Alyssa leaned forward in her chair, watching the screen intently as Goldeen’s horn dug itself into Finny’s flesh. She grabbed her mouse to pause the video and dragged it back to Sakura’s look at the judges; Ziggy shifted in her lap, craning to see.
This was some rare free time, and Alyssa was spending it studying Cassandra’s Contest video to see if there was any evidence that Konohana was cheating. So far, the only evidence she had gotten was that one particular judge was being incredibly unfair. While that didn’t spell out cheating verbatim, it did point to it.
“What are you doing?” Ian asked, entering the room. Prinplup waddled behind him, heading for the bed; Ziggy leapt off Alyssa’s lap and scuttled over to the Water Pokémon.
“Looking at this. My friend Cassandra thinks this girl might have bribed a judge.”
“You sure she’s not just a sore loser?” Ian joked. Alyssa shot him a look so angry he stopped walking toward her. “Sorry. It was just a joke.”
“Please don’t talk about my friends that way. Cassandra wouldn’t make an accusation like that without reason.”
Ian held up his hands. “Okay. I’m sorry. What have you got?”
“Well, all I’ve got is that this match is completely unfair.”
“How so?” Ian came up behind her and leaned on the back of the computer chair.
“Several times, this judge docks Cassandra for unnecessary roughness when the tactics she was using were completely legal—and then, when this Konohana girl does something that would be considered unnecessary roughness under normal circumstances, and she’s not penalized at all. In fact, she wins the match. Look—see that red spot? That’s blood.”
“Holy crap,” Ian said, leaning forward slightly and squinting. “And she didn’t get penalized for that? Do you know the rules for Contests?”
“Got ’em right here.” Alyssa pulled up a window she had, which listed the Contest rules. “I’m thinking about making an investigation.”
“It’d never get off the ground,” Ian said. “How would you go about telling Chairperson Erma how you got the information?”
“Anonymous tip-off,” Alyssa replied immediately. “I don’t have to disclose the name that way.”
Ian grinned. “You’re really thinking like a Ranger. But it’s the Hoenn Region Police Department that needs to get investigating that crap, and since the president’s son is a famous Coordinator, I doubt it’ll happen.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. She hated politics. “You wanna go down to the lounge and get some coffee?”
Ian groaned miserably. “No,” he said, plopping down to sit on Alyssa’s bed. Ziggy jumped on the bed and laid down by his leg. Every Top Ranger had their own room, almost apartment-like. They all had a front room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchenette. The Ranger Union provided them with top-of-the-line computers, of which Alyssa took full advantage. “My legs are killing me.”
Alyssa laughed at him as she closed out her windows. “Three weeks and you’re still not used to the exercise routine?”
“They make us do stupid obstacle courses every day! They give the men more than the women, I swear.”
“Ian, the men and the women do their exercises together. We have the same routine. Eat some bananas or something.”
“What’s that have to do with anything?”
“Potassium helps with cramps.” Alyssa logged off her computer and swiveled around in the chair, smiling. We’re really friends, she thought as Ian smiled back.
Today they had a day off; they wore everyday clothes. It was getting cold, so Ian wore long pants and a hoodie. Alyssa had learned to get dressed on days off instead of lounging in her pajamas, because if Chairperson Erma didn’t call with an I’m-sorry-I-know-it’s-your-day-off-but-we-need-you-for-a-quest-and-everyone-else-is-busy call, Ian dropped by unannounced. She wasn’t sure how he got into her locked room. He must have figured out her keycode.
“Is that what you do?”
“That, and I got used to the routine.”
Ian scowled. “Some days hit me harder than others, okay?”
“I’m sure that’s what it is.” Alyssa stood and stretched. “I’m bored. I’ve been in my room all day. Erma hasn’t called me once. Knock on wood!” she said hastily, rapping her knuckles against her desk. It was a silly superstition, but it was one she had grown up with, and now it was habit.
“She calls you on your days off, too? Good, I thought I was the only one.”
“Keith says she does that to everybody,” Alyssa offered, going over to the shelf above her bed and plucking a snowglobe off it. Prinplup looked over at it, interested.
“So you’ve been hanging out with Keith a lot?” Ian’s voice sounded strange as he asked the question.
“No.” She laughed as she shook the globe, letting snow fall on Snowpoint, as if they didn’t already have enough. “I was just talking to him yesterday. He was going on a quest on his day off. See it, Prinny?”
Quests were things regular civilians asked of them. More often than not they were small things, like gathering Drifblim to help move or finding lost Pokémon. Most of the time people would just grab Rangers if they saw them on the street, but sometimes they would come straight up to the Ranger Union and request that a Ranger help them.
“Why? Are you jealous?” Alyssa asked teasingly, setting her snowglobe back on its shelf.
“N-no,” Ian stammered, his face turning red. Alyssa blushed too. It was nice to get reassurances that he had a crush on her, but it was embarrassing, too. She brushed some bangs out of her eyes. “And don’t call Prinplup Prinny.”
“But he likes it. Don’t ya, Prinny?” Alyssa laughed as she got a Prinplup scowl in reply. “That’s okay. I have a Partner Pokémon who likes being called a nickname. Right, Ziggy?”
“Goon!” Ziggy leapt up and scuttled over to Alyssa, leaping into her arms. She laughed and scratched his ears.
Alyssa’s Styler vibrated from her desk. Once she became a Top Ranger, she had gotten one of their Stylers—it fastened to her wrist instead of being handheld. The Ranger Union communicated through these Stylers. Operators were usually the ones who handled calling Rangers from the base, but Rangers also communicated through them.
“No,” Alyssa groaned as she picked it up. She hit a button. “This is Alyssa Thompson speaking.”
“Good afternoon, Alyssa. This is Rhythmi.” Rhythmi was the best Operator the Ranger Union had, and also the busiest, so she spoke rather quickly. “Chairperson Erma would like to speak with you and Ian—would he happen to be with you?”
“Yes, he is,” Alyssa replied. Talking to someone on the Styler was like talking to someone on speakerphone. Ian glanced up at her, wincing.
“Good. Please meet Chairperson Erma on the third floor in fifteen minutes. Rhythmi out.”
Sighing, Alyssa strapped her Styler to her wrist and threw on a jacket. She grabbed her wallet and shifted Ziggy so that he hung from her shoulder, sniffling near her ear—his favorite traveling spot.
“Come on, Ian. Let’s go see what Erma wants.”
The third floor was just a large chamber filled with huge computers; Operators sat everywhere, headsets on, pressing different flashing buttons and talking animatedly. Rhythmi’s blonde head bobbed as she hurried to press different buttons.
Chairperson Erma stood from her seat and beckoned to Alyssa and Ian as they entered; she was a very old woman, with silver hair tied back in two thick bunches and a wrinkly face. Her back was stooped, and she relied on a cane to walk, the handle of which was shaped into a Sandslash. She wasn’t a skinny old woman, by any means. Alyssa always thought of her as someone’s granny—Granny Erma. She always wore dresses with crocheted sweaters.
“Good afternoon, you two,” Erma said, her cane thunking against the tiled floor as she walked over to meet them.
“Good afternoon, Gr—Chairperson Erma,” Alyssa replied.
“Good afternoon,” Ian echoed.
“I have a mission for you two—no, it doesn’t start today, so don’t panic. Follow me.” With surprising speed, Erma clunked across the floor and to the elevator, taking them down to the second floor. She led them into a large room with black walls, floor, and ceiling. “Shut the door, please, Ian.”
Ian did so, throwing the room into complete darkness, and Erma cleared her throat. “Computer! Bring up most recent data.”
The computer in question whirred to life; a map of Almia appeared beneath their feet, and the walls began pulling up pictures and data files in an organized manner. Among the pictures were landscapes, what looked like mugshots, and snapshots of suspicious-looking people carrying briefcases from different angles and from various distances. The ceiling showed a perfectly clear, blue sky.
“Um, Chairperson Erma…what does the sky have to do with anything?” Alyssa asked, pointing up at the ceiling. The old woman looked up, bracing a hand on her back.
“I just think it adds a nice feeling. Now, what’s happening here…we’ve done a bit of digging on that prisoner you two apprehended—”—Alyssa had to work very hard to keep still, but she wanted to squeal That makes it sound so cool!—“—and this is what we’ve come up with. Upon asking him his name, he simply said that he was a Galactic Grunt, no more. He then asked us for some hair dye—Computer, hair dye bottle.”
The wall pulled up a picture of a box of hair dye. On the front was a picture of a smiling girl with long, bright blue hair the color of Team Galactic’s hair.
“Look at this,” Erma said, gesturing towards the screen. “Notice the name of it?”
“Happy Hair Brand Hair Dye?” Ian said. “Sounds cheesy.”
“No,” Erma snapped impatiently, tapping her cane on the floor. “Computer, name of color.”
The computer wall brought up a close-up picture of the corner of the box, which read—
“Galactic Blue, Number 476,” Alyssa said.
“Exactly,” Erma replied.
“Is there any correlation between the company and Team Galactic?”
“Actually, that’s what we want you two to find out.” Erma rolled her head and adjusted her shoulders, looking as though she was trying to crack her back.
“You can’t be serious,” Ian said.
“Yes, I am. We can’t do everything from here, you know.”
“But what about the mugshot?” Ian pointed up at the picture in question. Erma laughed.
“Oh, that’s just a picture of Mr. Galactic Grunt. We found out his actual name—Terrence Miller, from Veilstone City. Computer, zoom in, current mugshot.”
The mugshot became larger-than-life on the screen. It certainly was their prisoner; only in the picture, the roots of his hair were dark brown. “What’s up with his hair?” Alyssa asked.
“He dyes it,” Erma said. “When we questioned him further, he said that all members of Team Galactic—except for the commanders—dye their hair with this exact color, brand and all. Their warehouse is apparently full of it. The factory is in Pueltown, so we’d like you to head there and do some reconnaissance.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ian said, pushing his face into his hand. “I—I—that just sounds so…”
“Trivial?” Erma supplied. “Miniscule? Non-important?”
“Why aren’t we looking into why Team Galactic wanted to blow up the Ranger School?”
“We are! I’m sorry to burden you two with this stupid little mission,” Erma added apologetically, “but we need someone to do it, and, as with most companies…we send the rookies to do the small work.”
“What do the pictures of the guys with briefcases have to do with anything, then?” Ian asked.
“Oh—those are just screenshots from an action movie I was watching last night,” Erma replied. “Computer! Move screenshot images into Erma’s folder.” All the pictures of the men with briefcases zoomed away into a folder along with all the pictures of landscapes, leaving the walls quite blank. “Anyway, you two—computer, underfoot map of Pueltown—the company’s main factory is in Pueltown. We don’t know much about it, except that they seem to have been established around the time Team Galactic became prominent in Sinnoh. You’ll have to find everything else out. Computer, mark Happy Hair Company Factory.”
Alyssa tried not to groan. This sounded so stupid. She looked down at the red X in Pueltown, memorizing where it was—she had an excellent sense of direction. “So, all we know is that every member of Team Galactic is required to dye their hair with this stuff?”
“Yes. The Pueltown Ranger Base will be expecting you day after tomorrow. Get packing and planning!”
“There’s no plan?” Ian asked incredulously. Erma shot him a look, and he cleared his throat. “I mean—ma’am, I would have expected that the Ranger Union, being full of intelligent people, would provide a plan for us.”
“Well, the Ranger Union certainly is chock-full of intelligent people. And last time I checked, you two were in the Ranger Union. So provide yourselves a plan!” Erma beamed. “We expect regular check-ins, and your schedule is to remain perfectly normal—that means that you don’t get a day off to plan and pack tomorrow. You will do your daily exercise regimen and go on patrol as per usual. Any questions? Good. Dismissed!”
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Subject: They’ve got to be kidding.
Sooooo!! I’ve been sent on my first mission as a Top Ranger!
To a hair-dye factory.
Yeah. I’m supposed to be figuring out whether or not they’re related to Team Galactic. It’s so dumb. What if they’re not? Then I’m just going to be wasting my time snooping around some innocent hair-dye factory. But whatever! It’s my job! I’m getting paid for it!
Oh, did you get Belle’s last email? I’m so relieved that she’s not dead or anything, but why did she spend so much time at the Fighting Dojo in Saffron City? That doesn’t seem like her. I’m still really worried about her. Something’s wrong and she’s not telling us. Or me, anyway. If she tells you anything, blab it on over, will ya?
Reviewed your video; it REALLY looks like Konohana’s cheating, but there’s no concrete proof, so there’s really nothing I can do. =( Sorry. Just remember to steer clear of her from now on. Good luck on your next contest! I know you’ll do great! (You’re not giving up, are you?)
All my love (well, most—gotta save some for Ian! XD),
A/N: The line about the Hoenn president is a throwback to Sgt Shock's fic!