Hey everyone. With the posting of this chapter, I have an announcement to make: I will be gone from June 22nd to around the 17th of July. That means Roots will have to be put on a brief hiatus (though this chapter took longer than that to get here :x) and likewise, my internet activity will be zero. I figured it would be a bit of a low blow if I didn't post till I came back, because you waited long enough for this one. I'll be here to respond to any reviews up to the 22nd, but after that, I can't guarantee I'll be able to make it online too often, if at all. So if I don't respond to you around then, don't think I'm ignoring you. xP
Goodbye for now, and I'll bring back lots of new chapters and plot developments!
“Chimchar, use Flamethrower!”
A small, monkey-like pokémon let out a screech as it hopped from one foot to another. Clutching its belly with its hands, it shot a jet of flames from its mouth into the air, where Ringo was flapping madly, trying to evade the attacks.
"Fire! Help! Fire!" the bird was screeching. With every inferno blast he dodged, Ringo grew more and more agitated, till he forgot his plan of attack completely and started flying aimlessly in circles.
Michael stood at the far edge of the battlefield, clenching his fist while he watched the relay. His opponent that day was putting up a good fight—he had lost his Caterpie to the boy’s Staravia, and then had his Goldeen faint right after bringing it down. The boy had sent out his Chimchar to open the second round, and Michael had retaliated with Ringo, but even so he was beginning to feel the strain.
“Ringo, use Peck! Dodge the fire and go!” he shouted.
Ringo continued to circle over the Chimchar’s head, eyes closed reflexively against the blinding fire-flashes. Hearing him, the bird risked a low plunge, baring his claws, and grabbed hold of the tuft of hair on the monkey’s head.
"Ember this!" Ringo began to peck at the Chimchar, making it squeal like a baby. Its reedy arms reached up in an attempt to block the attacks, but Ringo was relentless. Finally, the Chimchar collapsed, letting out a sigh of exhaustion.
“Ver’y good!” came a female voice. Betty, their referee, stepped out of the sidelines, dimples creasing her face as she smiled. “Dan still has one point, and if Michael can catch up th’s last time, then it’ll be a tie! Go!” The lady snapped her fingers, and Michael’s opponent sent back the fainted Chimchar, swapping its pokéball for another.
“I choose you—ENIGMA!”
The pokéball opened to release a flood of white light, and a tiny body took form in the air. At first, Michael thought it would be a Bronzor, but when the light faded, he saw that it was something else entirely— a tiny black thing with a huge white eye, staring ahead with blank passivity like a cartoon drawing. The rest of the creature’s body seemed to be made of wire, and twisted into a circular letter ‘O’ around it.
The pokémon made no sound as it hovered in the air, blinking periodically. Their referee began to giggle.
“Aww, how cute! You ‘ave an Unown!”
Dan smiled. “I went to the Solaceon Ruins in my spare time,” he said, glancing over to Michael. “They’re all over the place there. And they’ve got a cool power too. Watch!” He pointed up at Ringo. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
A blue flare lit up the Unown’s eye from within, and a glowing aura spread around its entire body. There was a brief flash—Michael caught a split second’s glimpse of a band of light whipping out from around the pokémon—and then Ringo was tumbling back through the air like a windblown leaf. Ringo flapped his wings for balance, and settled onto Michael’s head for support, his sharp claws entangling themselves in his hair.
"Yowp! Yow! Ow!"
Michael narrowed his eyes, groaning as Ringo’s wings thumped against the sides of his face. He swatted the bird aside, and Ringo rose back into the air, though it was clear that his ego had taken a blow. As Ringo circled his end of the battlefield, he began to mutter something under his breath which Michael couldn’t fully hear, and was glad that no one else could either. As he looked up at the Unown, a sense of firm conviction arose inside of him. That thing had to fall.
“Ringo, use Peck!” Michael said to the bird. “And claw its eye!”
Ringo flew forward, relishing the prospect of revenge, but just as he was about to grip the Unown with his claws, another light-whip smacked him back, making him fall. Michael gritted his teeth as he watched the bird flutter weakly, slumping into a heap on the ground.
“Get up, Ringo!” he called.
The bird croaked weakly in response. “Ringo in the sky with diamonds…” With that, his head lolled over to the side, tongue drooping. Betty looked at the bird with an expression of pity. “Michael, I think he’s—”
“Yeah, I know,” Michael said. He didn’t want to hear her say ‘fainted’. He returned Ringo to his capsule and went over to his backpack by the side wall. He sat there for a moment, pondering.
The only way I can get that thing is through special attacks. I have to find a way to knock it out of the air so I can stomp it. Seeing no other way to go about it, he placed Ringo’s pokéball back and quickly swept his gaze over the ones that remained. He had marked each capsule with the letter of its pokémon’s name in permanent marker, not wanting to spend $2.95 on a pack of stickers. Now, at least he didn’t have to worry about which pokémon he had placed where. After thinking for a brief period, Michael made his choice — Turtwig.
He came back to the battlefield and released the pokémon without preamble. Once Turtwig had emerged, Michael gave his command — “Turtwig, use Razor Leaf!”
Turtwig, who had long grown accustomed to being sent out into the nick of battle, raised his head to look at the Unown. He spent some time gauging distance and angle, then began to flick his head from side to side, dislodging tiny leaves that whipped like razors through the air. But it was as if an invisible shield blocked the Unown from contact — just before they reached their target, the leaves hit a block in midair and fell against it, like rain against a windshield. They drifted towards the floor, harmless. Michael ordered Turtwig to attack again, but to no avail. The Unown was untouchable.
A state of deep thought overcame him, mixed with a twinge of irritation. Michael stared up at the floating pokemon, rocking on the balls of his feet. Dan, who must have taken it as a gesture of futility, crossed his arms and smiled. “Well? Want to try again?”
Michael pursed his lips. “Why don’t you go? I’m open.” He spread out his arms, indicating the defenseless Turtwig. He knew he wasn’t in the best position to push his luck, but he would rather risk Turtwig taking a couple hits if only to catch a glimpse of what attacks the Unown knew.
Betty looked over to Dan in agreement, tapping her manicured fingernails against the clipboard. “Yeah, why don’t you go ‘head an’ give it a try? Your Un’own hasn’t atack’d yet.”
Dan’s expression clouded. “Fine, but you’re gonna regret it! Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
The black pupil vanished in a neon-blue glow, and Michael heard the clap of expanding air as the band of light lashed out at the Unown’s surroundings. Turtwig was pushed back, though the force that hit him was noticeably weaker, no more than a gust of strong wind at a park. Turtwig righted himself and shook his head, making the leaves on his head wobble.
Michael blinked. That must be all it can do! he realized. It must be good at non-contact moves, and be really bad at physical ones.
As he thought this, a smile crept over his face. The beginnings of a battle plan sketched themselves in his mind. Opening the Turtwig’s pokéball, he called the pokémon back and went to swap him for another.
“Go!” Michael unlocked the new capsule, which released his Machop. After several days of practicing Ted’s meditating exercises, the pokémon had grown calmer and more energetic. He no longer stalled as much in battle, and had a more even temper throughout the day, which Michael considered an improvement in and of itself. As he was released from the capsule, the pokémon landed on all fours on the tumble mats, then straightened to look up at the Unown, whose glittering silhouette hung right about the windows.
“Hey, over here.” Michael snapped his fingers, and Machop turned. “Come here. I need a big favor from you.”
The wide eyes blinked, and Machop put on a childlike expression of interest. He approached Michael, who knelt down so that his face and the pokémon’s were level.
“I need you to be brave for me,” he said. “Can you do that?”
Machop gave an affirmative nod, and Michael smiled. “Good.” He leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper so that no one else could hear him. “Now. You see the Unown up there? That’s your opponent. It’s really tough when it’s up there in the air, so we have to pull it down. All you need to do is jump really high to reach it. It’ll be tough, but you’re the only one who’s got the speed and power to make it work. Just keep going at it and don’t stop no matter how many of those shockwaves it shoots at you. Once you bring it down, it’s yours for playing. Sound like a deal?”
Machop nodded again, putting on a can-do frown of determination. Michael got to his feet and spun the pokémon around to face his opponent. “Go!”
Machop stood still for a couple of seconds, shifting his weight from one leg to another as he pondered over his approach. Then, he broke into a sprint, dashing across the mats and taking a leap into the air. The tip of his outstretched hand came a foot away from reaching the Unown, then Machop fell back down, tumbling towards the wall.
Michael sighed. “Try again!”
Dan grinned. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
Machop prepared to make a second jump. This time he ran to the farthest corner of the room and settled into a runner’s lunge. He rocketed forward, becoming a blue-green blur of motion, and sprang upwards when he reached the middle of the battlefield. The Unown’s shockwave caught him while he was still in the air, and smacked him back as if he had hit a wall. Machop let out a yelp, and crashed down onto the mats. Meanwhile, the Unown retreated higher into the air, till it was almost grazing the ceiling. With a jolt, Michael realized it was afraid.
It has no physical capabilities! That’s why it stays on the defensive. No doubt, the pokémon's body would shatter the minute Machop set his foot down on it. The prospect renewed Michael’s hope. He looked down at the Machop, who was still sitting on the floor, his expression torn somewhere between an angry snarl and a whimper. Exaggerating another sigh, Michael snapped his fingers like a football coach. “Come on, get up. You’re not gonna get anywhere if you sit around. That thing has the strength of a floating cracker. It’s trying to scare you away, but you gotta be tougher than that. I want you to get up, pull it down, and stomp on it like there’s no tomorrow! Hear me?”
Spurred by goading of his trainer, Machop got to his feet, brushing off his knees. Feeling unusually energetic, Michael clapped his hands. “Now get him!”
From across the room, Dan’s frown lines deepened. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
Letting out a strange screeching sound, the Unown reluctantly lowered itself, till it was back to its former height. Machop lunged forward without a moment’s hesitation, but this time he did not stop midway for a jump—he kept going until he reached the wall, then he made a jump, pushing off the vertical surface to propel himself into the air. Machop’s outstretched hands grabbed the Unown’s outer ring like a steering wheel, carrying it down to the floor.
“Now stomp!” Michael said.
Teeth bared in an angry snarl, Machop raised his foot and smashed it against the Unown’s frame. The pokémon let out a metallic screech as its wiring snapped like a twig, its single black pupil spinning frantically in its socket. The eye immediately drifted closed.
Dan’s mouth dropped open. “What?! That’s impossible!” He looked over to Michael with utter disbelief, who responded with a wink.
“Never begin a battle with a special attack.” A sneer spread over Michael’s face, but it froze when he realized whose words he was echoing. A chill crept down his spine.
Machop gathered the fragmented remains of the Unown and handed them over to Dan with a smug smile. The trainer looked crestfallen.
“Wow, that was quite a finish!” said their referee. “Michael and Dan are now tied with one point each. Great work, fellas!”
“But what about my Unown? What am I supposed to do with it?” said Dan, looking down at the splintered mess in his arms.
Betty tilted her head to the side. “Oh, don’t wor’y. It doesn’t hurt them when their bodies break like that. As a matter of fact, they can be pieced back togeth’r. Just visit the Pokémon Center and they’ll show you what to do.” She marked down the battle’s results, then looked up at Dan again. “Though I would advise against using them in battle. They’r mighty cute, but they don’t fare well against Fighting moves, as you’ve seen.”
Dan grumbled. He and Michael packed their things and left the battle room. Even as he reached the lobby, Michael was unable to shake away his stupor at what had happened. Unconsciously, he had used Lona’s advice. And it had worked.
He exchanged a parting nod with Dan, then watched the boy scurry out of the building in the direction of the Pokémon Center. Looking around, Michael didn’t see Henry anywhere among the crowd, so he found a place to stand over to the side and dropped his backpack.
A minute later, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a voice rose out from behind him. “Hey.”
Michael turned. Rick had approached from the hallway door, the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Michael smiled. “Hey. How goes it?”
“Pretty good.” Rick shrugged. “I saw you walk out and I decided to catch up with you. You didn’t have Lona again, did you?”
Michael snorted. “Thankfully not.”
“Oh. ‘Cause I saw her go into one of the rooms in our hallway earlier th’s morning. She must be refereeing for the left wing of the Gym this week.”
“But there must be only a one-in-fifty chance of getting her,” Michael said. “With all those rooms to choose from.”
Rick shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I’ve had her five times, once on two consecut’ve days. I’m pretty sure she gets to pick who she wants. And we both know that I’m the one she likes to yell at.”
Michael chuckled. “Can’t argue with that. So how did your battle go?”
“Pretty good,” Rick replied. “My partner used all dual-types, so we actually had a normal battle, for once. You know, with special moves.”
“It was all right,” Michael said. “I won.”
With nothing else to say between them, the boys sank into silence, tuning back into the noise of the lobby. Rick lowered his duffel bag beside Michael’s and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. At that moment, the door to the left hallway swung open, and Lona Walker emerged, her feet gliding gracefully over the wooden floor. Michael followed her with his gaze as she approached the front desk and leaned over to exchange a word with one of her attendants. While her back was turned, he took a moment to study her—annoyingly perfect posture, skirt below the knees, prim shoes… and jacket. It was the color of wilting roses, of Contest ribbons, of faded pastel sketches. Michael hated the hue from the bottom of his heart, but he couldn’t stop looking at it, and stood helpless as it burned into his skull. Only when Lona turned around did he finally snap out of his trance, dropping his gaze to the floor to pretend that he had not noticed her.
The Gym leader stalked back over to the door, and cast a brief, sharp glance in their direction before she disappeared. Michael heard a grumble beside him.
“She thinks she’s so cool…” said Rick. He had also lowered his head when Lona had passed, and now looked up with a shadow cast over his face. “Walks around like she’s queen of the world. I wish someone would put her in her place, for once.”
Michael made a hmh of agreement, but did not respond.
“…and if that someone’s gotta be me, then I’ll do it.” Rick straightened, smoothing the edges of his shirt. “I’ll talk to you later, Michael. I gotta make a run to the PokéMart ‘cause I ordered some pokéball seals.”
“All right,” Michael said, and lifted his hand. “Easy, man.”
“Yeah. You too.” Rick waved his hand in return, and went off.
Before Michael could drift back into his thoughts, he heard the door slam again and turned to see Henry approach him, looking tired, but upbeat. Henry stepped over to him, smiling. “Hey Michael.” His gaze trailed over to the double doors, where Rick had left moments ago. “Who was that?”
“Just a kid I met,” Michael said.
Henry tapped his chin. “I think I’ve seen him before… he was one of the kids who went into my hallway the other day.”
“Yeah, he’s been here for a while,” Michael said. “Lona’s been holding him back. He’s been here for four whole weeks and he still hasn’t been moved up to the staff rank.”
Henry’s face fell. “Oh. That’s too bad… but I guess Lona has a reason for it. She has to, doesn’t she?”
Michael let out a laugh. “Yeah, you’re saying that now. But what if the same thing happens to us?”
“I don’t think it will,” Henry said, with an odd, quiet certainty in his voice. “I mean, I’ve never had Lona as my referee before, but she doesn’t sound like she wants to keep us down. She probably wants us to learn something. And I have. You know, my referees have shown me a lot of cool stuff that I never knew about battling before. So…” He finished with a shrug.
Michael rolled his eyes jokingly, but let the subject drop. They left the Gym together, and as they stepped outside, Michael instinctively turned left away from the direction of the hotel. Henry stopped him midway. “Wait, where are you going?”
“We have to see Ted, don’t we? It’s been three days. We’ve been practicing just like he said, and I don’t know about you, but my pokémon have learned the move sequences front and back.”
Henry giggled. “Yeah. Mine too.”
“So let’s go then.”
With that, they set off for the town’s suburban area.
After their first meeting with the Move Tutor, both of them had diligently gone about learning the prescribed techniques with their pokémon. Their stay in Solaceon soon grew to resemble a session of boot camp, as each morning, they went to the Gym for their battles, then returned immediately to the hotel’s patio area to practice the move sequences. Michael and Henry isolated a shady patch of grass as their favorite spot, where Golden, Machop, Ringo, Starly, Burmy, and Clefable would follow along with their trainers’ instructions like a yoga group.
Michael had jotted down the steps on a piece of paper, and whenever one of his pokémon forgot something, he would step in to remind them, often resorting to doing a bad imitation of the move himself. (Thankfully for him, few were around to see.) In the span of those days, Michael spent more time with his pokémon than in all the years of his life put together. And, unsuspectingly, he was enjoying it.
The only member of their collective party that did not accompany them in their day-to-day excursions was the Stunky. After Henry had released it, Michael had seen it only a spare few times around town. He always recognized it, for it was one of the few Stunkies in their part of Solaceon, and always lurked around the same areas—the Gym, the streets around the hotel, and the diner that had likely become its favorite source of food. On occasion, Michael would look up from whatever he was doing and see a pair of yellow eyes blink out at him from behind a fence, or a purple tail frisk back and forth beside a bush. A part of him didn’t understand why the Stunky didn’t just cut and run for the hills; clearly, captivity had never been to its liking, and here it had all the freedom its little Stunky heart could ever want. But for whatever reason, it chose to stay. He didn’t concern himself overmuch with it, and let the Stunky-sightings become a simply part of a routine day.
They arrived at the Move Tutor’s house in a matter of minutes. Ted opened the door for them at the right moment this time, pushing it out slowly before peeking out from behind it. “Ah, welcome,” he said, smiling when he saw the boys. “Come on in. You’ll be happy to see that I’ve done a lot of cleaning since you two were here.”
Michael stepped inside the house, and saw that it was indeed in a better state than before. A large portion of the mess in Ted’s library had been cleared. Many of the boxes that had littered the floor were gone, and the books they contained had now found a home on the shelves. The curtains were pulled open behind the TV, letting dusty sunlight sift into the room.
Ted had cleaned himself up as well, and looked more vibrant than usual. His hair was combed, and he had substituted his jeans for nicer-looking pants. His glasses were perched squarely on his nose, the frames twinkling in the light. He closed the door behind the boys and led them towards the workroom. “Come on back and send out your pokémon. I want to see how you’ve been practicing.”
Michael and Henry sent out their pokémon and made their way to the back room, where they all gathered around the table. Ted brought out the same move manuals as before to look off of for reference. The first pokémon to go was Clefable. Henry lifted her onto the table and rubbed the tuft of fur at the top of her head. “Let’s show them what you learned,” he said. “Use Psychic!”
Clefable closed her eyes, as she had a habit of doing to focus her thoughts. Her move sequence was more of a strength exercise, in which she would be given a pebble or small object, and would have to lift it using only her mental energy. Ted had given her a series of stretches to help relax her body, similar to Machop’s meditation. Over the days the boys had been practicing, she had graduated from pebbles to pencils, and other medium-size objects. But for a rather challenging touch, Ted placed the Psychic manual in front of her and smiled. “Let’s see how she does with this one.”
Clefable closed her eyes, wrinkling her tiny nose, creases forming along her brow line. The book wobbled from its place, and rose a few inches into the air.
“Wonderful,” said Ted. “I’d say a few more days of practice, and she’ll be able to penetrate another pokémon’s mind.”
“How will I know for sure?” asked Henry.
“You’ll have to test her out in battle. But I think when she’s able to hold a book in the air for at least thirty seconds, she’ll be ready.”
Ted looked back at Clefable, who was struggling to keep the manual aloft. The book began to spin as her concentration wavered, and plopped down onto the table. Clefable let out a breath of exhaustion, and shook her head to clear it. Henry lifted her from the table and brought up Burmy, who quickly fled into his pink-coated shell. Ted tapped the shell with a pencil, and to Michael’s surprise, it produced a light metallic sound.
“Hear that? That means he’s hardening it. And by a fair amount, actually, considering the short time span you had. Good work.” He handed the pokémon back to Henry.
Next came Starly and Ringo. Both birds had made advancements, thanks to an insatiable urge to test out their new skills on each other. Whenever they were sent out, Michael and Henry’s practice sessions in the courtyard would be filled with bickering and squabbling, as each bird would try to one-up the other by displaying a fragmented series of air-slices or wing maneuvers. This time, the boys sent them out separately, so each bird could demonstrate its skill without the temptation of its nemesis. (Though Ringo still turned around in place, scanning the room with a suspicious gaze.)
Last to go was Machop. His technique was by far the simplest. When Michael set him down on the table, the pokémon settled into the same meditative pose he had assumed on the battlefield. He closed his eyes and placed his hands on his knees, becoming as still as a statue. Ted nodded, visibly impressed.
“This fella’s really making progress.”
Michael gave a half-smile. “You should’ve seen him when we battled the Gym in Oreburgh. He was insane.”
“How is he in battle now?” asked Ted. “Is he more focused?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
Henry, who stood beside Michael with his arms crossed, cracked a smile. “Heh. I guess that’s why they call it pokémon training. It’s like we help them do things they can’t do on their own.”
Ted’s eyes lit up. “Exactly. That’s exactly what pokémon training is. We help our pokémon achieve a higher state of being by getting them to realize the full potential of their powers. And they help us too, in a different way.”
Michael turned up the corners of his mouth in amusement. He reached out towards Machop and snapped his fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
I wonder where they’d all be without me, he thought. If he hadn’t left home, then he would have never gotten any of his current team members, save for Turtwig. Machop would likely still be frolicking in the meadow by Oreburgh City, Ringo would be dropping nuts on passerby trainers’ heads, and Goldeen and Caterpie would still be with their former owners. But by some stroke of fate, he had come along and assembled them into a single unit. And for better or worse, they were here to stay.
There was no tea this time, but after they finished, Ted led the boys back into the living room and let them hang around while he continued to sort through the books. As their conversation wore on, he eventually began to hand the boys books and they automatically phased into helping him. And thus, Michael spent his afternoon shelving books in a home library, of all places.
The box Ted gave him was full of encyclopedias—or rather, volumes of an encyclopedia that he was trying to sort into chronological order. As his hand traveled from the box to the shelf, Michael would frequently pause to look through the books. They were about pokémon anatomy, a subject that both grossed him out and fascinated him. Each volume was roughly two inches thick, and was filled with pictures of skeletal cross-sections and organ structures. The text was set in an old-style font that was smudged in some places, where Ted had scribbled notes in pen.
Michael looked aside from time to time to see what Henry was doing. The boy had emptied a small box of books, and had proceeded to a second one that lay beside him. He pulled it open, and from where he was standing, Michael saw that it was filled with thin folders. Each one was bound with brass rings, and had a lengthy title of dates and numbers.
“What are those?” he asked.
“Those would be my journals,” came Ted’s voice from across the room. “I collect articles on all sorts of topics. Most of them are pokémon-related, anyhow.”
As he said this, Henry’s reached into the box and pulled one out. He frowned as he read the title. “Storage System Two.”
Ted came over to where Henry was standing. “Ah. That’s one of my most prized journals. It’s about a new design for the pokéball, actually the latest one that you’re using right now. It was published in 1947.”
“Whoa. How’d you get it?” Henry said.
Ted chuckled. “I got lucky. I lived in Floaroma for a while, and a family in my neighborhood was getting ready to move out, so they had a yard sale. They brought down a bunch of stuff they had up in their attic, and I found this issue, along with a bunch of other ones, in a box they said they never opened. I guess whoever lived in that house before was an avid researcher, or collector. And it must have been a stroke of fate that those journals ended up in the hands of another avid researcher and collector.”
Michael went to stand by Henry’s side as he flipped through the journal, page after page displaying perfectly even columns of tiny, printed text. “Wow…"
“You can read it if you want,” Ted replied. “Just be careful with it."
Michael looked over at the paper’s heading.
Storage System 2 — A proposal for improved capsule design
Michael Borman, Alfonso Helfer, Stephen Adams, et al.
“Hey, that’s it!” said Henry suddenly, jabbing his finger at the list of names. “That’s the guy who invented the modern pokéball! Or, I guess, it was him and his team. Look, Michael. He has the same name as you.”
Michael’s mouth spread into a half-smile. “Yeah, maybe there’s a Henry in there too somewhere. Let’s keep reading.”
Henry turned the cover. The article was nearly ten pages long, and detailed what seemed to be an experiment, followed by a critical analysis and conclusion. As far as Michael could gather, the scientists were testing new capsule designs that were based upon advanced physical concepts, something that clearly had never been done before. A diagram took up nearly an entire page, comparing the designs of the new and old pokéball. The old one was larger and had a snap lock at the center in place of a knob, and on the inside, was an almost unrecognizable mess of tiny valves and widgets. In contrast, the new one had a sleek metal interior, with soldered wires stemming out from the center point like the sun’s rays. Michael tried to read through the article to find out how the two differed in terms of technology, but found so many unintelligible acronyms and jargon that his mind was twisted in circles. Henry seemed equally befuddled.
“Whoever these guys were, they were smart,” said the boy, letting out a breath.
“That’s right,” said Ted. “They use a lot of technical terminology that the layman wouldn’t understand, but this journal wasn’t written for the layman. In a nutshell, what they did was apply the properties of white dwarfs to improve the storing of pokémon.”
“White dwarfs?” Henry looked up at Ted in confusion, and Michael mimicked the motion.
Ted bowed his head. “I’m no astronomy whiz, but I do happen to know that a white dwarf is a type of star. They’re one of the most dense objects in the universe—they have all the mass of a regular star concentrated into a sphere that’s about the size of Earth. If you had one teaspoon of the stuff that a white dwarf is made of, it would weigh tons. Basically, through one method or another, those scientists managed to find a way to make living creatures condense into a small space just like the white dwarfs do, without harming themselves, and without adding unnecessary weight to the capsule.” He spread his arms out wide, chuckling. “I have no idea how they did it. But I’m glad they did. All of the old pokéball models were based on the properties of the ancient ones. They did their job well enough, but they got very heavy after you put the pokémon inside, and you couldn’t reuse them if, say the pokémon broke out.”
“Then how’d the trainers get by?” Michael asked, unable to suppress a laugh.
“Well, there were fewer trainers back then. And those who were trainers were very… ah, dedicated.” Ted smiled.
Henry flipped through the article some more, then slid it into its proper place on the shelf. He shelved the rest of the journals in a matter of minutes, then looked down at the empty box at his feet. “Ted, I’m all done,” he said, lifting it with one hand. “Where should I put this?”
Ted, who was dusting a bookshelf of his own, responded with a grunt. “Just put it up top. I want to clear as much floor space as possible because I have to clean that too… but make sure there’s room first.”
Henry nodded. “Okay.” He pulled over a tall stool and stepped up towards the bookcase with the box in hand. Even on his tiptoes, the boy’s head barely grazed the topmost shelf. He lifted the box with both hands and tried to find a place to put it, but the top of the shelf was so cluttered that every push elicited a chorus of clangs and rustles. After a minute of fruitless probing, Henry lowered the box with a sigh, shaking his head. “My arms hurt,” he said. “I can’t do it.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Here. Give it to me.” He took the box and stepped up onto the stool. Being the taller of the two, Michael could see exactly what was taking up so much space—even here, there was an endless supply of folders, papers, and miscellaneous knickknacks. His eyes swept over the mess in bewilderment. “Ted, you’ve got a lot of stuff up here. Mind if I move some of it?” He lifted a stack of paperclipped documents and started to hand them down to Henry.
“Wait, hold on,” came Ted’s voice from behind. “I’ve got a lot of papers up there, but the ones I don’t need are mixed in with important ones. Do you mind reading out what you get?”
“Sure.” Michael flipped through the stack, peering at the headings one by one. “One’s a subscription form for Science Editor’s Monthly. Then you have a letter from the Chairman of the Pokémon Fan Club…”
“Keep the letter, throw out the subscription form,” Ted said. “That magazine was no good anyway.”
Michael handed down the subscription form to Henry and kept reading. “Then you have a note… hang on.” He paused to look at a small slip of notebook paper that had appeared beneath the letter. The handwriting was tiny and straight, nothing like the slanted scribble that had been in the encyclopedia margins. The note was short and unsigned.
You left this in the Daycare Center the other day. I couldn’t catch up with you in time, but the clerk gave me your address so I could return it. I hope all your papers and bookmarks are still in there; I kept them from falling out as best as I could.
I must say, you have a good taste in books.
Michael looked up at Ted, frowning. “What’s this?”
Ted lowered the washcloth and looked over his shoulder. “What?”
Michael held the paper up, and Ted lifted his glasses to get a better look. When he saw the paper, his face turned the slightest shade of pink. “Oh. That… Yeah, keep it.” He pushed his glasses back on and turned back to the shelf.
“What is it? Who’s it from?” Michael asked.
Ted did not immediately respond, but began to dust at a slightly faster pace than before. “Well… uh, a few days ago, I went to a pokémon daycare center to drop off some books as a donation. Stuff like species diversity, basic training techniques, things I didn’t really need anymore. But I accidentally put an important book into the pile—one I really needed for my projects. I had notes and everything in there, but I had no idea that I put it in the wrong box. And, well, one of the people at the center must have noticed and was nice enough to return it.”
“So if you got the book back, then why are you keeping the note?” Michael said.
Ted shrugged, and the gesture was so sheepish and innocent that, for a moment, it made him seem childlike. He shifted his gaze from Michael to Henry, who were both staring at him in silence, their expressions betraying a growing interest. After a minute, something seemed to give inside of him, and Ted let out a sigh. “Okay, fine. I know who it’s from. But she’s not my—I mean, I don’t know her or anything. She’s just a lady I see around town sometimes.”
A smile tugged at Michael’s lips. “What’s her name?”
“I don’t know… We’ve never talked.”
“What does she look like?” Henry piped up.
Ted shrugged again. “She always has her hair up, so I can’t see much of it... last time I saw her she was wearing a hat, a skirt, a white cardigan, and red heels.” He paused, for a moment appearing shocked that he had remembered so much. Ted scratched his head. “They could have been red. I‘m not sure.” Flustered, he turned back to the bookshelf.
Michael looked down at the note and gave a businesslike nod. “Well, whoever she is, she definitely likes your subject preference. Maybe she’s a resident-move tutor too.” He locked eyes with Henry and perked his eyebrows. The boy suppressed a giggle.
Ted continued to clean as he did before, though he appeared lost in thoughts of his own, only partially aware of the boys’ presence. As he swept the cloth across the spines of his books, he gave a small smile. “Maybe… But no, I don’t think she’s from here. At least, not as far as I can tell. She doesn’t dress like most people in Solaceon. Not that it’s a bad thing…” He fell silent again, this time looking over to the boys almost reluctantly, as if to see whether they had anything else to ask him. When he saw that they were both standing quietly, he smiled. “Ah, don’t worry about me. You’re too young to have to worry about a fool’s life problems. Enjoy youth. Enjoy the chance to be free.”
With that, he stepped down from the stool and turned his attention to a photograph that was framed beside the window. Biting his lip, he began to clean it, wiping off a layer of dust from the glass.
Michael could feel him slipping away again, but felt compelled to speak. “Well, maybe you’ll see her again one day and find out,” he finally said.
But Ted didn’t say anything else. He kept right on polishing, smiling as he did it, that odd lover’s look cast over his face, making it appear vibrant and childlike. When he was done, he swiped his fingers across the surface of the photograph and leaned back to admire it. It was a vase of pink tulips, their petals glimmering with water droplets as if from a spell of summer rain. None of his pictures had people.
When he finished cleaning, Ted stepped down from the stool and tossed the washcloth around his shoulder, whistling in a familiar way. There was a confident flair to his manner, but at the same time a fragility, which hadn’t been so apparent before. To Michael, who had never pondered greatly on such things, the sudden clarity with which he saw this was startling. It was somehow centered around the note he held in his hands. There was something special in that note, something in the way Ted’s gaze trailed off at times, following the free reign of his thoughts.
He was a man at peace with himself, but at the same time he longed for something more, something that he might have been on the cusp of at one point, but never attained. Or perhaps he had lost it a long time ago, like a seashell buried in depths of sand, forever awaiting the return of something that in the end would never come.
Just like Andrew Rowan.
It was only her first week in Solaceon, and already, Bertha Herrida had a schedule.
Morning: Breakfast. Take her pokémon out for a walk, possibly go downtown and visit the pastures. See the herds of grazing pokémon, possibly stop to watch young children scurry about with buckets or piles of hay.
Two o’clock. Check the hotel’s mail room, navigate through hundreds of tiny compartments in search of the one reserved in her name. Answer telegrams, collect support letters (there were few), and immerse herself in the goings-on of the outside world. Have lunch.
Eight o’clock, evening. Conference with Lona Walker.
As Bertha had learned over the days, time was one of the few things Lona hated to lose. She could lose a pen, or an important piece of paper, and quickly retrace her steps to find it. She could lose her temper, close her eyes for a moment, and regain her former calm. But there was no taking back time, and as much as she might have disliked it, she had to play by life’s rules too.
Each Monday and Wednesday evening was set aside especially for petition business, no earlier and no later than the designated time. Each woman knew her role, and by unspoken agreement, set out to follow it. Every meeting, Bertha would arrive right on time, her purse slung over her shoulder, the briefcase clutched in her other hand. She would proceed to Lona’s office in the right hallway, open the door, and find the Gym leader sitting behind her desk, the office glowing with orange light from a lamp that stood in the corner. Sometimes Lona would be drinking tea, and a cup would be set aside on Bertha’s end of the table—an empty formality. Other times, she would just be sitting there, arms resting on the table, eyes fixed squarely ahead as Bertha took her seat.
Their conversations would begin one of two ways. Either Bertha would open her briefcase and take out her files, embarking on a different avenue of argument, or Lona would begin with a question of her own. The latter was usually a prelude to a tedious, angered debate, something that Bertha could only describe as a bull-session.
Today was looking to be like one of those days.
Closing the door to the office, Bertha approached Lona’s desk and sat down. The stale, orange light that pervaded the room was something she could never get used to. One half of the room seemed to blaze, and the other was plunged in thin, slanted shadows. Lona was writing again, as she always seemed to be. Her chair was caught midway between light and darkness, and her arm was moving quickly and methodically over the memo pad that kept her constant companionship. She did not look up as Bertha entered, and allowed the woman to take her seat with silent acknowledgment. Only when Lona had finished her notes and stowed the memo pad away in the drawer did she lift her head and fold her hands in her lap. A smile lifted the corners of her face, and without preamble, she began.
“Tell me, Miss Walker, how is it you are planning to restore the League?”
After many days of such back-and-forth banter, the questions no longer caught Bertha off-guard. She didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not planning on restoring it,” she said. “At least, not yet. My goal is to enable it to restore itself.”
For some reason, Lona seemed to find this funny. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tilted her head to the side. “And what makes you so sure that the other League officials will want to do the same? You have an entire different concept of ‘restoration’ than they do.”
“Oh? And in what way?”
“That is what I plan on examining today. Your petition is attempting to give the League more money. And yes, it’s true that the League wants more money. But it’s for an entirely different reason.”
Bertha lifted her eyebrows. “And that would be?”
“I think you’ve already seen it for yourself,” Lona said. “You’ve been to Hearthome. You’ve seen how everywhere you turn, there’s the pokéball logo, or some other League-sponsored item?”
“You mean the advertising? Sorry to say, but that’s to be expected. The League needs to make money. I won’t deny that some of its methods are questionable—those Game Corners are nothing but scams—but they are the direct result of the League’ s decline.”
Lona shook her head, still keeping a quiet, measured tone. “No. They are the direct cause of it.”
Bertha paused out of surprise, which mixed itself with puzzlement. This seemed to be what Lona was aiming for. The woman smiled, and continued. “The League has an enormous sphere of influence. The Space Program is like a flea in comparison. The League can get anything it wants, even right now, though it may seem like the tables are turned against us.”
“They are,” Bertha said. “You just haven’t realized it. The League is global, yes, but so is the Space Program. It’s growing at a rapid pace, faster than the League has ever grown in history. It might not be as prominent as the League is right now, but it soon will be. You think I don’t know where you’re coming from? I do. I had the exact same frame of mind as you do right now.”
The smile faded from Lona’s face, replaced by a twitch of frustration. “And then? You saw a factory get put up in your backyard and you decided that the whole world had turned upside-down?”
“If you don’t believe me, then why don’t you take a look at these?” Bertha pulled out a stack of papers from her briefcase and slapped them on the table. “I prepared these just for you, Miss Walker. They’re charts that detail the respective incomes of the Sinnoh and Hoenn space programs, compared to those of the League divisions in both countries. If you’ll notice, while one item increases, the other plummets. Granted, I don’t know how the Hoenn League is handling it, but they sure seem to be in a similar situation, don’t you think? The government and the public are paying more attention to the Space Program, and as a result, less money gets to us. You can twist that all you want, but the fact remains the same—less attention means less opportunity for change.”
“And? You want the government to pay one-hundred percent of its attention to us again? It’s impossible!”
“I’m not asking for a hundred,” Bertha said. “I’m asking for at least fifty, even forty for the time being. Like I said before—by all means, I think that the League and the Space Program should coexist. But someone has to put in the effort to make it happen. The government hasn’t. The Space Program hasn’t. So it’s up to us. And if we don’t do anything, then for the next few years, we’ll be sitting in our little Gym offices, counting pennies, watching the buildings crumble around us. For those who have offices, that is.”
“There’s still a flaw in your plan, Miss Herrida! You have the start planned, but you’ve completely ignored the finish!”
Feeling an exhilarated rush, Bertha rose from her seat. “Finish? I’ll tell you what the finish is!” She held out her palms in midair and mimicked an explosion. “Picture for a moment, Miss Walker, that you’re walking in the meadow. Solaceon has lots of pretty meadows. All those hills and trees and grazing pokémon… Now, imagine it cut off by a metal fence, the trees cut down, and a big tall factory be put in its place. That factory pollutes the air. It keeps the whole half of your neighborhood on edge with its constant noise, which lasts through day and night. It turns your town into a pit stop for hundreds of Galactic workers who swarm around their territory, driving their trucks through your streets, and what more—relying on a share of your town’s money to fund security and maintenance. And they call it a partnership. Meanwhile, less money gets to you, the Gym leader, and little by little, you see your funding from the town dwindle. You soon have to rely on the League’s federal funds or pay out of your own pocket. The League might not be a big help, though, because the same exact thing is happening to it, only on a larger scale. And it’s happening because the government allows it to. My goal is to make that stop.”
Lona was silent, and for the entire duration of Bertha’s tirade, sat with one elbow rested on the table’s surface, supporting her chin. Her face was clouded, and she seemed lost in thought.
“Galactic will never come to Solaceon…” she said, almost whispering.
Bertha tilted her head to the side, softening her face into an imitation of her interlocutor. “And if it does?”
“It won’t!” With a sudden burst of anger that seemed to come from nowhere, Lona rose from her seat to look Bertha in the eye. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing? Trying to convince me by drawing a parallel with Eterna? You are wrong! Galactic will never put up a factory here because I won’t allow it, because I know how to wield my power as a Gym leader to ensure the best for my facility and my trainers!”
Bertha’s eyes flashed. “You’re saying I don’t?”
“I’m saying that you have no idea what you’re doing!”
The shout seemed to drain some of Lona’s energy. She clenched her fists in visible frustration, and a second later opened her mouth to say more. But Bertha didn’t need to hear it.
Without a word, she snapped her briefcase shut and turned for the door, leaving Lona by the desk, leaning forward in anticipation of proving a point. But whatever she was about to say was drowned out by the pounding of Bertha’s heels, and her anger soon turned to desperation as she fumbled helplessly for words.
The door to the office swung open, and Lona beckoned for it to stop, flinging out a cry: “Money is dangerous in the League’s hands!”
But it was too late. Bertha had slammed the door.