The hike to the city's outskirts was uncomfortable and nerve-wracking. Sienna found herself jumping at every unexpected noise, double-checking every shadow and looking over her shoulder every few seconds. Even Lemon was on edge, starting at a murder of murkrow flying overhead. Mercifully, though, the streets were near-empty—most people that had been out and about had likely gone to find out what had happened at the Pokémon Center, and so there was no one to notice two teenage trainers escorting a girl in a hospital gown through the city.
Sienna and Lemon had found a convenient copse of trees not far from the city limits a few weeks ago while training that they occasionally used as a base; it was there that they headed now, for quiet and privacy. Glancing once more behind their little group to make sure they hadn't been followed, Sienna finally turned to Dolly.
"So. Who are you and what is going on here?"
Dolly bit her lip and looked down at the ground. "Um... it's a long story?"
Sienna looked at her watch, and then back at Dolly, raising an eyebrow. "I think we have time."
"I as well would like to have a better idea of what just happened," Lemon volunteered. "If you're willing to tell us, that is."
"Lemon! That's not the way to interrogate someone!"
"Well, excuse me for having a good upbringing. With manners."
Dolly sighed—but then nodded. "All right, uh... I'll do my best—but you have to believe me, okay?"
Sienna rubbed her temples. "Believe me," she said. "After the last twelve hours, I can believe a great many things. I just... I just want to know what's going on."
"Okay," said Dolly. "Um... I'm not really sure where to start," she said. "I guess... well..." She folded her arms behind her head. "I guess a good place to start would be a year and a half ago. That was when I was born, after all."
Della Aubergine was poring over the transcriptions from the last few days' security camera recordings when the phone rang. She picked it up.
"Della Aubergine speaking—"
"What the hell, Cady?! What the helling hell? What were you thinking—"
Ah. "Hello, Miss Blue," said Della, wearily. "I'll put her on. Just a moment, please." She covered the receiver with a hand and waved to Dr. Orange, who was sitting across the room. "It's Alice Blue for you, Doctor." She glanced down at the phone. The video feed light was blinking. "Should I put her on-screen?"
"Oh, sure," said the doctor, distractedly, looking up from her own work, and swiveled around in her chair to face the video screen as Della transferred the feed.
"—could have warned us, Cady—oh, there you are, finally," Blue continued, seeming not to have noticed that Cady hadn't been on the line. Or maybe just not caring. "We found your little monster, all right. She blew up the goddamn Pokémon Center!"
Dr. Orange sighed. "I did tell you that you have to handle her carefully—wait, did you just say that she blew up the Pokémon Center?"
"With my brother in it!" Blue barked, her scowl filling the whole screen. "He's lucky he survived." She folded her arms across her chest. "We're quitting. Go find some other poor sap to do your dirty work. Or get your hands dirty yourself, for once."
"But—but you're the best," Cady argued. "There's no way I could... Look—if it's full disclosure you want, fine. I can do that. But there's no one else I can depend on, Alice. You and Dodger—"
"No damn way," said Blue. "Look, Cady, you've helped us out in the past, but Dodger—"
"Anything," said the doctor, quickly, so fast that her voice rose in pitch to a squeak. "Anything. I'll pay your rent. I'll get you a better apartment! Hell, I'll set you and yours up for life. Just... just bring her back."
Della looked up from her stack of papers and looked over at the doctor—and stared for a moment. Dr. Orange's hands, though clenched into fists, were shaking.
"I—" Blue hesitated. "I'll have to talk to Dodger," she said, finally. "He can't move much, you see, because as it happens most of his ribs are broken, his arms and legs are fractured and he has a bad concussion." The last part was said with more than a little distaste. "And I don't work without him."
Dr. Orange gestured wildly. "We have very advanced medical facilities here. Hospital-grade," she said. "Probably better, actually. You can use them all you like! Just—please."
And, to Della's surprise, Blue's expression softened. The woman bit her lip. "I'll ask him," she said. "Can't guarantee anything, but I'll let you know when we've decided." The video feed winked out, and the connection dropped.
It was then that Dr. Orange let her shoulders sag, letting out a sigh of relief. "Phew," she said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Good heavens." She clasped her hands behind her back. "I had a feeling she'd come around. But..." Her eyes suddenly lit up. "Such power! This is all kinds of awesome! I mean, we knew she could manage feats of this level, but this—! Oh, if only we'd had a little more time—who knows what we could have achieved? Well..." She sighed. "I'd better get busy. Aubergine?"
Della looked over, startled. She set her paperwork aside. "Yes, ma'am? Should I prep the medical team and let them know we'll have someone coming in?"
"Ah—yes, do that. You are so good at thinking ahead." Dr. Orange glanced sideways at Della. "I was going to ask, though—how would you feel about a promotion?"
Della blinked. "A... a promotion? Me? Well, I..."
"Wonderful!" The doctor grinned. "As things happen, I have to take a sudden and unexpected trip. I was hoping to be able to put you in charge. I'm sure you can handle it. It'll only be for a week or so, after all."
"A... a week?" Della mentally counted days in her head, and they were adding up to trouble—"Doctor, the inspection is in a week—"
"Ah, but what am I standing around here for? Time is of the essence. I must be packing. I'll rely on you, Aubergine!" And with that she slid out the door before Della could say another word.
"Well," Della said to herself, sitting back in her chair. "What now?"
"A... year. And a half," Lemon repeated, blankly. "That's—that's not even possible!"
"Look, I..." Dolly began, and then shook her head. "I don't know much about how things work, but I did pick up that usually I'm impossible." She cast her eyes up to the sky, a plaintive expression on her face. "How do I explain this?" She bit her lip, frowning. "This probably isn't the best way to do this, but..." She turned around, abruptly, facing away from them. "Think of a number," she said.
Lemon and Sienna looked at each other. Lemon raised a hand. "Er, I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what this has to do with—"
"Just... humor me for a minute, all right?" said Dolly, tersely, without turning around.
"Ah—all right," said Lemon. "Uh..."
Lemon sat up sharply. "What did you say?"
"Fifteen. You were thinking of the number fifteen." She paused, and pointed at Sienna. "You're thinking of forty-two."
"Wha—how did you do that?" asked Sienna, blinking. "That totally was what I was thinking—okay, how about now?"
"One hundred twelve."
"Five hundred thousand, six ninety-two and three quarters—"
"Hang on a second!" Lemon cut in. "What is going on here?"
Dolly shifted on her feet, tucking her arms behind her head before turning around. "Um... well, I guess you could say... I'm psychic. Loosely."
"And there's people after you because you escaped from their secret facility for psychics?" Sienna blurted out, excitedly.
"Sienna!" Lemon rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous, this isn't one of your stupid sci-fi shows or whatever—"
"Well—that's actually pretty close, I guess," Dolly cut in, before Lemon could finish.
"You—" Lemon gaped. "You have got to be kidding me."
Sienna flatly ignored her, looking at Dolly with an expression of dawning awe—and more than a bit of glee. "So—wait, seriously?"
Dolly sighed, rubbing her temples, and looked at Sienna. "Well—short answer is yes, pretty much. Long answer... you were nearly right. The place I came from... the place where I was created, I guess you could say—there was, as far as I could tell, some secretive initiative to create... beings like me."
She looked down at her feet. "I'm not... I am, for the most part, like the two of you, genetics-wise," she said. "Mostly. But, the thing is, I'm also a lot like... like, say, an alakazam. Or a kirlia. Something like that."
Lemon stared. "What."
"Look, I know it sounds weird," said Dolly, hastily. "That's just the way they explained it to me." She shrugged, her face blank. "So, that's me, Dolly the lab experiment."
Sienna sat back on her makeshift stool. "So... the fake doctor—"
Dolly shook her head. "I don't know him—but I know who sent him." She shuffled her feet again. "I... kind of lied. A bit. About what I remember." She sighed. "The place where I came from... isn't too far from here. Basically..."
She looked sheepish. "I kind of ran away. And, well, I—I know they want me back at the laboratory." She looked desperately at Sienna and Lemon, casting her glance back and forth. "I really didn't want to hurt anyone! I didn't! I was scared, and then everything just—"
Sienna gaped. "You blew up the Pokémon Center."
Lemon looked sideways at her. "That's impossible—"
Dolly shuffled her feet. "Er. I didn't really mean to, if that helps."
"I—" Lemon stared at her for a moment, holding up a finger, and then slumped down. "You know, I am at a loss for words. This... this, I think, may be a little too much for me." What was this, anyway? Everything had been so normal yesterday, and now it was like she was in one of Sienna's adventure paperbacks. Psychics and explosions and secret laboratories... they were all fine and dandy in fiction, but in real life? Seriously? This wasn't supposed to be happening!
Sienna, of course, was more eager. "So where are you planning to go now?" she asked, practically bouncing on her seat.
"I have—" Dolly looked down at her feet. "I have someplace I have to go. Soon. But I don't know how to get there."
Sienna cocked her head to one side. "What, are you meeting someone?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure. All I know is that I have to be at a place called Mount Coronet in Sinnoh, in—" A momentary pause, "—a week and two days, and it's very important."
Both Lemon and Sienna looked up at that, and then at each other. There was something in the way she said it, Lemon reflected. Something... heavy. Something that said that this was only the very tip of the iceberg.
Pushing down the feeling of dread coiling in her stomach, Lemon cleared her throat. "Er—"
Sienna blurted it out before Lemon could stop her. "We'll take you!"
"Sienna!" Lemon cut in. "Sinnoh? You can't be serious! What about getting your badge? What about the league tournament that you've been talking my ear off about for months?!"
"Oh, come on, Lemon, don't be a spoilsport," said Sienna, cheerfully, clapping Lemon around the shoulders. "This sounds like grade-A adventure! The tournament is every year. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Plus, we're helping people! You love helping people!"
Lemon brushed her away. "Don't make me regret it. Sienna, my mother will kill me. And some of us who are qualified for the tournament would like to get to go!"
"What, suddenly the tournament's so important to you now?"
"Well—" Lemon looked down at her feet, a little guiltily. "I found out who I'm against in the first round this morning. Remember Slate Grey, from Olivine?"
"Er, no." Sienna frowned. "Should I? Was he cute?"
"He was the one who defeated me by the tiniest of margins and then had the gall to be patronizing afterward!"
Sienna stared at her for a moment—and then burst out laughing. "That's why you don't want to, haha, save the world? You want to make sure you're back in time to get revenge on a guy who probably doesn't even remember your name? And you call me childish! Oh, this is priceless."
"You would do the same," Lemon huffed.
"News flash," said Sienna. "I've gotten owned in battles, what, how many times? About a zillion? After a while you stop taking it personally, Princess."
"You said you were going to stop calling me that!"
"I said I would when you stopped acting like one!"
Lemon reddened. "Well, maybe I want to pursue some things that I want to do! Because I'm qualified, and haven't been trying to get past Clair for a month! Just because you want to go off chasing some wild destiny that may or may not exist—"
"Oh, you want to talk selfish? Look, this is really important to Dolly—"
"And you're a coward!" Sienna shouted back, causing some murkrow roosting in the trees to flap away indignantly at their peace being disturbed. She lowered her voice. "I thought you were telling me just last week that it was perfectly okay to not go to the tournament ASAP, and that if I had to wait another year it was just fine—"
"Stop it!" Dolly cut in—and then immediately dropped her gaze to her feet. "I don't want to cause trouble. I'll just get there on my own, I guess, I'll be okay..."
Sienna and Lemon looked at each other—and Sienna sighed, and held out a hand. "Sorry. I got a little angry. Forgive me? We can talk this out like intelligent people."
"Thanks," said Lemon, and took the offered hand. "And for what it's worth, I'm sorry too."
For a moment, no one said anything, and an awkward silence enveloped the clearing. And then Lemon's phone beeped.
"Aha! That was my phone! Er, well, I guess I'd better see who called me," she said, with a manic edge to her voice; she fumbled in her pockets for the device. "Um—"
She stopped dead as she saw the caller's name. "That can't be—oh my God!"
"What?" asked Sienna, frowning.
"It's—well, a friend of mine called, but last I heard she was—well, just let me see if she left a message, and I'll tell you—" She quickly punched in her voicemail password, her heart pounding in her chest, and listened intently.
The message was only thirty seconds long. When it ended, Lemon replayed it just to make sure she'd heard everything correctly. And then she shut the phone with a snap and put it back in her pocket before turning to face Sienna and Dolly.
"I just got a call from an old friend of mine," she said, slowly. "Name of Fontaine Bleau. I haven't heard from her in four years because she's been in Hoenn."
Sienna's eyes grew wide. "What—seriously? Who goes to Hoenn?"
"Her mother... was a news reporter. You might have heard of her—Gabrielle Bleau?"
"Yeah, I—" Sienna went white as a sheet. "The one who died last year—"
Lemon winced. "Yeah. That one." She sighed. "Anyway... well, since the war ended, the Team Aqua blockade cleared out and so—well, I know I'd want a change of scenery. Fontaine was calling because she'll be stopping in Olivine port... on her way to Sinnoh." Lemon closed her eyes. "So... well, God damn it, Sienna, you win. It's adventure time."
"Really?" A grin was slowly spreading on Sienna's face. "Lemon, did I ever mention that you're the best?"
"Hmph." Lemon crossed her arms. "You owe me. Don't forget it."
Dolly blinked up at her, with her wide, unsettling eyes. "Um... thank you," she said.
Lemon gave her a weak half-smile. "Truth be told, I would have done it anyway. You look like a kid who could use a friend." She shrugged, tipping her head Sienna's direction. "We can try and get back before the tournament starts, right? It's still over a month to go."
She sighed, resting her elbows on her knees. "In any case..." Lemon felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. What had she gotten herself into? "What do you think's the fastest way to get to Olivine?"
Sienna leaned back against a tree. "Dunno. Fly?"
"Two hundred miles... at... forty miles per..." Lemon looked at her watch, doing the math in her head. "I think we'll make it. It'll be five hours in flight, but we'll make it." She looked sideways at Sienna. "Are you sure?" she asked.
Sienna sighed. "Honestly—" She looked up at the sky. "I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't even know what we're up against here, or what's at stake..."
She glanced back at Lemon—and grinned. "And I've been waiting my whole life for something like this to happen to me. Come on!" Sienna said. "This is going to be awesome."
Lemon tucked a strand of wavy blonde hair behind her ear. "My mom's going to kill me, though, if she hears I'm going to Sinnoh without her permission."
Sienna put an arm around her shoulders. "Then I guess we're going to have to make sure she never finds out," she said. "Dolly, you've got yourself a ride, provided we can make it to Olivine City before tomorrow morning."
"Thank you so much," said Dolly, meekly. "I know you don't really know me—"
"Eh, come on," said Sienna, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I don't know you that well—but I'm going to, right?" She looked up at the sky. "And now it's getting on in the day—and we'd better get going if we want to catch your friend in Olivine, Lemon." She frowned. "That, and it's probably better to not be around here in the near future."
Lemon gave a nervous glance over her shoulder, into the deep woods. "Mm," she said, and reached for her skarmory’s pokeball. "Well, here goes nothing."