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October 23rd, 2010 (10:04 AM).
Oatmeal? Are you CRAZY?!
In the middle of nowhere.
Alyssa and Ian captured two Doduo to ride into Pueltown. Prinplup, situated uncomfortably between Doduo’s necks and Ian’s knees, wasn’t too happy about the situation, but Ziggy happily snuggled into Alyssa’s lap and leaned to the side, letting its small tongue hang out of its dark brown mouth as the wind whipped by. Alyssa was a bit worried he would fall; she kept pushing him more towards the center.
Once the two arrived in the bustling city of Pueltown, they dismounted their Doduo and released them. “According to Erma,” Ian said, kneeling down to brush off a disgruntled Prinplup, “this Happy Hair factory should be somewhere around the harbor.”
“It won’t be too hard to find, then.” Alyssa scooped Ziggy up and let him hang off her shoulder as usual. “How do you do that?” she remarked to her Pokémon briefly, and he only replied by licking the side of her face and making her giggle. “It probably won’t take long; we’ll take some quests on the way back. But we’re supposed to check in at the Ranger Base first.”
Ian and Alyssa made their way through Pueltown, politely turning down quests as they made their way toward the Ranger Base near the center of town. Ian’s face darkened as they got there. Pueltown had to have a lot of Rangers stationed there thanks to its size and population, so the building was large, towering up over everyone’s heads. It was excellently built with smooth white brick, and it was round, as all Ranger Bases were. It had large windows placed around it separated by tall blue columns. The bit of tree on top overflowed so that people looking up were treated to the sight of fluffy green leaves ringing the roof of the base. It was situated right in front of a large overpass-like structure, on which there was a brick road branching from the east side to the west side of town. A green hedge ran around the perimeter of the building’s grounds with an interruption in front of the door to allow people to enter the base. Alyssa, on her trips to Pueltown, had seen this building before, but she had never been inside.
“Do we have to do this?” Ian asked, pausing as Alyssa headed for the door. She stopped and turned around.
“Do we really have to check in?”
“Yes, we do,” Alyssa replied. “Erma said we needed to, and it’s a good idea to let the Rangers of this area know that we’re here.”
Sighing, Ian reluctantly followed her inside.
There were Rangers everywhere. The building was filled with them. They stood in a line waiting for the Operator to recharge their Stylers, they sat on couches drinking coffee and talking, they stood in circles discussing, they came in and out of the door in the back leading to the dorm-like rooms, they went up and down stairs, they played with their Pokémon. Alyssa was overwhelmed. Ian came up beside her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s find the captain.” The people who ran the Ranger Bases were called captains—Barlow, for instance, was the captain of the Vientown Ranger Base.
Ian led her to the busy Operator, bypassing the line. Several Rangers went to protest, but stopped themselves as they noticed Ian and Alyssa’s Stylers.
“How may I help—oh,” the Operator said, looking at their Stylers. “The captain is waiting for you upstairs. Second door to the right.”
“Thanks very much,” Ian said.
“Do you need those recharged?”
“No,” Alyssa piped up. “Thank you, though.” She threw out a Ranger salute by placing her fist over her heart and then pulling her upper arm up rigidly, hand open. Ian followed suit; then they wove through the crowd, hearing people fall silent as they moved through them.
Upstairs was a bit quieter; it was a hallway, so there were several doors leading to several rooms the Rangers could possibly be in. They chose the second door on the right and knocked. The door opened to a woman standing there. Her Ranger uniform was modified—instead of the black-and-white skintight suit that girls were required to wear, she had a knee-length white dress with a bit of frill on the skirt. Her feet were in fashionable yet sensible white shoes, not tennis shoes. While most Rangers were required to wear red short-sleeved jackets, she wore a long-sleeved one with a body that ended right below her breasts—that, at least, was standard. Her hair was long and dark green. It shifted around her shoulders as she stepped to the side, revealing someone in the office behind her.
“Greg,” Ian said darkly. Greg stood. Like Ian, he seemed to have hit his growth spurt late—unlike Ian, he was not attractive. He still wore ugly glasses, his ears were still big, and he still had that expression of disdain or anger that he had worn at school. Most boys looked dashing in Ranger uniforms, but it seemed ill-fitting on him—his torso was too thin, his legs were too short.
“I was just leaving,” Greg said, eyeing their Stylers. “It’s nice to see you again, Ian. And Alyssa.”
Alyssa looked over at him. It was strange to hear him speak to her; throughout her years in Ranger School, he had never done so. “Hello, Greg.”
He paused for a moment before replying simply, “Hello.” Then he pushed past Ian out of the room, a Grovyle following behind him. He paused once he was outside and turned. “If we may, Captain, I’d like to continue this conversation at a later time.”
The woman nodded. “Very well, Walton.” He turned and disappeared around a corner. “Come in, you two. I’m sure you’re in quite a hurry.”
Alyssa and Ian stepped into the office; it was furnished simply with a desk, computer, and bookcases, but the colors were blended together very nicely, all greens and blues. The woman walked over to her desk, gesturing towards the two chairs facing it. She stopped at her desk and turned to them.
“I am Elmina Woodrow, Captain of the Pueltown Ranger Base.” She held out her hand for them to shake.
“Alyssa Thompson, rookie Top Ranger.”
“Ian Walton, also rookie Top Ranger.”
Elmina cocked her eyebrow as a Leafeon leapt gently onto her desk; Alyssa wasn’t sure where it had come from. They all sat down. “Walton? You must be Gregory’s older brother. Not much resemblance, I must say…”
“You have no idea how much it pleases me that you say that.”
Elmina laughed gently; the sound was like leaves blowing in the wind. “Are you familiar with Gregory as well?” she asked, turning to Alyssa.
“We were in the same class in Ranger School,” Alyssa replied.
“Ah, yes, Alyssa Thompson, did you say? Well—weren’t you the valedictorian?”
Elmina nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Excellent. Since you both have some experience with Rookie Walton, I feel comfortable in telling you this…he has been in here day after day, pushing for a promotion to Top Ranger. I believe he has some sort of inferiority complex…his older brother and his school rival are now Top Rangers, while he wastes his time here, in the largest Ranger Base in Almia.” Elmina spread her hands. “He is not satisfied. While I do admire ambition, I believe his is a bit misguided…he seems to be under the impression that money is the key ingredient to happiness. But enough—I am sure you two are in a hurry.”
“Wait,” Ian said, leaning forward. “Do you have any intention of promoting him?”
Elmina’s fine eyebrow arched again. “No. Do you wish to recommend him for promotion?”
“No. I don’t think he should be a Ranger at all.”
“Well, the way he’s behaving, he won’t be for very long. He seems to think quests are beneath him; he mistreats the people who ask him for things and even tries to charge them. He’s on probation right now, with no incoming quests or missions.”
Alyssa gritted her teeth. Sure, Greg might have been a Krabby in school, but she had never figured him for this type of person.
“Well, I assume you only came here to check in, correct? You actually do not have to answer to me at all…I thank you for informing me of your whereabouts in my…territory, so to speak. Good luck on your mission.”
“Why was no one from the Pueltown Ranger Base dispatched to do this mission?” Alyssa asked as they all stood.
Elmina laughed. “Dear, the Pueltown Rangers are ones for serving the people of Pueltown. When it comes to worldwide plots…well, that’s what the Top Rangers are for.”
“We’ll just tell them it’s a routine inspection,” Ian said as they walked up to the Happy Hair factory. It was a low, squat building, barely noticeable among the jumble of things by the harbor, positioned right on the water.
“Have they ever gotten one before?”
“I’m sure they have—from the Pueltown Rangers.” They walked up to the low building. A truck was pulled up to the side, so they headed for it; a dark-haired man in coveralls was about to open the back, but he paused in his work and looked over at the two approaching Rangers.
“Hi there,” Ian called. The man waved back. They came to stand in front of him; there was a large, open door in the side of the building. Alyssa glanced inside. It appeared to be a warehouse full of crates—probably hair dye for shipping out. “We’re just here for a routine inspection. Do you know where the supervisor is?”
The man put his hands on his hips. “No, but he should be coming out soon…he usually comes out to see the dye shipped out personally. There he is.” He pointed to a blonde man in a suit walking from the other side of the warehouse, talking quickly with an earpiece attached to his ear. His voice echoed through the warehouse until he came to the door.
“I don’t care about that. The Machoke are very experienced, they know what they’re doing. I will have to let you go. Can I help you?” he asked, reaching up to press a button on his earpiece. He straightened his tie, but Alyssa caught his eye movement towards their Stylers.
“We’re here for a routine inspection,” Ian said.
“Oh?” The man smiled, but the gesture didn’t reach his eyes. “This month’s inspection has already passed. Another one isn’t scheduled until next month.”
“We’re under orders from HQ. We can’t disobey.”
“I’m sorry. I have the right to refuse anyone from my establishment without appointment. Please leave the premises, or I will have my guards escort you off. Oh, what now?” he said crossly as his phone began ringing. He pressed the button on his earpiece, turning away. “Hello? No, I said don’t worry about it! They always use—what do you expect them to do? Use their fingernails?” He strode away, back through the warehouse, and the large man in coveralls pulled a remote out of his pocket. At the touch of a button, the large metal door began to close, cutting off Alyssa and Ian’s view of the warehouse.
“Leave,” he grunted.
So they did. Alyssa brushed her bangs out of her eyes, biting her lip as they walked away. “What do we do now?” Ian asked. “He does have the right to refuse anyone entry…”
“We sneak in, of course,” Alyssa replied as though the answer was obvious. “We sneak in, observe what’s going on, see if anything’s wrong, take some pictures. And from the way he reacted, I think something is wrong.”
“You’re just paranoid,” Ian told her.
“No…I’m sure he’s hiding something. Did you see the way he looked at our Stylers? Or the way he smiled? If he had nothing to hide, why would he turn us away? And anyway, this is our mission. We have to count it as failed if we don’t get in there.”
As it turned out, Alyssa was very persuasive; ten minutes later, they were slipping in the factory via a small side door, red jackets stowed in a safe place outside—because “Red is an eye-drawing color,” Alyssa said, stuffing her jacket into a trash can.
The building was small, so it must not have required many workers. The white-tiled hallway they entered was empty, but Alyssa flattened herself against the gray wall anyway. Ziggy sniffed the floor and inched ahead; Prinplup lingered behind, checking their rear. Ian pressed himself beside Alyssa. “I’m not sure if—”
“Cameras,” Alyssa whispered. “There.” She pointed. “And there.” She pointed again. “Any way we can temporarily disable them?”
“Well, Prinplup knows Water Gun,” Ian offered.
Alyssa shook her head. “We need something more subtle. Water gun might turn it, and we just need to short it out…does he know Bubble?”
“Get him to do that, please.”
“Hey, Prinplup.” The Pokémon performed the desired move; the bubble emitting from his beak enveloped the camera before popping, effectively disabling it. He did the same for the other camera.
“Thanks much, Prinny,” Alyssa whispered. Ian was too distracted to protest. She pushed her bangs back from her eyes and got away from the wall, striding confidently down the hallway.
“Alyssa! What are you—come back!” Ian followed, hurrying after her. When he caught up, he grabbed her arm. “What are you thinking?”
Ziggy’s ears perked up and it darted a look at Alyssa. “Someone’s coming,” Alyssa said, taking in the movement. “Quick—find a place to hide.”
“Where? There are no doors. We can only go out the way we came in.”
“Um…” Alyssa glanced around. The hum of machines permeated the air, making it hard to concentrate. Her eyes found a small alcove that interrupted the wall. She hurried toward it, pulling Ian with her. There was a large double-door, and then two small doors on the sides of the alcove. She grabbed the knob of one of the smaller doors and let herself in.
This, apparently, was the main factory. The noise of machines rose to a din as soon as they entered; they were in a small space directly before they entered the main room. Thankfully, there were barrels and crates against the walls, so Alyssa ducked behind some barrels before someone in the room saw her. People and Pokémon—mostly Machoke and Zangoose—bustled by, both carrying large loads that she hadn’t quite seen.
“Nothing seems to be going on,” Ian said.
“We need to explore further into the main factory,” Alyssa told him.
“How? There are people everywhere!”
“Just be sneaky.” Alyssa crawled out from behind her cluster of barrels and moved toward a stack of crates. Ian followed. They were now at a vantage point to where they could see the whole of the factory if they poked their heads above the crates, which Ian did. He gasped, and Alyssa went to come up beside him—
“No.” Ian’s hand quickly went over her eyes and he forced her back down. “Don’t look.”
“This isn’t the time for games, Ian,” Alyssa said crossly, forcing his hand away from her face and shooting him an angry glare.
“Please don’t look,” he replied, grabbing her wrist as she went to peek above the crates. “Please, please don’t look. There are Team Galactic overseers, so they are in league with Team Galactic. That’s all we need to know. You don’t have to look. I’ll take the pictures,” he added, pulling the Ranger camera Erma had assigned them out of his pocket.
“I came all this way,” she snapped, stretching for it, but he pulled it out of her reach. “And do you think I can’t handle it? After all we’ve been through together—namely, the cave?” She shook her arm out of his grasp, and he speechlessly watched her look over the crates.
She almost vomited.
The loads the people and Pokémon had been carrying were large piles of different Water Pokémon—Horsea, Goldeen, Seaking, Finneon, even a few Marill. They carried them over to a pile of the same kind on a long counter that ran around the perimeter of the room. Beside these piles were Machoke or Zangoose, the former with knives. They would take the Water Pokémon and skin them.
Alyssa clapped a hand over her mouth as a Machoke grabbed hold of a Horsea and slung it down on the counter. It jabbed the knife into the skin on its side and pushed, peeling up a long piece of blue skin all the way to its neck. The Horsea closed its eyes and began screaming, or so Alyssa assumed; the noise of the machines was too loud for her to hear. An annoyed look crossed over the Machoke’s face, and he suddenly used the knife to chop cleanly through the Horsea’s neck. Its head rolled onto the floor.
After skinning the Water Pokémon, the Machoke or Zangoose would grab the skin and throw it into a funnel. In the middle of the room were several large vats of different-colored bubbling liquids; the funnels were inserted in tubes connected to these vats. Alyssa looked at them, horrified. Now that she looked closer, she could see a bit of order; Pokémon’s skins were sorted by color and thrown into the funnel that corresponded with the vat. Seaking skins ended up in the funnel connected to the vat of red. Goldeen skins were cut up, and the orange parts were dropped into the funnel for orange while the white parts were dropped into the funnel for white. Alyssa looked back to the Horsea station, which was nearest her. Her eyes followed the tube to the large vat of…Galactic Blue. Her stomach turned unpleasantly and she pushed a hand over her mouth, trying her hardest not to throw up.
Suddenly, Ian’s hand was on her shoulder, his arm draped around her back. He pointed up to a catwalk running the length of the room, where several Team Galactic members paced, looking down at the progress below them. A few Staraptor and Honchkrow walked with them. Fighting is weak against Flying, she thought. If a Machoke gets out of hand…but what about the Zangoose? She searched until she found a Machamp, its bottom pair of arms crossed and its top pair sticking straight up.
She looked back over to the Machoke eagerly skinning Horsea. As its knife brought up another peel of blue skin, Alyssa got a glimpse of the bright red muscle pulsing beneath. She could see the Horsea’s heart. There it was, clear as day, pumping blood to a rapidly dying body; and then the Machoke tossed the skin into the funnel and continued its job, flipping the Horsea over.
“Come on.” Ian’s low voice was right in her ear. “I think we’ve got enough. Let’s get out of here.”
It wasn’t difficult getting out of the building; Alyssa thought numbly how she hadn’t even noticed Ian taking pictures. They pulled their jackets from the trash can as they skirted the edge of the Happy Hair Brand Hair Dye Factory, disappearing into the shadow of the nondescript building next to it.
After checking in briefly with Elmina, they captured two more Doduo. “Y’know,” Alyssa said softly, placing a hand on the Pokémon’s back, “back in Chicole Village, we have a farm.”
Ian looked over at her, frowning down from his Doduo.
“My mom has an Ambipom in the house that helps clean. It has a lot of hands, y’know…” She stared numbly at the brown feathers beneath her fingers. “My dad…he has a Machamp that helps him in the fields…it just recently evolved from Machoke.” She then turned and vomited into the bushes.
I can’t tell you very much about my mission. It’s actually going to be like that a lot. Just know that it was a success, but I saw some things.
I’m not sure about Belle’s last email, but I’m a bit too shaken up to think about that right now.
Isis, while a goddess of fertility, was also married to Osiris, the god of the underworld. It sounds like Konohana is using steroids. That would explain the Glaceon’s size. Also, steroids have negative side effects; they deplete the pigment in a Pokémon’s skin and coat.
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