Sienna grinned. “And, you know, maybe I won’t even start talking about—”
Lightning lit up the clearing, suddenly much closer than it had been before, and thunder rumbled. And in the flash of lightning, a human figure was briefly silhouetted, before it buckled at the knees and fell limply forward into the wet grass.
“—destiny?” Sienna finished.
“Ah!” cried Lemon, and sprang up, hurrying over to the fallen newcomer. Sienna was close on her heels, and watched as Lemon carefully turned the girl face-up.
She was a younger girl; Sienna put her at maybe no more than thirteen years old, if that. Strangely, she had long, nearly-white hair that shone in the flashes of lightning above and very pale skin that bordered on translucent in the darkness. And in spite of the terrible weather—well, despite all logic, for that matter—she was dressed in what resembled a heavy-duty version of a hospital gown.
Sienna summed it up, cocking her head to the side: “Huh.”
“Don’t just stand there, do something helpful!” Lemon chastised. “She’s clearly injured. Oh, go get my first aid kit, will you? We can at least bandage her up or something, if she has any scrapes.”
“Fine,” muttered Sienna, and grabbed Lemon’s bag, rooting through it as she walked back to her and the fallen girl. “Who do you think she is, anyway?”
Lemon looked thoughtful, crinkling her nose and frowning. “I would say she’s probably another trainer, but she doesn’t look like she has any pokéballs on her… and she’s certainly not dressed for it,” she said, taking the first aid kit Sienna handed to her. “We’ll have to ask her when she wakes up.”
Sienna kicked at some grass. “Guess so,” she said, frowning. “It’s weird, though. Her showing up and all, in the middle of this thunderstorm from out of the middle of nowhere… And what ordinary person dresses like that? It’s sort of like—”
“I thought you weren’t going to start talking about destiny,” said Lemon.
“I’m not,” Sienna sniffed. “Just think it’s odd, that’s all.”
Lemon ignored her, checking for a pulse on the girl and looking for steady breathing; she even felt the girl’s forehead. “Hm,” she said. “Doesn’t seem to be anything too bad—for all I know, it’s just plain exhaustion. In any case, she seems to be sleeping all right and with no major apparent injuries, so maybe we should try to carry her back to the Pokémon Center when the storm clears.”
“Mm,” agreed Sienna, still studying the girl. “Should we maybe move her onto the tarp so she doesn’t get all wet and hypothermic?”
“Uh—Ah! Right. That’s a good plan,” said Lemon, sounding a little startled, as if she hadn’t been paying attention. “I… never mind.”
Sienna frowned. “No, what?”
Lemon shook her head as she took the girl’s legs and Sienna slipped her arms under the girl’s torso. “Ah—nothing. I was just thinking, that’s all… I was wondering where she could have come from, out here, if she’s not a trainer. Most people don’t venture out on foot too far without a pokémon on hand… and we’re pretty far from Blackthorn, aren’t we?”
“That’s practically what I said,” muttered Sienna, rolling her eyes, as they set the girl down on the tarp. “I mean, there’s an entrance to Dark Cave near here, but she couldn’t have come out of there. See, it’s weird!”
“I’m sure it’s only—” Lemon began, but stopped abruptly as the girl began to stir.
“Nnh…” The girl sat up, rubbing her eyes. She looked around, and jumped slightly from her seated position seeing Lemon at her side, looking faintly alarmed. She blinked, and Sienna was almost taken aback by their color—a rather violent shade of violet. “Who are you?” the girl asked, her large eyes wide. She really did look very young, Sienna noted.
“Ah… we’re pokémon trainers,” stammered Lemon, who had been thrown off by the girl’s sudden awakening. “We were out here training, and had to take shelter when it started raining—we found you out here. I’m Lemon Chiffon, and this is Sienna Brown. What’s your name?”
The girl looked pensive. “My… my name is Dolly,” she said, hesitantly, corners of her mouth turned down in the most delicate of frowns, as if she wasn’t quite sure she should be telling them.
Sienna thought it was a strange name—not to mention strange that she seemed so hesitant about saying it—but she kept that to herself; in any case, she wasn’t going to give Lemon an excuse to rail on about how she had no tact. She did have tact. Sometimes, anyway. Shrugging to herself, she crouched down next to Lemon. “So,” she said. “Anyway, we’re here to help you. Can you tell us anything about how you got here, what kind of shape you’re in, where you came from? Did you come from Blackthorn City?”
Dolly frowned again, her white eyebrows knitting together. “Blackthorn City… is that near here?” she asked. “Where I came from… I don’t think it was very far from here, but I don’t know if it was Blackthorn City or not.”
“You don’t know where Blackthorn—” Sienna began, incredulously, but was silenced by a sharp pinch to her arm by Lemon.
“What else do you remember about the place you came from?” asked Lemon, gently. “The more you can tell us, the easier it’ll be for us to get in touch with your family.”
“I…” said Dolly, looking a bit hesitant. “I don’t remember anything very well. I don’t… I’m not sure I…” She chewed on her lower lip slightly, looking quite distraught. “I’m sorry.”
Lemon looked over at Sienna. “Memory loss?”
“Maybe,” said Sienna, shrugging. It would certainly explain a few things. “I’m no doctor.” Suddenly, she noticed something—or rather, the absence of something: “Hey, the rain stopped!”
“Ah—it did, didn’t it?” said Lemon, cocking an ear to the sky. “How about that. And I didn’t even notice. Well, if you feel like you can walk a little, Dolly, we can help you get to the Pokémon Center in Blackthorn City, and they can help you a bit more there. They have doctors and nurses and more advanced medical equipment there, so they can probably take better care of you until you’re ready to get back on your feet properly, so to speak.”
The younger girl hesitated. “All right,” she said, finally, and got to her feet, looking a little wobbly on her legs. Lemon quickly put an arm around her on one side to steady her, while Sienna went to quickly grab the rest of their gear and pack it away into her backpack before taking Dolly’s other side.
Sienna nodded. “Good. All right, then,” she said, wearily. “Now let’s get out of here.”
“Aubergine? What’s the latest on the Dolly case?”
Aubergine sighed wearily, rubbing her temples. “We’ve already started patching the hole in the wall and sealing it up, but as far as we can tell she would have been able to make it to the outside tunnels the trainers use. Hard to track, since it’s all rock on the ground and she was barefoot, but we figure she must have gone outside. The cave exit isn’t far from where she would have come out, and she probably would have gravitated toward the lighter area—and out to Route 45.”
Doctor Orange cradled her head in her hands. “Ooh. This is really, really not good. I don’t even know—we have to get her back somehow—one way or another. She’ll probably head towards either Blackthorn or New Bark.” She sighed, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. A serious migraine was coming on. “At least she’s distinctive. There’s a blessing. As long as we can find her and find her really fast…”
“Should I get the security team out to look for her, then? Split them up?”
Orange thought for a moment. “Actually…” She frowned. “Let’s leave Security out of this one,” she said, cautiously. “We don’t know enough about what she can do even now—the observation period hasn’t been near long enough what with all the genes we spliced together—and if someone approaches her the wrong way… well, look what she did to the wall. We really don’t need a public debacle putting us on the cover of Trainers’ Daily. We’ve worked so hard, and the last thing we need is a League raid shutting us down.”
She frowned. “No, Security won’t work for this. That, and I don’t trust any of them as far as I could throw them not to rat on us to HQ about this whole farce once they’re outside. Lock ‘em down.”
A wrinkle creased Aubergine’s forehead. “But… who’s retrieving her, then? And how?”
Orange coughed lightly. “I’m calling in some… special help. What’s the saying? If all you have is a hammer, then you’ll try to solve every problem with a hammer? Something like that. This job requires…” She paused, trying to think of a way to phrase it. “Just a little more subtlety and finesse than is generally possessed by the average member of our security team, if you take my meaning.”
“Ah,” said Aubergine, with just the slightest hint of a smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth. The grunts HQ had assigned them as a security detail weren’t exactly chosen for their intelligence and innovative problem-solving; that was well-known and well-lamented by the scientists in the organization. “Well, I’ll leave it to you, then. And here’s the transcripts from the recordings that I promised you, Doctor…” She dropped a packet in a manila envelope onto the doctor’s desk.
“Thank you,” said Orange. “I’ll read them as soon as it’s convenient—in this situation, they might even help us figure out where she’s gone and what her aim is in escaping. Get someone to look over the books she was reading, too. Something in them might have inspired her to make a break for it. You said she was looking at maps? Go over the security tapes, see what she was looking at, what areas. Every hint is helpful. Even if it seems insignificant, put it in the report. I want it on my desk as soon as humanly possible.”
“I’ll get on that right away, ma’am,” said Aubergine, straightening.
“Make it so, Number One,” said Orange, loftily, and waved her out the door. It was only then that she let herself flop down onto her desk in a display of complete and utter frustration and exhaustion.
“Augh,” she groaned. “Why now of all times—and she’s perfect, too, and everything was going so well, and now she’s gone. Why me–”
—And then she snapped upright in her chair as a sudden jolt of electricity lanced through her arm. She whirled around. “What was that for?” she demanded of the magneton floating behind her.
It fixed her with a withering stare that said quite clearly: Get a grip, idiot. Orange rolled her eyes. “I know, I know, Linus, get back to work instead of whining, I got it,” she muttered, waving a dismissive hand behind her as she turned back toward the desk and the phone. As long as this whole disaster was taken care of, and taken care of quickly, nothing bad would happen.
On the other hand, if things didn’t… Orange’s thoughts flickered briefly to the inspection from the organization’s top dogs in a week, and she shuddered. It was probably best not to think about what might happen in that case.
Holding the receiver to her ear with one hand, she reached for the aspirin with the other. This was going to be one long, long week.