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Title: Zeta Episode

Summary: ORAS game-verse. When his father goes missing, Steven finds himself digging deep into an old mystery regarding Devon and their past rival.

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Chapter 1: Devon

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent to Rustboro Airport..." the flight attendant's calm, rout announcement echoed through the cabin. As she had warned, the small airplane began to tip, a small shudder running through the frame.

Habitually, Steven reached down to check his seat belt — securely fastened across his waist — but his gaze remained fixed outside the window, as if waiting for the first glimpse of their destination. The flight was a short one, just from the international airport in Kanto, so they had barely cleared the clouds to begin with, and now the view outside was quickly plunged into nothing but white as they descended.

Steven's fingers drummed an unconscious rhythm against the armrest. It wasn't nervousness, precisely, and certainly not about the flight. Rather, it was unease about what awaited in Hoenn, and his uncertainty about just what that would be.

'Dad...' Steven thought, his lips thinning unhappily as he stared blankly out the window.

It should have been nothing, but... he hadn't been able to get in touch with his father before heading back. It wasn't like Joseph to miss calls from his only child. And on top of that, he'd been strangely distant for weeks before as well. He hadn't even reacted when Steven described his newest rock finds, despite being just as much a maniac as his son.

Steven had often privately lamented his father's prying and overly energetic nature, but the distracted quiet from the other end of the line had been unsettling. And now, there was no reply at all.

He had even taken a flight back instead of going by boat as usual. Perhaps it was unfounded, but he couldn't shake the sense of growing dread.

The jolt of the plane's wheels hitting the tarmac dragged him out of his thoughts. The speakers crackled and came on again, but he tuned out the announcements that followed, as well as the shifting of his fellow passengers.

Even though it was Hoenn's main air hub, the Rustboro Airport was small and not particularly busy. They wouldn't be taxing for long, as long as Wingulls or some other wild Pokemon hadn't settled down on the airstrip again. He would just need to get back his Poke Balls, stored away during the flights according to regulations, and his luggage, and then...

'It shouldn't be more than twenty minutes to the Devon headquarters,' Steven thought before he had even made the decision.

But he was already planning to head straight there. Otherwise, this nagging sense of something wrong wouldn't go away. His house in Mossdeep, or even a hotel... He could handle that later, even if dragging around his bags, heavy with rock samples would be hard. At worst, he would have them delivered, he calculated mentally.

'...I'm really that worried?' Steven realized, smiling wryly at himself.

To think of actually letting someone else handle his precious stones... It felt ridiculous. His father would laugh at him when Steven showed up at his office, all worked up. He wouldn't live this down for years.

He hoped.

With a sharp trill, the seatbelt sign went out, and he rose to his feet quickly.

~.~.~

Steven was sure the clerk at the front desk paled when he stepped into the Devon headquarters. That was not a good sign. And just when the seemingly peaceful state of Rustoro City had started to calm him, making his fears seem silly and rash...

"M-Mr. Stone!" she stammered, glancing nervously between the phone and the computer on her desk — wondering and hoping for some hidden note about how she was supposed to deal with him.

For once, Steven didn't bother trying to convince her to call him by name. "Good afternoon, Amber," he greeted her with a polite smile that was still a bit sharp. "I need to speak with my father."

As he had expected — with a sinking feeling — the office lady flustered, chewing on her lip uncertainly. "President Stone is... unavailable right now," she replied, in an obviously scripted way. So it was probably not just him that his father was unavailable for... which didn't bode well at all.

"And what is he doing?" Steven asked, raising his eyebrows a little. "I can wait, if he's in a meeting."

"He's..." Another nervous glance at everywhere except at him.

"He's not here?" Steven guessed. "Then, when is he going to return?"

If his father took off on some expedition, even unplanned and unannounced as the old man was prone to do once in awhile when the wanderlust or maybe rock maniac fever became too much, there wouldn't be any reason to hide it from him. That explanation was what Steven had been hoping for, secretly — that his father had just been distracted by some fancy new rock he'd heard of and he wasn't answering because he was down in some cave, as the Stone family so often did.

But what else could it be? Why the secrecy? Some kind of confidential corporate matter, like an intense negotiation or new, important research? No, in that case, the front desk wouldn't know anything and wouldn't get flustered — she knew something, enough to realize he might deserve an answer, but also that she wasn't sure whether it was alright to give him one.

Steven's hand tightened around the handle of his bag, and some of his growing frustration must have shown on his face. Darting a look at him and away quickly, the office lady seemed to finally come to a decision.

"That's..." The clerk glanced surreptitiously around the lobby, especially at the reporter pair at the far end, and leaned in to whisper, "Please wait a moment, I'm going to call the vice president."

She pulled away without waiting for an answer, already reaching for the phone and dialing quickly. Half turning, she even lifted her free hand to shield the microphone and muffle her words. It was all very suspicious and ominous.

Steven barely noticed. It was his turn to pale slightly. 'The vice president...' he thought faintly. 'Of all people, why did it have to be her...?'

Hanging up the phone, the office lady turned back to him. "Please head up, Mr. Stone. Vice President Carat is waiting for you."

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The vice president's office was just one floor beneath the president's, also taking up an entire level of the front building. So he couldn't use getting lost as an excuse, even if Steven had made sure he never had a reason to visit there previously.

...It wasn't the time to stall anyway.

Squaring his shoulders, Steven took a deep breath as the elevator slid to a stop and the doors opened with a quiet ding.

Unlike his father, she had placed her desk directly across from the elevator, instead of around the corner. Not that it mattered, since she wasn't sitting behind it — she was waiting in the middle of the room, and before Steven had even taken a step out, she was already approaching.

The Vice President of Devon Corporation didn't look happy to see him, but then she never did. After all, he was her competition, in a certain sense... for the future position of President.

Steven didn't want the job and had never made a single effort toward it, but the idea of "a Stone heading Devon" was too deeply ingrained for many on the board and among the employees to even consider deviating from it — even though the vice president had forged her way up through the ranks, serving the company faithfully for decades, and was the person second most familiar with its inner workings.

Naturally, she couldn't stand him. Or perhaps he was projecting somewhat — there was an inescapable feeling of falling short of his family's legacy, when he was around her. But, still, she probably couldn't stand him. She'd certainly never failed to treat him coldly when they happened to cross paths.

"What do you know?" the vice president said without any preamble, her gaze slipping to the travel bag he still carried and doubtlessly immediately guessing that he'd come to headquarters immediately — that he'd had some reason to rush.

"Good afternoon, Vice President Carat," Steven greeted with almost pointed politeness. "I'm afraid I don't know anything. In fact, I was hoping I could get some answers from you."

Her lips thinned and she studied him for a long moment, glasses catching the light and hiding her expression. Finally, Carat nodded and gestured for him to follow her into the office, toward the couch.

"The president is missing," she said flatly, dropping onto a seat.

Steven started at her, freezing in the middle of setting down his bag. "...Missing?" he repeated.

The vice president nodded sharply. "It's been three days," she said with a grimace. "As far as anyone knows, he was in his office. But when one of the clerks came to deliver some documents, he wasn't there. We can't reach his phone or his PokeNav. There was no note, and he didn't tell anyone that he was going out."

"And you're trying to hide that from everyone, to keep the company from going into a panic," Steven surmised, frowning. "Have you at least told the police?"

She glared, and Steven matched it, too angry to be intimidated.

That was a no. If it came out that the president of Devon was missing, the company would suffer. People would panic and lose confidence. Customers, partner businesses, investors... it would be a mess, and it might seriously damage the company.

As the Vice President, she was determined to put Devon first, and she refused to back down even as Steven's expression darkened more and more.

"There was no sign of foul play," she said. "And we obviously haven't received any ransom demands or any proof that someone targeted him—"

"What else could it be?" Steven snapped. "You're just wasting time! You should—"

"The president would agree with me," she cut him off coldly.

Steven... couldn't really argue with that. His father didn't put much stock in any law enforcement. Even when the company suffered from theft, break ins, or sabotage, Mr. Stone had always preferred to handle it internally or entrust it to someone he knew personally. Many in Hoenn did. And... he also put Devon first in many ways. Steven couldn't say with certainty what he would value more, his life or his company's reputation.

"Now," Carat said, taking advantage of his hesitation, "you knew something was wrong. Tell me."

"I don't know anything about this," Steven shot back. "He just sounded strange for a while, when we talked, and he didn't answer my calls for the last few days. I was worried... rightfully so."

"He sounded strange? For how long? A week? Two weeks? Longer?" she pressed immediately, but Steven could only frown, unable to recall exactly. Grimacing, she muttered, "I knew it. This wasn't random at all... he must have been involved in something he didn't tell me or anyone about..."

"Are you really not going to contact anyone?" Steven asked, ignoring her frustration. "We have to do something! Dad could be..."

He didn't even know. Kidnapped? Hurt? Whatever it was, Steven had to do something to help. His father didn't even have any Pokemon of his own to rely on.

"He knew something," Carat repeated. "I had a feeling too... I've been going through his documents and the records of the last two weeks to see if I could find anything strange, but—"

A sharp ringing interrupted her.

"—but I haven't had much time, between my work and covering for President Stone," she muttered dryly, already up and moving briskly toward her desk. Picking up the phone, she listened with a frown. "I thought we postponed all the meetings," she said, to whoever was on the line. The unheard response made her sigh quietly. "Fine. Show her to the third floor meeting room. I'll be there in a bit."

She hung up, but remained at the desk for a moment, gathering her thoughts.

"If you're too busy, then at least let me help look," Steven said. He scowled at the unreadable look he received. "Is there something confidential? So you don't trust me to look through his files?"

"The president made it clear that you should be given full access to everything, if you request it," Carat shot back. Her expression made it clear that she didn't precisely agree, but she wouldn't go against her boss either. "What I doubt is your ability to judge if anything is abnormal."

Blunt. ...At the same time, she had a point. Steven hesitated, certain he couldn't just sit back and do nothing, but also not all certain what he could actually do.

"But," the vice president said, pushing up her glasses and smiling dryly, "I think I have an idea how to make use of you."

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Notes: Entirely dumb excuse to write ORAS dreamboat fic. A lot of headcanons and some blatant breaks from canon. Also, this is all Alternative Angel's fault.

Airport: Hoenn is based on Kyushu, and the biggest airport in Kyushu is in Fukuoka, which is roughly equivalent to Rustboro. It also makes sense for the major airport to be close to Devon, which seems to run half the region. In general, the games avoid showing planes or cars too much (for the sake of a more "romantic adventure" atmosphere, I assume), and there's no mention of anyone flying between regions or countries, just going by SS Anne or other large cruise ships. But they obviously do exist.

As always, please review!

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