Anima Ex Machina: Two
Helter-skelter, birds flew off with the fallout shelter.

Today, Bill decided, was not his day. As far as he could tell, the people who had just ambushed him were certainly not normal interns, and he wondered briefly how he could have missed them. All three of them were large men, no less than a foot taller than he was, although that wasn't saying much. What was saying much, however, was the fact that all of them had the muscles of a football player under their starched, white lab coats. One of them practically dragged him along in a way that made it look like he was only leading the researcher down the hall; no one could see that the intern's bulky hand was gripping Bill's arms to the point where it was almost painful.

However, Bill didn't scream or cry for several reasons. One of them was because the second one, who was babbling about how excited he was to work on a project with so many stars of the Pokémon Symposium, was gripping Bill's shoulder in a way that only looked like a friendly grasp. Bill said nothing as he felt the man's hand tense over his collarbone. It felt like his new friend was trying to poke through his skin to the major artery underneath, and Bill knew that one good squeeze there would bring him to his knees. The touch itself wouldn't knock him out, of course, but he knew it would stun him just enough for something else to happen. He didn't want to think about what his captors would do if he became any more vulnerable than he already was.

Another reason was because the third bulky intern, the tallest of the three, walked behind the group at a distance that cast a shadow over the scientist in its middle. Bill didn't have to look back to know that the top of his head barely reached the man's chest, which meant that the man could easily reach up and twist his head off with the same amount of effort one might use to turn a doorknob.

This was, of course, ignoring the fact that any resistance Bill would have put up would be met with three football players beating him into submission. The simple fact of the matter was that Bill was by no means a fighter. He had no pokémon or weapons on his person; Polaris's security measures meant that someone of his rank wasn't authorized to carry any. On top of that, aside from a few self-defense lessons in college and a lifetime of watching B-rated kung fu movies, he had absolutely no unarmed combat training.

In short, he was screwed.

Silently, he let himself be led to a laboratory further down the hallway. They only saw a couple of passing scientists along the way, none of whom seemed to care much about the group. Bill couldn't blame them. All of them were focused on their own jobs and their own tasks at Polaris, so, really, the interns' entire attempt to look at all friendly was rather unnecessary in his view. Of course, he couldn't quite tell them this. All he could do was play along because it meant that, at the end of the day, he'd walk away with his body intact.

He hoped, anyway.

At the door, the intern who guided him by the arm swiped a card and proceeded through the rest of the security measures. Bill watched with mild interest. He didn't know who these people were, but he at least knew that they hadn't somehow broken in. The door swung open at that point, and he was led inside, passing through the doorway without another glance towards the first intern.

Right after the door closed behind the group, all pretenses were dropped. Bill was shoved forward, into a group of waiting hands. Almost all of them wore the lab coats and sea-green scrubs that identified them as interns. Only one of them was any different, a male security officer who stood by the door with his hands clasped behind his back. Bill only took one glance at the latter, and that sick feeling in his stomach grew a little worse.

He couldn't see much of the room thanks to how many people were crowding it. As far as he could tell, it was identical to Laboratory D, with the only difference being a tank of red water instead of a window to a concrete room. Backing up, Bill immediately recognized where he was based on that window alone.

"Laboratory F," he murmured. "This is where they keep XP-650, isn't it?"

"Very good. You know your way around Polaris Institute already."

He looked straight ahead to the source of the voice. At the opposite end of the room, a short blonde sauntered forward. One of her pale hands reached into a pocket of her lab coat, and with a fluid movement, she brought out a black PDA and slid its stylus into her opposite hand. Her purple eyes fixed on its screen as she tapped a few options.

"Now, let's see. Who are you?" she asked. "Oh! Profile match already!"

She looked up and flashed a smile at Bill. Although her face looked like a young girl's, something about that smile made Bill shudder. It was just a little too wide and showed just a bit too much of her clean, white teeth. Or perhaps it was the fact that the girl looked a little too innocent, with curly, golden pigtails caressing the sides of a round face. It reminded him of victreebel: the kind of thing that lured prey in by looking appealing just before killing them off with one swift blow.

"Don't you just love technology?" she asked, using the same tone a girl would use with her best friend. "Of course you would. It says here your specialty, other than pokémon behavior, is pokémon-related technology. I'm a big fan of that storage system of yours, Mr. McKenzie. It's a shame we can't talk about it. I know someone who'd be very interested in learning everything you could teach him. Speaking of which..."

She pocketed the device in her hands and walked forward, brushing past Bill to approach the interns behind him. Bill turned to face her, intending on reaching for her wrist, but before he could move, two of the other grunts grabbed his arms.

"Whose brilliant idea was it to grab him before identifying him?" the blonde demanded.

All three of Bill's former companions cringed. Not a single one of them said a word.

"Don't you know how valuable he could be to us? Giovanni isn't going to be happy," she snapped.

The tallest one wrung his hands. "Well, 009, ma'am, he was the first one we could grab, and you said--"

"Hmph." She turned away from the grunts. "Useless. All of you agents are useless. We can't just let him go and find a new subject because he's the kind of person who would talk, and we can't just capture him and keep him quiet because that'll be suspicious. I guess we have no other choice but to use him anyway."

At that, the girl Bill now knew as 009 turned her eyes back on him. Bill froze, noticing at once that her expression changed slightly. It wasn't the same childlike grin he'd seen on her face just a moment ago. This time, her eyes were slanted, and her mouth was pulled into a smirk. As the girl walked towards him, Bill tried to pull himself away, but the interns held him still.

"What are you talking about?" he muttered. "Use... use me for what?"

The girl chuckled. "An experiment. Don't worry. It's all in the name of science, isn't it?"

"What?"

Bill struggled, twisting his arms in an attempt to yank himself free, but every turn he made, the grunts just gripped him harder. Wincing, he doubled over and glared at the blonde, only to see an orange-haired woman approach. In her hands was a long, glass capsule with metal ends. Within the capsule, XP-650 clicked its legs against the glass, scrambling to climb up a side. As soon as he saw the creature, his eyes widened.

"Wait! What are you doing?" he asked. "Why are you doing this?"

The blonde grinned and took the capsule. "You have no idea what happens when XP-650 comes in contact with a human, do you? Of course you don't. The Committee's been keeping that kind of thing from you for reasons I can't even imagine, but allow me to let you in on a little secret of my own. Team Rocket has agents everywhere. We know a thing or two about what happens. Soon, you will, too."

Bill knew at once what she was about to do, and with that, he tried to wrench his arms free again. "No! I won't let you! You won't get away with this!"

She arched a golden eyebrow and straightened. "'You won't get away with this'? Are you serious? What, do you think you're some kind of hero in a cheesy science-fiction movie? Oh, we'll get away with it, all right. In no time at all, you're going to be Team Rocket property. We've already got all the arrangements set to transport you out of the complex when the time's right. And who knows? If you keep your sanity after everything you're about to go through, Giovanni will even get the keys to the Storage and Retrieval System, so I think we could consider this a win for our side, couldn't we?"

Growling, he kicked the shin of one of the men gripping his arm. The grunt snorted, smiled, and responded by stomping Bill's foot. Right then, Bill was reminded of why he didn't try struggling as he was led there: the larger the opponent, the more painful it would be to get the crap beaten out of him. At just the foot stomp, Bill gritted his teeth and let loose a strained cry. His body leaned forward, but the grunts held his arms tightly enough to keep him upright. The burning pain that was developing in his shoulders as a result was only adding to the excruciating one in his foot. He shut his eyes tightly as his leg began to throb. Briefly, he wondered if his foot was broken, and if that was the case, that was certainly not going to make escaping any easier.

He realized a second too late that the pain was a distraction. Opening his eyes again, he found the orange-haired girl right in front of him. Her hands yanked his lab coat open, tore off his ascot, and let the scarf flutter to the floor. Behind her, 009 flicked her wrist and allowed a black tulip to slip into her free hand. The other hand held the capsule out for an aqua-haired man to grab. As soon as the capsule was out of her hand, she turned her gaze to the side and hid her mouth behind the flower's black petals.

"Cassidy," she scolded, "what are you waiting for? We've got a mission, and you know how the boss doesn't like to clean up potential messes."

The orange-haired girl huffed and frowned. Then, with a quick motion, she ripped open Bill's shirt and shoved him backwards. To his sides, the men holding him went with the movement, eventually pinning Bill to the tiled floor by his shoulders. Bill screamed and thrashed, which only prompted more hands to reach out and hold him down to the floor. In the meantime, the aqua-haired man moved to position the capsule over Bill's bare chest. Upon feeling its cold, metal surface, Bill shivered and tried to squirm out of the way, but he knew it was no use now.

"Scream all you want, Mr. McKenzie," 009 told him cheerfully. "That's what I really like about this place. It's so off-the-hook, isn't it? The walls are so thick and the doors so secure that you can scream and scream and not bother anyone! It's so exciting and secretive, don't you think?"

The man holding the capsule in place pressed a button on its base. Bill felt the opening in the bottom slide open. His breathing grew rapid as he felt something move across his skin.

Please, he thought. Please no please no please no...

What he felt next was pain. It was like feeling a large, hot needle getting jammed into his chest. It was like sticking a hand into a nest of rabid beedrill. It was like getting molten lava pumped into the veins.

Bill was certain he screamed because he could feel his throat vibrate. He even saw several of the people around him flinch. It was just that he was too terrified to let it register that he screamed. But by the end of it, he was lying there, breathing heavily and unable to get up. The pain dulled after a short time, but it was still there.

He could feel it moving under his skin.

The hands released him, but he didn't get up. Suddenly, he felt too weak to even move. All he could do was stare wide-eyed at the ceiling while the people above him moved out of the way. 009's face floated into view, and before he knew it, she was kneeling next to him.

"Now, this next part is really going to hurt," she told him. "I'll tell you what, though. I'm going to be nice because Giovanni doesn't like it when his property gets damaged. So, before you do anything to yourself or anyone around you, I'm going to put you to sleep for a while. Okay?"

Naturally, Bill didn't answer. He barely moved his eyes to look at her.

She smiled. "Great. Good night!"

009 placed the blossom by his nose and squeezed the stem between her fingers. A cloud of blue, glittering spores puffed out of the flower, and although Bill would have easily identified it as an extract of Sleep Powder had he been fully aware, he still did nothing except lie there and allow himself to breathe it in. As soon as she saw the small, blue cloud disappear, 009 stood.

"Already taking orders. I can tell this is going to be a wonderful relationship," she said. "Well, don't just stand there! Make this look like an accident! And you. We're gonna need a code red out there. Some idiot intern dropped the container, and XP-650 escaped! Go!"

As the crowds of Team Rocket grunts filtered towards the door, Bill's head began to swim. His vision blurred, and it seemed to be made worse as he felt himself being picked up. The people who were moving him quickly turned into blurs and then faded into shadows. Slowly but surely, every inch of him went numb. Part of him wanted to fight it, to stay awake and maybe stop the thing from crawling deeper inside him, but he knew that he had just as much a choice in the matter as he had since he was ambushed outside the bathroom: none at all.

Instead, he could only let his head fall back and his limbs go limp as his consciousness slipped away.

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