Anima Ex Machina: Eight
Greater than situation is implication.

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SEARCH RESULTS CLASSIFIED. ENTER PASSWORD.

TIER 3 ACCESS ACKNOWLEDGED. PLEASE WAIT.

Polaris Institute Employee Dossier
ID NO. #025124202
Name: McKenzie, William H
Clearance level: CLEARANCE SUSPENDED. DENY ACCESS ON ALL LEVELS.
Notes: Infected with parasite XP-650A. Quarantine level 5.

FURTHER INFORMATION CLASSIFIED. MINIMUM TIER 4 CLEARANCE REQUIRED. ACCESS DENIED.

The cursor continued to blink on a laptop's screen in Viridian City. It was the second dossier that crossed that screen, but it was the one that made the man staring at it drum his large fingers on the surface of the desk in front of him. His black eyes fixed themselves on the other window on his monitor, the one containing a video conference call with Professor Nettle and the Black Tulip. Nettle wrung her hands nervously; 009 stood beside her, stiff and emotionless. For a long while, the man simply stared at them, ignoring even the persian rubbing herself against one of his legs.

Suddenly, the man balled his hand into a bulky fist and slammed it into his desk. The persian withdrew, her cream-colored fur standing on end. With a screech, she darted away and hid herself behind a plant in the corner of her master's dimly-lit office. Quietly, she watched the man with one eye while he spoke in a low tone.

"Do you mean to tell me you let Team Rocket property escape?"

The Black Tulip lifted her chin. "Giovanni, I know this seems like a disappointment, but it's only a minor complication. We can harvest new specimens."

"009, normally, I'm very patient with you," he growled, "but you've already failed me one too many times. I thought you were my finest officer."

In a split second, the agent's face paled, but just as quickly as it happened, she straightened and forced her face to take on its emotionless state again. "Don't worry. I still am. The Polaris Operation isn't over yet."

"That's where you're sadly mistaken," Giovanni replied. "The situation at Polaris Institute is unrepairable. You've called an attack, and many of our agents' covers have been compromised in the process. I have reason to believe that the authorities are aware of our presence within the facility. Security will be at its highest. Access to XP-650 -- either form -- will be nearly impossible."

"Nearly but not completely! I can still get you two more!"

Giovanni pounded the desk again. "Enough! 009, for the past few years, you have given me nothing but one failure after another for no reason I can understand. I've been growing increasingly tired of your inability to give me results, and now you have the audacity to offer empty promises instead?"

She clenched her fists in an attempt to keep herself from shaking. "Giovanni, this is only a minor setback! I can do this!"

"A minor setback would be if you lost only one specimen without being detected. However, you have alerted the entirety of Polaris Institute to our presence while losing two fully-grown XP-650B. Your incompetence doesn't stop there, either. One of the potential weapons you've created and quickly lost would have been better use to us as a human. Or perhaps you didn't think to get the security codes for the Storage and Retrieval System from McKenzie before you let him escape, did you?"

009 stiffened her body. "Giovanni, I didn't select the targets. I--"

"Who was given command of the Polaris Operation?!" Giovanni roared. "You, 009, were given very simple instructions: select a single target, ensure his infection, incapacitate him after transformation, and transport him out of the facility. You have done only one of these things correctly, and now, you wish to pass the blame for your inability to lead to someone else?! In light of all of this, I relieve you of your position at Polaris Institute. You are as of now reassigned to a mission even you can't screw up."

"Giovanni!" she screamed.

He completely ignored her. "I will be arranging your withdrawal from Polaris Institute under the pretense that you have submitted a request to transfer to the facility in New Bark Town. A transport ship run by one of our operatives will come to pick you up in three days to take you to Hoenn."

"Hoenn," 009 repeated. Her arms went limp as she began to realize just what this reassignment meant. "Giovanni, you can't..."

"Your new mission," he continued, "is to locate one specimen each of XP-650A and XP-650B and contain them both. Transport them to a base Team Rocket officers have established in Slateport City before anyone becomes aware of our presence in the region."

009 didn't respond. Her arms hung at her sides, and she stared at the screen blankly. She couldn't say a word. This was her superior, the man who up until recently, she had wrapped around her finger. Now, he was sending her to a war zone to do a grunt's job. What else could she do?

"Furthermore," Giovanni said, "if you locate McKenzie, you are to capture him and bring him in addition to the samples you've collected. If we can't use him to take control of his system, we can at least use him as part of our army. Is all of this clear, or do I need to repeat myself in simpler words?"

"It's clear, sir," 009 said softly.

"Good. As for you, Professor Nettle..."

Nettle lifted her chin. For the entirety of the conversation, she was busy steeling herself. Part of her was struggling not to show pleasure at the sight of the Black Tulip being reprimanded while another part knew that the next blow Giovanni would land would be on her.

"Yes, sir?" she asked.

"You are to follow her," he told her.

Although Nettle could feel her face grow hot, she tried her best to remain as calm as possible. "Follow her, sir? But haven't I done a satisfactory job with the operation you've given me?"

"From what I understand," he snapped, "it was your fault that Codename Abel was created, and if you must ask about your performance before your blatant act of defiance, your so-called leadership skills have only been an embarrassment to the company as a whole. You're lucky enough that I'm not sending you back to the Ellesmere camp where I found you."

"But sir--!"

"Do you understand your mission, or would you prefer a colder assignment?"

At the tone of his voice, Nettle jumped and bowed her head. "I understand completely, sir."

"Good. Then, prepare yourselves. You have three days." He emphasized the last two words, as if his tone was a hammer that drove each syllable into their skulls like spikes.

They were about to say something in return when one of his thick fingers hit a button on the computer. The window containing their call immediately closed, and his office fell silent. Cautiously, Persian crept out of her corner and padded back to her master. With a smirk, he reached down and stroked her silky coat, smoothing it down with each touch.

In front of his desk was a pair of chairs, well out of view of the laptop's webcam. A red-headed woman in white quietly sat in one of them, her legs crossed and her hands folded neatly on her lap. She watched her superior cater to his pokémon until she cleared her throat.

"Team Rocket has no base in Slateport City," she said.

Giovanni glanced into the red eyes of his executive. "You're far smarter than they are."

"I try, sir."

At her response, Giovanni grinned and stood, turning to face the window behind him. He reached for the blinds and separated two of its plastic bars just enough to peer out into the bright daylight.

"You're correct," he said. "There is no base. However, should they be lucky enough to survive and complete their mission, we can send operatives to pick up their results."

"What about Professor Nettle and 009? Wasn't the infamous Black Tulip your favorite agent?"

Giovanni nodded. "She was, but as you can see from our conversation just now, she's since become incompetent. Professor Nettle was barely useful at all, even as a mole within the Pokémon Symposium. It would be far better to release them in Hoenn. If they don't succeed, we would at least save ourselves the trouble of disposing of two hindrances to our organization." He looked over his shoulder. "What do you think of this, Ariana?"

She smiled. "It's a brilliant strategy."

"Yes," he drawled. "You're far more clever than 009 could ever hope to be. Ariana, I'm reassigning both Professor Nettle's and 009's operations to you. Salvage them, and don't disappoint me."

At once, she stood and bowed. "You can trust me, sir."

---

Looking at John McKenzie, one would never guess he and Bill were in any way related. They had the same shape of face, but while Bill was short and dark-haired (though the latter was artificial), John was tall, with the only hair on his head being his mouse-brown eyebrows, mustache, and goatee. Bill spoke softly, holding his voice back to morph a thick, Goldenrod dialect into something that could be easily understood, but John's voice boomed through a room, his tongue rolling in what sounded like a thick, Scottish accent.

So, while Bill would walk down the halls of Polaris without being noticed when he didn't want to be, John's heavy footsteps resounded off the walls as he joyfully greeted several very startled officers in security. It took him several minutes to pass through checkpoints and file paperwork because of this, but at the end of it, beyond a final metal detector in a long, white hallway, he came face-to-face with two people who made him quiet down: Professor Oak and a dark-haired intern.

"Sam!" John exclaimed as he gave him a firm handshake. "It's been far too long, you arcanine!"

The aide cringed a little -- not enough to be noticed by normal people, but John was just as observant as his son. With a laugh, he clapped a hand roughly on the boy's shoulder.

"Who's this?" he asked. "Sam, he looks barely old enough to grow hair on his chin!"

"Tracey Sketchit, sir," the boy croaked under the weight of the hand.

John laughed, the sound echoing down the hall. "No need to 'sir' me! Call me John! You know, you remind me of my son: not much older than a boy but very eager and even more uptight. Relax! Life is beautiful! Ah, that reminds me."

He turned to Oak. All of a sudden, his face darkened, and his smile faded. Tracey shivered and took a step back, but Oak set his jaw and waited for the inevitable question.

"Professor," John said, "where is William?"

---

As soon as Bill opened his eyes, he winced in pain and shut them again. His head felt like someone took a mace to it, and the bright light and stark white ceiling above him weren't helping.

Why does this feel familiar? he thought.

He forced an eye open, and one of his hands tried to move to rub his temples. However, before that hand could go far, something snapped at his wrist and stopped his movement with a rattle. Another wave of déjà vu hit him hard as he opened both his eyes and tried to sit up.

Whatever brought him to that room apparently took no risks. He was on a hospital bed as far as he could tell, but that was the most generous thing the people did for him. Beyond that, his wrists were handcuffed to the rails on the sides of the bed, and his hands were wrapped in mittens made of duct tape. A length of chain wound itself over his torso and under the bed to pin him to the mattress. Another chain bound his legs to the bed while duct tape held his ankles together. Then, if it wasn't enough already, his tail was taped to his right side. Helplessly, he twitched the arrowhead, but it could just barely rub against the edge of the tape.

"You've got to be kidding me," he muttered.

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