Summer vacation was always a treasured time for Ranger School students.
There was always great excitement as they stood outside with their bags, talking and saying their good-byes until their parents came to pick them up. Usually, the sun shone down on all the students milling about the grounds, playing with the school Pokémon one last time before they returned. Graduating students had already had their ceremony by that time, but a few of them would come back for a last look before they started their duties. It was the day that began everything, a day full of promises.
But on that one day, it had been storming.
Ten-year-old Alyssa’s pigtails bobbed on either side of her head as she pulled her rolling suitcase over to the window, looking outside and trying to see past the water lashing at the glass. In all her five years at the Ranger School, she had never seen a day like this. She should have known it was a bad omen.
Warren had come to take her and her brother, Heath, home, bringing Machoke and Ambipom. Machoke heaved Alyssa onto his back and piggy-backed her all the way home, carrying her luggage and an umbrella, too; Warren and Heath ran beside Ambipom.
Diana was so happy they were home; she folded each one of them into her arms one at a time, no matter how wet they were. Warren was soaking.
It was in the middle of summer vacation that it happened. The day had just begun. Morning light filtered through Alyssa’s window, waking her up just like it did every day. She got up and stretched.
The house was quiet, so Alyssa moved stealthily, quietly pulling the drawers of her dresser open to look for clothes to wear. It was her habit to always dress as soon as she woke up, since that was what she had to do at the Ranger School. She brushed her hair and pulled it into its pigtails, only glancing at the mirror during this process. They looked a tad uneven; she adjusted one of her pigtails before slipping out of her room.
The hardwood floor of the hallway squeaked in some places, so Alyssa had to be careful not to step on them. She made her way to Heath’s room. He usually would play with her in the morning before everyone woke up.
Alyssa tiptoed to her brother’s bedroom door and knocked against it gently. Heath didn’t answer; she stood by the door for a few moments before trying the knob. The minute her fingers touched it, it opened a bit. Alyssa frowned. Why hadn’t the door been shut all the way?
“Heath?” Alyssa whispered as she slipped into the room. There was something different here. The room felt…dead. Empty. She looked around. Heath wasn’t in his bed, which was made neatly. He didn’t appear to be in the room at all. “Heath?” she said again, a bit louder.
The door to his closet was ajar; she went over to it carefully. “Don’t jump out at me and scare me,” she said. “I’ll tell Daddy!” She crept over to it and hesitated before pulling it open wildly.
Something swung out and she leapt back with a squeal; the thing settled down and she realized that it was just his Ranger School uniform, hanging on the back of the door in a clear plastic cover to keep it clean. Heart still pounding from the scare, Alyssa looked into the closet; but what she found was much scarier than Heath jumping out of it.
The usually neat closet was ransacked. Overalls, coveralls, work jeans were all thrown onto the floor. Empty hangars hung where clothes should have been, and some things were almost falling off. Alyssa took a step inside the small closet. It looked as though all Heath’s dress clothes were gone. Why?
She spun around and surveyed the room again. His desk was wiped clean of its usual paraphernalia—stickers, Poké Ball toys, stationery paper and envelopes, pens and pencils, an old, framed family portrait that had been taken when Alyssa was five, Heath eight. It was all gone. Instead, one thing laid on the desk: an envelope. It was one from Heath’s stationery set that Alyssa had gotten him for his birthday one year. He had always enjoyed that sort of thing; he didn’t care much for working in the fields, but he loved to write. His handwriting was beautiful. She approached the desk and picked up the envelope. Written on the cover were the words: To Everyone. She opened it and pulled out the folded-up piece of paper. It was that stationery, all right—a blue piece of paper with an icy-looking border, with a Poké Ball in each corner and an Empoleon at the top.
I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve had to do, but I could not stay here any longer. Please excuse this. I cannot go to the Ranger School anymore; I have no desire to be a Ranger, or an Operator, or a Researcher. I have other dreams, and now I must leave to pursue them.
Please understand that this is no one’s fault. I am very sorry that it had to happen this way. I love all of you—Mother, Father, Alyssa, Ambipom, Machoke.
Tears sprang immediately to Alyssa’s eyes. Heath was gone? He ran away? He had other dreams? What were they, and why did he want to leave so suddenly?
She abandoned the envelope and hurried downstairs. The house was so quiet—would anyone even be awake? She panicked as her footsteps took her closer to the first floor, but when she rounded the corner, Warren sat in the kitchen, drinking a steaming cup of coffee in a white T-shirt and jeans. His hair was unkempt and he still looked clean. A bit of stubble was sprouting on his square jaw; the sun glistened off the hair on his arm as he brought the coffee mug to his lips.
“Daddy,” Alyssa breathed, hurrying to the kitchen. He set his cup down.
“Daddy, Heath…” She set the piece of paper in front of him. Warren looked down at it, his eyes traveling over it as he read it silently. When he was finished, he put his hand on it and slid it away from him. Alyssa’s eyes filled with tears again. “Daddy, why would he leave? Why doesn’t he love us anymore?”
Warren looked at his small, crying daughter in silence for a few moments. He took a sip of coffee, and when he set his mug back down, he spoke in his soft, deep voice. “When I was young, there was no Ranger School here. But there was a school.”
Alyssa sniffled and looked at him.
“My father was a farmer. I wanted to be one too. I didn’t need school for that.” He closed his eyes. “I also wanted to have adventures. School wouldn’t let me. I didn’t do well. All the kids had a nickname for me…Tank.”
“Tank?” Alyssa asked. “The kids had a nickname for Heath,” she added. “It was…Heather. They said he acted like a girl. I can see how he wouldn’t want that nickname, but Tank sounds okay.”
“They called me that because I was stupid.”
“You’re not stupid, Daddy,” Alyssa said, taking a step closer. Warren nodded.
“Yes. I was. I wanted to run away. I never did.”
He took another sip of coffee and silence descended upon them. Alyssa stared at her father for a few minutes longer. “Well?” she asked finally. “Do you regret it?”
“Yes and no.”
Confused and a little hurt, Alyssa asked, “Why yes?”
“I’ve never been out of Almia. I’ve never been past Pueltown. I’ll never see anything outside this place.”
He looked at her steadily before answering. “You’re my little daisy,” he said simply. And somehow, that answer was sufficient.
Alyssa went over to Warren and sat in his lap. It had been a few years since she had last done this, and it surprised her how easy, how natural it felt to do it again. “But what about Heath?” she asked. “Will he regret leaving?”
“No,” Warren replied. “He doesn’t belong here. His little daisy is somewhere else.”
Alyssa yawned and sat up. Her hair fell around her shoulders and she looked around her room, virtually unchanged from six, almost seven years ago. She looked at the pillow beside hers where Ziggy slumbered peacefully, and it made her realize that she had changed a lot in six years.
Today she would have to head back to the Ranger Union HQ. She and Ian would have to capture another Staraptor, though, and the nearest Staraptor dwelling that she knew of was right outside Chicole Village.
As Alyssa pulled on her sweater, she caught sight of something green in her closet. She had forgotten…how long had it been? She crossed the room and pulled out her Ranger School uniform, hanging it on the back of her closet door. It had been so long since she had put it on. She reached out and touched the clear plastic cover, listening as it crinkled beneath her hand.
She smiled as memories flooded her mind, but soon she turned away and left her room. She couldn’t really go back to those days. Just like that day six years ago, she avoided the squeaky parts of the floor as she headed down the hall, but instead of going to her brother’s room, she went downstairs.
Ranger Union HQ was buzzing with excitement.
“What’s going on?” Ian asked two Ranger girls running by, catching one by the arm. She shook him off.
“There’s a big, important job coming up,” she replied. “Erma’s dispatching a whole team of Rangers to shut down this factory. It’s a big job, and everyone wants to know if they’re on it or not.”
Ian glanced over at Alyssa. “Is there a list anywhere?” he asked.
“Yeah, but Erma’s not letting anyone see it right now,” the other girl piped up. “The whole building’s talking. She may even be calling people over from the Fiore region.”
Suddenly, Ian’s Styler beeped loudly. “Ranger Ian, this is Rhythmi. Erma would like to see you on the third floor.”
“Be right there. Excuse me,” he said to the two girls, and they immediately swooned.
“You’re Ian Walton?” one asked. “You’re one of the most famous rookies here! The other one’s—”
Alyssa’s Styler beeped in the same manner as Ian’s. “Ranger Alyssa, this is Rhythmi.”
“Hi. Erma would like to see you on the third floor.”
“Be up in a sec.” Alyssa pressed the button to end the conversation; the other girl grabbed Alyssa’s arm.
“Are you Alyssa Thompson? You’re the other famous rookie!”
“Oh my—she must want you to help take down the factory! Put in a good word for me! I’m Samantha Adams, I’m really great at capturing—”
“Uh-huh, that’s great. Alyssa, let’s go!”
They rushed up to the third floor, leaving the two shrieking fangirls behind. When they arrived, a group of other Rangers were waiting; the Operators at their computers continued to do their work, and Alyssa and Ian joined the small group of Rangers.
“Great, we’re all here. You are all familiar with the factory, I trust?” Erma asked.
“Well, you are the team of Rangers I have chosen to shut down the factory. Any objections?”
Alyssa didn’t want to go back there, but she was also extremely happy to be one of the people shutting it down. She looked at the five other Rangers besides her and Ian. They were older than her; she recognized Keith and Everett, Casey’s father. She and Ian were obviously the youngest here.
“You will begin training together immediately. Do not write Alyssa and Ian off because of their youth; they were the ones who gathered the initial information leading to this operation. Now, everyone stand up, one at a time, and introduce yourselves—first and last name, age, Partner Pokémon. Alyssa first.”
Alyssa stood and looked at the group. “Hello, everyone. My name is Alyssa Thompson. I’m sixteen, and this is Ziggy, my Partner Pokémon. He’s a Zigzagoon.” She pulled Ziggy from his place on her back.
“Like we couldn’t see that,” someone muttered. Alyssa’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s nice to meet you all,” she said before sitting down. Ian stood up next.
“Ian Walton. I’m seventeen. My Partner Pokémon is Prinplup here.” He gestured towards his Pokémon.
The next person stood—it was Keith. “Keith Regnar,” he said. “I’m twenty-four, and this is Buizel, my Partner Pokémon.”
“My name is Everett Rayman. I’m forty.” Alyssa glanced up at Casey’s father. “My Partner Pokémon is my Ariados, Piak.”
The next person was a woman. She stood up and straightened her jacket before placing a hand on her hip and looking around at everyone with something like disdain. “Karri—that’s K-A-R-R-I—Danes. I’m twenty-one. This is Siami, my Espeon.” Alyssa knew immediately that this was the person who had spoken during her introduction.
Another woman stood, but she was a lot younger-looking than Karri; she was also shorter. “Hi, I’m Jean Danes. I’m Karri’s sister! I’m eighteen, and this is my partner Exis.” She indicated a Xatu standing beside her.
The last person to stand up was a man in his forties. He looked very stern as he gazed at everyone. “My name is Nelson McFayer, and I am forty-three years old. This is my Partner Pokémon, Rhunso. He is a Yanmega.”
“Another Captain Obvious,” Karri muttered.
“Speaking while I am speaking will not be tolerated,” he said, talking over the end of Karri’s sentence. “I am heading up this operation, so I am your superior. You have been chosen because you are exceptionally good. If anyone turns on me, I will not hesitate to kill them.”
A shocked silence rang through the group. Alyssa hoped that the man might be kidding, but he showed no signs of amusement. “Mr. Rayman here was in charge of the espionage mission to gather more information about Team Galactic’s whereabouts in the factory. Please brief us, sir.” Nelson sat as Casey’s father stood.
“Thanks, Mr. McFayer. I managed to find out why Team Galactic is here in Almia, and it is very simple. When they disbanded in Sinnoh a few years ago, their leader, Cyrus, left them, and they have been searching for him ever since. The bomb threat on the Ranger School was a preemptive strike against us Rangers. Apparently, they feel that they are making a comeback, and they wanted to let us know that they meant business. They have seen signs that Cyrus is in Almia, and so they are setting up here to find him. The factory, however, has been working this way ever since they bloomed in Sinnoh, and was placed here instead of Sinnoh so as not to arouse suspicion. Not only do they make the hair dye for their own team members, but they ship it and sell it to perfectly innocent people who are unaware of Galactic’s brutal nature.
“On my mission inside the factory, I placed small cameras around each room and wired into their surveillance cameras as well. Currently, we have our own personal Operator in Pueltown who will monitor everything around us carefully.”
“And who is this Operator?” Karri snapped. “Why don’t we get to meet her?”
“Her name is Casey, and she is my daughter. We will meet her when we go to Pueltown for the preliminary stages of—”
“Oh, I see how it works. She’s family, so she gets a deal in this big operation, huh? Maybe she’ll get promoted and get to work here because of it, huh?” Karri sneered. “That’s not a way to go about things. Jean didn’t get here just by my accomplishments.”
“How do you know that you didn’t get here because of Jean’s?” Alyssa asked. Karri whipped around, gritting her teeth as her eyes met Alyssa’s. Oh, I’m not going to get along with you very well, Alyssa thought, staring unblinkingly back at the girl.
“I think that’s enough,” Mr. Rayman said calmly. “At any rate, Team Galactic is unaware that their factory is under constant surveillance, but they have upped their security considerably; this means that there must be much careful planning before any infiltration is considered. Mr. McFayer will tell you how we’ll go about that…Mr. McFayer?”
The man stood, and the Yanmega behind him stirred. His gray eyes gazed out from his wrinkled face sternly. “We will begin training together tomorrow. Meet at the training grounds at seven o’clock—in uniforms, please. We have a while before we must begin this mission, and I do not want any of our time to go to waste. Chairperson Erma, if you have anything…? No? Then you are all dismissed.”
Alyssa gathered Ziggy into her lap and stroked the fur on his head briefly. She looked down at him, and he gazed at her with worried eyes—he could tell she was nervous. “I’ll be fine,” she whispered to him.
“You hope,” said Karri’s voice from above her. Her Espeon stood daintily with all four paws on her shoulder, two tails swishing behind her.
Alyssa stood, bringing herself almost level with the woman.
“You’re too young, sweetie. Go back to your house and play with your dolls.”
“If I’m too young, then why am I here?” Alyssa retorted. “And I didn’t play with dolls. Unlike you, I had better things to do with my time when I was younger—like get straight As and become valedictorian of my class.”
Karri’s eyes narrowed. “You mark my words, little girl,” she said, her voice low. “Tomorrow, at that training ground, I’m going to do better than you at all the exercises. You know why? Because I have more experience. I’ve been doing this sort of thing since before you were born.”
“Really? At five? That’s not so special.” Alyssa placed Ziggy at his favorite place—hanging off her shoulder. “Everyone joins the Ranger School at five.” With that, she pushed past Karri and went downstairs, smiling as she heard the woman’s scoff from behind her.
OMG DID YOU GET BELLE’S LAST EMAIL???
Do you think that when Terra said she knew a way to fix everything she meant BECOME THE VIRIDIAN CITY GYM LEADER????? I’m SO HAPPY we have our Belle back to normal…almost!!!!
I have a new mission—I can’t wait to get started, because there’s a woman on the team with me whose name is Carrie but she spells it weird…like with a K or something. I can’t remember. Karrie? Karri? Kary? I don’t know. But
AHHHH BELLE IS BACK TO NORMAL YAY YAY YAY I can’t focus on anything else!!!!
Love from your excited friend,
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
So you’re okay? Please, at least tell me how the battle went…please?
And take as long as you want to explain everything. I know that things can get complicated, so tell me whenever you want. I’m just so glad you’re starting to feel okay…I was worried, and Cassandra was too.
I won’t bother you too much now, but please, PLEASE continue sending us detailed emails…we love you.
Loving you forever,