Thread: [Pokémon] ROOTS // Professorfic
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Old October 26th, 2012, 03:49 PM
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Haruka of Hoenn
Rolling writer
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Yes.
Gender: Female
Nature: Calm
Hey everyone. Thanks for your patience. Fortunately, I've been hard at work during these past few weeks, and as a result, I've finished Chapters 30 and 31 (apart from some minor editing), and have gotten 32 well on its way. I'm anticipating that those will be posted on schedule, with no more than a two-week lapse.


And yes, I did split this chapter for the sake of one tiny scene... Since it's so short (and since I didn't anticipate the chapter being this long), I didn't split the links into two parts. It looks cleaner, at any rate.


Read on!



2.9

Bertha didn’t make her routine visit to Lona the next day. She spent her time walking with her pokémon, observing the town, thinking over what the woman had said. At first, her ideas had seemed radical, but the more Bertha thought about them, the more she could identify with Lona’s mindset.

For some reason, the pile of badges on her desk had stricken a chord in Bertha’s heart, and for the rest of that day, they stood out more clearly in her memory than any other part of their conversation. The badges were, of course, part of her job too. She had to order them by calling the League Office whenever she ran out, and they would arrive in a neatly-packaged box a few days later, pristine and identical.

Bertha had battled many trainers in her years as a Gym leader, and though she couldn’t remember every badge she ever bestowed, some occasions still lingered in her mind. She would always remember the first trainers she ever battled, back in 1959. The five kids had come all the way from Majolica, a town near Hearthome, and were planning on sticking together till the very end. They been a fun group, always laughing, and had left her a card before they moved on.

Speeding through the subsequent years was like watching a reel of film. The setting of her battle room remained the same, but so many trainers had passed through it that she had lost track of them. She only recalled a few—a trainer who shared her name, someone that had a team consisting of only one type, and another who had been tied to his parents for his whole life, and had only just taken his first steps into the outside world. They all had different personalities, different backgrounds, and different goals. But one thing had united them all.

Towards the early months of 1962, Bertha’s memories blurred. That was when the factory had begun to dominate her thoughts, casting a shadow over her like a storm cloud. The trainers came with the same frequency as before, but she no longer retained as much about them, being busy with making her first investigations into the factory’s inner workings. When she had uncovered the truth about the zero-sum game between Team Galactic and the Sinnoh Pokémon League, she began to devote her full energy into crafting her petition. Her duties as a Gym leader took second place, which in hindsight, Bertha realized had changed her attitude as well. She stopped devoting so much attention to her trainers, seeing them as relics of a lost world, one that she no longer belonged to. Their voices and footsteps were reduced to noises that animated the empty house, their head count merely contributing to the number of mouths to feed at the dinner table. She did little more than shake their hands after their battle ended, gently reminding them to make their guest rooms nice for the next person. She had become colder.


Then, Michael and Henry had arrived. Two boys who, at first, seemed worlds apart in character, but had teamed up for the same cause. Henry, always bright and beaming with enthusiasm, had surprised her with his genuine passion—for it was the very kind that Bertha had once had, before she lost it all in the corporate labyrinth. Michael, in comparison, seemed to be the mischievous one, unafraid to test the waters before he entered them. In that respect, he was no different from the multitudes of others, who exploited their advantages, calculating their every move with the skill of a chessmaster. But Bertha had seen something else in him: an iron conviction. No matter what, she knew, if that kid set his mind to something, he wouldn’t stop anywhere along the way until he got it.

The two seemed to have come at the worst possible time, for those had been the days when Bertha was being pressured both by the town council, and the factory management. But even so, they left an impression on her.

And then, unexpectedly, she had been swept away with them on a journey—this time not just her own, but theirs. The whirlwind of the League consumed her anew, and during those long weeks of travel, Bertha had been reminded of her own adventures as a child: of pining, battling, and exploring. And strangely, those years didn’t seem so far away anymore. The League she had loved before was still there, hidden away in the folds, waiting for her to rediscover it. And she did. All it had taken was for her to watch the two trainers by her side, who seemed to grow every day, their spirit bringing light to her darkness.



Bertha mulled over what to do for a while. She read over her petition several times, analyzing every paragraph she had typed. And what she found, to her surprise, was that her writing was strangely lacking—she caught many repeated phrases, inaccuracies, and typos that she didn’t remember seeing before. Beyond the stylistic level, she could still see the overarching concept—but it was imperfect, like a diamond encrusted in a shell of dirt. The Bertha who had written those words had been afraid, upset—and hadn’t yet perceived the modern League from a trainer’s point of view. Back when she had first drafted her petition, getting rid of Team Galactic’s chokehold had seemed like the most important thing. But now, she realized, it was only half the journey.





An idea came to her.





//////






A day later, on June 27th, Bertha stopped by the Gym at its opening hour, just as the first rays of dawn began to peek over the eastern hills. She hadn’t bothered to announce her arrival, but reasoned that either way, she would be able to say her two cents.

She found Lona in her office, as expected, sipping a cup of tea before starting the day. A wooden tray was laid out on her desk, holding a breakfast plate. When Bertha stepped in, Lona looked up in surprise, and the two women looked at each other in silence.

Bertha did not sit down; she hovered in the doorway, then approached the desk, revealing the folder she was holding.

“I thought about what you said the other day,” she began. “While I don’t agree with some of it, I understand now what you mean about the League not being good with money.”

Lona kept a steady gaze, but did not reply.

“I admit, I never considered it that deeply before. To me, the League was always a sign of progress, something that had the potential to unite the country, instead of dividing it. I could never really judge when too much was too much, since I came from Eterna, a town that knew nothing of that. I looked at all those fancy designs, and I felt that that was what Gym should be—a building that a city can be proud of, instead of a run-down facility… or someone’s house.” Bertha pursed her lips. “Ultimately, I think that that was the League’s mistake. They put more money into appearances, rather than function.”

Sliding off the rubber band, she set the folder down in front of Lona. “I might not be able to change other people’s opinions, but I can ask the League to change its ways. I revised my petition a little to clarify my intentions. I still want the League to get the money it deserves, but this time I made sure it’ll get used for the right thing: to restore the Gyms, reform the Game Corners, and benefit trainers by giving them the League experience they deserve—not a money-raffle, but a fair chance. For everyone. You helped me see that, in a way, so I guess I should be thanking you.”

Lona lifted the folder and opened it. She was silent for a few minutes as she flipped through the pages, then when she finished, set it back down.

“You mean to save the League…” she said quietly. “And perhaps, you could… But times are changing. And so, I’m afraid, are we.” She looked up at Bertha. “You know, they’re thinking of introducing a new system for trainer cards. Kids who frequently buy from PokéMarts or use League-operated facilities like Game Corners will be able to upgrade their I.D.s. The ones with the higher ranks will be able to unlock this new computerized system that’ll tell them everything—a walkthrough of all the Gyms, how many Game Corner tokens they still need to buy a certain healing item… even a database to tell them which collector’s items can be found where. A while ago, all a trainer needed was the companionship of his pokémon. Now they’re being forced to pay for all these things they don’t need, as if somehow, the League’s structural reforms changed the meaning of training as well. And I think, in a way, they have… The world’s slowly turning to technology. It’s the future everyone’s waiting for, and sooner or later, we’ll have to do what the government tells us—modernize or die.”

She paused.

“That’s what happened to Eterna, isn’t it? The town hung on to its culture and values as long as it could… but it didn’t realize how slow it was moving compared to the majority of Sinnoh. And then the worst of that outside world dawned upon it.”


Bertha nodded slowly. “And the same thing happened to the old League too...”


“Yes…” Lona said. “Only, I suppose, it’s still happening. With every year that goes by, I see it’s getting worse. It’s like this long downward spiral we’ve been sucked into and I still can’t see the end of it… What does the government want? Can it really be money? Do they favor one thing over another simply because they think it’ll be more profitable to them in the long run? I don’t know... I don’t know what they want to do with us.” She pressed her fingers to her temples and gave a shrug.

They both fell silent.



“I’ve thought about that too,” said Bertha, after a while. “I wondered why it was Galactic, of all things, that rose to power. And I guess I don’t know either. We can’t know.” She crossed her arms and turned towards the window. “But you know what I realized?”


Lona lifted her head.


“I realized that it doesn’t matter. You’re right—the League’s changing, and it might not be for the better. But we have a chance to make it stop. We can put an end to this before Galactic comes out on top again. And it’s not just them—it’s the whole country. Hell, it’s the whole world. It can change all it wants, but our job is to keep our place in it. We owe it to the trainers to keep the League’s traditions alive. And maybe, in some cases, accept change as well.”

Feeling a silence from Lona, Bertha turned to her and took a step forward.

“Look… I’m not denying that the League of the 30s and 40s was great. It was. But we can’t bring it back, and frankly, there’s no point in trying. Yes, it had a lot of good things that we don’t have today. But there was also a drawback—it was too restrictive, too adamant to change, and because of that it failed to realize when events were turning against its favor. It didn’t stand up for itself in time, and as a result, it let the government take complete control of its fate. But in a way, merging with the feds helped it too, because right now we have the one thing that the old Sinnoh League didn’t—worldwide recognition. That’s already something. It may seem like there’s no way out for us, but there is. Now is the time to act and take back what we lost. And we don’t have to forgo the old to accept the new—rather, we should work with all that we have today rather than against it. By doing that, we can make the League even better than it was before. And who knows…” Bertha took a breath. “Maybe if Eterna had done that, it would still be here.”


As she said this, Lona’s gaze trailed over to hers, and the two women locked eyes. Bertha kept hers fixed on the darker pair, and all of a sudden, she saw something familiar in their stare. Something lifted within her, and unexpectedly, she felt a stray smile tug at her lips. Bertha smiled, and all of a sudden her former frustration dissolved. She was no longer thinking of comebacks or of new ways to prove her point. She was thinking about the League—just the League—and what it meant to her and the woman sitting in front of her.

“We can get it back on track,” she said. “We may not be at our golden age right now, but I believe — and I know you believe it too, Miss Walker — that there’s still something in there worth saving. Think of your trainers. You told me a while ago that you knew how to distinguish the motivated ones. Think of them. There are tons of kids out there who had nothing to be proud of in their lives, and then regained their confidence through doing what their hearts pined for. I know it happens. I’ve seen it.”



Lona lowered her hands and leaned back into her chair. Her face bore a pondering expression, but she also seemed tired.



“I understand…”




She didn’t appear capable of saying more.


At that point, Bertha’s gaze flicked over to a small stool near the window, where she noticed a brown pokéball pouch. Apparently, Lona was battling today.


Feeling no urge to stay longer, she backed away, crossing her arms. “Anyway, it’s up to you. Read it. Or not.”


Lona inclined her head. “I’ll get to it… for now, go. Just go.”



Bertha did not immediately move. She remained where she was for a while, silently watching the woman who didn’t look back. And finally she understood.


Turning to leave, Bertha gave the room a final glance, and let the door swing shut behind her. At that moment, the clock on Lona’s wall struck six. A new battle day began.







//////




Eight hours into the day shift, Michael arrived at the Gym for his final two staff battles. The previous days had ended more or less in his favor—he had closed his first with a win and a tie, then the second with two wins. The staff had varying personalities and battling styles, but the pattern he had noticed with Paul, his first opponent, continued with the others.

Each staff member’s team consisted of three regular Fighting types, which varied from Meditites to Mankeys, and occasionally a dual-type. Then, at the end, they would send out their fourth pokémon, which would always be either a Hitmonchan or a Hitmonlee. This was evidently their way of preparing trainers for Lona’s team, though Michael noticed that those pokémon were confined to using only the most basic moves, and possessed no extraordinary capabilities over their teammates aside from better endurance. This, and the fact that Croagunk was excluded from the staff lineup, gave him the unsettling feeling that Lona had something up her sleeve.

But whatever thoughts occupied him during the day, it all vanished when he stepped through the battle room door. During the match, Michael became a blank slate—thinking of nothing but strategy, responding only to the rhythm of conflict. Winning became easier as he learned to guess in advance what his opponent could do, and oftentimes he found himself several steps ahead of them. What impressed him most was his team’s growing unity. Over the long weeks, he had developed a mutual understanding with his pokémon; he no longer had to give them as explicit instructions as before, for they always seemed to know what they had to do. Goldeen had mastered her water technique, and could now perform complex maneuvers across the floor, twisting in circles around her opponent, and even jumping. Machop learned to minimize distractions, and maximize his speed. Ringo became swifter, and apart from picking up catchphrases, learned new tricks to perform in the air. Turtwig became bulkier and sturdier, no longer the clunking creature he had been some weeks ago.

These changes had come about gradually, so Michael had not always noticed them, but in the staff battles, the true extent of their progress shone through. And with his pokémon’s stamina on the rise, his began to improve as well.


That day, Michael was in more of a battling mood than ever. He won his first battle four fainted pokémon to one, and in the next, achieved three defeats with all of his team still standing. His referee’s fourth and final pokémon was a Machop, to which he had countered with his own.

The battle began cordially, with both trainers giving commands at an even pace, but eventually escalated into a wrestling match. The Machops formed a twisting blur, constantly shifting their stances and jabbing with speedy fists. It soon became hard to tell which pokémon belonged to whom, and Michael and his opponent constantly moved around the battlers, trying to keep their eyes locked on one of them. Occasionally, Michael blurted out a command, hoping to gain some sort of response, but neither of the Machops seemed affected. They continued to fight, dealing and blocking blows, until finally one of them lifted a hand and brought it down on the other’s neck, striking a pressure point. The injured Machop collapsed, and did not move.

The still-standing Machop dusted off its hands, and turned to Michael with a smile. He felt a flood of relief.

“Ver’y good!’

From the other side of the field, his referee, Rachael, sent back her fainted pokémon. Shooting Michael a wink, she took out a new pokéball and held it out at arm’s length. “Just one more to go, and then it’s the leader battle for you! Go, Garchomp!”

“What?!”

“Relax! I was just kidding.” Rachael made a silly face. “But you still might wanna keep your head on—go, Chansey!”

A burst of light escaped from the capsule, fading as a round, pink pokémon landed on the mats. The Chansey’s face consisted of two beady eyes placed low over a smiling mouth. Its arms, disproportionately tiny and delicate, were folded over its belly, where a large egg rested in a pouch.

“But that’s not a Fighting type,” Michael blurted, before he could stop himself. Noticing Rachael, he backpedaled. “I mean… what I meant was, isn’t that what all the staff are supposed to have?”

“This is just our way of sending you guys off,” Rachael replied. “Historically, Chansies were symbols of luck and patience. We have all our trainers battle one at the very end as our way of wishing them luck… and testing their patience.” She winked. “I can tell you for sure that you won’t see Chansey in your battle with Lona, but even so, it’ a good experience.”

Michael looked down at the chubby pokémon, who blinked and smiled right back. Normal type, he thought. Easy.

He turned to Machop, who had made himself comfortable sitting down, and snapped his fingers for the pokémon to get up. “Machop, use Double Kick!”

The Chansey did not react as Machop broke into a run, aiming a kick at her side. The fighter’s foot struck her torso, and Chansey went flying—but instead of suffering a jarring collision with the floor, she bounced off with her head and landed on her feet, unharmed. The Chansey began to dance, tapping and twirling, as if inviting Machop to continue.

Frustrated, Machop kicked again—this time putting so much force behind the blow that Chansey sailed towards the wall. The impact seemed strong enough to bruise, but Chansey simply bounced off like a rubber ball, sailing over Machop’s head. She let herself fall to the floor, rolling and laughing.

Rachael did not give any commands, but kept a faint smile as Machop ran himself ragged. He tried all sorts of attacks, moving from kicks to jabs, from jabs to throws. But it was as if Chansey’s body was made of sponge. She absorbed every impact, rebounded from every fall, and each time she got up, she would begin to dance. Machop, lured into an inescapable rage by the taunt, kept right on going, ignoring even Michael’s commands to stop.

In his frustration, Michael grabbed the sides of his head and groaned. “What the hell?” Then, remembering Rachael, he looked up. “Uh—I mean, uh… why is she so…?”

Rachael giggled. “Remember, this isn’t just a battle,” she said. “It’s life! Not all of your opponents will fall down after the first punch. I’ll give you a hint, though: Chansey gets her strength from somewhere. Find the source.”

Michael turned to Machop. The fighter was currently jabbing at Chansey’s side, and the pink pokémon was flinching away, giggling. Throughout, she was keeping her arms folded in front of her, the tips of her stubby hands just barely covering the pouch on her belly.

Finally, it clicked. “Machop!” he shouted. “The egg! Get the egg!”

Machop tore his raged gaze away from Chansey, his chest expanding with rapid, exhausted breaths. A brief look of puzzlement crossed his face. Chansey straightened herself and beckoned, tapping her feet. But Machop had broken free of Taunt’s hold—in a flash, he grabbed the egg and pulled it out of the pouch, jumping back. At once, a great weight seemed to press down on Chansey’s body. She lost her former grace, shoulders drooping, and began to teeter. After a brief struggle, she fell, landing in a seated position. Machop continued to step back, hugging the egg ever tighter, as if afraid that it would be taken away.

Rachael clapped. “Spot on! You guessed it!”

Chansey, who was still fumbling to regain her balance, finally managed to stand. She hobbled over to Machop and lifted her arms, trying to reach the egg, but he held it high over her head. After a minute of enduring her protests, Machop finally softened and handed it back to her. Chansey dusted off the egg, testing for dents. Then, she hobbled over to Michael and held it out to him. Somewhat hesitantly, he reached to take it. The egg was hard, but strangely light.

“What’s this for?” he said.

“It’s a Lucky Egg,” Rachael replied. “Open it.”

Michael turned the egg over in his hands, and found that there was a thin line that ran across the middle. He lifted his knee and cracked it open. A puff of green sparks escaped, dissipating in the air around him. He looked up in puzzlement. “That’s it?”

Chansey frowned and crossed her arms. Rachael let out a laugh. “They’re not easy for her to make, you know.”

Michael blinked. “Oh. Well, uh… sorry.”

After the both of them sent back their pokémon, Rachael picked up her clipboard and put a big check beside his name. “All right Michael, you are officially done with this Gym! All you have to do now is go meet with Lona to schedule your battle. I believe she’s in her office now.” Then, remembering something, she added, “Oh, and your friend Henry was also promoted earlier today. He agreed to wait till you finished so you two could go together.”

Michael nodded. “Great.”

Rachael pushed open the door, and together, they went to the lobby. Henry’s face appeared amongst a sea of others — he was sitting at a bench, tapping the floor with his toes. Upon seeing Michael, a smile lit up his face, and the boy sprang up to meet them.

“Did you get it? Did you make it?”

“I made it!” Michael said. “Come on, let’s go book our battles. I don’t want to wait a second longer than I have to.”

“Right.”

They followed Rachael down the left hallway, tripping over their own feet to keep up. She stopped by a door labeled ‘Office’, and indicated for the boys to wait. Slowly, Rachael turned the doorknob and took a peek inside. An answer came, and she nodded once to the person inside.

“All right, you’re set!” Looking back to the boys, Rachael smiled, motioning for them to enter.

Michael stepped forward, crossing the threshold into a big, sunny space. Light from the window spilled across the room, over glistening books, colorful figurines, and shelves made of polished wood. Everything was clean and exact, not a pin out of place.

Lona herself was seated behind a big desk in the center, the corners of which seemed to stretch to infinity, piled high with papers and binders. As usual, she was bent over a paper of some sort, though by the pace of her writing, Michael could tell she was weighing her words, clumsily scrawling a line before crossing it out. She did not look up at them.

The door closed behind them with a thump as Rachael departed, shrouding the boys in silence. At last, Lona lowered her pen and set it aside.

“Well done,” she said. “You have both demonstrated the required skills demanded of an aspiring trainer. Now you will take the next step and see what you have made of your knowledge.” She handed them each a slip of paper. “Your battles will both be tomorrow afternoon. Henry McPherson, yours will begin at 1:30, and Michael Rowan, 2:30.”

The boys took the leaflets, and Lona went back to what she had been writing before. Henry looked at the time chart, then, biting his tongue, lifted his head. “Ma’am, how’s the petition coming along?”

“You may leave now,” Lona said, not looking up. “Good day.”

Michael grabbed Henry’s arm and pulled him out of the office. When they were out in the hallway, he stopped the boy beside the wall.

“What the hell did you do that for?”

Henry began to stammer. ”I—I don’t know, I just…”

“Did you see the way she talked?” Michael said. “She’s pissed, and if you push her, she’ll get pissed even more and take it out on us. Whatever they’re doing is Bertha’s business.”

“But what if Bertha doesn’t make it in time? We’ll have to stay and wait for her!”

“You think I don’t want to get out of here too? Just focus on winning the battle. Bertha will get everything done in time. Don’t worry.”

Michael wasn’t sure where his sudden resoluteness had come from. Part of him wanted to hope that Bertha’s negotiations were going well, but every day that she remained quiet, the more he wondered what was holding them up. And now, for the first time, he saw the strain on Lona’s face as well. Even in the comfort of her own office, she suddenly seemed uneasy, like a dam ready to burst. She was on the verge of something, though he didn’t quite know what.

Henry, who seemed to catch on to this invisible thought, bit his lip and nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. Let’s go.”


They left for the lobby together, pocketing the slips of paper. Simultaneously, from across the room, a group of kids filed out of the other hallway, forming a clump around the doorway. Michael saw them as he entered. The trainers were holding bright orange flyers, whose contents seemed to be the topic of a hushed debate. They trailed across the room, gathering followers, as the kids who didn’t have papers of their own looked off of their neighbors’ shoulders. He caught bits of their conversation as they passed by:


“What is it? Where’d you get it?”


“I found it in my room this morning.”


“… petition to fire the Gym leader?”


“It’s not even spelled correctly!”


Michael felt a brief shock pass over him. He watched as the trainers came to a gradual stop in the middle of the lobby, and eased his way over to them, trying to get a glimpse of the flyers. But the kids were so occupied by their discussion that they kept twisting and turning, and each time his eyes locked on one, it was quickly turned away.

Meanwhile, the staff at the front desk paused what they were doing and looked up at the crowd. One of them rose from her seat, and Michael recognized Betty, his referee from the week prior. Behind her was Leroy, who was stapling a stack of papers. As the staff around him stilled, he looked askance to see what the hush was about.

Betty leaned over the counter and reached out. “Hey, hold on ther’!”

The group of trainers froze. As one, they turned towards the front desk, and Betty motioned for them to approach. “Come over here. Show me what y’all are reading.”

At first, no one moved. Then, a boy with glasses approached and handed her a copy of the flyer. Only now did Michael become aware of the bone-dry silence that had fallen over the room. Betty scanned over the paper, face clouded with puzzlement, while the trainers watched with widened eyes.

When she finished reading, she looked up, blinking as if to clear a haze. “Who started this?”

“We don’t know, miss,” the boy replied.

“Yeah, someone slipped them under our hotel doors last night.”

Betty frowned. “Well whoev’r it is, I want to know. This here is not what a trainer should be sayin’. Especially to someone who goes out of th’r way every day to help them. I know Lona p’rsonally, and let me tell you—she is as sweet and honest as they come. I hope this isn’t the attitude y’all have towards your teachers and y’r parents too, because if it is, then you better kick it fast. Now I want all of you to turn in those papers to me here, and don’t let me hear any more about them. If I catch anyone collecting those signatur’s, then I’ll have them kicked from this Gym.” She looked around at the trainers. “You kids bett’r speak up now. Who knew about this?”


No one replied.


Betty did not appear surprised. “Fine then. But I’m warning you—I will find out. I’m going to tell the rest of the staff about this, and we’re going to start lookin’ for this person. Whoever it is, they have their due punishment in store. Now all of you give your papers to me.”

As a group, the trainers approached and presented their flyers to Betty. She set them off to the side face-down.

“Now go off wherever you were headed before. We’ll deal with this.”

The murmuring crowd dissipated, some leaving through the exit, others trailing off towards the hallways. Michael remained where he was, still unable to shake his disbelief. But beneath that, he found it amusing that Rick’s plan ended up a flop. Anyone who resorted to such sloppy methods was only asking to be caught.

A few trainers stuck around as Betty conversed with the other attendants, and watched as all three staff members left through a side door. Leroy was the only one who remained. When all the attendants had gone, he stepped out from behind the counter and grabbed a flyer from the stack. Henry approached from beside the benches, and the three boys found each other by the front desk.

Leroy held up the paper and began to read it. “So what’s all this about?”

Michael shrugged. “Don’t know. We didn’t get one.”

“Me neither.” Leroy frowned. “The person must’ve only done their section of the hotel.”

Henry bit his lip as he scanned the typed lines. “This is really terrible... I wonder who started it.”

“Someone obviously too lazy to think things through,” Michael said in a humored tone. “We could’ve done a better job.”

Henry and Leroy gave him an odd look, to which he responded by lifting his palms. “What? I’m just saying.”

Henry lowered his gaze. “But it’s still rude.”


From the far-flung corners of the lobby, the trainers that remained gradually drifted together. Michael, Henry, and Leroy followed along, lingering on the fringes of the crowd. The trainers’ faces bore varying degrees of shock and suspicion, but at first, the talking was confined to whispers. Then, a bespectacled boy stepped away from the others, planting himself at the center where everyone could see him. He looked around at the others, who met his gaze in silence, hands stuffed in his pockets.

“So… who did it?” he asked. “Any of you know?”

The trainers shook their heads.

“I think I saw a kid with that color paper yesterday,” someone offered. “He was in the hotel. But I don’t remember his face.”

At this, a young boy let out a sigh. “Well it sure wasn’t anyone on the top floors. I’m all the way up on the sixth and I didn’t get one. I always miss out on everything…”

“My friends are all on the fifth floor and they didn’t get any either,” a girl chimed in. “But I’m on the fourth and everyone else I’ve talked to there got them.” She took out a folded copy she had hidden away in her pocket.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean their room’s on the lower floors,” said another. “Wouldn’t they start from the bottom up either way?”

“I think I know who it might be…” came a voice. All heads turned to find a short boy in trousers, who stood with his arms crossed. Upon meeting the others’ gazes, his face became grave. “I saw a kid in the mail room two nights ago. I went there ‘cause I wanted to send a letter home — and you know how there are all those typewriters there? I saw a kid with a whole stack of orange paper. He must’ve gotten it from one of the shelves. I walked in and he was just sittin’ there and typing. I didn’t see what he was working on, but he seemed busy as hell. So I got a table by myself and started typing my letter, just minding my own business. Then a few minutes later, I finished, but then I realized I didn’t know where the envelopes were, so I went up to ‘im and asked. He looked at me kind of funny, like ‘where the hell did you come from’—and he seemed scared, kinda, probably because he didn’t notice me there before. He tried to make me go away, and I tried to explain that all I wanted was to ask a freaking question, but he started making a big deal out of it. I think he thought I was spyin’ on him or something. By the time I found the envelopes, the kid just packed up all his things and left. I remember him ‘cause of his bag—he carries this weird sports thing.”

The trainers began to mutter.

“Two nights ago?” someone echoed. “That would’ve only given him enough time to make a hundred copies or so. He probably wanted to make more after giving out the first batch today.”

“Yeah, but at this rate, he’s a goner. With the staff on his back, he’ll get busted no doubt…”

A plump boy with a baseball cap made a face. “That sucks, man. It was about time someone stood up to that skag Walker. Too bad the kid didn’t tell us how to contact him—all he said was to send our signatures to some post box.”

The bespectacled boy who had spoken earlier puffed out his cheeks. “Well, that’s as good as gone now. Staff’ll be on top of that in no time. What I want to know is maybe there’s still some way we can do this. Even if the kid does get caught, we can’t just let this whole thing go dead. It’d be a waste. The petition’s obviously a call to action — and I think we ought to answer it.”

“But how?” said a girl. “They’re gonna start looking, aren’t they? The staff will make sure nothing’s going on under their noses. And I bet they’ll find a way to watch what’s goin’ on in the hotel, too.”

“That’s why we gotta be smart,” the boy replied. “I think that whoever started this petition knew the stakes. I mean, duh, it’s Lona Walker we’re talking about here. She and her staff can grill anyone who gets in their way. But that’s the point. You can’t live life without risks.”

The trainers began to murmur anew. Henry, who had grown noticeably tense by Michael’s side, suddenly seemed to snap. Without warning, he pushed himself forward. “But didn’t you hear what that lady said?” he blurted. “You’ll get in trouble! And you’ll get us all in trouble too!”

The girl made a face. “So? I think it’s worth it! There’s no way I’m gonna go through another week of this hell—and there’s still staff battles to worry about. If it weren’t for this Gym, I’d already be in Sunyshore!”

“I don’t know… I think that kid is right,” someone else said. “It’s not worth it. For one thing, you’ll get caught, which’ll mean that the blame might get put on us too—the ones who didn’t do anything. I’d rather spend two weeks getting my badge than be kicked out and have to wait another year.”

This was followed by sparse murmurs of agreement.

“Well I wouldn’t!” the girl replied. “It’s freaking summer, and I want to travel and get badges. I don’t need another teacher to make me work.”

“But that’s what you’re supposed to do!” said Henry. “You’re supposed to battle to get the badge.”

At this, the boy with the glasses shook his head. “Wait, wait, wait. Cat, what’s your problem? Do you get what we’re talking about here? This is Lona Walker’s Gym. How can you be defending it?”

“But that’s easy!” the girl cut in. “How long has he been here?”

“Two weeks,” said Henry promptly. “And I’m done with staff battles!”

The girl shrugged. “Well, then it’s obvious why you don’t care. You got it off easy, but not all of us were so lucky. Don’t you think it’s a little bit unfair for you to be moving on so quickly, while some of us have to stay?”

“But you’ll have to stay even longer if you decide to do the petition, wouldn’t you?”

“Not if everyone does their part,” replied the boy. “It doesn’t even have to be a single document. Think of it this way—if we all just send in our letters to the League Office separately, and keep passing down the information to each new group of trainers that comes in here, we could get over a hundred signatures in a month. We just need everyone to cooperate.”

“Well I’m not doing it!” Henry turned away, crossing his arms with finality.

The boy sneered. “What are you, a baby?”

“Lay off!” said Leroy. He stepped between them. “Henry’s got more guts than you! And I’m with him—I’m not gonna be a part of this either. You guys are the ones acting like babies right now, starting some stupid petition instead of beating the Gym like you’re supposed to.”

“Well obviously you’d think that. You’re one of them, aren’t you?” The boy nodded up at Leroy’s staff shirt. “All you do is run office errands. You’re not the one battling. You’re not the one going through this bullshit every day.”

Leroy narrowed his eyes. “You’re saying you know this place better than me?”

“Yeah I do, ‘cause I’m an actual trainer, not some data-freak who hides behind the staff’s backs!”

Some kids began to chuckle.

“A trainer who can’t even be bothered to train?” Leroy countered. “Is that why they rejected you, Derek? I wouldn’t be surprised—I see how some of you battle. You guys treat all this like it’s a joke, and the staff are telling you the same things over and over again, but you don’t listen. You tune them out and at the same time say that they’re not helping you. I know this Gym isn’t easy like the ones before, but there’s this little thing called respect, which I suggest you all start learning, ‘cause you’re gonna be in big trouble later on if you don’t. Everyone knows that it’ll only get harder from here on out. But if you shy away from the first challenge you get, then what are you gonna do when you get to the next four Gyms? Are you gonna try and petition your way out of those too? I thought the whole point of your little League was to win it!”

“The point of the League is to finish it!” Derek said. “We were going through just fine before we got to this place! And now look—we have to spend two whole weeks here, while any other Gym would take me four days! It’s not fair to us!”

“Not fair?”

The trainers all turned as a blonde girl with braids rose from a side bench. “I’ll tell you what’s not fair,” she said. “It’s when you come from a place like Twinleaf that has no connections with the League at all, not knowing anythin’ about how to train pokémon, and having to learn everything on the fly while others are laughing at you for losing! This place was the first one that taught me how to battle. Before that I had to repeat practically all my Gym battles twice. My pokémon never listened to me, and no matter how hard I tried to train them, they could never hold out for more than a couple minutes in battle. But when I got here, the staff helped me. They told me how to make my pokémon listen to me, and how I should listen to them. They taught me that it isn’t about how strong your team is, but how flexible it can be. And I started improving. I think that Leroy’s right—if y’all would just listen to what the staff are trying to tell you, then maybe you might get through here faster and actually learn something. Because if it wasn’t for Lona and her staff, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d probably have dropped out already… and I felt so much like a failure sometimes that I almost did. But look now—” She took a gleaming coin from her pocket. “I got the badge! I got it just today!”

This was received with a mixture of gasps and applause. Henry, who had fallen silent behind Leroy, looked up, eyes widening. As the noise died down, a flicker of light passed over his face, bringing a smile.

“It’s true!” he said suddenly. His words were directed at no one in particular, but right then, they seemed to sail above the noise, and the kids around him turned. “I’ve gotten loads better here than I was before. Before I had any badges, I thought I was the worst trainer in the world. And I kind of was… I didn’t really know where I was going or what I would do when I got to the next Gym. Back then I thought badges were everything… I thought that if I could get all eight, then people would treat me better, and I’d never feel like I wasn’t good enough. But this Gym made me realize that there’s so much more to pokémon training than that. In the other towns, it was always me practicing to win a single battle. But here, I can battle with all these other people without worrying about who wins or loses, and I can get advice from people who know more about training than I do. I used to think my team was weak because we always lost. But now I know that my pokémon are strong, because no matter what, they’ll always keep trying. This Gym was the first time I stopped thinking about the badge, and started thinking about my pokémon. It’s like what my friend Michael told me when we first met. He said… he said that if you need a piece of metal to feel cool, then you’ll always be a wimp. But now I don’t need a badge to feel cool. I’m battling here and I’m having fun and I’m learning. And that’s kind of what I think Lona is trying to tell us. It’s not about the badge—it’s about what you did to get it.”

At this, the trainers grew thoughtfully silent. Henry looked askance at Michael and caught his eye. Michael shrugged sheepishly in response.

Henry turned back to the crowd, and lowered his chin a little when he saw that they were all looking at him. But a beat later, he regained his composure, and stood up straight.

“So I think… we should show her that we can do it,” he continued. “Whoever started that petition, I bet they just didn’t want to practice. I bet they thought the League would be a one-way ticket to fame. And when they met the first person who told them it wasn’t, they got upset and tried to fight back. But I’m not upset. I’m going to beat the Gyms fair and square, and when I’m done, I’ll have more than just badges to show it.”

“Me too,” the pigtailed girl agreed.

“And me!”

“Same here!”

Michael watched with unblinking eyes as one trainer after another piped up their agreement. It was like witnessing a world phenomenon—the crowd split before his very eyes, some moving over to Henry’s side, and others to Derek’s, who held his ground firmly by the front desk. Michael was jostled somewhere in the middle, arms crossed amid the sea of moving elbows. Many who had renounced their involvement with the petition left through the front doors, among them the blonde-haired girl. The rest trailed off into the hallways, or various points along the perimeter of the lobby.

Derek and his friends were the last to leave. Still whispering, they left through the front exit, keeping several paces behind the others. As the glass doors swooshed closed, Leroy let out a sigh.

He placed the flyer back with the rest of the pile, then went over to Michael and Henry. “Well, it’s the staff’s business now,” he said. “I hope that Derek kid doesn’t start anything. But then again, I don’t think any of them will. They know it’s not worth it—like you said, Henry.”

The boy nodded. His cheeks were still slightly pink; clearly, he wasn’t used to being the center of attention.

“Come to think of it, I think I get now why Lona’s so crabby. It can’t be fun to take all that smack from people every day.”

“I wonder what she’s gonna do when she finds out about this,” Henry said.

Michael snorted. “Pin our heads to the wall, most likely.”

The boy smiled. For a minute, he seemed lost in a trail of thought, then he came to and looked at his companions. “You know… I think we should do something nice.”

“Nice?” Michael tapped his chin. “Sorry… I don’t think that word’s in my vocabulary.”

Henry gave an exasperated sigh. “I mean it. If Lona’s upset now, it’ll only get worse when she finds out that a bunch of people want her fired. And then it’ll be bad for us, because if she’s mad, she’ll be even more strict. We should try to cheer her up.”

Though he recognized the boy’s point, Michael couldn’t help but grin. “We should get rid of all her books and replace them with Bidoof dolls.”

This elicited a chuckle from Leroy. Henry rolled his eyes in annoyance.

“What?” said Michael. “It’ll be cool! Imagine she walks into her office and sees that it’s filled with—”

“I was thinking of something else,” said Henry, cutting him off. He gave a second’s pause, then smiled. “We should get her to meet up with Ted.”

Michael lifted an eyebrow.

At the same time, Leroy frowned. “Ted, you mean…”

“Ted the move tutor! Remember, the guy you told us about? We went to visit him a while ago. He helped us out a lot with our pokémon, but we also found out that he has a crush on someone.” Henry leaned in to whisper. “And that someone is Lona!”

Leroy’s eyes bulged. “You’re kidding. Seriously?”

“Yup. It’s the real deal! Only he doesn’t know it’s Lona, and Lona doesn’t know it’s Ted. They just know each other by what they look like.”

“Huh. And… you want to get them to meet up?”

Henry nodded. “Think about it—Ted’s sort of got no one, right? And it’s the same with Lona. So if they make friends, then they’ll both end up happier.”

Michael gave a shrug. “Eh… I don’t know. “

“It kind of makes sense, though,” Leroy said. “Ted always struck me as kind of a loner... But how do you plan on getting them to meet, exactly?”

Henry froze. “Well… I was thinking we could get him to write a letter. Right?” He looked at Michael. “Or... something.”

“I don’t know… something tells me that Lona’s not love letter type.” Michael cast his gaze towards the ceiling reflectively. “Dear Ted… Love Lona.”

Henry began to crack up. But all of a sudden, Leroy snapped his fingers. “Guys! I’ve got just the thing.” He slipped behind the front desk and came back with a business card. “Look. It’s got Lona’s name, phone number, everything. Bam.” He gave it a tap.

“But how would Ted know what to do with it?” Michael said. “For all he knows, it could just be a random person.”

“Not if we write something,” Henry offered. “Remember the note Lona wrote when she gave him back his book? We should do something like that.”

“But how are you going to forge her writing?” asked Leroy. “If he already has a note from her like you said, then wouldn’t he be able to tell the difference between them?”

Henry pursed his lips in thought, and fell silent. A moment later, his gaze trailed over to Michael, who drew back.

“What?”

“Please?” asked Henry. “If there’s anyone of us who can forge a note… well, it has to be you.”

Michael’s shoulders drooped. Realizing he was bound to the inevitable, he held up his hands. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

Henry breathed a sigh of relief.

“Just give me a clean sheet.”

Leroy went behind the counter and brought back a small leaflet. Michael sat down at a bench and began to dig through his backpack, sorting through the clutter to fish out the note Lona had given to him on his first day. Then he took out the newer one and laid them out side-by-side. Finally, he grabbed a pencil, and smoothed the clean paper against the surface of the bench.

“Okay. So what are we gonna make this thing say? Gimme some ideas.”

Henry looked over his shoulder. “Umm… oh! How about ‘Meet me in front of the Gym?’”

“But how’s Lona supposed to know that she has a date?

“Oh. Right.” Henry began to think anew. “Let’s see…”

Leroy cut in: “How about we just invite him to drop by during the week? I know Lona has a break from two till three, right after the partner battles end. We could tell Ted to come by in a few days, just to give him time to prepare. But it can’t be on a Friday. She takes those off.”

“That works,” Michael said. He thought for a moment, then began to write, sketching his letters carefully to accommodate a new style. He even held his pen like Lona did—slanted slightly, so that the letters were bent to the right. When he was done, he dusted the paper off and handed it to Leroy.

“‘Come by from 1:00 to 3:00. I think it’s time we introduced ourselves.’” Leroy nodded. Yeah, that sounds sorta like what Lona would say.” He passed the paper to Henry. “What do you think? Does it look like her writing?”

Henry held the paper out at arm’s length. “Wow, it does! How do you do it, Michael?”

Michael bowed his head. “Years of experience.”

“Heh. That’s pretty cool.” Leroy chuckled. “Now we gotta deliver it to Ted.” He started for the door, but stopped when he noticed Henry’s questioning look.

“But wait,” Henry said. “What about your shift?”

Leroy looked back at the deserted counter, and after a second of debate, flicked his hand. “I’ll say I was in the bathroom.”

Michael grinned. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”

Leroy paperclipped the business card and the note together, and pointed gallantly towards the front doors. “Let’s go!”


The boys ran laughing into the fading afternoon.





//////



By the time they reached Ted’s house, the heat of the day had settled, and the trees were rustling in a light breeze. People strolled about the neighborhood, some with pokémon on leashes, others flitting by on bicycles, voices and laughter permeating the air.

As always, the Move Tutor’s house stood still and quiet, secluded by a tiny border of shrubs. Michael stood looking at it for a while, then approached the old mailbox beside the road and slipped the note inside.

“Well, that’s it.” He looked back at the other boys, who were standing side-by-side behind him. Henry, who had been resolute in the moments prior, seemed struck by a brief hesitancy.

“That’s it? Do you think Ted’ll notice?”

Michael shrugged. “Sure. The next time he goes to check his mail, he’ll see it.”

“No, I meant, are you sure that’s all we have to do? Maybe a note’s not enough... Or maybe he’ll read it wrong or something.”

Now it was Michael’s turn to give Henry an odd look. “Who’s the expert here?”

The boy giggled. “Fine. I’ll stop talking.”

With that, the trio turned to leave. Michael gave the house a final glance back, then let it slip away behind him, vanishing into its pocket of silence in the distance. He thought of Ted again, who had once seemed so strange, then turned out to be just a regular guy like everyone else. Whatever came out of their little plan, he reasoned, would not be up to them. But even so, the thought of it gave him a strange contentment. Maybe Ted deserved it.

The boys passed out of the neighborhood in silence, walking in a straight line across the breadth of the sidewalk. Henry was caught in between the two taller boys, his back perfectly straight, taking tiny steps to keep up. Leroy veered to the left every so often to accommodate him. Michael, who walked alongside the road, kept a loosened stance, one thumb unconsciously hanging from the edge of his pocket. As he walked, he looked up at the sky, which seemed vast and tired, drooping near the half-closed sun on the horizon.

“Well, that’s it for this place,” he mumbled.

“Yeah…” came Henry’s echo. “One more day, and we’re done. I still can’t believe it.”

Leroy looked askance. “You guys are battling her tomorrow?”

They both nodded.

“Mm. Well, good luck. I know you’ll both win of course, so it’s not like you’ll need it.” He sighed. “As for me, I’ll probably be getting a move on too, soon. I’ll stay for another two weeks or so, but then I’ll head out. New places, new pokémon. That sort of stuff.”

Henry lowered his chin. “It stinks that we probably won’t ever see each other again after this.”

This thought had occurred to Michael before, though now, its return brought him a slight unsettlement. He nodded his agreement.

“Well, maybe we’ll meet up again somewhere,” Leroy said. “I doubt I’ll go as far as Pastoria, though. I’ll probably go north to Celestic then swing back over to Hearthome. I have to be back in Sandgem by July 12th to report my results to the professor. There’s gonna be this huge gathering of all the camp members, and once they review everyone’s entries, they’ll announce the winner.”

“Why did you do that camp anyway?” Henry asked. “Are you into research or something?”

Leroy shrugged. “I guess it’s just what I got into first. I was never that competitive, so the League didn’t seem all that interesting to me. And at any rate, the lab is like five feet from my neighborhood. It was pretty much the first place my parents thought of when signing me up for a summer activity.”

Michael smiled at the odd twist of fate. “That’s not so far from my pad,” he said. “I live in Jubilife.”

Henry feigned a sigh. “I feel all alone. I live in Floaroma!”

The boys shared a laugh.

They talked intermittently for the next several minutes, sharing stories of their hometowns, and travels around the country. Though Leroy’s and Henry’s lives seemed worlds apart from his, Michael appreciated for the first time how similar the three of them were.

Soon, above the line of trees that bordered the road, the gleaming roof of the hotel popped into view against the skyline.

“Well, at any rate, I guess it’s good to leave on a good note,” Leroy continued. He looked at the other two, and a slight jest crept into his voice. “Who knows—maybe meeting Ted will magically turn Lona nice. That’ll make it easier for a lot of people after we’re gone.”

Henry smiled. “Yeah, that’s for sure…”


But Michael had long since zoned out of the conversation. His friends’ words were lost in the fleeting landscape, scattered by the faint rush of wind, the hum of passing cars. Colors and sounds which had once been so distinct to him now swam before his eyes in a muddled blur, and he looked upon the town with a parting satisfaction, ready to forget it all and move on.
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