New year, new chapter...
Scarcely five minutes after he had left, Michael came running back to the picnic table, where Henry sat, idly playing with a leaf. When he stumbled over to the bench, breath racing, the boy looked up in shock.
“What happened? Where were you?” Henry stood, snatching the book from Michael’s hand before it slipped. Michael waved him away.
“Never mind. We have to go back to the hotel. Come on.” He hoisted his backpack over his shoulders and picked up the stack of books. Henry followed him, utterly confused, but whenever he tried to cut in with a question, Michael shook his head and kept walking.
When they reached the hotel, Michael immediately went to the front desk, dropping his books down on the floor. The man behind the counter, who had been sorting through a stack of papers, jumped at the noise.
“Hey.” Michael rested his hands on the counter. “Do you have a typewriter I can borrow?”
The clerk lowered his papers, the shock passing from his face and leaving behind a perplexed look. “What for?”
“I need it. But I’ll give it back, I promise.”
The clerk pressed his lips together. “I’m not sure if we have a spare, but I can check… be right back.” He disappeared behind the back door. Michael waited patiently, tapping his foot in rhythm. A minute later, the clerk returned, backing out with a large metal contraption in his arms. It resembled a one-row toaster, with a rectangular extension at the bottom that contained the keys. Several slips of white paper were inserted into the slot, flapping softly.
Michael grinned as the clerk handed him the machine. “Thanks.”
The clerk sighed. “No problem. But be sure to bring it back by the end of the day. That one was mine.”
Michael nodded. With the typewriter in one arm, he reached for his books with the other, grunting as he tried to keep balance. Letting out an exasperated sigh, Henry ran over to help him, and together they trudged up to their room, arms full.
Henry unlocked the door and held it open with his shoulder, and Michael rushed inside, scrambling to set up his workspace. He set the typewriter down at the bedside table, gathering his notebook, pencil, and library rentals around it. Skipping around Henry, he drew back the curtains, letting light spill across the room, and sat down. He began to type.
June 13, 1963.ITEM EVOLUTION
by Michael Rowan
June 13, 1963.
Michael did not pause to think—he simply worked, hearing the sound of his fingers drumming against the keyboard, the sound of his ideas being ironed out into physical existence. The paper was a recount of his ideas about evolution, spanning chronologically from when he had first seen the moonstone, to when Clefable had evolved and become a super-powerful fighter. He mostly repeated what he had said to Bobby, using his memory of their conversation as a guide, thumbing through his notes to add in extra detail where need be. He cited information from the books, retyping the paragraph he had read about the Rogers-Bubbley experiment, and another section about later studies done on the so-called Leafstones and Waterstones.
As he wrote, Michael felt a growing excitement wash over him, and he was pulled further and further into the task. He watched the tiny bar move across the page, leaving behind letter after letter, word after word. He was lulled by the repetitiveness of it all, the simple click-clack of the keys that faded into the empty space around him.
For a while, that was all he heard.
Then, when he had typed the last line of his essay, he breathed a sigh, and removed the paper. As he read it over, he felt a swelling dissatisfaction.
It’s too short.
Shaking his head, Michael set the paper side and started anew. Click, clack. Clickety-clack. From somewhere to his right, he heard muffled movement, and a question from Henry.
“Yeah, yeah,” Michael answered. “I’m fine, I just have to do something really quick.”
He wasn’t even sure if the boy had replied to him. Michael kept typing. What seemed like a few minutes later, he pulled out the second version of his essay and held it out in front of him. This time, the block of text stretched out for a page and a half, but when Michael read it over he saw that it was ridden with typos and lacked organization. He had repeated the same sentence twice, using the same exact wording. Shaking his head again, Michael set the paper aside and started anew, this time pausing before he typed, running his sentences several times through his head before he set them down on paper. He passed the first page with ease, and then made it three-fourths of the way down the second. After typing his concluding statement, Michael pulled out the page and read it again, mentally marking the things he had covered.
Mutations, moonstones, Thunderstones… what’s missing?
He scanned the lines with his fingers. He had made all the points he had set out to make, but for some reason, the essay as a whole seemed empty, devoid of thought. It looked like another school assignment that his English teacher had forced upon him.
His frustration mounting, Michael inserted another fresh paper. If his writing was going to be published, it had to be perfect. He wanted to be hailed, not tossed aside.
Type type type type…
Again, Michael heard Henry’s voice rise out from the silence.
“Just a minute!” he answered. “Let me finish this sentence!”
But before he could immerse himself again, he was jerked out of his stupor by the elbow. Michael whirled away from the typewriter, briefly disoriented, and then his eyes locked on Henry, who had appeared beside him.
“What did you do that for?”
“I said get up!” the boy said, pulling again.
“What are you talking about? I’m busy!” Michael tried to pry loose Henry’s grip, but the boy held fast.
“Lay off!” Michael said. “It’s been like ten minutes since I sat down and already you’re bugging me! What’s your freaking bag?”
Henry dropped Michael’s arm and put his hands on his hips. “You’ve been sitting here for almost an hour! It’s 11:25! Your battle’s at nine!”
“So? I have plenty of time. I have to get this done. Now move.” He pushed Henry away by the shoulder and went back to typing. For a while, the thrumming silence returned.
Then, a pair of hands reached into his field of vision and pulled the typewriter off the table. Michael swiveled around again, his expression livid. “What're you—give it back!” He lunged forward, but Henry had already retreated across the room and placed the typewriter atop the wardrobe. “You’ll use it after we practice! You haven’t done anything yet, and you said yourself that you’d be trying a lot harder from now on!”
“Yeah but… well, that was before!” Michael reached up to scratch his head. “And what are you talking about anyway? I’m ready.”
Henry stepped forward, tilting his head. “Really? Then what pokémon are you going to use against Jerry?”
“Machop, Caterpie, Goldeen,” Michael said at once.
“Oh? And how are you going to use Goldeen if she’s on dry land? Have you thought about that?”
Michael groaned. “Look, I’ll figure it out! Just let me write, damn it!”
“Yes!” Michael tried to shove the boy aside, but he jumped back to where he was.
“After you answer my question,” Henry said.
Michael threw his hands over his head, grabbing fistfuls of hair. “What's the deal? I’ll win the battle just like I won the others! It’s not a freaking problem!”
“And what if you don’t?” Henry countered. “You think Bertha will want to stay a few extra days in Hearthome just because you were too lazy to make an effort to win?”
“We’ll go without her.”
“How? We don’t have unlimited money, you know. And it’s not like two kids can just roam around the country wherever they want.”
“Uh, correction?” Michael pulled his I.D. from his backpack. “Trainer Card.” He smiled, waving it around in front of Henry’s nose. Quick as lightning, the boy snatched it out of Michael’s hand and jumped back towards the beds. Michael reached after it a second too late.
“Give it back!” he snarled.
Henry shook his head. “No. You’ll have it back when you’ve proven to me that you’re a trainer.”
“I said give it back!”
Henry folded his arms. “Nope.”
Michael stepped forward again, curling his fist. “Give it back, before I take it from you!”
“Fine,” Henry said. He pocketed the card and took a pokéball from his tote bag. “Battle me.”
Michael paused. “What?”
“If you want the card back, battle me.”
“Pfft. Battle you? In here?”
“Yes,” Henry said. He twisted open the capsule, and out came Starly, fluttering around the boy’s head and settling on his shoulder. “Come on, I’ve sent out my pokémon. Where’s yours?”
“Ugh. Fine.” Michael went to his backpack and randomly selected a pokéball. He twisted open the capsule, and out came Goldeen, flopping down onto the carpet like eight pounds of dead fish. She slapped her tail uselessly against the carpet, her air-adjusting gills spreading open and closed.
Henry watched the pokémon flop around for a bit, and looked up at Michael. “Well? Your move.”
Michael turned out his palms and shrugged. “How am I supposed to get Goldeen to reach Starly? He’s on your freaking shoulder!”
“Get him to come down!”
“Do you think that’s what Jerry would do with Chingling?” Henry said. “Do you think he’ll make it easy for you if you ask?”
“Look, it’s not my fault that stupid Goldeen can’t move on land!” Michael exclaimed. “I’m pretty sure that the Gym doesn’t give out complimentary lakes!” He called Goldeen back into the capsule and threw it into his backpack.
“Then what about your other pokémon?” Henry pressed. “Turtwig?”
“Weak. He’s Grass.”
“She’s fine, but she won’t last a single minute.”
“Then we have to catch another pokémon,” Henry said.
Michael lowered himself into the armchair, linking his hands behind his head. “I don’t feel like it.”
Henry let out a breath. “You’re impossible! That’s it, I’m sick of helping you. Do what you want.” He turned sharply towards the door. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going outside to enjoy my last day in Hearthome. Like it or not, but I’m leaving with Bertha.”
“Have fun,” Michael called to the boy’s back. Henry didn’t reply. He slammed the door behind him, enveloping the room in silence.
Good riddance, Michael thought. He pulled up the second armchair and reclined his feet. He cast his gaze to the typewriter, but the urge to write had left him.
Instead, he pulled his backpack over to his side and took out Goldeen’s pokéball. He turned it over in his hands, letting the silver glare sear into his eyes.
Water Gun, Horn Attack, Supersonic... Michael began to tally Goldeen’s known moves in his head. He couldn’t get past three. What other moves do Goldeens know? What moves can they know?
With a kindling frustration, Michael held up the pokéball to eye level. He could see his own eyes reflected on the spherical surface. Unscrewing the knob, he held the capsule aloft. “Go.”
The pokéball spun around in the air and landed on the carpet, just as Goldeen emerged, flapping her fins. Michael leaned back in his chair, watching sourly as the pokémon moved about. A ray of dusty sunlight from the window shone on her scales, which glistened slightly with beads of moisture. She had collected the water during their last battle, when a morning rainstorm had soaked the outdoor patio. The arena had mostly dried by the time Michael got there, but nevertheless Goldeen was able to pull some water out of the ground and use Water Pulse. The droplets were still there now, winking at him in the light.
If only it could rain in the battle room, Michael thought grimly, picking up the pokéball again. But it couldn’t. And it wouldn’t. He opened it, and as he watched Goldeen flee back into the capsule, he felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. His team was a flop.
Michael placed the pokéball onto the table and let his gaze trail off towards the ceiling. There was no way he would be able to use Goldeen, unless by some miracle, he could find a way to bring water into the battle room by the end of the day. But what was he supposed to do? Fill a bucket?
He continued to play with the pokéball while he pondered the useless question. Michael rolled the ball around the table, turning and stopping it with his fingers, until the metal’s bright glint had nearly seared a hole through his skull. He had never been particularly interested in the topic, but the more he thought about it, the more incredible it seemed that a creature of nearly any size could fit inside such a tiny container. It seemed to defy everything he learned in school about matter and physics.
He sat there for a long time, tossing and catching the capsule with his hand. And then, ever so slowly, he felt an idea emerge. He could only skim its outer shell at first, but the longer he held it in his mind, the deeper it unfurled. He caught the capsule again and looked down at it, tracing its spherical surface with his eyes. A switch seemed to flip in his brain.
Springing into action, Michael tossed the pokéball into his backpack and ran for the door. He made a frantic sprint for the lobby, finding Henry just as the boy was getting ready to leave. He had turned for the door, a magazine clutched in his hand, when Michael stumbled into the room and shouted with full force: “WAIT!”
The entire lobby jumped at his exclamation, including Henry, who jerked away from the door, half-gaping in surprise.
Ignoring the odd looks everyone was giving him, Michael approached. “I got it! I know a way to beat the Gym!”
“You do?” Henry stepped away from the door, glowing with relief. “What is it?”
“I’ll tell you later. Come on!” Michael beckoned, and with Henry at his side, went over to the front desk. The man who had been there earlier had ended his shift, and in his place stood a woman. She lifted her eyebrows at Michael as he approached, holding the silence that was thinned across the room.
“Hey. You guys offer complimentary battle rooms, right?”
“Yes,” she said. “On the fifth floor, we have ten fully-operational arenas that are built in accordance with the League standards, as well as seven smaller, specialized rooms that cater to individual types. Currently open we have the Grass room, the Rock room, the Water room—”
“Yes! The Water room—we’ll take that one!” Michael said.
“All right. I’ll need to see your I.D, please.”
After some rummaging, Michael fished out his I.D and handed it over. The attendant looked over the card, searched for a match on her logbook, and nodded. “Just a second.” She opened a drawer beneath the counter and took out a blue key on a silver chain. “As a general courtesy, please try to keep your session under two hours. If you need to stay longer, then you’ll have to turn in your key and pay for extra time. But we do keep track of when keys are rented and when they’re returned, so don’t try to be sneaky. Okay?”
Michael winked. “You got it.”
With the key in hand, Michael motioned for Henry to follow, and they went to the elevator.
The whole of the fifth floor consisted of one wide hallway, and a series of thick, silver doors spaced several meters apart along either side. Each door had a square window at the center, and a small dial near the doorknob labeled ‘Vacant’ or ‘Occupied’. Near the back of the hallway were the specialized rooms, which had plaques identifying their type. Most of the windows Michael passed were covered from the inside, though he could still hear the sounds of battles raging behind the walls.
The Water room stayed true to its name—its structure resembled that of a public bathhouse. The arena had a white floor, tiled walls, and a tall, domed ceiling with slanted skylights. A pool of flat, blue water took the place of solid ground, save for a narrow deck along the perimeter and two tiny islands of cement protruding out on either side. That was where the trainers would stand.
As soon as he closed the door, Michael pulled the blinds over the window, shielding them from any possible scrutiny. He hurried over to one of the platforms, while Henry stayed behind on the sidelines, looking out at the watery expanse. “So what are you going to do?” he said. “What’s your plan?”
Michael held up Goldeen’s pokéball. “Okay. You know how pokéballs work, right?”
“Sorta," Henry said. They condense matter, don’t they?”
“They don’t just condense matter. They preserve it!” Michael grinned. “If a pokémon’s really banged up from battling and you send it back into the pokéball, it’s gonna look the same when you send it out again, right?”
“That means it’ll be in the exact same condition as it was when it entered the pokéball, so the same things would be going on in its body. Look.” Michael opened the capsule, and out came Goldeen, flopping onto the dry deck. He gestured towards the droplets on her scales. “She picked those up from my last battle, when she used Water Pulse. She must have not been completely dry when I sent her back into the pokéball, so they were still there when I took her out again!”
Henry tapped his chin. “So you’re going to use her pokéball… to transfer water?”
“Exactly. All I have to do is get Goldeen to take some water with her into the capsule, so that when I release her for the battle, she’ll automatically have it handy!”
“But how are you going to do that? Fit an entire pokémon plus water in the capsule, I mean. Our pokéballs have size restrictions.”
Michael raised an eyebrow. “What size restrictions?”
“There’s a limit to what size pokémon can fit in our capsules,” Henry said, nodding to emphasize. “I read about it. The ones we buy are only standard size, and they have a weight limit. For really big pokémon like Wailord, you need to buy special, bigger pokéballs.”
“A Goldeen isn’t as big as a Wailord, last time I checked. Besides, I only need enough water to propel Goldeen off the ground and give her enough freedom to use attacks.”
“Fine then. But how are you going to keep the water from soaking into the ground?”
“I just have to keep it moving,” Michael answered. “Goldeen has to keep pulling it closer to herself so that it doesn’t escape. And while she’s doing that, she has to be able to dodge attacks, get into position, and fight back with her own.”
“That sounds really complicated,” Henry said.
“Too bad. I’m in it to win it, and you’re going to help me.” Michael stepped over to Goldeen and lifted her off the ground. The fish began to flail, whacking his face and arms with her fins. “Relax,” he muttered, stepping over to the edge of the pool. “You’ll get yours in a minute…”
With a mighty heave, he threw the still-flailing Goldeen into the air. The pokémon hit the water with a splash, shattering the glassy surface with rippling waves, and disappeared beneath them. For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, all of a sudden, a round, glistening body emerged from the waves, leaping in a huge arc above the flowing pool. Goldeen twisted gracefully as she fell, baring her belly and sides, and splashed back down. Michael leaned over, catching the orange glimmer of her scales as she swam around the pool, her horn cutting through the water like a lance. He smiled. Beside him, Henry let out a laugh.
“Hey, Goldeen’s amazing! I never knew she could go that fast!”
Goldeen did several more laps around the pool, often pushing to leap gracefully out of the water, until it seemed that she had finally satisfied the aquatic craving within her. Swimming back over to where the boys stood, she poked her head out of the water to greet them. Michael kneeled beside her.
“You liked that, didn’t you?”
The fish blinked in reply.
“Great. I’ve got something you’ll like even more. Up you go.” He reached over to pull her out of the water, and this time Goldeen complied. Michael set her down onto the deck again, and pointed her horn towards the pool.
“Okay, listen up. What I want you to do now is take the water in,” he made a beckoning motion towards the pool, “and hold it, like you’re about to use Water Gun. But you’ll have to take in a lot more water than that; as much as you can hold. Got that?”
Goldeen flapped her tail.
“Good.” Michael took the pokéball out again, facing Henry. “Then I’ll just return her and the water will be there when she comes out again.”
“But won’t that hurt her?” the boy interjected.
“I don’t see why it should,” Michael said. “But at any rate, we’ll find out…”
They both stepped back as Goldeen crawled towards the pool. Tilting her head downwards till her mouth was submerged, Goldeen began to take in water, as if she were drinking. Pretty soon, her sides began to bulge from the mass of liquid inside of her, and Michael quickly stepped forward to return her. The fish's body faded to white, then fled quickly into the pokéball, and Michael twisted the capsule closed. He waited a few seconds, and then, holding the pokéball at arm’s length, released her.
Instantly, the pokéball grew hot in his hands. After a few seconds' delay, a fat bolt of white escaped from its center, inflating into a giant, shapeless mass. Loud, crackling light flooded the room, and Michael lowered his arm just in time to see Goldeen fall into the pool, engulfed in a sheet of water.
Bending down, Michael lifted her onto the deck for inspection. Goldeen was no longer bloated like before; it seemed that all the water inside of her had emptied.
“I don’t get it," he said. "What happened? Why didn’t the water stay inside of her?”
Henry came up from behind. “Maybe Goldeen accidentally released it when she was in the pokéball.”
“Could be. Let’s see if it happens again.” Michael looked down at Goldeen. “Do it again,” he ordered. “And this time, try as hard as you can not to let the water out. Okay?”
Goldeen furrowed her brow in a fish-like sort of way and flapped her fins against the deck. She looked displeased about something, but nevertheless she advanced upon the edge of the pool and filled herself up with water. Michael sent her into the pokéball, then out again, and the same thing happened: instead of taking the crisp shape of a pokémon, the escaping light inflated itself into a hazy sort of sphere, and then changed into a blob of water plus Goldeen that rained down like a waterfall. Once the task was over, the pokéball began to pulse like a hot coal in Michael’s hand, as if the strain had overwhelmed capsule’s delicate technology. Wincing with pain, he hastened to rub his palm against his shirt. “Remind me to buy a pair of gloves before the battle,” he told Henry. “This thing is wigging out big time.”
“I guess it’s just not used to carrying that sort of load. I told you it wasn’t a good idea."
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Michael retorted. “Even with the size restrictions or whatever, I’ve seen trainers with pokémon five times the size of Goldeen. Why should the pokéball care if the thing that’s usually inside of it suddenly gains weight?”
“Because pokéballs are for pokémon, not regular matter,” Henry said, crossing his arms smartly. “There’s gotta be something in their mechanism that can only deal with living things.”
Michael pondered for a moment, tapping the capsule’s red knob, then brightened. “Maybe I should put you in a pokéball. That way I’ll always have you handy in my backpack, and we can travel two for the price of one. How about it?” He pointed the opened capsule at Henry, who instantly jumped back, arms shielding his face. The boy slipped on a puddle mid-step, however, which sent him careening towards the wall, flailing and groping for balance. Michael roared with laughter.
“It’s not funny!” Henry said, drawing himself up. His face was red.
“Relax! I was kidding.” Michael lowered the capsule, smiling. “Still, you gotta admit, that would be cool—”
“Okay, okay. I’m done.” Michael held up his hands in surrender. He turned back to Goldeen, who was swimming about in the water, and called her over with a whistle. He met her by the edge of the water. “Whatever’s causing this, I guess we’ll just have to deal with it for now. We’re moving on to step two.” He turned to Henry. “Goldeen has to control the water around her so that it doesn’t escape during the battle. That’s the most important part.”
“How are you going to do it?” Henry asked.
Michael fixed his gaze on the tiles of the opposite wall. “I think I have an idea… but it’ll need a lot of practice.”
“All right, then let’s do it."
Michael took Goldeen out of the water, and for the next two hours, he went over his plan with painstaking detail. He did not stop his training until the fish could emerge from the pokéball without getting anything wet, and have full mobility to perform attacks. Once she began to grow weary, Michael brought out his other pokémon and worked with them as well, preplanning their roles and attacks. This time, he vowed, he would win with battlers to spare.
After their rental period was over, the boys dutifully returned their room key and went on a lunch break, agreeing to resume after an hour. Henry allowed Michael to finish his article, which he did, his abated battle anxiety uplifting his creative spirit. After several more revisions, he removed the finished manuscript and returned the typewriter to the front desk. It was just after one o’clock.
“So how are you going to give it to the newspeople?” Henry asked. “Did you guys agree on a meeting time or something?”
“Yeah. I told them I’d meet them right outside the hotel at a quarter till one. We’re kind of late already, but I guess it can’t hurt to check.”
Michael emerged from the hotel’s front entrance and looked around the parking lot. Bobby and company were nowhere in sight. Feeling a trill of panic, Michael began to pace around the building, scanning the benches and parking spaces. Henry followed him.
Finally, Michael spotted the group of four gathered beneath an overhang. They looked like stranded travelers—all sweaty and tired, sipping cans of Coca-Cola against the heat.
“When did you say the kid would come, Bobby?” Nancy asked, checking her watch. “It’s already one-fifteen.”
Michael ran forward. “Hey, I’m here!” he said. As one, the team’s heads turned. Bobby pushed himself away from the wall, smiling.
“Hah-hey! You’ve got it!” He stepped forward, and Michael handed him the article. The final draft was nearly three full pages in length. Bobby read it over, nodding. “All right. Perfect. What we’re going to do now is send the article to two places: One is The Hearthomer. If they accept it, it’ll be published locally for the city. We’ll also send it to SNN’s office in Jubilife as our commissioned story, and for that we’ll include our own analysis, plus an introduction. And if that gets accepted, then you’ll be on Sinnoh Post, and the whole country can read what you wrote.” Bobby’s eyes met Michael’s own. “Sound like a plan?”
“You freaking bet," Michael said. “But how will I know if the story gets accepted? I’m going to Solaceon next, but I don’t know what my address will be.”
“We’ll figure out something,” said Nancy, with a slight smile. “We’re reporters. It’s our job to stalk people.” The guys snickered behind her.
Smiling, Michael stepped away. “Well, we gotta go. I have a battle to train for.”
Bobby nodded. “Take it easy.”
“You too.” Michael waved. “Thanks.”
The team gathered their things and walked off into the parking lot. Michael could hear them talking as they passed the rows of shining cars, entering the roadway on foot. When their motley colors faded into the great city at last, he turned to go inside.
That evening, Jerry’s battle room was bathed in orange light. The windows around the room were masked with black, the dim glow coming from a row of lanterns lined along the walls. Their soft flickering seemed to give the room a whole new aura, one of tricks and shadows. The battlefield looked haunted, alternating between patches of light and darkness, warmth and fear.
To the side, the faces of Henry and Bertha stood out like ghostly apparitions in the firelight. They kept still as they waited, shadows dancing around them. In the midst of the silence, Bertha cast her gaze over to Michael and smiled. She looked like a zombie.
What threw off the whole effect was the pile of luggage, both old and new, that lay at their feet. After he and Henry had finished training that afternoon, Bertha had immediately told them to start packing. She had booked a train to Solaceon for that very evening, and was eager to be off to meet with the Gym leader. Henry also seemed happy to be visiting yet another city, but Michael found it extremely hard to concentrate with him and Bertha moving around and about, making plans as if the battle was over already. It wasn’t something he liked to consider, but there was always a chance that he would lose, and that their stay in Hearthome would have to be extended. And if such a thing did happen, then would Bertha delay her progress just for his sake? Would Henry be all right with traveling on foot again? He wasn’t so sure.
Before he could get too carried away, Michael rolled his shoulders to ease himself, and pulled his gloves higher up his hands. They were a last-minute purchase from the hotel’s store, made of white material with black stripes on each finger. They had been expensive, a whopping three dollars, but would nevertheless do their job. He was holding Goldeen’s pokéball in his hands now, ready to begin.
About a minute later, Jerry arrived in his usual manner—stepping silently out of the back door with a drawstring pouch. He looked tired, as if a whole day of battling had drained the life from his face. Or maybe it was just the light again, which seemed to hollow his frame considerably.
The Gym leader stepped forward to his allotted place at the head of the field. “Welcome, Michael,” he said. “I hope you’ve prepared.”
Michael did not respond, but watched as Jerry took out his first pokéball. With the sound of chiming bells, Chingling materialized in the air, rocking back and forth from its strings like a pendulum.
Holding Goldeen’s pokéball aloft, Michael stepped back several feet. “You might want to move those,” he informed Bertha, indicating the luggage. “They could get wet.”
Bertha lifted an eyebrow. Smiling, Michael turned back to the battlefield and opened the pokéball. “Go!”
A spout of water shot out from the capsule, falling downwards into a crashing wave that washed over the floor of the Gym. Out came Goldeen, sliding down with the current like a gleaming bullet. The wave rolled on till it reached the center of the field, then suddenly split into two forked segments that looped around towards the walls, and gathered back into a single mass beneath the pokémon’s body.
Goldeen rose out from the elevated pool, the water splashing and cresting around her. Jerry stood still, visibly surprised at the elaborate display. When Goldeen’s head poked out of the water to face him, he whistled. “Huh. Now that’s creative. I can’t say I’ve seen that too many times before.”
Michael smirked. He glanced over to the bench, where Bertha had drawn up her feet in panic when the current had skimmed past. She looked first to the luggage, which was entirely unharmed, then to the mass of water that hung in the air, her lips parted. “That is creative. I just hope you know what you’re doing…” Knitting her brows, she took off her shoes and placed them beside her. Henry hid a laugh behind his palm.
Not waiting for Jerry to begin, Michael turned to his pokémon.“Goldeen, use Water Pulse!”
Goldeen narrowed her eyes and began to flap her fins. Suddenly, a chunk of water broke off from the whole and swooped up in a graceful arc, soaring through the air like a liquid comet. The jet swept Chingling right out of the air, swallowing the smaller mass and trapping it under its momentum. The comet fell, gathering speed, and crashed against the wall to Michael’s right, slapping Chingling against the surface like a bug.
Goldeen pulled the water back, sucking it from the walls and floor before it could ebb away, leaving Chingling to sink to the ground. The dazed and dripping pokémon struggled to regain balance, the weight of the droplets hampering its delicate flight. Before it could recover, Goldeen sliced at it with another watery projectile, this time catching Chingling from below and hurling it upwards. The pokémon sailed towards Jerry, who barely ducked in time as Chingling splattered the wall behind him.
Jerry spun around, but already the water had vanished, leaving Chingling in a stupor. Its sounds were flat and hoarse, and it bumped itself repeatedly against the wall as if trying to break it. He gritted his teeth. “Chingling, use Uproar!”
With a struggle, Chingling managed to pump itself over to the battlefield, but it seemed unfit to do much else. Wrestling with its own thoughts, Chingling produced a few strangled squeals, before the daze overtook its mind again, leaving it mute. On cue, Michael stepped forward to direct the killing blow. “Goldeen—Water Pulse with Horn Attack!”
Goldeen rolled over on her back, fins flapping, and another teardrop-slice of water smacked Chingling to the ground. Before the pokémon could get away, Goldeen thrust herself forward on a rushing wave and lowered her horn like a battle lance. She stabbed at Chingling with deadly speed, tossing it to and fro in the air, the water flying madly around her. When Chingling finally fell still, she swept it off on a wave, depositing the fainted bell at Jerry’s feet.
The leader looked down at his fainted pokémon, then up at the glistening sphere of water that towered before him. “Well then,” he mused. “Time to step up the game.” He swapped Chingling’s pokéball for another, and Gallade emerged onto the floor with a tumble, landing on one knee, baring his sword arm.
“Use Psycho Cut!”
Gallade sprang forward, his sword outstretched, the blade glowing with a devilish hue that was shocking in the dim light. Goldeen immediately went into defensive mode, shooting a jet of water at Gallade’s face to distract him, while pushing herself away with the rest of the tide. Gallade sliced his way through the water, the liquid hissing and curdling around him as he tried to reach his target.
“Goldeen, twist it!” Michael shouted.
Working her tail and fins, Goldeen gathered all the water behind her into a wave and pushed herself forward, traveling in a spiral around Gallade. The warrior twisted round and round, trying to locate Goldeen among the current, delivering several whizzing slices that shocked her out of rhythm, causing her to flutter her fins in panic. Gallade’s red eyes locked on their target, and he swung his blade, catching Goldeen right in the middle of her abdomen.
Goldeen fell out from beneath her support system, and the spiral began to collapse as she lost her grip on the water. Muttering a curse, Michael quickly opened the pokéball, sucking Goldeen and the water back inside again. Still, he had acted too late—a few precious drops remained behind, sinking away into the gravel.
Though flustered, Michael skated over his emotions for the time being. He swapped Goldeen’s pokéball with Caterpie’s, and the little bug landed squarely in the dirt.
“String Shot!” he ordered.
In the dim light, Jerry gave a single nod. “Gallade, use Confusion.”
A small whirring sound issued from Caterpie’s jaws, and a thin, spidery thread began to emerge from her mouth. Right then, Gallade began to send the invisible pulses that halted her mental processes, clouding them with white noise and vague whisperings. Caterpie began to slow in her tracks, her jaws clicking repeatedly as she met the strange force. Michael clenched his fists. “Don’t lose it!” he said, hoping that the tiny bug’s resolve would be stronger than Chingling’s. “Keep using String Shot!”
He head a faint snipping sound in reply, and saw a thin silver thread emerge from Caterpie’s jaws. It drifted in the air for a minute, then latched onto Gallade’s scales, holding fast. Caterpie worked her way around the pokémon’s foot, stopping here and there when the Psychic attack grew increasingly strong, but always started back up again. Michael felt a rush of relief as he watched his pokémon, which was followed by an almost humorous sense of irony, as the battler he had always thought to be the weakest managed to wrest herself out of Gallade’s mental grip.
Realizing that his repeated blows of Confusion weren’t working, Gallade began to swipe at his foot, trying to flick off the string. While he was busy, Caterpie clicked her jaws deviously and pulled, and Gallade came crashing down. Before he could do so much as move, Caterpie began to scurry around him, tying his legs and arms together so he couldn’t move.
“Now!” Michael shouted. “Bug Bite!”
Caterpie began to bite at Gallade’s skin, while the pokémon struggled in vain to get free. Once her special venom had seeped in through the tiny wounds, afflicting Gallade with a bout of shivers, Michael swapped Caterpie out of the field and sent out Goldeen. He tried to ignore the still-seeping gash in her scales, and after a couple rounds of Water Pulse, Gallade lay fainted.
Michael celebrated his victory with a small sigh as Jerry returned the pokémon. He glanced over to Goldeen, who was still keeping upright on her water pillow, though she looked more exhausted than before—evidently the injury from Psycho Cut was draining her energy.
I have to save her for last, he decided. If Goldeen fainted, he was as good as doomed. After some thought, Michael swapped pokéballs again, this time sending out Machop.
“Go.” He held the pokéball open and stepped back as Machop took the floor, landing on all fours. Slowly, the pokémon straightened, looking around the battle room in confusion, and then his big red eyes latched onto Michael.
“Over there,” Michael pointed. “Your opponent’s over there!” He pointed to where Mr. Mime had emerged from Jerry’s pokéball, the light fading to reveal his knobby form.
After taking a long look at the tip of Michael’s finger, Machop turned over to Mr. Mime. The tiny clown was doing his silent shuffle dance, pantomiming various shapes in the air with his hands.
“Mime, use Psychic!” Jerry ordered.
Mr. Mime pressed his fingers to his temples, and almost instantly, Machop’s eyes began to glaze over. He turned around the rest of the way and lowered himself onto his knees, watching Mr. Mime like a television screen.
“Avoid it!” Michael said. “Don’t let it get to you!” But he knew that his goading was useless. He had observed the same effect countless times before in the patio—any time someone used a Psychic move against Machop, he would either freeze up, trip over his own two feet in confusion, or simply be unable to use his full force for attacks. But those had been easy pokémon, and easy attacks. This time, Machop had plunged into full oblivion.
A smile turned the corners of Mr. Mime’s face, no doubt as he realized that his opponent was a piece of cake. He took one hand away from his head and lifted it out in front of him, bending the fingers as if to grasp the strings of a puppet. The white index finger twitched, and at the same time, one of Machop’s arms gently pushed out into the dirt. Then the other. Then, Machop was lying prone on his belly, his tongue lolling out from his mouth.
Mr. Mime twirled his hand around in the air, and Machop’s body obediently went to the left, rolling through the dirt like a fallen log. Just before he hit the wall, Mr. Mime switched directions, and Machop rolled the other way. The maneuver was more of a showing-off than anything; it seemed that Mr. Mime wanted to compensate for his lesser performance during Henry’s battle.
But Michael wasn’t impressed.
“Machop, get out of it!” he said. “Do you hear me? Get up!” He stepped forward till his shoes were touching the edge of the trainer’s boundary line. “Mr. Mime is messing with your mind! He thinks he’s tougher than you! Are you gonna take that lying down, or are you gonna be a man and defend yourself? I can’t hear you!”
Michael cupped his hand over his ear, and he heard Machop let out a tiny squeal. Mr. Mime continued his rolling for another few seconds, and then his strength seemed to ebb. He took in a breath to collect himself, and prepared to perform the attack anew.
In the interim, Machop’s eyes had fluttered open, and the pokémon had rolled over onto his feet. Knees wobbling, Machop advanced upon Mr. Mime, his hand curled into a veined fist. With a cry, he swung, striking his opponent across the nose.
Michael let out a laugh as Mr. Mime toppled back, hands splayed in shock. He fell back, then did an acrobatic flip and stood upright again.
“Mime, use Psybeam!” Jerry said.
Brow furrowed in definite anger, Mr. Mime pressed his forefingers to his temples. But before he had time to attack, Machop sent another hammering blow at Mr. Mime’s head, making him fall. Teeth bared and eyes dancing, Machop began to kick at the body furiously, once more possessed with rage. But this time, his battering wasn’t answered by surrender. Michael hadn’t expected it to be.
Mr. Mime grabbed hold of Machop’s foot mid-kick and pulled him down, blasting him with a pink Psybeam. The tube of light shattered as it hit Machop in the face, and the pokémon was pushed back, teetering like a tipsy ballerina. At last he fell, landing flat on his back, eyes rolled back in their sockets. Even from a distance, they seemed to be staring directly at Michael.
He felt little guilt, however; his desired effect was achieved. Mr. Mime was showing signs of tiring, as both Psychic moves had taken their toll. Without a word, Michael returned Machop and sent out Caterpie.
“Mr. Mime, use Doubleslap!” called Jerry, as the bug landed on the floor.
“Caterpie, String Shot and Bug Bite!”
Caterpie crawled forward, and as Mr. Mime advanced upon her, she launched a silver string that wrapped itself around his outstretched arm. She entangled his feet in a similar way, and when Mr. Mime finally lost his balance and toppled back, she tied together his arms. Caterpie began to bite, while Mr. Mime lay fidgeting, his face forming a series of impressive gestures of shock. It would have continued on for another good minute, but just then, Jerry’s voice sounded from the darkness.
“Mime, use Substitute.”
Seconds later, a loud pop filled the room, and the battlers were engulfed by a cloud of white smoke. When it cleared, Michael saw Caterpie scurrying around a motionless, woundless rubber body. Michael bit back an expletive. He had forgotten entirely about Mr. Mime’s special move; since Henry had brushed it off so easily, why not him? But once again, luck had failed him. It was time to think.
Off to the side, Jerry was smiling now, visibly pleased. He gave Michael a little nod, as if to say help yourself, since no attacks could harm his pokémon now. Michael did not hold the leader’s gaze for long. He looked down at Caterpie, and an idea came to him at last.
“Caterpie, use String Shot again,” he ordered. “Don’t stop until I tell you to.”
Caterpie obeyed, and covered layer after layer of webbing around the doll, until it completely mummified. A round hole was spared for its face, which started out at the ceiling with frozen surprise. Once she was finished, Michael returned Caterpie and sent out Goldeen. The fish emerged in a cascading waterfall.
“Use Water Pulse!”
Goldeen sent forth a rushing wave and swept the Mime-mummy off the floor, putting it through a complicated series of maneuvers: slapping it against the wall, spinning it in midair, and thwacking it against the ground. The collisions were repeated until they had broken Mr. Mime’s concentration, and the pokemon reappeared in its place to absorb the impact. He bounced to and fro in his cocoon, growing increasingly woozy from the constant slapping at his sides, until finally he hung limp. Goldeen lowered him down, and Mr. Mime lay still amid a blanket of webbing.
Jerry looked at his pokemon in disbelief at first, then with a slow nod, returned him to his pokeball. “That was an interesting battle,” he said as Mr. Mime vanished. “Well done. I truly have never seen anyone utilize a Water pokémon like that before. I—” Jerry was cut off mid-sentence by a loud splash. Goldeen was beginning to sink with exhaustion, the tight sphere of water unraveling around her and sloshing towards the ground.
Jerry looked up. “You might want to—”
“Got it.” Michael took out his pokéball and returned Goldeen, sucking the water away.
Once the arena was clear, Jerry turned to address Michael again. “Well, there’s nothing much else I can say. You seem to have a pretty good grasp of what you’re doing, and you know how to make a good decision in the nick of time. You’re on the right path, so now it’s up to you to go the rest of the way.” He took the Relic Badge from his pocket and placed it into Michael’s hands, along with a few folded bills. Smiling, the Psychic leader inclined his head, and Michael returned to the benches.
Bertha rose, putting her shoes on and taking her luggage in hand. “We better get going now, boys. We have a train to catch.”
Michael packed away his things and went with Henry to the door. To his surprise, Jerry followed, holding it open for them.
“Wait, aren’t you going to battle someone else now?” Michael said.
Jerry shook his head. “Yours was my last battle for the evening. I’ll be closing up the Gym after this.”
“Speaking of closing Gyms,” Bertha said, “I finally made an agreement with the Gym Service Official earlier today.”
“Who’s that?” Henry asked.
“That’s the guy who watches over the eight Gyms of Sinnoh and makes sure they’re running smoothly,” Jerry said. “He’s my boss, and Bertha’s.”
“And,” Bertha continued, “since I don’t have a permanent facility to operate from, and the season’s still underway, I have two options: either relocate temporarily or close my Gym completely. I’ve been thinking about what to do for days, and I’ve finally settled on the second option. I’ll create a bypass, so that trainers coming from Oreburgh can go directly to Jerry’s Gym without my badge. My boss wasn’t too happy about that, but when I explained my petition, he let up a little. So sometime in the next few days, the League will make a public announcement, and trainers will be able to skip my Gym.”
“But that’s not fair!” Henry said. “Michael and I had to battle you, and so did a bunch of other people! And now all the other trainers can just skip?”
“Not just skip. Oh, no. The boss and I made a deal—he’ll allow me to take leave until the end of the season in December, and in the three-week margin before the local League tournaments begin, I’ll take a break from petition business and hold rematches for all the trainers that didn’t get to battle my Gym before.” Bertha took a deep breath, and let it out again. “It’ll be a lot of work, but with the knowledge that my petition is finally in the making, it’ll be a lot easier to handle.”
They entered the front lobby, and Jerry stopped them before the exit. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you both, boys,” he said to Michael and Henry, “and it’s been wonderful seeing you again, Bertha. You’ve given me quite a lot to think about with your petition, and I’ll try to help you out with the signatures if I can. If there’s ever anything you need, don’t hesitate to call.”
Bertha nodded. “Thanks a bunch. I can’t tell you how big a help you’ve been.” She met him in a hug, and then took Michael and Henry to the door. Jerry lingered in the lobby for a while, watching them, then silently disappeared into the throes of his Gym.
Outside, it was warm and dark. The parking lot stood in a giant puddle of light, empty save for a few scattered cars that gleamed under the glare of the lamps. As they climbed into the blue Buick, Bertha looked towards the backseat.
“Next stop, Solaceon,” she said. “I hope you’re on your guard, boys. It’ll only get harder from here.”
“Do you know who the Solaceon leader is, Bertha?” Henry said.
Bertha shrugged in reply. “I know it’s a woman, but other than that, there’s not much I can say. I’ve never met her. Jerry gave me the Gym’s number and directions, so we’ll find out soon enough. But whatever happens, I want you both to take the Gym seriously. I’d like to see more of what Michael did today: thinking. Got that?”
The boys nodded in unison, then turned their separate ways. The inside of the car was soothingly dark, the lights of the city striking in contrast. As the car began to move, Michael closed his eyes halfway and watched them blur. “I still don’t appreciate you guys packing and everything while I was getting ready,” he said to the silence. “I could’ve lost, you know.”
From the driver’s seat, he heard Bertha laugh. “Well, I knew you wouldn’t. Take it as a compliment.” In the rearview mirror, her eyes found him briefly before returning to the road. “You’re a smart kid, Michael. Don’t waste your talents.”
The city rolled past him in a blur, lights dancing hypnotically in the darkness.