Thread: [Pokémon] ROOTS // Professorfic
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Old February 8th, 2013 (03:50 PM). Edited February 22nd, 2013 by Haruka of Hoenn.
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Haruka of Hoenn
Rolling writer
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Yes.
Gender: Female
Nature: Calm
I guess it's high time this chapter passed from my scrutinous gaze to yours. xP

(*Is glad that character limit is not a problem here 8D*)

Hope you like it!



3.3

By next morning, the sheet of storm clouds that hung over Pastoria City had cleared, bathing the steel-clad urban center in sunlight.


Down below, beneath the towering buildings, the roads were abuzz with chatter and wails of fleeting cars. The usual morning crowds moved like rivers down the sidewalks, filling the streets with flocks of moving color. That day, there was an unusual concentration of people near the center of town, all of whom seemed to be held up in their travels, crowded on walkways or backed-up on slow-moving roads. A major avenue had been closed off from public access, initiating the jam, forcing commuters to reroute along a complicated network of detours. Nevertheless, the crowd of pedestrians seemed unwilling to stir from the vicinity, their motions hushed, their rapid voices exchanging tones of interest and awe. For, just a short while earlier, the city had paid host to some unexpected visitors, word of whom was hot upon the cool morning wind.

A few hours past dawn, a procession of black cars had departed from the airport and began to snake through the main roads of the city, stirring up a tide of curious gazes in its wake. The cars were all sleek and identical, their windows specially darkened so that no one could see who was inside. As if by instinct, the Pastorians parted rank for them, gliding their vehicles to the side of the roadways to let the newcomers pass. Wherever the black line went, the stares of the people followed, some who went as far as to stop and watch as the cars cruised by—all sleek bumpers and stainless frames that shone with a pristine gleam, like spaceships that had descended from an alien planet. Gradually, they were joined by several police cars who flanked them on either end, throwing up a barrier of silent flashing lights.

In this fashion, the cars proceeded through the city, remaining the center of attention for a whole ten minutes. In that time, teams of workers set up signs and traffic cones, clearing all the roadways that the procession would cross. The Pastorians all watched from a distance, hanging in curious silence, before the cars made an abrupt turn and vanished down an obscure road of trees.




By then, the whole city was talking.




Over by the suburbs, which were immersed in relative quiet, the news hadn’t yet broken. With the city-wide networks still stirring themselves awake, the story of the mysterious black cars was still confined to the spoken word. Nevertheless, there was a certain energy in the air, which though some inexplicable means had permeated the entire city, giving the summer day a curious thrill.







Upon waking that morning in his hotel room, Michael was briefly disoriented by his new surroundings. Everything was polished clean, wiped of all traces of previous inhabitants, leaving minimalistic decorations and empty cabinets. Though the layout of the hotels didn’t change much from town to town, the rooms varied slightly to match each town’s individual theme. The Pastoria hotel was dominated by green and wood, with elegantly-carved bookshelves and gently swaying curtains. The light that sifted through the windows was bright and soft, bringing a shine to the walls.

That previous evening, he and Henry had scattered their things without much thought, leaving their half-emptied backpacks slumped together by the beds. The hotel had admitted them without delay, and had even given Bertha the room next to theirs when they found out that she was a fellow Gym leader. After throwing off their unneeded weight, the three of them had proceeded immediately to get dinner, for they were too hungry and too tired to think about anything else.

Unlike its predecessors, the Pastoria Trainer hotel was not cramped in the middle of a busy street. Rather, as their chauffeur from the previous day had promised, it was located on a plot of land all to itself—along with the Gym, a Pokémon Center, and a PokéMart, which together provided all the necessities of a trainer’s existence. The four buildings were spaced apart in a large arc, fenced by lampposts and paved with sidewalks, forming a scenic courtyard that resembled a city square. Trainers strolled about in their colorful attire, in groups with their friends and pokémon, sporting varying degrees of League spirit and gadgetry. Many wild pokémon had made their homes here as well, like the Shinx who scurried between flowering bushes, or the Starlies whose heads poked out of nearby trees. Apart from the four main League buildings, there were other, smaller huts positioned in between, serving various purposes from snack bars to trading houses, and even conventional souvenir shops. Much like on the Valor Lakefront, the buildings all had similar color schemes that matched the surrounding environment—dark, wood-patterned walls, and gray roofs.

When Michael had arrived at the plaza the previous evening, he had made little out of the shadows that stood beyond their little island of light, which in itself had been difficult to absorb at first. But upon stepping outside that morning, he saw that they were surrounded by nature on all sides, which provided a startlingly empty backdrop that was breathtaking in its beauty. Beyond the border of the buildings, the paved square terminated for what looked like miles of grassy land, which rolled out in large, blunt hills towards a horizon of forest. Huts and picnic tables dotted the vicinity, where Michael could see trainers congregating, playing and battling like kids at recess hour. To the west was the main road, which snaked like a lone river all the way to the city, splitting off here and there for a smaller bus route. Even from here, Michael could make out the buildings that stood in the city center, which loomed like pillars in the distant haze.


But what was clearly the plaza’s focal point of interest, and also the most uniquely designed of its neighbors, was the Gym. It consisted of a main office building, behind which stood a large complex of battle rooms, whose roofs were conjoined in a pattern that reminded Michael of choppy waves. There were several other buildings that were fenced within the property, which from bits of conversation the previous day, Michael gathered had survived from the Gym’s days as a public battling house. Now, they had been converted to other purposes, ranging from healing rooms to multifunctional studios, which were often rented out to local clubs or gatherings. As he soon discovered, the Gym was visited even by average city-dwellers, to whom it was an integral part of Pastorian life, and evidently a hotspot for news and activities.

The lobby of the Gym consisted of a reception desk, and a side lounge where trainers sat and socialized. There was a game area, where people played pool and cards, as well as a bookshelf, and a rack for newspapers and magazines on various subjects. A large bulletin board dominated the wall, tacked several times over with clippings of all sorts, many pertaining to local topics and events. Staff members roamed freely about the lobby, occupied by miscellaneous errands, and used the counter only as a home base for stapling papers or making phone calls.

All in all, it resembled more of a community center than a Gym, and looking around, Michael saw none of the ads or commercial gadgetry that cluttered most other League establishments. On the rare occasion that he did see some sort of reference to the League, it somehow blended so well with the background that it was almost nonchalant—seeming just like a part of everyday business.

Bertha’s eyes searched the room for a face that didn’t look busy, and finally she approached a tall, red-haired woman who had stopped by the front desk to grab a box of paper clips. Bertha introduced herself, and after a brief conversation, the staff lady welcomed them all, and led them through the lounge to a back door. She opened it to reveal a small room with typewriters and file cabinets, where she introduced them to the woman who was standing inside, busily removing paper from a mimeograph copying machine.

Marie Wickham looked just as she did in her picture. The same smile was there, along with the smooth, daintily cared-for curls that formed a soft gray halo around her head. She was one of those middle-aged ladies who, rather than spending their time trying to look young, embraced her years with feminine flair, and displayed a classy, snappy character that could only be possessed by someone of her experience. She dressed in calm, simple hues, though she often liked to add something extra to give her outfit an unexpected turn. Today, it took the form of a large jeweled clip, resembling a blue flower, which gleamed like a shock of water against her plain blazer.

Upon their first meeting, Michael immediately caught on to her second peculiarity, for before Bertha could do so much as make a sound, Marie was already shaking her hand.

“No need to explain anything to me!” she said. “I’ve heard it all from Jerry Bradford! Fine fellow, that he is, always knows everything about everyone. I bet he has dossiers on all of us in those cabinets of his, what with all the connections he has… And you! I’ve waited months to meet you! Who would’ve thought, the Gym leader of Eterna Town suddenly rises up and manages to do something that the rest of us have been thinking about doing for years? Well, some of us at least. Can’t say I’ve heard too much from the folks in Canalave or Sunyshore. I know Harvey’s still doing his thing in Canalave, but I don’t know about the new guy they brought over to the electric Gym. Apparently he came in last year—well, who knew?” Marie gave a shrug. “Shame how slowly word spreads. I bet if they put all eight of us in a room together, we wouldn’t even recognize each other. Harvey I know. Mr. Bradford—well, he knows everyone, so naturally we’ve talked! I know Miss Walker, and I’ve met her mother. But beyond that, it’s just names and locations. Why, I didn’t even know the Gym leader of Eterna—and now I see a beautiful young lady standing in front of me! By the way, I’m terribly sorry about what happened. Why if it were my town those Galactics tried to invade, I’d march right in and burn that factory down myself! Forget finding a diplomatic solution; I’d be angry! But did you let that stop you? No—you moved forward! You took the incentive for all of us! I’m proud!” She clapped her hands together. Bertha, who had been poised for a professional discussion only moments ago, was left with a sheepish smile.

Marie quickly stepped away from the mimeograph and handed the attendant a stack of pink fliers that she had just finished printing. “Lace, I need you to hang some of these around the place; just a few around the battle and healing rooms will do. The rest we’ll save for the PokeMart and the hotel.”

The woman nodded and swiftly departed on her assignment. Marie quickly finished up what she had been doing before, taking several folders from a table and clutching them in her arm. Then, she turned back to Bertha. “We’re starting a two-week promotion for the Great Marsh,” she said. “This June is our Gym’s 100th anniversary, and I decided it would be nice to give the kids an incentive to do something educational. Just a little discount, you know, nothing major. But how about that? A hundred years. It just blows your mind, doesn’t it?”

Bertha nodded. “It does.”

Marie gave a chuckle. “Of course, I wasn’t the only leader here for those hundred years, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been here long enough to know what’s going on. I was born and raised right here in the city, and I finished the Sunyshore Biotechnical Academy in 1939. I was an avid trainer back then—I went to those battle houses and conventions at every chance I got—but I never thought about turning it into a serious career until years later. League reformed in, what was it, ‘52? By then, I had become one of the regulars at the Pastoria Battling Club, so when they announced that they were looking for a single leader to head the new Gym, I applied.” She smiled. “If you had seen the state of it in those last years, you would’ve been appalled. Building was practically in ruins. Hardly anyone came anymore, so its leaders saw no need to renovate it. The ones who did come just used the place to their own benefit, not cleaning up or taking care of it. The government saved it, literally, from collapse. They brought in their own people, did their money-magic… and it was like heaven reborn. But at the same time, I won’t deny that they introduced their own, shall we say, diseases.” At this last word, she perked an eyebrow matter-of-factly, and Bertha nodded in understanding. Right then, Marie seemed to notice the boys who were standing behind Bertha’s shoulder, and tilted her head over to look at them. “Ah, I see you’ve brought me some fresh talent for molding. Splendid! I’m afraid I don’t take bribes, but I appreciate the offer. Heh!” She smiled at the joke, and stepped over to the boys. “What are your names?”

“Michael.”

“Henry.”

Marie beamed. “Splendid! You’ll be my special trainers, then. I’m not going to give you that whole League speech, as I’m sure you’ve had it drilled into your heads hundreds of times before. I’ll just cut to the chase. You want a battle? You’ll get it! But first I want to make sure you prepare. What I do is I have all my trainers battle one of my staff first, then come back whenever they feel they’re ready, and battle me. If you win, you get the badge. If not, you can try again. Deal?”

The boys nodded.

“Great! Now, you’re encouraged to battle on your own as much as possible. We have free battle rooms at the Gym where you can practice with anyone you’d like—excluding me, of course. I don’t know about the battle rooms at those hotels, though. They keep changing their policies. Some of them are for pay, others no; it’s a mess. The League just can’t make up its mind, can it? Why if I were a trainer now, instead of a hundred years ago, I’d love for my Gym to provide me with free battle room. But for some reason, people today think that just because something’s for pay, it’s automatically better than what’s for free. I don’t get it.” She shook her head. “Now. You boys can pop by for your preliminary battles tomorrow. There’s no sign-up involved—just come up to the front desk, give them your trainers cards, and they’ll pair you up with someone. After that, you stay as long as you have to! If it takes you a week to prepare for me, so be it. If it takes you a day, that’s fine too. But by now, I hope you know what works for you and what doesn’t. The Gym before mine should’ve given you plenty of an idea of how the last four leaders do business. We don’t kid around.” She winked. Michael and Henry nodded in response, and Marie turned to look at Bertha.

“Now! You must have come here to get my signature. Consider it yours! I’ll get a letter typed up right away. But just for informational purposes, I’d like to read over your document. That we can do right now, since I see you’ve done a wonderful job of coming prepared. And if there’s ever anything else you need, you can drop by my office whenever’s convenient for you. Nine times out of ten, I’ll be there. I know it isn’t the most comfortable feeling to face a closed door, but don’t worry, I don’t bite! I get lots of people, especially younger trainers, poking their heads in with those giant eyes, like they’re scared to death, and I tell them every time—there’s no need! Barge right on in! The worst thing that’ll happen is that I won’t be in and then you’ll have to come back later.”

Bertha nodded. “That’s wonderful. I have everything we need right here.” She tapped her briefcase.

“Good,” said Marie. “Now if you’ll just wait a bit, I’ll get some tea for us and we can begin…” She stepped through the doorway towards the lounge. Bertha and the boys followed her as she turned into a small snack area, complete with tables and a half-emptied buffet. Marie went to a small kitchen in the back and a minute later, came out with a tray and two hot cups of tea.

“You boys can run along; this may take a while,” Marie said to Michael and Henry. “Unless, of course, you’d rather listen to two Gym leaders exchange League jargon for two hours, in which case you’re more than welcome to stay!” She chuckled.

Before Henry had the chance to respond, Michael took a step towards the door. “Actually, we’ll be going,” he said. “We have lots of practicing to do.”

“All right then. See you soon!” Marie smiled, and walked off. Bertha went after her, and gave the boys a quick glance before she departed.

“I’ll see you two back at the hotel, okay? Stick together!”

Henry nodded. “Right."

With that, Bertha turned away, and the two women disappeared into the lounge. Michael and Henry wandered around the main building for a bit, checking out its various rooms, then gradually their interests spilled out onto the square, where they spent the rest of the morning exploring its various attractions. Michael kept careful tabs on the time throughout, allowing only one thought to dominate his mind: when he would get himself over to the Great Marsh, and how. But the answer was slow in the coming, and every hour that tolled on the plaza’s outdoor clock reminded him of the fast-approaching meeting.

After a quick lunch, they visited the souvenir shop, where Henry busied himself with the section of trainer gear, and Michael, still unsure of where to begin his search, plucked a handful of maps from a rack beside the wall.

He unrolled a full map of Pastoria City, and found—to his dismay—that it was enormous. There was the downtown, which formed the largest part of the city, consisting of an intricate network of roads and subway routes that wound through and about each other like veins. The Great Marsh was a dark green splotch located along the upper border of the town, its tendrils reaching as far as the suburbs. The public entrance was marked a little ways into the downtown, where from a tiny red dot Michael deduced that there was a subway station close by, probably specialized for quick access from the city.

Easy, he thought. All I have to do is get to the nearest subway station and go from there.

His finger traced the rail pathways, which snaked and split in every possible direction, often meeting at large points of activity, such as the station by the city center. Smaller stations were colored white, dotting the map’s face like freckles. Finally, his eyes locked on the ones that appeared closest to the Gym. It was placed at the tip of a branch that extended all the way out from the downtown, like a lone strand that had broken free of the web. The station was located beside a suburban shopping center, which was only a few miles away.

Being a Jubilive native, Michael was fully prepared to walk the distance, but he stopped himself when he realized how strange it would look if he, a lone hitchhiker who was supposed to have everything he needed right here, suddenly set off down the road in a wayward direction. He would have to find a bus.


“Hey, Michael!”


A sudden voice tore him out of his concentration. Michael turned, and saw Henry approach him with a pokéball belt clipped around his waist.

“Do you think this looks good? I think it’ll make switching pokémon easier.” The boy lifted his arms and turned around in a circle, displaying a series of claw-like latches that protruded like spider’s legs from the metal contraption.

“It looks fine,” Michael said, and returned to his reading. A state of deep thought immediately overcame him, for he realized that he would also have to do everything without Henry noticing. But with Bertha gone, the two of them were essentially left alone for the whole day, which meant that he and Henry would once more have to roam around together, with nothing to rely on but the company of the other. Normally Michael wouldn’t have minded, but now, all of a sudden, the boy’s presence seemed like a cinderblock chained to his ankle. He would need some sort of distraction to keep Henry busy, or at least a cover explanation for his solitary departure.

Michael began to think of excuses, which ranged from simple to bizarre, like stating that it was Bertha’s birthday and going on an impromptu shopping journey to buy her a present. He continued to scan the map in the meantime, and when a moment later his eyes locked on a large marker in the downtown area, and he realized that there could be a much, much simpler way of doing things.

After formulating the outline of his plan, Michael rolled up the map with a smile, and went to find Henry. The boy was standing in front of a full-length mirror and examining the utility belt from various angles. Michael tapped him on the shoulder with the tube of paper.

“If you’re gonna buy it, buy it. I have to go somewhere.”

Henry turned around with a questioning look. “Huh? What do you mean?”

Michael unfurled the map and pointed to the location he had memorized. “See that? That’s the Museum of Pokémon Training. I just found out about it—this city has a whole museum dedicated to the League and Gyms and stuff, and they say it’s the biggest collection in the world.”

Henry’s eyes widened. “Whoa… really? Why didn’t anyone tell us that before? We should go see it!”

Michael nodded. “Yeah, but I’m thinking about Bertha too. I think she needs a day off, honestly. She’s been so busy with her petition lately that she probably forgot how to have fun. I think we should take her to the museum for a day. She’s a Gym leader and everything, so I’m sure she’ll like it. And it would be a lot better for her to go with the both of us than to go alone, right?”

“I guess.”

“Right. So, here’s what I’m thinking. We should give her a little surprise. While she’s talking with Marie, I’m gonna take the subway really quick and get us passes to visit tonight.”

Henry frowned. “But what about me?”

“Your job’s important. You’re gonna stay here and cover for me in case she comes back early.”

Henry put his hands on his hips and cast his gaze to the ceiling, as he often did when thinking something over. “I don’t know… Wouldn’t it be better if the both of us went to the museum? What if you get lost?”

Michael let out a laugh. “Cat, you have no idea who you’re talking to. I come from Jubilife. People there take the subway more often than walking. I’ll be fine. Plus, what if Bertha comes back before we do? She’ll get worried, and it’ll take away from the surprise if she’s mad at us. Just hang around here, and when she comes back, tell her that we have a present for her and I’ve gone off to get it. It’ll be two hours, tops.”

Henry let out a slow breath. “Well, if you say so.” He looked down at his belt. “Anyway, I think I’ll buy it. It’ll be a big help later on.”

Michael nodded, already backing away towards the door. “All right, whatever you say. Be back in a bit.” Before Henry could reply, he bolted out of the store.


Michael ran back to the hotel and quickly got himself ready. changing into a more tidy, suitable outfit and emptying his backpack of the clutter it had accumulated during his travels. He kept only his wallet, notebook, and badges. This would be his first rendezvous with a girl in three months, and the fact that he didn’t yet know Shella personally made it all the more important to be presentable. He ran a comb through his hair before leaving, and after taking a single deep breath, stepped out of the hotel room.

With the map in hand, Michael left the Gym plaza and walked down the road till he reached a nearby bus station. He waited there with his backpack resting on his knees, and minutes later, boarded a bus that took him into the throes of downtown.

The city was teeming, enormous. As always, Michael was taken aback by the dynamics of the unfamiliar city, and gazed intently out the window at the buildings that fled by. The bus shook and snorted like a stirring beast, passing from cramped alleyways to sudden, glorious prospects, which seemed to embrace the whole scope of the earth, strewn with people from every possible direction. Every few minutes, they stopped to let new passengers board, who carried shopping bags and books, baskets and briefcases. Every time they made a stop, Michael hastened to grab a seat in front of him, so that he would be as close as possible to the door when he reached his stop.

Finally, the bus screeched to a halt beside a subway station, and Michael stepped out into the bustling crowds. He pushed his way through the doors to the building, and found himself in the midst of the afternoon rush-hour. People carried shopping bags, waving tickets and coins in the air, passing through beeping machines on their way up and down the escalators. Michael purchased several tokens and found his way to his platform, after which he spent the next half hour leaning against the shaky walls of subway trains, staring at lights that flitted through the darkness, working through a seemingly endless web of routes to find his way to the Great Marsh.

After what seemed like hours of coming and going, of passing through one swishing door after another while the intercom blared its voice into his sore ears, Michael’s eyes locked on the sign that he had been looking for—Marshland.

He emerged from the station, and found himself on a relatively empty street, with sparse, low-lying buildings and fewer cars. Beneath the open sky, Michael could see an enormous white structure stand out immediately in front of him, located in a secluded area before a large, grassy courtyard. There was ample space for people to roam, dotted with benches and picnic tables.

Michael crossed the street, feeling his breath quicken as he neared the Marsh complex. Inside, the lobby was tall and spacious. A staircase led to a small observation deck, where people stood before a large window, looking through binoculars to see what was going on on the other side. Michael scanned the lobby several times, and was stricken by a momentary panic, thinking he had been stood up. But no… Searching again, his gaze met with that of a blonde girl’s, who stood by the balcony in a breezy pink dress. Shella’s hair was down again, but this time she had adorned it with a glittering clip that resembled a butterfly. She gave him a smile, then descended down the stairs, turning in his direction.

“Hi Michael.”

Michael lifted his hand in return. “Hey.”

Shella looked even more stunning than before. Her dress was frilly and youthful, and toned down their age difference by a slight degree. She wore a white cardigan that complimented her amber eyes, dusted with glitter that shone faintly in the light.

“You look nice,” he complimented.

Shella smiled. “Thanks. You do too.” Her gaze lingered on his for a moment, then trailed over to the counter. “The staff said there was a fee for groups... I can pitch in if you want. Or we could split the cost.”

“I’ll figure it out,” Michael said. He turned to the counter, where he hailed one of the available attendants and leaned over to speak. “Hey. What’s the price for two here?”

The man pointed to a massive chart on the wall behind him. “Thirty per person.”

Michael felt himself pale. “Thirty?”

The man lifted an eyebrow, not without a trace of humor. “We feature an exclusive selection of pokémon that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Their habitat has remained untouched by human hands since the day they were dropped onto the good green Earth. I think thirty is quite a reasonable stopping point.” He gave an apologetic shrug. But right then, he seemed to notice something, and creased his forehead in a frown. “Hang on… Are you a trainer?”

Michael nodded. “Yeah.”

“Oh! My bad. Sorry.” The man shook his head and ducked down behind the counter, coming up moments later with a small laminated card. “We’re currently running a special promotion, in addition to our regular discount for trainers, as a courtesy of Mrs. Wickham for the Gym’s 100th anniversary. So right now our price for you would be ten dollars.”

Michael felt a flood of relief.

“Just give me your trainer card, and I’ll run it through the scanner.”

Elated, Michael began to dig through his backpack. Shella approached as he gave his trainer card to the attendant.

“Is she a trainer too?” the man asked.

Shella smiled. “Nope.”

“Well, all right, then your total for this evening will be forty…” The man swiveled his chair to a table behind him, where a bulky machine stood on a wooden table. He pressed a sequence of buttons, then inserted the trainer card into the slot of the scanner, which began to beep as it processed the input.

Beside him, Michael felt Shella nudge him by the elbow. “Don’t worry, I can pay for myself,” she said.

Michael nodded, still unable to believe his luck. He looked back at the man, who was still working with the scanner, rubbing his chin.

“So… is it done?” Michael asked.

“Hold on a sec,” the attendant replied. The card came back out of the slot he had slid it into, and despite his efforts to repeat the scan, the machine didn’t appear willing to respond. “Hmm… this doesn’t seem to be working.”

Michael stepped forward. “Why not? What’s wrong?”

The man turned around and placed the card onto the counter. “Your I.D. isn’t going through for some reason.”

Michael took the proffered card, feeling his shoulders sink. “But you know it’s a trainer card,” he said. “Isn’t that proof enough?”

The man gave a faint smile. “No. Unfortunately, it’s League policy. Can’t do anything about it. The promotion’s a one-time thing, and the card has to be scanned to they can record your visit and make sure you’re not abusing the privilege. It’s this new system the League’s trying out. It’s the oddest thing—they’ve found a way to use magnets to scan cards. All the new trainer cards have magnetized strips, which the scanner senses, and decodes some sort of pattern that’s unique to yours. So this way, the visit can get associated with your name. And once that happens, you’re given credit towards a trainer card upgrade. I know, it blows my mind too. At the rate we’re going, we’ll probably wake up tomorrow and find out that they’ve found a way to make cars fly.” The man began to chuckle.

Michael stared at him in disbelief. From the onset of those spare few words, he felt the gates of light which had pulled open before him suddenly slam closed, right in his face, trapping him on all sides in the darkness. He was gripped by an irrational panic, which only intensified as he tried to reason his way out.

“But… why wouldn’t my trainer card work?” Michael said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It has a black bar and a code and everything, just like everyone else’s. There can’t be anything wrong.” In desperation, he began to turn it over in his hands, scrutinizing the surface for the slightest crack or scrape.

But the man behind the counter only shrugged. “It might be a problem with the scanner. We just got this thing a month ago. It hasn’t broken down yet, but given that it was only built for a trial run, it could be a little glitchy. Sorry, again, but it’s like I said… I can’t do anything if the card doesn’t go through.”

Fighting the futility of his position, Michael was about to voice another protest, when he felt a cool hand touch his atm. “It’s fine,” Shella cut in, stepping up to the clerk. “I’ll pay.” She unzipped her handbag and took out a clump of bills. Michael hastily pitched in, and they ended up splitting the sum thirty-thirty.

Satisfied, the clerk tore out two tickets from a large roll and handed them over. “All right then. Entrance is over there, down the hallway. There are guides stationed at several points along the trail. Stick to the path and ask them if you need any help or information. Have a good time!”

Ignoring the clerk’s cheery wave, Michael and Shella turned towards the exit and stepped outside. A rush of cool evening air escaped through the doors, enveloping Michael in silent darkness. They were walking down a spacious boardwalk, elevated a short height from the ground, where the crowns of trees clumped like bushes beyond the railing. The sky was dim and clear, hued with the colors of the sunset, providing what Michael would normally have appreciated as a romantic backdrop. But he had gotten off to a clumsy start, and could still feel a twinge of unsettlement as they walked away from the building.

As if reading his thoughts, Shella cast her gaze down at him and smiled. “Don’t worry about the card. I’m sure it’s nothing. I was going to pay for myself anyway.”

After a moment, Michael let out a breath. “It’s all right.”

They continued down the boardwalk, which eventually led them into a dense forest that enveloped them in silence. The sky was partially blocked from view by the trees, and stood out here and there in colorful patches. There were no signs of marshlands yet, and when Michael looked down over the railing, all he could see was soggy underbrush, matted with dark grass and cut through by an occasional stream. He tried to see past the trunks into the depths of the forest, but could discern only vague shapes and colors. Shella’s eyes eagerly swept the landscape, shifting first from the wood of the railing, to the rough bark on the trees, then to the veil of branches that arched overhead.

“This place is beautiful…” she said. “The air is so clean. It’s just what I imagined Sinnoh to be like. Calm and quiet... The cities are nice, but really, they’re not much different from cities in Hoenn. My dad always said that a building’s a building no matter what side of the globe you’re on. But nature always changes, wherever you go.”

Michael gave a chuckle. “Not much I can say about that… I never traveled much.”

“Before you joined the League?”

“Yeah.”

Shella nodded. “Mmm… So is that why you joined? You wanted to travel?”

“Yeah, something like that.” Michael looked down at his shoes. “But there’s nothing special about it. Your surroundings change, but deep down everything’s still the same. People. The world.”

Shella smiled in agreement. Above them, a Starly took off from its perch, and an Aipom scurried up a branch.

“I understand that. I always thought that going abroad would change everything, but really, it didn’t. You’d think that by leaving home you’d forget everything you left behind, but the more time I spend away, the more I keep being reminded of places I already know. But Sinnoh has a lot of its own things that I like… The pokémon, of course, are adorable.” After a moment, Shella turned to him. “You’re close to them, aren’t you?”

“To who?”

“Your pokémon. I can tell that you are… being a trainer and all. I like that. I like people who are more relaxed when it comes to those things. I think it’s the more natural way to go.” A playful smile crossed Shella’s face. “A lot of people I know hate to go near them. Once, a Zigzagoon tried to crawl up my friend’s shoulder. We were hanging out in the park, and we brought some food to have a picnic. I guess that poor little guy just wanted a bite of something, but the minute my friend saw it, she went crazy. She screamed, then tried to flick it off, and it was a mess.” She giggled.

Michael frowned. “So… what’s it like in Hoenn?” he said. “I’m just curious. If you guys have everything that we do, pretty much, then what makes it so different from this place?”

Shella tilted her head to the side. “It’s hard to explain. I guess we just always put our own Hoenn spin on things. People are more laid-back overall, and the news focuses a lot on things like society and nature, not just cover stories. There’s even this legend that Hoenn formed long ago when two ancient pokémon, of the land and of the sea, were quarreling. Then a third pokémon, the pokémon of the sky, came down and put an end to it. And so, instead of being all land or all sea, Hoenn’s half and half. We’ve got towns like Lavaridge by Mt. Chimney, and Mossdeep City, which is right in the middle of the ocean. From what I’ve seen, cities there are more spread-out than Sinnoh’s… but of course, I can’t say I’m completely right, because I haven’t been to all of them. Come to think of it, it’s impossible unless you’re a real travel bug.”

Michael chuckled. “Well, then tell me about the places you have been to.”

“Well let’s see… I always used to go to Fallarbor Town with my family. That’s way up north, past the mountains. You have to see it to believe how pretty it is. There’s this huge dormant volcano that blows its ashes into the routes surrounding it. The grass, the trees, everything would be covered in soot. Then, the rain comes and washes it all away. Then there’s Sootopolis City. My grandparents live there, so we always used to go at least once every two years to visit them. The city’s in this huge white crater, with a giant lake in the center. There are these really deep underwater routes all around it, and people say that you can go all the way to Mossdeep through an underwater passageway. Trainers like to cross it using this technique called Dive. But personally, I think that’s a fine place to draw the line!”

“Heh. Yeah.” Michael stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Yeah… I’ve been to some pretty neat places too. Like… the Jubilife Amphitheater.”

Shella paused, still smiling. “Really?”

“Yep. And it ain’t fun and games. Once my friends and I went for a concert over the weekend. Nothing big, just some city band that was playing. We didn’t have the front row, but the auditorium is slanted, so you can see the stage from every angle. It was pretty cool. Every two years, they have a music festival where people come from all over the country to play. I’ve been to it once. It’s mostly the same bands that come, so everyone’s heard of them, and the whole crowd sings along to their music.” Michael tilted his gaze upwards. “It would’ve been sweet if some big, popular band came to visit, though. People come all the time to Jubilife, but I’ve never been to one of those really big events.”

“Neither have I,” Shella said. “I don’t know how it is in Sinnoh, but in Hoenn, the concerts are a mess. There’s no seating in a lot of the theaters, and sometimes the crowds are so big that it’s hard to even hear the music. But I think it would be fun just to go… just to be a part of something that could be historical twenty years from now.”

“Yeah..."

They walked on, and as they did they kept talking. As the daylight began to dim, rows of lampposts that lined the boardwalk suddenly lit up, illuminating the path with an orange glow. By then, Michael had grown accustomed to Shella’s presence by his side. He no longer felt cautious around her like before, having to carefully process his words before saying them in the hopes of impressing her. He simply said whatever was on his mind, and to his surprise, found that she was doing the same.

During the span of time that they were together, they shared miscellaneous stories and information, by which they gleaned hazy pictures of each other’s lives. Michael glossed over the usual, his home and his friends, but occasionally found himself venturing into things he rarely pondered about, like school and hobbies. He told her about his former passion for sports, which had eventually given way to academics due to pressures from his mother. But he found that he had adapted to it quite well, and wouldn’t have wanted to risk it by trying to get through the system relying solely on athletics.

In return, Shella told him more about her own life. She had spent most of her childhood in Mauville City, and had moved only recently to Slateport after her father had switched jobs. The move had been hard on her, since she had left behind everyone she knew in the process, but a short while later she gained a friend who had helped her along, and with whom she was still very close.

Visiting Sinnoh had been a long-time dream of hers, but upon arriving, Shella had been caught off-guard by the country’s complexity. Whereas, in her view, Hoenners were more open and cheery, Sinnoh imposed a stoic presence, majestic yet unknowable, which made it hard to adjust for someone who was used to living simply. For all his help in pointing the way, Shella’s cousin was limited in options, and couldn’t stray far from Jubilife to accompany her in travel. Shella had been so eager to visit Pastoria that she had gone alone, which in retrospect, she humorously regretted. Despite her calm, collected appearance, Michael discovered that she felt just as uncertain as he did sometimes, questioning her actions and wondering whether she was really in the place where she belonged. In that sense, he could identify with her.

In this manner of conversation, they strolled well past dark, sometimes passing through areas so dense with trees that they could distinguish their surroundings only by the flickering glow of the lanterns. Other times, they reached areas of relative emptiness, where flat lands overgrown with grass stretched out to the horizon, strewn with pools of water that mirrored the moonlit sky. They often crossed paths with other people who were strolling along the boardwalk, their faces blurred by the darkness, their voices hushed so as not to disturb the marsh’s serenity. The wild pokémon weren’t as courteous. Wild Croagunk scampered through the bushes, the sounds of their tittering rising above the rustle of leaves. The breeze whistled with the flute-like melody of Kricketune, which Michael often saw taking shelter in the trees. He saw Noctowls hanging upside-down from branches, and Carnivines peering out from the darkness with their reddened eyes.

He and Shella didn’t adhere to any particular trail. Every time they saw a signpost indicating a new area, they followed it, enjoying the surprises it brought. At a certain point, they stopped to rest, leaning over the railing to observe the goings-on down below. The zone they had reached was lit by lanterns from the ground, and was etched with walkways made to accommodate people. The observation deck of the main building was in sight up ahead, its giant windows glowing white.

Faded bits of conversation rose up from below. Michael peered over the railing, and saw three figures separate themselves from the darkness, their forms growing steadily pronounced as they advanced through the underbrush. One of them was a Marsh staff, distinguished by his green-and-black uniform. The other was a light-haired woman, and the third, a young trainer. Michael watched them idly as they stopped before a gate that closed off a section of tall grass, just a short distance from the elevated boardwalk where he and Shella were standing. The trainer’s face emerged into the light of the lanterns, and with a jolt, Michael recognized Henry. He blinked again, and saw that it was indeed the boy—his tote bag was hanging dutifully at his side, and his hat was clutched in one hand. The woman beside him could only be Bertha, who had dressed in a more functional fashion, wearing pants and sneakers.

They stood facing the park attendant, who had evidently been explaining something to them only moments before.

“So what’s the challenge all about?” Henry piped up, glancing towards the bushes behind them.

“We start the timer, and you have ten minutes to catch a night pokémon. If you make it in five, then you get to keep what you caught. If you make it in less than three, then you get a free weekly pass to the park. But be careful—you’re not allowed to use your own pokémon to weaken them. You gotta go by your own instinct. Here are some Safari Balls.”

He brought forth a pouch of pokéballs, proffering them not to Henry, but to Bertha. She nodded in response.

“Hmm. That seems interesting. I’ll give it a shot.”

As she took the drawstring pouch, Michael felt his pulse quicken. What were they doing here? And how had they reacted to his absence? He thought back to what he had told Henry in the gift shop, and it suddenly occurred to him that he must have been gone much longer than he had anticipated. There was no telling what Henry had done in the meantime, or what Bertha had managed to make him tell.

As the three figures began to shift their places, Michael began to look around in search of a place to hide, for he couldn’t begin to imagine the mess he would have to wheedle out of if they saw him. But he remained where he was for Shella’s sake. For now, he would have to hope that neither Bertha nor Henry would be tempted to look up.

Shella seemed not to have noticed Michael’s reaction. She approached the railing, leaned her elbows against the bar, and smiled. “That looks interesting. Let’s watch.”

Michael nodded. He let his wariness pass into the back of his mind, and took the opportunity to stand next to her. They both watched as the park guide unlocked the gate and gestured for Bertha to proceed. Bertha tied the strings of the pouch around her wrist and handed Henry her purse.

“If I see anything interesting, I’ll let you know,” she said.

Beside Henry, the park guide held up a stopwatch. “On your mark!”

Henry began to clap. “Woo! Go Bertha!”

“Get set… go!”

With the speed of a lightning bolt, Bertha rushed into the underbrush and let the darkness swallow her.

Michael tried to follow her path with his gaze, but he couldn’t make out much in the darkened field. Electric lamps were dotted around the perimeter every couple yards, but their light was purposely dimmed, cloaking the tall grass in half-shadow. Occasionally, he caught glimpses of flying hair, and heard a chorus of croaks and hisses as the grass-dwelling pokémon stirred lazily from their dens. Henry began to skip around the fence, jumping on his toes in an attempt to see what was going on. But his efforts appeared to be in vain, for he soon stopped and settled to watch in place, leaning forward as far as the fence would allow.

Meanwhile, Bertha continued to run, seemingly never in the same spot twice. She combed through the entire front section, apparently finding nothing, then proceeded further in, where the grass grew denser. Twice, Michael heard the sound of an activating pokéball, but the park balls appeared to be designed in such a manner that their white glow was negated. Both attempts at capture seemed to have failed, for Bertha kept running, twisting and lunging as the object she was following tried to evade her.

“Six minutes!” called the attendant. “You have six minutes left!”

Berth’s jog grew into a frenzied run, and she drew another Safari Ball from the pouch. She fell into a sprint in the direction of the fence, one hand holding the capsule out in front of her. Finally, she threw. At the same time, Michael saw a tiny body spring from the darkness, just as the light tore into it, blotting it completely from view. The pokéball fell into the grass, and Bertha picked it up, dusting off crumbs of dirt.

“I got something,” she said, weighing the capsule in her hand. “It was small, but it sure was fast.” She met the park guide by the fence and let out a breath. “How long did I take?”

“You spent four minutes, thirty-nine seconds. Good going! That means you can keep whatever you caught.”

“Let’s see what it is then…” Bertha twisted open the capsule, and out came a tiny blue body, bouncing off the ground and landing a few feet away. Instantly, her expression twisted into a surprised sort of smile.

“It’s a Wooper! Heh. I didn’t know you had those here.” She lifted the pokémon into her arms for a closer look. Michael couldn’t see the details, but the creature seemed no bigger than his Turtwig, and had a pair of pink, branch-like antennae growing from the sides of its head.

Henry came over to Bertha’s side. “Whoa! I’ve never seen one of those before. What are they?”

“They’re Water types, if I remember right.”

“Water and Ground, actually,” the guide corrected. “Their highest period of activity is in the nighttime, when it’s coolest, and least dangerous to search for food. During the day, they like to spend time in the mud. That one’s a girl. You can tell because she has one rib branch sprouting from the main body of the antennae, not two.”

Bertha chuckled as the Wooper tried to wriggle away, reaching for her neck and shoulders with its stubby arms. Its skin must have been slimy, for when they brushed near her face, she let out a surprised yell and quickly pulled the Wooper away. Henry began to laugh. Despite the fact that the front of her shirt was now covered in splotches, Bertha managed a strained smile, and held the Wooper out to Henry.

“Do you want her, kiddo? I bet she’d be good for your team… she seems pretty upbeat.”

Henry shook his head. “No, you keep her, Bertha! You caught her. Plus, you could raise her for your Gym.”

“My Gym’s Grass,” Bertha said. “I can’t bend the rules on that one. It would’ve been great if she were half grass, at least, but I guess we can’t do anything about it now.” She frowned for a moment, then passed it off with a shrug. “Ah, but why should it matter? I’m on leave anyway… I can still raise her even if she’s not a part of my battling team. Come to think of it, three pokémon seems kind of lacking, especially since most trainers these days walk around with five or six.”

Henry smiled in satisfaction. “So I guess it’s settled.”

Bertha held the Wooper up to eye level. “I don’t know what to name you yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually. For now, enjoy your new home.” She twisted open the knob on the Safari Ball and watched the Wooper flee inside with the light.

The park attendant clapped his hands. “Well done! Now, how about a challenge for the young trainer?” He leaned over to Henry. “If you can catch a different pokémon in less than five minutes, I’ll let you keep it, plus you can earn up to one week of free visits.”

Bertha shook her head. “Sorry, but I think that’s enough for today. We came on pretty short notice, and I don’t want to be away from the Plaza for too long without having told anyone I was gone. We should be getting back to the hotel.” She looked down at Henry. “Sorry, again. If you want, I can take you boys on another day.”

Henry bit his lip. “Okay. Sure.”

With that, the three of them turned for the main building. As their figures grew smaller down the path, Shella leaned forward in evident interest. “That woman’s a Gym leader?”

Michael nodded.

“That means you must’ve battled her, right?” Shella turned to him. “Or is she the Gym leader here, in Pastoria?”

“No, she’s the Gym leader in Eterna. I’ve battled her.” Michael paused. “Strange I’d see her here…”

Shella shrugged. “Well, I guess the marsh must be a popular tourist spot.” She smiled, and with a casual turn, stepped away from the railing. “Come on, Michael. We should get going. I don’t think we’ve seen Areas Six and Seven yet, and it’s getting dark.”

Michael responded after a brief pause. “Right.” He picked up his pace to catch up with her, and together they moved on.

They crossed through the remaining two zones in about half an hour, though to Michael it seemed much longer. He and Shella continued to talk throughout, sharing jokes and stories, until finally they reached the end of the trail, which led to a side entrance on the opposite side from where they had begun. They had made a full, clumsy circle around the marsh, and though they had skipped the various adjacent routes which trickled out form the main path, it seemed they had seen enough to last a long while.

They parted outside by the building’s front doors, where they stood facing each other for a couple moments.

“Thanks again for coming here with me,” said Shella. “I had fun.”

Michael nodded. “Me too.” He meant it.

Shella’s face was slightly blurred in the darkness, but he could see her cheeks lift as she smiled. “You’re really quite funny. And nice. I know we probably won’t see each other again after I leave for home, but I’ll always remember this as part of my trip. Good luck with your journey… If you ever do beat the tournament, well, I wouldn’t be surprised!”

Michael smiled in thanks, but her words still left a sad impression on him. After a brief pause, he spoke. “How long are you going to be in the city?”

“Probably another week, if I can find anything else that’s worth seeing. I still haven’t paid a visit to the downtown, which I plan on doing.” Right then, Shella perked an eyebrow. “You don’t happen to be familiar with this place too, do you?”

Michael let out a laugh. “I just got here too, so… not really. But that makes it twice the fun.”

“That’s what I think too.” Shella beamed. “So… maybe we can meet up again sometime? I don’t know… just give me a call when you’re free. We can take the subway to the downtown.”

“Sure.” Michael’s eyes flickered over to the road, where the subway station’s glimmering lights shone just a short while away. He was instantly reminded of Bertha and Henry, and his heart skipped a beat. “I better get going. Sorry. I’ll, uh, give you a call when I can.”

Shella nodded. “Okay. See you soon!’

They exchanged waves, and Michael turned away, setting off briskly for the subway station. It took him another fifteen minutes to retrace his steps through the city network before he finally reached the edge of its farthest-reaching branch. Too distracted by his thoughts to worry about time, he waited for a bus, and was soon speeding out in the direction of the Gym plaza.

Minutes later, he trudged up the steps that lead to his hotel room, and opened the door with the spare key he had brought. To his surprise, Bertha and Henry were inside, sitting around a board game, plates of take-out food laid out beside them. Bertha had the Wooper in her lap, and Henry Clefable, who watched them play while the TV droned quietly in the background.

Upon Michael’s arrival, the both of them turned. Bertha smiled in surprise. “Hey there. What took you so long? Henry told me you left to get something.”

“Yep. Everything’s fine.” Michael looked down at Wooper and hastily switched the subject. “Where did you get that?”

Bertha looked down. “Oh, Wooper? Henry and I went to the Great Marsh while you were away, and I caught her. We would’ve waited for you if we knew where you were, but what’s done is done I guess. We can go together sometime later.” She lifted the Wooper, who seemed to have already warmed up to her and let out a playful squeal. Bertha’s expression softened, and she gently touched her nose to the Wooper’s forehead. “Aw, look at you, you’re so cute…”

“Too bad it’s not a Grass type,” Michael said, echoing her words from before. “You could’ve used it for your Gym.”

Bertha gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Eh, it doesn’t matter to me. Just because she’s not going to be a part of my team doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with her. And besides, if I’m going to take a break from my Gym duties, why not take a break from my type restriction too?”

Michael nodded. He looked to Henry, who met his gaze steadily, eyebrows slightly driven together. Evidently, he still had a good deal of self-explaining left to do. But right then, it didn’t matter.

After setting down his things, Michael joined Bertha and Henry, and the three of them spent the rest of the evening playing and talking. But nearly all Michael could think about was how lucky he had been.




//////



Hundreds of miles away, that very same evening, Nancy Bryan sat in her stuffy hotel room, scanning the newspaper over a cup of tea. Unlike Michael, she didn’t feel lucky at all—more like exhausted, for it had been over three weeks since their arrival in the city, and their progress so far amounted to zilch.

A few days prior, Nancy did some pride-swallowing and got herself to type up the Contest story she had promised the two coordinators a while ago. To her surprise, the local Hearthome newspaper had grabbed it, since apparently the next month would be a deciding period for the preliminary rounds. This forged a temporary alliance between Nancy’s team and the Hearthome Press Office, which granted them temporary reporter privileges in exchange for continued Contest coverage. But in terms of finding a story for SNN, so far they were at a loss.

Beside her, Ned and Bobby occupied the tiny round table by the window, finishing a meager dinner. Only Tom was absent—he had left for the press office nearly four hours ago to search through their archives, and still hadn’t returned.

Television had long ceased to function as a source of entertainment for them, so in its stead, the team passed time by scanning the headlines to see what kinds of things people were writing about. Nancy was currently reading the paper on the armchair and periodically calling out headlines that seemed most interesting.

“Hey, I got another one,” she called out, breaking a lengthy silence.

“Let’s hear it,” said Ned

“A shop’s been closed down on Tenth Street,” Nancy murmured. “Making fake driver’s licenses, right under everyone’s nose…”

Bobby looked over. “What’s that all about?”

Nancy continued to scan through the page. “Some guy was running a small store downtown. He was selling fake IDs and licenses, but he disguised it by selling League merchandise alongside it. It says that after the Game Corner was closed, the cops started to check the other League-related establishments in the area… and I guess they landed right on that place. It wasn’t even a licensed vendor. He just had the pokéball logo on his window.

Bobby began to laugh. “Man…”

“How do they know the difference, anyway?” Ned piped up.

Nancy responded with a shrug. “Apparently to sell League stuff you have to have a special certificate of approval for your store. This guy had nothing—and to top it all off, he tried to sell trainer cards too, which gave him away on the spot. League rules say you’re not supposed to do that, ever. You can only get them by writing to the League itself and having them mail it to you, or by going to a local League office and getting one there. Not even Gyms can sell them.”

Nancy had begun to read the text in more detail, when suddenly, the door burst open, and a frazzled Tom stumbled into the room, his coat askew, still panting as if from a long run. One hand was clutching a folder, thin and rumpled.

“Guys, I have something… take a look…”

Nancy felt a flicker of panic as she rose from her chair. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“The discovery! Deoxys was actually discovered in January—months before they announced it! Look, it says so right here—” Tom slapped the folder onto the table where Ned and Bobby were seated, and began to leaf through its contents at a frantic pace. Nancy came over just in time as his finger landed on a seemingly random point, amid a tall, dense column that seemed packed to the brim with words. The by-line was blank.

“’Team Rocket officials had originally confirmed the detection of an unknown signal by their spacecraft on November 12th, 1962, after which all normal procedures for R-109, the moon mission, were suspended, and investigations of the signal commenced. This date corresponds with an atypical shift in procedure by Team Galactic, who launched a spacecraft shortly after on December 21st, 1962. This mission was not reported to the public of either Hoenn or Sinnoh, who instead continued to receive updates of Team Rocket’s discoveries on the moon, which had been made months prior as well. The year of 1963 began with Team Galactic’s launching of Galaxie, which was supposed to search the moon for possible landing sites. But in fact, as mission logs reveal, the spacecraft had a different purpose entirely—namely that of carrying specialized radio equipment designed to facilitate the communication between two spacecraft in the same field of orbit. Interestingly, Hoenn launched a spacecraft on that very same date, only an hour later. This was thought by the public to be a simple coincidence, but deeper investigation shows that such a feat is in fact nearly impossible to achieve without an extraordinary measure of preparation and planning. Unpublished records reveal a link of communication between the Veilstone headquarters and Team Rocket’s base in Mossdeep City. The two organizations exchanged trajectory plans, equipment status, and as the system reports show, took evident care to ensure that the two spacecraft were constantly aware of each other.
‘In light of these records, it becomes apparent that neither team was aiming for the moon at all, but rather following a specific path in the search of a specific object…’
Don’t you see?” Tom tapped the paper in emphasis. “It’s like they’re working together! First they got hold of that signal, and a few weeks later they deduced it was coming from a moving object! They found that pokémon when it was heading right towards them. Hoenn’s ship got it on camera, so obviously they’d put it in their papers first. But that’s not the point. The point is, they were hiding it all along! There was something about Deoxys that they didn’t want to share with us right off the bat, and now they’re helping each other keep quiet!”

Ned looked up from the paper and frowned. “Where did you get this?”

“I was looking through the archives at the city press office,” Tom said. “I wanted to bring back some things from previous months so we’d have a reference to look off of, but I couldn’t find anything. Then, a minute later, a guy came up to me and asked if I was a journalist. I guess he recognized me by my badge. I told him I was looking for a story to publish, and he looked interested all of a sudden. We talked for a few minutes, and before leaving he handed me this. Said he wrote it himself, but was worried that a big news company would misinterpret it, so he wanted to give it to a smaller one.”

Ned’s puzzled frown gave way for an incredulous stare. Bobby mimicked the expression, lifting an eyebrow.

“I don’t know… it seems like there might be a catch,” Bobby said. “I mean, what are the odds? You go out looking for a story, and by some miracle a guy shows up in a hat and trenchcoat and hands you the key to your success. For all we know, he could be a quack or something.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat, Bobby. And he didn’t give the article to me right away; I told him who I was, that I was from Sinnoh Now, and everything.”

“But he didn’t tell you who he was, did he?” said Ned.

Tom thought for a moment, searching his memory. “He told me his name… Alfonso something… Said that he worked for a hardware production company, but that was pretty much it.”

“So, he might not even have written it.”

“Ned, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this!” Tom lifted the paper in front of him. “Whoever wrote this had access to official telegrams and reports from both Team Galactic and the Rockets! Don’t look at me like I’m five; I know how to analyze reference notes. And his were perfectly valid. I checked, and all the journals he used exist. All the names and dates and missions he cites are facts, and some are stored on classified databases, so I couldn’t access them. He must’ve been someone way up top to get his hands on information like that, which explains why he wouldn’t want a big-name company to publish it, because he doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. And look, it all makes sense! First, we saw pictures of that rocket—”

“Sssh!” said Bobby. “We’re not supposed to talk about that, remember?”

“We have to talk about it, guys! Something’s not right, I can feel it. If Galactic was building another rocket, then that must mean they’re planning another mission. And I’m willing to bet that it has something to do with Deoxys. There’s something about it that they’re not telling us on the news, and if it’s something bad, then soon it might be too late.”

Nancy shook her head. “Tom, stop it! Were you not there in Eterna with us? We can’t get tangled up in these conspiracies again! If we make one bad move, one step in the wrong direction, then it’s over!”

Tom stared quizzically at his companions, who all met his gaze with similar expressions—calm and unyielding. Realizing the futility of his case, he backed away from the table, lowering the article by his side.

“Fine… fine. But you’ll see. I’m telling you, there’s something not right about this.” He turned to leave, but a moment later he stopped himself and spun back around. “And you know, for a change, I think we should stop chasing SNN’s goal for us and think about our own future. We’ve been all over the place these past few months, but if there’s one thing I’ve never been more sure of this whole time, it’s that we hit something really deep in Eterna that while back. Something that goes way beyond what SNN’s capable of digging up. I know it’s not something they’d want us to do, but lately I’ve come to realize that that might be the point. Just forget, for a moment, that we’re on a deadline. Forget what SNN’s promised us, and forget our assignment. We’re reporters, and our duty to the public should take priority over our duty to those corporate heads. We might have a chance right now to change the course of history, and inform the public of something they really need to know about. If we won’t, then no one else will. Not a single radio station is going to talk about what I’ve just read to you until the time’s long past for people to start caring. Think about that.”

And without a second to spare, Tom left the room.

The team members that remained gradually drifted apart, settling in separate corners of the room and immersing themselves in their own thoughts.


Outside, rain pattered against the window.
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