I had been teetering on the edge of Sai’s wild story. I was where the lies stopped and truth began to unravel itself page by page, thread by thread. Of course, I didn’t know this right away. I didn’t know anything because I was too busy being poisoned by a faraway butterfree’s poisonpowder and knocked out of commission only to be taken away by someone I had never met before.
The experience was, to say the least, frightening. Back at the school, no foes presented themselves, and I hadn’t been through anything dangerous like the rest of the team had. I only had to deal with being the closest pokémon to Sai despite my personality. I always kept myself in the back, hard to reach and impossible to break through should anything have wanted to attack me. I was always safe. To suddenly be thrust into the face of an enemy—an invisible enemy, no less—was unexpected. I had no way to counteract and I couldn’t even depend on my trainer to help me. All I could do was succumb to the feeling of despair and faint after seeing Sai one last time.
After that, I had woken up a few times. My body and ability to think recovered a little bit each time I regained consciousness, as if my capturers had given me a serum that was to slowly get rid of the poison in my body. They must have done this, or I surely would have died after our long journey. The journey felt long, anyway. It was hard to tell time when you had no idea where you were or what was supposed to be happening.
Whoever Sai had given me away to wasted no time in getting down to business when we arrived at our destination. I was able to overhear two people talking, a man and a woman, and they were discussing how Sai had finally sent a pokémon to them. Yes, the strongest on his team, he said. He was finally fulfilling his duty… Here, in Mahogany Town, was where my next life would begin, she said as they shoved me into a cold area that I soon realized was a prison cell.
I shuddered; a persistent shivering shook through my back. Trying to regain my composure, my hands flattened on the cement, and I instantly thought of my future life below. My future life, I had assumed, was going to kill me in some violent way. I was going to die before I had even accomplished anything at all. I wondered what my own headstone would say and how soon it would say it. For a moment, I regretted wanting to leave Sai, even though it meant I was reveling in his lies.
As soon as I was able to comprehend my surroundings, I was able to see that there were other pokémon around. But none of them were paying attention to me at all. They were all eerily quiet and they weren’t even sleeping. The room was almost pitch black, so I couldn’t see them, but I had a nagging feeling that told me they knew I was here. They just didn’t care. I could ask them for help, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. Communicating with others hadn’t gotten me anywhere good so far, anyway… so I stayed silent.
After what seemed like forever, a ray of light poured into the room. Someone had opened the door to the basement and was coming to see us. This was the only thing that made the pokémon react. They started whining and pushing each other to get to the front of the cage. I was easily overcome and shoved to the back, since I wasn’t anticipating anything decent to come of the situation. When the person who had come down to us—a lady—grabbed me from the cell and left the others behind, I could see why they hadn’t interacted with me from the beginning. I was part of the outside world, a threat to their everyday lives. I wondered just how long they had been here, and why they were here at all.
Since I wasn’t accustomed to the light of the building, I was blinded as I was led upward to who knows where. I couldn’t see anything around me at all, but I could hear people shouting orders or mumbling loudly to themselves about plans and results. I couldn’t make sense of anything, but it was enough to scare me.
My vision finally focused when we stopped moving. Much to my horror, this appeared to be a one-on-one confrontation, a particular aspect about my life that I wasn’t able to handle well. To make things worse, we were also at the very top of the building, making escape very difficult. The lady in front of me seemed to be letting me roam wherever I wanted to, so I backed away and tried to appear intimidating, but it didn’t seem to work as she chuckled slightly.
“Have no fear, Hitmontop. I will call you that from now on… for we have no need for nicknames in a place where everyone is equal,” she said.
Her smile immediately threw me off. I looked over her once and couldn’t help but cower at the mixed emotions that followed. From my simple observations of her smile, her eyes, her body language, I could determine that she was related to Sai somehow. Her hair was a similar color, for one. And she had green eyes, but they had the same spark that his had, the same spark that I could never quite identify. Now I knew: it was the dangerous look of knowing things that no one else did. From her one single action, I could determine the nature and depth of my relationship with her, and it could have gone anywhere. Sai wasn’t so bad himself, but then again, he had just betrayed me. Her words seemed to bring some peace, but then I remembered that I was just in a prison cell. There was no way that everyone was equal in a place where some pokémon were free and others were not. There was something I just wasn’t understanding…
“I know you’re confused, but you don’t need answers. We’re here to gather an initial assessment of your strength…” she said, pulling out a pokéball from her belt.
But then she immediately put it back, and Sai showed up. Sai was frantic, Sai was angry. A great understatement, really. The lady grabbed on to me and I could tell this wasn’t going anywhere good, and then the rest of the team showed up. I begged Senori for help. Senori always knew what to do, he always had the answers, he had to have them this time. I felt like I was dreaming as Sai took over and told us a quick rundown of his story and then asked us to battle. Yes, I fought for him—because I felt obligated to. Even if he was a bad person, he couldn’t have been any worse than the woman we were fighting. There was something about her that made us all remember our own personal hells and then think that things could get much, much worse if we were with her for too long a time.
I was still never expecting him to jump…
You can say that you won’t miss me, but I’ll think about you every day.
…The nightmares surrounding my situation hadn’t dissipated in the last week. They always started out vivid and then became increasingly unclear once Sai ran into the picture. Was I trying to block out memories of my trainer because they were scary or because I didn’t want to reinforce my negative views of him? But I knew everything now. I knew that Sai had no choice but to give me up. I knew that Sai was sick and that he truly wanted to get better. His journey was never about pokémon at all. It was only about survival, and for this, I could forgive him in time. Of course, I had made this decision rather quickly, as I had to choose to jump on Ezrem’s back or stay with the lady who was worse than Sai. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
So far, I wasn’t. I was almost exactly where I wanted to be, considering I had once considered to volunteer for a hospital that would help humans. I wished, of course, that Sai was better and that he was encouraging me to go rather than being the actual patient, but… it would have to do for now. Sai needed my help, and I was willing to give him what he wanted since I had only hindered him up to this point. My intentions had been good, and I didn’t want to change now. It was hard to change, anyway, when I saw Sai peer over at me every few minutes, as if trying to remind himself that I was still here, and to tell me that he didn’t want me to leave again. I forced myself to give an eager smile every time he looked at me to support him.
What else could I do? The nurse had told Sai he would be here until he was no longer deemed a threat to himself or others. Sai was also asked to attend a group therapy session once a day and he was required to write in a journal about how he was feeling at any given time. Those directions seemed simple enough, but Sai was having trouble following them. He skipped the first day, saying it could do nothing for him since he was taught medication was the only cure. And when he tried to write in the journal for the first time, he kept breaking the lead pencil given to him, and so he eventually grew frustrated and gave up. It reminded me of the ferocity he had used when trying to convey his secret to me on paper.
What else could I do…? I wrote to him first, mostly to keep the pokémon from listening, but also because I wanted him to start following the nurse’s rules. I found a marker at the receptionist’s desk at the front of the psychiatric ward and used it instead, figuring Sai couldn’t possibly break this. At worst, his words would bleed through the pages.
What are you doing? I started. It was vague but it gave him room to answer whatever he wanted. After deciding my handwriting was easy enough to read, I gave him the journal. He was only sitting on the edge of the bed, listening to Ezrem and Kuiora bicker with each other as usual, so it seemed like a decent time. He looked at me oddly, but he took the journal nonetheless and wrote back to me.
I’m sitting here.
…Simple, but true. I tried a different approach.
How are you feeling?
Like I want to get out of here.
What are you going to do once you’re out of here?
No response—Sai only shook his head and gave the journal back to me.
Well, you should do what the nurse says and you can get better. We’re all rooting for you, you know.
I’m afraid you’ll leave when we get out of here after what I did.
I gritted my teeth. It was as I feared; Sai was worried about me and he was taking it out on himself. He could be so selfish sometimes… or was it selfless after remembering the dangers that he had put me through before? I couldn’t tell.
I won’t, I wrote confidently.
…So what do you want me to do?
Write how you’re feeling, and go to those therapy sessions. …I’ll even go with you if you want.
You will? Is that even allowed?
Uh… Yes? To be honest, I wasn’t sure, but I had to convince him somehow. I’m even having some problems myself, so I should go, I finished, shuddering as I recalled the nightmares about the preceding events.
Okay. I saw him pause as he wrote. I’ll go.
As Sai promised, he gave his mother two days to evacuate Mahogany Town with whatever belongings she wanted and with whoever she wanted before he turned Team Rocket in. And over these two days, as I (kind of) promised, I went to those therapy sessions with him. Surprisingly, I was allowed to, though I would have to stay quiet because not everyone understood pokémon. Well, that was fine by me. I was a better listener than anything, anyway.
When I first went in, I had no idea what to expect. My imagination had set up some kind of wild fantasy where a bunch of people came together and fought each other until they were spent and exhausted. Until their problems seemed to disappear into thin air. That was the idea Sai had given me, anyway, with his mental illness. He was prone to violence and arguments, and so I assumed all people like him were like that.
But it was nothing of the sort. The most violent action that occurred involved the six other people in the room—including the advisor—staring at us for being slightly late to the meeting. Everyone was calm and reserved as they seemed to try to curl up into their seats, as if to pretend they didn’t exist. Instantly I understood that these people had problems they were ashamed of, and it made me wonder if Sai would have told us he was sick a long time ago if he had the chance. According to these peoples’ postures, he would have kept it himself despite his freedom.
First, Sai was asked to introduce himself and then his guest: me. I felt awkward by the sudden attention—even though I had been anticipating it—but found myself able to relax when the others were clearly more focused on Sai rather than me. They gave him eye contact and smiled at him, exchanged hellos. It made sense. Sai was of their own kind; I was only there to absorb the information about my trainer and subsequently use it to understand him and help him better.
Since we were a bit late, we had missed the introductions by the other members, but they went around again and said all of their names and reasons for being present just for Sai. I could tell by the way his body unwounded that he was welcoming the positive special attention, something he supposedly wasn’t accustomed to. It made me realize suddenly why he felt closest to me—I gave him special attention that I gave no one else… and to help him, I would have to keep doing it. I was already surpassing step one by being by his side.
The next step that had to take place was the promise of confidentiality among members. It was vital, the advisor said, for everyone to understand that what was said in the room stayed in the room. This was to keep every member of the group comfortable when speaking and also to prevent trouble for spreading among the outside world. Members could talk about their own experiences in group therapy, but anyone else’s information was to be left out of conversation.
Breaching confidentiality was not my intention, so the overall expansion of the session has been left out here. This was the gist of it, though: everyone here had a hard life. They had all lost relatives and friends that were close to them in disasters that lay out of their hands. They had all lost their sense of self. They all were a puzzle that wanted to be put back together, but couldn’t figure out how to do it, even with the outside pieces intact.
And even though Sai wouldn’t mind, I have chosen to leave his segment out, too. I respect him as much as I would anyone else. It goes without saying, however, that his problems hit the most to home. This wasn’t because they reminded me of myself. It was because being with him really was my home, and it made me realize how little I knew of my home. I had no idea what went on inside his head. His moments that seemed crazy to me were completely normal to him. How did he live with such a scattered mind and no sense of control? Even if I asked, I doubt he would know, either. At the very least, I enjoyed seeing him work on himself.
The only piece of information I’ll completely reveal is his hardest confession, mostly because it ended up being on national television anyway. Before, Sai had beat around the bush by explaining his feelings and giving vague explanations of his past home surroundings, but he had never said he was part of Team Rocket. He never said that his mother put him through unethical experiments that left him imprisoned for the majority of his life.
It started with an awkward silence that only a human voice could fill. Another boy in the group had just finished telling a story and receiving feedback and advice about the situation, and now it was time for someone else to talk.
“Does anyone else have anything they’d like to share?” said the advisor, an older female who held a clipboard in her hand. She spent her time moderating the discussion and keeping notes of every individual and every conversation.
Sai was usually the one to remain silent until someone spoke to him first and prodded for answers. This time, though, he spoke up immediately. He even stood up to make him point.
“I have a confession to make,” Sai said, his fists clenched in determination, “and I expect it to leave this room. If it doesn’t, I’ll be pretty disappointed.”
This caused everyone to look at him, confused. Even the advisor stopped writing for a moment to raise an eyebrow at him suspiciously.
“Yes, Sai? Remember that anything you say in here is confidential to the rest of us,” she said.
“Well, I was going to tell the police, but it seems that I’m not allowed to see them from inside this place. So I’m just going to say it here… and hope it reaches the right ears.”
“We’re all listening,” she said slowly. The rest of the group nodded.
Sai took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sure we’ve all heard of Team Rocket. They’re infamous for stealing strong pokémon, selling weak pokémon, and using pokémon for questionable experiments. But no one’s known where to locate them. No one seems to know where they’re hiding out yet. Well, I’m here to say that I know where they are.” He paused. I pulled at his pant leg, urging him to continue. “I know where they are because I was a part of them. Not in the way you’re probably thinking,” he hastily added, “but because they’re the ones who… imprisoned me. For being sick. I was an experiment of theirs.”
“You guys might have actually… supported the idea behind the experiment, had they not gone about it all wrong. Can the mentally ill surpass the normal people in terms of raising pokémon? Can the mentally ill be good for anything besides destroying things and causing problems? It was my goal to help them figure this out. Well, I both passed and failed. I passed because I survived when no one else did. I failed because I left the experiment. That’s how I ended up here. I was tired of it and I left.”
“You know the laboratory on the northern edge of town? That’s where they are. They’ve been close to you guys all this time and you didn’t even know it. They were doing research on everyone like us and you didn’t even know it. I’m sorry I didn’t have the strength to say anything sooner. I was scared for my life. I wanted… I wanted the freedom the rest of you had. But in the end, we all landed in the same place. It’s funny how that works sometimes.”
Sai sat back down and leaned back in his seat. I saw the corners of his mouth turning upward but also saw tears threatening to leave his eyes. The rest of the group was stunned and merely looked to the advisor for guidance, as they so often did. No one said anything because there was nothing to say. No words could change the frightening past that Sai had had and nothing could change the fact that evil had been taking place not too far from their homes for years on end. There are times when the world proves itself to be a better liar than the rest of us combined. This was one of those times. You won, world. You won for a while, anyway… but now you lose.
“Well, it seems we’ll have to end this session early. The rest of you should go to your rooms,” she finally said. “Sai, you and Atis should come with me.”
And so we did.
“Sai, why are there so many uniformed people in your room?” asked a very curious Kuiora as she scrutinized every part about the men in the room. It was easy for her to recognize the weapons in their belts, but she was still young so she didn’t know they were here to help, not cause problems. It was easy for her to understand that they were here for serious business, but she didn’t seem to see that they weren’t here to play these games with her. She tried to defend Sai the best she could anyway. If they glared at her and gave her an unfavorable look, she did the same. If they advanced toward him without giving any warning about doing so, then she growled and started preparing a water gun attack. Ezrem had to take her out of the room eventually to keep her calm.
Rennio and Senori weren’t as wary. They knew the police, probably due to past experience or due to hearing about them before, so they stayed out of the way and let them question Sai. And of course, I was completely supportive of the idea. While none of us were particularly thrilled that not all of the culprits would be caught, we had to be satisfied with Sai’s decision. It’s not like we could have said anything even if we wanted to.
“We are questioning here since we have orders that say you are not to leave this place,” the policeman in charge said.
Sai nodded. I remembered him saying that he didn’t know other people could visit him, but now he knew otherwise. This was a special exception that the nurses were allowing. They also had told Sai that they had a special announcement for him once the questioning was over. He insisted on knowing at that moment, but they kept to themselves and told him to be patient, smiling all the while.
“Now, how long did you say this had been going on?” the policeman asked, peering at Sai sternly.
“At least ten years. That’s how long I was there, anyway. They’ve probably been there much longer,” Sai answered. He was fiddling with his hands, which told me he wasn’t confident with his answers. His knowledge was limited despite having been there for ten years. I knew from experience now that that was what happened when you were imprisoned and kept in the dark.
“And why didn’t you say anything once you were released?”
Sai gulped, then said, “Because they threatened me. If I told anyone, I was going to pay for it.”
The policeman coughed. Did that mean he believed Sai? Surely his current condition could tell the truth behind his story. These things just don’t happen out of the blue. For once, it was obvious that we, Sai’s pokémon, weren’t enough to comfort him when it came to believing his story was real.
“You say you saw them do experiments on pokémon and humans there?”
“Yes… They keep pokémon locked up, and only use them to train endlessly or hook them up to machines that do harm.”
“I see. We know Team Rocket is dangerous, but we just want to hear your side of the story.” He turned away from Sai and motioned to the others inside the room. “Some of my men are already heading there to look over the place. They have a warrant to get inside if they don’t comply. We’re also here to offer you protection if that is what you want. That’s why so many of us are here.”
“Yes. From what you’ve told us, you’ve been through a lot. These people are a huge threat to you, and they may continue to threaten you through outside sources. This is also possible if any of them escape in time. If you would like, we can keep watch over you and make sure these people don’t find you.”
“You mean that you’ll keep me in one place and tell me I’ll be safe within your care.”
“That’s the idea of it, yes.”
Sai shook his head and immediately said, “No. That sounds exactly like what they did to me. Even if your intentions are true, well… If I need anyone to protect me, I can count on my pokémon.”
“That is entirely up to you. Just know that the option is open to you.”
“Aren’t I stuck here for a while, anyway?” Sai said, rolling his eyes. I wondered whether or not he truly hated this place. He had shown me what was inside of his journal and he was progressively getting happier and more stable. And as if his healing affected mine, my nightmares had slowly been drifting away, too, so I could reflect on that incident with a clearer head.
“About that… Well, the nurse says you’re free to leave tonight if you want. She told us that you have been making significant progress in the last week and a half, and they are ready to let you go. Of course, you can choose to stay if you’d like, but it would cost you more money than you already owe. This is another reason we offered you the protection idea—just in case you had nowhere to go afterward.”
Sai’s face instantly lit up. “Really? I’m free to go?”
He softened up a moment, later, however, as he seemed to realize something. “Well, I really do have nowhere to go… but like I said, I have my pokémon. I’ll figure something out.”
“Then it’s settled. You will leave tonight. We wish you the best of luck, and we thank you for cooperating with us and doing what was right,” the policeman said. He took a step forward and extended his arm out to Sai. The boy didn’t seem to understand the gesture at first, but figured it out pretty quickly and shook the man’s hand.
When the policemen left, Sai didn’t hesitate to show his excitement once more. “You hear that, Atis?” he cried. “We’re getting out of here, and it’s all thanks to you!”
On cue, Ezrem and Kuiora returned into the room (with the croconaw sticking out her tongue to the others on their way out), but they only stared blankly at our trainer, along with Senori and Rennio. What were they so confused about? And then it hit me.
“Oh… It’s not all thanks to me! E-Everyone helped in their own way, you know…” I stammered out.
“Not really,” Senori butted in. “We stayed back because we figured you two needed, uh, some time together. To get things straight, you know?”
“Aren’t we so considerate?” sneered Ezrem. He flapped his wings and took off into the air, seeming as if he was going to fly into Sai. He flew over the boy’s head, though, and landed on the other side of the bed, where the policemen had previously been standing.
“Did you really have to do that?” Rennio scolded. It wasn’t like him to talk back to the bird, and I wondered what exactly had happened between the two of them. It wasn’t any of my business, but we couldn’t afford another break in the team…
“Yes, I did,” Ezrem said simply, in an even ruder tone than usual.
“Do we need to get someone to put a ‘do not resuscitate or save’ tattoo on that egotistical head of yours, just in case you get hurt again?” Rennio retaliated, folding his arms.
“I see you’re being critical of me. That’s good, because I’m obviously flawed. That’s why I need my daily dose of attention, since Atis has been hogging it all for the last week.”
“I… What? I didn’t… I mean—”
“It’s going to be the next big thing on the news next to the big Team Rocket scandal. Prizewinning pokémon scientist named Atis finds the cure for brokenhearted boys.”
I blanched, unable to find the ability to even stutter.
“Ezrem,” Kuiora said. “Be good.” That was all it took for the braviary to close his beak; he fluffed his feathers inside, hiding his face in embarrassment, probably from Rennio more than anyone else. The bird had no shame in most situations, I had come to notice.
“Speaking of news…” said Senori, who had just been listening intently all the time. “Doesn’t this mean… we’ll be on the news? Since Sai was the one who reported them?”
The room went quiet. None of us had considered this notion until now. We all looked at our trainer, but as usual, he didn’t have an answer.
It was a good thing Senori had pointed it out before, or we never would have been prepared to leave the hospital at all. Well, I still wasn’t prepared, but that was besides the point. In fact, I was even more nervous and less ecstatic than I had been before. I didn’t want the attention that was inevitably coming. If Sai wanted to move on with his life, though, I supposed this was step one…
Once Sai gathered his belongings into his backpack, he checked out of the hospital and was told he would eventually have to pay for his stay. Once he checked out of the hospital, we walked outside and ran into a giant crowd that apparently knew he was going to leave soon. Once we realized that there was a giant crowd in front of us, we noticed that they all had cameras and microphones—all aimed at Sai’s face and mouth. In response, Sai raised his hands, as if he were surrendering to their endless questions.
“Uh…” he started, unsure of what to do next.
“Sai Luart, would you please tell us about your life being imprisoned by Team Rocket?” one reporter yelled over the rest.
“Is it true that Team Rocket harmed pokémon and humans while doing their research?” another one asked.
I could feel myself blushing intensely, and I wasn’t even the one given the attention. Still, the anxiety I felt in public also attributed to others who were being humiliated. If Sai was being embarrassed by the attention, then so was I. It wasn’t logical, but nothing about my anxiety was ever really logical. I tried not to think about it too much.
Still, the overwhelming amount of people here was too much for me. I yelled for Sai to move along, to forget these people because they only wanted to earn money off of his story, but the loud crowd drowned out my voice. I changed my strategy and pushed him from behind, forcing the others to make a path for him unless they wanted to be trampled. The others seemed to catch on to what I was doing and tried to help out. Kuiora growled at everyone while Ezrem pecked at the cameras and broke some of the lens. Senori hopped on Sai’s shoulder and covered part of his face with his tail to avoid people from seeing him on television. Rennio forced people to back away in response to the threatening electricity surrounding his body. With all of this, we were able to create a sizable amount of distance between us and the news reporters. And when it was safe, we all let down our guards and gave Sai some room to breathe.
“Well, it looks like the police caught and arrested Team Rocket, at least… Do you think I’ll be wanted on television forever?”
“Just until the next big story…” I said, rubbing the back of my head nervously.
“Remember, Atis, you are a prizewinning scientist pokémon—” Ezrem started.
“So what are we going to do now?” Rennio asked, still not amused by Ezrem’s antics.
“I don’t know yet,” Sai said, shaking his head. He looked behind him to make sure no one was following him. Indeed, no one was, so he continued, “I thought about going back to Ecruteak City, but how can I show my face to Morty after what happened?”
“What happened?” I said without thinking. It didn’t occur to me that I might have had anything to do with the situation.
“You don’t want to know,” Senori assured me. I didn’t ask again.
“Anyway,” Sai went on, “I don’t have concrete plans. I want to keep traveling. I want to keep learning things. I want to be a better trainer… and friend… If we see something we really want to do along the way, then we’ll know. And we can go from there. How does that sound?”
“You sound like you’ve thought this out real well,” Ezrem said sarcastically.
Sai reached out his right arm and clamped his hand around the bird’s beak, not allowing him to speak. I thought that Sai was going to get angry with him like he had before, but Sai was actually laughing.
“You be quiet,” was all he said, and then he let go. “I thought about it in the hospital, but I didn’t think of anything. So sorry.”
Yes, he seemed a bit more stable now… and that was really all any of us could have asked for. It was one of the few times that Ezrem’s wild demeanor brought some positivity to us. I owed him a great deal already for saving Sai, but now he was helping even more. Hopefully the rest of the team could find their own niche in Sai’s life and contribute to it to the best of their ability. I believed they had found their niches already, they just didn’t know it yet. Their comments about me hogging the attention had told me so, but they would learn in time, I believed. Ezrem offered a good laugh once in a while, which never hurt anybody. Senori guided us down safe paths, and Kuiora gave off a sense of naivety that was ideal for staying sane. Rennio’s youth let Sai know that he was important and that he had someone to protect.
And I… I gave Sai the determination to want. To reach out. To have dreams. I wanted the world. I got the world plus Sai and the rest of the team. Now Sai wanted the world, too, more than anything. We just didn’t know what was in store for him.
I hoped for nothing but the best.