It was covered by cascades of black and purple smoke. I stared at it in shock for a couple seconds before holing myself back up under the blankets. If I were a fictional character, I'd try to wake up again to make sure I wasn't dreaming, but the pain in my entire body that corresponded to the aura's movement was definitely happening. Cliff called out to me from the other side of the door before opening it a little further and carefully stepping in.
"Hey, little dude. Are you okay? You went to bed pretty early last night and I heard you moaning from the other side. Are you sick?"
"Something like that. Something went wrong when I did my T injection last night. I'll be calling my endocrinologist today to see if they can figure out what."
"Okay, I hope you get better. Sierra and I are going out to work, but don't feel like you have to go if you're not up to it, you can come out whenever you're ready."
Cliff exited and closed the door once again, at which point I pivoted from having my head exposed to completely covering myself. That was quickly foiled by Gil, who emerged from the corner to pull the blanket off of me and gestured to my phone, reminding me that I was going to get in touch with my doctor. The bug was right. Hiding wouldn't accomplish anything. No matter how much I may have wanted to, there was a problem that I needed to address. I finally actually pulled out my phone and checked the time. Gil had apparently successfully scheduled me an appointment for 30 minutes later, which gave me enough time to go down to the kitchen and grab some breakfast.
"Hey, Arlo. Apologies for not being able to answer your call last night; you got me outside of work hours and I had other arrangements. How are you feeling?"
Dr. Peyton looked at me through my computer screen, short, curly black hair with hints of having previously been dyed framing a face that had clearly been hardened though forces other than natural growth and carried marks of smiling despite all forces conspiring against it. They were probably one of my favorite humans overall.
"Uh, not great. I can see now, but my headache has been joined by a rest-of-body ache. Also, uh, glowing eyes and aura of concentrated bad vibes. Pretty sure those aren't normal side effects."
"Yeah, that's...definitely unusual. Looks like it might be XM-related, which isn't my department. Didn't you say that you handled XM and hormonal treatments for Pokemon at work?"
"Yeah, I do that. That's what I'm thinking might have happened. Maybe the injection interacted oddly with some Pokemon hormone and made the XM kick in?"
"That's my best guess. Pokemon don't have hormones in the same way humans do since their growth and evolution are mostly managed by XM, but it is known that they're biochemically close enough to humans for pheromones to work across species. It doesn't seem implausible that some part of the formula you work with is similar enough to testosterone for your injection to have manifested an XM effect."
"So, what do you suggest I do about it?"
"I can't really give that much specific advice since I'm not an XM specialist, but I'd say to take some medicine and rest as you normally would for the pain. For the aura, if it's XM-related, you'll want to spend some time away from your workplace and not working with your Pokemon treatments to give your soul time to settle and regenerate. I can give you a note for work; I'll write one up and send it to your email right away."
"Okay, thanks. I'm aware this isn't your department, but I'm not really sure who else to call so..."
"Do you have any other questions or concerns? Is everything else going okay?"
"Yeah, I'm still a little squeamish about the needles but I'm really satisfied with the results. My voice sounds great."
"Glad to hear it. Well, Arlo, hopefully you can figure out what's going on. If the aura doesn't go down just from you being away from your workplace, I would seek out an XM specialist; I can try to look for one for a referral."
I ended the call and pulled up my messaging app, also on desktop, to talk to Spark. After all, if I had official permission to miss work...
Are you available to pick me up to hang out at your HQ? I'm at the building in the woods.|
shouldn't you be out doing takeovers rn?|
Having a bit of a medical issue. Something went wrong with my T injection last night. Got a note from my endocrinologist letting me off work and giving me specific encouragement to hang somewhere other than my HQ, so...|
I'll be right over. should I make my signature super potion soup?|
Does it have healing qualities or is it actually made with Super Potions?
I snapped a quick picture with my webcam, verified that the aura and glowing eyes were actually visible, and sent it.
Also, I don't think soup's gonna be sufficient.|
i mean, it looks good on you.|
Ikr? If it wasn't fucking terrifying, it'd be pretty gender.|
isn't being scary kinda a fundamental part of ur gender?|
I mean, yeah XD|
all right, you dork, I need to drive. I'll be right over.|
I sat back in my computer chair, not needing to stifle my smile since I was alone in the building save Gil. I closed the window and started scrolling through my perpetually opened news outlets. Nothing had substantially changed since yesterday. Silph Co was under investigation for worker mistreatment. Another thinkpiece on the ethics of XM manipulation. In short, the usual. I shrugged and stuffed my keys and wallet into the pockets of my hoodie, checking myself out in the mirror as I traversed the perimeter of my room. The aura did look pretty good on me. The more intense red on my eyes and the glowing played well with my glasses and the smoke did nicely obscure many problematic features. I pulled out my phone and snapped a pic, applying my most menacing expression. Could be useful as a profile picture.
Spark pulled up to the back lot, by the Pokemon quarters, and texted me to inform me of his location. I headed out and sat down in the passenger's seat while Spark looked me over. Might as well get their questions out of the way now and get this over with. They paused for a moment, catching my eyes with concern.
"Wow. How are you feeling? Does it hurt?"
"The smoke itself doesn't feel like much of anything. My entire body still hurts, though."
"Hmm. Well, hopefully your doctor's right and getting into a different XM environment will help. You want to put on some music?" Spark handed me the end of an audio cable to the car stereo, blinking expectantly.
"Not today. I've still got a killer headache and, like, while I know they probably aren't actually connected ideas, I was listening to my favorites of rancid vibes when the Shadow Pokemon formula first happened. Better safe than even sorrier, right?"
I tried to punctuate that statement with a chuckle, but it got stuck in the back of my throat and came out hollow. Spark nodded and we spent the rest of the drive in silence, leaving nothing to distract me from my growing alarm. I supposed that talking to him might have helped, but I didn't think I'd be able to maintain anything close to myself. I didn't know if it was something wrong with my brain or soul or whatever or just the matter that it's hard to stay enthusiastic while you're in pain with no clear cause or treatment, but I wanted more than anything to just curl up in the dark until everything stopped.
This was a problem for a variety of reasons. Namely, that I knew that the Shadow Pokemon formula, as I'd designed it, specifically didn't inflict pain on the Pokemon if handled correctly. Cipher's did because they didn't take into account that heightening XM processing would result in spiritual breakdown if the Pokemon weren't given time to recover and their souls weren't given time to regenerate after battles. I wasn't using anywhere near the animum that a Pokemon actively in battle would. So...why did everything hurt? We arrived at Team Instinct HQ, Spark let me out, and we headed toward the common area, undisturbed save a few grunts milling about. Spark sat down on the couch, pulled out his phone, and invited me to lean against him if I wanted, which I took him up on. Feeling his breathing and the subtle shifts he made while sitting there, playing with his dragons and wolves and whatever other virtual pets he had on there, was remarkably comforting. It provided a pattern and something to focus on other than the rhythmic cycles of pain. I let myself settle in, thinking that maybe Dr. Peyton was right. Things would go down if I just got out of HQ, out of my own head, and gave myself time to recover.
My heartbeat started speeding up. I turned toward Spark to verify he was still there. He was, and moved a bit further back upon seeing the alarm on my face. I attempted to steady my breathing, but it came out as sharp and accelerating gasps. Something was wrong. I was under attack. This environment wasn't real. It wasn't enough. Reality gave way. My vision flashed red and then faded to black.
Everything remained black for several minutes, until a hairline fracture opened, showing a glimpse of the other side of the abyss. Spark looked through the crack at me, holding my body and asking me to please wake up, if I was okay, trying to reassure me that things would be all right and he was going to bring me to Mystic HQ where they had the finest purification technology out there. I heard him, I understood conceptually that he was in physical contact with me, but I couldn't feel anything. Something oozed over my body and mind, preventing anything from making contact beyond the dampened layer of liquid.
The door opened further, a figure standing in the light, looking down at the abyss I remained mired in. He asked the same things that Spark did, in a deeper version of my own voice. He said he could hold the door for me if I could just get up. I placed all of the force I possessed into my legs and into my mouth, trying to call out to him and force myself to move, but my mouth just filled with the same liquid and the layer only thickened, leaving me stranded and thrashing helplessly until the weight grew to be too much and I collapsed, face-down and sinking further. The other me sighed and shook his head before going through the door, closing it behind him and leaving me perceiving absolutely nothing. Everything faded completely to black. I could feel...someone's body moving, but I couldn't tell if it was mine or not. It didn't really matter if it was, I supposed, if I had no communication with it.