Cleff the Hero stepped out of the circular doorway of the Puff building. Though not ground pokemon, a lot of Jigglypuff houses were built into the sides of hills and even down into the ground. It certainly made it difficult to break into the places, which considering the circumstances, Cleff was thankful for. The shambling sleepwalkers did not immediately attack, giving the Hero a moment to look at their movements and the changes that the doctor had mentioned. For most of the sleepwalkers, the change was subtle. Splotches of blue and orange replaced the usual pink of their skin, and the texture was sleeker, and more streamlined than the usual rubbery consistency of the puff people. For a few however, the change was more extreme. Ridges of blue and orange grew out of a few’s bodies, and a couple’s limbs extended out into long tentacles. The most horrifying however, was a Wigglytuff, shuffling at a fourty five degree angle. Its eyes were closed, but in the places where its nose and cheek would be, strange new eyes had grown, turned with the body so that they stared straight ahead, white on black eyes that flicked rapidly, observing Cleff and Cleff’s clothing. Even as Cleff saw this, and shivered at the sight, the other sleep walkers seemed to shiver, and small slits tore open in their skin, the same black eyes looking towards the Hero.
Cleff wanted to burn these twisted things into ash, and the Hero’s hand twitched, almost reaching for the weapon which could do just that. But Cleff could not. The scanners indicated that the hosts were still alive, that the brains were functional, and that the invasive creatures that were moving the bodies had not truly killed those they inhabited. Though the creatures which had done this deserved to burn, the bodies they inhabited did not. A better solution would have to be found.
Suddenly the air in front of Cleff lit up, small bright lights and the crackling sound of electricity appearing as if from nothing. All of the sleepwalkers recoiled, as if in pain. Cleff started walking towards them. The doctor had been right. The virus was airborne, and the defenses built into and surrounding the clothes Cleff wore had just destroyed a large, though still invisibly small cluster of the virus. More importantly, it seemed that all of the viruses were connected somehow. They had felt a piece of themselves die. While the creatures were still shocked from that, Cleff moved in a burst of speed. The Hero grabbed the closest of the sleepwalkers, sending the nanobots that were a part of the defenses inside the body. Using the data that had been gathered from the airborne attack, the tiny, microscopic bots hunted down and killed every bit of the virus in the body of the Jigglypuff. The other hosts reacted in much the same way that they had to the destruction of the airborne virus. They thrashed and shuddered. Even as the virus was burned from the host, Cleff worked also to keep the body alive, repairing the little rips and tears that were left behind with the virus gone. As the work continued the air around Cleff lit up and crackled. Apparently the virus was not very happy with what was being done.
Cleff finished with the first puff, carefully setting it down on the ground before dashing towards the next infected host. It writhed as Cleff cleansed it off the invader as well. The airborne virus continued to attack, but the nanobots did their work and none could get close. After Cleff had gotten to the third one, the attacks stopped. The Hero was unsure if this was because their were no more nearby airborne viruses or because it had given up. In any event, the viruses that lived inside the other hosts apparently had, for even as Cleff cleansed the third victim, the others began to flee, simply turning tail and running back in the direction of the plague filled north. Cleff launched molecule thin nets at several of the closer fleeing hosts, trapping them, but most escaped. The Hero was not worried however. They would be captured in time. This would be a slow and agonizing process, but it seemed that it was possible to save the victims one by one with the tools of the Great War. Getting the virus out of the air so it could not simply spread again would take some more work, but Nettle was confident it was possible.
The Hero Cleff worked methodically, exterminating the virus from each victim one by one, and sending out a small army of nanobots to patrol the air, in order to keep the victims saved from becoming reinfected. Once all the sleepers outside had been cleansed, Cleff dragged them inside, and started work on the many many victims that had been laid out inside the hospital, starting with the doctor who had only just succumbed. It was easier, for the virus had not spread as far, or multiplied as greatly in these newer cases. Once all were saved from the infection, Cleff recorded a message for them, telling them it had found a way to cure them, but not to send anyone else into the plague area until Cleff returned with the all clear. Message finished, Cleff set out, north.
Cleff journeyed by foot, not by blazing fire, and let the nanobots which surrounded it spread out in a great wall that traveled together. Cleff would trap the virus, give it no place to go, and destroy any piece of it that tried to travel south of Cleff’s position. Occasionally Cleff saw the bright flashes of light, and heard the electric sizzling that signified that some of the virus had been burned away. While Cleff walked, Cleff thought. More nanobots would be needed to contain the spread. The thing seemed to have a primitive intelligence, and it would be able to get around the amount that Cleff currently had. The bots could scavenge the landscape in order to build more of themselves however, and while Cleff had no desire to do such a thing, having seen the horror that was nano-scale warfare, it seemed it would be necessary to contain this virus. With Cleff’s thoughts turned to the war, an idea emerged. Could this disturbing disease be some sort of weapon made during the war, one that had missed its target and landed on this innocent planet? Cleff filled with rage at the thought of more collateral damage surround the conflict that had caused so much damage already. Cleff’s pace quickened, and some of the nanobots began falling back, looking for tiny bits and pieces that could be used to make more nanobots. This war-fragment was not going to hurt any more of the people of Puff.
When at last Cleff’s slow march took the Hero to the first town, their were signs of flight. Many unconscious bodies were found and cured, but their were empty beds beside bodies sleeping on the ground, and open doors and windows that suggested that the hosts that could move had done so. The virus was fleeing, consolidating north. Cleff would have to face it all together, instead of curing it piece by piece. “Perhaps this will be better,” thought Cleff as the town was cured, body by body, patient by patient, block by block. Once all was clear, Cleff left the same message, this time warning of a conflict that might be occurring in the far north, explaining the consolidation. With the work complete in the town, Cleff once again moved north, and ever greater cloud of nanobots swarming with it, growing in number, and spreading out, determined not to let a single bit of the airborne virus escape south. Around Cleff the number of bots was so numerous that the air shimmered, the light being distorted by the innumerable bots. Cleff trudged northward.
It was dark when Cleff saw another sleepwalker. Two abandoned houses filled with bodies to be cured and three more little hamlets had all been cleansed of the virus, and in none of them had a single one of the walkers been spotted. Now, as Cleff continued to walk, a single sleepwalker was standing still in the middle of the path. As Cleff approached, it waved its arms awkwardly, as if trying to get the Hero’s attention. Its mouth moved open and closed, air passing through it, and a terrible rasping sound coming forth. If the thing was trying to talk it was doing a terrible job. As Cleff moved closer, it was able to see that the walker had tentacles inside its mouth that were trying to do the job of a tongue, and more coming out of the mouth which were doing the work to open and close it. The effect was horrific to the extreme, and Cleff dismissed this attempt to talk as a cruel distraction. Nanobots flowed forward on Cleff’s command, and began eviscerating the virus within the poor Igglybuff that had been so abused. With the many tentacles in the little body, it was harder to fix the body when the virus was purged, but Cleff was skilled in the art of healing. Soon the virus was gone from the child. Cleff set the young one to the side and began to continue on.
Before the Hero had gone further than a few meters however, the sleeping child began to cry out, its body shaking and twisting in agony. Cleff sent in the bots, scanning the body for traces of the virus, or for some wound that had not been closed. The shivering turned to writhing, and the little creature’s screams became mewls. Still, nothing could be found. The virus was gone, and all the bits that had been removed had been replaced and patched up. This was not a macro-level problem. Instead it seemed as though the cells of the Igglybuff were dying. One by one they simply stopped. None replicated, and faster and faster the cells simply ceased functioning. Before long, despite Cleff’s best efforts, the child was dead. The shaking stopped, and it was soundless. Cleff was taken then by a great grief. It had failed to save this child. Its healing arts had been not enough. It had not been the disease that had killed this child, but rather Cleff, who’s actions, fueled by hubris, had sought to save it. Instead the child was dead. Mind turning once again to the war, to every casualty Cleff had failed to prevent, every friend who had fallen, Cleff sat, trapped in the past, unable to take action or move forward.
This pity party was interrupted by a warning from the nanobots, who had continued to monitor the area. More of the walkers were approaching this place, shambling towards Cleff and the fallen child. Cleff turned towards the oncoming horde, contemplating letting them come, having the nanobots stand down and letting itself be ravaged by the disease. The Hero banished that thought from its mind however, and shook itself from its memories. Surrender would not return this child to life, nor would it return the many others who had fallen. The disease had tried to talk before. Perhaps it was time to try and listen.
The horde of shambling infected bodies stopped five meters away from Cleff. They moved their mouths, venting air and trying to make a sound. Each one made only strange hissing noises or burbles. They continued to making the terrible noises, and Cleff was about to call it a lost cause, but then it heard something. Each burble and hiss was itself meaningless, but somehow, together, they seemed to have meaning. It was like nothing that Cleff had heard before, a sound no single creature could have made, but it was understandable. “The gift of Tongues!” thought Cleff in wonder. “This virus is itself a Pokemon?!” The hissing, burbling, squishing, noises spoke.
“The hosts’s death was not your fault.” spoke the thing.
“What? I tried to cure it of you, but I missed something. Of course its my fault.”
“No. It was me. I changed the host. I changed the way that the cells worked. I have changed all of them. If I am gone, than they cannot live. If you destroy me, then they too shall die. I tried to tell you with that host, but you gave me not time.” Cleff’s face darkened.
“Then they are all dead already. A life as a meat puppet is no life at all. I shall destroy you and them together.”
“I had considered that point of view. I think maybe you are looking at this the wrong way. Maybe there is a way I can live together with these “puppets” as you call them.”
“You are an invader, you should not be here. Leave this place and these people and you may live.”
“I can no more leave these creatures than they could leave this planet with no vessel. They are too me a home. And you call me an invader, but to me you are a xenocide. How many billions and trillions have you killed of me, and still I talk to you, not hurling insults?”
“That only shows your contempt for life. You are using them as food.”
“True, but not so much that it would hurt them. My caloric needs are small.”
“You have taken away their will, their ability to control their own body.”
“True, but I can give it back. I rendered them unconscious in order that they would not feel the pain that would come when I changed their body to suit me. I moved their body that I might spread outward and gain new lands to live in. I changed them again so that they needed me when I discovered I would be eradicated should I not do so.”
“What are you proposing then? That you simply be allowed to spread across the whole planet, and that once all are infected by you, then you will let them control themselves again? Why should I not eradicate you and all you have infected here instead?”
“What is so repugnant about my existence that you would kill these creatures that are your friends simply to prevent my spread? Do I too not deserve a chance to live? Just as you and these creatures live on the surface of this planet, and consume its bounty, and in doing so do no harm to it, so can I live as part of these creatures, like a living being on a planet. I wish to do no harm to my vessels, for should they die, than so too will I. My airborne components live less than a day without a host upon which to live. I am simply protecting myself.”
“Why do you need to spread? Why not simply live in your fallen meteorite, or stay in those that you have infected already?”
“Why do these creatures have more children than the number needed to replace their dead? Is it not the goal of life to expand, to live on and endure? I can no more keep myself in one tiny host than a population of these creatures could live in one tiny plot of land.”
“I suppose to grow is expected. Still your current growth is far too fast. You would cover the planet in a few years. What then? How would you grow when there is no where to go? Could you perhaps change your cycle. If you did not render the puffs unconscious, but instead made your changes so slowly that they would not feel them, would that suffice? Could you grow, but do so at that rate instead, not seeking to expand as fast as you can, but instead growing slowly, little by little?”
“Perhaps. I could feed my hunger for growth while I give the creatures time to grow with me.”
“Do you need these eyes and growths and strange colors? Can you live in the Jigglypuffs without changing them so?”
“I can, though I too seek a chance to act in this world, to take actions on a macro scale. I can share the control with the hosts, but too give it up entirely seems to me not fair.”
“I cannot allow you to spread if you will continue to enslave these people, even only a little. The ability to control one’s own body is something sacred to us macro-creatures. If you will be destroying that, taking from these people the chance to choose their own fate, then I will have to destroy you, even if it costs the lives of those you have thus far possessed.”
“Is my own fate not intertwined with these creatures. Should they choose an action that would get them killed, would that not affect me as well? Am I allowed no agency in my own fate, simply to allow this “sacred” right? These rights you speak of condemn the smaller lives to a twisted fate. If a meteor where to strike this planet and destroy it, might not its residents destroy the meteor? If the planet were to begin falling into the sun, might not those who live on its surface turn the might of their technology to the goal of preventing this fiery fate?” Cleff considers these words. Perhaps the strange creature is right. To allow something no chance to save itself seemed wrong, though allowing the virus to control its host seemed wrong as well.
“I do not know. This matter troubles me. Never has the micro and the macroscopic had a need to bargain. I think it is not my place to make this choice. It is the people of Puff that will deal with the consequences of this decision. Can you ensure you shall halt your infection for the time being, in order that I might gather the Puff leaders, and you might speak with them? I shall be the executioner, the one with the power to enforce the will of the people of this planet, but I shall not be the judge. Would you speak with the people of Puff?”
“I shall. I can hold my hunger for three days. I give you that time to bring these leaders before me, that we might speak.”
“Very well. I go.”
The Hero Cleff went. Many nanobots were left behind, some building more, others patrolling, making sure that the virus kept to its word. Cleff traveled in fire, zooming past all those it had cured. It came to Jagger and spoke of what it had discovered. Jagger was disgusted by the thought.
“You have to destroy them. We will not become a race of slaves. The loss of the northern people is a great tragedy, but worse would be the loss of the whole race of Puff.”
“I can understand that view, but I think perhaps you should think on it more. I would like to gather all your leaders together that you might make this decision as a race. Does that seem fair to you, or am I overstepping my bounds as an outsider.”
“No, you are right. I am the leader of my people, and I fear for them, but I have no right to condemn the northern people to death if there is a way to save them. Go, gather the elders and the leaders. We will speak with this living sickness.”
With the speed of fire, the Hero Cleff crossed the planet Puff, collecting every leader, and bringing them all together before the virus. The leaders were many. Mostly Wigglytuff, but a few, like Jagger were Jigglypuff, and from one strange tribe in the far south, their was even an Igglybuff that led a tribe. They conferred with one another, talked and yelled and debated. Then after they had organized themselves somewhat, they talked with the virus. The debate lasted for days. Both sides thought the others were mad, and even amongst the Puff, opinion was split in many ways. How much those infected mattered, what would be the cost of allowing this spread, was this invader evil or simply trying to live? All these questions and more split the community. Many times groups would come to Cleff and say, “Destroy the creature. It is decided.” but always, Cleff would ask, and it would turn out that nothing was decided at all. Days passed and the virus entreated Cleff saying. “I cannot contain my hunger. Let me spread, just a little more.” But always Cleff shook its head. These talks would decide, and nothing else.
At last, after two weeks, three attempted coups, all out battle, and a thousand little compromises, a decision was made. Eight tribes had volunteered to be hosts for the virus. The virus would be allowed to spread only amongst those tribes. The others would be free from its influence, unless they lived among that tribe for a certain length of time, in which case they were fair game. The virus would be able to communicate its desires with its host, and would be able to make subtle changes in order to try and help with the defense of the host, but more drastic changes would have to be negotiated on a personal level with each host. The eight leaders of the eight tribes had volunteered to have a more direct symbiotic relationship, each electing to have an equal split in the control of its body, that the virus might have a representative in the macro world and have a more direct say in how things were run. The virus promised to do what it could to improve the health and longevity of the hosts, as well as teach them what it knew of biology, that they might work together and grow. Many were unhappy with this result, but all accepted it. Cleff knew that this would shake up the world, and that the people of the eight tribes would likely be shunned and rejected by many of their own people, but somehow, in this solution, the Hero saw something good and right. This was cooperation on a scale that had never existed before. This was compromise in pursuit of life and liberty.
Cleff stayed upon Puff for a year and a day. Nanobots were constructed and programmed to enforce the deal, preventing the virus from spreading beyond the borders of the eight tribes except in the body of one of those tribe members. Such a tribe member would be followed by nanobots, which would prevent the virus from trying to spread while it was outside the tribal lands. Mechanisms were put in place for a global council to allow these borders to be moved if it became necessary. Cleff worked with the people of the eight tribes in educating them about this change. The Hero helped those who refused to participate to find new homes, and worked with the people of neighboring tribes to accept the changes that would be coming to their neighbors. Then, when all this was done, Cleff prepared to depart.
“Why do you need to leave? You have done so much for this planet. Surely you are always welcome.” said Jagger, as Cleff prepared.
“I am afraid in time I will come to be hated. I have shown the power that I possess, and always there will be those who seek to possess it. As a helper and a teacher I was harmless, but as a warrior and a judge, I am not. I need to find my own way. I seek not leadership or the responsibility for this planet.”
“You will be missed. Always there is home for you here on Puff. Your name shall be spoken of in legend. Your people and ours will always be friends.”
“I thank you Jagger. I hope your words are true. Goodbye friend.” With that Cleff moved in fire, shooting away from the ground, blazing upwards, like a star ascending. When Cleff had made it out of the planet’s gravity well, it sent a message.
“Beldum Collective, the following planet, Starcode: X1CV56 Designation “Puff”, is henceforth quarantined until further notice. Prevent all space travel to and from the planet without H5 level protective gear.”
“We copy General Cleff. A beldum unit is moving into position around the planet, and increased gravity outside the atmosphere will make escaping the gravity well almost impossible.”
Cleff waited until the beldum unit arrived, then began once again to fly out into space. The Hero felt like it had committed a betrayal. The people of Puff would have been able to develop space technology soon, and have joined the galactic collective. Now, they were going to fail, and not understand why. No one was going to help them, and they would be isolated on their planet. It was not the Jigglypuffs’ fault, and it was not truly the viruses fault either, but the intelligent disease could not be allowed to traverse space with impunity. The creature had seemed reasonable enough, willing to make compromises, but it was doing so in the face of technology that could obliterate it. Who knows how the creature, and its “hunger” would react if it had the upper hand in technology. Cleff had only its word that it had planned to return control of the people it had changed once it infected everyone. In earlier days, perhaps Cleff might have trusted the virus, trusted that the incredible cooperation on the planet below would lead to even more incredible unity later on, but now, the Cleff that had survived the Great War, that Cleff could not.
This was the first encounter that Cleff would have with the space virus, a creature both Pokemon and not, both many trillions of organisms, and one great collective. It would not be the last. As the virus was encountered again and again, it would gain a name. When it was a foe, it was called the Other, something that thought and acted in a completely foreign way. Sometimes however, as strange as it could be, it could be a friend, and in those days, its true name was used. But that is a tale for another day, the tale of Space Virus Deoxys.
When at last Morality Gradient had finished his tale, the hydrogen had started to run low, and the makeshift campfire was sputtering. Nettle pondered the tale.
“I liked the story, but I don’t think it was quite the sort of tale that is usually told. The middle bit was scary, but then it got really philosophical, which I like, but I don’t think is usually the point of campfire stories.” Beep boop. “Hey, just trying to provide some constructive criticism. I said I liked it. I definitely felt less scared at the end than when it started though. It made me too curious to be scared.” Beep. “Yeah, I have a story too.” But before Nettle could start her story, light began to flood into the chamber. The planet had finished its rotation and the sun was visible again. The dust storm too was clearing up, and though it was still dimmer than usual, it was definitely not dark anymore. The hydrogen campfire, which had seemed so cool in the dark, now seemed a little bit silly. “Well, I think I better save my story for another day. I am definitely going to do some research and this Deoxys pokemon though. I saw some mentions of it in my biology studies, but always as an exception to all the usual rules of life and Pokemon.” The pair dismantled the campfire, and went back to work. Nettle went back to studying, no longer afflicted by the malady called fear. When at last she slept, closing herself off from the light and creating her own small darkness, she dreamed of the Hero Cleff. Not the Hero Cleff at the end of the story, so jaded and sad, but the Hero Cleff from a bit before, so excited by the compromise that had been made. That was the Hero that Nettle idolized, the Hero she wanted to be one day.