Actions

Work Header

Backwards Thinking

Chapter Text

Cinnabar Labs is usually a busy place to work. Malcolm has been working there since he finished grad school six months ago and he still hasn’t learned the names of all of his coworkers, let alone who all the working pokemon belong to.

Tonight, though, the lab is empty, leaving Malcolm alone with the whirring and rumbling of the machines. The pumps are especially noisy, sucking fresh seawater into the heater. It’s attempt number four at creating survivable conditions for the Kabuto in the tanks, going for a natural environment this time. Sterile hadn’t worked, and neither had trying to artificially recreate ancient seas.

The veteran researchers had already given up on this batch, unwilling to work a second all-nighter just to watch another failure play out. They’ll go over the tank footage tomorrow, take readings, examine the dead, and start over.

Malcolm can’t bring himself to follow their example. He’s asleep on his feet and hasn’t seen Grant in two days, but he just can’t leave while any of their test subjects are clinging to life. At least Mitzi is still here to keep him company; his Meowth snores softly from atop the water heater.

There’s only one Kabuto left now, Subject 26. It’s not the one Malcolm would have pegged as the most hardy of the bunch, given that it was missing a front claw from the moment they revived it. Still, it’s hanging in there, scuttling in a lopsided loop around the tank.

Malcolm watches as it carefully balances itself on its back legs to spear a chunk of food left on the tank floor. It’s a much slower movement than even the more sickly Kabuto he’s seen try to eat. Malcolm wonders if that’s why this one died the first time, getting outcompeted for food.

Wait.

All the pokemon they’re working with are fossil pokemon, which means they died once already. Healthy, fit pokemon don’t usually just drop dead on the seafloor. Of course all the ones they’re reviving are dying right away; the machines are calibrated to alter them as little as possible from their state at the time of fossilization, a time when they were dying.

He scrambles for the phone, attached to the wall near the door, and calls his home number. It rings for a long while before Grant answers, his voice hoarse with sleep.

“Hello?”

“Babe, it’s me, I need you to–”

“Malcolm, it’s two in the morning–”

“Grant, it’s important, I’m bringing a Kabuto home, I need you to start up your prototype right now.”

“Wait, what?”

“They need medical attention, Grant, that’s why they’re dying, I’m not letting this one die too!”

“Okay, okay! I’ll wake K, we’ll be ready when you get here.”

“God, I love you, I’ll be home soon!”

*

Malcolm hangs up without another word, leaving Grant listening to the dial tone. He groans and leans his head against the wall for a moment, takes a deep breath.

Okay. He’s got this. It isn’t like this is the first time Malcolm’s woken him up with an impending disaster. “Crisis” has been Malcolm Garcia’s default setting since they met. Sure, there were never any extinct pokemon dying in their living room, but whatever! He can handle it.

He hangs up the phone and beelines straight for the nest of blankets his Kadabra made their armchair into. Grant keeps offering to get him a real bed, but he’s too territorial about his chair to even consider it.

“K, wake up, we’ve gotta work,” Grant says, nudging the pokemon’s shoulder. K grumbles in protest and curls further into a ball.

Grant sighs. “It’s important, buddy. I’ll toast you some waffles if you get up.”

K opens one eye, glaring at his trainer. He takes a moment to consider the offer, then reluctantly uncurls, psychic power kicking in to untangle him from the blankets. He extracts his spoon from wherever he hides it when he sleeps; Grant has never been able to really figure it out.

One, food. Two, work.

Kadabra only have two fingers and a thumb, so the signs they taught K are a rough approximation rather than real Kanto Sign Language, and full sentences are a bit beyond him, but he communicates well enough.

“Nope, work first. Malcolm’s bringing home one of his living fossils. Apparently they’re sick.”

K gives Grant a skeptical look. Fossil dead. Ghosts.

“Probably closer to zombies than ghosts,” Grant says, leading the way into his workshop. “Ghosts stay dead.”

K replies to that one verbally, an unsettled scratchy sound.

“I feel you, buddy. I feel you.”

Grant’s workshop is a gutted guest bedroom, filled with oversized machines that have half their casing removed. He worked at Silph’s main office until Malcolm got the job offer out here, but arranging a project he could work on remotely wasn’t hard. Silph’s wild success with mass-produced pokeballs four years ago had funded all sorts of other efforts. It’s also drastically changed the competitive training scene, with trainers suddenly having cheap, easy access to what used to be an expensive commissioned tool. Silph has an automated healing device in the works to help Pokemon Centers keep up with demand.

Right now it’s glitchy as all hell, and Grant’s job is figuring out how to fix an issue where it’s compounding Psyduck migraines, making their psychic powers harder to control and leading to a lot of accidents.

There are eight sleeping Psyduck scattered across the workshop, and another two asleep in the treatment tank of the humming healing prototype. All ten are fitted with helmets monitoring their brain waves, labeled with their names and Grant’s contact information.

“K, could you get the Psyduck out of the machine?”

K makes a noise of affirmation and floats over to the prototype. Grant follows him, stepping over a few squeaky pokemon toys. He watches K levitate a Psyduck out of the treatment tank and catch it in his arms like a toddler, but turns his attention to the machine’s control panel instead of watching his Kadabra settle the little water pokemon in with the others.

There are no presets for Kabuto. Of course there aren’t, you know, because it’s extinct. What’s closest? Can’t program a full health guide for a pokemon he’s never seen, especially not on a time crunch; gotta build from similarities. From listening to Malcolm talk about his research, he knows there’s structural similarity to Krabby.

That’ll have to do.

*

Malcolm barrels into the house with Subject 26 in his arms and Mitzi clinging to his shoulder, her claws digging through his clothes. This was not a good day to forget her pokeball at home.

“Grant!” he calls into the dark of the hallway.

Grant nearly immediately opens the door to the lab, light spilling out.

“Malcolm, shhh! Half the Psyduck are still asleep!”

As if on cue, Malcolm hears a chorus of distraught quacking from behind Grant, who groans.

“Never mind, then. Come on, Malcolm, get your zombie pokemon in here.”

“Zombie?” Malcolm asks, but hurries into the lab anyways. It’s always a bit of a mess in here, but there’s real chaos right now. All of the Psyduck but one are now awake and not happy about it, milling about and complaining for breakfast. K is the hero of the day, as usual, herding them away from the prototype with gentle telepathic nudges. Malcolm is pretty sure none of them know why they’re moving. Their lives are lived in a state of perpetual confusion.

“New title. You brought them back from the dead, so they’re zombies now,” Grant says, talking in that overly fast way he does when he’s nervous-rambling. He’s already returned to his prototype, fiddling anxiously with the wiring.

Zombie fish.

“Not you too,” Malcolm says despairingly, but K is looking at the ailing Kabuto in his arms with open suspicion. Malcolm hugs Subject 26 closer, feeling oddly defensive.

“K, aquatic test conditions. Saline, not fresh,” Grant says quickly. K takes action right away, levitating himself up to the ceiling and pulling down some of the hoses hung there, out of reach of the Psyduck. He knows which ones they need without any further instruction, and hooks them up to the treatment tank. Grant flips a switch and the tanks start filling.

“Malcolm, we’re good, put the little guy in,” Grant says, still not looking up from his work. Malcolm follows K’s example and obeys without hesitation. The water is still pouring into the tank and he’s reluctant to put Subject 26 in until it’s settled, but it’s already been out of water for a while and Kabuto are supposed to be only semi-amphibious.

The machine whirrs to life and a faint glow comes from the floor of the treatment tank. Subject 26 scuttles unhappily around, claws slipping on the smooth metal.

“Don’t worry buddy, you’ll feel much better soon,” Malcolm says, reaching into the tank to pet the back of its shell.

K’s psychic pull closes around his wrist and tugs his hand back out of the water.

“Hey!” Malcolm complains.

No touching.

*

K is pouring an entire bottle of syrup onto his waffles. Grant just watches him, all desire to protest drained out of him by a monster stress headache. He feels like one of the damn Psyduck.

On the kitchen floor, a revitalized Subject 26 is making a clumsy attempt to play with Mitzi, while she knocks it away repeatedly with half-hearted paw swipes. Malcolm is watching them with a dazed smile on his face, but Grant has already seen him doze off and startle awake twice.

“What the hell are you going to tell your boss?” Grant asks.

“No idea,” Malcolm admits, dreamily. “Didn’t think that far ahead.”

“Idiot,” Grant says.

He can’t quite keep the fondness out of his voice.

Chapter Text

All things said and done, Malcolm only has two hours to sleep before he has to go back to work. He should really be in bed, but instead he’s sleeping in the enormous pokemon nest set up in Grant’s workshop. He’s cuddled up between two Psyduck, Mitzi curled protectively around his head.

Anyone else would think he’s in here because he doesn’t want to be separated from the Kabuto, but Grant knows him better than that.

Back when Malcolm was working on his thesis, Grant discovered that his default response to stress was ‘increase proximity to boyfriend’. He did all his writing in Grant’s apartment, and if Grant was working an all-nighter, Malcolm would camp out on the floor of the computer lab. It was something of an in-joke in the department; one of his friends from school used to call Malcolm ‘Grant’s moon’. Always in his orbit.

Grant has no doubts that Malcolm would be sleeping in here even if all he’d brought home was more bad news.

K nudges Grant with his spoon. He startles and grabs the edge of his work table to steady himself.

Pay attention.

“Right, right, sorry buddy. Just… worried about him.”

Grant forces himself to stop staring at his boyfriend and turns his attention back to the text on his screen. The Kabuto is doing much better, and the process produced way fewer errors than he was expecting. The healing machine is a mess of things like this-- errors where you don’t expect them and fluid function where you expect to hit a wall.

The standard settings for Pikachu have been shown to work on Rattata with no issues even though they’re different species, but for some reason using Nidoran settings on Nidorina or Nidoqueen sterilizes them permanently.

Sometimes Grant really hates this prototype.

Still, it does provide some interesting information. The Kabuto is a female, her blood contains a unique antibiotic agent, and she has some interesting regenerative cells in her mouth similar to what Grant’s seen in Zubat studies. She can probably absorb energy from her prey.

The errors are just as educational as the regular readings. Grant had expected shell thickness to be an issue, so he’d plugged in some Cloyster numbers to give the system a range to work with. It didn’t work. The system failed to recognize the shell as an exoskeleton at all, even though it had treated the flesh inside correctly.

“Density’s way too high,” Grant mumbles to himself, scrolling through the readings. “She’d sink like a stone.”

K makes a noise to get his attention. Grant turns to his pokemon.

“You have an idea?”

Too heavy, dead. Nature.

“Yeah, but if she died because she was too heavy to swim, she wouldn’t have lived to be this big. She’s already sexually mature, and you saw Malcolm’s hatchling fossils, right? They’re tiny.”

Grant holds up a hand with his fingers a couple of inches apart to demonstrate how small hatchling Kabuto are. K mimics the gesture as a form of agreement.

Fossil science broken? K tilts his head questioningly.

Grant snorts. “Probably.”

*

Grant lets Malcolm sleep ten more minutes than he should, then shakes him awake. As expected, he’s already got a pounding headache.

“Grant, take pity. I’m dying,” Malcolm groans, tilting his head to hide his face in Mitzi’s fur. She makes a ‘murrrp’ noise and helpfully covers his eyes with her paw to block out the light.

“Good girl. Best girl,” Malcolm mumbles adoringly, which prompts a self-satisfied purr from his Meowth.

“You’re going to make the Kabuto jealous,” Grant says, which immediately shocks Malcolm into wakefulness. He tries to sit up and is immediately blocked by a Psyduck laying halfway across his chest. Mitzi trills in amusement as her trainer struggles to get free.

“Oof, heavy, heavy,” Malcolm complains, but when the Psyduck settles into his lap, he leaves it there. “The Kabuto, is she okay? How’s she doing?”

“She’s doing just fine,” Grant says. “She’s even figured out Psyduck feathers are not edible.”

Malcolm laughs, overcome with relief. “What a clever girl.”

Grant moves on quickly enough, while Malcolm is still feeling vaguely giddy about everyone making it through the night.

“So, I was going over the data while you were asleep, and I think there’s some promising stuff in there. I know it’s technically a breach of my contract to share anything from the prototype, but maybe if you bring it to Dr. Fuji--”

“Hey,” Malcolm interrupts, finally extracting the Psyduck from his lap so he can stand up. He feels wobbly and a bit dizzy, but ignores it. “You don’t have to risk your job so I can keep mine.”

Grant runs a hand through his hair, a familiar nervous habit. “Malcolm, you spent half of our first date telling me about Aerodactyl fossils. This is your dream job, I don’t want you to lose it.”

Malcolm goes ahead and kisses him. Grant doesn’t relax at all, but does put a hand on Malcolm’s arm. That’s progress.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’ve got this. Sure I broke a bunch of rules, but they got a living specimen out of it,” Malcolm says, sounding more confident than he feels.

“Malcolm…”

“I can totally talk my way through this!”

*

“You are totally screwed.”

It’s unusual for Murphy to be at her work station this early, as she’s perpetually ten minutes late. But no, today is the day she’s on time, sharing a lump of cream cheese masquerading as a bagel with her Elekid. Murphy is the expert on their entire hardware suite, having jury-rigged most of it herself, so she can get away with eating in the lab.

“Errr-- good morning?” Malcolm tries, which just makes his coworker laugh.

“Yeah, sure, good morning, mister ‘dead man walking’,” she says. “Put your contraband back where you found it.”

Murphy gestures over to the empty Kabuto tank. Bubbles, Murphy’s Wartortle, is already tending to it, standing on a stool to take water samples. In spite of his lack of thumbs, he’s handling the laboratory glassware with more care than some of the interns.

Malcolm does the walk of shame over to the tank. The Wartortle gives him an unimpressed look as he gently sets the Kabuto into the water.

“Don’t bite his head off, Bubs, Dr. Fuji’s got it covered,” Murphy calls over. Her Elekid giggles.

“Hey, I kept her alive, didn’t I?” Malcolm protests. “That’s gotta be worth something.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got no data on how you did that,” Murphy says, shaking her head. She turns her attention to the baby pokemon at her feet. “Rook, you know what he did wrong, right?”

Her Elekid squeaks and makes some wild gestures with his arms. Murphy got him as a newborn to train as a lab assistant, but it’s unclear if he’s actually absorbing any of it or just gets excited when she talks to him.

“That’s right, he forgot that we can’t replicate conditions on a treatment he did in some random bathtub!”

Rook nods enthusiastically. Yeah, there’s no way he has any idea what she means.

“Grant has medical equipment in the house,” Malcolm insists. “We didn’t use a bathtub.”

“No, I’ve talked to your boyfriend and he has a half-finished prototype that might eventually become medical equipment. Again, can’t replicate it. What mechanism does that machine use? Do you even have a theory on what the side effects might be? Use your head, there’s a bigger picture here. How are we supposed to keep the next batch alive based on this?”

Oh. That’s not something Malcolm had considered at all.

“I didn’t… Shit, Murphy, I didn’t think, I just wanted to get her through the night.”

As soon as she catches the change in Malcolm’ body language, Murphy sighs. “Don’t give me the sad puppy look, I’m not actually that mad. Your heart’s in the right place, even if your brain isn’t.” She pauses to point a threatening finger at Malcolm. “But if you get fired, I’m eating all the food you have in the break room.”

Malcolm startles himself by laughing. “Yeah, okay. I think I’d have bigger problems at that point.”

“It would serve you right for leaving me as the only person under 40 in the department. Go see Dr. Fuji, I need to do about two dozen extra tests because somebody removed a subject from controlled conditions.”

“Err, sorry.”

“Just go, Malcolm.”

*

Dr. Fuji is usually a fairly upbeat man, enthusiastic about their work and easy to engage with. When he opens the door to let Malcolm into his office, he just looks stern.

Malcolm immediately starts talking, too nervous to wait to be seated.

“Before you fire me, I figured it out! I know why they’re dying! I wanted to take the last one home because I knew I could help her, but not with what we had set up here, and it worked, so I was right--”

Dr. Fuji holds up a hand, and Malcolm closes his mouth abruptly.

“Slow down, Dr. Garcia. What happened?” Dr. Fuji says firmly, stepping back to usher Malcolm into the room.

“We’ve been reviving them as close to the state they were in pre-fossilization as possible because otherwise we’re shooting blind on how their bodies worked, but they were dying when they… died, so we’re pulling from unhealthy baselines! It’s like-- It’s like the fossil was a coma they were in because they were starving or bleeding out and we’re just waking them up without solving the problem that put them in the coma in the first place!”

Malcolm barely pauses to breathe during his explanation, leaving him almost panting by the end of it. Dr. Fuji’s expression has changed from stern to deeply thoughtful, which might be a good sign? Malcolm isn’t quite sure.

“I’ll admit, we have been prioritizing not altering the base structures over survival rates. We may have to change our methodology here if we want to make progress.”

Definitely a good sign. Out of immediate danger, Malcolm is starting to get excited about the science involved again.

“Yeah, exactly! Our data is going to be skewed by laboratory conditions anyways, it’s not like you can do field observation on extinct pokemon. If we can at least keep them alive, we can get an idea of their healthy biochemistry and work backwards!”

“Still, Dr. Garcia. You could have reported this information in the morning. There was no need to breach security protocol.”

“Err-- yes. I’m very sorry about that, sir.”

It’s a weak apology, but Dr. Fuji seems to be putting only a token effort into being angry. Murphy was worse.

“As long as the incident isn’t repeated, I’m willing to overlook it this time.”

That was much faster than Malcolm was expecting, even in his best-case scenarios. “Wait, seriously? That easy? I’m not on probation or getting a pay cut or--”

Dr. Fuji smiles, and Malcolm shuts up.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Garcia. It’s hard to argue with results.”

Chapter Text

“The joints, Paoletti, you take blood samples through the joints! Have you never handled a Krabby before? If you mess this up I’m going to drown you in the saline solution.”

As soon as he steps out of Dr. Fuji’s office, Malcolm can hear Murphy giving agitated orders to the interns. Nobody talks over her, but somehow that single voice carries the energy of the whole lab scrambling over each other.

Numb from the sudden dropoff of adrenaline, Malcolm heads to see if the chaos is really as bad as he thinks it is.

In all honesty, it might be worse.

Somebody’s printed off dozens of pages of data, half of which are now on the floor. One’s in a puddle, which was unavoidable with the amount of water that’s been splashed out of the tank. Murphy is holding Subject 26 down at her desk, shouting orders at an intern tentatively brandishing a syringe. It’s unclear how Paoletti got singled out, but the other intern is watching from a safe distance.

“Oh, Dr. Garcia!”

Yates, the less-involved of Murphy’s interns, notices Malcolm first. Her greeting distracts Murphy for just long enough that the Kabuto is able to wiggle out of her grip. Murphy swears loudly, and knocks two picture frames off her desk as she scrambles to try to grab the pokemon before she reaches the floor. She isn’t coordinated enough to pull that off, and for a second, it seems like Subject 26 is going to make a break for it.

Instead, she scuttles right to Malcolm, taking shelter behind his feet. For a moment, all the chaos stops while Murphy and the interns just stare.

Murphy breaks the silence by whistling.

“Well, damn, Malcolm, you’re her trainer now, huh?”

Malcolm ignores her, leaning over to scoop the Kabuto into his arms. She clicks at him and starts trying to get into the gap between his shirt and his lab coat.

Murphy sighs and shakes her head.

“Yeah, whatever, you can cuddle the lab specimens if you want, you already messed up the controlled conditions. Just bring her over here so I can take a blood sample. Paoletti, you’re off the hook, but for fuck’s sake, learn how to take samples from crustaceans. Yates, show him.”

“Yes ma’am!” Yates’ voice cracks and she hurries to follow instructions.

The interns rush to get out of the way of Murphy’s wrath. Malcolm watches them go.

“Idiots,” Murphy mutters, putting her pictures back onto her desk. She’s got them in plastic frames for exactly this purpose. Nobody else has their pictures up, but Murphy is either a lot more sentimental than she comes across, or she’s showing off.

She’s got a picture from her wedding (Murphy in a suit and Carmen in a sundress), the two of them posing on a tropical beach, Carmen near tears with an Eevee pup in her arms, Rook and Bubbles playing with Carmen’s Vaporeon and Poliwrath, and old photos of Bubbles as a Squirtle.

Murphy gets all of them back the way they were before turning her attention back to Malcolm.

“Alright. Bring me the specimen, Igor.”

Malcolm frowns. “The mad scientist schtick is kinda grim with a living subject. Not that it was that funny when we were doing post-mortems, but, still.”

“You get less and less fun every day. Just bring it here.”

With some reluctance, Malcolm carries the Kabuto over to Murphy’s desk. Taking her out of the safety of his coat feels like a betrayal, especially with the way she clings to his arm.

“Can I hold her while you take samples?” Malcolm asks. Murphy raises an eyebrow.

“You know, I was joking about you being her trainer. This isn’t your Meowth, she’s a lab pokemon.”

Malcolm winces. “Humor me?”

Murphy rolls her eyes. “Fine, whatever.”

The Kabuto holds on tightly to Malcolm’s sleeve while Murphy takes a blood sample. It isn’t anywhere near as dramatic as it was when Paoletti was attempting it, and Murphy steps back with a syringeful of blue blood.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, right?” Malcolm mutters to the Kabuto, stroking the back of her shell.

“You know there’s a reason you’re not supposed to get attached to lab pokemon, right?” Murphy sighs, but doesn’t make any further protest.

She doesn’t really need to. Malcolm already knows he’s screwed.

*

Grant gives himself six different pep talks throughout the day. The themes vary from “here’s why your boyfriend would be able to bounce back from getting fired” to “obviously the fact that he isn’t home yet means he is still employed and NOT that they’ve killed him and are doing experiments on the body”.

By the time Malcolm actually gets home, Grant’s nerves are totally shot and he’s sitting on the couch petting his favorite Psyduck. K is in the kitchen, putting together something resembling dinner. Usually, they don’t let him, as Kadabra tastes lean towards “obscenely sweet”, but Grant is in no shape to cook.

Grant hears the door open and hurries to get up. He ends up carrying the Psyduck with him, hanging awkwardly from his arms.

Malcolm is standing in the front hall, making no effort to remove his shoes or jacket. Mitzi is sitting at his feet, rubbing her face gently against his shin.

“What happened?” Grant asks, not even bothering with pleasantries.

“Well. I still have a job?” Malcolm’s voice breaks a little, and Grant goes with the immediate instinct to hug him. There’s some awkward fumbling before he can manage it, as he has to put the Psyduck on the floor first.

“What happened?” he repeats, gentle this time instead of frantic. Malcolm melts into the hug.

“I’m in trouble, Grant.”

“What did Dr. Fuji say?” Grant asks, expecting the worst.

“Not him,” Malcolm mumbles, pressing his face into Grant’s shoulder.

“Murphy?”

“God, no, it isn’t Murphy either. It’s that little Kabuto. Grant, she was hiding behind me like-- just like Mitzi does when I have to take her into the center for shots, and I can’t--” He takes a deep shaky breath. “She isn’t just a scientific marvel, she’s a pokemon. She wanted me to protect her and I don’t think I can.”

“Oh, Malcolm,” Grant says, lost on what else to say.

Down on the floor, the Psyduck waddles forward to hug the back of Malcolm’s legs, taking the last spot that’s not already claimed by Grant or Mitzi’s attempts at comfort. She quacks mournfully, which comes out so silly that Malcolm breaks into giggles.

“Thanks, guys,” Malcolm sniffles. Grant takes a step back, but sets his hands on Malcolm’s upper arms, reluctant to break contact entirely.

“Let’s get some food into you. K’s cooking.”

Malcolm laughs, and it comes out ragged and hiccupy. “So we’re having maple syrup soup?”

Grant makes a face. “I think we’d smell the burning. Come on, you’ll feel better after you’ve eaten something. Food and sleep, then we can figure out what to do next,” Grant says, trying not to show how worried he is. They can’t get into a panic feedback loop right now.

Malcolm nods and wipes his eyes. “Yeah, okay. Food does sound good.”

Grant just really hopes K isn’t actually trying to make maple syrup soup again. Today is not the time.

Chapter Text

Two weeks after Malcolm took her home, Subject 26 is thriving.

They’ve tried transferring her to different water types and temperatures, changing her food, taking her out of the water for varying stretches of time-- she survives all of it and still has the energy to fight any researcher other than Malcolm who tries to pick her up.

Malcolm, though, she absolutely loves. She lets him take blood samples without complaint, jumps off tables to follow him around the lab, and saves bits of her food to give him.

Today is no different. Malcolm gets into the lab a little before nine and she rushes to the side of her tank, clicking her feet against the glass to get his attention. She shows no such interest in Murphy or Yates, who are working on the guts of one of the machines nearby.

“Good morning!” Malcolm says, dropping his bag by his desk and walking up to the tank.

“Good mo-- Oh. You’re talking to the Kabuto,” Yates says.

“Of course he is. Who needs human interaction when you have a crab?” Murphy rolls her eyes. She’s wrist-deep in wiring, her Elekid’s hand on her knee to absorb stray electricity.

“Well, she’s a good crab,” Yates argues mildly. She’s no longer reading the screen she was looking at when Malcolm came in, watching Subject 26 instead.

“She’s got a point,” Malcolm says, grinning.

“Yates, you don’t have to defend him just because he said your Zubat was cute,” Murphy says, pointing accusingly at Yates with her wire cutters. “Now, shut up and pay attention to the readings.”

“Yes, ma’am, sorry, ma’am.”

Yates hastily turns back to the screen, and Murphy dives back into the wiring. Something sparks worryingly, but Rook pulls it away from his trainer before she even seems to notice.

With his coworkers now distracted, Malcolm can give Subject 26 his full attention. He puts his hand into her tank and she scuttles onto it, poking him with her uneven legs.

“How are you feeling today, girl?” Malcolm asks quietly. The Kabuto, of course, does not respond, just proceeds with her usual attempts to crawl up his arm.

“I can still hear you, Malcolm. Stop playing with the test subjects and go look at Paoletti’s gene analysis. I know you didn’t finish last night and like hell am I doing it for you.”

“Did he figure out the shell density issue?” Malcolm asks, reluctantly removing his hand from the tank.

“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?” Murphy sighs. “You’re the one reviewing his work.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m checking it, I’m checking it.”

Paoletti isn’t at his station, and Malcolm can’t remember if that’s because he’s off today or if he’s meeting with one of their supervisors. Either way, he takes over Paoletti’s spot, pulling up the report he was reading last night.

They’re still trying to pin down what’s causing the Kabuto shells to be so much denser than projected. What they’re seeing on the revived subjects is basically stone, not chitin or even the bio-minerals that rock pokemon have in their bodies. Subject 26 is too heavy to swim, and while she’s doing pretty well regardless, she’s also got a bunch of scientists dropping food right in front of her. That wouldn’t have worked out in the wild, so something must have changed during revival.

Behind him, Yates continues reading data points to Murphy, until Murphy abruptly interrupts her five minutes in.

“Margin of error?”

“I think it’s still pretty minimal—“ Yates starts to answer, but cuts herself off when Murphy pulls her hands out of the wiring and stands up.

“Oi, Garcia, stop looking at Paoletti’s stupid theories, I need you over here.”

“You literally just told me to look at his work—“

“Change of plans, I finished installing manual editing into the cellular generator.”

“Wait, what? How is it finished, Dr. Fuji said it was going to take months—”

“Just get over here and help me test it, ye of little faith.”

Malcolm stands back up and comes to join the two women, who are looking at the wall of solid data displayed on the computer screen.

“What blueprint are you using?” Malcolm asks, trying to place the data points.

“Batch A5,” Murphy says, smug.

“The specimens from A5 generated without gills. Or blood. The fossils were too damaged.”

“Too damaged to be a raw blueprint! I patched in some of the data we got from 26, and pulled a few things right from the genes, and, bam! Living crab.”

“You really think this is going to work?” Malcolm says, trying to stay skeptical but tipping his hand on how excited he is anyways.

“Haven’t you learned not to doubt me by now?” Murphy says, grinning. “Double check the gene pairs, I’m gonna help Yates load the protein solution.”

When Murphy starts walking across the lab, Rook elects to stay behind, putting a clawed hand on Malcolm’s hip. He’s been trained to ground anyone working on exposed machinery, to reduce risk of electric shock. Malcolm is actually pretty impressed— he used to only do it for Murphy.

“Good work, Rook,” he says, taking a moment to smile at the little Pokemon before he actually starts reviewing Murphy’s gene pairs. Rook fidgets a bit, but doesn’t let go of Malcolm the whole time he’s working on the computer.

There are no coding errors, although only a test run will verify if the genes she programmed will work. Yates and Murphy load a vat of concentrated liquid protein into the machine, and Bubbles fills the water tanks without instruction.

The last thing they do is call in Dr. Fuji. Murphy does that part herself, taking her rightful credit for the achievement they’re about to aim for. Malcolm stays out of her way, standing to the side with the interns. Paoletti has reemerged from whatever other project Dr. Fuji has him working on, and Yates has woken her Zubat to watch.

“The trick was to use the genes,” Murphy is explaining while she types in the last few numbers. “We were so worried about messing with them, species integrity and all that, that we didn’t think to use nature’s blueprints to fix holes in our blueprints. Won’t dodge any genetic defects, but I’ve got this thing generating cells straight from the genes where the fossil data is too damaged to use.”

“Brilliant, just brilliant,” Dr. Fuji says, watching Murphy work with a pleased smile on his face.

“Brilliant in theory, better in practice,” Murphy boasts, and pushes the button to start the process.

It isn’t a process meant for spectators. For the next ten minutes, everyone listens to the machine whirr and churn, reading the screen with increasing anxiety. When the sounds stop, Malcolm holds his breath. He’s seen some horrifically gory things come out of this machine when it doesn’t work.

Instead, when the test subject slides into the tank at the base of the machine, it’s a perfectly healthy Kabuto.

Murphy punches the air and cheers.

“Look at that! A Kabuto from A5! With gills! With blood!”

“Excellent work, Dr. Evergreen,” Dr. Fuji says, stepping forward to examine the Pokemon in the tank. Malcolm follows him, searching for any sign of the health problems present in the first attempt at reviving one from this fossil deposit.

There’s nothing wrong with it. Malcolm turns to exchange a triumphant grin with Dr. Fuji, but doesn’t get one in return— he’s still staring at the Kabuto, studious instead of victorious.

Behind them, Murphy is continuing the celebration on her own.

“Paoletti! Get me the worst failures we’ve had! I’m gonna fix every fucking Kabuto we’ve ever tried to get out of this thing!”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?“ Paoletti weakly protests, but Murphy just laughs.

“I’ll make it a good idea!”

Chapter Text

Murphy is on her fourth batch of successful Kabuto revivals when everyone finally comes to terms with the fact that this is going to be another all-nighter. Paoletti accepts reality first, calling a friend to dogsit his Growlithes before the sun is even going down.

Murphy takes a cue from that and calls her wife next. Malcolm can hear her boasting about their progress from his workstation, but mostly tunes it out.

“Oi, Malcolm! Your turn,” she calls when she comes back into the room. She’s in absurdly high spirits, grinning and high fiving Yates as she returns to her station. It’s a bit obnoxious, but it’s definitely bringing the mood up.

It takes a couple of rings for anyone to pick up at home, and the answering voice is K’s familiar rasp.

“Hey buddy,” Malcolm says, holding the phone further away from his ear. Digitizing a Kadabra’s already harsh voice makes it fairly grating. “Can you put Grant on the phone?”

K makes an affirmative noise, followed by a loud thunk. From his knowledge of K’s habits, Malcolm is pretty sure he just dropped the phone and let it swing into the wall to go find Grant.

“Malcolm?”

“Hey babe,” Malcolm says, smiling at the sound of Grant’s voice. He sounds a little winded; he must have been outside with the Psyduck.

“Oh, thank god, you sound happy. I was worried something was wrong.”

“No, I’m just going to be at work late. Murphy’s had a breakthrough, so we’re all just doing our best to keep up.”

Grant sighs, but he sounds more amused than upset. “So, I can expect you to be home... hmm, sometime next month?”

“Dr. Fuji put a limit on all-nighters after Yates fell asleep in the middle of cleaning the filters and flooded one of the testing rooms,” Malcolm says, apologetically. “If I end up staying all night, I’ll take off after lunch tomorrow, I promise.”

“I think we’re overdue for a lazy afternoon in bed,” Grant says with a sigh. “Remember when we thought we’d be less busy after grad school?”

“What fools we were. So, uh. You think your friend at the pokemon center can watch the Psyduck for a few hours?”

“I will bribe her if I have to,” Grant says, and he sounds so serious about it that Malcolm can’t help but laugh.

“I’m looking forward to it. See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, okay. Give Mitzi a kiss for me, would you?”

From the other room, Murphy starts shouting. “Hey, Malcolm! Put your personal life on hold, we’re about to do another batch!”

“Sorry, Grant, gotta go. Love you!”

“Love you too, good luck,” Grant says, laughing.

Malcolm hangs up the phone and hastily returns to the lab. Murphy gives him a thumbs up, but he turns his attention to the interns instead. Paoletti is typing furiously into one of the consoles while Yates checks the levels in the protein tank.

“Yates? You want the phone?” Malcolm asks, standing just behind her in case he needs to take over her task.

“Nah,” she says, without looking up from her work. “I brought Blueberry in, and it’s just the two of us at home.”

She tilts her head in the direction of her Zubat, who is watching from on top of the cell printer. Mitzi has settled there too, dozing happily on the warm machine.

“Oh, okay. Good evening there, Blueberry.”

The tiny pokemon wiggles her ears in acknowledgement. Malcolm smiles before finally giving Murphy his attention again.

“Which batch are we trying now?”

“M2,” Murphy says, loading the fossils into the machine. Malcolm makes a face.

“Isn’t that the one where some of the exoskeletons liquified? We went through most of the batch trying to figure it out and just got a horrible mess.”

“Malcolm, I know all true geniuses have their skeptics, but as one of mine, I’m going to need you to take it down a notch.”

Malcolm shrugs. “Alright, but you’re cleaning the tanks.”

“Hey, that’s what Paoletti is for.”

Paoletti groans but doesn’t make any more coherent complaints. Yates gives him a halfhearted pat on the back when she steps away from the protein tanks.

“I think we’re set to start, Dr. Evergreen.”

“Alright! Here we go!”

The first couple of specimens come out fine; Malcolm fishes them out of the test tank one at a time, taking advantage of their dazed state to get them over to the main tanks without too much struggle. Yates takes blood samples as they go, while Paoletti monitors the biometrics. Other than Murphy’s occasional victorious squawking, it’s pretty routine.

One of the warning lights flicks on when they’re generating the fourteenth specimen.

It takes them a moment to notice. Paoletti is the first one, glancing up from where his data is compiling.

“Oh shit,” he says, stepping away from his console. “Dr. Evergreen, one of the warning lights--”

“Goddammit,” Murphy says, cutting him off and making a beeline for the testing tanks. “We’d better just be out of liquid protein.”

“I loaded a new container before we started this batch,” Yates says, dropping the Kabuto she was examining into the water with the others.

Malcolm watches the machine as it whirrs unsettlingly. Mitzi has already jumped ship from the commotion, fleeing to hide under a desk. “Oh, this is not going to be pretty.”

“Shut up, Malcolm, I’ll fix it, calm down,” Murphy says, already opening panels on the machinery even though the generation isn’t finished yet.

There’s a heavy thunk, a rattling of tubes, and then a splash as whatever they just generated falls into the tank. Malcolm turns to look at it, bracing for gore.

The thing in the tank isn’t a mess of Kabuto parts like he was expecting. It’s a glob of pinkish goo, thick enough to stay in one piece instead of dissipating into the water.

“The hell is that?” Murphy demands. “All the Kabuto guts came out blue, why is this one pink? Did somebody bleed on my samples?”

Paoletti goes pale. “Are you suggesting the machine tried to generate human flesh?”

“I don’t think human guts are cotton candy pink either, guys,” Yates points out. “It’s probably just a clump of blank cells.”

“Yeah, Yates is probably--” Malcolm starts, but cuts himself off with a sharp gasp.

The blob is looking at him, with little black eyes he hadn’t noticed before.

“It’s alive!” he blurts out, taking an instinctive step back from the tank and pointing.

“What!?” Murphy exclaims, shoving Paoletti out of the way to get a better look at the blob. “Holy shit, it’s got a face! Somebody take it out of the tank, I want to see--”

“I’m not touching that thing, what if it’s some kind of ancient parasite attached to one of the Kabuto!?” Paoletti protests, talking over her.

“Oh, that would be so cool--”

“It wouldn’t be cool, Yates, have you lost your mind!?” Paoletti snaps back.

“Could you stop panicking, it’s a fucking pokemon,” Murphy scolds him, opening the lid of the tank.

“Yeah, so is Slugma but I’m not going to touch one!”

“He has a point, Murphy,” Malcolm says, nervously, but he doesn’t actually move to stop her as she reaches into the tank.

Before Murphy can touch the blob, it moves.

No, that isn’t the right word. It changes, soft body shifting into a shell and jointed limbs. Its colors change too, brown across the top and black and yellow underneath. It looks just like a Kabuto, for the two seconds that it lasts. Then it melts back into pink goo.

Murphy yanks her hand out of the tank.

“Oh, what the fuck,” she says, staring at the thing in the tank. “It can shapeshift?”

Yates has started flapping her hands in excitement. “Oh my god, this is a totally new pokemon! Blueberry, grab my notepad!”

“I’m calling Dr. Fuji,” Murphy says, shaking water off her hand and doing a half-jog out of the room.

“Are we in a horror novel?” Paoletti says, his voice growing more hysterical as the creature in the tank continues moving. “What else can it turn into? Can it turn into a person?”

“It doesn’t look like it can turn into anything right now,” Malcolm says, fascinated, pressing his hands to the glass. The little blob has backed itself into the far corner of the tank, clearly trying to turn into something, but melting back into formlessness over and over.

Its first transformation was a clear Kabuto, but the shape it’s trying for now isn’t obvious as any pokemon Malcolm is familiar with. It reminds him of the fetal Meowth that one of his stranger college professors kept in a jar in her office. He glances back at Mitzi, but she hasn’t come out of her hiding place, so it isn’t imitating her.

Something doesn’t feel right.

“Hey, Paoletti,” he says slowly, interrupting the intern’s nervous pacing. “You studied genetics, yeah?”

Paoletti looks taken aback by the question. “That’s why I’m here, yes?”

“If this thing isn’t a Kabuto, what do you think happened when we patched it with Kabuto DNA?”

Paoletti groans and drops his head into his hands. “Oh my god. We discovered a horrible shapeshifting thing and we broke it.”

“Oh, maybe that’s why it’s all gooey, like a specimens from the damaged fossils! It didn’t have a good template for the soft parts of the body!” Yates chimes in.

Malcolm looks back into the tank, at the distressed, rapidly-shifting creature they’ve given life to.

“I wonder what it’s supposed to be.”