded with a beep. One for every time the words hit the
side of the screen and bounced off.

"It detects your screensaver bouncing?" inquired Miranda
skeptically, now knowing for certain that one had to be crazy to
work at Sylph Co.

"No, no, no," the woman laughed, shaking her head in dismay as her
magnemite made a few unhappy noises, "It detects sarcasm. This is
NOT my normal screensaver. It seems our little friend decided to
lock me out and change it to this. As you said, Miss, this ghost's
sense of humor is enough levity for everyone."

Miranda glanced up at Joanne with an amused look. "That doesn't
explain why you have one of these, Professor," she replied as the
scientist turned back to TI-85 and nodded slowly at something the
pokemon said, "But I suppose it couldn't hurt to see how good it
really is..."

The courier smiled mischievously, giving her arm a bit of a shake
and causing a mirconized pokeball to roll out of her sleeve and
into the palm of her hand. "Nezumi," she said quietly as the ball
expanded to the size of a baseball, "come ye forth."

"The ghost's rotating the password almost as quickly as Ti's
hacking it," muttered Joanne as the ball clicked open and a small
dark-purple and white rodent materialized on the desk beside the
sarcasm detecting machine, "Um, Ms. Lilcamp, what are you doing?"

Miranda smiled. "Just checking out your toy, seeing if it's just
reacting to the computer or if it actually does detect sarcasm,"
she explained with a grin that caused Joanne to gulp nervously and
leaned a little farther back in her chair, "Nezumi, I need your

The rattata glanced up at his trainer with a skeptical look as she
pointed at the machine before turning to face it and sniffing the
air between them. "Ra, rattata?" he inquired, his tone causing one
of the little black needles on one of the dial to move to the half
way mark as the beeping sound became a little louder.

"It detects sarcasm," the courier chuckled in amusement,
affectionately scratching the little rodent between the ears,
"Just say something silly. Like one of your usual comments."

Nezumi gave a short laugh as he sat upon his haunches and waved
his forepaw dismissively. "Tatta," he assured, causing the machine
to react again as the rattata turned to face it and got

"What's he doing?" inquired Joanne a little nervously as Nezumi
stretched out a bit and preened his whiskers before clearing his
throat and seeming to focus his thoughts like some kind of
professional vocal performer.

"To Nezumi," explained Miranda with a sense of amused pride,
"Sarcasm is scalpel, not a bludgeon. To some, it's the lowest form
of humor, but to MY rattata, it's an art form!"

Nezumi glanced up at her with a sudden annoyed look, and waved the
courier close.

"Yes, dear?" the girl inquired with amusement, leaning in and
pressing her ear close to the pokemon's snout as he whispered a
series of quick, quite syllables, "Hm? Oh, yes, of course!"

Miranda giggled as she stood straighter and gave Joanne an amused
look. "The maestro would appreciate complete silence during the
performance," she explained as Nezumi nodded and returned to his
work, letting out a few quiet squeaks to ready his voice.

"I so don't need this," Joanne muttered, ignoring the rattata's
sudden glare as she watched TI-85's now shaking frame as she
hovered closer to the monitor, the blue stream of data becoming
darker with frustration.

At last, though, as the room quieted, save for the whirring of the
cooling fans and the beeps from the sarcasm-detecting machine,
Nezumi rose up upon his hind legs, his gleaming red eyes filled
with fiery determination. For a long moment the rodent stared
across the desk at the device. It's gleaming dials and
shimmering/blinking lights taunting him silently as Nezumi's
whiskers twitched with the passing of a breeze from the air ducts.
For a time, the tension mounted, the rattata's forepaws clenching
and unclenching as he focused his mind on his mechanical opponent,
readying himself for the greatest challenge of his life, steeling
himself against possible failure and then banishing such thoughts
from his mind.

But at last, the little creature took a deep breath, holding it in
his lungs as he rose his little forepaws into the air as though
about to give a proclamation to the masses. Then, with a small,
satisfied smile, the pokemon whispered but one single, quiet word
that seemed completely devoid of emotion, let alone sarcasm.


If the universe were truly birthed with but a single word,
Nezumi's was at least a small fragment of the one that could end
it. With a terrible flash of light, a loud, ear-splitting
screeching whine and a loud sound of out rushing air, the machine
that detected sarcasm exploded into a million tiny fragments that
flew in all directions from the small fireball that burst to life
upon Joanne's desk, showering the room with smoking bits of wires
and vacuum-tubes.

"You got him?!" came a happy exclamation through the black noxious
smoke that quickly filled the air.

"Wha-? What are you talking about?" coughed Joanne flinging her
hands about to dispel the fog.

"The ghost!" laughed Balthaza'ar Iago bursting into the room at
the sound of the explosion, "With that kind of ruckus you must
have caught it!"

"Nope, sorry," replied Miranda, taking off her glasses and wiping
off the dirty lenses on her shirt as the blurry image of Nezumi
smiled proudly up at her, his eyes filled with amusement.

"Then what was-?"

"Sorry, boss," Joanne muttered, shaking her head at the smoking
wreckage that was once her invention, "It was just Ms. Lilcamp's
rattata. He overloaded the sarcasm detector."

"What'd he say?" chuckled Iago looming closer as the smoke cleared
and the sound of a distant phone ringing came to life from the
other room.

"Rattata," explained Miranda with a shrug as a second phone began
to ring on one of the unoccupied desks.

"No, I mean what did he say?" inquired Iago as both he and Joanne
looked at the courier discerningly.

"I told you," Miranda replied as the vid-phone on the wall next to
Geoff began to ring as well, but the security guard seemed content
to ignore it as he continued to read his paper, seemingly
oblivious, "He said 'rattata'."

"No," insisted Joanne, flinging her hands down on her keyboard in
frustration, "He means, what did your verminous familiar say in
our terms. What's the translation?"

Miranda smiled down at Nezumi as she slid her glasses back on and
the little rodent chuckled merrily. "As I said," the courier
replied, scooping the pokemon up into her hand and holding him
close, "Nezumi said 'rattata'. That's it. That's all."

"He said his species name?" inquired Joanne, her pale blue eyes
going wide as the scientist twitched a little at the sight of both
the courier and her rattata nodding in unison agreement.

"Rattata," they both agreed to Iago's amusement.

"Oh I give up!" muttered Joanne, shaking her head and turned back
to the hopeless case she called her computer as several more
phones came to life, ringing incessantly and ever more loudly.

"Um, you, whatever your name is," ordered Iago as he turned to
leave, waving his hand dismissively in the security guard's
direction, "Would you mind getting that?"

Geoff threw down his newspaper in frustration as he hauled himself
up off the chair, his bones creaking just a little. "Oh, alright,"
he muttered walking over to one of the workstations and snatching
up the phone, "Hello?"

Miranda turned as the tall, thin man went silent, his expression
paling as he eyes widened. "What is it?" she asked, breaking
whatever trance Geoff had gone into.

"It, it's for you," he replied in the strange silence that
overtook the room as soon as he'd answered the phone.

The courier gave him a suspicious look as she put Nezumi upon her
shoulder and walked across the gleaming white tiled floor to where
the security guard stood with a shocked expression upon his face.
When Miranda held out her hand to him, Geoff dropped the phone
into her palm and fell back into a swivel chair, staring blankly
out at nothing.

"Yes?" the courier inquired, turning back the way she had come to
where Joanne was hitting keys at random, trying to unsuccessfully
disengage the screensaver to no avail.

The phone was silent for half a heartbeat; all except for the
omnipresent mild crackling static on the line that showed it was
connected. But as the courier glared and was about to hang up, a
voice came on the line. A voice whose tone spoke of malevolent
humor as its giggling, cackling words issued loudly from the
receiver. "You're next!"

Miranda's stormy gray eyes widened for a moment as they cast about
the room, catching sight of all the flat-screen monitors that
faced her. Each and every single one with the same, block-letter
screensaver. Each with the same phrase bouncing, rebounding and
slowly shifting about. "You're next!"

"Okay, this is getting a little too weird," the courier muttered,
glancing at Geoff who was finally shaking his head to clear his
mind. "How long's it gonna take to purge your system?" she asked
Joanne, walking back towards the relative sanity of the
scientist's desk.

"I'm not sure-" the woman began, her sentence cut short by the
sudden high-pitched whine that issued from TI-85 as the metallic
pokemon broke the connection and flew backwards across the room,
spinning and shooting sparks before crashing into the far wall.

"Ti!" Joanne exclaimed, leaping out of her chair as her monitor
cracked, shattered, and all but exploded behind her.

"What'd it do?!" exclaimed Geoff as Miranda ran to meet Joanne as
the magnemite rattled around on the floor, vibrating violently and
making a long series of wavering exclamations of pain.

"The ghost must have caused a power surge," muttered Joanne,
bending down to pick TI-85 up and held the strange creature close
to her chest, "She must have pulled away at the last second..."

"She'll live, right?" Miranda inquired, standing by Joanne's side
and placing a reassuring hand upon the woman's shoulder.

The scientist nodded, returning TI-85 to her pokeball before
standing up and shaking her head slowly. "Look," said Joanne
carefully, "if you want, I'll show you the way out. This isn't
your fight-"

"No," interrupted Miranda, shaking her head slowly and causing
Joanne to take pause, "I'm in. Your people nabbed this ghost from
my hometown, so it's both our problems. Besides, you guys don't
seem to know all the tricks necessary for handling ghosts."

Joanne smiled, micronizing the pokeball back into storage mode and
waving Geoff over. "Okay, then," she explained in a more confident
tone, "With the terminals on this level down, we're going to have
to access the mainframe directly. Once there, I'll try to flush
the ghost out again. But I'll need one of you ready to nab it."

Geoff gave a short laugh and quickly looked away, seemingly taking
an interest in the suddenly flickering florescent lights along the
tile ceiling as Professor Kipp pulled out a black and gray

"I'll do it," Miranda replied with a shrug, accepting the ball
with a displeased glance at the security guard, "but it'll take me
a few minutes to bypass the imprint codes-"

"No, no," assured Joanne, waving her hand dismissively as she
walked back towards Iago's office, "We did that already incase
there was an emergency. That way anyone can 'return' it. Now just
hold on, I have to inform the boss about our plans."

"It's dangerous to mess with the imprint codes on these things,
though," Miranda muttered, shaking her head again and pushing her
glasses back up her nose, "It means any moron can just go off and
walk away with your poke'."

"Yeah, but controlling it's a different story," added Geoff,
rolling his eyes in dismay, "Ya'd think with all the tens of
thousands of cred' this company puts into all their projects,
they'd be able to plan ahead a little. Especially when dealing
with a freakin' ghost! Aw well, good luck catching it, kid."

"It's a 'he'," Miranda replied smugly, ignoring the 'kid' remark
as Nezumi chuckled and resisted the urge to make fun of her.

"Huh? How can you tell?" inquired Geoff skeptically.

"Oh, a ghost looked after me a lot when I was a child. My aunt and
uncle were always a tad 'busy'," Miranda chuckled with a smile as
the door to Iago's office swished open once more.

"Okay, all done, let's get going," said an optimistic sounding
voice from across the room briskly, "We've got a lot to do, so
we'd best get started." But as the courier glanced up, expecting
to see Professor Joanne Kipp, she was surprised to find someone
similar, but different standing in the doorway.

"I- Err, um-?!" Miranda stammered as a tall man in a lab coat over
the suit he wore entered the room and tied his shoulder-length
light brown hair back into a short ponytail.

"What?" inquired Geoff, giving the courier a confused look, "There
a problem?"

"Well, kinda," the girl admitted as Nezumi leaned forward an
sniffed the air between his trainer and the strange, bespectacled
scientist, "I was kinda expecting Professor Kipp to be coming with

"Kipp?" the man inquired with a start, giving Miranda a discerning
look over the top of his glasses, "But... I'm Professor Kipp. You
can just call me Rob, though. Anyway, shall we be off?"

"Now hold on a sec," the young courier interrupted in mild
aggravation, holding up her hands to stem any argument, "Firstly,
where's the Professor Kipp we were talking to a moment ago? And

"Tatta," interrupted Nezumi with a chuckle.

"What?!" the courier demanded, turning her head to look down at
the rodent upon her shoulder as Rob tried to keep from laughing
and Geoff just rolled his eyes in dismay again, "You can't be

Nezumi simply grinned toothily and nodded slowly in satisfaction.

"You mean-?"


Miranda turned to the scientist and walked towards him
skeptically. "You're sure?" she inquired, lifting her glasses and
looking up into Rob's pale blue eyes.

Nezumi sighed heavily as Professor Kipp grinned broadly and held
up the clipboard he was carrying. "Okay," he said in a more
business-like tone, "The mainframe's locked away in the basement,
but with everything else that's been going on we're probably gonna
have a few problems getting down there."

"You're 'her', aren't you?" Miranda inquired, tilting her head to
one side curiously.

"Oh, and Geoff, I will need you to come along as well. We don't
currently know how many levels of the building the software's
infected, and some of the non-Sylph offices on the lower levels
may not be as accepting of my explanations."

"But, why-?"

"The tazers?" inquired the security guard, accessing a hidden
panel in the wall without waiting for a response.

"Um, hello!" exclaimed Miranda exasperatedly.

"Oh, sorry, you had something to add?" inquired Rob, catching the
long metal rod-like device that was tossed to him by Geoff.

Miranda sighed heavily, shaking her head as she waved away the
offered tazer. "Never mind," she replied defeatedly, "Maybe it's
better that I don't ask."

Rob merely smiled as he activated his tazer, causing the tri-prong
end to light up with a bright blue triangle of focused elections
that hummed pleasantly. "Very well then, shall we be off...?"


"So, Nezumi was able to tell that Professor Kipp was a cross-
dresser, then?" inquired Bob, leaning back in his chair as the
computer behind him made an unpleasant grinding noise that he
chose to ignore, "By his/her scent, I take it?"

Miranda smiled in reply, soliciting an eerie chuckle from the
haunter in her lap. "Oh, I guess that's technically true," the
courier chuckled, her stormy gray eyes filled with distant humor.

"Technically?" her stepfather inquired.

Miranda blushed lightly, smiling like the mother of an amusing but
mischievous child. "Well, Nezumi didn't actually call Professor
Kipp a 'cross-dresser'."


The courier shook her head, glancing out the door and wondering
how much longer her beloved's Gym Challenge was going to take.
"No, what he actually called her was a 'bean-picker'."

Her stepfather blinked loudly, suddenly feeling dreadfully
inadequate a man for not being able to decipher a simple rattata's

"Oh, it was something he picked up that first time we were in
Celadon," said Miranda quietly, speaking the words as though they
might cause her to burst into flames of embarrassment, and
speaking the name of the city's Gym Leader with equal caution, "It
was because of something one of Erika's assistants said when they
insisted on doing my hair and all that."

"I heard the one girl had to wear her arm in a sling for two
weeks," agreed Bob with a nod, glancing at the perpetual wavy
tangles his stepdaughter's hair grew into.

Miranda nodded. "Yeah, but it was more to do with that outfit they
made me wear," she explained cautiously, desperate to avoid the
subject and return to her story, "One of them, her English wasn't
very good, said that I looked like a 'first-time bean picker'
because I looked so uncomfortable in that silly kimono they made
me wear."

"I'm sure it looked very nice."

Miranda shrugged. "Anyway, in Japanese 'bean-picker' is a very
similar word in to 'cross-dresser' in some fashion," she explained
with a smile, "I think it's the pronunciation or maybe the kanji's
similar or something. But still, I'm proud of him for remembering!
Anywhen, where was I? Oh, yes. Well, when Kipp lead us down to the
next couple of levels the power went out again, and..."


The red emergency lighting system cast an unpleasant crimson glow
upon the gray plas-crete walls of the emergency stairwell as the
metal steps clanged dully under their collective feet, taking the
group down only five levels before encountering a problem.

"It's sealed our section off," explained Rob as the stairwell down
to the next level was blocked by a set of thick tri-tanium doors
that slid out of the walls to seal off the top five Sylph Co.
controlled floors of the building incase of a problem, "We're
going to have to find another way down."

"Can't you bypass them?" inquired Miranda, staring down at the
imposing metal 'floor' that began after the last step, and had the
words "Gate 3" written in large white letters across it.

Rob shook his head in dismay as the words slowly began to
seemingly 'melt' as they watched. "No," he said slowly as the
painted words slowly bled into one massive puddle of white goo,
"Not from here. I'll need to open them manually from elsewhere."

'Good thing then that she's a 'man' right now,' chuckled Nezumi in
pokespeak, only to be ignored completely as the puddle of white
goo oozed once more, spreading out across the joined metal plates
to form the words, "You're Next!"

Miranda glanced at the rattata on her shoulder and smirked,
missing how pale Geoff's face became as the words morphed. "Where
about's is the override?" she inquired of Rob who was already
heading through the closest door and into the first level of the
purely Sylph Co owned office space.

"It's not far," he replied, glancing about before motioning for
the others to follow, "We'll need to tear up a few floor tiles to
get at it, though."

"Were you expecting an attack or something?" the courier inquired,
causing Geoff to blink and turn away from the words.

"Naw. Well, not from the outside anyway," the security guard
explained as they followed Rob into a room that took up the entire
floor, but was dominated by a perfectly square wall of intricately
connected cubicles.

Miranda merely nodded, noting the heavy tri-tanium shutters that
had rolled down to block all light from the windows that encircled
the room. "Seems pretty quiet," she commented in a low tone as Rob
activated his tazer and crept cautiously forward, "Think everyone
got out okay?"

Professor Kipp gave a small shrug as they walked along the outer
edge of the huge beige square formed by the cubicle walls, the
room seeming deafly silent save for their footsteps upon the
polished tiles of the floor. "Can't say for sure," he replied,
raising his hand to stop the others as the trio came to the
opening across from the elevators, "But I figure the people on
this level got out okay at the very least."

Rob glanced back at Geoff and raised his tazer, causing the
security guard to roll his eyes and shuffle past Miranda. "On
three," the scientist whispered, causing Miranda to smile and
shake her head in dismay, "One, two-"

"Hey, wait a sec," interrupted Geoff much too loudly, "Do we go in
on three, or just after?"

"Oh get over it," the courier muttered, stepping past both men and
walking into the short hallway between the seven-foot high walls,
"A tazer's not gonna hurt a ghost anyway."

"It's not?" pouted Rob.

"It'll tickle," Miranda replied with a shrug, glancing into two
open cubicles before moving on and taking a left at the cubicle
crossroads she came to, "A tazer's designed to affect the nervous
system of a living thing, right? It's meant to stun them by
messing with their natural electrical systems."

"Yeah, so?" inquired Geoff, holstering his tazer and following the
girl into what soon became a strange hedge-maze variant.

"So, a ghost lacks a central nervous system," continued the
courier as Rob walked behind Geoff, desperately resisting the urge
to tazer the security guard just for fun, "You'll do a little
damage but nothing that it'll really notice. I'm afraid you'd need
to switch them to a more lethal setting to make the tazers

"I can do that!" said Rob with a grin as Miranda stopped,
contemplating the four-way intersection she'd come to, "Oh, take a
right here, miss."

The courier nodded, her hand suddenly clutching the hilt of her
wooden bokken as a muffled sound several cubicle entrances in the
wrong direction caught her attention. "Hold on," Miranda
whispered, slipping her sword free and creeping along towards the

"That won't help you much either then," muttered Geoff as Rob
paused and glanced in the direction he'd indicated.

"Um, it's-"

"Shh!" came Miranda's response as she suddenly pressed her back
against the thin beige wall and listened carefully, the blade of
her wooden weapon held straight up in both hands, "Listen."

The two remained quiet for a moment, listening to the faint
whimpering coming from close by. "Hop up and take a look," the
courier whispered to Nezumi who nodded and quickly clamored up the
rough texture of the wall.

Once at the top, the rattata glanced around inside the small
office space, inhaling the scent of the human that wasted his life
away working in the cramped, doorless prison, his whiskers
twitching in response to the perpetual breeze from the air-ducts,
but failing to spot any occupants.

'Sorry, Boss Lady,' Nezumi whispered in pokespeak, shaking his
head in dismay at the half-eaten, but by now stale donut on the
desk, 'There ain't nobody home.'

"We must have the wrong one," the courier explained, reaching up
and taking the rattata in her hand before leading the way down the
aisle, "we must be close to it, though."

"But, um, the override-" stammered Rob, glancing back down the way
he'd directed, only to have Miranda and Geoff make a right turn
and disappear. "Hey!" he exclaimed as the air became still and
devoid of sound once more, "Wait for me!"

As Professor Kipp rounded the corner, he caught a glimpse of Geoff
taking a left down yet another passageway. "Hey!" the scientist
hissed in a harsh whisper, chasing after the fleeing security
guard, "Would ya wait up already!"

But as Rob rounded the second turn, he found the long hallway
devoid of life, empty except for the several dozen openings onto
cubicles. "Guys?" he inquired a little nervously, creeping forward
cautiously as he unscrewed his tazer at the center joint, "Where
are you? Would ya come out already, this isn't funny!"

But as he slid the casing back on the metal rod, revealing a mess
of wires and odd circuitry, Professor Kipp happened to glance back
the way he had come. "What the-?!" the scientist exclaimed, nearly
dropping his tazer as the scientist spotted the wall that now
blocked the way he had come.

"Oh, this is NOT funny," he grumbled, pulling out a small Phillips
screwdriver and making a few fine adjustments to his weapon before
sliding the casing back in place and giving it a quick test run.

The tazer flared as Rob hit the switch, sending an arc of
electricity a meter or so long before grounding out into the floor
and searing the ugly gray carpeting down to the linoleum.
"Alright!" he called out loudly, holding up the weapon and
glancing around, "Who wants some?!"

With that, a horrible grinding noise issued from one of the
cubicles, causing a look of horror to spread across Rob's face.
"No..." he whispered, recognizing the sound almost instantly and
running into the closed office before staring in horror at the
computer monitor.

"No... No, it can't be..." the stricken scientist repeated,
rushing off into the next, and the next, only to find the same
result. The same words printed neatly at the bottom of every
screen he checked. Every computer the scientist came to had
dropped down into DOS, and the words "C:\>Format C:\" were all
followed by "C:\>Y" and accompanied by the horrific grinding of
hard-drives self-destructing, sacrificing all their data to the
eternal void.

"No!" the scientist shrieked, running to the console and
desperately banging the keys ineffectually, "That was my thesis on
the kingdom Inanimae! And now it's gone!"

Just then, another computer's hard drive began to grind, causing a
look of horror to cross Rob's face as he ran across the way and
into the next cubicle in time to see the same words at the bottom
of a black screen.

"Noooo!" he exclaimed, grabbing hold of his hair with both hands
as several other computers began to format C:\ in unison, "Not my
Swiss bank account!"

Rob ran out into the hallway again, barely taking the time to poke
his head into each cubicle as his personal horror mounted. "Ack!
All my saved games!" he exclaimed, rushing about in a blind panic,
"No! Not the last ten years of e-mail correspondences that I've
been saving for no apparently good reason! And... No! It can't be!
Not my entire hentai collection! Noooo!!!"


Bob raised an eyebrow.

"What?" his stepdaughter laughed, causing Wraith to smirk and
suppress a chuckle.

"Go on," the man sighed, leaning back in his swivel chair and
smiling paternally.

"Anyway," continued Miranda, "As I was saying..."


Geoff turned as Rob's scream of denial filled the expansive,
cubicle-infested room, bouncing off the many flimsy walls of five
hundred some odd Sylph Co worker's willing encumberie.

"Rob?!" the security guard inquired, holding his tazer before him
and rushing off suddenly in the direction they had come, "Rob,
guy! Where are ya?!"

The scientist's scream came again, and this time Geoff turned
around to make sure the courier was following him. "Oh, well now
that's just great," the security guard muttered dryly, not the
least bit surprised to find his passage blocked by a beige cubicle

"They really don't pay me enough for this," he muttered bitterly,
turning back around and jogging off towards the sound, taking a
right at the first intersection before suddenly finding himself in
one of the large cubicles the middle management used.

"Rob?" he inquired, skeptically, walking across the thinly
carpeted floor as he scanned the room, making his way towards the
peculiar wet slapping sound that filled the air, "If that's you
man, you better tell me now, 'cause I'm tazering the first person
I see!"

But the only response was the strange wet slapping sound, only
made worse by the dim red radiance of the emergency lighting
system, and the sudden gasping, gurgling sound that Geoff now
realized was coming from the chair in front of the desk.

"Oh, man," the security guard muttered to himself as he grabbed
the back of the chair and pulled it away from the desk, "I'm sooo
gonna regret this..."

And as he turned the chair back around and looked at what was
lying upon it, flopping about in an obscene parody of
helplessness, Geoff did regret it. "No..." he gasped, taking a
step back from the large blind albino cave fish that lay across
the chair, "Oh man why...? Why does it always have to be fish?!"

With that, the Anoptichthys jordani tilted its eyeless head up
towards the man, its wide, razor sharp tooth filled mouth opening
wide as it suddenly spoke. "Explain THIS security guard class four
Geoff!" the fish demanded, its tail flipping impatiently.

"It- It's a fish-!" stammered Geoff, dropping his tazer and taking
a few frightened steps backward.

"I know it's a fish!" the sightless, albino cave dweller
reiterated in a deeply annoyed tone, "I said explain it!!!"


"What?" inquired Miranda as Bob coughed into his hand.

"Oh. Nothing..."


Miranda glanced over her shoulder at the sound of the two
screaming Sylph Co. employees, and gulped loudly as she realized
that she'd somehow managed to leave them both behind.

'Oh, man...' muttered Nezumi, shaking his head at the cacophony of

"Don't tell me," the courier replied, shivering as she carefully
leaned to one side and glanced into the nearest cubicle, "We're
all gonna die, right?"

'Well, they might...' the pokemon replied leaning with Miranda,
his nose twitching as he caught the scent of another human. 'Hey,
looks like we got a live one here,' the rattata squeaked quietly
as Miranda nodded slowly.

"It's probably one of the people from the higher levels who didn't
quite make it out," she whispered quietly, not wanting to alarm
the huddled figure in a lab coat they spotted cowering under the

Nezumi nodded in agreement, clinging more tightly to the shoulder
of Miranda's courier jacket as the girl stepped carefully into the
doorway and walked slowly forward across the dull gray expanse of
thin carpet.

"Excuse me?" she called in a sweetly maternal tone, "Are you

The huddled figure made a pained noise as it shuffled itself
farther into the shadows, kicking the wall of the cubicle with a
dull thud as it moved. For a second, the courier caught a glimpse
of a haggard looking face before an emaciated hand reached out and
pulled the chair in closer to protect itself from the outside

"It's alright," assured Miranda with a small smile, crouching down
to place her wooden sword upon the carpet before taking a few
steps forward, "I'm here to take care of the ghost. That's what
you're hiding from right? The gastly you guys brought in?"

The thing under the desk gave a surprised exclamation, and soon
Miranda could see a pair of wide eyes staring out at her from the
darkness. "M-Miri?" came the pained sounding tone, "I-Is it really

The courier blinked, glancing at Nezumi whose eyes narrowed as he
sniffed the distance between them. 'Fang Face nailed him with
nightshade,' the rattata muttered, 'And he ain't in good shape.'

Miranda nodded, kneeling a short distance away and leaning forward
to peer into the darkness. "How do you know that name?" she
inquired suspiciously, her heart thudding harder in her chest as
Miranda thought she recognized the man's voice.

"Miri..." came the pained reply, followed by a dry, hacking cough
as the chair was forced out of the way with a pained grunt,
"Please, I- I've been hurt..."

The courier shook her head, refusing to believe what her mind
desperately tried to tell her. "You're an illusion, aren't you?"
the girl accused through gritted teeth as she bowed her head and
squeezed her eyes tightly closed, "You're nothing more than the
gastly trying to mess with my mind."

"No..." the man replied as a shaking hand touched her shoulder
lightly, its grip as weak as a newborn's, "Miri, it- it's me. It
really is."

Nezumi glanced at her with befuddlement as Miranda opened her
eyes, desperately wanting to accept the illusion for real as the
courier looked into the cloudy gray depths of the man's eyes and
saw a wounded vision of her father staring almost happily back at

"I- I hate you," she told the man in a shaky tone as tears welled
up in her eyes.

"Miri," the illusion of her father whispered paternally, his warm
smile marred only by the emaciated look of his face as his shaking
hand reached up and touched the courier's cheek with cool, dry
fingers, "how can you say that to your own father?"

Miranda smiled weakly, her body shaking as she shook her head
slowly. "You- You're just an image pulled from my mind," she
whispered, sniffling and pushing up her glasses to wipe away a
tear, "you're just an illusion sent here to distract me."

"Shh..." her father whispered, wincing as he shuffled forward on
his knees and put his arms around Miranda, "It's alright now,
dear. You can stay here with me now. It'll be just like it used to

The courier felt her heart ache painfully as she simply threw her
arms around him and found herself crying against his shoulder.
"You're not real... You're not real..." she sobbed, shaking all
over and knowing that she should simply leave, yet not finding the
strength to do so.

"I'm as real as you want me to be," Nicholas replied, his voice
sounding a little more pained before a hacking cough overcame him
for a moment, causing Miranda to hold him closer until the fit had
passed. "Th-thank you," he managed as his daughter pulled away and
looked into his eyes.

"Is, is there anything I can do?" Miranda asked, her tone sounding
almost helpless as she became lost in the illusion, unable to find
the strength to disbelieve.

Her father smiled, the crimson glow of the emergency lights above
their heads dimming as the air grew cold. "There is one thing..."
he chuckled, sprouting long sharp fangs as somewhere in the
distance Miranda could hear the sound of a panicked chittering in
her ear. As though some kind of rodent were screaming something at

"D-daddy?" the girl stammered, pulling away and stumbling
backwards as the man's eyes blazed suddenly red and long black
claws sprouted from his fingertips, tearing painfully from beneath
the skin, "Wha- What are you-?!"

"I'll swallow your soul!" her father laughed as a sudden blur of
purple streaked out of nowhere, leaping at the illusion's throat.

'Swallow this!' Nezumi exclaimed as his oddly gleaming fangs sank
into the man's throat and black dust erupted from the wound like a
partially plugged geyser as Miranda's hand fell upon the hilt of
something hard and reassuring.

"Dreck!" the courier exclaimed, suddenly remembering where she was
and thankful for her habit of placing the business end of her
wooden blade forward whenever she put it down as she grabbed it up
and jabbed the bokken forward with all her might.

The illusion howled in seeming pain as the curved wooden blade
passed through his chest as though it were made of straw, spewing
more black dust as he clutched at the weapon with both hands.

"M-Miri-!" the man stammered in seeming shock as he looked
pleadingly into Miranda's eyes, "How-? How could you do this to
your own father?!"

"You!" the courier growled, taking the sword hilt in both hands
and twisting it with a grunt, "Are NOT my Father!"

The room filled with an awful laughter that seemed to come from
the intercom system as the illusion exploded outwards in a hail of
gritty black dust which quickly dissipated, causing Miranda to
fall forward as Nezumi dropped to the floor with a piece of chewed
up paper in his teeth.

"This ghost doesn't fight fair," the courier muttered, chastising
herself before wiping the tears from her eyes and glanced down at
Nezumi as he spat out the paper, "Good thing we don't either."

The rattata gave a smug grin as the girl scratched him
affectionately between the ears. "Oh, and thank you, dear," she
said with a small smile before picking up the note, "it's good to
have you watching my back."

'Eh, ain't no problemo, Boss Lady,' Nezumi replied with a shrug as
Miranda unraveled the note and tried to ignore the saliva.

"I thought as much," the courier sighed heavily a moment later.

'What's it say?' the rodent inquired suspiciously, tilting his
head to one side as Miranda gave him a bit of a smirk.

"What else?" she replied rhetorically, crumpling up and tossing
the note over her shoulder, "It says is 'You're next!'..."


Joanne rounded the corner; her pulse racing as the sounds of
computer hard drives dying faded in the distance. "I, I've got to
get to the center," she panted, leaning against the surprisingly
sturdy fabric wall and reaching for TI-85's ball, "It, it's the
only way."

The pokeball made rattling clunking noise as it opened and the
magnemite that materialized before the scientist didn't look
terribly happy. With a pained sound that caused sparks to fly off
of her, TI-85 cast a wary glance at her trainer as she hovered
unsteadily before the woman and dropped slightly before struggling
to maintain altitude.

"I'm sorry," said Joanne sympathetically, her fingers gently
caressing the small metal orb and giving Ti a worried look, "But I
really need to get to the manual override for the blast-doors, and
this ghost isn't making it easy on me."

Ti nodded slowly, shaking as another spark fired off her left-hand
magnet before making a quiet humming sound and projecting a soft
blue light from her eye, which formed into a simple two-
dimensional map. A second later, and a large red circle appeared
half way to the center, showing Joanne's position.

"But some of this map isn't accurate anymore," commented Joanne,
pointing to the a corridor that should have been to her right, but
wasn't, "Do you have anyway of adjusting the map to make it

The magnemite shuddered a little in the attempt to make its
magnets twist slightly in a shrug before altering the immediate
area of her map to match their surroundings.

"For the rest of the maze, try using a fractal algorithm to
predict what other changes the ghost may have made," continued
Joanne, rubbing her chin thoughtfully as the magnemite
concentrated, and found that the process had a calming effect on
her frayed nerves, "Assume that it IS possible to reach the
center, but the ghost just isn't making it easy."

TI-85 nodded and lost a little altitude as the map flickered out
and a pattern of rising ones, zeros and the occasional two spread
out across her eye, making random beeping and clicking noises as
she computated.

A minute later, and the map reappeared before her, this time,
though, the walls and passages that were different glowed green.
"Good work, Ti," said Joanne with a smile, patting the magnemite
on the head as some of the green corridors became rooms or became
dead ends as new passages opened, "There should be some emergency
stim's at the center as well, so I'll open those doors after I
help you affect repairs."

The magnemite made a weak but thankful sound, her internal
circuitry making an unpleasant, high-pitched whine as Ti moved
forward to follow the scientist down a hallway that shouldn't have
been there...


Geoff staggered down the long, seemingly endless hallway, his
tazer flickering in the dim light as the security guard's nervous
fingers rested against the activation switch, pressing it just
enough to cause the device to spark. As he moved, Geoff's dark
eyes scanned the seamless expanse of beige, hoping desperately for
a side passage, or a doorway into a cubicle. But after what felt
like forever, not one appeared to him.

"Oh, this is ridiculous," the security guard muttered, finally
stopping and glaring at the thin wall to his right as he raised
his fist, "I'll just take the easy route."

With that, Geoff smashed his fist into the wall, only to gasp and
bite off a curse as pain shot up the man's arm. "What is this
thing made of?!" he demanded, dropping his tazer and holding his
fist before giving the wall a kick, and promptly finding himself
hopping up and down on one foot with what felt like a broken toe.

"Must be a desk or something behind it," the security guard
muttered, glaring at the other side of the corridor before taking
a deep breath and running towards it.

To Geoff's infinite surprise, the wall easily gave way as his
shoulder ploughed into it. With a short-lived cry of success, he
watched a portion of the wall fall away before gripping onto the
sides of the entrance he'd created.

"What the-?!" Geoff gasped, staring down into the black, empty
void beyond the wall, watching in abject horror as the section
plummeted, spiraling out of sight into and oblivion.

"Oh man..." the security guard muttered, pushing himself away from
the brink and taking a few steps down the hall before turning
around and reaching up to grasp the top of the opposite wall.

With a grunt, he hauled himself off his feet and looked down,
expecting to see another endless void, but hoping to find an
empty, normal looking cubical. Instead, Geoff found an endless
landscape that moved off in all directions and was bordered only
by the wall that disappeared at either horizon. But it was what
covered the unending expanse of ground that caused Geoff to cry
out before letting go and landing in a heap safely back in the
hallway a second later.

For spread out across what was surly a barren plane were billions
of fish, arranged in mountainous piles that flopped about wetly,
each chanting, "Explain this! Explain this!"

Geoff closed his eyes for a moment, his breathing becoming labored
as he realized he'd lost his tazer. "Just great," he muttered,
staggering to his feet before noticing a strange sound of what
seemed to be stone sliding over stone.

It only took the security guard a few seconds to realize, however,
that the noise came from the walls of the corridor, and that they
were slowly moving towards one another.

"That's it!" Geoff told himself before breaking out into a run,
speeding down the constantly narrowing passageway and regretting
the half dozen donuts he'd had for breakfast, "I am sooo quitting
this job if I live through this...!"


Miranda walked slowly down the passageway, her eyes closed and
concentrating on little more than the sound of Nezumi's voice and
keeping her emotions in check. 'Away from me,' the rattata
whispered a little nervously, his eyes squeezed tightly closed
against further illusions as his other senses guided them through
the maze as the steady breeze from the air ducts bounced off the
walls and vibrated Nezumi's whiskers in just the right way to let
him know where he was going, 'don't stop. Move forward.'

"You're sure you're leading us in the right direction, dear?" the
courier inquired, trying to keep mental track of their lefts and
rights to make sure they weren't simply walking in circles.

'Eh, I'm a rat,' Nezumi chuckled with a shrug, 'we've got a thing
for mazes. Oh, towards me here.'

Miranda made a right turn and flinched as she felt herself pass
through something cold and wet before entering an area where her
shoes left the dull gray carpet and fell upon black and white
squares of linoleum.

'Here!' he squeaked, opening his eyes and casting about the
spacious room, 'I think I've found it!'

Miranda smiled as she opened her eyes, giving a laugh as Nezumi
leaped off her shoulder and landed on one of the tables that
filled the small, crowded lunch room. With a victorious
exclamation, the rattata slid across the smooth surface and jumped
atop a half eaten cheese sandwich before devouring it greedily.

"I should have known," the courier chuckled as she walked past
him, examining the three other entranceways and pondering the
logic of having a lunchroom at the center of a maze of cubicles.

"Only at Sylph Co," she muttered as the sound of hurried footsteps
and panting caught her attention. "Nezumi," the courier hissed,
raising her weapon as the rattata rose up upon his haunches, still
chewing a mouthful of sandwich.

'I'mf omf iff, Boff Laffy!' Nezumi replied, desperately trying to
dislodge the processed cheese from between his teeth.

Miranda nodded as she noticed the walls of one of the passages
slowly coming together, accompanied by the sound of grinding
stone. "He's trying to trap up," she said rhetorically, glancing
around at the other exits to see what shtick the ghost was using
on the other passages to imprison them, but was surprised to find
them clear of obstructions.

A moment later, and the cacophony of running feet, panting and
grinding stone was accompanied by the sound of a long, drawn out
scream as Geoff the security guard came barreling out of the
corridor and into the lunchroom just as the walls slammed closed
behind him. Undaunted by his successful escape from the jaws of
death, however, the man continued to run across the floor, blindly
screaming louder as he ploughed into a table before flipping over
it and crashing into another.

"Geoff!" exclaimed Miranda, spinning her bokken over her hand and
sheathing it before running to the security guard's aid as he
flailed his arms and legs helplessly, cursing bitterly in every
language he could think of, "Hold on! You've made it! You're

Geoff slowly opened his eyes and caught a glimpse of the girl who
was even now leaning over him with a concerned look in her stormy
gray eyes. "You..." he stammered, struggling a bit before a sudden
pain shot up his leg and it refused to move, "You're one of 'them'
aren't you?!"

"What? I-" began Miranda as Geoff scrambled about, his hands
checking his pockets as the security guard seemed to become more
and more panicked.

"Hey, where's my tazer?!" he exclaimed as Miranda stood up
straighter and shook her head in dismay, "Dreck! I dropped my
freakin' tazer!"

"Oh, calm down already," the courier told him, placing her hands
upon her hips and doing her best impression of her mother, "I'm
not one of his illusions. I'm the real thing."

"Him?!" demanded Geoff, looking back up at Miranda with panicked
suspicion, "How do you know it's a him? You must be one of its
illusions! You're just trying to lull me into a false sense of
security. That's you plan, ain't it?"

"Look," Miranda told him, bending at the knees and moving the
table off Geoff's injured leg, "even if I was an illusion, this
broken leg isn't. Now just lie still and try not to think about

"Oh sure," the security guard muttered, wincing as Miranda
carefully lifted his leg and unbent it before laying it carefully
down upon the floor, "You'll get me all comfortable and then drink
all my blood or something!"

Miranda sighed heavily, feeling exasperated. "Why is it," the girl
half-demanded as she glanced sternly back at Geoff, "That everyone
seems to believe that gastlies drink blood? Is it the fangs? Cause
if it is, you people are way off. I mean, a ghost doesn't even
have a stomach for crying out loud! And even if they did, they
still wouldn't be hemovores! They, they're..."

Geoff raised an eyebrow as Miranda took off her backpack and dug
out her pokedex. "You seem to know a lot about ghosts for someone
who isn't one," the security guard replied suspiciously, causing
Miranda to glower back at him as she hit a few buttons in rapid

"Empavores," the courier said aloud in response, closing her 'dex
with a satisfying click, "They feed off emotions. Not vitae. Now,
as for why I know all these things about ghosts, it's because I've
heard this stuff since I was little. I'm from Lavender. If you
don't know at least a little bit about ghosts, you shouldn't be
living there at all. You'll probably do something stupid like go
into the Tower or something..."

Just then, the sound of expensive shoes on linoleum and electrical
sparks flying into the air caught Miranda's attention. Almost on
instinct, the courier spun around on one foot as she drew her
bokken, standing as it spun once before taking it in both hands.

"R-Rob?!" the courier inquired with some surprise, lowering her
weapon slightly as the scientist entered the room, using both
hands to hold up TI-85 and flinching every time sparks flew up off
it the magnemite.

"The one and only," the scientist replied through gritted teeth as
she carefully placed Ti down on the table where Nezumi was just
finishing his sandwich before noticing the security guard.

"Oh! Is he okay?" Rob inquired with a sudden burst of sympathy as
he quickly rushed to the man's side.

"Ahh!" Geoff exclaimed, flailing his arms again, "It's another
one! You're all out to get me!"

"Yeah, he's okay," Miranda chuckled as for the first time she
noticed that the pattern of squares on the floor wasn't perfect.
At the center of the room, four black squares met and seemed to
have a different sheen to them in the emergency lighting.

"I'll get a stim, then," Rob replied, glancing back at Geoff as he
walked quickly over to the four squares and knelt down beside
them. "Hm, now if I can just remember how to open this thing..."
he muttered, reaching into his lab-coat and pulling out a thin
metal tube.

"Looks like a pressure gage," Miranda commented, glancing
curiously at the device as Rob pushed a small button upon its
silvery surface, causing the item to make a curious humming sound.

"That's just what I want people to think," the scientist chuckled
as he traced the intersecting lines that joined the squares,
"Keeps me from having to explain how I made it or where I got it."

With that, a soft click issued forth, and the four squares sunk
slightly before parting and sliding seamlessly into the rest of
the floor, revealing a large square hole at the center of the

"So what is it?" Miranda inquired as Rob lifted out the med-kit he
found attached to the short metal wall within.

"This is where the override for the blast doors is," the scientist
replied smoothly, indicating the large metal wheel at the bottom
of the pit, "We have to yank it up a bit first, though."

"No, I mean the device," persisted Miranda as Rob opened the small
white box and pulled out two stubby cylinders with spray nozzles
at their ends before carefully checking the labels.

"Huh?" he inquired, standing up and walking over to Geoff, "I'm
sorry, did you say something, Miss?"

"Dang right I did," the courier muttered, walking past Rob and
giving Nezumi a secret smile as her hand slipped unnoticed into
the man's pocket before taking a seat at the table with her
rattata and TI-85.

"Just hold still," said Rob, kneeling down beside Geoff as the
security guard cringed, "This won't hurt a bit."

"Oh sure, that's what they all say!" Geoff muttered, cringing as
Rob pushed his pant leg up enough to expose his ankle, which was
already turning blue, "Next you'll be saying 'don't worry this'll
only hurt for a moment.' Or 'why are you screaming and crying?
This doesn't hurt THAT much!'"

"You had your wisdom teeth out, didn't you?" chuckled Rob, hitting
the top of the nozzle and spraying out sustained burst of
something clear, wet and cool against Geoff's leg.

"Yeah? What's it to ya?" the security guard replied suspiciously
as his entire leg went numb, the nanites going quickly about their
work even as Rob emptied the remainder of the canister.

"Oh, nothing," the scientist said offhandedly as he stood back up
and readied the second stimpack before noticing the smile on
Miranda's face as she held up the curious device he'd used to open
the compartment.

"You- You can't have the patent!" stammered Rob, quickly running
over to her and snatching the device away from the courier, "It's
mine, I tell you! All mine!"

"And ghost-balls are my Aunt Laurna's," Miranda chuckled as Rob
held the device protectively for a moment, "But it's never stopped
Sylph Co from offering her enough cred to by an entire continent
for them."

Rob snickered, tucking the device away before sitting down in one
of the uncomfortable plastic chairs around the table and
thoroughly spraying TI-85 with the second canister. "Okay," he
relented as the tiny fractures in the magnemite's body sealed
themselves, "it's called a sonic screwdriver. Just don't ask how I
got it."

"Sure," said Miranda with a shrug as Ti shook himself, the
sparking bursts of electricity fading as he slowly levitated into
the air, running a quick diagnostic.

"Feeling better, guy?" his trainer inquired with a pleased smile
as he set down the empty stimpack and Miranda raised an eyebrow.

"I thought 'he' was a girl?" the courier inquired, causing Rob to
smile mysteriously as Nezumi wandered over and looked up at the
floated metal orb, his nose twitching suspiciously.

'Yo, Magna-doodle!' the rattata inquired curiously, causing TI-85
to tilt in the air, his single eye focused on the small rodent,
'You don't smell, like... Alive. How is it you guys, you know...
Get it on?'

TI-85 made a curious sound as his internal circuitry attempted to
process the question. 'This unit is not plug and play compatible,'
he said at last, causing Rob to snicker and shake his head as
Nezumi gave up and wandered back to his customary position upon
Miranda's shoulder.

"Hey, I can stand!" said Geoff suddenly, staggering to his feet
and supporting himself upon one of the tables as Rob smiled

"Good ole nanites!" the scientist chuckled, hurrying over to the
hole in the floor. "Okay, I'll need your help with this one," he
instructed, grabbing hold of the wheel and yanking it up an inch
with a bit of a grunt.

"Whatever," muttered Geoff, waving his hand in Miranda's
direction, "Get the ghost to help you."

"I am NOT a ghost!" the courier shot back, her eyes narrowed as
she hopped off the table and went to help Rob, "Why would I be
helping you if I was?"

"'Who are we to question the will of those who have none,'" quoted
Rob with a chuckle as they both heaved, causing the wheel to make
an awful metal scraping noise as Miranda glowered at him.

"Ghost's are NOT in the Kingdom Inanimae!" she corrected bitterly,
the wheel moving up a few more inches as they both strained to get
it above floor level, "Why can't you people accept that!"

"You- You sound like Laurna," the scientist laughed as they both
adjusted their stances and heaved the wheel up another foot in one
go before it locked noisily into place, "She used to rant and rave
every day about that after class."

"I'm not surprised," the courier agreed with a sudden smile as
they both strained to turn the wheal to the left, "Aunt Laurna
doesn't raise her voice too often. But when tourists try and tell
her things like 'ghosts aren't real' or 'they're just mindless
balls of gas' she tends to drop the quiet act."

Rob nodded, grunting against the strain as somewhere beneath their
feet a loud clunking, grinding noise, accompanied by subtle
shuddering signaled the blast doors opening in response to their

"That should do it," the scientist replied, letting go of the
wheel and brushing the metal shavings off his hands, "Now we just
have to get back out to the stairs."

"Yeah, if that ghost'll let us," muttered Geoff bitterly.

"Actually," Miranda pondered, tapping her chin thoughtfully, "I've
been thinking about that. As near as I can tell, this is just a
game to him. So far we haven't met up with anything lethal-"

"So far..." agreed Geoff, rolling his eyes and pacing impatiently
with just a bit of a limp.

"As I was saying," the courier continued, shaking her head at him,
"I think he's either just playing with us, or he's trying to
distract us. It's possible that the ghost's just gonna let us out
so we can move on to the next 'challenge'."

Rob nodded slowly, motioning TI-85 closer. "Well, I found a way to
navigate the maze using Ti, so getting out's not going to be a
problem either way," he explained with a prideful smile at the
magnemite, "But, why do you think he's just distracting us? What
else could he be doing?"

Miranda shook her head slowly, thinking her words through. "Does
your mainframe here have a physical connection to the one at your
main facility in Saffron?" she inquired, looking up as Rob's eyes
went wide and the scientist nodded nervously, "And doesn't your
company run most of the city's systems like the street lights and
electricity and making sure everyone has clean water and what

"Yes, but in order to hack into the mainframe in Saffron, it'd
take a hacker at least a couple of days just to get past the
passive security we have up," explained Rob, waving his hand
dismissively, "And besides, why'd he want to that? I mean, the
ghost already has a large expensive computer to play in. Why would
he want to move into another one? Even if it does measure its RAM
in the tens of Gigabytes..."

The courier smiled as Rob gave his head a shake, breaking the
little trace he went into for a second and quickly wiped the drool
away. "See?" the girl replied, "Imagine how he feels? Plus,
there's another factor to consider. Ghosts need to eat."

"Oh, well that's just great!" exclaimed Geoff, throwing his hands
into the air and kicking experimentally at one of the walls, "Next
it'll be trying to swallow our souls or something!"

Rob laughed as Miranda rolled her eyes. "I think that's what I
said to your aunt once," the scientist chuckled, turning to the
security guard and shaking his head with a knowing smile, "Don't
worry. So long as we all stay awake, the ghost can only feed upon
our stronger emotions."

"Like pessimism," Miranda chuckled.

"And fear," added Rob, his voice trailing off for a moment as his
smile died and he turned back to the courier, "Wait, if he gets
access to Saffron's mainframe, wouldn't that mean he could cause
all sorts of havoc without having to waste too much of his own

Miranda nodded. "Yes. And with Saffron's population, even a few
days of utter chaos would create something of an emotional storm
on the ethereal."

"Meaning?" inquired Geoff skeptically.

"Meaning," explained Miranda in a worried tone, "that as the
emotional build up runs along that weak ley-line you guys have
that runs from Saffron all the way to the Tower, you'd have every
hungry ghost in Lavender coming down on you for the world's
biggest buffet. That in turn, would only cause more fear, probably
fatalities, and judging by your luck so far, probably some ghost
would think it was funny to overload that nuclear reactor you have
in the Sylph Co Arcology."

"Um, no one's supposed to know about that," added Rob a little

"Well, at least we have a few days, right?" inquired Geoff
hopefully, making Miranda shake her head in response.

"I'd say a few hours at best," she replied, "he's not a human.
He's a ghost. There's things he can do to bypass security that I'd
wager even Ti hasn't thought of yet."

"Hey..." pouted Rob as TI-85's magnets drooped a little, "that's
not fair."

"We'll worry about that later," the courier muttered, taking one
last look around the room before heading for the nearest exit,
"Right now we're on the clock, and we need Ti to show us the way
out of here."

The magnemite made a happy sound as he hovered more proudly in the
air before projecting the map image once again. 'Hey, ya think we
can trust the fridge magnet?' Nezumi whispered, eying the
blue/green image suspiciously, 'If Fang Face can do stuff with
machines, couldn't he be doin' somethin' ta Ole One Eye too?'

The courier glanced over her shoulder, watching as Rob and TI-85
stepped forward to lead the way into the labyrinth. "I don't
know," she whispered back, scratching the rattata under his chin
reassuringly, "But right now, we don't have a lot of choice. We'll
just have to wait and see, dearest..."


As promised, the blast doors were partially wedged open when they
arrived back on the stairwell. And much to Geoff's relief, the
words had returned to normal. With held breaths, Miranda followed
Professor Kipp through the narrow gap between the two-foot thick
blast door and wall, soon followed by Geoff, who almost seemed to
be in a better mood.

"At least this is all down hill, and we can't expect anymore
surprises," the security guard muttered quietly to himself as he
glanced at the thick metal door that left only half the flight of
stairs accessible, only to suddenly hear an ominous rumble and the
straining of metal as the entire building seemed to shake around

"Geoff!" exclaimed both Miranda and Rob as they turned around in
time to see the blast door sliding quickly closed, threatening to
cut the man off at the midsection.

"Crud!" the security guard exclaimed, his dark eyes going wide
before leaping forward, and diving down the stairs as the blast
door slammed shut behind him with an ominously echoing -Boom!-..

"No!" exclaimed Rob as Geoff ploughed into both himself and
Miranda, sending them all tumbling painfully down to the next
landing where they landed in a tangle of limbs.

"So much for non-lethal!" grumbled Geoff, reaching back to yank
Rob's tazer out of his back.

"Ya know, you could have kept your mouth shut," the scientist
replied, shoving Geoff's foot out of his face as they untangled

"Can we expect any other surprises?" Miranda inquired, shuffling
backwards until she was clear before standing up.

Rob thought for a moment as Geoff stood and dusted himself off.
"Well," he said thoughtfully, "there are some extra security
measures in place just in the off chance we were attacked."

"Attacked?" the courier laughed, picking up Nezumi and checking to
make sure his pained expression as he limped towards her was just
an act, "By what?"

Rob shrugged; making sure his tazer was okay. "Oh, mostly just by
the other people who work here," he explained, "When you rent out
more than half your office space to other companies you can't be
too careful. Especially not with the research we do here."

"Anything we need to worry about?"

Rob shook his head. "Naw, we'd have to turn them on manually from
Iago's office," he explained, "But I guess someone could always
get around that and just access the security program itself to
turn them on..."

"Gee, thanks Rob," muttered Geoff as a loud, annoying ringing
sound issued from the fire alarm, and the sprinklers turned on,
drenching them with water, "You DO know the ghost can hear us
through the intercom system, right?!"

The scientist shook his head. "No, this isn't it," he replied,
raising his voice above the alarm bell, "we're still okay."

"Actually," corrected Miranda as Nezumi took a small umbrella out
from seemingly nowhere and held it above his head with a sarcastic
grin in TI-85's direction, the pokemon looking distinctively
unhappy about the situation, "I think I see what he's doing."

"Oh?" the others inquired as the courier headed down the stairs,
her shoes now squishing loudly as she walked.

"He's making sure Rob can't use his tazer, and Ti can use
electrical techniques until we get somewhere drier," the courier
explained, causing Rob's expression to become stricken.

"What?!" he exclaimed, tears forming in his eyes even as the cold
rain from the sprinklers poured over his face, "I can't use my
tazer?! Oh, the humanity!"

"Which probably means he's got something planned for us," Miranda
continued, listening intently as something within the walls began
to shift mechanically, "Something we'll probably need to fight our
way past."

"Um, I think we're going to have about as much prep-time as an
Ontario teacher, though," muttered Geoff, catching Miranda's eye
and pointing down to where the landing they stood on began to rise
and shift as the stairs rattled and squeaked before turning like
Venetian blinds.

"Is this one of your 'can't possibly be used against us' security
measures?" the courier demanded as the landing they stood on
suddenly tilted at a sharp angle as the steps all became a slanted
waterfall and the group found themselves sliding down it towards
the next landing.

"I- It's not my fault- Ah, Geoff you-!" exclaimed Rob as he fell
upon his back, only to have the security guard trip and land hard
upon his stomach as Miranda fell forward and grabbed his ankles.

"What?!" replied the security guard innocently, turning his head
as Rob's tazer bounced off the wall and flew out of his hand
before rebounding off TI-85's left magnet and sending the
construct spinning as the group hit the next landing.

"Try and grab the walls!" shouted Miranda over the sound of the
artificial rain and Nezumi's laughter in her ear, all the while
moving her legs apart, pressing her feet against the all too
smoothly polished walls as the landing tilted to allow them
continued passage.

"Um... Okay?!" muttered Rob through gritted teeth, grabbing Geoff
by the arm and trying to shove the security guard off his stomach.

"Not me, you idiot!" the man exclaimed, glaring over his shoulder
at Rob before falling off as they rounded the corner and sliding
half way up the wall before continuing down the water-slide in a
continuingly faster spiral to whatever awaited them at the bottom.

"Geoff!" Miranda shouted, ducking her head as Geoff rolled over
her and grabbed hold of her ankle, "Hold on! I have plan!"

"Oh, yeah! Like that's reassuring!" he called back as the next
turn came much faster and the dizzying pace began making him feel

"Professor, hold still!" the girl ordered, waiting for the next
turn before pushing down against Rob's ankles and letting momentum
throw her a little higher.

"Sorry!" she exclaimed, reaching out with her arms to grab the
scientist's shoulders but instead having her hands land upon his

"I'm NOT a toboggan-!" began Professor Kipp before suddenly
blushing deeply with a horrified look upon his face.

"Oh dear," muttered Miranda suddenly looking hideously embarrassed
as she deliberately moved one hand after the other onto Rob's
shoulders, ignoring the security guard's screaming as they turned
again, "I- I wasn't sure, but I guess I know now..."

"I think we have bigger problems," the scientist replied,
breathing again as the courier removed her hands.

'Told ya,' chuckled Nezumi, sitting atop Miranda's head and using
all four paws to cling to her now tangled wet hair.

The courier glanced upwards with a bit of a scowl before looking
forward and seeing the problem. Their seemingly endless, spiraling
decent had finally gotten them near the bottom, as evidenced by
the large '#3' painted in white letters on the door they slid

"What's at the bottom?!" the girl asked, dreading the answer as
TI-85 finally caught up with them.

"You don't wanna know!" answered Rob, lifting his head awkwardly
and smiling as he caught sight of the magnemite. "Ti!" he
exclaimed as the strange pokemon swooped around the corner after
them, "There's a fire door coming up! I need to you to blast it!
Just take out the sprinkler above the door first, or you'll get us
too! Understand?!"

The pokemon tilted forward in a nod, and sped off ahead of them as
the group rounded the second floor landing. "What's he doing?"
Miranda asked, hearing the sound of metal crashing into metal with
something giving away with a whine of protest. A second later, and
a loud unpleasant sound, reminiscent of tinfoil in a microwave,
filled the area just a head.

"The boys down in R&D call it 'zap-cannon' for short," explained
Rob with a prideful smile as the area lit up with a blinding white
light reminiscent of an arc welder before an explosion and the
sound of sizzling, hotly oozing metal reached their collective
ears, "But I think 'plasma bolt' is much more stylish!"

"Whatever works," the courier commented as they slid down the last
fight of stairs, through a partially melted doorway and most of
the way across the linoleum floor of the lobby before skidding to
a slow, wet stop.

"Are we dead?" inquired Geoff as Miranda yanked her feet free of
his iron grip and rolled off of Rob.

"Almost, but not quite," the courier replied, looking over at the
glass doors to where sunlight should have been streaming through,
only to see a wall of cold steel barring the passage.

"It's the ablative armor," explained Rob, standing up and slipping
off his soaking wet lab coat, "We deploy it incase of an attack,
or if something dangerous gets loose."

"So much for back-up then," muttered Miranda a little glumly.

'No more back-up for you!' quoted Nezumi with a sarcastic chuckle
to hide his nervousness, 'Eat more vegetables!'


Bob blinked at his suddenly blushing stepdaughter.

"I met Zack in Neon Town this one time when I was still traveling
with Joshua. We decided to hit this buffet house," she quickly
explained, avoiding his gaze, "And well, Zack went a little...
Shall we say 'overboard' and ate more than is humanly possible.
Mostly the expensive stuff too! That was when this large chinese
chef guy ran out of the kitchen wielding a cleaver. He glared at
Zack while shaking the knife threateningly and yelled out loud
enough to be heard for a least three block in kinda this broken
English, 'No more meat for you! Eat more vegetables!' For a while
there, it occasionally came up in conversation."

Her stepfather nodded, hiding behind his warm mug of tea where it
was safe from the courier's insanity. "Go on..."


"So how do we get down to the basement from here?" Miranda
inquired as the three made their way towards a pair of discreet
looking doors marked with the symbols for male and female.

"There's another staircase," explained Rob, pushing his way into
the women's washroom and causing the courier to stammer for a
moment before glancing at her hands and blushing.

"Look, I, uh..." she muttered as the scientist lead the way into
the antiseptic feeling room and quickly disappeared into one of
the stalls, "I wanna apologize for earlier."

"Huh? For what?" he inquired, banging against the thin metal wall
as he strained against something.

"Well, for accidentally groping you earlier," the courier replied,
walking to the wall of sinks before depositing her backpack on the
counter and carefully extricating Nezumi from her hair.

"No, no, it's alright," came the now feminine sounding voice as
Miranda removed her courier jacket before undoing the dark tangles
of her hair and wringing it out over the sink, "It happens now and
then. I've mostly gotten used to it."

"I still apologize," the courier called back, her eyes going wide
as she watched the water that fell from her hair turn bright red
as it pooled in the sink and refused to drain away.

The scientist laughed as she stepped out of the stall followed by
TI-85, seemingly oblivious to the mess Miranda was making in the
sink. 'It's just an illusion,' the girl told herself, closing her
eyes and running her fingers through the long ebony locks, 'he's
just messing with my mind again.'

Joanne shrugged, checking herself in the mirror before hanging her
lab coat up on one of the hooks near the door. "The only thing I'm
concerned about right now, is having to go down into a room full
of sensitive computer equipment while being soaking wet," she
explained, resigned to wearing her other damp clothing, "If we had
time, I'd suggest using the blow-driers, but I think we'll just
have to deal with it."

The courier nodded slowly, opening her eyes and trying to ignore
the fact that her reflection was smiling evilly and waving back at
her. "Another problem too," Miranda added, shivering at the
thought and trying to ignore the odd assortment of squirming
centipedes, snails, and little wagging tails that fell from her
hair to splash down into the bloody sink, "It's probably going to
be cold down there with the mainframe's air-conditioning."

"That must be part of the reason he set the sprinklers on us," the
scientist agreed, shaking her head as she pulled open the door and
Miranda finally gave up, simply tying her hair back again, "Oh,
well. I guess it's better than fighting one of Ziffle's escaped
lab experiments..."


Geoff pushed open the door to the men's washroom and exhaled
loudly as he struggled to remove his uniform jacket which was now
a size too small. "Stupid Sylph Co," the muttered, tossing the
garment onto the countertop before leaning warily against it in
front of a mirror, "Who ever heard of issuing dry-clean only
uniforms! Yeesh!"

But his reverie was suddenly interrupted by a sudden flush of one
of the toilets. The security guard winced as he slowly opened his
eyes and said the words he hated to say, but knew he couldn't stop
himself from saying. "Um, hello?" he called, turning around slowly
and wishing his tazer hadn't gotten lost in the maze, "is there
somebody in here?"

Geoff's only reply was a second flushing from a second stall. "Oh,
they really don't pay me enough for this crap," he muttered,
stepping nervously forward, leaving wet footprints as he went.

But as Geoff pushed the first stall door open, a third toilet
flushed farther down the row. "Hello?" the security guard called
again, flinging the first door open all the way only to find
nothing, "Look, this isn't funny!"

As if in response, a forth flushed.

"Enough of this," the security guard muttered, walking down the
row towards the back of the room, simply flinging each of the
doors open in turn yet finding nothing.

And as the last door swung shut, the entire row of toilets flushed
simultaneously, causing Geoff to nearly pull out what remained of
his short, dark hair. "Ah! I can't take this anymore!" he shouted,
running blindly for the door, "If they don't fire me for this I'm
gonna quit...!"


As Miranda and Joanne stepped out of the woman's washroom, they
could hear Geoff's prolonged yell a moment before he came crashing
through the door of the men's. It was also all they could do to
keep from laughing however, as the security guard ran across the
lobby, his thin form wrapped up in toilet paper like some kind of
B-movie mummy.

"I think the ghost found him," the courier commented rhetorically
as they turned to watch Geoff run by, bits of wet paper flying off
him as he passed the empty receptionist's desk and slammed into
the front doors of Sylph Co.

"Open! Open! Open!" he demanded, as the automatic doors slid open,
but the ablative armor blocked his way, forcing Geoff to pound his
fists futilely against them.

"Geoff! It's okay," called Joanne, jogging after the security
guard as he slowly slumped to the floor, looking more pale than
usual, "We're almost there. We'll have this ghost back in his ball
in like, fifteen minutes at most."

"You, you're sure?" inquired Geoff, his body shaking with both
cold and fright, barely noticing the woman slide her arm around
him as she tore away the wrappings.

"Positive," the scientist assured, her tone quiet and soothing as
she linked an arm through Geoff's and pulled him to his feet,
"Once we reach the mainframe, me and Ti can flush him out easily."

Geoff nodded slowly, leaning against the much taller woman as she
walked him back to the receptionist's desk where Miranda waited
for them. "The door's beside the elevator," explained Joanne,
nodding to a rather plain section of wall as the courier followed
her gaze, "But I think we can take a minute for Geoff to recover."

"No, no," he muttered, shaking his head, taking several deep
breaths as he leaned over the desk, "I'm fine. Just go."

"It'd be better if we stuck together," commented Miranda, her gaze
tracking Joanne as the woman took out the sonic screwdriver again,
traversing the room and wielding the item with a wide grin.

"Hey, I ain't sayin' for ya to leave me behind!" the security
guard exclaimed in sudden alarm, causing Miranda to smile as a
portion of the wall clicked and slid into itself, revealing a
dark, lightless passage beyond.

"He's only picking on you because you're letting him get to you,
ya know," cautioned the courier as Joanne waved them over and TI-
85 began to glow with a strange golden light.

"Oh yeah, and like you're not scared," the security guard
muttered, following Miranda to the doorway as the glowing
magnemite lit up a flight of plas-crete steps just beyond the

"I never said I wasn't. I'm just used to not letting ghosts think
they can push me around, that's all," the courier replied,
glancing curiously at Joanne, "So um, what's with the secret

Joanne chuckled, smiling mysteriously as she took the first step
into the cool air of the stairwell. "Oh, mostly paranoia," she
said with some small satisfaction, the far off whirring of cooling
fans seeming something of a reassuring lullaby to the woman as she
descended the steps, "But it's also just a Sylph Co thing. At the
head office, we have a series of teleporters, but they're awfully
expensive to install and maintain. Also, I'm not exactly inclined
to trust such things with a mischievous ghost loose."

"I seem to recall my Aunt mentioning those," pondered Miranda,
both her and Nezumi suddenly shivering as they entered the eerie
golden twilight, "apparently one of her classes was on the other
side of the campus and she used to have to take a teleporter to
get to class on time in the morning."

Joanne's smile was reminiscent as they hit the first landing and
moved farther down the plas-crete steps into the looming darkness.
"Did Laurna also tell you about the time she took the wrong one?"
the woman inquired, glancing over her shoulder to make sure
everyone was still with her.

Miranda shook her head in reply. "Nope," she responded, tensing a
little as something warm and furry leaned against her neck, only
to quickly realize the cold was getting to Nezumi.

The scientist sighed, shaking her head as the courier simply took
the small rodent in her hands and held him close to her chest.
"Oh, she wound up outside one of my professor's classrooms... I
think we were studying geo-parazoology that semester... Anyway,
she almost walked in on my professor and some woman. Hm. I wonder
whatever happened to him? Oh! Um, we're here."

The flight of stairs ended in what appeared to be a small, empty
room. But as Joanne raised her sonic screwdriver again and
switched the device on, a section of the wall once again slid
away. This time, however, brilliant white light poured into the
small, dark area, blinding everyone except TI-85 momentarily as a
cold breeze rushed out and the sound of humming computer fans and
clicking, spinning hard drives filled their ears.

"Behold!" Joanne exclaimed dramatically, holding her arms into the
air and standing in the doorway so that she blocked the blinding
light, "SkyNet! Ain't it pretty?"

"It looks like an oil-drum," commented Miranda, ducking under
Joanne's arm to examine the enormous, cylindrically shaped piece
of machinery that took up most of the far wall of the somewhat
large room.

"Hey now," the scientist replied, stepping over a mass of cables
that snaked its way across the floor from the mainframe and passed
before the only exit, "don't be hurting its feelings. It's already
got an inferiority complex because of AIVAS in Saffron."

The courier chuckled, shivering as she stepped into the icy cold
room and shook her head in wonder at the array of thick black
cables that covered most of the floor, the wide metal pipes,
clearly marked "DNGN", and the curious glass tubes filled with
bubbling eerie green liquid all of which connected SkyNet to the
walls, ceiling, the and occasional standard computer terminal.

"Still have that pokeball?" Joanne inquired, seemingly unconcerned
by the constant flow of cold air from the many air ducts that
opened into the room and kept the mainframe from over heating.

Miranda nodded as the woman hopped carefully over a particularly
large bundle of thick black cables and approached the large screen
built into the side of SkyNet

"Then you'd best get yourself over here," she cautioned in a
mildly worried tone, typing several commands into the awkwardly
placed keyboard beside the display, "if this works, we're gonna
have one very upset gastly on our hands!"

"Okay," the courier replied a little nervously as she entered the
room and glanced down at Nezumi. "I'm gonna need both you and Umi
ready to help if this goes wrong," she explained, watching her
step as they traversed the room, "You up for it?"

'Ah, it ain't nothin' but a wee little ghostie, Boss Lady,' the
rattata chuckled, waving a forepaw dismissively, 'Heck, I'll bet I
could take him on even without Draco-Babe's help!'

"You aren't THAT good, dear," the courier chuckled as they reached
the mainframe and she set Nezumi down on one of the free patches
of floor before reaching for the other pokeball she carried.

"I'm sure this'll work," assured Joanne with a confident smile as
the courier held up the blue and white ball, "I mean, what could
possibly go wrong?"

Miranda glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. "Umi, come ye
forth," she replied flatly, causing the ball to click out and send
out a crimson glow that ached towards the floor beside Nezumi.

"What?" inquired Joanne, holding her hands out helplessly as the
courier shook her head and turned to the suddenly materialized
dratini at her feet who immediately began shivering in the cold of
the computer room.

"Sorry, dear," said Miranda apologetically as she knelt down and
held out her hands to cup Umi's small, snouted face as the dratini
made an unhappy sound and wrapped her tail around the courier's
leg, "I know you hate the cold, but we have a very serious
problem. I can promise, however, that after we're done, we'll hit
those hot springs you adore so much."

Umi looked up at Miranda, her multifaceted eyes swirling from pale
green to golden. 'I, I can handle it then,' she promised in a
shaking, stammering voice as she uncoiled her tail, 'Just promise
me you'll make this quick!'

Miranda smiled, affectionately scratching the little dragon's eye
ridges as she took out the black and gray ghost-ball. "No
worries," she promised, glancing at Nezumi with a smile and
scratching him between the ears, "with any luck, you guys won't
even have to anything."

'Aww, but mom!' chuckled Nezumi, suddenly cringing in mock-terror,
as Umi turned on him with eyes that suddenly flared orange.

"Okay, ya ready?" inquired Joanne as TI-85 hovered before the
monitor and switched on her dataflow beam.

The courier nodded as she stood. "As we'll ever be," she promised,
clutching the ball as it expanded in her hand, watching intently
as Joanne's fingers danced across the vertically placed keyboard
and Ti's magnets spun slowly with concentration.

"Almost there..." Joanne commented, beads of sweat forming on her
brow as she typed faster, "Oh crap!"

"What?!" inquired both Miranda and Geoff at the same time as one
of the blinking greenlights along the side of the cylinder became
solid red.

"He's almost gained access to the computer in Saffron!"

"Can you stop him?" the courier inquired, gulping down her
nervousness as Joanne gave a short nod.

"No worries!" she laughed nervously, "I have a whole two seconds
to spare!"

With that, however, TI-85 let out a pained shriek as the data flow
reversed and the monitor exploded outwards in a shower of sparks
and shards of glass.

"Ti!" shouted Joanne turning away from the keyboard and half
lunging forward to grab the magnemite out of the air before they
both fell to the cable strewn floor.

"Joanne!" Miranda exclaimed, panic suddenly overwhelming her as
several other lights turned red forming the words "You're Next!"
before a dozen other switched to a constant glow, leaving only a
handful still blinking green, "The ghost! It's gonna-!"

But as the courier spoke, all but one of the lights switched to
red, and as the last green one flickered, the omnipresent hum of
SkyNet's many cooling fans ceased, replaced by a sudden loud
rattle and the sound of sound of a very large computer powering
down as all of the lights went out, only to replaced by the same
red illumination that filled the rest of the office building.

"What?" inquired Geoff as everyone into the room turned to see him
with a large plug in his hand, swinging it idly in the air as he
spoke, "I figured we could just unplug it for crying out loud!"

Miranda let out a slow breath as she turned to Joanne in the
sudden near darkness. "That works too," she chuckled, only to have
SkyNet's ominous silence suddenly replaced by a distant, echoing
clang, and a few muttered curses somewhere within the machine.

The courier's eyes widened as Joanne looked up at her with a
stricken expression. "Shh," the girl cautioned, slowly sliding her
pokedex out of her pocket before opening it and placing it
carefully atop the mainframe, "This might not work..."

With a nervous shiver, Miranda reached her shaking hand up and
switched the device on. Its small internal fan immediately broke
the still silence and the glow of the dex's tiny screen provided
for an eerie glow as something within the mainframe made a quiet
chuckling sound.

As the group watched, a dark shape partially emerged from SkyNet.
The rolling shadows seemed to ooze forth from the thick, tri-
tanium casing, only to surround the small purple plastic casing of
the Parazoological Encyclopedia & Data Input/Output Device like a
hungry shadow.

Miranda glanced at Umi and Nezumi, raising her hand to clam them
as a pair of malevolent red eyes burned within the dark mist
before flickering out with a frightful chuckle as the ghost
vanished inside the courier's pokedex.

"Now what?" inquired Joanne, getting to her feet and watching with
morbid fascination as Miranda reached up and took hold of the

"You'll see," the girl whispered, her expression twisting to one
of disgust as the air filled with an wet, squishy, crackling
sound, and the 'Dex pulled away from the top of the mainframe
followed by a long trail of thin, greenish translucent goo, "Okay,
this I think this is a good thing. Here, hold this."

Joanne made half a sound of protest as the courier handed her the
ectoplasm covered pokedex, and nearly dropped it as the girl
reached underneath it to scoop the goo away with her bare hand.

"Wha- What are you doing?!" the woman demanded in a harsh whisper
as Miranda slid her bokken out and wiped the handful of viscous,
oozing mass of solidified ephemerae along the wooden blade of her

"That's not gonna hold his interest for long," she explained,
nodding to her pokemon, causing Umi to take deep breath, and
Nezumi to concentrate before suddenly bursting into a bright
silvery glow and stand upon his hind legs dramatically, "I think
it's best if we hit the gastly hard when we comes out. After all,
these ghostballs aren't perfect, and I don't want him just letting
himself out or something."

"They- They can do that?!" exclaimed Joanne all too loudly as the
pokedex began to shake in her hand and an image of herself
appeared upon the little screen.

The courier nodded, her reply suddenly cut off by a peculiar sound
from the 'Dex. A voice that sounded both eerie and nerve gratingly
annoying suddenly switched on, filling the room with a few
stammered words.

"P- P- Professor Joanna Kipp," the device intoned as Miranda's jaw

"No way!" the courier exclaimed angrily, glowering darkly at the
device, "I ripped the freakin' speakers out of that ruddy thing
myself so I'd never have to hear it talk again!"

The pokedex continued unabated, however, running down the list of
scientific terms to describe a human being. When it neared the end
of its speech, however, the voice let out a quiet chuckle.
"Species, human. Resistances; None. Weaknesses; Fighting
techniques and..." as the voice spoke, the lights in the room
dimmed slightly as its chuckling voice became a loud, screeching
laugh of triumph, "Ghost techniques!"

"Get it away!" the scientist exclaimed in a panic, slamming the
'dex's cover shut before tossing it across the room.

"Get ready!" cautioned Miranda, watching it pass her in the air,
and turning to face the device before it hit the ground, "Here it

As the pokedex clattered to the floor, a heavy silence came over
the room, and everyone held their breath. Waiting.

"That things not going to be very happy when it gets out of there,
is it?" came Geoff's nervous tone, speaking rhetorically, watching
as Miranda's pokedex shook violently of its own accord, sending
sparks flying in all directions and white smoke from somewhere
within. This was soon accompanied by a terrible grinding, knocking
sound of most of the hard drive being horrible scragged.

Miranda nodded, glancing over at Rob. "You wouldn't happen to have
another magnemite would you?" she asked as a small explosion
caused the pokedex's cover to open up revealing the darkened,
cracked screen, across which scrolled the phrase, "You're next..."

"Guess it's just up to you two now then," said Miranda glancing at
her pokemon, who nodded slowly as they watched their trainer's
pokedex go through its final death throws.

With a loud -pop!-, several buttons flew off SkyNet's keyboard and
the maintenance panel blew apart as the gastly within it grew wary
of the toy and sprang into the air, causing Umi to make an angry
hissing sound, her eyes glowing blood red as Nezumi gritted his
teeth, growling at the now laughing ghost.

"NOW!" shouted Miranda, bringing her ectoplasm smeared blade down
upon the little ghost, cleaving him almost in half as Umi spit a
walnut sized ball of flame, and Nezumi leaped in the air at it.

With a shriek of pain and rage, the ghost's body shimmered as
Umi's small fireball exploded against him, and Nezumi's glowing
teeth sank into his ephemera. "Gassst!" the gastly hissed as a
wave of dark purple unlight expanded out in all directions,
throwing his three attackers backwards as he flew forward.

"Miranda!" exclaimed Joanne, running forward and catching the girl
as she stumbled backwards and landed in the woman's arms.

"Never mind me!" she exclaimed, irritatedly, "don't let that
freakin' ghost get back to the mainframe!"

"Oh yeah, I'll get right on that," commented Geoff in a bitterly
sarcastic tone as Nezumi shook off the effects the 'nightshade'
attack and scurried quickly over to Umi.

'Ya okay, Draco-babe?' he inquired as the little dragon reared up
like an angry serpent, baring her small sharp teeth and hissing at
the wounded ghost before glancing down at Nezumi and making a
small reassuring sound.

"He's headed for the vents!" called Miranda, struggling to her
feet and throwing her bokken like a javelin at the gastly even as
he phased through the air vent grating and disappeared, his
sinister laughter echoing back to them as the courier's sword
bounced off the grate and landed on the floor with a damp
splatting sound.

'I'm on it!' assured Umi, already inhaling deeply and letting
loose with another small, exploding fireball.

The rest of the group shielded themselves as the grating exploded
outwards, sending shards of metal in all directions, but the
dratini was already slithering towards the opening.

'Hold up, Draco-Babe!' exclaimed Nezumi, running after her and
grabbing the end of Umi's tail as she leapt the short distance up
to the ragged square hole.

"Try to herd him back this way!" called Miranda, running over
almost immediately and leaning into the ventilation shaft.

"Oh yeah, right!" exclaimed Geoff, exasperatedly, his small frame
starting to shake more than usual, "That's just a freakin' great
plan! Send it back to finish us off!"

"Hey, at least you're pokemon didn't nearly die because of that
thing," scolded Joanne, clutching TI-85's pokeball protectively.

"Better her than me," muttered the security guard as Miranda
picked up her sword and stood beside the vent opening, smearing a
fresh coat of ectoplasm along the wooden blade.

"I- I wish I could help you," said Rob, glancing nervously at the
dark opening as strange eerie sounds issued forth, followed by the
scraping of claws on the slippery metal surfaces.

"I just hope they're all right," commented Miranda, not really
hearing either of them as she did the only thing she could do.


Nezumi let go of the little dragon's tail almost immediately after
she'd slithered her way into the small, confined ventilation
system. "I say we try to get ahead of him, draco-babe," commented
Nezumi, panting as he tried to keep up with his long, serpentine
friend, "Maybe rip him a new one a couple more times before
headin' him back to the Boss-Lady!"

"No guts no glory?" chuckled the dratini mirthfully, narrowing her
eyes as she listened to the gastly's distant, echoing laughter and
trying to track him solely by sound.

"Hey, Miri's only got one of 'em special balls," Nezumi replied,
trying to ignore the strange muscle cramps he'd received when the
gastly had nightshaded him, "Might as well make sure it counts!"

"Still," said Umi thoughtfully, making a sharp right turn that the
rattata was barely able to make as well, "Do we really want a
ghost with us? They aren't exactly trustworthy, and they tend to
make people unhappy. I don't like that."

"Eh, she can always trade 'im," the rattata commented, leaping
over Umi in an attempt to make the next turn.

"Oh dear," the serpentine dragon muttered as they approached the
next T shaped intersection.

"Wha-?" began Nezumi, his claws clamoring for purchase on the
smooth shiny metal floor as Umi came to an immediate halt, smiling
as the rattata went careening into the wall.

"You okay?" asked Umi, her voice suddenly full of concern, her
sediment echoed by her sudden change in eye colour.

"Yup, yeah," replied Nezumi, staggering to his feet and looking
suspiciously in both directions, "Only hurt my pride. So, any idea
which way Fang Face went?"

Umi extended her neck, carefully examining both their options as
her eyes shifted to a dark, suspicious purple. "We'll need to
split up," she concluded after a moment, the ghost's laughter
became more distant, "We don't have much time, and I'm not sure
which way he went."

"Probably straight on through," muttered the rattata, glancing
back at his now crooked tail, "solid wall don't stop ghosts,

Umi nodded, her eyes lighting up the Westward tunnel as she
crouched low and prepared to give chase in that direction. "True,"
she agreed, her voice becoming a low whisper, "But he's hurt.
Phasing through too many solid objects would be bad for him right
now. He'd be risking disruption."

"Dis- wha-?" began Nezumi, shaking his head in dismay. "Dragons!"
he sighed, chuckling under his voice, "gotta love 'em! All right,
I'll take this tunnel. See ya before you miss me!"

Umi smiled as she heard the little rattata's claws scrambling over
the floor as Nezumi tore off as fast as he could, invoking 'quick
attack' to make up for lost time and obviously barely avoiding
crashing into another wall judging by the sounds of the curses he
let out.

"I already do, big brother," said the dratini mostly to herself
with a smile before slithering off down her own tunnel.


Nezumi slowed his pace as the sounds of the ghost's passage grew
louder. Somewhere up ahead, possibly only a few meters off, the
rattata could hear the ghost muttering angrily to himself,
obviously lost.

"Hey! Yo, Fang Face!" called Nezumi, keeping low against a wall
and concentrating on the information his whiskers told him.
Movement, not far ahead, definitely not just the constant rush of
air that flowed through the human made tunnels.

"What'cha want, Cheese Breath?!" taunted the gastly, both their
voices echoing back and forth, distorting the distance between
them. But Nezumi's senses told him the ghost was close. Very
close, and slowly drawing nearer.

"What do ya say you just save us a whole lot a trouble and come
quietly," offered the rattata, focusing his chi and causing his
whole body to glow with a silvery light once more.

"Ha! Yeah right!" laughed the gastly, suddenly noticing the
silvery glow not far off, "But uh, tell me, Buck-Tooth, how many
times do ya think you can keep doin' that trick a yours?"

"As many times as I need to kick your vaporous butt!" taunted
Nezumi right back, smiling in spite of himself, a part of him
actually liking the mischievous spirit.

"Think so?" inquired the gastly with a sinister chuckle.

"You bet!"

"Alrighty then..." called the ghost, his voice suddenly fading,
trailing off ominously as Nezumi crept cautiously forward,
listening for any sounds of movement as his whiskers twitched in
response to a new presence. Something large. Something larger than
the gastly had suddenly come out of nowhere, displacing a lot more

"Fang Face?" called Nezumi, but there was no response. Only the
quiet, slow, methodical clicking of claws across the metal floor a
few meters ahead of him met the rattata's ears.

Instinctively, Nezumi stood on his hind legs and sniffed the
stale, filtered air. "No..." he whispered to himself, catching the
scent he dreaded, but couldn't believe could actually be in such a
confined space, "That's not possible. It's a trick! That ghost's
just trying to scare me."

The rattata gritted his teeth, wincing as a low, sinister, and
above all hungry voice suddenly echoed through the tunnels,
causing all his fur to stand on end. "Mmmmeeeeeooowwwthhh."

The single hungry word echoed through Nezumi's mind even as the
sound died away. "It's a trick. It's not real," muttered the
rattata, pressing harder against the wall as he forced himself to
glace around the corner, fighting off the instincts that screamed
at him to run.

With the utmost care, Nezumi peered carefully around the corner
with one wide, frightened eye. What he saw made him jerk back
immediately, his breath coming out in ragged gasps as his little
heart pounded loudly in his chest.

For in that second, Nezumi had caught a glimpse of a shadow. The
shadow of a long tail that coiled at the end much like his own,
only it swished lazily back and forth as its owner casually
stalked its prey. Him.

"I- I have to be brave," shuddered the rattata, "I mustn't run
away... I have to make Miri proud. She's counting on me. And so is

"Oooowwwth...?" came a questioning, hungry voice, causing Nezumi
to almost scream. Primal fear gripped the little rattata, and
vague, distant memories began to creep back into his
consciousness. A memory so horrible that he would have blocked it
out if hadn't have happened when he was only a few days old.

As his wide, frightened eyes watched a long, catlike shadow creep
across the wall in front of him, Nezumi recalled his first, long
suppressed memory. In that moment, he recalled staring up,
terrified and paralyzed with fear as an enormous persian stared
down at him, hissing and licking her lips hungrily at him.

"Yesss," the white furred feline had hissed, stalking forward,
casually playing with her food, "You shall make a lovely snack for
my kittens..."

"NO!" shouted a voice, startling the enormous predator for a
moment. It wasn't another persian, or even a rattata. It was
human, "He's mine! You can't have him!"

Nezumi looked up at the towering biped and blinked. His nose told
him that immediately that the human girl was someone he trusted.
But his young mind still didn't fully understand why.

"Back off, kitty," the girl warned, brandishing something long and
curved that caused the cat to make threatening noises.

The rattata could smell his human's fear, but knew somehow that
she was willing to lay down her life for him. For the first time
he could remember, his heart swelled with love, and he leapt to
one side, hiding behind her leg as the dark shadow of the persian
moved forward with frightening speed.

"Noooo!" cried Nezumi as he heard the girl scream, swinging her
weapon in a wide arc and smashing the persian in the side of the

But even as the awful, ear splitting sound of cracking bone filled
his ears over the feline's angry wail, Nezumi felt the girl shift
her feet as though expecting another attack.

"Now you die, huuuuuman!" hissed the angry, wounded feline and
Nezumi closed his eyes tight, trembling as he felt his whiskers
twitch in response to the persian's sudden swift movements.

"No! No! No!" the rattata cried as he herd the girl's screaming
fill his ears over the sounds of her clothing being torn apart by
the terrible feline's 'fury swipes' attack.

But hope burgeoned with in him as a new sound filled Nezumi's
ears. "Die! Die! Die!" the girl exclaimed, hot tears spilling down
her face, filling the air with a salty quality, mixing with the
smell of her blood.

The sounds were accompanied by several loud, sickening cracking
noises as the girl's weapon smashed down hard upon the persian,
again and again, causing it to howl in pain and rage before
bounding off with numerous broken bones and contusions.

"It- It's okay now," he heard the girl pant as she fell to her
knees and glanced back at him, "It's gone, dearest."

The baby rattata glanced up at his trainer, his heart swelling
with love and concern for the human who'd saved his life. "Ra!" he
squeaked incoherently, causing her to smile and make a strange
sound that made him happy.

"I love you!" she laughed, dropping the bokken and carefully
picking him up so she could hold him close...

Nezumi shook his head, clearing the thoughts from his mind. "She
needs me now," he told himself, grasping at the last shreds of his
courage and weaving them together, fighting desperately against
the instinct that told him to run for his life, "And I'm NOT
letting her down now! And besides, it's just a stupid meowth!"

With a fierce battle cry that sounded more like a half frightened
squeak, Nezumi bounded out of hiding. With his body suddenly
glowing silvery once again, the rattata leapt at the shadowy
figure he saw before him and bit down as hard as he could.

But Nezumi's 'hyper fang' attack found no purchase. To the
rattata's disappointment, his teeth sank into nothing. "Ha! See,"
he told himself, "It wasn't real! It was just one of Fang Face's

Nezumi chuckled, cleaning himself up a bit to remove the smell of
fear from his fur. But as he twisted his head back awkwardly he
spotted something that nearly caused him to die of fright. Farther
down the tunnel where he'd come from, the narrow shaft was filled
floor to ceiling with meowths. Each one was clambering over its
neighbors, trying to get a look at the rattata. And each had a
hungry look in its brightly glowing yellow eyes as their claws
slowly unsheaved.

"That's it!" exclaimed Nezumi, no longer fighting against
instinct, "I'm out a here!"

Without a moment's hesitation, the rattata turned and ran for his


Umi slither along the tunnel nearly silently, listening to the
quietly echoing sounds of the gastly somewhere up ahead of her,
every so often stopping at an intersection and listening to see
which way the sound carried.

As she found herself getting farther and farther away from the
entrance, the dragon found a gloomy darkness setting in. At first,
the faint light from her luminescent eyes illuminated the path
before the dragon, but all too soon the agitated, swirling orange
glow lit up less and less of the tunnel ahead.

The effect caused Umi to take pause, and her eyes shifted to a
strange mixture of orange and purple as she glanced around,
shivering as a suddenly cold breeze passed by her, bringing with
it a strange black fog.

"Ghost illusions," Umi told herself in a contemptuous tone, trying
to hide the spark of fear that surfaced for a moment, "he must be
low on energy if that's the best he can do."

The dragon gritted her teeth, and slithered forward once again.
Without daring to look back, she plunged deeper into the cold
darkness, only to find the light from her now brilliantly orange
eyes did next to nothing to dispel it. Also, as Umi moved farther
along, the chill of the cool metal beneath her seemed to intensify
until Umi was certain she saw a thin layer of frost lining the

"It's a trick," the dratini told herself, shutting her eyes tight
and using her sense of smell to pick up the vague scent of
ectoplasm in the air while her ears strained to hear a quiet,
muffled laughter to her left.

"This way," muttered Umi, her teeth chattering as the she found
herself sticking to the nearly frozen metal beneath her, "All I
need is one clear shot, and that ghost is going down."

But as she turned the corner, Umi found herself slithering across
something cold and granular. Carefully opening one eye, the little
dragon yelped as she spotted the huge snowdrift that blocked her

"No," she said, shaking her head and trying to ignore the fact
that the end of her tail had gone numb, "There can't be snow in
here. It does NOT snow inside!"

Umi opened her eyes again, and stifled a scream. As she watched,
sheets of ice began growing over the walls and ceiling, rapidly
reaching far down the tunnel and leaving long, sharp icicles in
its wake.

"Miranda," Umi whimpered, finally unable to ignore the sluggish
feeling that dulled her reactions, or the fact that her skin was
beginning to crack in places as frostbite set quickly in, "Help

Umi sniffled as she heard the sounds of a sudden howling wind
racing towards her, and as quickly as she could, wound her
serpentine body up into as small a target as possible.

"I wish I was, was home," cried the little dragon, gritting her
teeth against the inevitable chill that would soon sweep over her,
"It's just so c-cold-"

But as the winds drew nearer, Umi heard a sound that brought her
back to reality. A loud, panicked wailing and the clacking of
small claws clambering for purchase across the slippery metal
floors of the ventilation tunnels.

"Nezumi?!" the dratini exclaimed, forcing her head up through the
thick layer of snow and ice she suddenly found herself buried

The scream grew louder as she listened. The rattata was running in
a blind panic only a few meters from her position. "Nezumi!" Umi
called out, her voice full of sudden, blind hope as she leapt from
the icy prison the gastly had sought to seal her in, sending
shards of frozen water in all directions.

"Hold on!" Umi called, barely noticing as the gastly's illusions
fade around her, and the warmth returned to her body, "I'm on my

Umi closed her eyes again, wary of any more illusions, instead
listening to her friend's panicked yelling as he drew near.
"Nezumi!" she called again, making a sudden sharp turn as she
heard the rattata's voice more clearly, only to feel a sharp pain
in her side as she blindly hit the edge of the corner.

"Draco-babe!" the rattata called back, hope entering his panicked
tone, "Where are ya?!"

"I don't know!" the dragon called back, pausing for a moment
before striking off in the opposite direction as the sound of
Nezumi's voice shifted.

"Stay where ya, areeee!" warned Nezumi, his voice rising in pitch
and trailing off strangely as he used quick-attack to hurtle
himself down a near by corridor at blinding speed.

"Okay, oof-!" Umi was cut off as something small and furry
collided with her, sending the dragon sliding quite a distance
down the tunnel on her back.

"Draco-babe!" exclaimed Nezumi as Umi opened one eye suspiciously,
"Great to see ya!"

Umi tried not to smile at the wide, bemused grin the rattata gave
her, but as always Nezumi's good humor was infectious. "Get off
me, mammal," she chided playfully, flipping over onto her stomach
once more before rearing up and listening carefully.

"Dreck," muttered Nezumi, glancing down the corridor he'd come
down and backing up against the dratini as his eyes went wide with
fright, "They followed me!"

"No," said Umi sternly, quickly wrapping the end of her tail
around Nezumi's to keep him from tearing off again, "It's just a
trick. We have to stay together now. It'll be harder for him to
scare us this way."

"Oh man," the rattata replied, suddenly glancing down another
corridor as a second sound of scraping claws joined the first,
"Now we're all gonna die!"

"No one's going to die," assured Umi bravely, trying not to think
about the frozen prison she'd just recently escaped and finally
shouting out, loud enough for the gastly to hear, "Come on you
coward! Stop hiding behind illusions and show yourself!"

"Y-yeah!" added Nezumi, binding together the shreds of his courage
as dark shadows began to creep around the corners farther down two
of the only viable exits, "Sh-show yourself, Fang-Face, and let's
get this over with!"

But their ownly reply was a long, echoing laugh that was
immediately followed by a dark shape with brightly glowing red
eyes hurtling down the corridor behind them.

"Over there!" warned Nezumi, nearly leaping out of his skin as he
'felt' the oncoming pokemon's presence.

"Done!" assured Umi, swiveling her head most of the way around and
firing off an awkward blast of highly pressurized water.

"Foolish mortals!" cackled the gastly, easily evading the attack
by spiraling towards them.

"I'll show you foolish!" promised Nezumi, regaining his courage
with Umi at his side and firing up his focus energy technique.

"Hold-! Still-!" complained Umi, her serpentine body twisting
awkwardly as she tried to get a clear shot at the oncoming ghost,
but continually missing even the easiest of hits.

"Sorry! Looks like you loose!" laughed the gastly, his image
suddenly winking out as the real him appeared a short distance
behind before a dark purple aura of unlight enveloped him and shot
out towards his two opponents.

"No!" exclaimed Nezumi, hurtling Umi's tail and standing on his
hind legs to cover her as the nightshade attack spiraled towards
them, "Not this day, Fang Face!"

"Nezumi!" the dragon exclaimed as the rattata leapt up and caught
the blast of negatively charged chi in the torso, sending the
small bodied rodent flipping end over end past her.

"Impressive," chuckled the gastly, licking his lips as he tasted
the emotional energy of Nezumi's sudden bravery, "But I think I'll
have you for desert, little girl!"

"Not on my watch!" squeaked Nezumi, coming out of nowhere and
leaping into the air once more, his purplish fur still enveloped
in the silvery glow of the focus energy technique.

"Wha-?!" began the shocked gastly, barely having time to scream as
the rattata tore into him, continuing right on through his
ethereal body, and out the other side.

"That's it!" the ghost exclaimed in sudden fear, his eyes going
wide as he saw a spark of flame brewing deep within the dragon's
mouth, "I'm outta here!"

"Get 'im, Draco-Babe!" exclaimed Nezumi, lopping awkwardly
forward, covered in ectoplasm as the gastly barrel rolled his way
down the tunnel.

"Gotcha!" called Umi, turning to follow the fleeing spectre as the
rattata grabbed hold of the end of her tail.

"Don't mind the slime, kid!" laughed Nezumi as they rounded a
corner and he managed to pull himself up a bit farther.

"I'm taking a looooong hot bath after this is over anyway!"
promised Umi, her voice sounding determined even with a slimy
rattata clinging desperately to her back.

"Hey!" laughed Nezumi as a sudden white light nearly blinded him,
"It's the exit! We've got him now!"


Not far ahead of them, the gastly fled for his unlife. Though he'd
shifted back into invisibility, the ectoplasm covering the
rattata's eyes, and the sheer anger emanating off the dratini
making the common ploy nearly useless. But then, just ahead, he
saw the end of the tunnel approaching. He didn't know which end
he'd come to, but it hardly mattered. The human's would offer
little or no resistance, even his severely weakened state. He'd
find a nice safe place to hide for a few days, and then he'd be
fine. Then it'd be back into the simply incredible computer he'd
found. Back to delving into its secrets, and back to trying to
transfer to Saffron's main grid where he'd have sooo much fun
scaring the life out of everyone-!

A sudden, sharp blow from above interrupted the gastly's train of
thought. Just as he entered the larger room, something hit him.
Hard. The gastly's last thoughts where a mixture of sudden fear
and amazement; but also a begrudging respect for the human's
resourcefulness. He'd had no idea that a wooden sword covered in
ectoplasm could even harm him. But as he began to discorporate,
something spherical passed harmlessly through him, and a strange
white light enveloped the gastly a second before he went


"Got him!" exclaimed Miranda, snatching up the ghost-ball just as
her two wounded pokemon half-fell, half-leapt out of the
ventilation shaft.

"Amazing!" commented Joanne, shaking her head in disbelief as Umi
landed reasonably safely and glared up at the gray/back pokeball
in her trainer's hand.

'Eh, not bad,' commented Nezumi in poke-speak, wiping a bit
ectoplasm off his mouth before spitting out a tooth, 'For a


Bob shook his head as Miranda finished her story and her seventh
cup of tea before leaning back against the archaic looking couch
and staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. "But he's been loyal to
me every day since," she explained, idly petting the haunter as
the ghost smiled contentedly, his disembodied hands reaching far
back and idly playing with her ponytail in a similar manner, "And
I've no real reason to complain about him. Wraith was, is and
always will be a welcome addition to my group."

"I can see that now," mused her stepfather, glancing back at the
computer and noticing that the complete systems check was
finished, "Oh, here we go. Hold on."

The man's fingers raced across the keyboard for a moment, striking
hotkeys that gave him what he wanted far faster than a mouse click
ever could before calling up the courier's files once again.

"Oh my," he laughed, glancing at Miranda with a defeated smile,
"I'm afraid it's true, Miri."

"I'm really that rich?" she asked guiltily, the courier's smile
mildly forced as she tried to reconcile her feelings of guilt and

"Yup," responded Bob with a smile and a nod, motioning
dramatically towards the screen, "You're more than 20,000 credits
ahead. Spend it wisely, Courier Lilcamp."

"Unbelievable," muttered Miranda, shaking her head in disbelief
before a small smile crossed her lips. "You know," she said
thoughtfully, glancing at Wraith mysteriously, "I do know three
rather well placed people in Sylph Co who owe me favors."

"Oh?" inquired her stepfather, finding Miranda's smile infectious.

The courier nodded. "I was thinking of maybe seeing if I couldn't
arrange a little gift for you and mom," she said with a nonchalant
shrug, "Something that would make even Wraith think twice about
inhabiting your system."

"You, you wouldn't-" stammered Bob, his eyes going wide with

Miranda nodded, a wide grin crossing her face. "I can't possibly
spend that much money all on myself," she said helplessly, "And
besides, if you think your system's fast and efficient now, wait
until you see what a porygon can do for you!"

Bob shook his head in amazement, uncertain about what to say.
"Miri," he replied at last, "I think I understand what that friend
of yours sees in you."

Miranda shrugged. "It's nothing," she assured as her mother's
voice could be heard from the other room, "I'll see to it before
we take off again."

"Miri!" her mother called, "Your friend's back from Aunt

The courier smiled. "I'd better get out there and see how it
went," she replied, hopping to her feet and grabbing Wraith by the

"I'll bet she kicked butt," her stepfather assured with a warm
smile, "Your friend's one tough cookie."

"Yeah well, just keep your hands out of the cookie jar," his
stepdaughter teased, ruffling his graying hair as she walked by,
pausing before exiting the room, "Oh, and thanks, Bob."

"What for?"

Miranda shrugged. "Just for being you," she replied with a slight
smile, shaking her head as the right words escaped her, "For being
like a father to me whether I like it or not."

"I'll take that as a compliment," he told her, turning back to the
computer to hide the blush that Bob knew had crept up his face,
the warm feeling that overcame him making the man wish he hadn't
turned the heat on in the room.

"You'd better," the courier chuckled, and walked from the room,
trailing a sleepy ghost behind her...


Nikolai Mirovich (Nikolai
December 4, 2001
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