Researchy's story is heavily linked to Pacoro's - it's recommended that you read her story before reading this one.
"Yes? What is it?" I looked up from my laptop, on which I was streaming a show I'd gone through 13 previous times, and glanced toward Xiampe, trying to focus on anything but the glowing hole in his face. The light around it was flashing, suggesting he was agitated.
"We've got a chaos entity sighting near Banecreek in Kartuba. Some sort of big bug that emits toxic spores. Go have a look-see. You're under no requirement to bring it back alive, I don't think we'd be able to safely research it. I'll send the coordinates to your phone."
I closed my laptop, got up from the couch, and entered my quarters to get prepared. I slid on my iconic worn black leather jacket and motorcycle helmet and grabbed my keys from the nightstand before slithering off towards the parking lot. I passed by Hurika in the hall on my way, her face buried in her phone as she incessantly scrolled through some sort of boring article. She looked up from her phone briefly to glance over me with disdain.
"If the creature you're going to be fighting emits toxic substances as Xiampe said, you're going to want more protection than a jacket and a tank top."
"It's my signature look, Huri. It's really less about the fighting itself and more about keeping up public morale. I'm essentially their local superhero, and heroes don't wear protective gear."
"And how heroic would it be to come back dead?"
I ignored her as I set off toward my motorcycle. Xyra, our supervisor, bribed me with it when I first joined the team in an effort to establish her as someone who was worth my time. It worked. Every aspect of the vehicle, from the hum of the purely electrically powered engine to the flame detailing on the perfectly polished black body, was exactly tailored to me. Plus with its specialized xinanium casing, it could survive untold amounts of animum outflow and ash. I got on it and sped off down 64 towards Kartuba. The initial rift probably would have closed by the time I got there, but the creature itself would have remained nearby unless it could teleport, which from the little data I had, it couldn't. Local news outlets had already been alerted of the incident so civilians wouldn't be an issue. I was hoping I could lure the creature into a reasonably empty area to avoid unnecessary collateral damage. If nothing else, I knew Kartuba had some large malls with empty expansion lots. Heck, I'd be doing them a favor by leveling the land. Once I got to the site, I pulled onto the side of the road and pressed a hidden button on the side of my helmet. This turned on a specialized combat mode featuring real-time audio and video recording as well as enabling animum wards which would protect me from ambient power flow. I surveyed the area, dessicated grass and barren earth crunching against my scales.
"This is Researchy reporting in. I'm at the site. No signs of any Animite or Dragite life so far, nearby plant life is pretty thoroughly dead. Buildings appear intact, though, so it looks like this thing only affects organic matter. I'll gather some samples for further analysis."
I heard a low wailing noise from the distance and froze, tensing my body and gathering my animum in preparation for battle. As a dark shape began to grow in size as it approached, I pressed another hidden button on my helmet.
"Zero, play 'Blazing Heart' on Gateway Music."
As the bassline built, a low rumbling built to a massive tremor as something caught my eye. I could trace the shape of the thing now - as Xiampe had said, it resembled a large insect, with six legs emerging from an elongated body covered in segmented armor. Two massive horns, a pair of spiky antennae, and a circular mouth marked the front of the creature's body. That was about where the resemblance stopped. Instead of being flimsy insect legs, the creature's six legs were covered in scaly armor and tipped with wicked-looking claws. They seemed relatively short, though, and the creature didn't appear to move very fast. I could deal with that. The thing's most notable feature were its five gaping mouths, each lined with several layers of serrated teeth. Each of them sat in the center of one of its back segments, and they all wailed at once as the creature advanced. An acrid smell alerted me to its antennae waving as a thick, sickly yellow cloud emerged from them, withering every plant below them. I held my breath and focused my energies on the cloud. I'd dealt with organic matter manipulators before.
I jumped back as the cloud exploded, burning shrapnel and a smell I'd rather not describe emanating in all directions before the stuff completely vanished. Animum projections. Typical. Never stuck around for examination. Even better, just as I blasted it, the creature had apparently been preparing a new attack. This let the fire from the initial cloud spread to the creature itself, which it apparently wasn't expecting. The thing started making high-pitched noises that wildly fluctuated in tone, each of its mouths ululating just slightly out of sync as more of its body got consumed and reduced to animum and ash. The worst part about these not-really-physical critters was that they didn't shut up until they were completely destroyed. The thing kept screaming as it was destroyed, its pitch getting higher and more piercing along with softening as its mouths were burned one after the other. The last one stopped the din and only let out a single piercing cry before the bug's entire body was gone. I approached the pile of ash and pulled out a vial from my bag to get the requested sample in for Huricksu.
I was about to get back on my bike and get back to HQ as a kid skateboarded up to me. Based on their dull head spikes and lanky proportions, they were probably just barely at the cusp of puberty. As they approached me, their eyes widened with some combination of awe and fear.
"Hey, you're...Researchy, right? The head admin from the Eyendaru raid group?"
Of all the things the kid could have noticed about me, that was probably the least relevant, but I was willing to take the compliment. I wasn't really in a mood to chat, though.
"What are you doing here? It's not worth putting yourself in danger just to meet me. A rift just opened a couple minutes ago and conditions are unstable enough another one could show up any time. Trust me, you don't want to get caught in one."
The kid hesitated slightly and glanced back toward their skateboard, trying to assess whether it would be better for them not to engage. "No, it's not that, although that's really cool too that you're saving the world and all, it's just that there's this raid at the mall that I can't beat and I was thinking if you're not working right now..."
I glanced at my watch. I still had about a half hour to kill before I needed to report back and animum readings showed that the stuff from that rift was dissipating. Another rift was exceedingly unlikely, and the kid clearly had an image they wanted me to maintain.
"Okay, I'll see what I can do. Just the one raid, though, okay? I need to get back to work."
"Cool, thanks!" The kid beamed at me as they rushed off down the sidewalk heading back towards the mall. They would have been just out of range of the rift's animum outflow, so it's entirely possible they didn't even know what I'd just finished doing. I followed them, taking care to stay at the edge of my lane to avoid knocking them over from wind.
I pulled into the mall's loading dock, the kid in hot pursuit. Technically, I was illegally parked, but no one was looking and it was either that or going into the mall and getting bombarded by commercialism from every direction. Back when I'd first started as an admin, I saw the backlash from the Kartuba group when one of their admins instructed players to avoid parking here to access the gym. As he said, while it may be inconvenient in the short term to go in to do raids, it'd be better for the community in the long term if we stayed on good terms with businesses and didn't get in anyone's way. An admirable statement, sure. Too bad nobody gave a fuck.
"Hey, are you ready to go in? What should I use against this thing?"
The kid's question alerted me back to my phone and the state of reality, if you could call it that. The thing the kid was referring to was a Roserade. Pretty standard Tier 3 boss, I could have soloed it if I wanted to. Course, why would I have bothered? I hadn't really done much with Pokémon Go since getting the job with WHAT. Augmented reality lost a lot of its luster once the real world started feeling like an anime.
"Use Fire types, this thing's got Grass Knot."
I didn't bother looking at my party as the raid timer ticked down through 2 minutes of silence. It was the same cavalcade of legendaries as always. All the Pokémon that mattered to me had long since been transferred. Once the raid started, I absent-mindedly tapped, staring at the kid the whole time. They honestly seemed excited to fight this thing that I barely even paid any mind to. They had no idea of what was really happening other than that I was the coolest thing since Augmentation.
"Go, Charizard! Blast Burn!" The kid imitated an explosion as the Roserade flinched in animated pain.
It was the same animation as always. It was a 3D model. It couldn't feel pain. I knew that. So why couldn't I stop hearing the bug screaming as it was reduced to ash? And why did, instead of the bug, my vision fill with her? I saw her at Zaida's and wanted to check on her. Distorted animum readings. Something was clearly wrong, but she wouldn't listen. She never showed up when I needed her. Whether it was a raid or something else. My sophomore year formal. She showed up 45 minutes late with a corsage. Roses. Always roses. Red, black, yellow, everything to match my dress. We didn't even get to the dance. Only the back of her mom's old minivan. Something about skincare. The roses. Fuck, the roses. Flowers and vines growing out of her body, out of the parking lot, all around where they shouldn't have been. Her looking at me with nothing except pure hatred. A voice that wasn't hers. A vine tightening around my neck. Paki's normal voice coming back for a split second as she cried out against a burn. Glass shattering around me. She wasn't explicitly aiming the plates at me, but I could tell she knew where the shards would cut the most dangerously close. I was a disaster. No one else would ever love me. I lived in a fantasy world. Well, of course I lived there! My girlfriend turned into a fucking demon. How could I not? How could I accept that all this pain was real? That causing it was my job? That I was trying to save a world that couldn't be saved? That thing with the roses wasn't Paki. It was a chaos entity, an abomination, something fundamentally incompatible with reality itself. It needed to be destroyed. So why couldn't I let myself do it? I was weak. Ended up paralyzed in Zaida's parking lot, surrounded by a sickly, overly flowery smell. I was weak. That couldn't happen again. I was weak. I should have killed her when I got the chance. I was weak. I snapped back to "reality", and the Roserade. It had fainted caught in the blast of an Overheat. I couldn't stop myself from hearing it screaming. I couldn't stop myself from wondering if it felt pain. If it knew what it did to get hurt. Did it know that we were fighting it just so we could get the experience? Did it think we hated it? Did it think it did anything wrong? She always did like roses. And I'd always liked fire. Fire could at least warm people up. All roses do is stab you, wither, burn, and die. And fire spreads from them and destroys everything in its path. She was right to call me a disaster. What else could I be?
"Uh, are you okay?" The kid's elation had broken. They honestly looked concerned. Why? What was there that they could do? I was their superhero. Their perfect admin. I wasn't allowed to show weakness like this. Fight with valor. Burn through the pain. Tame the destruction.
"I need to go. Thanks for the raid."
The ride back to HQ passed without perception. I didn't recall anything, really, sitting blankly in front of my laptop, watching the same show I'd seen too many times. Rants about friendship. Determination. Passion. Metaphorically blazing hearts. It didn't mean anything. It was all something people wrote to sell animated ideals to misguided kids. There was no point in inspiring people with those kinds of platitudes. Passion may burn or whatever, but all it does is burn you out once it ends up in the wrong place.
"Does anyone know an Adira Blaine? They apparently need to reschedule a dentist appointment." Xiampe breezed into the room as always. If I squinted, it almost looked like he slithered a couple inches above the ground. He could just dissociate and give into the void. Why couldn't I?
"I'll take that." I snatched the phone from his hand without bothering with any explanation.
"Who gave you that name?" I tried not to sound angry. It didn't work. The words ended up coming out as more of a growl than anything else.
"Uh, sorry, ma'am, I'm new here. Is there something else you'd prefer to be called?" I could hear the tension in the person on the other end's voice. They were probably bracing themself to be yelled at. I knew the feeling.
"My name is Researchy. Nothing else. And put my appointment in for next Tuesday."
Hurika approached me after I hung up the phone with what seemed to be legitimate curiosity. "Wait, your name's not Researchy?"
"Did you honestly think it would be? I picked it out of an Insulan dictionary years ago when I needed a name for my character back when I was first starting out on the roleplay boards. Put it in as my username everywhere. Met most of my friends under that name. It stuck, and eventually it became what I called myself. Only thing Adira gets is my credit card and my grades. As far as you're concerned, Adira Blaine never existed. Even if she did, pretty confident she's dead now and I'm just living off her inheritance." I let a single sharp noise that was supposed to be laughter but failed before it left my mouth.
"Uh, are you okay? You don't sound as peppy as I'd expect seeing as you just came back from a mission. People really like your escapades, you know. The footage of you taking out that bug's all over the fileshares. I must admit myself that the way you got its spores to explode was pretty spectacular."
"Stop asking if I'm okay. The fact you feel the need to ask at all implies that you think I'm your responsibility. Well, I'm not! The only person in charge of my destiny and my attitude is me! What does it mean to you if I'm not okay? That I'm weak? Well, forget that. Forget you ever saw this! It didn't happen! It's not me! This is not what Researchy does!"
"You're going third person again. Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?"
"There's nothing to talk about. I got you a sample of that thing. It's another organic matter manipulator, might give us some hints on how Paki works." I handed her the vial of ash before turning back towards my laptop.
"Okay, I can see you're not in a mood to discuss things. But you're going to need to deal with it at some point, you can't turn everything into rage."
"Says the girl who hasn't felt anything in 3 years."
"You should put your gear through an extraction cycle. You seem fine animum-wise, but it's best to make sure, especially when dealing with toxin-like substances. If nothing else, you reek. Take a shower if nothing else."
I wasn't going to take a shower. If nothing else, my body temperature was still up, so I'd probably just end up breaking the pipes again. I glanced back toward my laptop, where the same show was still playing. "You can't turn everything into rage", she said. And maybe that's true in reality. But that's not where we live. When do you see superheroes going to therapy? And where else do you shoot magic fire-that's-not-really-fire at extradimensional monsters? All it takes to focus your energy into something constructive, or destructive, they're basically the same thing, is a pounding soundtrack and a cry of purpose.
"I am Researchy, lead combat operative of WHAT, and whatever threatens Veritas is my enemy!" My voice sounded awfully small without crackling accompanying it.
- Name: Researchy. Nothing else unless you're paying my taxes.
- Species: Sluslis.
- Gender: Female
- Pronouns: she/her/hers
- Age: 21
- Orientation: Lesbian
- Occupation: Head combat operative at W.H.A.T.
- Abilities: Assorted stuff involving transferring heat. I can drain heat from stuff and put it into myself, release my body heat and animum in fire-like blasts, make stuff burn or explode, and have total control of my body temperature as long as I don't get too mad.
Sloppy = I've never been much for cleaning, but I've got a system. It just only makes sense to me.
Outgoing = I may have withdrawn a bit, but I really like being part of a community. It's why I founded the raid group and got into sororities.
Active = Even before fighting stuff became my job, I was super into exercise and building up my strength. Of course, I spent more time level grinding characters in games as opposed to physically exercising back then, but it still counts, right?
Playful = There's no shame in holding on to "childish things" if they're fun or helpful to you, am I right? It's not like most of my money goes toward fandom stuff or anything.
Nice = I want to help people. Whether that means offering counter suggestions for raids or being the local superhero is irrelevant.
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"Hmm. I only got two shinies...at least I can get a Metagross."
I was sitting on the couch at HQ, scrolling through several pages of Beldums from Community Day to determine which of them to evolve. I had several good specimens that would make great Metagrosses for raids, especially with the sheer power behind Meteor Mash. It was a pretty successful day; I got to see some of my old friends from the raid group who I hadn't hung out with much since signing on with WHAT.
"I have an extra I can trade you. Do you still have an extra Mudkip?"
My entire body tensed as Paki rounded the corner to peer at me through all of her eyes, including the ones on the vine mouths. I'd never get used to seeing her like that. Her true face still flashed at me through all of the demonic trappings and she still dressed like herself, all like she was going to go to a job interview every damn day.
"Why are you even still playing? You left the raid group and all you ever talked about while you were in it was how stupid it was."
"Oh, I only logged on for this event. I like Beldum. It's cute, plus I heard from all of your ranting in the hallways that the exclusive move is really good. Anyway, are we trading or not?"
"Yeah. Sure. Whatever."
I wasn't going to bother arguing with her. Maybe if I gave her the damn Mudkip, she'd go back to doing whatever it was that she did. I kind of missed back when we lived together and she'd get her kicks from going out for hours on end to bar-hop and prod at people who I didn't have to see. The nights that she didn't get back till morning were the best sleep I got.
"By the way, I changed my username. You'll find me under RoseBlade420."
I froze when I heard that name. That was exactly the username she'd used back when we first met on the roleplay forums. She introduced herself as new to the craft, but she'd always found the idea of becoming someone else, someone powerful, fascinating. She joined my campaign, but she wasn't interested in the plot. She just wanted me. We started chatting one-on-one a lot more. My campaign got a new DM because I'd gone inactive. She'd get jealous whenever I chatted with anyone other than her. We weren't even really role-playing at that point. We were still under our character names, but we were just talking about our lives and...figuring things out together. Exploring what we could do, all through the safe lens of anonymous avatars. Eventually we exchanged our info in real life. We were considering meeting up for coffee or something, to finally put a face to a name and see if we were as hot as our characters (we weren't). Then our meet-up got complicated when my mom saw one of our conversations when I was at work. I worked at a fast food restaurant back then, flipping burgers. I hated it, in part because I never got to keep any of the funds. I made the mistake of not shredding one of the printouts with my password. I came back from work to see my suitcases packed and the lights and utilities off.
The suitcases were filled with everything except the tiny little flip phone I kept on my person at all times that she didn't know about; I kept it in a pencil case. I immediately texted Paki, told her everything. She said that her family would be happy to have me, that she was just about to get a high-up job at her parents' financial firm and that she could get me the money to go to college. She pulled up into the old community center 5 kilometers from my house about 4 hours later. I was hungry and covered in sweat and apologized for how terrible I looked, how seriously I was inconveniencing her, how much of an asshole my mom was. She didn't care about any of that. She kissed me as soon as she arrived and swept off in some car that cost more than anything I'd ever owned to save me like some sort of knight in shining armor. Just like in the roleplays.
"Rii, you're dissociating again. The trade's open, you sad bitch."
"Don't call me that."
"What? 'Rii' or 'sad bitch'?"
"Either. I'm sending you the Mudkip." My voice remained completely flat. After I sent her the damn Mudkip, she'd leave. Hopefully.
"Cool, thanks. You know, I never liked Pokémon Go. I barely liked role-playing; it just seemed silly after about the first two weeks I tried it. But I kept doing all of it because I wanted to support you. Isn't that nice of me that I can step in to save you with some, hehe, shiny armor? Enjoy the Beldum. It even came out lucky. Should be an amazing Metagross with the meteors and the mashing."
I called her the whole "knight in shining armor" thing so many times back in the day. That was her whole motif back on the roleplay forums. She was a renegade knight from a kingdom that had been taken over by demons and then got warped into the modern world by a curse. She didn't understand modern customs. Courtly love was perfectly acceptable. It was totally okay for her to approach me so incessantly even though I already had a girlfriend in the RP. Once we made things official, she called me her princess. She was always nicknaming people. Maybe because she didn't want to acknowledge anyone's reality but her own?
"Thank you. It is indeed good. 96% IV." I tried my hardest not to look at her, even as she leaned over me, emphasizing the low cut of the top under her blazer and the curvature of those damn vines.
"Any time, princess."
I stared at the Beldum. It was, in all respects, a damn good Pokémon. But it still came from her. She'd even nicknamed it "Rii" just to twist the knife further. I always wondered why she was like this, why she did this, whether she found it amusing or had been deeply twisted in the past or just wanted to feel powerful or what. There was never going to be an easy answer. My only winning move was not to play, to get away from her. But life has this strange habit of always working out for everyone except me. She came right back, except now she had the power to kill me. She'd already poisoned my fiction and then she took over my new life, too. Since my mom never wanted to see me again, after I left her apartment, if it wasn't for WHAT I would have had nowhere else to go. This was my only option. I'd lost my financial options, the stories I told myself, and my control. She'd even taken Pokémon Go. Without escapism, how could I escape? I transferred the Beldum. I didn't even like Metang.