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Before I get started with this chapter of mine, I will bother you with only a few brief things.
Firstly, I hope you don't mind me sticking a little visual aid in here. I wanted to draw Michael's chart for you guys, but since there's no table tool here, I settled with having it as an image.
Secondly, this chapter is nice and short, unlike the previous one which for some reason ended up being so long that I couldn't even include a comment before the text. It's almost refreshing to be back in the 12-13 page range again. And I never thought I'd say that.
One more thing.
As with most cities, days in Hearthome passed quickly. From sunup to sundown, Michael did little but work, going over battle plans with Henry. They made plans for training, plans for what to do when they got to the next Gym town, and plans for making plans. It was like a sick, twisted form of a school project, only now the stakes were higher and Michael didn’t have much room to procrastinate.
Bertha left them alone for the most part, departing at around ten each morning and coming back at six in the evening. She slipped little notes under their door from time to time, to let them know that she was still around, and to let them on to how her petition was coming along. Bertha never gave them the details, but she did tell them the kinds of people she was corresponding with and how many in-advance signatures she had been promised.
Henry followed her petition’s progress with full support, even suggesting places for Bertha to visit and asking about how she planned on getting so many signatures in a constrained amount of time. Much of their talk took place over dinner at the hotel’s cafeteria, meals during which Michael sat back in silence, focusing on his food. He was the same fan of Team Galactic he had been for the entire Space Race’s duration, and knew that it would always stay that way. The thought of Galactic suddenly losing funding from the federal government and turning into corporate backwash was sickening, and would be like him losing his whole childhood. It was out of respect for Bertha and pity for Henry that he didn’t comment on the petition when the subject came up.
In times like these, his thoughts drifted back to home, where Cory and Brendan were still stuck in the Jubilife suburbs, spending the rest of their summer vacation doing God-knew-what. With the sudden pause in space updates, they had probably moved on to other things, perhaps hunting more pokémon or having adventures out in the city.
The dawn of June 4th marked the one-week anniversary of the Deoxys discovery’s announcement, and as the days crept into the 5th and 6th, Michael began to scourge the newspapers on the lobby racks, hoping for any sort of update. But there were none. Each morning and evening when he turned to the news, all Michael would see was the same rerun of the Space Race, with the same guy in the same suit, reading off the same paper.
It confused him to no end, but as the battle drew nearer, Michael didn’t have time to get carried away with his thoughts. He and Henry had refined their strategies, coordinating their teams to their best potential, but the one thing they were still missing was Jerry’s type preference. Depending on what it was, they could either continue with the pokémon they had, or would have to start over and catch new ones.
And for the most part, Michael wasn’t in a pokémon-catching mood. On his frequent strolls around Hearthome, he didn’t see many places where wild pokémon could live, even if they wanted to. Other than the occasional Pachirisu scampering about near a tree, the selection wasn’t too great.
The city did have one advantage, however, in the park of Amity Square. Here was where Michael and Henry spent most of their time, observing what pokémon were brought in each day. Michael habitually brought his notebook and pencil along, and together with Henry, he would walk around and inquire passerby about their pokémon. They often met a trainer or two, but in such a public, leisurely place, a battle would have been unfeasible.
So Michael simply became content with asking questions, walking around like some sort of reporter and asking for people to comment on their pokémon’s type, movesets, and any other miscellaneous information about their natures. His questions raised many eyebrows, but on the whole, provided him with much useful information. Henry would gather information as well, and at the end of the day they would pool together their notes, and Michael would write them down on a separate sheet of paper. The information they collected about pokémon accumulated, and eventually the tiny, crammed chart he had drawn was no longer big enough to hold all his new data. So Michael flipped over to a clean page and drew his table anew.
So far, he had catalogued eight types, based on everything he had observed up until then in his battles. He made sure to leave several slots open at the bottom, for where he would fill in any new types he encountered. As some of his notes on specific pokémon were too lengthy to copy, he left those pages alone. Michael flipped back to them from time to time, and wondered when they would ever come in handy. He had calculated every scenario he could think of, but the rest, he knew, would be a matter of luck.
On the morning of Thursday, June 9th, Jerry prepared an unexpected treat. Normally, Michael, Henry, and Bertha would have their meals at the hotel, but that day Jerry had a two-hour break, and wanted to use the time to talk to Bertha about her petition. So he took them all out to Kiera’s Breakfast Place, where the tables were nice and clean and large windows let in a generous amount of light. And after eating the same breakfast for several days straight, Michael was grateful to go someplace else for a change.
There was a small crowd populating the café despite the early hour. The four settled down at a decent-sized table, beside a window overlooking a small garden. The café had a built-in buffet, which Michael took advantage of to get the best food as possible. He returned to the table with a colorful tray of milk, cereal, a muffin, and pancakes. Henry’s plate was similar.
The four of them ate together for a while, picking from a center bowl of fruit, while Jerry and Bertha discussed the goings-on.
“So I managed to talk to the leaders of Solaceon and Pastoria,” Jerry said. “You’ll be happy to hear that they're willing to consider your idea."
Bertha smiled. “Wonderful. Now all that’s left is to visit them. I sent a letter to Byron, and he just got back to me with his signature, so that’s one Gym down already. What about the others?”
Jerry stirred his coffee, blending it with cream. “Snowpoint’s been difficult to contact, but they promised me that they’d get back to me within the week. Sunyshore is interested, and I haven’t had the chance to contact Canalave yet. On the whole, though I’d say our operation is going pretty smoothly so far.”
“That’s great to hear,” Bertha said.
Michael was only half-paying attention to their conversation, being preoccupied with trying to squeeze the last drop of maple syrup from the annoying plastic bottle onto his pancakes. When he finally got it, the bottle made a loud sucking noise that brought a brief silence to the table. Henry let out a giggle.
As if on cue, Jerry turned to Michael. “So how goes the training, boys?”
Michael shrugged. “Good.” He didn’t bother getting into the details, nor did he feel the need to add that he was in the process of assembling a chart that would counter any type imaginable. He simply settled into a satisfied silence, and Henry did the same.
“I hope you’re really working your butts off,” Bertha said. “The Gyms get harder with every town, and Jerry’s no exception.”
Jerry chuckled. “Bertha tells it how it is, fellas.”
Henry smiled, and looked down at his plate. He had been strangely silent for the duration of their breakfast, and now more than ever he seemed to be weighing something in his mind. Finally, he looked up again. “Jerry, how long have you been a Gym leader?”
Jerry tapped his fingers together. “Ten years, just about. I joined the League when I was eighteen as an Apprentice trainer, and then I got offered the post of the Hearthome Gym when I was twenty.”
“Is there an age limit on when you can join?” Henry said.
“Yes, but it’s really only a formality. If you’re good enough, then they’ll take you. The youngest Gym leader was fifteen years old, in fact.”
Henry munched on his cereal for a moment, and swallowed. “So… what’s your favorite type of pokémon to use?”
Michael looked up. So that had been Henry’s plan. He had to admit, it was pretty good thinking, catching Jerry off-guard at such a casual moment. For a minute, Henry’s flickered over to Michael, and Michael quietly cleared his throat.
Don’t mess this up… he thought, fiddling with the corner of his napkin.
Jerry thought for a moment, biting his lip. “I have to say I like the Psychic type the most. They’re pretty sneaky, and it takes a really clever battler to learn how to manipulate them. Normally, I don’t like to confine my battle team to a single type, but as per the League rules, I have to state my official Gym type. And I chose Psychic.”
“That’s really cool!” Henry said. “I like Psychic pokémon too.” He flashed an innocent smile, and quickly went back to eating his food.
Suddenly, a faint flicker crossed Bertha’s face, and she seemed to tense ever so slightly. Or maybe Michael had imagined it. She made no comment as she sipped her coffee, and then as if nothing had happened, she turned back to Jerry.
“I talked to a friend of mine the other day,” Bertha continued. “She’s a lower-division employee of Team Galactic, but she asked me to keep her name anonymous, at least for now.”
Jerry nodded. “And?”
“She gave us her support.”
“Bertha, that’s wonderful! Having the support of someone on the inside will really make this thing hit home.”
“That’s what I’m thinking too. If the President sees the signature of a Team Galactic worker on a petition about Team Galactic, then he’ll really have to consider that something’s wrong.”
Jerry smiled slyly. “You never told me that you had a friend from Team Galactic. How long have you known her?”
“A while now,” Bertha said. “Long before I knew she worked for the company, actually. We met while I was still going through my examinations for becoming a Gym leader. I didn’t have a clue until I saw the stitch on one of her coats, and then she just flat-out told me. I was shocked, and even more so at the fact that she could keep it hidden so well.”
“That’s interesting… but predictable, to say the least.” A strange expression of pity crossed Jerry’s face. “I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for her. Does she travel a lot?”
“Naturally. Sometimes I feel like she has to avoid the world when she’s on duty, and I feel sorry for her, because she loves Sinnoh.” Bertha shook her head slowly, half-smiling. “Honestly, how long does Blue think he can keep this shit up anyway?”
“As long as he wants to,” said Jerry. “A better question would be when will he have no choice but to face the world.”
Michael, who had settled into detached listening, blinked in confusion. “Blue? Who’s Blue?”
“Blue,” Bertha repeated, looking at him. “Thealus Blue?”
Michael shook his head, and Bertha chuckled. “For someone who loves the Space Race, kid, you sure don’t know your stuff. Thealus Blue is the founder and owner of Team Galactic.”
Michael gaped. “You serious?”
“But what kind of name is that?” Henry piped in. “It seems so weird.”
“Weird guy, weird company. What’s there to get?” Bertha crumpled her napkin. “At any rate, I wouldn’t care if his name was Sunshine Smith. He’ll have a lot to answer to at the rate he’s going.”
Henry frowned. “What do you mean? Are you talking about what Team Galactic’s doing in the Space Race?”
“More than that. I’m talking about the whole company. Blue’s practically turned it into the eighth wonder of the world. There’s so much speculation and rumors going on, but no one knows the truth about anything. Not even about him.”
Henry put his elbows on the table. “But why wouldn’t they know about Blue? If he’s the head of Team Galactic, then wouldn’t he be doing press conferences and stuff?”
“That’s the thing,” Jerry said with a smile. “He doesn’t. No one’s heard anything from or about him in almost twenty years. He could be dead for all we know. If he stepped down and put someone else in charge of Team Galactic, no one would be able to tell.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “Wow. It must be hard to stay out of the public eye like that.”
“It is,” Bertha said. “Especially in these days. I don’t know if he does it all by himself, or if he just forces his associates to keep quiet for him, but whatever he’s doing, he’s doing a hell of a good job. No one ever knows what Galactic is up to. Ever. Even the people who live in Veilstone City don’t know exactly where the headquarters are located. They say it’s up in the mountains.”
“Then how do you guys know about him?” Michael asked.
“Oh, his name comes up every so often,” she replied. “But it’s always in the context of his position, like ‘Mr. Blue’s corporation’ this and that. The guy’s never actually given his voice for an interview before. Almost no one in Galactic has.”
“Actually, that’s not entirely correct,” said Jerry. “You probably don’t remember this Bertha, and you two wouldn’t know this at all,” he pointed to the boys, “but fifteen years ago, Blue actually made a public statement. It was brief, and there weren’t any pictures, but he commented on an operation Team Galactic was undertaking. It was controversial... I think it had something to do with investigating certain rare pokémon species, but whatever it was, it threw the whole nation into an uproar. Protests, boycotts, the whole works. Some of the Galactic heads even got death threats. At that point, I guess Mr. Blue decided he had had enough, and withdrew his company from the public. He took it off of national records, ended all correspondences, and closed down the original headquarters.”
Michael balked. “What could be so bad that they actually got death threats?”
Jerry shrugged. “Beats me. But the minute he went silent, all the press reports died down. No one knows if Galactic even finished their operation. I think, especially now with the whole Space Race thing going on, Blue’s hoping that staying anonymous will hide Galactic’s true motive for going into space.”
“But isn’t it already obvious what their motive is?” Michael said. “They want to explore and bring back discoveries. What else could they possibly want?”
Jerry smiled. “No one knows. And that’s what’s keeping everyone on their toes. Galactic’s looking for something, and they want to make sure the Rockets don’t get there first. All those little pictures of the moon they put up on TV are just stalling tactics to make everyone think that there’s progress being made.”
Michael looked down at his emptied plate, his thoughts churning a storm in his mind. All those months he had been keeping score with Cory and Brendan, cheering every time Sinnoh seemed to be winning... had they really just been playing fool the whole time? Was the entire Space Race a sham?
He didn’t have time to get carried away, for at that moment, Bertha rose from her chair. “Well, we better get going. I want to get some paperwork done, and I know you have to leave soon, Jerry.”
Jerry nodded. “Thanks for joining me today, Bertha. You too, boys.” He looked at Michael and Henry and winked. “When the battle rolls around, though, I might not be so nice to you.”
Michael was steady under Jerry’s gaze. He returned the leader’s smile, but it quickly got lost as his thoughts overrode his words again. When they left, he was still deep in thought.
“Good morning Sinnoh. This is Freddie Horner with the Sinnoh News Network, bringing you the top news from all over the country. We are now entering the ninth of June, and my, it is truly a lovely day today. Tales of my Triumph is enjoying its second week at the top of the box office, and not coincidentally either, with the start of the Contest season right around the corner. So folks, if you’re looking for a good movie to see with your friends this weekend, Tales would be it. And for all you music fans out there, the Gallade Renegade will be starting its tour at the end of the month, and I’m told they’re planning one big show…
“For some, however, this month has marked the beginning of disaster. Last week, on Friday, June 3rd, residents of Eterna Town woke up to find their home up in smoke, and were told to evacuate in advance of an explosion that would destroy their homes. This explosion has consumed the entire town, and the smoke from its aftermath has spread to neighboring routes, though it is likely that it will dissipate before it reaches any other major city.
“Rescue teams have been dispatched and are currently searching the remains of the town, hoping to find some clues as to what happened. It has been confirmed that the building from where the explosion originated was a factory owned by Team Galactic. The cause is unknown, but investigators are scrutinizing every possible detail, not ruling out the possibility of a criminal operation. Several Eterna residents claim to have seen a group of unidentified individuals walking towards the factory the night before the explosion took place. No other evidence can be provided, but as rescue workers probe the building’s remains, they hope to discover anything that they can to confirm or rule out a possible criminal maneuver.
“As of now, there have been no reported fatalities due to the incident, but our hearts go out to the families who have lost their homes in the tragedy. We will be bringing you more as the investigations continue. This has been Freddie Horner, live from Jubilife City. Thank you.”
Outside, the sun beat down relentlessly on Hearthome City. Amity Square was a vivid patch of green amid a landscape of gray asphalt, and was populated with a generous crowd despite the heat.
Presently, Nancy Bryan was leaning against a lamppost while her Loudred was having a private moment behind the bushes. Her sunglasses were sticking to her face, and already she could feel the sweat rolling down her hairline and smearing her makeup. About a minute later, the pokémon hobbled back to her, its eyes perpetually wide and round.
“What?” Nancy slurred. “Wahddre you lookin’ at?”
Loudred’s ears perked, as they always did when Nancy talked like this to him, and his mouth parted in a half-clueless gape. This elicited a giggle from her.
Loudred was a funny-looking creature, with a square body, stubby limbs, and large mouth — and a hell of a good voice to go along with it. He was two heads shorter than Nancy was, and being with him made her feel almost like a mother. He was her only pokémon, since she moved too often from place to place to commit to any more, and his presence always calmed and reassured her.
Many of the other park-goers had stared when she sent him out — Sinnohans, apparently, didn’t see many Hoenn pokémon in their daily lives. Most of them walked around with Drifloons, Pachirisus, and Bidoofs, all familiar faces, and then here she was, breaking the status-quo.
Ned, Tom, and Bobby were strolling about with their pokémon as well. Ned was with Volbeat, Tom with Flygon, and Bobby with Seviper. After a good few days of being stuck in their pokéballs, apart from routine feedings and breaktimes, the pokémon were clearly relieved to be let out for a change.
Tom’s Flygon was currently doing somersaults in the air, the sun gleaming off her wings and muscles. Seviper was hunting for something in the grass, and Bobby was following, egging him on. Volbeat had drifted off to a flowering tree, sniffing at the blooms.
“Come on, buddy, let’s go say hi to our friends.” Nancy beckoned to Loudred, and led him over to Ned and Tom, who were sharing a bench. They looked up as she approached, and Nancy let out a sigh, stretching her arms out under the sun.
“Well, this definitely feels good. I think this is the first break we’ve had all month.”
Ned, who had been dozing, rubbed his eyes. “Says Mrs. Works-a-Lot? Who brought her notebook along?”
Nancy looked down at her purse, which was lying at the foot of the bench. She had brought her notebook, but she wasn’t really planning on using it. It was more of a habit than a hope.
In reply, Nancy brushed a strand of hair away from her face. “Aw, shut up.”
She sat down beside them, and Loudred lumbered over to join her. Leaning back, Nancy casually swept her gaze across the park. When she wasn’t on the hunt for stories, she loved to people-watch, just sitting back and observing life’s daily proceedings. Amity Square was generously populated with people, some of whom had arrived in full workout uniform, and were jogging with their pokémon along the paths. Others were just strolling about in the grass, among the hills and flowers.
She sat still for a moment, then glumly blew a strand of hair away from her face. “So, did you guys see the news this morning?”
“Yeah,” said Ned. For a minute, he too grew somber. “Well, there’s nothing much we can do now. We’re on the other side of the continent.”
“I know,” Nancy said. She had tuned in to the SNN station that morning, out of partial-curiosity-mostly-resentment, and was mildly surprised to see the coverage of the Eterna explosion. Of course, the news would have eventually spread anyhow, but there was something in Freddie Horner’s tone that she did not like. Nancy had shuddered slightly when he had mentioned the band of mysterious individuals, and though she had enough common sense to know that the incident could never be traced back to them, it still made her appreciate how close she had really come to ruin. None of her story-getting plans had exactly worked to her liking before, but none of them had gone so horribly, embarrassingly wrong either. The sooner all the hype about Eterna would end, she decided, the better.
Nancy bent her head back and let the rest of her thoughts escape in a long, greedy yawn. Wiping her eyes, she silently resumed her survey of the park.
This time, by random chance, her eyes alighted upon a boy who stood by the fountain, looking out at nothing in particular. His appearance was slightly rowdy, like the type of kid who would sit in the back of class and throw paper balls, but in the park setting, he looked calm and focused. She watched him for a while, but he didn’t seem to be doing anything interesting, so she turned her attention elsewhere.
About a minute later, however, the boy reappeared. This time, he was on the move. Unlike the other park-goers, this kid walked with purpose, as if on a mission. She caught sight of him from time to time, never in the same spot, and from certain angles she could see that he was carrying a notebook.
Nancy sat up, watching as the boy approached a lady, who was walking a Luxray on a leash. He talked with her briefly, jotted down some notes, then walked off in search of someone else. A smile tugged at her lips.
That must be what I’m like, she thought. The boy met four more individuals in a similar way, often even kneeling down to look at their pokémon. And then a second boy, slightly shorter, appeared from behind some trees and ran up to the first. He was carrying a notebook too, and when they met, they exchanged a brief conversation.
Nancy leaned forward, her curiosity now getting the better of her. “What are those kids doing?” she muttered.
Beside her, Ned looked up. “Hmm?”
Nancy bit her lip, and shook her head. “Nothing.” She settled back down.
Suddenly, a long, deep croon echoed through the park. Up in the air, Tom’s Flygon finished her last loop and came sweeping down, her large wings spread wide to adjust her altitude. Tom whistled, and Flygon glided over to him, stirring the grass and leaves in her wake.
All around them, people turned and watched in awe as the dragon settled into the grass, its stocky green body barely raising a whisper as it met the ground. Several people stopped in their tracks to watch the marvelous sight. The black-haired boy was among them. As he watched Flygon’s descent, a strange expression crossed his face, and for a moment his blue eyes seemed to light with a deep, hidden fire. As more people arrived, he was obscured from view.
Nancy looked around. “Heh. We’re practically famous around here.”
Tom laughed. “Yeah, someone should do a story about us.”
At that moment, Bobby appeared with Seviper sliding by at his feet. As Seviper passed by Flygon, his pink tongue flickered out, and Flygon hummed something in reply. Bobby surveyed the crowd with a mock-perplexed look, and plopped down beside Nancy.
They basked in the attention for a moment, and then the crowd began to trickle away. The boy, however, remained. When enough people were gone, he approached, notebook tucked under his arm.
Tom was lying on his belly, talking to Flygon and picking at the grass. The boy stopped beside him and opened his notebook. “Hey.”
Tom looked up. “Oh. Hey.”
“Can we help you?” said Nancy.
The boy shrugged, and once again, he resembled a slacker schoolboy. “Not really. Cool Flygon, though. Girl or boy?”
“Girl,” said Tom, raising an eyebrow. “You know about them?”
To Nancy’s surprise, the boy nodded. “Yeah. They’re called the Desert Spirit because they live in Hoenn’s deserts. They’re pretty fast too. They were pitted against each other in races in the seventeenth century. They’re… the second-fastest fliers of all the dragons, I think.”
“Third, actually,” Tom corrected, though he was clearly impressed at the boy’s factual knowledge. Then, he asked the question that Nancy had been keeping in her mind as well. “Are you from Hoenn?”
“No,” said the boy. “I just know from this book I read once.” He looked around at the pokémon surrounding Nancy and her team. “Do you battle?”
Tom rubbed his eyes. “Uh, not anymore. I used to when I was young, but then I decided to take my life in a different direction. And I met these guys over there.” He jerked his thumb towards the bench with a smirk. Bobby rolled his eyes in return.
“You can’t live without us and you know it, Tom,” he hollered.
Tom dismissed him with a wave, turning back to the boy. “So are you a trainer?”
The boy nodded. As he paced carefully around the group of pokémon in the grass, Loudred, in his curious nature, drew near, ears flicking. The boy stopped as Loudred approached, and somewhat tentatively reached out with his free hand. The pokémon flinched back for a moment, then allowed the boy to stroke the top of his head.
“He’s pretty cool,” said the boy.
Nancy smiled. “Thanks. He’s got pretty good endurance too. He helped me fend off a couple of pesterers once. Remember, Ned? Back in Floaroma?”
Ned began to laugh, and the rest of the team joined in. The boy, however, suddenly became serious. As Loudred nudged his elbow, he faced Nancy again. “Helped, how?”
Nancy stifled her giggles behind her palm. “Well, we were back in Floaroma looking for someone to interview, and we had to battle a group of trainers to get into this special club. The guy we wanted was inside, but they wouldn’t let us through because apparently the club was for battlers only. We had let our pokémon out for some fresh air, so they were with us too. We tried to negotiate with the trainers, but then out of nowhere they just whipped out their pokeballs and started to attack our pokémon. So we fought back.”
“And won,” said Ned with a smile. “Though the club turned out to be a real bore…”
The boy nodded. “So, what kinds of moves does Loudred use? Do you know any?”
Nancy rubbed her chin. “Well, he knows Uproar. That was definitely useful... I think he used Supersonic once too, but I can’t be sure.”
The boy wrote all this down. “What about Flygon?”
Tom tallied the moves on his fingers. “Flamethrower, Sandstorm, Dragon Claw, Earthquake, Hyper Beam, Sand Tomb… that’s all I can think of right now.”
The boy turned to Bobby, who tilted back his cap. “Hey, what’s with the 20 Questions?”
The boy shrugged. “I’m researching for my next Gym battle.”
“Researching for a Gym battle?” Bobby whistled. “Holy snap, look at this kid. You got a name?”
“Michael Rowan,” the boy replied.
“Nice to meet you, Michael,” Bobby said.
“Likewise.” The boy closed his notebook for a moment. “So… are you guys like a traveling TV show or something? Like Rising Trainers on SNN?”
Nancy fought back a cringe. “No. We’re uh, a TV station crew. Sinnoh Now.”
“Never heard of it,” the boy said.
“Yeah, but you will,” Bobby cut in. “Just wait. We’re on the hunt for the story of the year. One day you’ll be watching TV and bam—we’ll be there.”
The boy smiled. “But you need a story first, don’t you?”
Nancy did a mental double-take. “That’s… true.”
The boy rocked on his feet for a moment, his eyes drifting up towards the trees. For a minute, it seemed like he was about to say something, but then he simply shrugged. “Well, good luck.” He raised his arm in a lazy sort of wave, and backed away.
Nancy smirked. “Thanks. Good luck with your battle.”
The boy nodded, and walked off. It was just then that Nancy noticed a Turtwig scamper over to him from behind a small bush, its leaf twirling in the breeze. Its skin was a pale blue-green, and its shell was a light, almost gleaming brown.
Nancy leaned forward to get a better look, but the pair quickly retreated down the path, and she could only spot the minor details. Still, they were enough to puzzle her. It was a peculiar sight, and it gave Nancy a peculiar feeling, causing her to wonder if maybe she had seen something like it before.
She rummaged through her mind a bit, but after a moment, she snapped back to reality. It was her day off, for goodness’s sake. If it was anything worth remembering, it would come to her eventually.
For now, she was happy to put it aside.
Well now, Michael's type chart is coming along quite nicely. And maybe he's rubbing off on Henry... that ploy to get Jerry to reveal his type preference was quite cunning... though Bertha's possible suspicious stare is a bit unnerving. Still, Psychic isn't represented at all on the type chart, so I'm looking forward to seeing how Michael will prepare for a foe that's an unknown quantity at this point.
Well, looks like we have two sets of interviewers about Amity Square... and *GASP!* they meet! So perhaps this casual neeting between Michael and Nancy & Co. might be hinting that their paths will cross again someday... possibly involving Team Galactic. That would look to be a grand 'ol time
Until next chapter! Looking forward to it!
The Eterna factory explosion definitely wasn't a criminal job in any sense... that was just to poke some fun at Nancy's crew, since we all know that they were the 'mysterious group' that the newsman mentioned
And yes, that was a surprising burst of creativity from Henry. I guess Michael's not the only one who's changing, eh?
I'm having a lot of fun writing about Nancy's crew. Her team and Michael will meet again, and then perhaps we may find out more... For now, though, stay tuned.
Thanks for the review!
This one was a challenge to write, but I finally got it to where I wanted it to be. It's small, but important. You'll see why at the end. ;)
By late afternoon, the sky had blossomed into shades of orange and yellow over the park of Amity Square, and Michael had filled two more notebook pages with information. Most of it was basic stuff, observations, and vague connections about possible type matchups that he made a note to test later on, but his most desired information—the type status of Psychic pokémon—remained out of his reach.
As the crowd in the park trickled away, and workers began to close off gates, Michael went back to the central fountain and decided to call it a day. He went looking for Henry, and found the boy sitting on a bench, with his notebook open on his lap. His Clefairy, who had been skipping at his feet for practically the whole day, seemed to have finally run out of fuel. The pokémon was curled up beside him now, like a dozing pink gumdrop.
Michael approached and leaned against the bench. “So what did you find?” he asked.
“Not much,” Henry replied, flipping a page. Up close, Michael saw that the boy looked rather irritated, his mouth curled into a half-pout. Over the many days that they had traveled together, Michael had learned to recognize the Henry Face when he saw it, and crossed his arms.
“What’s with you?” he said. “Did you not get anything or something?”
Henry shook his head. “No. It’s just this trainer I met about an hour ago. He was really annoying.”
“He kept watching me while I was walking around and stuff. At first I kind of ignored it, but then he came up to me.” Henry’s expression darkened. “And he asked me if I was a spokesperson for Contests, because nobody in their right mind would walk around with a wimpy Clefairy.”
Michael bit his lip to keep from laughing. “And? You told him to shut it, right?”
“Kinda. Well, I tried to.” Henry let out a breath. “We got into an argument, and at the end he threw a rock at me.”
Michael perked an eyebrow at the sudden twist. “Whoa. Really?”
“Well not at me, but at my feet. Then he just ran off.” Henry reached into his pocket and pulled out a bumpy black stone. “I kept it.”
The laugh Michael had been fighting to keep down escaped him in a sudden burst, and he clutched his stomach as he shook. “Why? Man, why?”
A brief smile shone through Henry’s gloom. “I don’t know… I think it’s cool. It's like one of those pumice stones that they find near volcanoes, only it's heavier. Want to see?” Henry proffered the stone.
Michael let his chuckles subside, and placed his hand on the bar of the bench. “You’re hopeless, you know that? First of all, when someone calls your pokémon wimpy, you call their mother wimpy. Second, if someone throws a rock at you, you throw it back. Don’t keep it, for Pete’s sake. Did you want to commemorate the occasion or something?”
The boy was silent. Michael sat down on the arm of the bench, placing his hands on his knees. “It’s about time I taught you how to deal with people. Remember how I told you that people are gonna keep stepping all over you until you learned to stick up for yourself?”
“Yeah,” Henry said.
“Well now, if that kid ever sees you again, he’s gonna think you’re an easy target. And you are, because that’s how you presented yourself. Even worse, you kept the thing he threw at you. That’s like taking an F paper and framing it on your wall.”
“I guess…” Henry looked the stone over again and placed it into his pocket. The motion roused the sleeping Clefairy, who cracked open one eye and squealed in disapproval.
“Sorry,” Henry said. “You can go back to sleep.” He patted Clefairy’s head, and she rolled over to the side.
Michael opened his notebook. “So did you get any stuff on Psychic pokémon?”
The boy lowered his head towards his notes again. “I think so. There was this one lady who was out with a Kadabra. She let me watch as it bent these two spoons.”
“And how did that go?”
“Well, it held them up.” Henry drew up his arms in imitation. “Then it sort of squinted… and they bent. Just like that.” He smiled. “It was really cool. It didn’t touch them or anything — it just sort of used its mind.”
Michael pondered this. “Well, yeah, that makes sense. Psychic moves are non-contact. Stuff like Hypnosis and Confusion. It must be some sort of special process that goes on in the brain, that only certain species can utilize. Otherwise all pokémon would be Psychic.”
Henry snapped his fingers. “Hey, like Byron’s Bronzor!”
“That's what I was thinking too. Remember how it used that one move and its opponents just dropped unconscious?”
Henry nodded. “Yeah! But wait… wasn’t Bronzor a Steel type? That was why Ground moves affected it. How could it use Psychic moves too?”
“Well, apparently you don’t have to be a pure Psychic pokémon to use Psychic moves. Bronzor’s a Steel pokémon, but it must also have a Psychic part that allows it to manipulate energy. That works for some other pokemon too. I think it’s called dual types.”
“Are you sure?” Henry looked to him, and Michael shrugged.
“It’s the best we’ve got.”
The boy processed this, and nodded. “Okay. But what about strengths? What’s Psychic good against?”
Michael thought back to his battle with Byron. “Well… there was this one moment when I sent out Turtwig against Bronzor. Then it just used its crazy powers and Turtwig fell flat after practically a second. As opposed to my Goldeen and your Clefairy, which held out longer. So I guess Grass must be vulnerable. We’ll have to test it somehow before the battle to be sure, though.”
Nodding, Henry added ‘Psychic’ to their compiled chart. “Okay, so it’s effective against Grass. What else? What could Psychic be vulnerable to?”
“I guess it depends what the second type of the pokémon is,” Michael said.
“But what if all of Jerry’s pokémon are pure Psychic?”
Michael puffed out his cheeks. “Then I don’t know. We’ll wing it.”
Henry nearly dropped the pencil he was holding. “But we can’t! You said that we’d be preparing!”
Michael lifted a hand to stop him. “I know, I know, I was kidding. Sheesh. I’m just tired.” He brushed his hair from his forehead. “God, all this feels like studying for final exams. Which I didn’t do, but still.” He cast his gaze over the afternoon sky, and was silent for several minutes. After some time of consideration, he stood from the bench. “I guess we should go now. I’m hungry.”
Henry nodded. “Yeah, let’s go.”
The boys gathered their things. Clefairy had fallen sound asleep against Henry’s leg again, and when the boy stood, she slid off the bench and plopped into the grass. With a gasp, Henry rushed to pick her up.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” Henry scooped her into his arms and brushed a tuft of hair from her eyes. “Are you okay?”
But Clefairy didn’t seem to be paying attention. She had made no attempt to break her fall, and her eyes, still half-closed, were trailing and unfocused. She seemed caught in a dream. Michael stepped closer, and in the waning light he could see that her skin was abnormally pale, bagging beneath the eyes as if from a sleepless night. As Henry held her, the pokémon gave a soft sniff.
“Uh, Henry,” Michael said. “Your Clefairy’s sick.”
Henry’s eyes widened in alarm. “What? No she’s not.”
Michael pressed two fingers to Clefairy’s forehead. Sure enough, he could sense a feverish warmth simmering within. “Yes she is. Feel.”
Henry felt Clefairy’s forehead. The boy’s lips parted, and as if by maternal instinct, he hugged Clefairy closer.
“But she was fine two hours ago!” he protested. “She was walking right by me and everything!”
Michael shrugged. “We’ve been out in a public park for almost four days now. She probably caught it from one of the other pokémon.”
Henry looked down at his Clefairy, biting his lip. “Should we take her to the Pokémon Center?”
“Your battle’s on Monday. I sure would if I were you,” Michael said.
But Henry did not seem to have heard him—his decision was already made. The boy gathered his things, and with the ailing Clefairy in his arms, he scampered down the path. Michael rushed after him, frustrated by Henry's panicked speed.
“Relax!” he called. “Clefairy’s not going to die!”
“Just hurry!” Henry said. To the contrary, he began to run faster, the tote bag bouncing comically against his side.
They zipped their way through the park, across the road, and along the street leading to their hotel. The Pokémon Center was a separate building that stood in the same parking lot, dwarfed by its multistoried companion. By the time they arrived, blue evening had begun to cool the flaming sunset, and the Center's 24-Hour sign had been turned on, calling out to them like a shining beacon.
Michael and Henry made a loud entrance, bursting through the doors, stumbling and panting from their long run. Their arrival hardly disturbed the lobby, however, which was alive and running at an efficient, professional pace. Nurses and staff members came and went from a series of doors at the head of the room, pushing carts and carrying pokémon wrapped in blankets.
The lobby was built with trainers in mind as well, its walls and furniture accented in pink, its living room-like seating areas sporting fake flowers and large, cushioned couches. Heat therapy stations dotted the walls like soda machines, and Michael was about to pull Henry over to one, but the boy did not want to take any chances.
Henry immediately approached the front counter, where a lady sat, looking over some files. She was dressed like the other nurses, complete with the apron and cap, but her eccentricity lay in a pair of thin, zebra-striped glasses perched on her nose. When Henry arrived, the nurse looked up, immediately reading the concern on his face.
“Hello,” she said, frowning. “Is something wrong?”
“My Clefairy’s sick. She was all right this morning, but then she sort of crashed and fell asleep. She's really warm too.” Henry held up Clefairy, who in the artificial light, looked even worse than before. Her stubby ears had drooped, and she squirmed at the elevated noise level in the room.
The nurse gently took the pokémon into her arms and laid her palm against its cheek. “Yep. She has a fever. I can feel it right through here. I can run some quick tests for you to determine a possible virus.”
“Yes please,” Henry said.
The nurse nodded. “I’ll be back. Wait here.” She left the counter and disappeared behind one of the doors.
They waited for several minutes, during which Henry began to pace around the lobby, his eyes running across the walls and furniture, his fingers toying with the vases of flowers that adorned the tables. Every time a nurse or staff member would emerge from the back door with a pokémon, he turned to them with hopeful eyes, then grumblingly cast his gaze away again when he saw that it wasn’t Clefairy.
Michael was utterly puzzled by the boy’s reaction, and though he tried to put himself in Henry’s place, he couldn’t bring himself to sympathize with him. Pokémon had never been a big part of life in his family. Neither of his parents had been trainers, and the only pet Michael could ever remember having was a Glameow, which Patricia had brought in when he was five or six, probably to patch up the already-growing tensions in the household. At first, Michael’s brothers had been okay with it, and his father even offered to get up early to take it outside. But over the weeks, Andrew grew tired of the Glameow’s constant mewling and attachment to him, and Michael’s brothers complained that it was leaving claw marks all over their doors and messing through their stuff. Michael had also found the Glameow’s presence invasive, and would often enter his room to find that it had stretched itself out on his bed, its prim, slanted eyes watching him threateningly should he dare to push it off. Swayed by majority vote, Patricia grudgingly donated it to a pet store, and the Rowans never got another pokémon again.
Michael had been relieved by Glameow’s absence, and at the fact that he could sleep peacefully without worrying about claws or whipping tails. Back then, having a pokémon around was like dragging along a cinderblock wherever you went. It was an extra body to take care of, which the Rowans were simply too busy to do. And even though he was older now, Michael still held the same viewpoint. Henry, however, was nothing short of an oddity.
Michael followed the boy's confused beeline across the lobby, keeping a few paces behind him as if he were holding an invisible leash. Finally, the zebra-striped rims appeared from behind the back door, and their nurse hurried over to them, clutching Clefairy in her arms. Her face, as of yet, betrayed nothing.
Henry met her somewhat tentatively. “So what is it? Just a cold, right?”
The nurse’s face clouded. “I’m not sure. She came up negative for a bacterial infection, and we didn’t detect PokéRus. But her blood was a bit… odd. She has an unusual amount of antibodies circulating in her body right now.”
“What does that mean?” Henry said.
“Well, you know how you have lots of antibodies in your blood? They help you fight off diseases. With a human, that’s normal. But pokémon don’t get sick like we do. Their immune systems are structured differently, and they only have one main type of antibody in their blood. For them, that’s normal. When they get sick, that one type of antibody is usually enough to cover most diseases they can be affected with. But we found a second type of antibody in your Clefairy’s blood, which technically isn’t impossible, but it means that her body’s dealing with an unknown pathogen and doesn’t quite know how to attack it yet.”
“Uh-huh...” Henry nodded. His face was visibly losing color.
“We weren’t able to find the exact microbe causing it, which means that either it’s an advanced virus, or our equipment isn’t good enough to detect it. Either way, I’d recommend visiting a more advanced hospital. There are a few pokémon-specialized hospitals in Hearthome—”
“We don’t have time to visit a hospital,” Michael said. “We have a battle on Monday.”
The nurse shook her head. “Then I suggest rescheduling. I would get this Clefairy to a lab right away. She’s probably suffering from a mutated pathogen of some sort, but a specialist will be able to give you better answers. Here.” She handed Clefairy back to Henry, and Michael noticed that the boys arms were shaking.
“What’s gonna happen?” the boy looked up, his voice small.
“For now, just wait and see,” said the nurse. She pulled a small glass bottle from the pocket of her apron. “This should help with the fever. One tablespoon an hour. Other than that, my advice would be lots of water and sleep. I’d also recommend keeping her out of her pokéball for a while. I know being in containment can be really stressful on pokémon’s bodies.”
Henry took the medicine and nodded slowly. “Okay,” he mumbled. “Thank you.”
The nurse smiled warmly. She clasped her hands together and went back to the counter. Henry guided himself towards the exit, but instead of going for the doors, he veered aside and plopped down in an empty chair. Michael sat down across from him, weirded-out by the boy’s reaction.
“Look, relax,” he began. “You’re acting like you’ve gotten a statement from the morgue. I bet that nurse lady just read something wrong on her equipment, and thought it was something serious. If you ask me, she didn’t look like she knew what she was talking about at all. Clefairy will be fine.”
Henry did not seem at all comforted by Michael’s words. He sank into a long, deep silence, during which he stared mostly at his hands, unflinching as the people came and went about them. Then, finally, Henry lifted his head. “I want to go see Bertha.”
Michael blinked at this sudden pronouncement. “Why Bertha all of a sudden?”
“Because I want to go see her,” Henry repeated.
“Well, okay,” Michael said. “We’ll go see Bertha. I don’t know what good it’ll do, but sure.”
Henry narrowed his eyes. “What, do you not want to see Bertha?”
“No. Who says I don’t want to see Bertha?”
“Why would I say that?”
“I’m asking you.”
“I told you already, it’s fine with me.”
“But you still don’t think it’s a good idea,” Henry pressed.
“And what made you think that?”
“Because you said it.”
“I didn’t say that I didn’t want to,” Michael said. “I just said that I didn’t know why you wanted to see her all of a sudden, but I guess if you really want to, then we’ll go.”
“But that’s not what you meant!” said Henry with sudden anger, rising from his seat. “You said that you didn’t want to!”
Michael felt his temper flare. He gripped the arm of the couch and leaned forward. “Look, I never said that! All I said was that I didn’t know why you wanted to see her, and then you started going all ape about it and put words in my mouth! What’s your freaking bag, man?”
“I don’t have a problem! Maybe you should stop putting words in my mouth and just listen to what I’m saying, for once!”
Michael opened his mouth for a retort, when he realized that the argument was going absolutely nowhere. Michael shook his head slowly, his anger dissipating into a blank gape. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Henry blinked. Then, as if by some magic trigger, his face regained its former calm. “I guess… nothing. Never mind.” He rubbed his eyes and sat down.
“So… do you want to see Bertha or not?” Michael said carefully. “It’s up to you.”
Henry thought for a bit, then nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
With that, they left the Pokémon Center and went back to the hotel. Henry agreed to pick up some dinner first, though he insisted on avoiding the large, germ-spreading crowd at the cafeteria and eating alone. So with their take-out containers in hand, Michael and Henry marched up to Bertha’s room and knocked.
“Bertha, it’s us!” Henry said. “Can we come in?”
Michael heard a distant rustle. “Just a second!”
They waited for a moment, and then Bertha opened the door, flooding the hallway with orange light. Her curtains were drawn, and the usually tidy room she kept was now slightly disheveled. The beds and table were piled high with clothing of all sorts, making the space look like a colorful whirlpool. Empty shopping bags were stuffed into the corner.
Michael was the first to comment, lifting an eyebrow. “What’s with the new decor?”
Bertha smiled somewhat sheepishly as she guided them inside. “I did some shopping in my free time. I figured that while summer lasts, I might as well take advantage of city department stores.” Coming around to one of the beds, she lifted a white sundress and held it against her frame. “Would this look all right on me? I think it’s too low-cut, but the color’s nice. You don’t see a lot of white these days.”
Michael nodded. “It looks fine.” As he heard himself say this, he couldn’t help but chuckle. His own mother had been a splurge-shopper, and in her frequent swings of mood and taste, she would end up returning nearly half of what she had bought, resulting in piles and piles of receipts on their counter.
As he and Henry sat down at the two-person table in the corner, food containers and all, Bertha sorted through a few more items. “I bought stuff for you boys too,” she said. Bertha showed a couple of tye-dye shirts to Michael and a pair of plain pants. For Henry, she laid out a similar outfit, only one of the shirts featured a pokéball. Michael was surprised at Bertha’s well-picked assortment for him, though his gut instinct was to shake his head.
“You didn’t have to do this,” he said.
Bertha shrugged. “I guess I just wanted to say thanks for putting up with me all this time. I know it can be annoying to tug along a third wheel wherever you go, especially someone like me who’s got her own agenda. And plus, those pants will look much more decent on you than jeans. Just sayin’.” She smiled.
Henry didn’t comment on his gifts, but smiled somberly and placed Clefairy in his lap. Bertha looked up at him.
“Hey, what’s wrong? You don’t seem like yourself.” She came around and kneeled beside the bed.
“My Clefairy’s sick,” Henry replied. “The nurse at the Pokémon Center said that there was some sort of problem with her antibodies… that there were too many or something. And now I’m not sure if she’ll get better.” He sighed.
Bertha knit her eyebrows. “May I?” Henry nodded, and she scooped Clefairy into her arms. The pokémon squirmed, but for the most part lay still as she stroked its head. “Mmm. Poor thing…When my pokémon were sick my mom always made them tea to help them sleep. I’d do it for you guys now, but I don’t have anything to brew.”
“That’s okay,” Henry mumbled.
Bertha looked at them, and their unopened containers of food. “You boys can eat here if you want. I don’t mind. I could use the company.”
Henry smiled gratefully. Bertha pulled up an extra chair for herself and set Clefairy down in her lap. Michael and Henry ate their food, and she watched them, occasionally giving Clefairy a rub on the head, which always made the pokémon giggle, snorting softly through her stuffy nose. It was almost like they were seated at Bertha’s dinner table again, and though the surroundings were different, Michael still felt oddly at home. Even Clefairy looked somewhat happy, and seemed to regain some of her former playfulness as Bertha cooed to her.
“You know, I wouldn’t worry too much about what that nurse told you,” Bertha said to Henry. “I’ve been around pokémon for my whole life, and I’ve seen it all. They bounce back from sicknesses even better than we do, sometimes.”
Henry shrugged. “The nurse said that it was something she had never seen before, and that I had to take her to a hospital and get her tested. But I really don’t want to.”
Michael nodded his agreement. If they were to start hunting for hospitals now, then it would throw their whole schedule off track. He didn’t even want to think about what Henry would say if those tests came out bad as well. Thankfully, though, the boy did not seem to need convincing.
“I hate hospitals,” Henry continued. “They scare me. And the doctors are always so unfriendly.”
Bertha laughed. “My grandma always said that the best doctor is joy and good company. Though that was way back when. Medicine’s gotten much more respectable now. I’d say there’s nothing wrong with getting professional advice, as long as you’re smart about it.”
Henry bobbed his head slowly in a nod. “Yeah. But… what about our battle? I don’t want to make Michael miss his just because of me. We’ve been practicing really well so far.”
Both Henry and Bertha turned to Michael, eyeing him tentatively as if unsure of his reaction. Michael tilted his head to the side as he pieced together an answer. “Well, we could always reschedule, like the nurse said. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if we stay for an extra day or two in Hearthome.”
“Wow, Michael,” Henry said. “You’d do that?”
“Sure…” Michael felt a sinking sensation in his stomach, and he suddenly wondered what consequences he would suffer from what he had just said. Still, he figured it was better to travel with a happy Henry than a neurotic one. And the extra days would give him more time to polish his knowledge about Psychic types… right?
Henry’s eyes were beginning to widen with surprised gratitude, so Michael looked away. Bertha tapped her fingers on the table, and nodded.
“That sounds like a plan,” she said. “But I don’t like the idea of you boys putting off your battle for too long. Spots in Hearthome fill up pretty quick, and you don’t often see trainers rescheduling. I think we should devote some time tomorrow to ask Jerry if he has any other days available that we can reserve just in case. I’ll have to tweak my own schedule if we’re going to stay here a bit longer than planned—”
“No, don’t!” Henry blurted. He was blushing from embarrassment. “It’s okay, you don’t have to. I’ll just be messing everything up now.”
“No,” Bertha said, lowering her hand onto the table. “You have a sick pokémon that needs to get better. That’s just as important as any battle or petition. We’re not talking about weeks here, only an extra few days in the city. It won’t kill anyone. So don’t worry about us.”
Henry looked at her for a moment, then dropped his gaze. “Okay... Thanks, Bertha.”
Bertha’s expression softened. “No problem. Now you boys should go get some rest. I can see you’re both tired.”
Michael rose from his chair and yawned. “All right. Let’s go, Henry.” He took his emptied take-out container with him and dropped it into the trash can. Bertha handed Clefairy back to Henry, and after sharing a few good-byes, the boys left the room.
Michael woke up in the middle of the night with a mild headache and a sour mood. His pillow was bunched up against the headboard, and his blanket was sliding off the edge of the bed, leaving one half of him exposed to the evening chill. With a grunt, he sat up to make the necessary adjustments, his tired mind swarming with fragmented thoughts.
In the neighboring bed, Henry was sound asleep. Moonlight was spilling into the space between them, illuminating the TV, and the shadowed pictures framed on the walls. Michael had crashed to sleep at around eleven, while Henry had chosen to stay up to look after Clefairy. He had fashioned an entire shelter for her, complete with a mattress made out of shirts, a cup of cool water, and some toys in case she got lonely. The last thing Michael saw was the boy taking out the pumice stone and playing a sort of baby-catch game with Clefairy, but after that, he had been too tired to keep his eyes open.
And now, he couldn’t sleep.
Michael’s annoyance at himself faded into dull acceptance as he sank back into his pillow. He heard a cough and a scuffle from nearby. Apparently someone else wasn’t getting their sleep either.
As Michael began to close his eyes again, trying to latch onto what remained of his fading dreams, he heard a loud thump. His eyes flew open, and he looked around. Henry was as still as ever, but the pile of clothing on the table had unraveled, and was now on the floor. In the weak light, Michael saw a round, pale shape stumble around on the carpet, blindly crawling away from the table.
Great. Perfect. With a disgruntled sigh, he lowered himself back down again, pulling the covers over his head. But then he felt a tiny pang of guilt, and with another groan, brought himself out of bed, dropping onto all fours on the carpet.
“Here, Clefairy,” Michael whispered, crawling half-blindly after the pokémon. “Come ‘ere. That’s it.”
He held out his hands, and when the Clefairy noticed his presence, a shudder ran through its body. As it backed away from him, the moonlight caught its face, bringing a pale, eerie flash to its eyes. Michael advanced further, his frustration climbing.
“Come on. To me, Clefairy. To me.”
The Clefairy continued to back away, and he continued to follow, forming a slow, annoying cycle in the center of the room. Michael found himself being oddly considerate of his sleeping roommate, muffling his movements and trying not to bump into anything, but as a result, his reflexes were sluggish and imprecise. When Michael’s patience finally wore thin, he made a blind lunge for the Clefairy, but the pokémon skipped out of the way with surprising agility. Michael fell flat on his stomach. The pokémon ran a few more steps, then stumbled drunkenly and fell down as well.
Michael scrambled to lift himself. The Clefairy regained its footing and continued to walk. It disappeared behind his bed, then came out again, looking even more haggard than before. The pokémon did not seem to have a particular destination in mind; it simply moped about like a zombie, arms scabbing at its body.
A sudden idea sprang to the forefront of Michael’s mind. He turned back to the table and grabbed the small black stone, and held it out to the Clefairy, putting on the best playful-child smile he could manage.
“Come on, Clefairy. Want to play? Come on. Look, I have your favorite toy right here. Right here, that’s it…” He found the Clefairy, who was currently backed up against the wall, one arm holding the surface behind it for support and the other clutching its stomach, in a comical posture of nausea.
Michael got down on his knees again and waved the stone around, and the Clefairy’s glittering eyes found his for a moment. Sniffling, the pokémon flinched away, and Michael’s smile turned into a snarl. “Ugh. Come on, Clefairy! Just get over here! Get over here, you little—”
Michael made to push himself forward, when he realized that he was leaning as far as his position would allow. Feeling a sudden wave of exhaustion wash over him, Michael instead sat back down on his knees. What was he doing? Getting carried away again, that was what. If Clefairy wanted to produce a giant vomit-puddle on the carpet, that was fine with him. He’d deal with it when he woke up.
Michael rubbed his eyes again. Beside him, Clefairy let out a whimper. “Argh, whatever. Play with this.” He tossed the stone.
It fell about a foot away from Clefairy’s feet, but when he heard the resulting shriek, Michael whipped back around, afraid for a moment that he had hit it.
In a way, he had.
The Clefairy was doubled over now, staggering from a series of violent convulsions that were shaking its body. Any moment now, it would start blowing chunks.
As the Clefairy fell away from the wall and stumbled forward, Michael backed away by instinct, too stunned or amazed to tear away his gaze. The Clefairy came to a halt in a patch of moonlight cast upon the carpet, and by then, Michael’s back was pressed up against the side of his bed. The pokémon let out a horrible retching sound, but nothing came out. Instead, it seemed to shrink, balling itself up and lying on its side like a withered prune.
And then it grew.
The change was like an explosion, swift and graceful like a flower blooming at high-speed. The Clefairy’s torso inflated like a fuzzy balloon, and all at once, the structures and appendages on its body began to morph of their own accord. Limbs thickened, ears lengthened and sharpened like carrot sticks, and the tiny comma of a tail blew up to the size of a soccer ball. On its back, a pair of new, tiny stubs sprouted out of its back like little knobs, then unfurled into a pair of pink cupid wings. The pokemon turned and wrenched with the force of the shakes, every angle bringing a new glimpse of a body that was tweaking itself like a machine, grinding gears and turning switches.
When it was over, the quakes subsided, and the final fragments of the transformation fell into place. The tiny tuft of hair between the pokémon’s ears grew into a neat, single curl, and its eyes, which had been baggy and congested only moments before, now rounded against smooth, dimpled skin.
With calm lucidity, the pokémon slowly uncurled itself from its slouched position, swaying a little with its unfamiliar height. All traces of sickness had faded from its appearance. The silver light of the moon traced its full silhouette, its no-longer-stubby legs, round belly, and pointed ears. Suddenly one of them flicked, and the pokémon turned to Michael, casting him a knowing sort of smile.
It was only then that Michael became aware that he was gaping like an idiot, eyes bulging out of their sockets, hands slack at his sides.
Roughly a minute later, he found his voice.
Well now, this looks like it could be a game-changer, and in more ways than one.
(1) Michael discovers stone evolution (if he realizes that the stone is what triggered the process, that is)
(2) Henry's reaction in the morning when his former Clefairy is now bigger and tougher
(3) How this evolution will play a factor in Henry's match against Jerry
(4) Evolution apparently auto-heals sickness and infections in Pokemon?
As for (2) I'm still unsure at how Henry's gonna react... whether he'll think it''s totally awesome or whether he'll be all "MICHAEL! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY CLEFAIRY?!?!" Given their shouting match in the center, and the fact that evolution is still a relatively inknown process, he could go either way... maybe thinking the illness mutated it or something.
Well, I guess we'll be waiting till next chapter to find that out. I'll be looking forward to that!
As for your other points, they will also be addressed in either 20 or 21. I'm expecting to have at least Henry's battle in 20, then maybe Michael's in 21.
Thanks for the review
This chapter was another challenge, both in content and in formatting. After doing quite a bit of thinking, I’ve resolved to split it into two parts again. They're both somewhat long, and in theory I could have made them two different chapters, but since they share a common theme, it would be more appropriate to keep them under one heading. Plus, you’ll get to see the Gym battle now instead of having to wait. I know I don’t like waiting. :P
So, without further ado… Chapter 20.
“Wake up! WAKE UP!”
A bag of feathers hit Henry over the head with a whump. At first, the boy did not stir, still drifting in dismembered thoughts. Then the blow came a second time, shattering his concentration on sleep and forcing him into awareness. Groaning, Henry pushed himself up and rubbed open his eyes.
Michael was standing beside his bed, still in his nightclothes, clutching a pillow. At the sight of his friend, Henry felt a flicker of irrational panic. “Oh my gosh, the battle!” He bolted up. “Is it today? Did I oversleep?”
“No,” Michael said. “We still have three days. I just wanted to let you know that your Clefairy passed away last night.”
“WHAT?!” Henry sprang to his feet. Almost unconsciously he grabbed hold of Michael’s shoulders. “You’re lying, it’s not funny! What did you do?”
Michael shook his head, his expression blank. “I tried to save her, but I guess I was too late. She’s gone.”
“No!” Henry pushed Michael with all his might, causing him to collide with the wardrobe. Michael dropped the pillow in surprise, but he was smiling, and when Henry began to shake him all the harder, his grin broadened. With ease, Michael pushed Henry’s arms away and sprang back towards the TV, out of Henry’s reach. “I’m telling the truth,” he said. “Clefairy’s gone. I saw it with my own eyes.”
Henry stiffened, clenching his fists at his sides. He felt a sting of shock pass over his face, then warm welling tears. “You’re lying, Michael Rowan! You’re lying!” He bit his lip. As much as he did not want the tears to fall, the urge was already beginning to overpower him.
“I told you, I’m not. If you really want to know, it happened at around midnight, while you were still asleep. I decided to wait before telling you.”
Henry gritted his teeth. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“She was a good Clefairy,” Michael continued gravely. “Brave and loyal…”
“NO! SHUT UP! I’M TELLING YOU, STOP IT!—” Henry screamed, but his throat closed up before he could say more. One more word, and he would lose it.
“But hey, don’t sweat it.” Michael gave Henry an amiable pat on the shoulder. “You know what they say—life’s short. I guess Clefairy’s time was up, that’s all.”
Henry scrunched up his face and let out a low croon. Tears began to spill down his cheeks in powerful gobs, and through the blur of water and wails, he failed to see that Michael had retreated into the bathroom and come out with something in his arms.
“But Clefable seems to be feeling fine, on the other hand.”
Henry’s wails increased, then suddenly Michael thrust something into his arms. It was big and pink and furry.
“Wha… what?” Henry blinked. He was holding a pokémon. Its body was large and angular, and it had big, long ears and arms. At the first glance, the creature held no familiarity for him. But, taking a closer look, Henry realized that the old dimpled cheeks were still there… as were the round, soft eyes that had so often stared into his.
As he blinked away his tears, the pokémon’s thin mouth slowly spread into a smile. It lifted its tiny hands, holding on to Henry's arms with a reassuring, almost welcoming grip.
“… Clefairy?” Henry lifted the pokémon to eye level. There could be no mistaking it. He turned back to Michael, floored with disbelief. “Michael! How…?”
Michael smiled again. “That rock you brought back wasn’t a pumice stone. It was a freaking catalyst. You should’ve seen it!” He spread his arms out wide in a demonstration of hugeness. “Clefairy grew like three times her size in less than ten seconds.”
Henry let out a laugh, more out of relief than amazement. He wiped away his tears with the back of his hand, now feeling slightly foolish for crying. He fluffed Clefable’s pointy ears and brushed his fingers through the comma of pink hair, amazed at the effects of the transformation. As he did, Henry felt a growing sense of puzzlement. “But I—I don’t get it...” He turned to Michael. “What did you see? What exactly happened?”
“It was about the middle of the night,” Michael said. “She fell down from her table, and I started trying to catch her, you know, so I could put her back. Then I got the stone, and I sort of accidentally threw it… and then she just started spazzing out like she was having a seizure. Then she grew. She evolved into Clefable.” He cracked a smile again. “It was wicked cool.”
Henry frowned. “But how is that possible? My grandma had a bunch of Clefairies and they never evolved. Plus, Clefairy and Clefable are two different species. How could one just change all of a sudden?”
“Two different species don’t look similar just for the heck of it,” Michael said. “I think I’ve figured it out.” He took the pumice stone from the nightstand and held it up. “This thing, I don’t know how, must have caused Clefairy to transform. It wasn’t a typical evolution because it wasn’t tied in with Clefairy’s normal growth. That’s probably why she started getting sick yesterday. You kept the stone, and being near it made something in her internal chemistry wig out.”
Henry took this in, and frowned. “Hey! That’s probably why that trainer kid threw it at me! He must have known it would get Clefairy sick and thought it would be funny to play a joke on someone!”
Michael laughed. “Who cares? That flake probably picked it up on the street because he thought it looked cool. Just think—think of what we could do with this!” He held up the stone and examined it in the light. “I bet we could evolve anything!”
Hearing his friend’s astounding words, Henry looked down at his pokémon. Clefable. She was one of his first, given to him by his Kanto-residing grandmother as an infant Cleffa. He had raised her all by himself, watching her grow in size and personality, until she matured into Clefairy. He knew little about Clefables, only that they resided in a secluded mountain in Kanto called Mt. Moon. He had noticed their similar appearances from pictures before, but he had never considered that there might have been a connection between them.
Henry looked back at the pumice stone, and suddenly, something clicked. He gasped. “Michael!”
“Bertha’s Roselia! You don’t think that that’s what happened to her, do you?”
Michael stared at him for a few seconds, eyes widening. “Only one way to find out. Let’s go.”
After leaving Clefable and the still-sleeping Stunky with some food, the boys rushed over to Bertha’s door and knocked. The Gym leader emerged, already in day clothes, looking rather surprised to see them. “Boys? What are you doing up so early?”
“We need to ask you a question,” Michael said. Bertha stepped aside, and they hurried over to the two-person table, occupying the same places as the previous night. Michael kept tapping his hand on his knee, and Henry too seemed to find it hard to mask his anxiousness. Bertha sat down on the bed across from them, already looking perplexed at their strange behavior.
“All right. So, what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Your Roselia,” Michael said.
Bertha’s eyebrows climbed. “Rose? What for?”
Michael tapped his fingers together. “You said that you just found her one day when she had transformed… right?”
“Uh-huh.” Bertha nodded, still somewhat guardedly.
“How exactly did it happen? Did you see any part of it, or did you just find her like that?”
“Hm. I’m not sure I remember much about it. All I know is that I had this really pretty ring…” Bertha pursed her lips, and a reproachful edge crept into her voice. “And for the life of me, I couldn’t find it. I thought I had left it on my nightstand, but it wasn’t there when I checked, or in my purse, or the bathroom, or anywhere. I remember I was looking for it that whole week, and then on one of those days Rose changed.”
“Did she get sick?” Henry asked.
“She did, but only a little. She was perfectly fine when I took her out of her pokéball to feed her that one morning, but then I saw that she had already changed.”
“What did the ring look like?” said Michael.
Bertha’s gaze trailed off for a moment, tracing the bumps in the ceiling. “It was made of silver. The band was cut to look like a thread of leaves, almost. The stone was nice too. It was a light green, almost white, and always looked like it had just been polished. It went with almost any outfit, and that’s why I liked it so much. But then I lost it.” Her gaze fell back to Michael, and she folded her hands in her lap.
Michael and Henry exchanged a glance, and Michael took the stone out from his pocket. “So the rock didn’t look anything like this?”
Bertha’s eyes widened in surprise. “Whoa. Where’d you get that?” She reached for it, and Michael placed it into her palm.
“We found it in Amity Square,” he said.
Bertha traced the stone’s pocked, chiseled surface with her fingers. In the bright sunlight, the rock’s edges gave off a purplish glow. “Well, I can say for sure that I’ve never seen anything like this before. It definitely doesn’t look like something that would be lying around in a park, though. It looks like it came from somewhere in the mountains.” She handed it back to Michael, and sat still for a moment, watching the boy’s unchanging expressions. “So, is there anything else? Have I helped?”
Michael shook his head. “Thanks anyway, Bertha. We have to go.”
They got up, and leaving Bertha somewhat confused, they left the room. In the hallway, Michael pocketed the stone again. “So this definitely wasn’t what made her Roselia evolve… but then what did?”
“Maybe it had something to do with the ring,” Henry offered.
“Could be. But we can’t know for sure until we test it, and that would be impossible now.”
They went back to their room and got ready for breakfast. After a nondescript meal, Michael pushed open a side door to take a shortcut, and found himself crossing through an outdoor patio. In a normal hotel, such an area would have contained a pool and snack bar, but here, the hotel had set up an outdoor battle area. It resembled less of a school backyard, as Oreburgh’s had, and more of an uppity resort club. Two concrete arenas were laid out side-by-side, bordered by palm trees and patio tables with umbrellas. Trainers of all ages congregated together, some battling, and others idly standing by.
Michael kept to the main path, mildly surveying the crowd, but midway he felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned around to Henry. “What?”
“It’s him! That’s the kid from Amity Square!” Henry pointed over to the edge of the nearby arena, where a boy was leaning against the trunk of a palm tree. From this distance, Michael couldn’t make much of him: The boy’s hands were stuffed into the pockets of his pants, and his hair puffed out in curls from beneath his cap.
Michael smiled. “You got your pokémon with you?”
“Yeah, I always have them with me,” Henry said, shifting his tote bag.
“Then let’s go have a little talk. Come on.” Michael pulled Henry after him and led him over to the tree.
The trainer kid didn’t notice their arrival. He kept staring off into the distance, though he looked more vacant than cool, like a strange fellow at a bus stop. He looked to be around Henry’s age.
Michael stopped a few feet away and cleared his throat. “Hey. How’s it going?”
The kid looked up. “Oh. Hey.” He lifted his cap, peering through the tufts of hair to get a better look at his visitors. When the kid saw Henry, a flash of recognition passed over his face, and he jumped back against the tree. The cap’s visor fell awkwardly over his eyes and he pushed it back up as he groped for balance. “You again!” he said. “What, here for a battle? Little baby got his feelings hurt?”
Michael stood still against the trainer’s attempted taunts. He felt Henry shift beside him, and saw the boy’s hand tighten around his pokéball pouch, but Michael stopped him with a light tap on the arm.
“My buddy here didn’t like what you said about his Clefairy,” he continued to the trainer, still keeping a conversational tone. “They’re really close, you see. He’s had that pokémon ever since he was little.”
The trainer’s lips curled into a sneer. “Oh, little baby’s still walking around with his mummy’s Clefairy?”
Henry took a step forward, but Michael held him back. This seemed to boost the trainer’s confidence ever so slightly, and he stepped away from the tree, into the full sun. “So what are you gonna do about it? You wanna start something?” He pounded his fists together.
“That’s what he was about to do,” Michael said, before Henry could interrupt, “but now that he’s taken a second look at you he’s realized that it’s not worth the bother.”
Henry pushed against Michael’s grip. “Get off me!” he grunted. “I can take this kid!”
But Michael did not let go. The trainer, hearing Henry’s protest, broadened his grin and beckoned. “Come on! Why don’t you stop hiding behind your friend there and face me like a real trainer? You scared? I wouldn’t be surprised... sissy little fink that you are.”
With a final lunge, Henry pulled away from Michael’s grasp. Michael gave way willingly and stepped back a few feet. Henry ran up to the trainer till they were only inches apart. “You and me. One on one.”
The trainer smirked. “I thought you’d never ask.”
From his place behind them, Michael crossed his arms. His work here was done.
Henry and the trainer stormed to the center of the battlefield, the other kids willingly clearing the way for them. Henry took his place at one end, the trainer kid at the other, and instantly all around them the crowd began to shift. Michael backed away into the sidelines, sitting down at a spare table, and felt a series of jolts as several others ran around to join him.
When he was able to see the battlefield whole again, he saw Henry and his opponent draw out their pokémon simultaneously. Henry sent out Clefable, and his opponent sent out what appeared to be a strange, engorged bug. The pokémon had a thin, wiry body, six tendril-like legs, and a bulbous head with two eyes that stared in opposite directions. Its wings thrummed as it zipped through the air, adjusting its altitude with minute precision. Michael silently cursed his luck. He had absolutely no idea what the pokémon was, but it sure as hell wasn’t anything that lived in Sinnoh.
He must be from another country… He looked at the trainer again. That was the only logical explanation. Taking Bertha’s words into account, the stone could either have come from the mountains or from a different region entirely. And the trainer kid didn’t look like much of a mountaineer (heck, a tiny hiking trail could have probably finished him), so the most likely explanation was the latter. This conclusion only heightened Michael’s interest.
He watched as Henry shouted his first command, Quick Attack. With a speed that was surprising for her size, Clefable sprang forward and dashed towards the flying bug, eyes narrowed into slits against the rush of air. The trainer kid smiled, directing his pointer finger towards the sky.
Still in the air, the flying bug rolled over onto its back, revealing a tiny network of veins in its wings and abdomen. It curled its tail into a ‘C’, and instantly, a shimmer of green coursed through the fine lines, like a neon light. Simultaneously the ground beneath it cracked.
Michael rose from his chair, and peered along with the swelling crowd as the cracks deepened into fissures, carving out three huge blocks of concrete from the floor. The blocks rose into the air, and one by one, hurled themselves at the speeding Clefable.
Henry clenched his fist. “Clefable, dodge!”
But the pokémon seemed to be doing fine on her own. Clefable skirted out of the way of the first boulder, and evaded the second one with a daring sideways leap. She kept running, dashing straight into the path of the third one. When it looked like the boulder would hit her smack in the face, Clefable jumped, the pads of her feet barely gracing its surface as she let the boulder roll past her. A loud cheer rose out from the crowd, and Henry beamed.
The trainer with the Yanma grit his teeth at the charging Clefable. “Use Wing Attack!”
A loud buzz issued from the Yanma’s wings as it descended. It hovered above the ground for a moment, then with a powerful exertion, swept its wings forward, stirring up a powerful gust. The wind blew around Clefable, but though she stumbled and staggered back, she did not lose her footing.
The gust died down, and Yanma drew back its wings to send the next one. During the pause, Clefable managed to claw her way forward, then ducked her head as the wind again assailed her. Yanma sent several more attacks in this fashion, which Clefable endured with a resolve that was completely unlike the plump, bumbling Clefairy she had been before. She kept going, till she finally crossed the distance between them, and lifted her lengthened claws to swipe at Yanma.
With a jeering buzz, the Yanma glided high out of reach before Clefable could touch it. Frustrated, Clefable began to jump, trying to grab hold of the Yanma’s slender, swooshing tail, which dangled beneath it every time the pokémon turned. When Clefable’s fingers would creep up on the forked edge, the Yanma would flap faster and ascend. Then, as Clefable ran around beneath it, the Yanma would dip temptingly low again, and let the same thing happen. All the while, Clefable remained helplessly trapped below, at a loss for what to do.
As he watched this useless stalemate, a sneer crept into the trainer kid’s face. “Swing it back!” he called to his pokémon. “Tail Whip!”
Flying a safe few yards away from Clefable, Yanma dropped lower than ever, lifting its tail. Seeing that her opponent was once again within reach, Clefable began to charge, arms outstretched. She advanced upon the Yanma, who was tapping the ground with the head of its tail like a baseball player, and Michael tensed in preparation for the collision.
Seconds later, a shrilling cry rang out through the arena. But it wasn’t Clefable’s.
Michael opened his eyes the rest of the way and leaned forward, trying to register what had happened. Instead of being hit like a playground ball, Clefable had somehow managed to grab hold of Yanma’s tail mid-swing, and was now hanging on tight while the Yanma thrashed about in the air, trying to shake her off. Henry and his opponent were both watching, mouths hanging open.
As Yanma twisted and flipped, Clefable kept a tight grip on the edge of its tail, her feet sliding off the ground as she tried in vain to keep her footing. With the Yanma pulling her to and fro, she he resembled a water skier. With a powerful tug, Clefable pulled Yanma out of the air and hit the bug against the ground. But a second later, Yanma picked itself up and swung back in a different direction, pulling Clefable along with it.
“Get it into the air! Use Fly!” shouted the trainer kid.
“Clefable, don’t let it!” Henry countered. “Wake-Up-Slap!”
Clefable pulled herself forward, clawing her way up the Yanma’s tail. The panicked bug began to flap its wings even faster, till they were reduced to twin silver blurs, and Michael heard what seemed like the roar of helicopter blades in their wake. The force of the wind instantly propelled both Yanma and Clefable into the air, and sent a powerful downdraft sweeping through the battlefield.
All around them, people raised their arms over their faces and backed away. A pokéball flag that stood nearby changed directions, and tiny pebbles that had been loosed by Ancientpower now scattered towards the neighboring buildings. Michael hung on to the edges of his table, trying to keep steady as the umbrella creaked and flapped.
Yanma and Clefable ascended higher and higher, till they were skimming above the treetops, their conjoined silhouette blotting out the sun. Henry had been knocked flat on his bottom, as had his opponent, and both boys were now squinting up at the sky, the wind rippling their hair and clothes. The cap had flown from the trainer kid’s head, letting the full mass of his hair splay around his face. The kid cupped his hands around his mouth and let out a bellow.
“Yanma! Use Slash!”
The pokémon didn’t seem to have heard him. Henry shouted up at Clefable, but his voice too was lost in the roar of raging wind. Either Clefable would let go, or Yanma would plummet from exhaustion.
Ducking against the forceful wind, Michael pushed himself away from the table and made his way to the edge of the battlefield as far as his legs would allow. He bent his head back and looked up at the pokémon, who had settled into an impasse, neither rising nor sinking. Clefable’s panicked eyes darted across various points on the ground, probably searching for the softest spot to land on. Yanma gave another jerk, and Clefable seemed to slip a little, but held fast. Her eyes slammed shut. Catching on, Henry scrambled to his feet, running around with his arms out in hopes of catching her.
“Clefable, go!” he called. “Let go! I’ll catch you!”
“No!” The trainer kid jumped up, his expression livid. “Yanma, use Slash! SLASH!” He made a swift swiping gesture with his arm. Yanma buzzed in return.
With a sharp flick, Yanma tossed Clefable off of its tail and into the air. For a split second, Clefable hung there, and the ends of Yanma’s tail glittered a hard, polished silver like a cutting blade. Henry let out a wordless exclamation as the tail swung out at Clefable, making to slice her body from the side. But at that moment, Clefable’s eyes flew open, and to Michael’s shock, he saw that they were a blazing pink.
Before he had time to think, Michael felt a tremendous weight press down upon him, as if someone had dropped an iron vest around his shoulders. His legs gave way beneath him, and with a hard thump, he fell flat against the concrete. Henry and his opponent dropped down likewise, as did the other trainers around them, like so many dominos scattered around a table. Michael was on his back now, his heart pounding in response to the sudden pressure, his skin crawling both hot and cold at the same time. He could barely move. The noises around him swelled into an indecipherable blur, and red spots ran across his vision.
After a few seconds of bewilderment, the pressure faded, and Michael felt a small sigh escape him. He lifted himself, looking around to see what had happened. Henry and his opponent were also recovering from the impact.
At the center of the arena were Clefable and Yanma, still lying flat where they had fallen. The Yanma’s body was draped over Clefable’s, its wings twitching infrequently. Clefable groped weakly for a handhold as she tried to pull free of the dead weight on top of her. Her eyes were half-closed, as if the attack had taken a considerable amount of energy.
In the midst of his scrambled thoughts, it took a while for Michael to realize that the courtyard had gone completely silent. Clefable’s attack had considerably damaged their side of the area: umbrellas hung broken over tables, signs and trash cans were dented, and the flagpole was slightly stooped. A kite that had been flying from one of the overlooking balconies was hanging limp from its string. The other half of the courtyard, in contrast, looked exactly as it had ten minutes ago.
Clefable finally managed to pull free, and scampered over to Henry. The trainer kid didn’t respond to his fallen Yanma, but rather watched as the pokémon weakly lolled about, as if bewildered that such a thing could ever happen.
All around them, the other trainers were whispering. Many of them scurried away, but as Henry pocketed the pokéball, he made to approach his opponent. Michael followed him. The trainer’s expression remained neutral as Henry arrived first, hands on hips.
“Well?” Henry said. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
The trainer met his gaze. “No.”
Michael stepped forward. “Where did you get the stone?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m serious, you little dweeb. Tell me!”
A smile curled the boy’s lips, but he remained silent. Michael bent down beside him and grabbed his arm, jerking him up till their faces were level. “I can knock out the rest of your pokémon if you want!”
Panic flashed in the boy’s eyes, and he lifted his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay! I went with my parents to a museum back in Kanto. They gave us free samples.”
“Free samples of what?”
“I don’t know. They said it was called a moonstone or something… Brought it all the way over from the mountains and they were just giving them out like free candy. I—I kept mine, but I didn’t want it anymore, so —”
“So you threw it at my Clefairy?” Henry said.
“I’m sorry!” the kid blurted. “Okay? I was just playing. And it’s not like your Clefairy got hurt or anything. I mean, nothing happened to him, right?”
Henry jolted forward, but Michael held him back. He looked down at the trainer with a neutral expression. “Just don’t mess with us, and we won’t mess with you. Got it?”
The trainer grumbled. Michael took it as a yes.
Henry returned Clefable to her pokéball, and immediately started towards the side gate. Michael followed, ignoring the passing gasps and remarks of the trainers in the crowd. None of them stopped to talk however; they merely parted way as Michael and Henry passed, then continued their hushed conversations.
Stepping through the gate, Michael let it swing closed behind him. They were now on a quiet, unpaved path that led back to the hotel rooms. It was only when they were finally safe of any possible scrutiny that Henry stopped and took a breath.
“Whew. I thought we’d never get out of there.” He adjusted the strap of his bag and wiped his forehead. Biting his lip, he took a quick glance in the direction of the patio. “We sure made a mess back there. Do you think I should’ve told a staff member or something?”
“I’m just saying. They might be surprised when they go outside and see three big holes in the ground.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Okay, first of all, that wasn’t your fault. And second of all—man!” He grinned. “That was amazing! Your Clefable was totally boss! She beat that Yanma in three minutes flat! Do you know what that means?”
Henry’s cheeks flushed with pride, but he shook his head. “No. What?”
“It means that whatever that morphing was last night, it was a good thing. That rock you found—that moonstone, whatever it was—makes pokémon stronger! It’s the freaking key to all our problems! Think about it: if we could just expose it to all our other pokémon, we could beat Jerry and every other leader in Sinnoh.”
“But wouldn’t someone have figured that out already?” Henry said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re the only people in Sinnoh who have it.”
“Oh come on, didn’t you hear the kid? He brought it all the way from Kanto. And even then, he probably didn’t know what it could do, otherwise he wouldn’t have thrown it away like that. But now, we know what it does. And we’ve gotta put the knowledge to use.” Michael patted his pocket. “I’m gonna test it on my pokémon now. Maybe it’ll do something for them too.”
When they arrived back at their room, he released all his pokémon and gathered them in between the beds. It was somewhat of a mess, and the pokémon greeted him with varying displays of content and confusion, filling the room with garbled noise. Michael took the moonstone from his pocket and tossed it at the group.
“Here. Play with this.”
The stone landed in front of Turtwig, who backed away several steps. Then, ever so slowly, he pushed it with his snout. Caterpie immediately curled herself into a ball, hiding from view, while Machop lifted the stone and turned it over in his hands. Michael nodded. “Yep. Take your time.”
Henry sent out his pokémon as well, and they spend the next fifteen minutes feeding them all. The span of time passed, but still none of Michael’s pokémon showed any special interest in the moonstone. As a last resort, he picked up the stone and held it out to Stunky, wiggling it around the cage in what he hoped was a tempting way. The pokémon was resting on its belly, and seemed reluctant to leave its position, so it turned its head away. Michael lowered his arm. “I don’t get it. Why isn’t it working?”
Henry, who had seated himself at the desk, looked over. “It probably takes time,” he said. “Clefairy only got sick by the end of the day.”
Michael flipped the moonstone over in his hands for a bit, then set it down on the nightstand. “Okay, then we’ll wait. But don’t put it away. Just let them be exposed for a while.”
Henry nodded, and began to turn the pages of his planner. Clefable went over to him, and he lifted her into his lap, hugging her close. With his free hand, Henry traced his finger down to the current date. “The battle’s only three days from now. What are we going to do? Will we practice some more?”
“Definitely,” Michael said. “For one thing, we’ve gotta test Clefable.”
At this, Clefable turned to look at him, one of her long ears twitching. Henry turned as well, and for a minute, they looked almost comically similar—trainer and pokémon—both with confused, wide-eyed gazes. “Huh?”
“That’s right,” Michael said. “I bet you she has more new moves up her sleeve now that she’s evolved. We just have to find them.”
Henry twirled the pencil around, pressing the eraser to his chin. “Like what?”
“Like that move she used at the end to make Yanma fall,” Michael said. “Have you ever seen her use it before?”
Henry shook his head. “Nope.” He looked down at Clefable. “What about you? Have you ever used it before without telling me?” The pokémon giggled.
Michael sighed. “Come on, be serious. We’ve got a completely unique case on our hands here. We can’t goof off. We have to see what else she can do.” He stood. “Come on, we’re going back to the patio.”
Henry slouched in his seat. “But I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to battle any more today.”
“Well you’re gonna have to,” Michael said. “Your pokémon’s powerful now, and we have to examine her if we want to utilize her full potential. Don’t you realize how important this could be?”
“But I don’t want to examine Clefable,” Henry repeated. “And what’s the big deal anyway? Just because she evolved doesn’t mean she’s any different than before.”
“Of course she’s different. Did you not see her battle?” Michael held out his arms. “Give her to me. We’ll take her outside and see what moves she knows.”
“No. She needs to rest,” the boy affirmed.
“We need to examine her.”
“I want her to rest.”
“Well I need to do research!” Michael said.
“Well she needs rest!”
Getting to his feet, Michael threw up his hands in resignation. “Fine! Fine, go ahead. Do what you want. I’ll win my own battle.” He grabbed a discarded Pokémon League Weekly magazine from the shelves and plopped down in one of the bedside chairs. In response, Henry stiffly opened an issue of his own, and they sat with their backs turned, not speaking.
The day passed with few variations. Michael tried several times in vain to get Henry back to the patio, and make him realize that it only made sense to finish what was started and continue battling. But aside from venturing out for meals, Henry seemed to want nothing more to do than sit around in their room and talk to Clefable. His battle with the foreign trainer seemed to hold no special significance for him, which Michael found infuriating to no end. Henry simply refused to budge, and seemed to withdraw into his own thoughts, shutting out the world around him.
When he went to bed at the end of the day, it crossed Michael’s mind that perhaps Henry was even more perplexed and astonished than he was.
Whatever the cause, by next morning, whatever had troubled the boy’s mind seemed to have abated. Henry’s mood had lightened into a productive one, and after a quick breakfast, he and Michael hurried outside with their pokémon.
It turned out that Henry’s battle with the Kanto trainer had raised much interest in the patio’s community. When Michael returned that day, he and Henry were greeted by a welcoming troupe of trainers, most of whom he recognized as spectators from last time. The arena that Henry had battled on was closed off by orange cones, and several workers were filling in the holes that Yanma’s Ancientpower had made in the concrete.
The trainers quickly informed Michael of what had occurred after he and Henry had left the battlefield. Apparently, by some inevitable turn of fate, the hotel staff had been lured by the clamor of the battle, and were appalled at the damage it had caused. Henry and his opponent had broken the patio’s rules by using attacks that damaged the area, and both participants were threatened with fines. Fortunately, the management didn’t know who the battlers were, so for the time being, their investigation was at a standstill. But Michael figured it would only be a matter of time before someone finked on them, which only strengthened his resolve to win the Gym battle.
There was no way of finding out the exact identities of Jerry’s pokémon, as far as Michael could tell, so he had to make do with the information he had. He decided to leave out Turtwig and Burmy from his and Henry’s teams, who would both be vulnerable to Psychic attacks, which left him with Goldeen, Machop, and Caterpie; and Henry with Starly, Pachirisu, and Clefable.
With these teams, they battled the other trainers, some of which had Psychic pokémon of their own. By mutual agreement, they decided that the battles would all be casual, simply for the sake of good-natured practice. Nevertheless, Michael’s competitiveness didn’t abate. If he couldn’t beat a bunch of trainers in a morning get-together, then he would stand no chance against Jerry.
When they could, they occupied both sides of the available arena, but more often than not, Michael’s and Henry’s battles ended up literally side-by-side. Henry (to Michael’s slight annoyance) seemed to manage non-contact moves well, especially when Clefable’s turn came. The pokémon danced rings around her opponents, and once was even able to manage a weak attempt at a Psychic attack herself, which elicited from Henry a grin that lasted the whole day.
Michael, on the other hand, found himself struggling to keep up in his win-lose ratio. Goldeen was as floundering as ever on dry land, and though she was able to retaliate with a Supersonic and Horn Attack at times, she was for the most part useless. Machop had recovered from his thumb injury and was fully energetic again, though he was strangely susceptible to mind-attacks and would blubber around in confusion for many minutes afterward. The pokémon that did the best against Psychic opponents was, oddly, his Caterpie. Michael quickly isolated Bug Bite and Stringshot as her best moves, the ones that did a good job of putting Abras and Slowpokes in their place. Nevertheless, the truth remained crystal clear in his mind: Henry’s team packed a punch, and his didn’t.
After defeating his third opponent, having lost only twice before, Henry turned his smile over to Michael. “Hey, we should battle against each other now! Just to see each other’s strategies, you know?”
Politely denying the boy’s offer, Michael said that he was thirsty, and headed back to the main building.
His lingering hope was that the moonstone would perform another miracle and transform one of his pokémon into a super-fighting machine as well, but after the second day passed and none of them showed any signs of getting sick, Michael abandoned the experiment. But on the other hand, he was growing tired of constantly carting an armful of pokéballs to and from the Pokémon Center, which propelled him to search for a solution.
All other options exhausted, Michael stopped by a nearby library and checked out a few books on evolution, hoping to find something pertaining to moonstones. Henry gave Clefable a break as well, for she was beginning to grow frustrated at the increased attention she was getting from everybody, and so they spent the final day before the battles in Amity Square.
Michael was grateful to be immersed in his reading again, and relished the familiar feeling of blotting out the world with a blizzard of words, facts, and figures. He made a few notations in his notebook as he went along, though he forgot most of what he wrote, preferring to simply follow along and pick up bits of information. He didn’t think too much of his own battle, and so for the time being, his worry was kept at a minimum. For some odd reason, simply watching Henry train was enough, as if the umbrella of Clefable’s newfound abilities would stretch its protection to his team as well.
The next morning, Bertha got up bright and early to drive them to the Gym. Michael hadn’t seen her in days, but she was in a more cheerful mood than usual, which she attributed to her first week of sleeping well every night. She wore her white sundress and a pair of heels. Once they had settled into the car, she pulled the Buick out of the parking lot and onto open road.
“So, tell me,” Bertha began. “Why did you decide to skip the hospital? Is Clefairy well enough that you decided to put it off? You boys never told me when you came to see me the other day.”
In the backseat, Henry cast Michael a brief glance. “Clefairy got better.”
Bertha’s eyebrows climbed. “Really? That fast?”
“Yep. She recovered.”
“Huh. Now that’s something.” From the rearview mirror, Michael saw Bertha’s eyes shift towards Henry. “I’d like to take a look at her when we get back.”
“Oh, uh don’t worry,” Henry said. “You’ll see real soon.”
Michael had to turn away to hide his smile. Bertha asked no more questions, and roughly ten minutes later, they pulled into a parking lot of a lone, two-story building. On the outside, it didn’t look too different from the other buildings in the city, but once they stepped in, Michael was entirely consumed by its atmosphere.
The interior of the Gym was dark and spacious. The walls were made of smooth gray stone that was cool to the touch, and the only source of lighting was a series of long, rectangular windows spaced evenly along the sides. The slits were rimmed with what appeared to be dark wood, but they were otherwise undecorated, and the light they let in was stark and unfiltered. The only furniture in the lobby was a pair of benches that stood against the walls, and two twin statues that greeted them at the entrance; otherwise, it was completely empty. It reminded Michael of a church.
Bertha took the lead, and they ventured farther in, entering a narrow hallway. Here, there were various doors, distinguished by numbers engraved in the wood. Wrought-iron chandeliers hung from the ceiling, carrying real candles, and there were even paintings framed on the walls, depicting muddled, abstract images.
“This is what you can do when your city has money,” Bertha whispered, with a smile. “I haven’t seen all the Gyms in Sinnoh, but I’ve heard that this is one of the nicest ones.”
Henry eyed the doors they passed. Most of them were silent, but behind others, the faint sounds of battles could be heard from within. “How do you know where to go, Bertha? Jerry never told us what room or anything.”
“These aren’t the battle rooms,” Bertha replied. “They’re rental rooms. Hearthome doesn’t have a lot of places for trainers to practice, and with such a big inflow of people each year, even the hotel can’t always keep up with the demand for space. So what you’ll often see in these big-city Gyms are rooms that can be rented out for battling. The plus with these is that you can battle with people that the actual leader hires, that use similar pokémon and moves. It’s as close as you can get to battling the leader, without the high-stakes.”
Michael felt a nudge on his shoulder. “We should have done that!” Henry said to him.
“Well, now we know,” Michael replied.
They reached the second floor, which was totally empty except for a door. A woman with dark hair sat at a table beside it, and looked up as they entered.
“Welcome to the Hearthome Gym. Names please?”
Henry stepped forward. “Henry McPherson.”
The woman looked down at her papers. “All right. I’ll go get Mr. Bradford.” She disappeared behind the door. A minute later, she returned.
“He’s ready for you. Come inside.”
She held the door open as they entered. The battle room was stark in its simplicity. The floor was a sheet of fine gravel, matching the purplish-gray hue of the walls. The slitted windows were back, casting streaks of white light across the room’s perimeter.
To Michael’s surprise, Jerry was already waiting for them. He stood on the far end of the battlefield, cloaked in half-shadow. His arms were crossed. “Welcome. I’m glad you all could make it. Michael, Bertha, you can have a seat at the bench. Henry, please step forward with your first pokémon.”
They followed his instructions. Henry took out his first pokéball, fumbled for the knob, and held it open. Starly tumbled out with a screech, flapping his wings to gain altitude. Before the battle, Michael had advised Henry to save Clefable for last, using her as a secret weapon in case all else failed.
Michael waited for Jerry to take out his first pokéball, but he never did—the Gym leader just stood there, as if waiting for a cue. At first, Michael was confused, but then he saw a tiny ripple of air above a patch of gravel, then a shimmer, as if a hole was slowly stretching between two dimensions. Out of nowhere, a tiny body emerged and landed on Jerry’s side of the arena.
The pokémon had a vaguely human resemblance: plump body, long, knobby limbs, and two tufts of blue hair protruding like horns from its head. Its shoes, also a matching blue, curled at the tips like a clown’s. The pokémon made no sound, shuffling from side to side like some sort of performer, making gestures in the air with its large, gloved hands.
“You may start, if you’d like,” said Jerry. “Mr. Mime’s not one to rush things.”
Though the offer was probably just a pleasantry, it nevertheless struck Michael as odd. He watched as Henry complied, keeping his voice steady. “Starly, use Wing Attack!”
Starly beat his wings faster, stirring the air around him into two twin cyclones that kicked up the gravel. Starly launched the attack at Mr. Mime, who was thrown back by the force of the wind. Bun instead of falling, it did a backwards cartwheel and jumped back to its feet, entirely unharmed.
“Mime, use Mimic!” said Jerry.
The Mr. Mime paused for a moment, pressing its fingers to its temples. Then it spread out its arms, and at that instant they became wings—so fast that Michael barely had time to catch the illusion. A glowing, translucent hologram threaded around Mr. Mime’s arms, accurate down to the tiniest detail, and generated the exact same gust of wind when the pokémon flapped them forward.
The Wing Attack engulfed the Starly, tossing him about like a leaf in a storm. The screeching bird barely had time to escape before Mr. Mime sent forth the second one, which sent Starly spiraling to the floor. The bird rolled over in the gravel, its wings splayed, then lifted itself back into the air. Clearly, his confidence had taken a blow.
The Mr. Mime did not attack again; its wings faded away, leaving behind its two reedy arms, and the pokémon bent forward in a silent bow, its demonstration complete.
Henry looked up at Jerry, marked with shock. “Whoa. What was that?”
Jerry chuckled. “That’s what Mr. Mime does.”
Henry bit his lip. He tried a Quick Attack and a Peck, both of which Mr. Mime copied effortlessly; with self-generated speed, and a holographic beak that sprouted from its nose.
After several rounds of this give-and-take, during which Henry became visibly confused and frustrated, Mr. Mime began to take the offensive. The pokémon used Confusion, which clouded Starly’s mind with an inward battle, jarring and garbling his motions. While Starly warred with himself, the Mr. Mime pressed the pads of its long fingers together to form a large ‘O’ in the air, puckered its lips as if to blow through it, and shot a funnel of pink energy at the Starly, knocking him back like a volleyball.
The blow was sufficient to snap Starly out of his confusion, but when the bird recovered, he simply flew around, dodging the pink Psybeam attacks, screeching something rude in his special Starly-language. For a while Henry did nothing but watch, though it was clear that the boy was thinking, his brow furrowed in concentration as he scrambled to find an answer.
Finally, Henry shouted his command. “Starly, use Brave Bird!”
Starly did not react at once; at the moment he seemed only to want to evade the deranged, smiling creature that kept shooting death rays at him. Jerry didn’t seem to mind.
“Mime, use Psychic.”
The Mr. Mime bent over slightly, closing its eyes in preparation for the attack. Starly stopped his cartwheeling through the air, and as he aimed itself at his opponent, Michael swore he could see a gleam of satisfaction in the bird’s eyes, as if thinking: gotcha!
Folding his wings and letting out a shrilling war cry, Starly shot himself forward like a bullet from a gun, and collided with Mr. Mime. The Psychic pokémon fell back, its eyes flying open and its mouth gaping wide in shock. Its arms curled around the thrashing Starly, trapping its opponent in a hug as they both tumbled to the floor.
Henry tightened his fist. “Now, Starly! Use Peck!”
Before Mr. Mime could do anything else, Starly began to peck, jabbing at the pokémon’s chest, arms, and neck. The clown tried to wriggle its face free, but that failed too as Starly worked his way upward to its head. The talons on Starly’s legs gripped a tuft of Mr. Mime’s cotton-candy hair and tugged, as if to pull off a wig. Mr. Mime opened his mouth in what would have been a scream of protest, while its large hands groped at empty air.
Jerry stepped out of his nonchalant stance and drew forward. “Mr. Mime, use Substitute!”
At first, with Starly’s body blocking his view, Michael didn’t see what happened. He saw one of the white hands lift and snap its fingers, but for a while, nothing else happened.
Then, after a few seconds, Starly’s battering stopped. Tilting his head in confusion, Starly flew back in a tiny arc, landing a few feet away from Mr. Mime’s motionless body. Only now, it wasn’t a body.
Instead, in Mr. Mime’s place lay a shiny, smiling replica made of rubber. The fake-Mr. Mime lay still on its back, limbs relaxed, its eyes reflecting the lifeless glare of light.
Confused, Henry approached for a closer look. Starly did the same. Again he tried to jab the doll’s arm with his beak, but the skin absorbed the blows, swallowing the dents as soon as they appeared. Starly pecked again, this time adding his talons to the assault, but the doll rolled over like a sack of flour, unharmed.
From his place at the other side of the room, Jerry smiled. “You like that move? I can tell that you do. Substitute’s not very common, even with Psychic pokémon, but Mr. Mime’s been pretty adept at learning it. When he’s created his substitute, nothing can hurt him. Not even Earthquake.” Jerry stepped closer to the motionless Mr. Mime. “And now you’ll see the real reason why I have this fellow in my team. Mime, come out.”
Jerry’s command faded into silence. The Mr. Mime doll remained where it was. Henry and Starly simultaneously looked at Jerry in expectation, and the Gym leader rubbed his chin. “Hang on.”
He stepped around to his pokémon, and Henry and Starly backed away to make room. Jerry kneeled down as close as he could without touching the doll, and looked it over. “Hello? Mr. Mime… come out. Did you hear me? What are you waiting for?” He waved his hand over the vacant eyes.
“Maybe he’s experiencing technical difficulties,” Henry said. From the side, Michael snickered.
“No, no… there’s gotta be something…” Jerry pressed his forefinger to his chin. “Mr. Mime, come out!” he tried again, but with no results. Jerry began to pace, muttering. “Agh… drat. Mime must’ve gotten the technique wrong again. It’s only his fourth day using this move; I can’t blame him. But it’s a shame on my part.”
Michael leaned forward. “Wait, what happened?”
Jerry turned to him, smiling dryly. “Mr. Mime’s stuck. When a pokémon uses Substitute, they put their real body into a sort of… limbo inside the fake one. It’s hard to explain. Mime and I studied the technique for days, but just when I thought we had it right, I guess I was proven wrong…”
Henry bit his lip. “But is he still… you know…”
“Alive? Oh, of course,” Jerry said. “It’s just that he’s probably really confused right now. He’ll switch back to his regular body when the effect wears off, but that takes time.” With a sigh, he took out Mr. Mime’s pokéball and returned him.
Henry rocked on the balls of his feet. “So… would this count as me beating him?”
Jerry nodded. “Unfortunately. But don’t think this changes anything—we’re far from done!” He swapped Mr. Mime’s pokéball with another. “Go, Gallade!”
A large pokémon emerged from the capsule, landing on two sturdy legs. The pokémon’s body was tall and lean, like that of a warrior, and covered in pearl-white skin. Its arms, in contrast, were a bright green, and instead of hands and fingers, one of them extended into a thin, sharp blade. One of the Gallade’s eyes was covered by a green, riblike comma, and the other that stared out at Henry was a bright, piercing red.
“Gallade, use Slash!”
The Gallade lunged forward, slashing at Starly with its sword hand. Starly flew out of the way, climbing high into the air.
From the onset, Michael could tell that Gallade was more of a Fighting pokémon than a Psychic one. It relied on its speed and accuracy to pin Starly down, and flinched back more than usual when the bird retaliated with a Peck or a Wing Attack. Michael guessed it to be Jerry’s way of adaptation, since he couldn’t expect all of his opponents to have pokémon that were weak to Psychic.
As the two pokémon became used to battle, and Starly began to show signs of tiring, Gallade switched to its second mode. It tucked its arms against its chest and popped out of thin air just like Mr. Mime had, reappearing seconds later in an entirely new place. Starly would turn to catch up, and Gallade would teleport again, dodging Pecks and Wing Attacks until it drove the bird to the end of its string. After a final, feeble attempt at stirring wind, Starly quite literally fell down from exhaustion, and Henry pressed his hand over his mouth, momentarily appalled that he had driven his pokémon to such a point. He switched out Starly and sent out Pachirisu.
The electric squirrel emerged, scampered for a bit after its own tail, and then turned to look up at Gallade, who had appeared in front of it like a grand statue.
“Pachirisu, use Spark!”
Tiny white sparks began to crackle around Pachirisu’s cheeks, and the squirrel clamped its paws over one of Gallade’s legs to transfer the charge. Gallade’s body seized up, his eye bulging, and he began to swipe at Pachirisu with his sword, trying to get him off.
Through it all, Michael sat slightly slouched in his seat, tapping his knee as he watched the Gallade battle. More than anything, he was desperate for some notepaper and a pencil, and he mentally scolded himself for not having the foresight to bring anything. What kept him in check, however, was the fact that Bertha was sitting right beside him, calm but attentive. Even if he were witnessing the greatest battle in the world, there was no way he would ever work on his chart when she was around. So he observed in silent agony as Gallade and Pachirisu annihilated each other.
Several rounds of Spark and Swift had brought Gallade to his knees, and in turn, Pachirisu was beginning to phase out of adrenaline and enter into crash mode. Gallade reverted back to his teleporting trick again, which only quickened the process. Pachirisu ended up giving out, plopping still upon the floor, its tiny sides heaving with exhaustion.
With a deep breath, Henry switched out his second pokémon and silently brought out his third. Clefable emerged on her feet, spinning slightly, her wings fluttering as she gained her balance on the new terrain. Instantly, Jerry’s eyes widened. “You have a Clefable? Wow. I haven’t seen too many of those in Sinnoh. They’re Kanto pokémon, if I remember correctly.”
Bertha also seemed surprised. She had drawn back in her seat, and pressed her palm to her chest. “Henry, when did this happen?”
“The night that she got sick,” Henry mumbled.
Bertha settled back into silence, though it was clear she wasn’t satisfied. Her eyes hung on to the Clefable from then on, following its every move.
Henry’s Clefable fell into battle with Gallade as swiftly as she had before, dodging the pokémon’s swipes and retaliating with her own. Gallade extended his normal arm out to the side, and that one too became a sword, which he used to parry Clefable’s claws. The two figures became blurs, and a cloud of dust was kicked up around them as they danced.
As it became clear who was winning, Gallade immediately fell into the defensive, teleporting frantically across the battlefield in an attempt to confuse his opponent. But Clefable had evidently learned from her encounter with Yanma—she no longer chased the moving target, and instead leaped at Gallade only when he drew near. On Jerry’s command, Gallade used Confusion, which Clefable overcame just in time to deflect a Psycho Cut.
As Michael watched this astounding exchange between the battlers, he couldn’t help but be amazed. Clefable wasn’t just good. She was kicking ass.
Henry, who seemed both elated and frightened at his pokémon’s abilities, ordered Clefable to use Wake-Up-Slap, which swept Gallade right across the cheek. The red eye puckered, and the pokémon stumbled.
“Finish it off!” Henry cried, jumping. “Tackle it!”
With a bellow, Clefable pounced on top of Gallade and pinned it to the floor. She dealt a few more blows, and then Gallade slumped against the ground, its eye drifting closed.
Jerry maintained an impressively calm demeanor at Gallade’s demise. He swapped the old pokéball for a new one, bringing out his third battler. It was a Chingling, a pokémon that looked like a Christmas bell. It had a round, golden body with tiny arms and legs, and two red, ribbon-like tassels flowing from its head. The pokémon drifted in the air without the aid of wings, or any other sort of propellant, and made soft chiming noises as it rocked from side to side.
Without a command from Jerry, Chingling opened with a Psybeam that issued from its thin mouth. Clefable dodged the pink funnel, and with a high leap, managed to hit the Chingling with her hand and bring it down several inches. After that, she abstained from physical contact, instead focusing on keeping a strong resistance against the Chingling’s repeated attacks of Confusion. She ran around, one eye open and the other squinting almost shut, as if trying to stir up a hidden power to retaliate. Michael watched, awestruck, as the glimmer of pink returned to her eyes.
Right then, he felt a weight press down upon him, though it wasn’t as strong as what he had felt in the courtyard. Bertha shifted uncomfortably, as did Jerry, and Henry, feeling the effects of increased gravity. The Chingling began to sink, its mystical levitation suppressed, until it was within Clefable’s reach. Then, the pokémon began to claw and jab at it with all her might, until the Chingling flopped down like a broken bell, fainted.
Henry stood still for a few seconds, then looked up at Jerry. The Gym leader remained silent, and then, slowly, he lifted his hands and clapped three times. “Well done. Well done. You’ve truly made this a great battle, Henry.”
Henry smiled. He and Jerry met at the center of the arena and shook hands, after which Jerry placed the badge—a shiny purple coin—into Henry’s hand, along with some money.
When the leader had finished, Henry approached Michael with a dazed, windblown expression on his face. “I can’t believe it, Michael! I did it! I won!” He held up the Relic badge. A large circle in the center connected three smaller purple ones, its silver threads intertwining the three in a sort of ghostly web. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
Michael nodded. For the next minute, Henry embarked upon a rapid, stumbling recollection of his battle, but his words were partially lost to Michael, who was already lost in thought, searching for something that had briefly popped into his mind, then slipped away again.
“… and after he took out Pachirisu I definitely thought I’d lose, but when I sent out Clefable and she totally, I mean I couldn’t even believe it!” Henry was saying. “I mean, it’s like after she changed she’s gotten so much better! It’s the weirdest thing!”
Suddenly, Michael’s eyes lit up. “Rogers-Bubbley!”
Henry, who had been admiring his badge again, tore his gaze away. “Huh?”
Michael snapped his fingers, beaming as the information returned to him. “It was this real boss experiment they did in Kanto back in 1949. I read about it yesterday. It was performed by two scientists, Rogers and Bubbley, who took a plain old Pikachu and put it in a metal box. Then they shot at it with all this radiation that was at a specific frequency, and when they took it out—no joke—it changed!”
Michael spread out his hands. “It grew! It became like three times bigger, and then its color changed, and so did its tail and ears and everything, and when they compared it, it matched the structure of a Raichu! The Pikachu became a Raichu! Don’t you get it? That moonstone you found must be one of those rocks that lets out radiation! Of course it wouldn’t work for my pokémon, because that frequency doesn’t affect them!”
“So… the moonstone is like the stone that evolved Pikachu?” Henry said.
Michael nodded. “Exactly.”
At that moment, Jerry, who had been exchanging a few parting words with Bertha, waved goodbye to the boys and disappeared behind the back door to get ready for his next shift. Bertha went over to Michael and Henry, spreading out her arms.
“Well, congrats!” she said. “That was a really great battle, Henry. You’ve improved.”
Henry blushed. “But Clefable did all the work.”
Bertha let out a chuckle. “No, you did. You guided your team with control and discipline, both traits of a good leader. Jerry saw it with his own eyes, and so did I. Stop hiding from yourself. You’re made of the right stuff, and you've got the right skills, so don't be afraid to go on and use them. Okay?”
Henry nodded. “Okay.”
“Great.” Bertha smiled. “Anyways, we should probably be heading out now. I want to get you guys back to the hotel so Michael has plenty of time to practice.”
She led them downstairs and to the exit. As they left the Gym, Henry had his badge in his hand, and was admiring its sleek contour, grinning. Michael was smiling too, but for an entirely different reason.
When they arrived back at the hotel and parted to their respective rooms, Michael immediately grabbed his backpack and notebook, along with a few of the library books he had been reading. He passed Henry by the door, who had barely taken three steps inside, and pulled the boy after him.
“Come on,” Michael said. “We’re going to Amity Square.”
Henry frowned. “Amity Square? But if you want to battle, we can just go to the patio again.”
“No. It has to be somewhere private,” Michael said. “I don’t want anybody listening in on us, and with Bertha here, there’s always a chance she might. So come on.”
With a sigh, Henry went to follow him. When they arrived at the park, Michael immediately sought out the loneliest, shadiest picnic table in the park and laid out his things on the surface. He opened his books, thumbing through various pages until he found his own bookmarks.
Across from him, Henry took a seat, resting his chin on his arms as he watched. “So, what’s this about? What did you find out about this whole item thing?”
Michael found the paragraph he had been looking for: Evolution Experiments in the 1900s, and scanned the text with his finger. “Got it. Right here. ‘The Rogers-Bubbley experiment was conducted after a correlation was discovered between a growing population of Raichus in the northeastern lowlands of Kanto, and the abundance of a strain of rock found only in that area.’ And after the scientists did the experiment, they tested the stone on a bunch of other Pikachus to make sure it wasn’t just a freak accident, and all of them evolved. They called it the Thunderstone. Then, when science became more advanced, it was confirmed that there was actually a biological connection between Pikachu and Raichu, though no one noticed it on a deeper level than appearances before.” When he finished reading, Michael looked up. “So you see? That moonstone you found must be like the Thunderstone. And what’s even better—there could be more of those catalyst things out there! I bet with just a bit more research, we could figure out where to find them and evolve all our pokémon! We’ll be invincible, I’m telling you!”
His enthusiasm, however, seemed entirely lost on Henry. The boy processed his words long and slow, biting his lip this way and that before responding. “But… even if we do find out where these stones are, how will we ever get them? It’s not like we can travel the whole world. And don’t you think it’s a little risky to count on evolution to make our pokémon more powerful instead of training them the old-fashioned way? Wouldn’t that be… you know…” he dropped his voice, “cheating?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Whatever. I’m not asking you to help. I’m just saying that there might be an easier way to get things done. If you want to be a good little boy and do everything by the book, that’s fine with me. I’ll just go ahead and plan innovation and make history all by myself.” He slammed the book shut, tucked it under his arm, and walked away from the bench.
He veered onto the path and walked for several minutes, his excitement for the discovery quickly eating away his frustration at Henry’s lack of interest. The thought that there were items, actual items, that could turn a regular pokémon into a supercharged fighter amazed him. Not only would he have type advantages on his side when he challenged the Gyms, but power too, and with a bunch of evolutionary stones to assist him with his training, he would be unstoppable.
This vision utterly captured him, consuming the entirety of his mind so that he thought of nothing else. Lost in this daze, Michael hardly cared where he was going; he was following the path now, walking along what would eventually be a long, winding loop around the whole park. To his right, he saw the tall, wrought-iron gates that bordered the entrance.
As he walked, his thoughts moved in rapid sequence, literally colliding against each other like dominos.
So what if Henry doesn’t understand? He already won the Gym. Besides, he probably doesn’t dig anything that sounds like it’s breaking the rules... Why does he have to be such a damn kissee? Michael kicked a rock with his shoe and watched it skitter into the grass.
And on the heels of that:
It’s not even about the League—hell, it’s about life. It’s nature. Pokémon evolve and that’s that; I really don’t get why there has to be a rule about what we can and can’t use to help ourselves in battle. And besides, I can’t be the only person in the world who knows about it. There’s got to be someone who can tell me more—anyone who knows about this.
And on the heels of that:
What if there isn’t?
Michael stopped in his tracks. His heart quickened.
I have to tell someone.
A low hissing sound snapped him back to reality. Michael jerked back, looking down, and saw that a Seviper was curled up in the grass, its body as black as polished wire. Its diamond-shaped head was resting on its side, and it looked up at him with venom-red eyes, unmoving.
Michael stepped around the snake and continued on his walk, though he thought back to it for a few minutes afterward. He had never seen Hoenn pokémon here before, except…
He let the thought drift away unfinished. Already, his eyes were scanning the park, searching for the familiar baseball cap among the sea of heads that swarmed around him. At first, Michael saw nothing, but then his eyes alighted upon the park’s front gate. The doors were taller than the rest of the fence, and wrought in an elegant, curved design. They were open, and the familiar attendant’s booth stood right in the middle, dividing the road in two.
There was a small amount of people passing in and out of the park with their pokémon. From the distance, Michael picked out the man in the red cap among them, though he stood with his back turned. He appeared to be having a conversation with the park attendants, who was distinguished by his striped uniform.
Rather than approaching, Michael stood by and waited for the man to leave. Their talk was interrupted by a few bursts of laughter, and then the man in the cap waved, turning back towards the path. It was Bobby.
The newsman didn’t recognize Michael till he had almost reached the place where he stood. Then, their eyes met, and a smile turned Bobby’s face. “Oh, hey. It’s you again. Mitchell—no, Michael. Right?”
Michael nodded. “Yep. How goes it?”
Bobby shrugged. “Same old stuff.” He looked down at the book Michael held, and chuckled. “Still researching for that battle of yours?”
“Yeah. My friend just won his battle, and mine’s tonight.”
“Nice. I haven’t been here too long, but I’ve seen a lot of trainers around town. They say the Gym’s pretty rough.”
“Well, I’m feeling lucky,” Michael said. “I’ve discovered something that probably no other trainer knows.”
A visible sign of interest crossed the newsman’s face. He rubbed his chin. “What do you mean by that?”
Michael smiled. “Are you still looking for a story?”
“Well yeah, we’re always looking for a story,” Bobby replied. “Why?”
“I’ve got one for you,” Michael said, tapping the spine of his book. “It’s something that will change your life. No, the world.”
Bobby’s eyes widened by the tiniest degree, and he took his hands out of his pockets. “I’m listening.”
Without much planning of words, Michael began to recount his tale. Starting from the moonstone and Clefairy, he narrated the whole of what he had read and observed, pulling what seemed like an endless sequence of things from his memory. Bobby’s expression remained neutral and businesslike as he listened to the outpour of words. At first, Michael was unsure at what he would say; when he finished his tale, the newsman stood still, saying nothing for a moment. And then, with a slight smile, Bobby held both palms up in front of him, like a film director pausing a scene at the end of a perfect take.
“Okay. So if you can take all that and type it up, and get it to me by tomorrow, I promise you it’ll be on the next issue of Sinnoh Post. Got that, kid?”
His breath caught in his throat, and for a moment, Michael could barely speak. “Done deal.”
I've decided to start reading this here instead of on Serebii, because it seems to me that this forum tends to give fewer reviews than over there. Anyway, explanations aside, I really liked this chapter/these chapters; there were just a couple of bits that didn't quite feel right that I picked up on. I especially like how you've picked up on Gravity; it's one of those moves that's sort of left in the shade, as it were, and you really make it useful here.
I have noticed, though, that you don't capitalise 'Pokémon' or 'Poké Balls', despite the fact that you capitalise the names of individual species; generally, it's better to be consistent with things like that.
There was also this:
Also, would a Gallade not instinctively resort to Fighting moves when its opponent is a Clefable? Their primary type is Fighting, after all; it just seems odd to me that it only really used Confusion and Slash. Even if Jerry doesn't know that it would be better to use Fighting moves - and you did mention that that was kind of the whole reason he actually had the Gallade - then you would think that it would know what to do by instinct, since that's how they probably fight in the wild. In addition to that, given the fact that you seem to include the fact that Clefable can take Special hits rather well, it seems unusual that she would have been able to deflect a Psycho Cut.
Other than that, I have no real complains. Keep up the good work!
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World * The Rocket Case * The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There * The Beastman * Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol * Snow * Stranger Than Fiction
My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon * A Smell of Petroleum Pervades Throughout
For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
It's no problem. I feel like I've been neglecting this thread because I only venture here to post, and reply to reviews, whereas on SPPF I'm constantly editing the Chapter Index and making tiny corrections for the chapters. :/ I'm going to start getting this thread up to speed, too.
Pokémon: I never capitalize the noun 'pokémon' when I'm using it in the context of 'that pokémon over there', because in the realm of fanfiction, it would be equivalent to 'that animal over there'. (Animals don't exist in the Pokémon world, since their counterparts are the pokémon, so in this story, I refer to then just as I would refer to a regular animal.) The only time I capitalize Pokémon is when I'm talking about the actual franchise, which is unlikely in a story.
Pokémon species are an old habit of mine. My main reason for capitalizing them is because it looks cleaner. When my eyes move over the species-name of a pokémon, they just instinctively expect it to be capitalized, since it's the official name that the franchise gives to that particular species. I'm choosing not to get technical with this, since with an in-depth analysis, you could put up a convincing argument for either side.
Pokéball: It's a brand name, but I figured it would eventually become one of those proper nouns that become so widely used that they turn into common nouns. I don't remember ever going in depth about the pokéball's invention, except for a brief reference in the first chapter, so I may have to do that soon.
I hope I've satisfied your questions. Thanks for the review, and I'm glad you enjoyed the chapters!
Sorry, for short and late review...
Ah, revenge is always sweet...though Henry should be thanking the kid for giving Clefairy a major power up. Shame about all that collateral damage, though... perhaps the boys should consider alternate accommodations, as someone's gonna rat 'em out sooner or later. It would be a shame if the league's got a monopoly stronghold over traveler lodging, especially in a place as big as Hearthome. Fortunately, by the time of the events of my story, they don't have that sort of control xD
Have to agree with Michael's Pokemon, though... playing with a shiny black stone would not be my idea of entertaining.
Jerry's elaborate Gym. Paid for in part by the League's under-the-table deals with Team Galactic?
Nice Gym battle, and an interesting take on how Substitute works. And Pachirisu got in some action I see... But I have to agree that one Close Combat from Gallade would have ended the battle pretty quickly... A Gym Leader should have some preparation into taking advantage of both types if he's got a dual-type.
And yay, horrific experiments on Pikachu, which is about all the thing's good for lol
And Michael's first published work of research may be in the works! But he's got a gym battle to take care of first... and I wonder how he's going to deal with it, since he wasn't able to get an uber evolution using the Moon Stone. Time will tell... and I'll be looking forward to reading it...
I have a plan for Michael's Gym battle and it's pretty solid... so consider it in the works. So far, it's one of the most non-typical battle scenes I've ever written. I'll also be expanding on the traits of Jerry's and Michael's pokemon, since both will be put to the test.
As for Jerry's Gym, it's a result of Hearthome's wealth, plus contributions from the League, and some of Jerry's own money. I like writing about nice Gyms, because they really stretch my creativity and give me a much needed break from describing how run-down everything is. Hehe.
The next chapter is 75% done, so I can't say much more in response without giving the interesting bits away. I've been somewhat unproductive during this holiday break, though I will definitely have it in by the end of next week. My New Year's gift to you all.
Thanks for reading!
New year, new chapter...
Scarcely five minutes after he had left, Michael came running back to the picnic table, where Henry sat, idly playing with a leaf. When he stumbled over to the bench, breath racing, the boy looked up in shock.
“What happened? Where were you?” Henry stood, snatching the book from Michael’s hand before it slipped. Michael waved him away.
“Never mind. We have to go back to the hotel. Come on.” He hoisted his backpack over his shoulders and picked up the stack of books. Henry followed him, utterly confused, but whenever he tried to cut in with a question, Michael shook his head and kept walking.
When they reached the hotel, Michael immediately went to the front desk, dropping his books down on the floor. The man behind the counter, who had been sorting through a stack of papers, jumped at the noise.
“Hey.” Michael rested his hands on the counter. “Do you have a typewriter I can borrow?”
The clerk lowered his papers, the shock passing from his face and leaving behind a perplexed look. “What for?”
“I need it. But I’ll give it back, I promise.”
The clerk pressed his lips together. “I’m not sure if we have a spare, but I can check… be right back.” He disappeared behind the back door. Michael waited patiently, tapping his foot in rhythm. A minute later, the clerk returned, backing out with a large metal contraption in his arms. It resembled a one-row toaster, with a rectangular extension at the bottom that contained the keys. Several slips of white paper were inserted into the slot, flapping softly.
Michael grinned as the clerk handed him the machine. “Thanks.”
The clerk sighed. “No problem. But be sure to bring it back by the end of the day. That one was mine.”
Michael nodded. With the typewriter in one arm, he reached for his books with the other, grunting as he tried to keep balance. Letting out an exasperated sigh, Henry ran over to help him, and together they trudged up to their room, arms full.
Henry unlocked the door and held it open with his shoulder, and Michael rushed inside, scrambling to set up his workspace. He set the typewriter down at the bedside table, gathering his notebook, pencil, and library rentals around it. Skipping around Henry, he drew back the curtains, letting light spill across the room, and sat down. He began to type.
June 13, 1963.
by Michael Rowan
Michael did not pause to think—he simply worked, hearing the sound of his fingers drumming against the keyboard, the sound of his ideas being ironed out into physical existence. The paper was a recount of his ideas about evolution, spanning chronologically from when he had first seen the moonstone, to when Clefable had evolved and become a super-powerful fighter. He mostly repeated what he had said to Bobby, using his memory of their conversation as a guide, thumbing through his notes to add in extra detail where need be. He cited information from the books, retyping the paragraph he had read about the Rogers-Bubbley experiment, and another section about later studies done on the so-called Leafstones and Waterstones.
As he wrote, Michael felt a growing excitement wash over him, and he was pulled further and further into the task. He watched the tiny bar move across the page, leaving behind letter after letter, word after word. He was lulled by the repetitiveness of it all, the simple click-clack of the keys that faded into the empty space around him.
For a while, that was all he heard.
Then, when he had typed the last line of his essay, he breathed a sigh, and removed the paper. As he read it over, he felt a swelling dissatisfaction.
It’s too short.
Shaking his head, Michael set the paper side and started anew. Click, clack. Clickety-clack. From somewhere to his right, he heard muffled movement, and a question from Henry.
“Yeah, yeah,” Michael answered. “I’m fine, I just have to do something really quick.”
He wasn’t even sure if the boy had replied to him. Michael kept typing. What seemed like a few minutes later, he pulled out the second version of his essay and held it out in front of him. This time, the block of text stretched out for a page and a half, but when Michael read it over he saw that it was ridden with typos and lacked organization. He had repeated the same sentence twice, using the same exact wording. Shaking his head again, Michael set the paper aside and started anew, this time pausing before he typed, running his sentences several times through his head before he set them down on paper. He passed the first page with ease, and then made it three-fourths of the way down the second. After typing his concluding statement, Michael pulled out the page and read it again, mentally marking the things he had covered.
Mutations, moonstones, Thunderstones… what’s missing?
He scanned the lines with his fingers. He had made all the points he had set out to make, but for some reason, the essay as a whole seemed empty, devoid of thought. It looked like another school assignment that his English teacher had forced upon him.
His frustration mounting, Michael inserted another fresh paper. If his writing was going to be published, it had to be perfect. He wanted to be hailed, not tossed aside.
Type type type type…
Again, Michael heard Henry’s voice rise out from the silence.
“Just a minute!” he answered. “Let me finish this sentence!”
But before he could immerse himself again, he was jerked out of his stupor by the elbow. Michael whirled away from the typewriter, briefly disoriented, and then his eyes locked on Henry, who had appeared beside him.
“What did you do that for?”
“I said get up!” the boy said, pulling again.
“What are you talking about? I’m busy!” Michael tried to pry loose Henry’s grip, but the boy held fast.
“Lay off!” Michael said. “It’s been like ten minutes since I sat down and already you’re bugging me! What’s your freaking bag?”
Henry dropped Michael’s arm and put his hands on his hips. “You’ve been sitting here for almost an hour! It’s 11:25! Your battle’s at nine!”
“So? I have plenty of time. I have to get this done. Now move.” He pushed Henry away by the shoulder and went back to typing. For a while, the thrumming silence returned.
Then, a pair of hands reached into his field of vision and pulled the typewriter off the table. Michael swiveled around again, his expression livid. “What're you—give it back!” He lunged forward, but Henry had already retreated across the room and placed the typewriter atop the wardrobe. “You’ll use it after we practice! You haven’t done anything yet, and you said yourself that you’d be trying a lot harder from now on!”
“Yeah but… well, that was before!” Michael reached up to scratch his head. “And what are you talking about anyway? I’m ready.”
Henry stepped forward, tilting his head. “Really? Then what pokémon are you going to use against Jerry?”
“Machop, Caterpie, Goldeen,” Michael said at once.
“Oh? And how are you going to use Goldeen if she’s on dry land? Have you thought about that?”
Michael groaned. “Look, I’ll figure it out! Just let me write, damn it!”
“Yes!” Michael tried to shove the boy aside, but he jumped back to where he was.
“After you answer my question,” Henry said.
Michael threw his hands over his head, grabbing fistfuls of hair. “What's the deal? I’ll win the battle just like I won the others! It’s not a freaking problem!”
“And what if you don’t?” Henry countered. “You think Bertha will want to stay a few extra days in Hearthome just because you were too lazy to make an effort to win?”
“We’ll go without her.”
“How? We don’t have unlimited money, you know. And it’s not like two kids can just roam around the country wherever they want.”
“Uh, correction?” Michael pulled his I.D. from his backpack. “Trainer Card.” He smiled, waving it around in front of Henry’s nose. Quick as lightning, the boy snatched it out of Michael’s hand and jumped back towards the beds. Michael reached after it a second too late.
“Give it back!” he snarled.
Henry shook his head. “No. You’ll have it back when you’ve proven to me that you’re a trainer.”
“I said give it back!”
Henry folded his arms. “Nope.”
Michael stepped forward again, curling his fist. “Give it back, before I take it from you!”
“Fine,” Henry said. He pocketed the card and took a pokéball from his tote bag. “Battle me.”
Michael paused. “What?”
“If you want the card back, battle me.”
“Pfft. Battle you? In here?”
“Yes,” Henry said. He twisted open the capsule, and out came Starly, fluttering around the boy’s head and settling on his shoulder. “Come on, I’ve sent out my pokémon. Where’s yours?”
“Ugh. Fine.” Michael went to his backpack and randomly selected a pokéball. He twisted open the capsule, and out came Goldeen, flopping down onto the carpet like eight pounds of dead fish. She slapped her tail uselessly against the carpet, her air-adjusting gills spreading open and closed.
Henry watched the pokémon flop around for a bit, and looked up at Michael. “Well? Your move.”
Michael turned out his palms and shrugged. “How am I supposed to get Goldeen to reach Starly? He’s on your freaking shoulder!”
“Get him to come down!”
“Do you think that’s what Jerry would do with Chingling?” Henry said. “Do you think he’ll make it easy for you if you ask?”
“Look, it’s not my fault that stupid Goldeen can’t move on land!” Michael exclaimed. “I’m pretty sure that the Gym doesn’t give out complimentary lakes!” He called Goldeen back into the capsule and threw it into his backpack.
“Then what about your other pokémon?” Henry pressed. “Turtwig?”
“Weak. He’s Grass.”
“She’s fine, but she won’t last a single minute.”
“Then we have to catch another pokémon,” Henry said.
Michael lowered himself into the armchair, linking his hands behind his head. “I don’t feel like it.”
Henry let out a breath. “You’re impossible! That’s it, I’m sick of helping you. Do what you want.” He turned sharply towards the door. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going outside to enjoy my last day in Hearthome. Like it or not, but I’m leaving with Bertha.”
“Have fun,” Michael called to the boy’s back. Henry didn’t reply. He slammed the door behind him, enveloping the room in silence.
Good riddance, Michael thought. He pulled up the second armchair and reclined his feet. He cast his gaze to the typewriter, but the urge to write had left him.
Instead, he pulled his backpack over to his side and took out Goldeen’s pokéball. He turned it over in his hands, letting the silver glare sear into his eyes.
Water Gun, Horn Attack, Supersonic... Michael began to tally Goldeen’s known moves in his head. He couldn’t get past three. What other moves do Goldeens know? What moves can they know?
With a kindling frustration, Michael held up the pokéball to eye level. He could see his own eyes reflected on the spherical surface. Unscrewing the knob, he held the capsule aloft. “Go.”
The pokéball spun around in the air and landed on the carpet, just as Goldeen emerged, flapping her fins. Michael leaned back in his chair, watching sourly as the pokémon moved about. A ray of dusty sunlight from the window shone on her scales, which glistened slightly with beads of moisture. She had collected the water during their last battle, when a morning rainstorm had soaked the outdoor patio. The arena had mostly dried by the time Michael got there, but nevertheless Goldeen was able to pull some water out of the ground and use Water Pulse. The droplets were still there now, winking at him in the light.
If only it could rain in the battle room, Michael thought grimly, picking up the pokéball again. But it couldn’t. And it wouldn’t. He opened it, and as he watched Goldeen flee back into the capsule, he felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. His team was a flop.
Michael placed the pokéball onto the table and let his gaze trail off towards the ceiling. There was no way he would be able to use Goldeen, unless by some miracle, he could find a way to bring water into the battle room by the end of the day. But what was he supposed to do? Fill a bucket?
He continued to play with the pokéball while he pondered the useless question. Michael rolled the ball around the table, turning and stopping it with his fingers, until the metal’s bright glint had nearly seared a hole through his skull. He had never been particularly interested in the topic, but the more he thought about it, the more incredible it seemed that a creature of nearly any size could fit inside such a tiny container. It seemed to defy everything he learned in school about matter and physics.
He sat there for a long time, tossing and catching the capsule with his hand. And then, ever so slowly, he felt an idea emerge. He could only skim its outer shell at first, but the longer he held it in his mind, the deeper it unfurled. He caught the capsule again and looked down at it, tracing its spherical surface with his eyes. A switch seemed to flip in his brain.
Springing into action, Michael tossed the pokéball into his backpack and ran for the door. He made a frantic sprint for the lobby, finding Henry just as the boy was getting ready to leave. He had turned for the door, a magazine clutched in his hand, when Michael stumbled into the room and shouted with full force: “WAIT!”
The entire lobby jumped at his exclamation, including Henry, who jerked away from the door, half-gaping in surprise.
Ignoring the odd looks everyone was giving him, Michael approached. “I got it! I know a way to beat the Gym!”
“You do?” Henry stepped away from the door, glowing with relief. “What is it?”
“I’ll tell you later. Come on!” Michael beckoned, and with Henry at his side, went over to the front desk. The man who had been there earlier had ended his shift, and in his place stood a woman. She lifted her eyebrows at Michael as he approached, holding the silence that was thinned across the room.
“Hey. You guys offer complimentary battle rooms, right?”
“Yes,” she said. “On the fifth floor, we have ten fully-operational arenas that are built in accordance with the League standards, as well as seven smaller, specialized rooms that cater to individual types. Currently open we have the Grass room, the Rock room, the Water room—”
“Yes! The Water room—we’ll take that one!” Michael said.
“All right. I’ll need to see your I.D, please.”
After some rummaging, Michael fished out his I.D and handed it over. The attendant looked over the card, searched for a match on her logbook, and nodded. “Just a second.” She opened a drawer beneath the counter and took out a blue key on a silver chain. “As a general courtesy, please try to keep your session under two hours. If you need to stay longer, then you’ll have to turn in your key and pay for extra time. But we do keep track of when keys are rented and when they’re returned, so don’t try to be sneaky. Okay?”
Michael winked. “You got it.”
With the key in hand, Michael motioned for Henry to follow, and they went to the elevator.
The whole of the fifth floor consisted of one wide hallway, and a series of thick, silver doors spaced several meters apart along either side. Each door had a square window at the center, and a small dial near the doorknob labeled ‘Vacant’ or ‘Occupied’. Near the back of the hallway were the specialized rooms, which had plaques identifying their type. Most of the windows Michael passed were covered from the inside, though he could still hear the sounds of battles raging behind the walls.
The Water room stayed true to its name—its structure resembled that of a public bathhouse. The arena had a white floor, tiled walls, and a tall, domed ceiling with slanted skylights. A pool of flat, blue water took the place of solid ground, save for a narrow deck along the perimeter and two tiny islands of cement protruding out on either side. That was where the trainers would stand.
As soon as he closed the door, Michael pulled the blinds over the window, shielding them from any possible scrutiny. He hurried over to one of the platforms, while Henry stayed behind on the sidelines, looking out at the watery expanse. “So what are you going to do?” he said. “What’s your plan?”
Michael held up Goldeen’s pokéball. “Okay. You know how pokéballs work, right?”
“Sorta," Henry said. They condense matter, don’t they?”
“They don’t just condense matter. They preserve it!” Michael grinned. “If a pokémon’s really banged up from battling and you send it back into the pokéball, it’s gonna look the same when you send it out again, right?”
“That means it’ll be in the exact same condition as it was when it entered the pokéball, so the same things would be going on in its body. Look.” Michael opened the capsule, and out came Goldeen, flopping onto the dry deck. He gestured towards the droplets on her scales. “She picked those up from my last battle, when she used Water Pulse. She must have not been completely dry when I sent her back into the pokéball, so they were still there when I took her out again!”
Henry tapped his chin. “So you’re going to use her pokéball… to transfer water?”
“Exactly. All I have to do is get Goldeen to take some water with her into the capsule, so that when I release her for the battle, she’ll automatically have it handy!”
“But how are you going to do that? Fit an entire pokémon plus water in the capsule, I mean. Our pokéballs have size restrictions.”
Michael raised an eyebrow. “What size restrictions?”
“There’s a limit to what size pokémon can fit in our capsules,” Henry said, nodding to emphasize. “I read about it. The ones we buy are only standard size, and they have a weight limit. For really big pokémon like Wailord, you need to buy special, bigger pokéballs.”
“A Goldeen isn’t as big as a Wailord, last time I checked. Besides, I only need enough water to propel Goldeen off the ground and give her enough freedom to use attacks.”
“Fine then. But how are you going to keep the water from soaking into the ground?”
“I just have to keep it moving,” Michael answered. “Goldeen has to keep pulling it closer to herself so that it doesn’t escape. And while she’s doing that, she has to be able to dodge attacks, get into position, and fight back with her own.”
“That sounds really complicated,” Henry said.
“Too bad. I’m in it to win it, and you’re going to help me.” Michael stepped over to Goldeen and lifted her off the ground. The fish began to flail, whacking his face and arms with her fins. “Relax,” he muttered, stepping over to the edge of the pool. “You’ll get yours in a minute…”
With a mighty heave, he threw the still-flailing Goldeen into the air. The pokémon hit the water with a splash, shattering the glassy surface with rippling waves, and disappeared beneath them. For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, all of a sudden, a round, glistening body emerged from the waves, leaping in a huge arc above the flowing pool. Goldeen twisted gracefully as she fell, baring her belly and sides, and splashed back down. Michael leaned over, catching the orange glimmer of her scales as she swam around the pool, her horn cutting through the water like a lance. He smiled. Beside him, Henry let out a laugh.
“Hey, Goldeen’s amazing! I never knew she could go that fast!”
Goldeen did several more laps around the pool, often pushing to leap gracefully out of the water, until it seemed that she had finally satisfied the aquatic craving within her. Swimming back over to where the boys stood, she poked her head out of the water to greet them. Michael kneeled beside her.
“You liked that, didn’t you?”
The fish blinked in reply.
“Great. I’ve got something you’ll like even more. Up you go.” He reached over to pull her out of the water, and this time Goldeen complied. Michael set her down onto the deck again, and pointed her horn towards the pool.
“Okay, listen up. What I want you to do now is take the water in,” he made a beckoning motion towards the pool, “and hold it, like you’re about to use Water Gun. But you’ll have to take in a lot more water than that; as much as you can hold. Got that?”
Goldeen flapped her tail.
“Good.” Michael took the pokéball out again, facing Henry. “Then I’ll just return her and the water will be there when she comes out again.”
“But won’t that hurt her?” the boy interjected.
“I don’t see why it should,” Michael said. “But at any rate, we’ll find out…”
They both stepped back as Goldeen crawled towards the pool. Tilting her head downwards till her mouth was submerged, Goldeen began to take in water, as if she were drinking. Pretty soon, her sides began to bulge from the mass of liquid inside of her, and Michael quickly stepped forward to return her. The fish's body faded to white, then fled quickly into the pokéball, and Michael twisted the capsule closed. He waited a few seconds, and then, holding the pokéball at arm’s length, released her.
Instantly, the pokéball grew hot in his hands. After a few seconds' delay, a fat bolt of white escaped from its center, inflating into a giant, shapeless mass. Loud, crackling light flooded the room, and Michael lowered his arm just in time to see Goldeen fall into the pool, engulfed in a sheet of water.
Bending down, Michael lifted her onto the deck for inspection. Goldeen was no longer bloated like before; it seemed that all the water inside of her had emptied.
“I don’t get it," he said. "What happened? Why didn’t the water stay inside of her?”
Henry came up from behind. “Maybe Goldeen accidentally released it when she was in the pokéball.”
“Could be. Let’s see if it happens again.” Michael looked down at Goldeen. “Do it again,” he ordered. “And this time, try as hard as you can not to let the water out. Okay?”
Goldeen furrowed her brow in a fish-like sort of way and flapped her fins against the deck. She looked displeased about something, but nevertheless she advanced upon the edge of the pool and filled herself up with water. Michael sent her into the pokéball, then out again, and the same thing happened: instead of taking the crisp shape of a pokémon, the escaping light inflated itself into a hazy sort of sphere, and then changed into a blob of water plus Goldeen that rained down like a waterfall. Once the task was over, the pokéball began to pulse like a hot coal in Michael’s hand, as if the strain had overwhelmed capsule’s delicate technology. Wincing with pain, he hastened to rub his palm against his shirt. “Remind me to buy a pair of gloves before the battle,” he told Henry. “This thing is wigging out big time.”
“I guess it’s just not used to carrying that sort of load. I told you it wasn’t a good idea."
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Michael retorted. “Even with the size restrictions or whatever, I’ve seen trainers with pokémon five times the size of Goldeen. Why should the pokéball care if the thing that’s usually inside of it suddenly gains weight?”
“Because pokéballs are for pokémon, not regular matter,” Henry said, crossing his arms smartly. “There’s gotta be something in their mechanism that can only deal with living things.”
Michael pondered for a moment, tapping the capsule’s red knob, then brightened. “Maybe I should put you in a pokéball. That way I’ll always have you handy in my backpack, and we can travel two for the price of one. How about it?” He pointed the opened capsule at Henry, who instantly jumped back, arms shielding his face. The boy slipped on a puddle mid-step, however, which sent him careening towards the wall, flailing and groping for balance. Michael roared with laughter.
“It’s not funny!” Henry said, drawing himself up. His face was red.
“Relax! I was kidding.” Michael lowered the capsule, smiling. “Still, you gotta admit, that would be cool—”
“Okay, okay. I’m done.” Michael held up his hands in surrender. He turned back to Goldeen, who was swimming about in the water, and called her over with a whistle. He met her by the edge of the water. “Whatever’s causing this, I guess we’ll just have to deal with it for now. We’re moving on to step two.” He turned to Henry. “Goldeen has to control the water around her so that it doesn’t escape during the battle. That’s the most important part.”
“How are you going to do it?” Henry asked.
Michael fixed his gaze on the tiles of the opposite wall. “I think I have an idea… but it’ll need a lot of practice.”
“All right, then let’s do it."
Michael took Goldeen out of the water, and for the next two hours, he went over his plan with painstaking detail. He did not stop his training until the fish could emerge from the pokéball without getting anything wet, and have full mobility to perform attacks. Once she began to grow weary, Michael brought out his other pokémon and worked with them as well, preplanning their roles and attacks. This time, he vowed, he would win with battlers to spare.
After their rental period was over, the boys dutifully returned their room key and went on a lunch break, agreeing to resume after an hour. Henry allowed Michael to finish his article, which he did, his abated battle anxiety uplifting his creative spirit. After several more revisions, he removed the finished manuscript and returned the typewriter to the front desk. It was just after one o’clock.
“So how are you going to give it to the newspeople?” Henry asked. “Did you guys agree on a meeting time or something?”
“Yeah. I told them I’d meet them right outside the hotel at a quarter till one. We’re kind of late already, but I guess it can’t hurt to check.”
Michael emerged from the hotel’s front entrance and looked around the parking lot. Bobby and company were nowhere in sight. Feeling a trill of panic, Michael began to pace around the building, scanning the benches and parking spaces. Henry followed him.
Finally, Michael spotted the group of four gathered beneath an overhang. They looked like stranded travelers—all sweaty and tired, sipping cans of Coca-Cola against the heat.
“When did you say the kid would come, Bobby?” Nancy asked, checking her watch. “It’s already one-fifteen.”
Michael ran forward. “Hey, I’m here!” he said. As one, the team’s heads turned. Bobby pushed himself away from the wall, smiling.
“Hah-hey! You’ve got it!” He stepped forward, and Michael handed him the article. The final draft was nearly three full pages in length. Bobby read it over, nodding. “All right. Perfect. What we’re going to do now is send the article to two places: One is The Hearthomer. If they accept it, it’ll be published locally for the city. We’ll also send it to SNN’s office in Jubilife as our commissioned story, and for that we’ll include our own analysis, plus an introduction. And if that gets accepted, then you’ll be on Sinnoh Post, and the whole country can read what you wrote.” Bobby’s eyes met Michael’s own. “Sound like a plan?”
“You freaking bet," Michael said. “But how will I know if the story gets accepted? I’m going to Solaceon next, but I don’t know what my address will be.”
“We’ll figure out something,” said Nancy, with a slight smile. “We’re reporters. It’s our job to stalk people.” The guys snickered behind her.
Smiling, Michael stepped away. “Well, we gotta go. I have a battle to train for.”
Bobby nodded. “Take it easy.”
“You too.” Michael waved. “Thanks.”
The team gathered their things and walked off into the parking lot. Michael could hear them talking as they passed the rows of shining cars, entering the roadway on foot. When their motley colors faded into the great city at last, he turned to go inside.
That evening, Jerry’s battle room was bathed in orange light. The windows around the room were masked with black, the dim glow coming from a row of lanterns lined along the walls. Their soft flickering seemed to give the room a whole new aura, one of tricks and shadows. The battlefield looked haunted, alternating between patches of light and darkness, warmth and fear.
To the side, the faces of Henry and Bertha stood out like ghostly apparitions in the firelight. They kept still as they waited, shadows dancing around them. In the midst of the silence, Bertha cast her gaze over to Michael and smiled. She looked like a zombie.
What threw off the whole effect was the pile of luggage, both old and new, that lay at their feet. After he and Henry had finished training that afternoon, Bertha had immediately told them to start packing. She had booked a train to Solaceon for that very evening, and was eager to be off to meet with the Gym leader. Henry also seemed happy to be visiting yet another city, but Michael found it extremely hard to concentrate with him and Bertha moving around and about, making plans as if the battle was over already. It wasn’t something he liked to consider, but there was always a chance that he would lose, and that their stay in Hearthome would have to be extended. And if such a thing did happen, then would Bertha delay her progress just for his sake? Would Henry be all right with traveling on foot again? He wasn’t so sure.
Before he could get too carried away, Michael rolled his shoulders to ease himself, and pulled his gloves higher up his hands. They were a last-minute purchase from the hotel’s store, made of white material with black stripes on each finger. They had been expensive, a whopping three dollars, but would nevertheless do their job. He was holding Goldeen’s pokéball in his hands now, ready to begin.
About a minute later, Jerry arrived in his usual manner—stepping silently out of the back door with a drawstring pouch. He looked tired, as if a whole day of battling had drained the life from his face. Or maybe it was just the light again, which seemed to hollow his frame considerably.
The Gym leader stepped forward to his allotted place at the head of the field. “Welcome, Michael,” he said. “I hope you’ve prepared.”
Michael did not respond, but watched as Jerry took out his first pokéball. With the sound of chiming bells, Chingling materialized in the air, rocking back and forth from its strings like a pendulum.
Holding Goldeen’s pokéball aloft, Michael stepped back several feet. “You might want to move those,” he informed Bertha, indicating the luggage. “They could get wet.”
Bertha lifted an eyebrow. Smiling, Michael turned back to the battlefield and opened the pokéball. “Go!”
A spout of water shot out from the capsule, falling downwards into a crashing wave that washed over the floor of the Gym. Out came Goldeen, sliding down with the current like a gleaming bullet. The wave rolled on till it reached the center of the field, then suddenly split into two forked segments that looped around towards the walls, and gathered back into a single mass beneath the pokémon’s body.
Goldeen rose out from the elevated pool, the water splashing and cresting around her. Jerry stood still, visibly surprised at the elaborate display. When Goldeen’s head poked out of the water to face him, he whistled. “Huh. Now that’s creative. I can’t say I’ve seen that too many times before.”
Michael smirked. He glanced over to the bench, where Bertha had drawn up her feet in panic when the current had skimmed past. She looked first to the luggage, which was entirely unharmed, then to the mass of water that hung in the air, her lips parted. “That is creative. I just hope you know what you’re doing…” Knitting her brows, she took off her shoes and placed them beside her. Henry hid a laugh behind his palm.
Not waiting for Jerry to begin, Michael turned to his pokémon.“Goldeen, use Water Pulse!”
Goldeen narrowed her eyes and began to flap her fins. Suddenly, a chunk of water broke off from the whole and swooped up in a graceful arc, soaring through the air like a liquid comet. The jet swept Chingling right out of the air, swallowing the smaller mass and trapping it under its momentum. The comet fell, gathering speed, and crashed against the wall to Michael’s right, slapping Chingling against the surface like a bug.
Goldeen pulled the water back, sucking it from the walls and floor before it could ebb away, leaving Chingling to sink to the ground. The dazed and dripping pokémon struggled to regain balance, the weight of the droplets hampering its delicate flight. Before it could recover, Goldeen sliced at it with another watery projectile, this time catching Chingling from below and hurling it upwards. The pokémon sailed towards Jerry, who barely ducked in time as Chingling splattered the wall behind him.
Jerry spun around, but already the water had vanished, leaving Chingling in a stupor. Its sounds were flat and hoarse, and it bumped itself repeatedly against the wall as if trying to break it. He gritted his teeth. “Chingling, use Uproar!”
With a struggle, Chingling managed to pump itself over to the battlefield, but it seemed unfit to do much else. Wrestling with its own thoughts, Chingling produced a few strangled squeals, before the daze overtook its mind again, leaving it mute. On cue, Michael stepped forward to direct the killing blow. “Goldeen—Water Pulse with Horn Attack!”
Goldeen rolled over on her back, fins flapping, and another teardrop-slice of water smacked Chingling to the ground. Before the pokémon could get away, Goldeen thrust herself forward on a rushing wave and lowered her horn like a battle lance. She stabbed at Chingling with deadly speed, tossing it to and fro in the air, the water flying madly around her. When Chingling finally fell still, she swept it off on a wave, depositing the fainted bell at Jerry’s feet.
The leader looked down at his fainted pokémon, then up at the glistening sphere of water that towered before him. “Well then,” he mused. “Time to step up the game.” He swapped Chingling’s pokéball for another, and Gallade emerged onto the floor with a tumble, landing on one knee, baring his sword arm.
“Use Psycho Cut!”
Gallade sprang forward, his sword outstretched, the blade glowing with a devilish hue that was shocking in the dim light. Goldeen immediately went into defensive mode, shooting a jet of water at Gallade’s face to distract him, while pushing herself away with the rest of the tide. Gallade sliced his way through the water, the liquid hissing and curdling around him as he tried to reach his target.
“Goldeen, twist it!” Michael shouted.
Working her tail and fins, Goldeen gathered all the water behind her into a wave and pushed herself forward, traveling in a spiral around Gallade. The warrior twisted round and round, trying to locate Goldeen among the current, delivering several whizzing slices that shocked her out of rhythm, causing her to flutter her fins in panic. Gallade’s red eyes locked on their target, and he swung his blade, catching Goldeen right in the middle of her abdomen.
Goldeen fell out from beneath her support system, and the spiral began to collapse as she lost her grip on the water. Muttering a curse, Michael quickly opened the pokéball, sucking Goldeen and the water back inside again. Still, he had acted too late—a few precious drops remained behind, sinking away into the gravel.
Though flustered, Michael skated over his emotions for the time being. He swapped Goldeen’s pokéball with Caterpie’s, and the little bug landed squarely in the dirt.
“String Shot!” he ordered.
In the dim light, Jerry gave a single nod. “Gallade, use Confusion.”
A small whirring sound issued from Caterpie’s jaws, and a thin, spidery thread began to emerge from her mouth. Right then, Gallade began to send the invisible pulses that halted her mental processes, clouding them with white noise and vague whisperings. Caterpie began to slow in her tracks, her jaws clicking repeatedly as she met the strange force. Michael clenched his fists. “Don’t lose it!” he said, hoping that the tiny bug’s resolve would be stronger than Chingling’s. “Keep using String Shot!”
He head a faint snipping sound in reply, and saw a thin silver thread emerge from Caterpie’s jaws. It drifted in the air for a minute, then latched onto Gallade’s scales, holding fast. Caterpie worked her way around the pokémon’s foot, stopping here and there when the Psychic attack grew increasingly strong, but always started back up again. Michael felt a rush of relief as he watched his pokémon, which was followed by an almost humorous sense of irony, as the battler he had always thought to be the weakest managed to wrest herself out of Gallade’s mental grip.
Realizing that his repeated blows of Confusion weren’t working, Gallade began to swipe at his foot, trying to flick off the string. While he was busy, Caterpie clicked her jaws deviously and pulled, and Gallade came crashing down. Before he could do so much as move, Caterpie began to scurry around him, tying his legs and arms together so he couldn’t move.
“Now!” Michael shouted. “Bug Bite!”
Caterpie began to bite at Gallade’s skin, while the pokémon struggled in vain to get free. Once her special venom had seeped in through the tiny wounds, afflicting Gallade with a bout of shivers, Michael swapped Caterpie out of the field and sent out Goldeen. He tried to ignore the still-seeping gash in her scales, and after a couple rounds of Water Pulse, Gallade lay fainted.
Michael celebrated his victory with a small sigh as Jerry returned the pokémon. He glanced over to Goldeen, who was still keeping upright on her water pillow, though she looked more exhausted than before—evidently the injury from Psycho Cut was draining her energy.
I have to save her for last, he decided. If Goldeen fainted, he was as good as doomed. After some thought, Michael swapped pokéballs again, this time sending out Machop.
“Go.” He held the pokéball open and stepped back as Machop took the floor, landing on all fours. Slowly, the pokémon straightened, looking around the battle room in confusion, and then his big red eyes latched onto Michael.
“Over there,” Michael pointed. “Your opponent’s over there!” He pointed to where Mr. Mime had emerged from Jerry’s pokéball, the light fading to reveal his knobby form.
After taking a long look at the tip of Michael’s finger, Machop turned over to Mr. Mime. The tiny clown was doing his silent shuffle dance, pantomiming various shapes in the air with his hands.
“Mime, use Psychic!” Jerry ordered.
Mr. Mime pressed his fingers to his temples, and almost instantly, Machop’s eyes began to glaze over. He turned around the rest of the way and lowered himself onto his knees, watching Mr. Mime like a television screen.
“Avoid it!” Michael said. “Don’t let it get to you!” But he knew that his goading was useless. He had observed the same effect countless times before in the patio—any time someone used a Psychic move against Machop, he would either freeze up, trip over his own two feet in confusion, or simply be unable to use his full force for attacks. But those had been easy pokémon, and easy attacks. This time, Machop had plunged into full oblivion.
A smile turned the corners of Mr. Mime’s face, no doubt as he realized that his opponent was a piece of cake. He took one hand away from his head and lifted it out in front of him, bending the fingers as if to grasp the strings of a puppet. The white index finger twitched, and at the same time, one of Machop’s arms gently pushed out into the dirt. Then the other. Then, Machop was lying prone on his belly, his tongue lolling out from his mouth.
Mr. Mime twirled his hand around in the air, and Machop’s body obediently went to the left, rolling through the dirt like a fallen log. Just before he hit the wall, Mr. Mime switched directions, and Machop rolled the other way. The maneuver was more of a showing-off than anything; it seemed that Mr. Mime wanted to compensate for his lesser performance during Henry’s battle.
But Michael wasn’t impressed.
“Machop, get out of it!” he said. “Do you hear me? Get up!” He stepped forward till his shoes were touching the edge of the trainer’s boundary line. “Mr. Mime is messing with your mind! He thinks he’s tougher than you! Are you gonna take that lying down, or are you gonna be a man and defend yourself? I can’t hear you!”
Michael cupped his hand over his ear, and he heard Machop let out a tiny squeal. Mr. Mime continued his rolling for another few seconds, and then his strength seemed to ebb. He took in a breath to collect himself, and prepared to perform the attack anew.
In the interim, Machop’s eyes had fluttered open, and the pokémon had rolled over onto his feet. Knees wobbling, Machop advanced upon Mr. Mime, his hand curled into a veined fist. With a cry, he swung, striking his opponent across the nose.
Michael let out a laugh as Mr. Mime toppled back, hands splayed in shock. He fell back, then did an acrobatic flip and stood upright again.
“Mime, use Psybeam!” Jerry said.
Brow furrowed in definite anger, Mr. Mime pressed his forefingers to his temples. But before he had time to attack, Machop sent another hammering blow at Mr. Mime’s head, making him fall. Teeth bared and eyes dancing, Machop began to kick at the body furiously, once more possessed with rage. But this time, his battering wasn’t answered by surrender. Michael hadn’t expected it to be.
Mr. Mime grabbed hold of Machop’s foot mid-kick and pulled him down, blasting him with a pink Psybeam. The tube of light shattered as it hit Machop in the face, and the pokémon was pushed back, teetering like a tipsy ballerina. At last he fell, landing flat on his back, eyes rolled back in their sockets. Even from a distance, they seemed to be staring directly at Michael.
He felt little guilt, however; his desired effect was achieved. Mr. Mime was showing signs of tiring, as both Psychic moves had taken their toll. Without a word, Michael returned Machop and sent out Caterpie.
“Mr. Mime, use Doubleslap!” called Jerry, as the bug landed on the floor.
“Caterpie, String Shot and Bug Bite!”
Caterpie crawled forward, and as Mr. Mime advanced upon her, she launched a silver string that wrapped itself around his outstretched arm. She entangled his feet in a similar way, and when Mr. Mime finally lost his balance and toppled back, she tied together his arms. Caterpie began to bite, while Mr. Mime lay fidgeting, his face forming a series of impressive gestures of shock. It would have continued on for another good minute, but just then, Jerry’s voice sounded from the darkness.
“Mime, use Substitute.”
Seconds later, a loud pop filled the room, and the battlers were engulfed by a cloud of white smoke. When it cleared, Michael saw Caterpie scurrying around a motionless, woundless rubber body. Michael bit back an expletive. He had forgotten entirely about Mr. Mime’s special move; since Henry had brushed it off so easily, why not him? But once again, luck had failed him. It was time to think.
Off to the side, Jerry was smiling now, visibly pleased. He gave Michael a little nod, as if to say help yourself, since no attacks could harm his pokémon now. Michael did not hold the leader’s gaze for long. He looked down at Caterpie, and an idea came to him at last.
“Caterpie, use String Shot again,” he ordered. “Don’t stop until I tell you to.”
Caterpie obeyed, and covered layer after layer of webbing around the doll, until it completely mummified. A round hole was spared for its face, which started out at the ceiling with frozen surprise. Once she was finished, Michael returned Caterpie and sent out Goldeen. The fish emerged in a cascading waterfall.
“Use Water Pulse!”
Goldeen sent forth a rushing wave and swept the Mime-mummy off the floor, putting it through a complicated series of maneuvers: slapping it against the wall, spinning it in midair, and thwacking it against the ground. The collisions were repeated until they had broken Mr. Mime’s concentration, and the pokemon reappeared in its place to absorb the impact. He bounced to and fro in his cocoon, growing increasingly woozy from the constant slapping at his sides, until finally he hung limp. Goldeen lowered him down, and Mr. Mime lay still amid a blanket of webbing.
Jerry looked at his pokemon in disbelief at first, then with a slow nod, returned him to his pokeball. “That was an interesting battle,” he said as Mr. Mime vanished. “Well done. I truly have never seen anyone utilize a Water pokémon like that before. I—” Jerry was cut off mid-sentence by a loud splash. Goldeen was beginning to sink with exhaustion, the tight sphere of water unraveling around her and sloshing towards the ground.
Jerry looked up. “You might want to—”
“Got it.” Michael took out his pokéball and returned Goldeen, sucking the water away.
Once the arena was clear, Jerry turned to address Michael again. “Well, there’s nothing much else I can say. You seem to have a pretty good grasp of what you’re doing, and you know how to make a good decision in the nick of time. You’re on the right path, so now it’s up to you to go the rest of the way.” He took the Relic Badge from his pocket and placed it into Michael’s hands, along with a few folded bills. Smiling, the Psychic leader inclined his head, and Michael returned to the benches.
Bertha rose, putting her shoes on and taking her luggage in hand. “We better get going now, boys. We have a train to catch.”
Michael packed away his things and went with Henry to the door. To his surprise, Jerry followed, holding it open for them.
“Wait, aren’t you going to battle someone else now?” Michael said.
Jerry shook his head. “Yours was my last battle for the evening. I’ll be closing up the Gym after this.”
“Speaking of closing Gyms,” Bertha said, “I finally made an agreement with the Gym Service Official earlier today.”
“Who’s that?” Henry asked.
“That’s the guy who watches over the eight Gyms of Sinnoh and makes sure they’re running smoothly,” Jerry said. “He’s my boss, and Bertha’s.”
“And,” Bertha continued, “since I don’t have a permanent facility to operate from, and the season’s still underway, I have two options: either relocate temporarily or close my Gym completely. I’ve been thinking about what to do for days, and I’ve finally settled on the second option. I’ll create a bypass, so that trainers coming from Oreburgh can go directly to Jerry’s Gym without my badge. My boss wasn’t too happy about that, but when I explained my petition, he let up a little. So sometime in the next few days, the League will make a public announcement, and trainers will be able to skip my Gym.”
“But that’s not fair!” Henry said. “Michael and I had to battle you, and so did a bunch of other people! And now all the other trainers can just skip?”
“Not just skip. Oh, no. The boss and I made a deal—he’ll allow me to take leave until the end of the season in December, and in the three-week margin before the local League tournaments begin, I’ll take a break from petition business and hold rematches for all the trainers that didn’t get to battle my Gym before.” Bertha took a deep breath, and let it out again. “It’ll be a lot of work, but with the knowledge that my petition is finally in the making, it’ll be a lot easier to handle.”
They entered the front lobby, and Jerry stopped them before the exit. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you both, boys,” he said to Michael and Henry, “and it’s been wonderful seeing you again, Bertha. You’ve given me quite a lot to think about with your petition, and I’ll try to help you out with the signatures if I can. If there’s ever anything you need, don’t hesitate to call.”
Bertha nodded. “Thanks a bunch. I can’t tell you how big a help you’ve been.” She met him in a hug, and then took Michael and Henry to the door. Jerry lingered in the lobby for a while, watching them, then silently disappeared into the throes of his Gym.
Outside, it was warm and dark. The parking lot stood in a giant puddle of light, empty save for a few scattered cars that gleamed under the glare of the lamps. As they climbed into the blue Buick, Bertha looked towards the backseat.
“Next stop, Solaceon,” she said. “I hope you’re on your guard, boys. It’ll only get harder from here.”
“Do you know who the Solaceon leader is, Bertha?” Henry said.
Bertha shrugged in reply. “I know it’s a woman, but other than that, there’s not much I can say. I’ve never met her. Jerry gave me the Gym’s number and directions, so we’ll find out soon enough. But whatever happens, I want you both to take the Gym seriously. I’d like to see more of what Michael did today: thinking. Got that?”
The boys nodded in unison, then turned their separate ways. The inside of the car was soothingly dark, the lights of the city striking in contrast. As the car began to move, Michael closed his eyes halfway and watched them blur. “I still don’t appreciate you guys packing and everything while I was getting ready,” he said to the silence. “I could’ve lost, you know.”
From the driver’s seat, he heard Bertha laugh. “Well, I knew you wouldn’t. Take it as a compliment.” In the rearview mirror, her eyes found him briefly before returning to the road. “You’re a smart kid, Michael. Don’t waste your talents.”
The city rolled past him in a blur, lights dancing hypnotically in the darkness.
Better late than never for the review, right? Unfortunately this one will be short...
I actually used an old school typewriter once.... back in the elementary school library I don't even remember what I typed or for what, but I do remember using one...
Onto the battle... the description was a bit clearer, but I still had points where I couldn't visualize Goldeen and the water... maybe because the whole thing defies the very laws of physics and I do have a hard time with that sort of thing, lol. It seemed like a pretty clever strategy, and obviously it ended up working, but it just dawned on me that three of Michael's Pokemon have weaknesses to Flying types...he does need to get cracking on getting new Pokemon, lol
Of course when it came to water Pokemon, I had Lisa take the easy way out... use a Pokemon that could battle well on land. (And since my latest stories have been more about the car chases and gun fights anyway, the matter really is moot xD)
Actually I'm more interested in how Michael's article goes and the public reaction to it getting published. That's the thing I'm really looking forward to seeing.
The battle description was the best that I could make it. That's all. I'm glad you found it clearer this time around, but when I have time, I might go back again and see if there's anything else to fix.
It appears that the quest to achieve the perfect team is never-ending... Michael will definitely be catching more pokemon in the chapters to come, as well as becoming aware of more type combinations. There will also be more plot developments in relation to Michael's article in the upcoming chapters, so look out for that...
Thanks for stopping by, LeSabre! See you next time.
Hi everyone. Sorry for the wait. Here's Chapter 22!
Their departure from Hearthome was swift. After returning the Buick to the dealership, Bertha rented a taxi to the train station, where they passed the time before their train’s arrival by exploring the crowded terminals. It seemed that barely an hour had passed, and then Michael was seated in yet another compartment, looking out at yet another point of departure.
Bertha sat with them the whole ride this time, though there was little conversation among them. Michael occupied himself with an issue of the Pokémon League Weekly that he had brought along. He had dog-eared a page a couple days ago, and was rereading snippets from an article that had caught his eye: The New Championship.
… Indeed, how many of us can aspire to such lofty aims? The title we seek as trainers is quite possibly the most sought-after title in the country, that one single word that brings fortune and a level of notoriety second to none: Champion.
But what does Champion mean? During the course of League history, the title has been tossed around and charged with many different definitions. Around the 1800s, a champion was anybody who could beat their entire town’s population of trainers. Today, it is a trainer elevated above their entire country, one who defeats eight extraordinary battlers and then enters a grueling, winner-takes-all tournament against his peers who have done the same. The modern Champion is just as much a commodity as he is a symbol of determination. Upon his victory, the Champion finds that every trainer in the country has learned his name virtually overnight… and that the money he has earned as a prize is only a shadow of what may yet be to come. In a 1959 commentary, League official Robert Spielz called the Championship: “… the quickest route to influence in the world.” And indeed it is—while the Champion’s influence in League mechanics is restrained, their social power is profound. The Champion of 1957, Bob Gordon (who finally lost to Ricky Sheldon in 1960), managed to raise $200,000 to benefit underprivileged schools in 1959. The current Champion, Mr. Sheldon, is currently advocating to launch a Trainer School program, which will be a private, supplementary program for League-aspiring children of ages 7-10.
Nearly every single Champion in history has altered the job description during their reign. We long-time League fans often remember the early years, when Champions often reigned for eight years in a row, and when the talented, motivated newcomer was surprisingly hard to come by. Today, however, trainers pour into Gyms by the hundreds, some as young as eight or nine. Those young rookies are part of an entirely different generation, one where talent blossoms early, and will strengthens rapidly. Young trainers are faring better and better in the League Tournaments, so well in fact, that long-time League members are forced to face the possibility of a trainer younger than seventeen rising to the Final Four. Ricky Sheldon himself is the youngest Champion to date—he achieved victory at the age of twenty-one. Bob Gordon, in contrast, was thirty-three.
Before the decade closes, we might begin to see a new type of Champion emerge. The embarking nine-year-old’s fantasy of beating the Tournament might become reality sooner than he had hoped, when he rises through the ranks and finds himself on the hottest seat in the country…
Michael wasn’t sure at what point the words on the page began to blur, and when the lighting in the cabin became dim and murky to his eyes. After a while he simply crashed, slumping against the window of the train, arms crossed over his stomach. Henry and Bertha followed suit, each at different times.
For a long while, the trio slept, barely aware of the train’s vibrations. The black of the tunnel eventually vanished, exposing a beautiful, moonlit countryside. The train was speeding through miles of thick, untamed land, where not a single city structure was in sight.
An indefinite amount of time passed, and eventually, Michael grew aware of a tiny patch of light emerging from somewhere to his left. It grew increasingly bright, the train’s motor increasingly loud to his ears, and then he was finally brought awake by a light shake of his shoulder.
“You better wake up,” Bertha whispered. “We’ll be here soon.”
Michael rubbed open his eyes. When he looked out the window, he felt a sudden shock—the sun was rising over a rolling countryside, thriving with hills, trees, and running brooks. He pressed his nose against the glass, searching the landscape for any sign of civilization, but all he saw was the occasional house tucked away beneath a tree, or settled at the edge of a pasture. Hordes of Miltank were grazing in the unenclosed spaces, their tails swishing in the air. Some of them stood up on their hind legs as the train passed by, their curious eyes following the gleaming machine.
Great. Another farm town. Michael let out an inward sigh. He couldn’t wait to see what delights awaited him here.
The train came to a stop beside an enormous archway, which led into a sunny outdoor platform. Michael followed Henry and Bertha through the crowd, gazing up at the stone walls that enclosed the space, and the domed, tent-like roof that revealed a slip of blue sky at its peak. Though the interior of the train station was markedly less impressive than Hearthome’s had been, it wasn’t the barn house that Michael was expecting either—big windows and potted plants were juxtaposed with soda machines and newspaper stands that lined the walls, adding a comforting modern touch. The floor was made of a dark, rough wood that creaked freshly beneath Michael’s feet, as if it had been cut away from a tree only moments before. There were windows everywhere, providing an open view of the sprawling pastures around them. It was almost like walking past a mural—each window’s image was a continuation of the previous. The countryside was huge and low-lying, and reminded Michael of the pictures he often saw on packages of organic produce.
As he trailed behind his companions, trying to adjust himself to his surroundings, Michael became aware of the people who congregated around him, filing the terminal with voices and movement. The Solacians caught his eye at once. Their clothing was simple and conservative, which made even the calm, leisurely style of Hearthome seem flashy. Men wore vests and flannel shirts, and almost always jeans, as if they had just arrived from a long day of work at the farm. The women strolled around in dresses and frilly skirts, accentuating their long, shining hair with bows and ribbons. Even more peculiar was their speech, which was constrained by a light, yet striking accent Michael had never heard before. They contracted their words, rounded out their ‘r’s, and often used words from a local, unfamiliar slang, that made him feel as if he had stepped into a different world.
Aside from people, the station was also abundant in pokémon, who could often be seen peeking out from behind trash cans, or tamely snoozing in chairs, completely independently of their owners. Michael (who had instinctively grabbed the Stunky’s cage on his way out of the train) felt the pokémon shift about, obviously making a connection in its little Stunky brain. He gave the cage a light rattle, warning the pokémon not to get too excited. But at the same time, he couldn’t help but look around himself.
Bertha led them to the customer service desk, which was labeled as such by a paper sign. Behind it stood a young female clerk, who was stroking a Bidoof. Her russet hair was split into two pigtail braids that hung down her shoulders, and swayed cutely when she turned her head. “Hi ther’,” she said to them. “Can I help you?” Her voice had the same soft, summery feel as that of the other Solaceon women, though to Michael, hers seemed more pronounced. He caught her eye for a moment, then quickly looked away.
“Hi.” Bertha removed the note with the Gym’s address and slid it onto the counter. “Could you please tell me how far this would be from here?”
The lady examined the paper, her slender fingers tracing the lines. “Oh, you’re lookin’ for the Gym, aren’t you? Just go left from here, or north if you pr’fer, until you find the shopping center. It’ll be right ‘round there, next to the Pokémon Daycare.”
“Thanks,” Bertha said. “And what about a hotel?”
“Well, it d’pends what you’re lookin’ for, miss. ‘Course we’ve got Holiday Inn ‘n stuff downtown, but we don’t do much of the luxury here, if you know what I mean. We have a Trainer Hotel, but it’s booked up a lot nowadays, so not ev'rone can get in at first. If you wanta give it a try anyhow, it’s right ‘cross the street from the Gym. You can’t miss it.”
Bertha thanked her, and promptly made her way towards the exit door. Michael looked up at the lady again before he left, and saw her smile at him. It was a warm smile... and a pretty one. Michael decided that he just might like Solaceon after all.
They followed the lady’s directions into the marketplace, which, as he guessed, was the thriving city center. But town continued to defy his earlier assumptions: it had a much more modern street plan than Eterna, and sleek, simple buildings whose colors blended warmly with the landscape. The roadways were paved and marked with vehicles in mind, and Michael often saw the old car models he was familiar with cruising with their windows rolled down. The lack of skyscrapers and view-blocking trees made way for the full expanse of the sky, which was like a breath of fresh air after the towering city.
The familiar shape of the Trainer’s Hotel appeared within a circular plaza of shops and outdoor cafés, teeming with people and pokémon alike. The hotel was distinguished, as always, by its enormous sign, but the rest of its outer appearance was adjusted to match the scheme of the neighboring buildings. It had a flat, brown roof, and framed windows.
Inside, it was just as unrecognizable—the floor was made of the same dark wood of the train station, and the walls were colored a light tan, adorned with paintings framed in brass. A small sitting area stood in a corner by the entrance, furnished with leather couches and armchairs. It was occupied by a motley gathering of trainers, all doing trainerly things like badge-cleaning and writing in journals. A few of them looked up at the new arrivals, but for the most part they minded their own business, avoiding each other’s eyes. No one was talking. In fact, as Michael looked around the room, he became aware of the strange, pervading silence that hung over the lobby, as if everyone was anticipating some great disaster.
There was one trainer standing at the front counter when the trio approached. His back was turned. He was having a whispered conversation with one of the clerks, while the second was sorting files in a huge cabinet behind her. She wore a dress as well, though her hair was pulled back into a practical bun. Hailing the clerk with a wave, Bertha proffered her I.D. “Hello. I’d like to rent two rooms, please. One with a trainer discount for the boys.”
The attendant shook her head. “I’m sorry, but we’re all booked. We have a half-size room op’n, but it’s designed f’r only one person.”
Bertha frowned. “Hmm. Do you know if any other hotels in the city offer special accommodations for trainers?”
“In terms of services, no. The things we offer as a League hotel can’t be provided by a regular chain. But in terms of prices, I’m not sure. You’ll have to check with the establ’shments themselves.”
Bertha tapped the counter, casting her gaze over to the wall. She began to reply, but at that moment, the trainer beside them turned around, tilting his cap away from his face. “Uh, Miss? I’m checking out. I had a regular room, so, if you want I could give it to you…” He looked at Michael and Henry.
“That would be great,” Bertha said, smiling. “The boys can the regular room, and I’ll take the half.”
The clerk nodded. “Alright then.” She processed their order, and placed two gold keys on the counter.
Michael turned to the trainer, who was just preparing to leave, tightening the strap of his messenger bag. “Thanks, man,” he said.
The trainer nodded, taking a deep breath. “Good luck,” he said. “You’ll need it…” Pushing his cap over his eyes, he hurried out of the lobby, letting the glass doors swing shut behind him. Michael turned to Henry, and saw the same confused look reflected in the boy’s face.
At that moment, a couple of hotel workers arrived to take their luggage up to their rooms. Bertha placed the keys into her purse and zipped it closed. “We’re going to visit the Gym now,” she said to the boys. “It shouldn’t be long. Everything will be ready for us when we get back here, so you don’t have to worry about your stuff.”
“So we won’t be going up yet?” Michael said. He had been hoping to unwind a bit after the journey, or at least unpack. But Bertha shook her head.
“Nope. Sorry. I made a specific appointment with her, and it’ll look bad if I’m late. But don’t worry. I won’t bother you two for the rest of the day. Promise.”
Michael knew better than to complain, so he nodded and stood silent. He handed off the Stunky’s cage to one of the workers, and Henry helped it into his arms.
“Easy there,” the man said. He looped his arm through the handle of a luggage bag and grabbed the cage with both hands. The Stunky shifted around noisily.
“Have fun on your own,” Henry said, stroking the pokémon’s head through the bars. As the crew walked off, he turned to Michael. “We should get him a pokéball one of these days. Then we can stop carrying him around in that dirty cage.”
Before Michael could reply, Bertha cut in. “All right boys, we’re heading out. Come on.”
With Bertha leading the way, they left the hotel. As promised, the Gym stood right across the street, just a couple of buildings down. At the first glance, it looked more like a community center than a place of heated competition. The building’s main body was large and square, with a brown shilling roof and an inscription reading ‘SOLACEON GYM’ carved into the stone. Most of the building’s mass was stretched out in the form of two long hallways, which embraced the street on its either side like a pair of arms. The hallways were lined with tall, rectangular windows that reflected the glare of the rising sun. The building had no parking lot; instead a sidewalk sufficed, by which a constant crowd of trainers walked to and fro. Even from the outside, the building looked full to bursting.
They stood in front of the entrance for a moment, peering up at the carved inscription.
“I wonder who the leader will be,” Henry said. “I can’t wait to meet her.”
“Me too…” Michael sighed. “What do you think—blonde or brunette?”
Henry jerked around, his expression shocked. But a moment later, he began to laugh.
“What?” Michael chuckled. “Don’t tell me you’re not thinking it too.”
He shook his head. “Never mind.”
“Hey.” Bertha snapped her fingers in front of their faces. “Focus. I don’t want you going in there with any ideas. You’re here to battle, not get dates.” Stepping in front of them, she pushed open the doors. Inside, the lobby resembled the entrance to a karate dojo, or some sort of sports center. There was the same wooden floor, the same cream-colored walls, only this time there were no decorations whatsoever, just flat planes of color. Several wooden benches were spaced across the room, hosting a chattering mass of trainers, who were digging through their backpacks and feeding their pokémon.
The room was dominated by a vast front desk that took up a good portion of the opposite wall. The doors on its either end were forever opening and closing as a trainer scurried forth from the inner rooms, a wayward pokémon emerged on a trail of scent, or a staff member backed out with an armful of boxes. Michael immediately recognized the Gym staff as separate from the crowd: they all wore matching collared shirts and pants (skirts for the ladies), and name tags that were clipped to their shirt pockets.
Amid the hubbub, three clerks manned the counter, their heads constantly bent over one task or another. They switched from phone calls to digging through files to greeting trainers, of which there seemed to be no shortage. As Michael looked around, he saw them spilling through the doors and peeking through the windows, like so many ants trying to wheedle into a hole.
Though he searched thoroughly, he couldn’t find any sign of a type preference. There weren’t any posters taped to the walls, nor were there any plaques bearing the Gym leader’s slogan. Moreover, the town itself did not suggest anything to him—all the others he visited had at least resembled the types their Gyms worked with. Oreburgh, the mining town, obviously had a Rock Gym. The quaint landscape of Eterna turned out to be a likely source for Bertha’s Grass preference. Even Hearthome, with all its towering grandeur, had somehow complemented the unpredictable Psychic type that Jerry loved. But the best he could give Solaceon at this moment was Normal… which, if he was correct, would make the Gym even more beatable than he had originally hoped.
Maybe that’s why there are so many people here, Michael thought.
Once the crowd around the front desk had diminished somewhat, Bertha led the boys forward and hailed the nearest attendant. One of the ladies turned to them, looking frazzled, but nevertheless patient. “Hello. Name please?”
Bertha slid forward her Leader I.D. “Bertha Herrida, Eterna Gym. I have an appointment with Ms. Walker.”
The attendant looked down at the card and nodded. “Ah. Welcome, Miss Herrida. She’s been expectin' you.” Moving swiftly, she stepped out from behind the counter and led them through one of the back doors. The hallway Michael now faced seemed to stretch out to infinity, like the belly of a huge worm. The wooden floor was replaced by a red carpet, which was stained and trampled from years of wear. The battle room doors were lined up on either side of him, much like it had been in the Hearthome hotel, only here there seemed to be dozens, maybe even hundreds… and that was only one wing of the building.
The sounds of battling filled Michael’s ears as he walked. He watched the numbers on the doors slide by, until finally, the attendant stopped beside one labeled ‘47’, and entered.
Inside, the battle room was sunny and spacious. The back wall was almost totally taken up by the window, which had seemed so small from the outside, but was now large and revealing. The floor was entirely covered in tumble mats, much like battle rooms in Oreburgh had been, though here there was clearly no space for spectators.
As he advanced inside with the others, Michael saw that they had walked in on the middle of a battle—a Bidoof was tearing at a Prinplup with its claws, its buck teeth bared in a feral snarl. The stereotypically tame pokémon had turned into a monster, rolling around with its opponent, growling in response to the Prinplup’s feeble attempts at self-defense.
The trainers, equally tense, stood at either end of the unmarked battlefield, watching the relay, shouting frantic commands. Above the confused din, a third, female voice rang loud and clear:
“Give your directions with meaning! With purpose! Your pokémon know what they’re doing—it’s up to you to guide them, not command them!”
The speaker was a young, slim woman. Michael noticed her before the trainers themselves, partly because of her stance—it was clearly authoritative, right at the center of the action. Her hair was short and dark-brown, completely braid free, and never seemed to get in her face. She wore the same uniform as the other staff, but with a strange addition: a soft pink jacket was tied around her waist, in an almost childlike fashion, swooshing around with her skirt as she jumped between the battlers. Her commands blended in with those of the trainers, just as much directing them as they were the pokémon.
The Bidoof’s slashes intensified, and the Prinplup’s trainer, a young girl, seemed pressed to give a command to her weakening pokémon. She fumbled for words, but nothing issued from her moving lips.
“Now!” the woman called.
Spurred by her goading, the girl blubbered a command. “Prinplup, use Metal Claw!” Her shout vanished in the pokémons’ cries. The Prinplup ignored her orders, and instead went into defensive mode, placing its large fins over its head.
The woman’s hawklike eyes darted away from the battling pokémon and once again found the trainer. She approached in two swift steps, leaning over the girl’s shoulder. “I want to hear you, Abigail. A soft voice betrays soft will.”
The girl gulped. At that moment, the attendant cleared her throat, and the lady looked up at the group of people gathered by the door. Her eyes narrowed.
“Ma’am, I have Miss Herrida here for you.” The attendant stepped away, and simultaneously Bertha advanced to the head of the group.
The woman gave a nod of acknowledgment. Stepping onto the battle space, she held up her hands to the trainers. “Stop. Send back your pokémon and meet at the center of the field. I’ll be right back.”
The trainers did as they were told. Both pokémon vanished into their capsules, frozen in their battle stances. In the corner of his eye, Michael saw evident relief spread over Abigail’s face.
The woman approached, her hands folded neatly in front of her. “Thank you, Mary,” she said to the attendant. “You may go.”
The attendant bowed her head and left the room. Turning to Bertha, the woman extended a delicate hand. “Welcome to my Gym. My name is Lona Walker.”
The Solaceon accent was entirely absent from her voice. If he hadn’t known any better, Michael would have assumed that he was still back in Hearthome. After the brief culture-shock he had experienced at the train station, and his hopeful speculating that the leader would turn out to be a cute, bubbly woman with extra-long braids, this was an almost disorienting letdown. There was no trace of Solaceon City in Lona Walker’s straight, businesslike face. None at all.
If Bertha had felt any surprise at all, she did not show it. “Thank you,” she replied. “As you probably know, I’m here strictly on business terms. Has Jerry told you about my petition?”
“He told me the main points, but I was waiting to hear more from you about it,” said Lona.
“Basically, I want the government to cut at least thirty percent of Team Galactic’s funding and give that money to the League. We’ve been losing money to them, and it’s resulted in many of our resources dwindling. If it continues, then the League will likely lose its priority in Sinnoh’s culture, and will no longer be able to provide a quality service to trainers. For my petition to go through, I officially need at least one hundred thousand signatures from Sinnoh citizens, though I’m going for more. And I’m also collecting a separate signature pool from League officials, and possibly people connected to the Space Program itself. I want the President to see that it’s not just one group of people who cares about this issue, and will benefit from the petition’s success.”
Lona listened with pursed lips, and at the end of Bertha’s speech, she knit her fine brows. “Hmm. I must say, that’s very resourceful of you. But do you think that something as simple as a petition will be enough to change the government’s mind?”
Bertha gave a half-smile. “Right now, it’s all we have.”
Lona nodded. “Okay. We’ll discuss this.” At that point, she lowered her gaze to the boys, who had been listening in on the conversation. She looked first to Henry, sizing him up from hat to sneakers, then moved on to Michael. Their eyes locked as if by accident; Lona’s were a dark, beady brown, and in the split second that he held contact, Michael felt a sudden chill run down his spine.
Those were the eyes of a teacher.
“Have you brought them here to challenge my Gym?” asked Lona. She blinked once, then slowly turned her head to face Bertha. Bertha nodded.
“This is Michael Rowan and Henry McPherson,” she said, indicating them in turn. “They’re both good trainers, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.”
“Very good,” said Lona. She turned again to the boys. “Welcome to my Gym. I can already tell that you both have overcome many challenges as trainers to get here. I know that it’s so, because otherwise you wouldn’t be standing in this room. But the journey isn’t over. You still have a long road ahead of you, and if you want to see it to the end, you must be diligent and decisive.” She clasped her hands in a ladylike gesture and continued. “Now, I’m aware that my facility isn’t the biggest, nor the hardest. You’ve probably thought more about how you’re going to enter the Elite Four tournament than how you’re going to defeat the fourth Gym leader of the League. It might be easy. It might not. But the thing I want to make clear is that it’s not my job to give you a hard time here—rather, it’s my goal to make sure that you learn, and that you walk away from this Gym with more than just a token to challenge the next one. I want all my trainers here to learn two things: discipline and technique. One cannot exist without the other. Here, you will learn the value of physical attacks, and how properly conditioning yourselves and your pokémon can be the difference between success and failure in a battle. And if you’re a real trainer, then for you, failure won’t be an option.”
Pausing, Lona reached into a pocket of her jacket and took out out a notepad and pencil. She began to scribble at a rapid pace. “Your first lesson will be discipline,” she said. “Starting tomorrow, I want you both to report to this Gym each morning at seven o’clock for training. No excuses. If you come late, you’re dismissed. When you arrive, you will each be paired off with another trainer who will be your battle partner for the day. You will battle with them at least twice, and observe their technique. They will observe yours. Your battles will all be refereed, either by myself or by one of my staff, and it is their job to oversee the battle and direct its course of action if flawed. The goal of these battles is not to win or lose, but to master the skill of battling itself. The referee will watch over the match and tell you what you and your pokémon need to improve on. Sometimes you may receive input from your opponent. Other times you may feel like inputting them. Your progress will be recorded by your referees, and when you are deemed ready, you will be able to enter the next round of battles, in which you will be battling the staff members themselves. They use pokémon similar to mine. The battles will get progressively harder, but if you fare well, then soon enough you’ll reach the end of the road—me. However, before you begin, I will have you know that I always split up groups. That means Henry won’t be battling against Michael. Got that?”
Michael nodded stiffly. His eyes had gone dry from lack of blinking.
“Good.” Lona pocketed the notebook and handed two identical papers to the boys. Michael looked over what she had written, and felt a growing queasiness settle in the pit of his stomach. They would be going through five days of nonstop training sessions, each with the same unearthly arrive time, after which they would either advance to the staff battles, or repeat the whole thing again. Either way, he would be stuck in Solaceon for a long, long time.
Michael folded the note twice and pocketed it, hoping that once it was out of his sight it would be gone forever. Henry was still reading his, rocking on his heels as if ready to tip over.
Lona did not say another word to them. She stepped towards the door, curling her index finger in Bertha’s direction, indicating for the woman to follow. “Miss Herrida, if you would please come with me. I will show you to my office.”
Bertha and the boys went to follow, but when they reached the door, she stopped them, putting her hands on their shoulders. “You both can roam around here while I’m gone,” she said. “But don’t leave the building. Okay?” She gave them a reassuring pat, and went with Lona down to the end of the hallway.
Once the pink jacket was well out of sight, Michael turned to Henry and let out a long, grumbling sigh. “Damn it. What a drag… it’s like school all over again.” He took out the crumpled note from his pocket and read over the perfect, handwritten lines. “Seven in the morning. Each freaking day. And we have to battle a bunch of random dweebs who’re gonna try to correct us, too. Who does that chick think she is anyway?”
Henry gave a dispirited shrug. “Well, it’ll be like training, won’t it?”
“Uh, no it won’t. I train my own way, thanks. And that’s by coming up with a meaningful type-based strategy, not by using physical fitness or whatever and hoping that I’ll win. Dammit…” Michael shoved the note back into his pocket and quickened his pace towards the lobby, letting his anger churn inside him like a storm. Henry followed in his wake, jumping aside whenever a door opened, or when a young trainer pushed past.
“At any rate, what do you think her type is?” Michael said, calling back to the general space behind him. “I’m thinking it’s Normal.”
Henry’s reply came a moment later. “Mmmm… I don’t know. Fighting, maybe?”
“Could be. But she seems a bit delicate for that, don’t you think? Being a girl and all.” He snickered.
Henry smiled. “I dunno… she was yelling pretty hard at those trainers back there. She reminds me of one of my teachers, actually.”
“Pfft. She reminds me of all of mine,” Michael cringed. “And my teachers were a pain in the ass…”
They reached the lobby, which was the same full house it had been five minutes ago. Michael began to look for a place to sit, when by chance, his eyes found the front counter again. A new face had joined the scene: It was a boy who looked to be about their age, wearing a miniature version of the staff uniform. He was carrying a stack of clipboards in his arms, which he set down onto the counter and began to arrange, his messy hair splaying to and fro. Through the gaps in the curls, Michael saw a familiar pair of glasses.
“Leroy?” Michael approached the counter, eyes perked with disbelief. The boy looked up at the sound of his name, and when he saw Michael, his face brightened. “Oh, hey! Man, this is like the fourth time this week I’ve seen someone I know here. I swear, this Gym has everyone.” Leroy shook his head. He leaned over, putting his elbows on the table. “So how’ve you two been? Last I saw, you were leaving Oreburgh.”
“We just got here,” Michael said. “We’ve already beaten Eterna and Hearthome, so now we’re working to beat our fourth.”
“Wow.” Leroy rubbed his chin. He studied Michael and Henry with new interest, like a pair of intriguing lab specimens. “You guys are really sweeping through. Three badges in two weeks is pretty good. It’s more than what a lot of trainers here can say. Are you still collecting that… uh…” he dropped his voice to a whisper. “Data?”
Michael grinned. “Yeah. We’ve gotten loads. It helped us pull through every time.”
“So you’ve been coming up with counters for all the types?”
Michael and Henry nodded in unison. Leroy seemed pleased. “That’s really cool. It’s almost like you’re doing research on pokémon training. It’s a shame no one’s bothered to do anything like that before. I think the League would be a lot easier if trainers knew how to prepare properly.”
“Yeah…” Henry murmured. “So, what about you? Are you still filling your PokéDex?”
Leroy nodded. “I got past the second mark last week—one-hundred species. Our next one is one-fifty, which’ll be due by the end of the month. I have one-twenty-eight. I’d show you, but I can’t right now ‘cause I’m on duty.”
“Duty?” Michael looked at Leroy’s uniform again. “What, are you a staff member now?”
Leroy let out a laugh. “Yeah, I wish. But no, I’m just volunteering here in my free time. You know, why not? I help out with the records and stuff, and in return, the staff give me info to fill my database.”
Michael brightened. “So you know what pokémon the leader has?”
Leroy nodded, pursing his lips, but before Michael could ask, he held up a finger to silence him. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, he stepped out from behind the counter, and beckoned Michael and Henry towards the exit door. He led them outside, where he rounded the corner of the building to a secluded tree hidden beneath the Gym’s shadow. After scanning the vicinity once more, Leroy turned to the boys and leaned close to speak. “Okay. I can’t tell you a lot right now, because this building’s got ears. First thing’s first: Lona’s type is Fighting. That means that her whole Gym sticks to physical moves, and the staff’s pokémon are really fast and strong and stuff. So when the staff tell you that physical conditioning is important, they mean it. But their weakness is that their pokémon rarely use any other types of moves, and judging from the battles I’ve watched, they don’t know a lot of them. That leaves them really vulnerable to other attacks.”
“Like Flying and Psychic, maybe?” Michael said.
Leroy gave him a thumbs-up. “Spot on. From what I’ve seen, those do the most damage.”
“And what about Lona’s pokémon?” Henry said. “Do you know what they are?”
“She has a Hitmonlee, a Croagunk, a Hitmonchan, and a Machoke.” Leroy tallied the names with his fingers. “Croagunk is Poison type too, though, so you’ll have to be careful when it jabs you. But it’s really weak to Psychic, and by that I mean really. You shouldn’t have a problem if you just keep hitting it hard with Confusion.”
“But do you know how she battles, though? Like how she gives commands and stuff? Because she said technique was really important.”
Leroy shook his head. “I never got to watch her, they only let me see the staff battles. But they use the same pokémon that Lona does, so I’d assume that as long as you’ve got the right counters, you’re good. And remember—I’m a registered researcher, not a trainer, so they tell me a bunch of stuff that they wouldn’t to someone like you.”
Michael let out a breath, already feeling reassured by their friend’s help. “Good,” he said. “The last thing I need is for her to give me trouble… This Gym is enough of a pain as is.”
Leroy gave a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, a lot of people say that. But don’t worry—it might seem like it’s hard, but Lona knows that she can’t keep the trainers here forever. The goal of the Gyms is to get people moving, so even if you’re not the best of the best, she’ll let you pass. I think the reason she gives her trainers the whole ‘discipline’ treatment is to keep them scared of goofing off.”
Michael nodded. At that point, Leroy backed away from the tree, adjusting his name tag. “Well, I gotta go. I can’t stay out for too long or I’ll get in trouble. Did Lona give you a schedule?”
“Yeah,” Henry said. “We have to report to the Gym tomorrow at seven in the morning.”
“Okay. Can you guys meet me here when you get out? I’ll be able to give you more info.”
“Sure thing,” said Henry. “Thanks.”
“Don’t sweat it. See you guys later.” With a wave, Leroy went off towards the building. Once he was gone, Henry turned to Michael, and by way of companionship, let out a sigh. “Well, here it goes. What do you think?”
Michael was leaning against the trunk of the tree, hands stuffed in his pockets. He took a long look at the courtyard around them, immersing his gaze in the pale stone of the Gym’s walls. “Think about what?” he replied.
Henry shrugged. “I don’t know. The Gym. I hope we’ll be able to beat it.”
“What do you mean? Of course we’ll beat it.”
“Lona looks pretty tough, though,” Henry said. “She kind of scared me. Just a little, I mean. When she was directing the battle it was like she was a coach, not just a trainer... I think Bertha was right when she said it would only be getting harder from here.”
“Relax. You listen too much.”
“Yeah, but this time I really think she means business. I mean, there wouldn’t be such a huge crowd here if people could just beat this place after two days, right? And Lona looks pretty confident.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Please. You think I haven’t dealt with people like her before? They’re all the same. Teachers, Gym leaders… they act like they’re all that because they’ve never met their match. No one’s ever come along who doesn’t fall for their tricks. And Lona, I bet she’s just never met a good trainer before. She has this whole philosophy about what training is and how battling should be, and she wants to shove it down our throats. That’s why she’s so confident. Sure she’s been beaten before, but she’s probably never been beaten badly by someone who challenged her ideas. But that’s about to change.” He crossed his arms with finality, looking out at all the trainers that thronged the outside of the building. Their faces and voices blurred into a single chorus in the morning haze. Feeling a sense of assertion rise within him, Michael smiled. “I’m telling you, this Gym won’t know what hit it.”
The door to Lona’s office closed with a thud, and silence rushed back to fill Bertha’s surroundings.
She was now standing inside a bright, quaint study, far removed from the outside commotion both in atmosphere and design. The walls were a light, soft brown, the furniture matching the wood of the floor. Books of all sorts were stacked neatly in shelves, which bore numbered labels, and a clock above the door quietly ticked away the minutes. Bertha’s mind immediately associated the room with her mother’s house, which had always been cozy and orderly, and had everything in its proper place. The memory made her relax a little, and gave the Gym an almost welcoming feel.
After making sure that the door was firmly shut, Lona brushed past, stepping around to a large desk that stood by the window. While her back was turned, Bertha couldn’t help but stare at the jacket again; it had been bugging her from the very beginning. It was as if a huge pink monster had wrapped its arms around Lona’s tiny waist, making her look like a clunky, awkward child. The fabric had an old, ragged look that stood in sharp contrast to the rest of her crisp, laundered attire. Lona had clearly owned it for years, but had either been unable or unwilling to replace it.
She took a seat behind the desk, spreading the jacket around her like a skirt, and motioned Bertha to a nearby chair. “Mr. Bradford did tell me enough about your petition to get me wondering about the source of your idea. Please, sit down.”
Bertha sat, placing the briefcase into her lap. Lona opened a small record book and jotted down some notes, and while she did, Bertha took a brief look around the room again. This time, her eyes alighted upon something new—a TV had been shoved into a corner behind a bookshelf, a spot that had been completely obscured from the entrance. It was an old, bulky model with a dusty screen, and like the jacket, it too looked like it hadn’t been accounted for in years.
Finishing her last sentence, Lona closed the journal and leaned forward, placing her hands on the table. “What I’m most eager to know about is your mentality, Miss Herrida. What made you want to do this in the first place?”
Bertha took a breath. “It started last June, when Team Galactic put up a factory in my hometown. I was skeptical from the beginning, but it wasn’t until I noticed how much harm it was doing the local environment that I began to investigate it. Being a Gym leader, I certainly noticed how the League’s quality of services was dwindling over the years. I’ve been trying to get a Gym facility built in Eterna ever since I became a leader, but since the town couldn’t provide enough money, I had to rely on the League to help me out. But even after a year, the Gym Office couldn’t promise me a solid amount. They offered for Eterna to purchase in credit, but I didn’t want to put the town at such a risk, so I declined. It seemed that the League had the money, but just didn’t want to use it for some reason.”
Lona’s gaze remained fixed on Bertha. “And what about Team Galactic?”
“I didn’t connect the dots until the factory got put up,” Bertha said. “It seemed odd to me how, while the League was in decline, the Space Program seemed to be thriving. So I began to research the federal budget, and found out that the government had been steadily cutting funds from the Pokémon League every year and giving the money instead to Team Galactic, which, according to the charts, has almost doubled its prowess over the country since 1958. Our factory was a direct consequence of that increase in funding. Now, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the factory had just quietly gone about its business, but after seeing firsthand what it did to the town…” Bertha paused, “and after seeing firsthand what Team Galactic’s concept of ‘management’ is, I’m certain that any other factory built under Galactic’s name is likely to be in the same sloppy hands. And while all this is happening, the League is being stifled. Our funds have been cut at an increasing rate every year, and if this isn’t stopped soon, then future generations might not even know what a Gym is.”
Lona began to nod, though the gesture seemed more directed at the empty space than at the woman sitting in front of her. “I see… I see that you have a genuine concern. But if I may make a few suggestions, I think you will find that there could be an easier way to go about doing this. For example, instead of trying to take away funding from another source, why not just ask the government to change the League’s budget into a more productive one? The way I see it, Gyms are allowed to spend far too much money on decorations, and aren’t obliged to provide a uniform quality of service to trainers. Some, I’ve heard, serve as nothing more than pit stops, and are more concerned about pushing their trainers on into the next city than whether or not they actually improve their skills. An abundance of money is not necessary to fulfill such a basic requirement of the facility.”
Bertha shifted in her seat. Of course, in an indirect way, Lona was talking about her Gym. But what was she supposed to have done? What could she have done?
Gathering her thoughts again, Bertha continued. “I understand. And in due time, I’m sure we’ll be able to take it further and change the League’s policy as well. But right now, our main concern should be Team Galactic. That’s what’s hindering our progress, and as long as we remain in second place, the results of inner reform will be minimal. The Gym towns themselves are suffering. I’ve corresponded with both Byron and Jerry, and I’ve heard secondhand accounts about Pastoria’s Gym, and they all say that they’re feeling the loss of money. Pardon the question, but hasn’t your Gym been experiencing any loss of... well… abundance recently?”
Lona twirled a loose strand of hair around her finger, and neatly smoothed it back into place. “Not particularly. The only real loss that I would say has caught my attention is the amount of trainers that drop out of my Gym. It seems that many of the entrants perceive the circuit as a one-way-ticket to glory in the Elite Four tournament. But then of course, when they are proven wrong, they begin to whine and complain that things aren’t going their way, and go back home. But I assure you, that is a loss I am perfectly happy to deal with. Not all pokémon trainers are meant for the League.”
“And for the ones that are?” Bertha said.
A faint, thoughtful smile crossed Lona’s face. “There have been a few that stood out at me in previous years. Of course, I know how to separate the good from the bad, the hardworking from the lazy. Unfortunately, I get a lot of lazy trainers… so I make it my job to do what the Gyms before me don’t, or can’t.”
Bertha knit her eyebrows. “Exactly. Take my Gym for example, which I admit is much less productive than yours. For one thing, as I have said before, it’s been in an inconvenient situation in the previous years. I’ve had to give my trainers a speedy run—either win, or leave fast. It’s not only for me, but for their health. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I do. However, I don’t believe that you should automatically declare any one thing to be the source of your problems. Yes, the League is losing money. Yes, I have had to make some monetary decisions that have recently affected my Gym’s operation. But what I understand, and what I think you should understand too, Miss Herrida, is that this is only a temporary thing. Ten years ago, the Space Program was barely mentioned. Now it’s on the forefront of the government’s mind, so there must be a good reason for it. Whatever they’re trying to accomplish will likely be attained within the decade, and by then the government will be able to restore us to even ground.”
“All right, but even if your prediction is correct, who’s to say that this ‘decade’ won’t put us through even more budget cuts? It took Team Rocket a good three years to send that satellite up to the moon. I know it’s kind of a stretch to compare the two, but I think it’s highly unlikely that anything Team Galactic plans will take any less time. And if you think that the Space Race will be ending any time soon… then you’re wrong.” Bertha folded her hands in her lap and gave a matter-of-fact shrug.
“But there’s no way of knowing what Team Galactic is up to, if anything at all,” Lona reminded her.
Bertha dipped her head into a nod. “I agree. And it would be a lot easier to speculate if we actually knew what the Galactics are doing, but since we don’t, I think it would be prudent to ask this of the government now. Not because I’m wondering whether it will happen or not, but so that it won’t happen. Sitting idly is too big a risk, and frankly, I value the League too much to be pushing my luck like that.” She braced herself for Lona’s next counter, but when her words were met with silence, Bertha went on. “The Space Race is here. It’s not going away anytime soon. The League can either sit back and watch what happens, or it can take a stand to make sure it won’t get left behind. Not to pressure you or anything, but as a Gym leader, your contribution is vital to that goal.”
Lona placed her elbows on the table and ran her fingers through her hair. After a long silence, she closed her eyes and let out a sigh. “I’ll think about it.”
Bertha pursed her lips. “If you’re still not convinced, Miss Walker, then I—”
“Miss Herrida, I said I’ll think about it.”
Something in her cold, snappy tone indicated that there would be no more questions, no further discussion. Bertha felt as if she had been slapped in the face. The very air seemed to chill. She stared blankly at Lona, who continued to look down at the table with a restrained half-grimace, as if she had been deeply offended by something. Then, calmly, she reached for a piece of notepaper and scrawled a small time chart with her pencil. “You may visit on the following days if you have anything else to add. Good day.”
Lona pushed the paper forward, and simultaneously turned her chair away towards the window. Bertha mutely took the notecard and got up to leave, awkwardly smoothening her skirt. It was the first time she had ever been kicked out of a room so blatantly, like an unruly child, and the gesture filled her with incredulous defiance. It only intensified when she realized that there was nothing she could do about it.
As she pushed open the door, Bertha turned around, meaning to give some sort of retort, or perhaps affirm herself that it had all been a misunderstanding. But even if she had managed to find the right words, Lona wouldn’t have noticed. The Gym leader had picked up the coffee mug that had been sitting at the edge of her table, and was sipping quietly as if nothing had happened.
God, I had a professor like Lona... worked the class to the bone, no sense of humor, didn't listen to any opinion not his own... I didn't think holding trainers over for a week was permitted, tbh. In any event, right now I don't like her and I think she's a prick. But that's okay... every story needs an annoying prick or two... mine had the nerd that challenged Lisa to all those math battles
Though one thing keeps concerning me. If the league has such a budget shortfall, why don't they cut back on the hotels. Sure, trainers need a place to stay, but the league's providing Sheraton levels of accomodations when all trainers need are basic, Red Roof Inn type lodging. Even Lisa would normally stay at more modest Sleep Inn and Quality Inn type places.
Oooh, Michael's got insider information! Wonder how much more data Leroy has collected. And what Lona's... unique... style of training is and how our plucky protagonists are going to deal with the situation. What worries me more is that Lona seems like the type who might do some background checks on Michael and Henry... she just has that attitude and now more or less has the boys held hostage in town for a week...
Ah yes, nothing like the Gym leader from hell... But like her or not, Lona is what makes Solaceon interesting. If you don't believe me, wait till we get to the battle chapters.
Stay tuned for more... and find out how everyone manages to survive, if at all. :P Thanks for the review, LeSabre!
I'm back... with a vengeance. >:)
And a chapter.
I ran into some difficulties while writing this one. I was originally going to have it split into two parts again, but I decided to put the ending scene in a separate chapter all by itself, even if it meant extending the flow of events more than I originally intended to. This makes two good things happen: The first is that this chapter will be more of a manageable mouthful, not a million miles long, and the second is that the wait for Chapter 24 will be much, much sorter than this one was. So... deal?
After their brief meeting with Leroy, the boys took their time in getting back to the Gym. Michael figured that Bertha’s negotiations would take at least another five minutes to finish, and was ready to offer to Henry that they go for a walk instead.
But when he pushed open the door to the lobby, he was surprised to find that Bertha had beat them to it—she was seated at a bench among the rest of the trainers, her blonde head towering considerably higher over the others. She was leaning back against the window, chatting casually with the young trainers beside her, many of whom had their pokémon in their laps and were allowing her to stroke them. She looked like she had been waiting there for several minutes. When Michael and Henry approached her, Bertha turned to them and smiled. “Hello boys. Ready to go?”
Michael perked an eyebrow in disbelief. “That fast?”
“You got Lona’s signature already?” Henry said, looking over at her briefcase. It was tucked away beneath the bench, right behind her feet, as if she had tossed it there on a whim and forgot about it.
Bertha’s expression clouded somewhat in response to the question. “No, but I’m working on it,” she said. “Right now, I want to get you two back to the hotel. You might as well kick back for the rest of the day, because you’ll be hard at work tomorrow.” She stood, slipping her purse onto her shoulder and retrieved the briefcase from its hiding place. “Come on.”
After saying goodbye to the trainers, who waved in unison to her, Bertha led the boys out of the building. When they got back to the hotel, she handed them their room key and went off towards the elevator, leaving them to their own devices for the rest of the day. Usually, Michael would have delighted at such a prospect, but all he was in the mood for right now was a quiet afternoon, and maybe a snack or two.
Upon entering their room, the boys found that their stuff had already been brought in for them. The new suitcase that Bertha had loaned them was standing beside the beds, the Stunky’s cage beside it, glinting in the light. The pokémon was munching on some food that the hotel workers had given it, disturbing the silence now and then with its light rustling.
Michael stepped into the room and lowered his backpack beside the writing table. Immediately, his eyes caught a pair of small white boxes that sat on the surface of the desk, tied with cheap party ribbon. They bore no inscription, but he had no doubt that it was something for them. Carefully opening one of the packages, Michael found a red plastic wristband nestled inside, nondescript except for a code of numbers and letters printed on its face.
Henry opened the second box and found the same thing. “I wonder what these are for,” said the boy. He slipped the band onto his wrist and shook his arm, letting it rattle noisily.
“Must be for the hotel or something…” Michael peered into the box again, and found a folded piece of paper that had been lying at the bottom. Unfolding it, he saw it was a typed letter.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to Solaceon City. My name is Jennifer Lane, and I am your local Gym Coordinator. If you are reading this, it is likely that you are now comfortably situated in your hotel room, and are anticipating your first scheduled training session at the Gym. Please remember that it is important to arrive on time for all appointments. Missing one will result in your name being removed from the remaining week’s roster, and will add to the time you will have to wait to register again. If you are unable to avoid missing a battle session, please be courteous to the staff and your fellow trainers by notifying the front desk as soon as possible.
You may have noticed that the hotel staff have provided you with a box. Inside, you will find a wristband with a code printed on the side. This is your personal access code to the Gym and will be associated with your Trainer ID number for the duration of your Gym challenge. You must wear your wristband at all times when using the facility, as this is how you will be matched with your battle partners. Selection is entirely random, and is coordinated by the Gym staff. Please don’t lose your wristband. If you do, then you might be dropped from the roster and will have to wait till the next week to get a new one. If you happen to find a lost wristband, please return it to the Gym immediately.
As a final note, please be aware that even though you will be busy with battling in the coming days, this by no means confines you to the Gym or your hotel room! I encourage you to roam about the town and discover for yourself our rich culture and history. The League offers free tours of the Solaceon Ruins, Route 209, and Route 210 as an exclusive service to trainers. All you have to do is go to the hotel’s front desk and ask for a schedule, then register for the time slot that is most convenient for you. The Solaceon district has an abundance of plant and pokémon life that is unique to our location, and if you take the time to learn about our past and present, then I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Please be advised that for most functions of the tour system, you will need only your Trainer Card for identification. Wristbands are not necessary, as they are for Gym-related activities only.
If you have any further questions, please see the hotel front desk. The staff are always happy to help and give advice for whatever you may need.
I wish you the best of luck in the battles to come!
When he finished reading it, Michael lowered the paper with a sigh. “The League just loves writing letters, doesn’t it…”
Henry was still reading his copy, his finger tracing the lines. “Hey, they have free tours here! We should totally go!” He looked up at Michael, who replied with a shrug.
“That’s if we have time. Right now, we have to worry about the Gym. Considering that neither of us have an abundance of Flying and Psychic types, we need to do some serious catching if we want to get anywhere.”
“But I have Clefable,” Henry said.
“Gravity won’t help you win every single battle. You’re gonna need more than one move, and more than one good counter. Starly’s good, but he won’t last forever either.”
Henry nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense… but what about you?”
“It’s the same for me.” Michael replied. “I need a Flying type… and then I can just get some of my pokémon to learn Psychic moves.” On a whim, he slipped off his wristband and began to twirl it in the air with his finger. “Come to think of it, how do you teach pokémon moves?”
Henry began to giggle.
“I’m serious,” Michael said. “I know they learn moves by growing and stuff, but how do you get them to learn a move they wouldn’t be able to learn on their own?” He caught the wristband in his palm and placed it back into the box.
“I don’t know,” said Henry, still laughing. “Give them a book?”
“Pokémon can’t read.”
“Some of them can!” said Henry, lifting a finger. “I knew a boy in my school whose Abra could read his textbooks.”
Michael snickered. “Fine, but that can’t work for every single pokémon. There’s gotta be some way that we can… implant the knowledge into their brains or something. Remember Jerry and Mr. Mime? He said that they studied the technique for days, which means that Mr. Mime didn’t learn it on his own.”
To this, Henry shrugged. “Well, I don’t know. I mean, I never had to teach my pokémon anything… they just learned all their moves by themselves. I’ve heard of trainers back in Oreburgh who taught their pokémon moves. They said they had to go to some special place to get it done, but I never found out what it was. I guess there must be some people who specialize in that sort of thing.”
Michael exhaled. “Well, it can’t hurt to ask around. Honestly, I’d rather study a super-complicated technique that’ll give me better results in battle than wait a million years for my pokémon to learn something powerful on their own. I’m pretty sure you can’t Tackle your way to victory in the Elite Four.”
Henry began to giggle. “Yeah, that’s for sure.”
Michael nodded. He sat down into the chair by the table and began to swivel back and forth, staring absently at the opposite wall. Henry went over to the suitcase and began to unpack, setting his own things by his bed, and Michael’s on the other. They spent the rest of that day in the hotel room, reading magazines and flipping through television channels, watching the hours creep by on the wall clock. It was probably the laziest day they would ever spend in Solaceon, but Michael didn’t mind. By the sound of Jennifer Lane’s letter, he knew that in the coming weeks, he'd be busy enough.
The next morning, Michael was shaken awake by a droopy-eyed Henry. After a moment of deliberation, he kicked off the covers and stumbled out of bed, blinking his eyes in the darkness. His body resisted at being force-started at such an early hour, and for the next five minutes, Michael blindly dragged himself around the room, getting dressed and packing his things, all the while yawning and rubbing his eyes to keep them from closing. The clock on the wall said 6:20.
He trudged into the lobby with Henry, and as he did, he saw several other kids emerge from various points across the corridor to join them, their backpacks bulging with a day’s worth of training equipment. The party of trainers collected in front of the glass door, and as one, pushed them out into the cool morning air. Michael let out a soft groan as he looked up at the sky—it was still deep and dark, like the underside of a soft, pillowy blanket that was still shielding the sleeping world. The trainers around him remained respectfully silent, and some murmured in agreement.
The Gym was one of the few buildings on the block with its lights on. The same three clerks were there at the front desk, and when the group of trainers entered, they formed a line, one by one approaching with their wristbands upheld. Feeling a brief shock, Michael lifted his hands to his pockets, then let out a relieved sigh when he felt the slight bulge of the armband in his left. He remembered placing it there the previous evening, just in case. Slipping the band onto his wrist, Michael approached the front desk when his turn came and held it out to the clerk.
The lady squinted at the number, and traced her finger down an attendance sheet. “Okay. Welcome, Mr. Rowan.” She checked off the box next to his name with a pencil. “Your room is 56. Wait there for your battle par’tner.”
She pointed him to the left door, and Michael entered the hallway, finding Room 56. He pushed open the door, and found a partially-darkened room, with just two lights glowing in the center. At first, Michael thought he was alone, but when the door closed, the lights suddenly flickered on, revealing the room in full, stunning brightness.
Michael blinked several times to adjust his focus. At the same time, a figure emerged from the back corner. He opened his eyes the whole way, and saw Lona Walker standing before him, a clipboard in her hands.
“Welcome,” she said. “We’ll begin shortly. In the meantime, you may get settled.”
Michael’s heart sank. Lona marked down his name with a pencil, and began moving across the room, opening the window blinds to the still-dark morning sky, and retrieving a water bottle from a chair in the corner. She was surprisingly well-kempt, even at such an early hour. Her brown hair was neatly combed, shining softy in what would have been a pretty way if it hadn’t belonged to her head, and her clothing was completely wrinkle-free, obviously not having been thrown on at the last minute. She had even remembered to put on her jacket. In his sleep-deprived state, Michael immediately associated it with a winter hide, which she would wear in hibernation and stow away during the summer. And because she lived in the Gym and lacked closet space, she kept it tied in a knot around her waist, using it as a cushion when she sat, and a blanket when she slept…
Michael gave himself a brief jolt, blinking his eyes to chase away the daydream. Luckily for him, Lona did not seem to have noticed his spacing-out. She came to a stop at the center of the room, facing him.
“The trainer with whom you are partnered today already knows the procedure, so I will only have to explain it to you,” she said. “You will go through a single battle with two rounds, each round involving two of your pokémon. The five-second-faint rule applies. Your goal is to simply battle the way you are used to battling, and keep in mind any corrections you may receive. I assume that you already know the more detailed rules, such as the official distance boundaries, the contact rules, and the fouls, and do not need me to elaborate further on them.”
Michael nodded out of habit. In reality, her words had whizzed right past him, like a ticker tape message played at high speed.
“Good,” Lona said. “You may step onto the field now and prepare yourself. Your battle partner should arrive momentarily.”
Michael was about to ask where said field was located, since the whole floor was just an unmarked sheet of cushions, when Lona turned away, stepping over to the side to examine something on the opposite wall. Michael decided to use his best judgment, and planted himself in the spot she had vacated, directly in front of the window.
His battle partner arrived a minute later. He was a thin, freckled boy, dressed in a faded red shirt and shorts. He entered without a sound, gazed at Lona in acknowledgment, then dropped his duffel bag into the corner beside Michael’s. The boy’s teeth were slightly crooked, the front two just barely poking out from his mouth whenever he turned his head too far up, or down. He looked at Michael once as he stepped onto the battle space, and for the remainder of their session, kept his gaze fixed somewhere between the tips of his shoes and the tumble mats on the floor.
With both trainers in position, Lona seemed to spring to life. She swiftly made her final memos, placed the clipboard onto the windowpane, then retreated a distance of several feet away from them. “Send out your first pokémon,” she called.
Michael and the boy lifted their pokéballs simultaneously and released their battlers—Michael his Turtwig, and the other trainer a Luxio. When the Electric pokémon emerged, landing softly on all fours, it swept the room with its bulbous eyes like a trained field scout. Michael had seen Luxios in battle before; they were quite versatile, but he knew some of their basic moves, so he figured he wouldn’t be too bad off.
Without waiting for any signal from Lona, the Luxio’s trainer called out his first command: “Tackle.”
A beat later, Michael reacted. “Turtwig, use Razor Leaf.”
And just like that, the battle began. The Luxio darted forward, its slender tail whipping behind it, its spiky fur bouncing with every stride. Turtwig sent several leaves whizzing at his foe, which whipped Luxio’s face and legs, causing the pokémon to flinch back, its yellow eyes puckering. As the leaves lodged themselves in the mass of its hide, Luxio began to shake itself, as if it had been doused in cold water. When it had steadied itself, the Luxio looked back up at Turtwig, its teeth bared in a pained snarl. It began to prowl in a half-circle, searching for the right angle to attack from.
Michael clenched his fist. “Again!” he ordered.
Turtwig bent his head back to use Razor Leaf, when suddenly, in the corner of his eye, Michael saw an arm lift itself into the air. “Stop!” Lona called.
In that instant, the battle paused. The Luxio suddenly quit its advances, sitting back on its haunches like a tamed house pet, its snarl fading to a low purr. Turtwig lowered his head without sending the leaves, jaws clicking in confusion.
Michael whirled around to face the Gym leader. “What was that for?” he blurted.
“Never begin a battle with a special attack,” Lona said. “Especially when you are unfamiliar with your opponent. It wastes an excessive amount of energy that your pokémon could have used to make a purposeful advancement.”
“Like what?” Michael said. But Lona did not reply. She went back to her place at the sidelines and crossed her arms. “Start over. Pokémon inside pokéballs.”
At first, Michael wondered if she was being serious. His opponent, who did not seem at all surprised at Lona’s interruption, silently called the Luxio back into its pokéball. Michael followed suit a few seconds later, letting Turtwig vanish in a jet of white.
Once the battlefield was clear, Lona gave a curt nod. “Release.”
They brought out their pokémon simultaneously, and the battlers landed in the same positions they had started out in. The Luxio emerged with a calm face, but once it laid eyes on Turtwig again, it began to growl anew.
“Luxio, use Tackle,” said the trainer.
With no other commands under his belt besides Razor Leaf, Michael finally broke down and did the same. “Turtwig, use Tackle.” He cast a sour glance at Lona, almost humorously expecting her to follow through with another reprimand, but to his frustration, found that she had simply nodded at them in satisfaction.
His mood reaching an all-time low, Michael turned back to watch the battle. The two pokémon, running at each other in perfectly straight lines, collided and began to roll around, clawing and biting. Luxio, being the larger and more nimble of the two, gained a quick and savory advantage—it had caught Turtwig right by the rims of his shell, and was tossing him around with its claws like a ball of yarn. Michael watched as Turtwig retreated into his shell at last, much like the trainer-girl’s Prinplup had done the day before, and felt a surge of anger.
“That’s it, get out!” he shouted at Turtwig, stepping forward. “Get out of that damn shell and use Razor Leaf!”
It was a while before Turtwig responded. Finally, the large, blue-green head popped out from its hidey-hole, followed by the four stubby legs. Turtwig began to run, jumping aside to avoid Luxio’s sweeping paws, blindly shooting leaf after leaf at his opponent. Some of them missed, but to Michael’s delight most of them made contact, causing Luxio to draw back. But the pokémon never backed down. As Turtwig’s exhaustion began to show, and the rounds of Razor Leaf became more sparse, the other trainer began to counter with Tail Whips, which often hit Turtwig right at the feet, causing the pokémon to stumble.
Michael tried his best to improvise, though it became considerably hard to think with Lona’s firm, powerful voice shattering his concentration every few seconds. The Gym leader was no idle spectator, as he soon found out; she jumped from one end of the room to the other, her arms spread out around her like a wrestler’s, her shouts piercing the battle noise and obliterating every attempt at planning a move in advance.
“Quickly! Think quickly!” Lona shouted, as Luxio’s tail whipped out from behind it to smack Turtwig in the face. The Grass pokémon toppled from the force of the blow, landing flat on his belly with his limbs splayed out on the floor. It took Michael a few seconds to realize that Lona had been talking to him. But by then it was too late.
Without warning, sharp, claw-like fingers gripped his shoulders and spun him around. “Stop staring at the floor!” Lona shouted, tugging him so close that he could feel the heat of rage in her eyes. “Did you not hear what I just said to you? You could have crushed that Luxio three minutes ago!”
Feeling a kindling anger, Michael removed her hands from his shoulders and gritted his teeth. “It would have been two, if you hadn’t stopped me.”
He was half-expecting to receive a smack for that, but instead Lona simply pushed him away, turning him back to face the action. Michael wanted badly to grab her thin little wrist and pull it hard, but he restrained himself. Instead, he focused his attention on Turtwig, who was still lying in the same spot, making a feeble attempt at getting up.
There was a brief silence, during which both Michael and the trainer watched Turtwig fumble for balance, trying to lift his belly off the floor. Then, Lona snapped her fingers. “Five seconds. Turtwig is fainted.”
“But he’s still moving! Look!” Michael pointed. But Lona shook her head.
Grumbling, he returned Turtwig for the second time, and went to his backpack to swap the pokéball with Caterpie’s. Upon releasing the green worm, he immediately gave his command: “Use Bug Bite.”
His opponent sniffed loudly. “Luxio, use Scratch.”
As Caterpie began her march forward, Luxio slowly approached with a paw upheld, and like so many other pokémon before, brought it firmly down. Immediately, Caterpie’s jaws latched into its skin, and the Luxio howled with pain. The pokémon’s hair stood on end, and began to ripple as if from a breeze, white electricity crackling between the tufts.
A faint glimmer lit up the eyes of the trainer. “Luxio, use Spark!”
Luxio seemed all-too willing to comply, and began to amass the electric field around it, preparing to fry Caterpie like a kebab. In panic, the Bug pokémon began to bite faster, and Michael tensed, wanting to intervene, but not knowing how to go about it. With every second he hesitated, however, the electric cloud grew brighter and larger around Luxio, and finally Michael was pressured to say the first thing that came to mind:
“Caterpie, use String Shot!”
For the first few seconds, nothing changed. But then, he heard a series of loud cracking noises, like someone crumpling a bag of chips, followed by a faint squeal. Michael grimaced. The Luxio began to shake itself again, the sparks flying to and fro around it and dissipating in the air. Something small and green fell out of Luxio’s thick hide and landed on the mat. Caterpie had been fried, all right; her exoskeleton had darkened, and the tiny strand of silk she had managed to churn out was wrapped around her. It was almost sickening to look at, and this time, Michael did not doubt that his pokémon was fainted.
As he rushed to open the pokéball and get the Caterpie-kebab out of sight, he heard a faint tsk-tsk sound coming from his right. He turned, and when he locked eyes with Lona again, the Gym leader put her hands on her hips.
“Why didn’t you start with String Shot? Your Caterpie could have immobilized Luxio and prevented him from generating the static!”
Michael snapped the pokéball shut and turned around the rest of the way to face her. “But you said to never start with a special attack! Whatever happened to getting to know your opponent?” A slight mocking edge crept into the end of his sentence, without his intention. But it was enough for Lona to notice. Her eyes first widened in affront, then narrowed as she frowned.
“I would have hoped that you’d have gotten to know Luxio enough after he took down your Turtwig!” Lona said. “But since apparently you haven’t, then next time you might want to listen to advice that you are given instead of whining and insisting on doing things your way!”
“And maybe next time, you could try being more clear too!” he retorted.
“Enough!” Lona snapped. She stomped over to the windowpane and grabbed the clipboard, marking down the results of the battle. “Rick has one point. Michael has zero. Trainers will now prepare for the second round with new pokémon.”
Looking across the room at his opponent, Michael saw the trainer lift his gaze briefly at him. They went to their backpacks and swapped pokéballs, while Lona settled back into her half-watching-half-hopping position. The anger, like all of her other observable emotions, had entirely dissolved behind the mask of her face within seconds after her outburst. But it wasn’t quite gone, as Michael saw, and often emerged in a brief, sharp turn or inflection of voice.
As Michael and his opponent stepped back onto the field, Lona straightened, crossing her arms. “Release.”
Twisting open the capsule, Michael sent out his Machop. Across from him, the Rick kid sent out a Shieldon. Upon seeing the pokémon emerge—a tiny, brown creature with a protruding, plate-like head—Michael felt a flutter of hope. Shieldons were Rock types, and the metallic sheen of the pokémon’s face suggested Steel.
Feeling a comeback in his spirits, he ordered Machop to use Focus Punch. His opponent retaliated with a Headbutt, but from the start, it was clear who would become the winner. Shieldon was a slow, clunky creature who fumbled as he ran, and at the sight of the lunging Machop, whose fist was upheld to sweep him off the floor, he quickly turned tail and scurried away. Machop ended up catching up with him, and knocked him around a couple times before Shieldon managed to get away again.
Apart from a Headbutt and a few Tackles, the Rick kid seemed at a loss for what to do with his team’s laggard. The boy’s demeanor had taken a sharp turn from the minute he had released his second pokémon—his face had shifted from placid to sullen, then to visibly irritated. But Michael wasn’t about to pity him. He had a battle to win.
After letting Machop indulge himself with his new punching bag, Michael proceeded to deal the final blow to the exhausted Shieldon. He cast a brief glance at his opponent, who seemed frozen in place, and smiled. “Machop, use Cross Chop!”
Machop, who after two minutes of nonstop kicking and throwing seemed more energetic than ever, sprang forward with his arms crossed like the letter ‘X’. He slashed at Shieldon’s side, bringing both hands down with deadly accuracy, and the tiny pokémon was thrown back like a ball towards its trainer, hitting the mat with a soft thump. His job done, Machop straightened, turning back to Michael with a pleased expression.
Lona, who had been unusually quiet for the duration of Machop’s fighting spree, now came out of her slumber. Shaking her head in irritation, she approached Rick in three long strides, and pointed sharply to the motionless Shieldon lying on the mat. “How many times do I have to tell you, Rick? Look at what your opponent is doing! Look at him! He has his every command written upon his face before he speaks it! You should’ve guessed what he was thinking the minute he took his eyes away from you and looked at Shieldon! It was your negligence yet again that made your pokémon fall. I’m surprised that it still has faith in you as a trainer. If I were your pokémon, I sure wouldn’t.”
Michael snorted. If you were my pokémon, you’d get exactly what you deserve.
It seemed that the boy was thinking along the same lines. As he stared into Lona’s eyes, Michael saw a faint glow that hadn’t been there before. But as usual, Lona wasn’t interested. She stepped away from the boy, jostling him back into place by the shoulder, and came to the middle of the battlefield. “Machop has won the round. The respective trainer will send out their next pokémon.”
Rick went over to his duffel bag and took out his final pokéball. Coming back to the battle space, he released a Bonsly, a rough, egg-shaped pokémon with a stalk growing off the top of its head, and two tiny legs. Its eyes were perpetually narrowed, and often welled with silvery tears that dripped down the sides of its flat face. It was supposedly a detoxification process, one that Michael’s biology teacher had gone to great lengths to explain, but that did not stop him and his friends from dubbing it the Crybaby Pokémon.
But despite this Bonsly’s timid appearance, it turned out to be surprisingly resilient. It was able to dodge several of Machop’s aimed punches, and retaliate with sharp kicks and smacks, for which it used the bud-like growths that sprouted from the tip of its head. Normally, Michael would have found the lack of arms to be a setback, but the Bonsly compensated well, as if it was used to battling in such a physical way.
His interest turned into frustration, however, as Machop began to show signs of tiring. The pokémon’s reflexes began to slow, his punches became sluggish and often whizzed right past their target, causing Machop to briefly lose balance. Bonsly’s head-branch caught Macholp by the arm, spinning him around and knocking him to the floor.
Michael did not like to watch his pokémon fumble and flop, so he became pressed to find a move that would serve as a quick, powerful finish. But Machop’s field never seemed to clear—the Bonsly followed him around as if pulled by a magnetic field, poking and bumping in a harmless, but annoying way. Out of sheer desperation, Michael began to shout commands in rapid sequence, hoping to build Machop’s momentum through sheer loudness of voice.
“Go! Low Kick, Focus Punch, Cross Chop! Do something!” Michael shouted. To his satisfaction, some of the commands reached Machop’s ears, and the pokémon responded with a flailing attempt at self-defense. But still others missed, or were cut short by a jostle from Bonsly or a sharp smack across the cheek. After what seemed like an eternity, the Bonsly’s defenses finally seemed to give. After leaning too far in with its head-branch lowered like a spear, the Bonsly faltered for a moment, trying to regain balance. Smiling, Michael leaned forward to call Machop to attention, but before his own voice issued from his mouth he heard another rise above him.
Lona’s hand flew into the air.
“Huh?” Michael turned his head reflexively. At the same time, Machop looked up at the sound of his master’s voice, and while his head was turned, the Bonsly rammed its body into him, toppling them both, spraying glistening tears all over the mats. The sound of the crash made Michael whip his head around again, but by the time his eyes found Machop, the Bonsly had rolled over and risen to its feet. Machop lay still on the mat, collapsed from exhaustion.
When Michael realized what had happened, he felt fury well up inside of him. As if by instinct, his eyes found Lona again.
The Gym leader approached him, equally terse, her hands on her hips. “A foolish move,” she said, casting a glance towards the fallen Machop. “Whenever two pokémon are in rally combat, the answer isn’t to fling worthless commands from the top of your head! You have to watch, wait! Observe the changes the battlers exhibit!”
“It was your fault he fainted!” Michael retaliated. “I had it all in the bag and then you distracted me!”
A smile turned the corners of Lona’s lips. “That doesn’t bring your Machop back to its feet, now does it? Send out your next pokémon.”
With a groan, Michael returned Machop and went for his backpack again. His next pokémon was his last—Goldeen. He had emptied the pokéball’s store of water upon leaving Hearthome, which he came to regret as he sent out the fish onto dry land.
Goldeen flopped for a moment, confused at the sudden change in environment. Lowering the pokéball, Michael felt a brief pang of pity for the both of them. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the Bonsly. “Goldeen, use Supersonic.”
Goldeen complied, and narrowed her eyes as she sent a silent, invisible pulse through the air. When it hit, the muscles in Bonsly’s face suddenly relaxed. Its tongue lolled out from the corner of its mouth and its eyes drooped, spilling a fresh stream of tears down its cheeks. Bonsly began to teeter, making unintelligible noises as it dipped left and right. Michael watched, his lips pursed. Maybe it’ll keep hurting itself and faint. The idea was a comforting one, and he would have to be pretty damn lucky for it to work. But he had been lucky before. So why not now?
His hopes continued to churn through his thoughts as he watched the Bonsly dance, on the verge of toppling. The Bonsly’s trainer watched his pokémon in detachment, a slightly annoyed expression crossing his face. After a few seconds, he came out of his silence: “Bonsly, I’m your friend,” he said calmly. “Listen to me. Use Faint Attack.”
The Bonsly began to show signs of intelligent thought. It was currently balanced on one foot, its stem-head tilting dangerously to the side, but at that moment it began to blink, and withdrew its tongue into its mouth. Slowly, Bonsly drew itself upright again.
“Good,” Rick said. “Now use Faint Attack.” He stressed the word slowly and carefully. “Faint Attack.” The Bonsly shuffled forward, its expression still somewhat vacant, approaching Goldeen.
“Get out of the way!” Michael said. “Do it!”
Goldeen flopped on her side, trying to move herself over. She inched along, though she was no more coordinated than Bonsly was, and for a minute the battlefield resembled a drunken film in slow-motion. Bonsly bobbed slightly as it came to a stop beside Goldeen, and in an exaggerated motion, looked down at the pokémon. In response, Goldeen tried to roll herself to the side, but the Bonsly administered a single kick, which did it for her. After a few seconds, Bonsly’s confusion seemed to recede a little, and it approached to kick again. Michael nearly slapped his forehead in dismay, but stopped himself when he caught glimpse of Lona again, lurking in the sidelines.
“Finish it off!” she cried; whether it was to him or to Rick Michael didn’t know. “You have your opponent right where you want it! Go!”
Simultaneously, both boys turned to their pokémon.
“Goldeen, use Horn Attack!” Michael said.
“Bonsly, use Slam!”
Bonsly reacted first, planting both feet on the ground and steadying itself. Goldeen, flustered from the blows, was still trying to get herself back together. She was lying just a few feet away from Michael, who could see all too well what was going to happen. Goldeen managed to advance a few feet, but by then Bonsly caught up with her. With a tiny grunt, Bonsly jumped, and let itself fall right onto Goldeen, smashing her against the ground. Michael saw a protruding end of her fin tense briefly, then relax. When Bonsly rolled over, Goldeen lay where she was.
Five seconds passed, and Lona took the clipboard from the window. “Goldeen is fainted. Rick has won the round. That leaves Rick with two points for today, and Michael with zero.”
Michael grumbled. He sent back Goldeen without another word, avoiding the eyes of the other trainer. Rick called his pokémon back as well.
“Now onto your reviews,” Lona continued. “Both of you need serious, urgent work in improving your battle skills. Rick, you must learn once and for all to adapt your commands to the battle situation, and observe your opponent’s strategy instead of making blind, careless decisions. And Mr. Michael Rowan must learn to play the hand he is dealt.” In a single, precise motion, Lona slid the pencil into a gap beneath the clip, and tucked the clipboard under her arm. “That is all,” she said to them. “You may both pack up your things and leave.”
She sauntered off towards the door and slipped out of the room, leaving the both of them alone.
Michael was still fuming. Letting his rage buzz in the silence, he pulled off the gloves he was wearing and shoved them into his backpack, along with Goldeen’s pokéball. He wasn’t angered so much at the loss as he was at Lona. Every time he had been on to something, every time he had been ready to make a comeback, she had stepped in and cut him off. It was only his first day of battling, but already, he felt like it had been a week.
Michael was so caught up in his thoughts that he did not notice the other trainer kneel down beside him to pack his things. Michael was determined to let the silence continue, keeping it propped between them like a wall, but then the trainer turned to him and gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Good game.”
Michael looked at him for a moment, then let out a sigh. “Yeah. You too. Rick, right?”
The trainer nodded. Despite his victory, his face retained its perpetually sullen look, and his eyes kept drifting down to the floor. After a moment of digging around in his duffel bag, he looked back up at Michael again. “You shouldn’t ignore her like that. It pisses her off.” His accent seemed to come and go with certain syllables and inflections.
At the mention of Lona, Michael scowled. “Even when she’s dead wrong?”
Rick nodded. “Yeah. You gotta at least act like y’re listening. Otherwise, she can keep you here longer’nd make you battle more.”
“As if I need any more of her in my life..." Michael said. "It’s only been a day and I’m sick of it.”
At this, Rick’s eyes widened in disbelief. “It’s only your first day here?”
“And you got Lona for your first referee… that’s some luck right there. But it’ll get better—you’re more likely to get h’r other staff, and th’re way more lenient. They give advice that actually helps, too.”
Michael nodded slowly. “So you’ve been in the Gym a while?”
A sardonic smile crossed Rick’s face. “Four weeks and counting.”
Michael felt himself gape. “Holy shit. Are you serious?”
“Yup. All my friends are in Pastor’ya now… maybe even Sunyshore… I’m the only one who got left behind. I made it to the staff battles in my second week—most people do—but I lost b’fore I got to Lona. I had to start all ov’r.”
“And… you’re still doing partner battles? I don’t get it. They should’ve just let you start over from the staff level.”
Rick scoffed. “Yeah, try tellin’ that to her administration. They don’t care. No one does. Especially not her.”
“You make it seem like she hates you or something,” Michael said.
“Lona hates everyone. But the thing is, she hates some more than others. I’ve been doing partner battles for nearly three weeks, and she’s rejected me for staff battles twice. And in the meantime, kids come in here, lose a couple times in the partner rounds, and move straight up to the staff rounds and get the badge. And I’m still here.” Rick turned out his palms in a gesture of hopelessness, and slapped them back against his sides. “Lona keeps saying I have to improve my skills, but she never pays attention to my progress. And until I beat her Gym, I won’t be able to move on to the next one. Which, at the rate I’m going, means that I prob’ly won’t be able to finish the whole circuit by the time the season ends, and won’t be able to regist’r for the Elite Four tourney until the next one. In 1965.” He let out a breath. “Bitch.”
Michael nodded slowly. “I dig it. I really do.”
“Psh. Don’t kid yourself. You’re jus’ sayin’ that now. In a few days, you’ll move on just like the others. You’ll get the badge and leave and I’ll still be here, stuck in the hellhole of a town. Don’t pretend like you care. You can’t.”
At this, Michael felt a flare of irritation. “Look, man, I hate it here as much as you do. But you know what? I’m still gonna beat her. I have a foolproof strategy that no one here can guess about.” He stopped, then for affirmation, added, “And it’s going to work.”
Rick nodded, his expression still dark. “Yeah. Good luck with that.” He rose, slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder. Michael grabbed his backpack, and they set off together down the hallway.
The lobby was significantly emptier than it had been in midday, with just a few newcomers trickling in and presenting their wristbands. Michael motioned himself to a free bench by the door, and before leaving, Rick stopped beside him.
“Word to the wise,” he said. “The minute you get the chance, leave. If you lose, just cut it right then and there and come back next year. It’s not worth it to stay in this town.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Michael said. “It’s just a Gym. Just beat it and move on. It can’t be that bad.”
Rick shrugged. “If you think so, cat, then you’re dead wrong. I’ve lived here since I was born and I know everything. And I’ll tell you right now: Lona Walker is the biggest, most pretentious bitch you will ever meet. She might seem like she knows 'er stuff, but it’s all a lie. I know who she really is.”
Michael lifted an eyebrow. “Elaborate?”
Rick took a breath, as if weighing his words. “She’s a twenty-year-old chick with no life. That pr'tty much sums it up. My family actually knew hers a while ago. They had a farm ‘round here somewhere, but I dunno if she still lives there ’r not. At any rate, it doesn’t look like it. She doesn’t even act like she’s from here anymore. She talks like a city girl.”
“You mean the accent?” Michael said.
“Yup. She must’ve gotten rid of it when she was traveling. You know, studying to become a Gym leader and all. She pro’lly thinks it makes her sound professional… but I think she just sounds like a telephone operator.”
Michael snickered. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Rick smiled. It was a rare change that came over his face, temporarily lifting it from its gloom. “You’re pretty cool, you know. You’re the first person who actually digs what I’m trying to say. Everyone else either doesn’t give a shit or doesn’t believe me.” Rick looked back as the group of trainers that had gathered around the desk slowly parted ways, its constituents splitting off in separate directions. “It’s really clev’r what Lona’s doing to us,” he said. “Separating everyone and making it seem like it’s every kid for himself. I think if someone really wanted to, they could write to the League Office or whatev'r and get her removed, but I guess everyone’s too scared to bother with it.” When Rick turned back to Michael, the smile was completely gone, leaving behind a drooping countenance. “Well, I gotta go,” he said, turning for the door. “What’s your name anyway?”
“Cool. See you around.” Rick bobbed a nod at him, and pushed through the exit.
For the next few minutes, Michael sat alone, tapping his feet, watching trainers come and go around him. At last, the door to the right hallway opened, and Henry appeared with his tote bag clutched in both arms. He took a look around the lobby, and when his eyes found Michael, he approached. “Hey!” he said brightly. “When did you get here?”
“A couple minutes ago,” Michael replied. “How’d the battle go?”
“It was great!” Henry said. “I had a guy named Eric for my referee. He was really cool. He showed me how to throw a pokéball just like the pros.” In demonstration, Henry held up his left arm and curled it behind his head, gripping an imaginary pokéball. Brow furrowed in concentration, he swung it down with a swift flick of the wrist, aiming for the opposite wall. When he finished, the boy straightened, smiling proudly. “The way you spin it, it’s supposed to roll back towards you. My partner and I almost got it by the end of the match.”
“Great,” Michael said.
“So who was your referee?” Henry continued.
Michael gave a mumble in response. “Lona."
“Wow, really?" The boy's eyes widened. "What was she like?”
Michael thought for a moment, tapping his chin. “Like a Bibarel in its natural environment.”
Henry giggled. “What does that mean?”
“No clue,” Michael said. “Now let’s go. I don’t want to spend any more time in here than I have to.”
“Right,” said Henry.
Together, they signed out at the front desk, and without a backward glance, hurried out of the Gym. The two boys walked down the path side by side, though by their individual postures, they did not appear to be together. Henry did not seem at all dismayed by the day’s outcome; to the contrary, he seemed quite happy. The boy kept an upbeat pace, looking around at the surrounding town, indifferent with regards to the place he was going and the place he had left. Henry was utterly immune from the world, like he always seemed to be. But to Michael, there was no mistaking the sudden swell of relief he felt upon leaving the Gym, whose pale bricks and cream-colored walls he was already starting to associate with detention. It was as if Lona Walker’s shadow, which had been clutching him in a death grip during his entire visit, had suddenly released him and retreated back into its lair, awaiting his return. Michael never remembered having such a feeling about anything before, but his present awareness of it made him think, wondering if there was some truth after all in what the Rick kid had told him.
I'll have to keep this short since I'm strapped for time, but...
As I thought, Lona is easily my least favorite gym leader out of all of them... including the games, the anime, anyone... If I was a trainer in that place and time, I would most definitely be reporting her. Things must really suck for Rick, being basically imprisoned there for like, forever. Bad luck in getting the head honcho for the judge, since Henry obviously didn't feel it was a living hell, though.
Wonder how Lisa would react to the prospect of going through the Lona routine if she trained back in that day...
I don't care for Lona, but I do have an appreciation for what you're doing with her... making a person in a seemingly respectable position turn out not to be all that respectable. How much she actually knows about battling is a question mark, but there's little denying she thinks she knows everything
Good chapter, and it really brought to light the way Lona operates. Looking forward to the next one
Everybody seems to dislike Lona so far... hehe. I'm glad you're enjoying her role, but there's a whole lot more to come. She's a lot of fun to write about, since she manages to butt heads with pretty much every character in our cast.
And as for Lisa... now that you bring it up, I do wonder how that would have turned out. (I don't think Lona would have approved of the girly dresses, though. )
I'm working on the next chapter as we speak, so it should be up on schedule this time. Thanks for the review!
After a good few weeks in the making... and editing... here's Chapter 24!
By the time Michael and Henry left the Gym, the sun had emerged from the clouds and was making its way to the center point in the sky. The town was bathed in light, and the streets that had been nearly empty before were now abuzz with morning activity. Michael was startled by the change; it seemed that he had been so caught up in the battle that he hadn’t even noticed the time go by.
Neither of them had forgotten about their arrangement with Leroy. Immediately upon leaving the building, Michael turned onto the path they had followed the previous day, rounding the corner of the Gym to find the tree they had agreed to meet by. But no one was there. Turning back towards the sidewalk, Michael saw lots of trainers passing by the building, but none of them had curly red hair, or wore the staff uniform.
Refusing to believe Leroy hadn’t showed, Michael continued down the side of the building, till he reached the back corner, well out of view from the front. It was a dead end, however, a shady thicket of trees and tall bushes. Henry ran to catch up with him, scanning the area.
“Do you see anyone?” the boy asked.
Michael shook his head. He was about to turn back, when a faint plip sound issued from somewhere nearby. Michael stopped for a moment, thinking he had imagined it. The sound came again, this time louder. He looked up at Henry.
“Did you hear that?”
Henry nodded slowly. They turned back towards the bushes, and Michael stepped closer to them, cupping a hand around his ear. Henry did he same. Plip-plip. Then came a sharp metallic clang of someone dropping a metal bucket, followed by a low, angered murmur. Michael pulled apart the wall of bushes like a curtain and peered inside. What he saw surprised him—there was a sunny, untouched clearing hidden away behind the Gym, almost like a remnant of small forest that might have stood there before the structure was built. The grass was thin and soft, and there was a small pond located in the middle, its banks receding from years of erosion.
Leroy sat with his sneakers in the dirt, his back turned, a fishing pole dipped into the water. A metal bucket stood beside him, empty save for a few Magikarp. The boy had not noticed their arrival. He continued to sit still as Michael and Henry approached, his gaze fixed on the water’s surface. Then, at the sound of their advancing footsteps, Leroy’s head twitched to the side in alarm. When his eyes alighted upon the boys, Leroy smacked his forehead and let out a laugh.
“Oh, hey!” he said. “Sorry, you guys scared me for a minute there. I didn’t know exactly when you’d be out, so I was going to come by the tree after I made one more catch.” Just then, Leroy felt a tug on the edge of his line, and turned back to the water. He twisted the crank, and a wriggling Magikarp was yanked out of the water, its red scales glistening as it flopped about like a yo-yo. Leroy pulled it over into the grass and removed the hook from its mouth. Then, with a sigh, he tossed it back into the pond.
“There’s nothing good in the water here,” he said. “I’ve gotten five of these already.” Leroy gathered up the rest of the line and placed the fishing pole into the grass. Then, leaning back on his hands, he looked at Michael and Henry. “So how did the battles go?”
“I won mine,” said Henry brightly. “It was close, though. My partner almost got my Starly, but we pulled through.”
Michael gave a half-hearted nod. “I lost. But with freaking Lona as your referee, it’s hard not to.”
Leroy’s eyebrows climbed. “Whoa, you had Lona? Then it’s no wonder. She doesn’t take it easy on anyone, especially if you’re a newcomer.” He rose to his feet, brushing dirt and grass from his pants. “Well, I suppose we should get started. Just send out your pokémon so I can take a look at them, okay? No one ever comes around here, so we won’t get caught.”
Nodding, Michael dropped his backpack onto the ground, and one by one, released the members of his team. Henry did the same, and a sequence of heavy, exhausted pokémon plopped into a disorganized mess on the grass. All of Michael’s pokémon were fainted, and barely moved. Most of Henry’s were as well, save for Starly, who managed to shift around every so often, chirping weakly.
Leroy carefully stepped around the group and took a look at each of their teams in turn. “Yeah… hmm… okay.” He rubbed his chin. “Both of you are on even ground when it comes to counters. Michael, your Turtwig is obviously weak to Poison, because he’s Grass, and your Caterpie is resistant to Fighting. Henry, your Burmy is good against Fighting. I’m not sure about Clefable, though… since when did you have one?”
“Clefairy evolved,” said Henry, smiling. “And she’s gotten a lot tougher since then.”
Leroy nodded. “That’s pretty cool. I never knew Clefairies evolved. Do you know what type she is now?”
Henry shrugged. “Well, Clefairies are Normal type, so… would that mean that Clefables are too?” He looked at Leroy first, then at Michael.
“Well, I guess so,” Michael replied. “How did she do in battle? Did your opponent use any Fighting moves?”
“A little bit… She didn’t take them that well, though. She sort of stumbled a bit after a few Focus Punches.” Henry fell silent.
“Then she must have some sort of weakness to Fighting,” Michael said.
“But how? She did really well when we battled Jerry’s Gallade.”
“But that was only one pokémon,” said Leroy. “And Gallade isn’t even pure Fighting. If Clefable’s going to be bombarded with physical hits over and over again, she might faint faster. I don’t know much about your pokémon, Henry, but when you’re dealing with Lona’s Gym, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Both of you need to catch at least two good counters. That, or catch one counter and teach the rest of your pokémon Psychic or Flying moves.”
“Okay, but how would you actually do that?” Michael said. “We were talking about that yesterday. How do you get a pokémon to learn a move it wouldn’t normally learn by growing?”
Leroy’s face froze for a moment, and he laughed nervously. “Uh… it’s pretty hard, actually. I don’t know how to do it, but I’ve heard about it from people, and they say it’s pretty complicated. It’s sort of like physical therapy. You guide the pokémon’s motions, and somehow or other you get it to realize in its brain what that particular move is supposed to be. None of the trainers I’ve talked with can do it, because… well, you know. What ten- or eleven-year-old would want to study that instead of battling?”
Michael was about to let out a sigh, but then Leroy held up his finger. “But! I’ll tell you what you can do. If you want to teach one of your pokémon a move, you should go see the Move Tutor. He lives right here in town, and I’m telling you, that guy is amazing. I met him by accident when I was taking a walk one day. He teaches moves to trainers’ pokémon for a really low price. You guys should pay him a visit.”
“Where does he live?” Michael asked.
“Not too far from here, actually. Go past the marketplace and take a left turn on Lester Road, and you’ll reach a small section of houses. He doesn’t have a sign or anything, but his mailbox number is 4112. Easy to remember.”
Michael nodded. “All right. It’s worth a shot. You dig, Henry?”
Henry smiled. “Sure.”
Leroy clapped his hands together. “Great. So, that’s all you need to do, I guess. Just be sure to catch a Flying or Psychic pokémon. There are a few that live around Route 209, so you should take a look there.”
“Could you show us, though?” Henry said. “Around the route and stuff. We’re not that familiar with the town yet, so we could use some help.”
“Sure thing,” said Leroy. “Just let me get all this put away. I have a room at the Trainer Hotel, so if you’ll give me a minute, I’ll drop it off there.” Leroy lifted the bucket and swung the fishing pole over his shoulder.
The three of them left the thicket and went back to the hotel, where Leroy ran over to the elevators to reach his room. In the meantime, Michael and Henry visited the hotel’s convenience store to replenish their supply of pokéballs. After experiencing a brief mental debate while looking at the racks, Michael decided not to squander this time, and bought four new capsules. The money pocket in his backpack thinned significantly, but he knew he would have to spend it all sooner or later.
Henry bought four new pokéballs as well, plus a spare, for which he bought a purple sticker and stuck it right above the red knob on the center. “We’ll use this for Stunky,” he said, looking at Michael. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Michael shrugged. “I guess not. It beats carrying that cage around everywhere.”
Henry nodded. “Right.”
They packed away their purchases and left for the lobby, where they found Leroy in the sitting area. He was dressed for a full day outdoors; he wore a visor and shorts, and carried a messenger bag over his shoulder. When they walked in, he stood up. “Ready, guys?” he said. “I brought sunblock in case either of you need it. It’s a big route, and we’ll be out there for a while.”
“We’re set,” Michael said.
Leroy smiled. “All right, let’s go!”
He led them out the door, turning onto the footpath that ran alongside the street. The boys followed a network of small roads until they reached the central avenue, which was six lanes wide, and bisected the town in a perfectly straight path, north to south. Traffic flowed into it from smaller roads on either side, which branched into the main road like veins, and coalesced into a plethora of shops, signs, and people that moved like one big river in both directions.
Looking over the dusty cars and wooden wagons that trailed along his side, Michael could see all the way to Route 209, a miniscule spot of dark green trees and hills to the south. The boys made their way down the main road, crossing block after block, until the traffic suddenly branched off into a separate direction, and the town gradually yielded to the dominance of nature. The paved roadway faded, the buildings disappeared, and the crowds trickled away, leaving only a dirt path, which continued to wind its way through a landscape of hills and ankle-length grass. The route was thicker with plant life than the rest of the neighboring countryside had been. It consisted of mostly underbrush and small trees, though occasionally a tall one would crop up to cast a generous amount of shade over the boys’ heads.
It was nature on a level second only to Eterna. The only sign of human presence was the path that was smoothed out from the soil, and the occasional directional sign propped up by a wooden pole. Looking out from his position, Michael saw the path continue on for some time, then vanish completely in the throes of the underbrush.
“Wow…” came a sigh from Henry. “This place is beautiful!”
“Yeah, it’s not bad,” said Leroy, placing his hands on his hips and looking up. “I’ve been here a couple times, and it’s got a lot of pokémon. Trainers love it. But wait till you see Route 210. That is twice the fun.” He smiled. “It’s got grass that’s almost up to your knees, and lots of hills and mud and stuff. I’ll have to show you sometime.”
“Definitely,” Henry said.
The boys went farther in, taking a moment to look around. Michael quickly saw that they weren’t alone—presently, a group of thirty or so trainers was gathered a little bit ahead of them, following a tour guide with a sunhat and glasses. He beckoned to the trainers as he led them around, pointing out various things in the landscape and spending a good minute talking about each of them. His voice, and the chatter of the trainers, were a steady hum in the background.
“So what kinds of Bird pokémon are supposed to live here?” asked Michael.
Leroy pursed his lips. “Well… of course there are Starlies here. There are always Starlies… I saw some Staravias at one point too. I heard that there were Zubats, but I never got a chance to check. You have to get here at night to see them.”
“What about Psychics?”
“Mime Jr. and Ralts,” said Leroy, and winced slightly. “I tried catching a Ralts for my Dex, but they keep on teleporting. And it sucks, because I really want one. So, unless you want to spend the next two hours chasing a tiny pokémon around the whole countryside, I’d stick to whatever comes first.”
Having never seen a Ralts in the wild before, Michael decided to take Leroy’s word for it. “What about the Mime Jr.s?” he said. “I could raise it and have a badass Mr. Mime like Jerry.”
Leroy chuckled. “They’re not as bad as the Ralts are, but they’re good at hiding. We’ll have to keep an eye out.”
As the three boys continued through the route, the tour group progressed alongside them. The guide was leading his trainers without any regards to the main path, breaking off at various points to point out an intriguing plant or pokémon that had come into view. Presently, the tour guide came to a stop beside a clump of odd-looking trees. Their leaves were pale green, but their crowns blossomed with such a multitude of yellow flowers that the color overwhelmed everything else. The trainers oooohed in wonder.
The tour guide looked up at the trees, gesturing at the flowers. “And now, if you look right up ‘ere, you’ll see perhaps the most notorious little tree in all of Solaceon. They’re called Honey Trees, so named because of the famil'yr coloring of the blooms, and from the fact that they’re visited daily by Combees who pollinate them to make their honey. But what’s int’rsting about them is that the scent they give off makes pokémon come runnin’. Especially rare ones, pokémon that you might only find ‘round here.”
“Excuse me?” One of the trainers raised his hand. “What kinds of pokémon do you mean?”
The tour guide smiled. “Good question. We’ve seen Munchlaxes here, Bonslies, oh, even a few Cherrim at one point, and Starlies…”
Michael was only half paying attention to the tour guide’s distant words. He was more preoccupied with the route, scanning his vicinity for any sign of bird pokémon. He occasionally saw a Starly, but the birds were too high up for an accurate throw to be possible. In contrast, there seemed to be an endless abundance of pokémon down below: Caterpies crawling up trees, Bidoofs peeking out from holes in the ground, and Aipoms scampering across branches. But for now, they served only as distractions.
Leroy seemed to know where he was going for the most part, but as he too became caught up in the search, Michael noticed that they began to get sidetracked, straying from the path whenever they caught a glimpse of a promising pokémon, following a scent that often led them in circles.
They managed to stay out of the tour group’s way for a good while, but when it became clear that neither Michael nor his friends were making any sort of progress, and were instead leading themselves further and further into unknown territory, they had no choice but to tag along behind the trainers.
Michael kept his gaze fixed overhead, relentlessly scanning the treetops, only looking down periodically to make sure he hadn’t lagged too far behind. Henry and Leroy were silent beside him, being occupied with their own searching. Though neither boy seemed to notice, Michael was beginning to grow aware of a faint, musical chirping rising out from the silence, growing progressively louder as they walked.
The tour group came to a stop again, this time for a break. The trainers gathered around a row of tall trees, while the tour guide began a lecture on burrowing pokémon. Michael, Henry, and Leroy stopped just a few yards away, squatting down by a clump of bushes. Michael took the time to sweep the treetops again, and nudged Henry on the shoulder.
“Do you see anything up there?” he asked, for the umpteenth time that day, squinting against the sunlight.
Seconds later came the reply: “Shut up!”
Michael turned around, his eyes finding Henry in a flash. “What?”
But the boy looked back at him quizzically. “Huh? I didn’t say anything.”
Michael paused. After a brief silence, he continued with the only logical reply. “Yes you did.”
“No I didn’t,” Henry insisted, confusion plain on his face. “Honest. What did you hear?”
Henry frowned. “Well, it wasn’t me. Maybe it was the trainers?”
Michael shook his head. “No. The voice was close. It was—” But before he could finish, he was cut off by a loud snapping sound.
“I stole George’s wallet!” someone sang.
Michael and Henry whirled around to face Leroy, the only other body in the vicinity. At the same time, Leroy turned to face them, wearing a mild expression of annoyance.
“Okay, who keeps saying that?” he asked. “Seriously, stop.”
“It’s not me!” Michael said.
“Or me,” Henry cut in.
“Shut up, shut up!” said the voice, this time more forcefully than before. All three boys jumped. Henry stood up and began to spin around in circles, eyes searching for the source of the sound. “It sounds like it’s coming from somewhere up there.” He pointed to a thin tree that stood nearby, at a middle point between them and the tour group. It had huge, fan-like leaves that blocked most of its inner structure from view.
“I stole George’s wallet, now he has to wear a bonnet!”
Michael looked over to the tree and frowned. Slowly, he stepped away from Henry and Leroy and advanced towards it. To his right, the tour group had also stilled, and appeared to be listening in. As he stepped into the tree’s shadow, Michael ducked his head in an attempt to see behind the cover of the leaves.
Suddenly, something small and brown flew out from behind the leaves and hit Michael on the head. He stumbled back, slamming his hand onto the spot and caught the object by reflex. It was a large nut.
“A penny for your troubles, sir, now go on and kick some dirt!”
Clenching his fist around the projectile, Michael chucked it back at the tree, watching it part the leaves as it whooshed by. Immediately, a chorus of loud, angry voices erupted from behind the branches, along with the rush of flapping wings that sounded like a waterfall.
“Ow!” one of the voices exclaimed.
“Owwwwww!” the others echoed.
“Help!” began another. “Help us, help!”
The resulting cries sounded similarly panicked. “Help! Help!”
Michael stared dumbly up at the talking tree, frozen in place. Henry and Leroy came to his side moments later, mouths agape. One by one, the voices lost their harmony, and broke off into several different tempos, like blinking Christmas lights. The first voice, the one Michael already recognized, kept repeating the same two lines about George. The others responded with their unfinished cries of ‘Help!’, or began to chirp other lines of their own invention. After a few seconds, almost like an automated recording, the squawking faded, leaving behind a peaceful, humming silence.
Suddenly, Michael heard a hark-hark behind him. He turned, and saw that the tour guide was laughing. “Ah, ‘ere we are!” the man said, and with a snap of his fingers, hurried over to the tree. Like a crowd at a zoo, the trainers shuffled after him, and grouped around the three boys. The tour guide stepped in front of them all and spread his arms out wide. “What you have just heard is a flock of Chatots, trainers. They’re sneaky little birds, and they have a very good ear for human speech. They dwell mostly in the tropics, 'specially further down by Pastoria, but occasionally can be found making their homes here. The females have slightly duller coloring, and larger beaks. You’ll definitely be able to tell them apart.”
“Chatot Chatot! Chatalot!”
In response to his words, a tiny body sprang out from somewhere behind the crown of the tree, and hopped down onto a branch in full view. It was a large bird. Its round belly was colored a bright yellow, its wings a deep blue. A ring of white feathers formed a funny-looking ruff around its neck, contrasting sharply with its black head. The bird peered down at the crowd of people, cocking its head to the side.
“Trainers! Trainers no-brainers!” it croaked.
The kids around Michael gasped in awe at the sight of the bird, clapping their hands over their mouths. “They’re so cute! Can I catch one, sir?” asked a young girl.
“I want one too!” said another trainer.
The tour guide chuckled. “If the Chatots don’t get the upper hand first, that is! They’re clever creatures. Mighty clev'r.” Nonetheless, he beckoned, and stepped aside to invite the trainers to move forward. A few of them separated themselves from the group, pulling out pokéballs from various pockets.
At the sounds of stirring commotion from down below, several more Chatots hopped into view beside the first. Their plumage displayed various patterns of pink, blue, black, and yellow. Some even had wings of opposite colors, and others had a mix of many on each. Michael made his decision in a heartbeat. Dropping his backpack into the grass, he pulled out a spare pokéball and approached the tree with the other trainers. The birds did not stir at the humans’ proximity; rather, for the time being, it seemed to entertain them. They looked down at the trainers, craning their necks and chirping, while Michael looked up, unsure how to best proceed.
The kids around him tried various methods, none of them successful. One girl took out a pouch of treats and proffered them from her palm. “Here, birdy-birds. Come and get a snack!” The Chatots blinked at the sight of food, but none of them were dimwitted enough to fly down.
Another boy began to throw pebbles up at the tree, following Michael’s example in an attempt to startle them. The Chatots responded by beating their wings and squawking angrily, but none of them stirred from their spots. Evidently, they had been bothered this way many times before, and had mastered the art of negotiation. The boy tried throwing other, larger objects, but by the time he realized that his efforts were futile, he had gotten one of his pokéballs caught in a tangle of branches, along with a clear plastic case. Michael had a strong suspicion that this was how George had lost his wallet.
The teasing game continued for another whole minute. During that time, Michael stood with his arms crossed, the pokéball clutched loosely in his right hand, maintaining eye contact with the birds for as long as he could manage before they turned away from him. (He had never seen anyone stare a pokémon down before, but you never knew.)
Then, without warning, one of the trainers finally lost his patience. Slapping his knees in frustration, a short boy whipped out a pokéball from his backpack. “That’s it, I’m sick of this! Go, Marill!” A jet of white rushed out of the capsule, fading to expose a round, blue pokémon. The Marill landed in the grass, its tail bouncing, and the boy pointed up to the branches. “Use Water Gun!”
“No, you idiot!” a girl cried out. Several others echoed her, but they were too late.
The Marill pressed both arms to its fat belly and blasted a jet of water from its mouth, engulfing a whole section of the tree behind a rushing blur. One of the Chatots was knocked off its feet from the force of the impact, and was left gripping the branch with its feet for dear life. Its companions, likewise, were sent into a panic, and began to gab and screech incoherently. The tree began to shake as if from a chain reaction, and the flapping of wings rose to a roar.
The tour guide’s face blanched into a mask of horror. He stumbled back, eyes bulging. “Run!” he called to the trainers. “Get away from the tree, now!”
Before Michael could react, a swarm of Chatots flew out from the tree, like so many leaves stirred up by a storm. They tore into the crowd with vicious speed, their screeches blended in with screams as they pecked and whacked at the children’s heads. Michael found himself caught in a stampede of fleeing trainers, who bumped and pushed, tripping over themselves and each other. Michael held his ground as best as he could, elbowing away trainers who pushed past him, and at the same time trying to locate a bird he could catch. But from the start, it was clear that it would be a vain effort: the Chatots formed a raging cloud that nearly blotted out the rest of the route; flying with such speed that it was impossible to distinguish one bird’s feathers from another’s. Ignoring the tour guide’s warning, a few of the trainers held their own against the attacks, throwing pokéballs at the air in defense. The capsules activated with the sound of a hundred explosions, sucking out one airborne body after another in bursts of brilliant light. Michael narrowed his eyes into slits against the glare, gripping his pokéball tighter and tighter until it seemed like the casing would crack. He couldn’t discern anything in the mess of voices around him, nor in the blizzard of color that flashed with dizzying frequency in his eyes.
In the midst of his attempted concentration, two sharp talons landed in his hair, tangling and pulling it. “George is wallet! George is wallet!”
Without thinking, Michael grabbed the bird by its legs. Ignoring the angered beat of wings against his face, he twisted the pokéball open with his other hand and threw it upward. Hot, white light exploded around him, and for a brilliant, painful moment, Michael could hear the faint whirr of the capsule as it sucked in the tiny mass above him. His arms fell by reflex, hands slamming themselves over his eyes. He stumbled around, dazed by the darkness of his own eyelids and the noises that pelted him from all aides. Without knowing quite how it happened, Michael felt himself collapse into the grass.
The chaos continued around him for a few moments. Then, the noise seemed to die down in waves. The beat of footsteps faded, and the thrum of flapping wings overhead dissipated. Michael slowly opened his eyes. The Chatots were flying back to safety, scattering themselves around the neighboring trees and retreating into the shade. What was left of the tour group had fled the scene as well; many of them were running back in the direction of the town, some with pokéballs and others empty-handed.
Just then, a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders and pulled him to his feet. “Michael! Are you okay?” came Henry’s voice. The boy had appeared beside him, his hat askew, shirt matted with dirt and blades of grass.
Michael nodded, brushing the debris from his clothes and arms. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. He was still slightly dizzy, however, and after the boy let go, he had a hard time standing straight. A moment later, Leroy approached from the side, looking similarly disheveled, but otherwise unharmed.
“That was insane,” Leroy breathed, his hand pressed to his stomach. “The kid who sent out his Marill was an idiot. I seriously hope that one of those birds got his hat or something.” He swallowed, shaking his head.
Michael scanned the grass around them. “Did either of you see what happened to my pokéball?” he said. “Did I catch anything?”
“I think you did,” Henry replied. “But it was really hard to tell. People were throwing them around like crazy, and in the end they started grabbing capsules that didn’t belong to them. At any rate, this was yours.” He handed Michael a silver ball. It was still warm, and throbbed slightly, as if the pokémon inside was still trying to peck its way out.
Biting his lip, Michael knelt into the grass. “Okay, get ready. It might try to fly away.” Henry and Leroy gathered around him, giving just enough room for the pokémon to emerge. Michael twisted open the capsule, and with a rush of light, a Chatot was thrown out. Its body was positioned as if it was still flying, and its eyes were partly closed as if to protect themselves from the wind. As the white light faded, the pokémon hung over the ground for a few seconds, then plopped face-first into the grass with a human-like oomph! The bird let out a squeal, its feathers ruffling, its wings beating in an attempt to regain awareness of its location. Slowly, it lifted itself to an upright position, its eyes blinking separately at first, then adjusting to their proper rhythm. Up close, the Chatot's colors were even more striking, sharp and even like those of a hand-painted toy. Henry and Leroy immediately knelt into the grass, linking their arms with Michael’s to form a triangular cage around the pokémon. The Chatot looked around at the them, its large eyes blinking.
“Trainers no-brainers?” it said, clicking its pink beak. “Fly?”
“No, stay!” Michael growled.
“No, we’re your friends!” said Henry. “You don’t have to fly away from us!”
“Fly!” the Chatot retorted. “Fly! Friends! Fly!” It began to flap its wings, lifting a foot in preparation to take off. In response, the boys leaned closer together to trap it, till their heads were almost touching. The bird continued to fidget, poking its head at them, trying to find a big enough opening in their stances to wedge itself through. When it finally realized that there were none, the bird settled down, and almost sulkily began to pace around in circles, making hm-hm noises to itself, as if sorely disappointed by its situation.
“Fly! Ends!” it began again. “Ly! Elp! My… elp!”
“Yeah, that’s right. Stay,” Michael said. “You’ve just been made an honorary member of Team Michael Rowan. And I’m Michael Rowan.” He gave the bird a glare, trying to telepathically tell it to behave. But it continued to jabber, repeating the same string of fragmented words.
“Fly! Ends! Elp my!”
“Hang on, I think it’s trying to talk,” said Leroy. Carefully, he lowered his arms and placed them on his knees. “Can you talk?”
The bird turned to Leroy, its tail flicking. “Know!” it repeated. “No-no!”
“Aww, will you try?” Henry said. “Please? Say ‘Hello. My name is Chatot!’”
“Please!” chirped the bird. “Ello aym atot!”
“No no no, you gotta give him a little help,” Michael said. He cleared his throat and pointed his finger at the bird, saying his words slowly and precisely. “We — are — your — friends... You — will— not—fly —away…”
“Help! Help!” the Chatot interrupted. “Little help! Friends!”
Michael stopped. “Huh?”
Right then, the scatterbrained bird seemed to finally find its groove. It began to sway, tapping its feet in an attempted dance. “Get by with a little elp from my friends! Elp from my friends!”
Suddenly, Michael’s face broke out into a smile. “Ha! Someone’s been teaching this thing Beatles lyrics. That’s boss.” He leaned closer to the bird, his grin spreading. “Hey, what else do you know?”
“Know it’s mine! When it turn out the light!”
Michael laughed. “This bird is far-out.” He held out his finger, and the Chatot nibbled it. “I bet he can sing the whole Sgt. Pepper’s album. Hey, do you know ‘Getting Better’?”
The Chatot shook its head, continuing its crackly melody. “Elp from my friends! Turn out the light! Know it’s mine!”
Leroy joined in. “How about ‘Fixing a Hole’?”
“Lucy in the sky?” Henry tried.
But the Chatot continued to sing the same melody, replacing the song’s lyrics with the words the boys kept feeding it, till its composition made no sense whatsoever. Sitting back on his legs, Michael sighed. “I guess that’s the only song this guy knows. Hey bird, why do you like that song so much? Are you Ringo Starr or something?”
The Chatot cocked its head at Michael. “Ring-go! Elp from my friends!” It ruffled its wings and tucked them neatly against its sides. It seemed to have lost all interest in flying away, being more entertained with giving its mini-production. Or maybe it had grown to like them already. Whatever the reason, Michael had the feeling that he had made a very good catch.
Still laughing a bit to himself, Michael shook his head in response to the Chatot’s curious silence. “Well, then I guess you are,” he said.
“How’s it hanging, Ringo?” Leroy reached out with his hand, and the bird allowed him to stroke its head.
“Try to make him sit on your arm!” Henry suggested to Michael.
Michael shrugged. “Sure.” He held out his arm, lowering it into the grass in front of the bird. Slowly, the Chatot lifted a foot and placed it on his hand. Then the other. The skin on the bird’s feet was rough and bumpy, and its claws prickled his arm, though not altogether in a painful way. As the three boys stood up, the Chatot shuffled around to find its balance, settling midway to Michael's elbow. Its weight felt foreign at first to him, but gradually, he became used to its presence.
Michael walked around for a bit, keeping his arm extended in front of him, while the bird shuffled around, peering first at the trees, then back at the two boys who followed behind.
“Well, that was a good day,” Henry said, he and Leroy falling into step beside Michael. “Now you finally have a Flying type for the Gym.”
Michael nodded. “Yup. Now all I’ve gotta do is see what moves he knows, train him up a bit, and then I’ll be set.” He looked over to Ringo, giving his arm a light shake. “Ready to show Lona Walker who’s boss?”
“Ringo! Alker! Boss!”
Michael grinned. Though the bird could speak only a few words at a time, he had no doubt that they saw eye-to-eye on the matter.
“Hooo-boy...” Leroy exhaled, a gesture mixed with humor and disbelief as he watched the bird. “Wait till everyone sees you have a Chatot. He’ll be a hit at the Gym. I’ve heard that they can be really… rambunctious.” He smiled. “Mind if I add him to my Dex?”
“Sure,” Michael said, holding out his arm. Ringo shifted around, his eyes finding Leroy as the boy brought out the metallic device.
"Oh, and by the way," said Leroy, as he switched on the screen, "it's official. The lab is drawing up plans for a new model of the Data Exploiter, and they decided to shorten its name. I mentioned 'PokéDex' to them and they liked it. They had a vote, and they decided it was better than the other names that were in the running."
Michael laughed. "Like what?"
"Most of them were similar to yours. I guess there's really not much you can do with the name 'Pokémon Data Exploiter'. There was 'Data-X', 'PDE', 'XPloiter'... I can't remember them all. But 'PokéDex' seemed like the best. Not too short, not too long." When the interface finally finished loading, Leroy snapped his fingers, and opened up a new entry for Chatot. He began to work, fingers strumming on the keypad, and a minute later, held up the finished entry. “Done! Tell me what you think.” He passed the PokéDex to Michael.
No. 130 CHATOT [Flying]
These pokémon are distinguished by their voices, which can imitate a person’s speech almost perfectly. Apart from that, they’re really cunning, and if you’re not careful then they can pull tricks on you like stealing your wallet. They dwell mostly in the tropics, living in large trees with their families. Their feathers are really bright and colorful, but they’re also good at hiding themselves, so you’ll have to look hard in order to find one. They may have a preference for Beatles lyrics, but more study is needed to confirm.
Michael lowered the PokéDex and chuckled. “Nice.”
“Thanks,” said Leroy. “The last line was genius, I think.”
Michael passed the Dex to Henry, who laughed as well when he reached the end. “This is great!” he said. “Yours must be the best entries, Leroy.”
“Nah, they’re not that good. If you could read some of the other kids’ Dexes, you’d be laughing your pants off. The professor’s staff are holding little contests at the end of the session to see who had the funniest entries, the most detailed ones, and all that. But… yeah.” Leroy waved his hand dismissively. “I’m just worried about finishing the whole thing.” Nevertheless, a smile was tugging at the corners of his lips.
After gathering their stuff from the now-empty field, the three boys set out towards Solaceon. With the addition of a Flying type to his team, Michael felt that his odds had significantly improved, though he would need to see what Ringo could do in order to assess his strength. He and Henry agreed to see the Move Tutor before doing any more catching, to see what they could do with the teams they had.
Apart from being Michael’s main hope for the Gym, Ringo turned out to provide lively company along the way. Besides the fact that he could imitate most of what the boys said to him, he had a knack of making up phrases of his own in return, some of which Michael vowed to remember. (Trainers no-brainers and Lona groan-a were among his favorites.) The boys played a sort of game with the bird, having Ringo hop from one arm to the next, occasionally piping his made-up phrases. But the bird seemed to prefer Michael’s shoulder, from where he could turn around freely to glare at anything he liked. The boys laughed and talked to their new companion as they left the route, content to take whatever path they happened upon.
It was past noon when they reached the Trainer’s Hotel. Leroy stopped Michael and Henry by the front doors, saying that his shift would be starting soon. The boys agreed to meet again later that day, if not to catch pokémon then to simply wander about the town. It was something that, for once, Michael could look forward to.
Before the trio parted ways, Leroy showed them the Dex entries for Lona’s entire team, as a token of good luck for the battles to come.
No. 125 HITMONCHAN [Fighting]
A pokémon that likes to punch things. Its two hands grow in the shape of boxer’s gloves, and many trainers like to cover them with rough fabric to make them extra hard and powerful. Hitmonchans can punch at a rate of three times per second, with a force that can knock even Gravelers off their feet. On top of that, they’re nimble, and can dance circles around an enemy to confuse them before clobbering them over the head. However, Hitmonchans tire easily, which makes them unfit for long-term battle.
No. 126 CROAGUNK [Fighting/Poison]
Croagunk’s cheeks are filled with poison, as are its claws. You’ll commonly see them trying to jab at their opponents. The venom quickly makes the victim confused and uncoordinated, a state that can last for many hours afterward. Village lore says that it can also be used as a remedy for back pain, but I would advise against it. Getting your hands on a Croagunk is pretty hard, and you might find your pokémon (or yourself!) twisted in circles by its speed and trickery. This is definitely the last pokémon you should expect to play it nice.
No. 127 HITMONLEE [Fighting]
The cousin of Hitmonchan, though this guy’s specialty is kicking. It has pretty good balance, which enables it to kick a foe from pretty much any position, whether it be on its feet, or standing on its hands. On the upside, if its feet are bound or immobilized, it can’t do much about it. Hitmonlees are native to the mountains of Kanto, where they live in large tribes in which rank is determined by strength. So you should expect any Hitmonlee you meet in battle to be a tough one.
No. 128 MACHOKE [Fighting]
This guy is an all-out powerhouse. He’s fast, he’s strong, and he makes his little brother Machop seem like a chew toy. They are often used by move crews to lift heavy furniture, and also by Gym leaders to lift enemy pokémon before splatting them against the ground. It used to be legal to fight against them in wrestling tournaments, but after many complaints and injuries, the practice was outlawed. Machokes are allowed in battle only if they wear a belt to suppress their power. In summary, if you walk into a bar one day looking for a fight, and see that a Machoke is in the room, cut it as fast as you can. They don’t play around.
My apologies for the short review, but at least it's quick
I've always loved the secret meetings
Route 209 and Solaceon here are interesting because my mystery contest fic has that car chase scene that goes right through that general area. Biggest change would be that there is a paved road through 209 in mine, and I don't think my Solaceon is that big... it was just a place that was passed by... by criminals and a whole crew of cops doing close to 100, lol
Beware flocks of really ticked off bird Pokemon xD But now comes the million dollar question... should I have Lisa catch a Chatot and teach it 80's songs? I think it would be interesting if she still journeyed, but now that she's doing special agent stuff, I don't think a singing Chatot would fit in well during car chases xD
Next chapter is more Lona-style training, I presume? Hopefully either (a) Michael gets another judge, or (b) he uses Ringo to put her in her place. However it plays out, I'm hoping that Michael's second day of training there is better than the disaster that was the first. And the evil sadistic side of me wants to see how Henry will handle the pressure of having Lona breathe down his neck, lol
And am I the only one who wants to see another character named Walker, this one employed as a Texas Ranger, to take Lona to school, so to speak?
Move Tutors definitely have importance in this day and age, and you'll see how that whole thing works in the next chapter. It's in the works, but progress might be hindered by final exam week. The good news is that once classes end, I'll have a lot more free time to write.
Thanks for stopping by, LeSabre!
That afternoon, Michael and Henry were in their hotel room. Henry was kneeling beside the window, holding the Stunky’s cage aloft with one hand while he peered through the bars. The other hand held a silver pokéball, which the Stunky’s eyes found at the last minute, after it had turned around to face its visitor. Eyes drifting towards the reflective orb, the Stunky purred in confusion.
“That’s right,” said Henry, smiling. “You’re going to live in one of these now.” He proffered the capsule to the cage’s bars. The Stunky continued to stare at him, periodically glancing over to Michael, who stood with his hands in his pockets a few feet away.
“Well? Are you gonna do it or not?” Michael asked. “Come on, so we can go get lunch. I’m starving.”
Henry tapped his chin, keeping silent for a few seconds. He placed the cage down, then carefully unscrewed the knob of the pokéball, pointing it at the Stunky and closing his eyes. “All right, here it goes…”
Michael watched as a beam of light pierced through the bars and engulfed the Stunky’s body in white. The pokémon’s silhouette remained for a split second, then slowly dissolved out of thin air, rushing back into the capsule. Henry clicked the pokéball closed and dropped it into his tote bag. And that was that.
Strangely, Michael did not mind giving the Stunky away. (Technically, it was still his, but at this point, it didn’t matter to him which one of them took the responsibility of carrying it around.) And Henry seemed happy, so everyone was a winner. Michael grabbed the cage on his way to the door, and once they got out to the hallway, he sought out a huge trash bin and dropped it inside. He looked down at the cage for a moment, thinking back to all he had been through with it, as well as the pokémon who had been its occupant. It was almost like throwing away a part of his life, locking it in distant memory. But Michael had no doubt that this was for the best, and with all the traveling he had ahead of him, he would have to lighten his load.
For lunch, he and Henry went to a café down the street. It was teeming with families and groups, people who had arrived in the nick of time for lunch. Like most buildings in Solaceon, the café was bright and tidy—and pokémon friendly. The critters scurried beneath tables and around people’s feet, often stopping to nibble from bowls of food set aside by the walls. They even approached tables, where eager hands reached down to pet them, as if they were just as much guests here as the people were.
Michael and Henry got a small table to themselves, where they ate in silence for a while, watching the proceedings. Rather than talking, Henry seemed more interested in the pokémon that wandered by, and after a moment, turned around to face Michael. “We should let out Stunky,” he said.
Michael stopped chewing. “Uh… what?”
“You know, so he can roam around town. We’re not gonna be around that often to keep him company, so now that he has a pokéball instead of a cage, he can walk around and explore on his own, like the other pokémon. Then at the end of the day he’ll come back.”
Without warning, Michael began to laugh, hiccupping as he struggled to swallow. “And if he doesn’t?”
“I don’t think he’ll run away,” Henry said.
Michael leaned back, lifting both hands in surrender. “Your ball, your call, man. Do what you want. But I’m telling you now—if he runs away, it’s your problem.”
Henry made a hmph sound, crossing his arms. “You’ll see! Just wait, Michael.” He took out the Stunky’s pokéball bag and turned it over so that the purple sticker was visible. Then he pointed it towards the open aisle. “All right, come on out little buddy!” He twisted the knob, and the Stunky emerged in a halo of white light, landing squarely on all fours. It pawed around beneath the table for a bit, then backed away so that it could look up at the boys.
“Go on,” said Henry. “See those plates of food over there? They’re all yours. Go get ‘em, and don’t let any of those other guys shove you away! Go!” He pointed to the food bowls standing in the corner, where a small crowd of pokémon was gathered. The Stunky hesitated for a moment, then seemed to make up its mind. With its tail upheld, it crossed the aisle, skipping around the feet of passerby on its way to the bowls. Watching all this, Michael shook his head slowly, and went back to eating.
They left the café a few minutes later, leaving Stunky behind. Still sitting by the food bowls, the pokémon looked up at the boys as they lingered by the exit. His eyes held the same steady, wary look that appeared whenever there was a situation involving him, as if he was trying to figure out what his captors were planning. Or maybe Michael was imagining things again.
The next morning, he arrived at the Gym in a slightly better-kempt state. His clothes were neat, his hair was (somewhat) brushed, and his wristband was on this time. When his name was called on the roll, Michael approached the front desk and held up the band to the clerk, who marked down his name.
“All right, Mr’Rowan, welcome. Your room today is thirty-five, in the left hall.” She pointed to the door. But before Michael could leave, the lady tapped his shoulder and held him back. “Wait. Hold y’r horses a minute.”
Michael turned back to her. “What?” Immediately, his mind began to race. Oh God. I did something wrong. It’s only my second day and I’ve already screwed something up. He fixed his gaze on the counter and braced himself.
The lady bent down beneath the desk and came up with a small envelope. “This came to the Gym’s P.O. box last evening. It’s addressed to you.”
As he took the envelope, Michael was washed with relief. He turned to Henry, who was in line behind him.
Wait for me! the boy mouthed. Michael sat down by the benches, and once Henry had presented his wristband, he came over to join him.
“What is it?” Henry asked, taking a seat. Michael broke the envelope’s seal with his finger and pulled out a typed letter. It was a telegram from Nancy Bryan.
Congrats on your first publication! Your article made it to page twenty-eight, in the ‘Arts and Recreation’ section of The Hearthome Times. I would have mailed you a copy of the paper, but I was afraid that the package wouldn’t get to you in time. So the next time you happen to be somewhere that sells newspapers, be sure to check it out! They must have liked your story a lot to accept it. I think you have talent as a writer.
As for us, unfortunately, the story didn’t get accepted by SNN. They didn’t think it was interesting, so that means we have to keep searching. I’m sorry. It’s not your fault—they’re just really picky. So we’ll be on the move a lot for the next few months, looking out for the next big thing. (Whatever that is!) Just keep checking the TV, and maybe one day you’ll see us on there. And we’ll keep checking the newspaper racks for the next time your name appears in the by-line. I do hope you’ll keep writing, and I wish you luck in whatever you may want to try in the future!
So, with all that said, I hope everything’s going great for you. Bobby says hey.
His heart racing, Michael scanned over the lines a second time, unable to believe what had happened. Henry, who was reading over his shoulder, widened his eyes. “Wow! Michael, you’re in a newspaper! That’s practically like being famous!”
Michael shook his head dismissively, though his smile grew ever wider. “Nah, this is page twenty-eight. That’s not famous. Wait till I make the front cover. Then we’ll start talking.”
“Then you’ll have to find a new friend,” said Henry with feigned gloom. “I’ll be swept away by tides of fans!”
Michael laughed. “Well, you never know. If I’m up to it, I might let you stay as my manager. You’ll get to plan my tour of the world one day. That’s after we win the Championship, of course. We’ll be the youngest prodigies the world has ever known.” He folded up the letter and slipped it into the envelope, giving it an extra pat of good luck. In scarcely two minutes, he had been elevated from glum exhaustion to the happiest he had felt in days. Nothing could ruin his day now. Not even if Lona herself walked into his battle room, tapping the floor with a pitchfork.
With that, the boys set off towards their battle rooms. Michael’s referee was a guy, his partner a young girl. Both of them were practical and laid-back, and for the next two hours, he enjoyed a conventional, tension-free battle session.
Michael’s pokémon-of-choice that day was Ringo. As expected, the bird proved to be just as loud and nimble in battle as he had been in his tree. He tore into his opponent with his claws as well as his beak, plucking and pecking from high above. His first opponent was a Meditite, which he had no problem taking care of, staging an intense rally of Pecks and Scratches and Head-Clobberings.
When the pokémon fainted, Ringo flapped over to Michael and began to circle around his head, his beak clicking. Me-di-tite we showed ‘im right!
Michael lasted through the entire first round with Ringo alone, though when the bird began to tire, he sent him back at once. He rotated the remaining members of his team, and pulled through with a double victory, earning two points for the day. He considered it to be the perfect comeback from last time—and there wasn’t a single pink jacket in sight.
After finishing his battle, Michael met Henry in the lobby. The boys shared their results as they left the Gym, and when they were well out of earshot, began to discuss Lona’s team. They had met with Leroy briefly the previous afternoon, and had come to an agreement that it was better to wait for the Move Tutor’s feedback before catching any new pokémon. So after leaving the Gym, Michael and Henry immediately set off to find him.
Their search led them to a more developed part of Solaceon, where the pastures were cut off in part to make room for a modern-looking neighborhood. Lester Road was a straight, paved path that ran through a community of houses, whose cozy, compact design contrasted sharply with the lavish barn-mansions on the other side of town. The layout of the street slightly reminded Michael of home—the curbs were marked by ledges, the houses had porches and garages, and the mailboxes stood right beside the driveways.
The mailbox numbered 4112 appeared at the edge of a quiet intersection, surrounded by decorative stones. The home itself bore no indicator that a distinguished individual dwelled inside it. The porch was completely clear, with no decorations or furnishings besides a worn-out welcome mat. A tangled broom leaned against the wall.
Michael stepped up to the front door and rang the doorbell. A faint ding ding resonated from within, but no one answered. He tried again, and this time, heard a scuffle.
“Coming!” came a voice.
The doorknob wrenched as it was turned, and a second later, the door flew open, nearly smacking Michael in the face. He stumbled back in surprise, catching Henry by the shoulder, making them both trip down the steps. Michael regained his balance just in time to see a man poke his head through the doorway. Upon seeing the two boys that had nearly been thrown into the street, the fellow winced.
“Ack. Sorry. Mine’s the only door on the block that does this… I’ve been trying to get it fixed, but the repair guys can’t come to take a look at it until next week… Sorry, again.” The man scratched his head, stepping out in full to meet them. His hair was dark brown, slightly ruffled as if from a long day of work. The cuffs of his shirt were rolled up, and a pair of glasses hung askew from the collar.
Michael stepped back to the porch, clearing his throat. “Uh… hey. We’re trainers, and we heard that a guy called the Move Tutor lives here. Do you know him?”
The man smiled. “Ah, right. That would be me, actually.” He proffered his hand. “My name’s Ted. May I have the honor of knowing yours?”
Michael took the man’s hand and shook. “Michael.”
The boy came up from behind. “And I’m Henry!”
“Great,” said Ted. “It’s nice to meet you both. Now, you might as well come in. I’ve been doing some belated spring cleaning, but it shouldn’t be too bad.” He stepped back, opening the door wider to allow them in.
Inside, the house had a cluttered, albeit cozy feel. Upon entering, Michael felt like he had been immersed in the world of a scholar. Bookshelves almost as high as the ceiling lined the walls of the room, some of them full to bursting, others like mouths with missing teeth, their contents piled in boxes on the floor. The presence of books was overwhelming; Michael noticed them in other places too, like on the windowsill, or beneath a potted plant on the table. Little room was made for the other necessities of life, and it seemed that some furniture had been almost grudgingly accommodated. A TV set was sandwiched in between two shelves, awkwardly blocking the bottom half of a window, and a lone armchair stood in the corner, accompanied by a small table that also bore its share of the burden. It was a subtle, yet striking image—clearly the house had only one occupant.
Michael and Henry stood at the center of the main room, observing the mess around them with wonder. It was an artistic sort of mess, the kind that betrayed inspiration rather than carelessness. At the presence of his new guests, however, Ted seemed in even more of a rush to clean things up. He scampered around the room, pushing aside boxes and moving stacks of books from one surface to another. It didn’t help in the slightest, but from the simple show of effort, Ted seemed satisfied. He wiped his brow and sighed. “Sorry about this, again,” he said. “I’ve been reorganizing my library. I have a lot of old books I don’t need anymore, and they were taking up the shelf space I need for my new ones. Normally, I hate throwing out books, but there’s only so much a house can hold…” He began to laugh, shifting his gaze from Michael to Henry. But when he saw that neither of them reciprocated, he grew serious once more and cleared his throat. “Anyways. You’re here because you want me to teach your pokémon a move, right?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah. And we also want to know how the whole move thing works. Like, can we learn to teach our pokémon moves by ourselves?”
“And is it allowed?” Henry piped up. “Because, you know. If it’s not…” He fell silent before he could finish. Ted, however, seemed to catch on to his train of thought.
“Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “I know what you’re thinking about, but trust me, this is perfectly legal. The League can’t prohibit pokémon moves. It would be a self-contradiction, really, since the whole point of training pokémon is to help them get more powerful. If the League really wanted to, I guess it could enact a rule saying that you can’t teach any outrageous, one-hit-knockout attacks to substitute for the effort of training a weak pokémon, but it would be completely pointless. Few pokémon can learn those types of moves, and to do that, they’d already have to be powerful far beyond an average kid’s training capabilities.” Ted crossed his arms, eyeing the boys matter-of-factly. “So if you were looking for me to teach Horn Drill to your Goldeen, then I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you.”
“It’s all right,” Michael said. “We just want to know if any of our pokémon can learn Psychic or Flying moves.”
Ted nodded, rubbing his chin. “That’s fair enough. Psychic and Flying are pretty versatile move types, since you don’t always have to be a Psychic or Flying pokémon to use them. So we shouldn’t have a problem.” He pulled a stool over to one of the full bookshelves, and stepped up to the topmost row of volumes. He ran his finger down the spines, murmuring. “Give me a second to find the manual I need,” he said back to the boys. “For now, can you release the pokémon you want to teach? I’d like to take a look at them too.”
While Ted searched through the shelves, Michael and Henry took out their pokéballs and released their teams. The pokémon popped into the room one after another, slowly filling it with noise and chatter. They climbed over books, greeting each other with grunts and squeals. Ringo emerged from his pokéball with a screech, perching himself atop the TV set and beating his wings. In response, Starly fluttered over to the table and began to hop around, as if trying to find a higher surface to perch upon.
By chance, Michael’s eyes landed on Burmy, who was lying still on the floor. The cloak of leaves that covered his tiny body began to shrivel, each one melting away its shape and pooling into a smooth outer coating. The green color faded away, bringing forth a startling hue—a bright pink.
Ted, who had turned away from the shelf at that moment with two books in his hands, saw the pokémon and smiled. “Ah. You have a Burmy. Wonderful little creatures. I happen to have one too, though she’s already grown into a Wormadam. Their cloaks change in response to their environment. We don’t see much of the pink ones here, as much as we see the leaves and soil. Pink is what they put on when adapting to urban locations.”
“But why pink?” Michael asked, at the same time looking at Henry. The boy was smiling, clearly having seen this transformation before.
“There have been a few guesses,” said Ted. “For one, pink’s not a common color in nature, so I suppose to adapt to non-nature he’d have to select a non-natural color. There’s a lot more I can get into, but I don’t think you’d want to hear it all. You came here to learn moves, not listen to pokémon lectures.” Smiling, Ted sat down on the floor and placed his books beside him. “All righty, let’s take a look at what we have.” He pushed up the sleeves of his shirt and held out his hands to Turtwig, who happened to be nearby. Turtwig willingly approached, and Ted gently cupped his hands around the pokémon’s head. “Hmm. There isn’t much I can do for this one. I can place my bet on defensive Psychic moves like Light Screen, but I assume you want actual attack moves, correct?”
Ted gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Well, like I said, this guy’s options are limited. Psychic attacks require a bit more mental power than defenses, and Turtwig evolutions don’t have the kind that’s needed. Same for Flying, but it’s pretty obvious why. Sorry, little fella.” Ted stroked Turtwig’s cheek, and gently turned him away. Michael called Turtwig back into his pokéball.
“What about Machop, then?” Michael said. The pokémon was currently standing on his toes by the window, bouncing on the balls of his feet at the sight of sunlight. Michael took him by the arm and led him over to Ted.
Ted looked at Machop for a moment, then slowly shook his head. “I think it’s going to be the same story for this one. I can give him Meditate, which is what a lot of Fighting Types have the capacity to learn, but all it will do is improve his coordination. You can have him meditate right before a battle, to make sure he keeps his focus.”
Michael snickered at the thought of his Machop meditating. Nevertheless, the idea sounded good to him. He let go of Machop’s wrist and nudged him forward. “Done deal,” he said.
“All right. Just have him stand over there.” Ted pointed to the armchair. “Next?”
As Machop ambled over to the other side of the room, Michael picked up Goldeen and placed her before Ted. Instantly, the Move Tutor’s face lit up. “Ah, that’s much better. I can teach Goldeen Psybeam, which is an excellent offensive move, and Peck as well, since the species has hardened skin around the lips.”
Michael smiled in relief. “Great.”
Ted brought Goldeen over to where Machop was and lowered her into the armchair. Then his gaze swept across the room, and landed on Starly and Ringo, who were squabbling noisily atop the TV set, rattling the antennae with their wings. Ted ran over to break them apart. “Settle down, you two, settle down.” He slid both hands under the birds’ feet and caught them from beneath, transferring their weight to his arms. “Now these two can obviously learn more Flying moves,” said Ted, “But you’ll have to tell me which ones they already know so I’ll have something to work off of.”
“That’s easy,” said Henry. “Starly knows Peck, Wing Attack, and Brave Bird.”
Michael thought for a moment. “Ringo knows Peck and Scratch… and he can chatter.” He looked at the bird, who clucked his beak in reply. “Ringo chatter! Bingo platter!”
Ted chuckled. He sat down again, keeping both arms upheld to support their passengers. “I think I know just the move for these two: Aerial Ace. It’s a simple technique, but it’s highly useful.” Using his feet, Ted slid himself over to the books he had set aside. Looking closer, Michael saw that they were manuals of some sort, one titled for Psychic moves and the other for Flying.
“Could you give me a hand with these?” said Ted. “Open up the Flying book to the section for Aerial Ace. It should be somewhere in the beginning.”
Michael lifted the Flying book and skimmed through the pages. Each move was discussed in its own chapter, which contained a section of tedious theoretical explanations, and a section with pictures. The diagrams were something that Michael would expect to see in a martial arts book—they depicted bird pokémon performing several stages of the maneuver, a fully broken-down version of the technique that often stretched for more than a page. When he reached the chapter titled ‘Aerial Ace’, he lowered the book in front of Ted.
“Thanks.” Ted lowered his left arm to turn the pages, and in response, Starly retreated higher up his shoulder. “All right. Aerial Ace. I’ve taught this move hundreds of times before, so it won’t take me long to do it for your pokémon. But I’ll need one valuable thing from you first—cooperation. I’m going to give you a system of exercises for your pokémon to practice, and I’ll need you to stick to it for as long as I say, okay?”
“Wait a minute,” Michael said. “So we’re going to do the tutoring?”
“No, no, not at all,” Ted replied. “I’m going to show you and your pokémon the technique right here, we’ll practice it a couple times, but for the next day or so you’ll have to keep practicing with them on your own. Then, once your pokémon can perform the move sequence described by the diagrams on their own, come back and I’ll give them the final boost they need to start using the move. The whole concept behind move tutoring is that every pokémon has a set of physical capabilities, paired with a set of mental scenarios that tell it how to use them. And to teach a new attack, all we have to do is show the pokémon a different scenario, meaning a different way to use their powers.”
It took a moment for Ted’s explanation to sink in, but Michael nevertheless understood. He gave Ted an affirmative nod, and Henry mimicked the motion. Ted smiled. “Great. Then we’re all set to go. As for you two…” Looking up at the bird pokemon on his shoulders, Ted stood up and brushed them away, letting them off into the air. Henry lifted his Burmy and brought him over to Ted.
“What about him?” Henry held out the pink cotton ball, and the pokémon inside wiggled its feet, trying to find the ground. Ted pursed his lips in an expression of pity.
“Sorry, but you’re a bit too early for this guy… he won’t start learning Psychic moves until he evolves. For now, he’s limited to Bug moves, and some Normal ones.” Ted lifted his finger to touch the Burmy’s pink cloak, pressing softly to test its firmness. The Burmy continued to fidget, trying to pull itself back into its shell. “Has he learned Protect yet?”
Henry lowered the pokémon to look at Ted. “Huh?”
“Has your Burmy ever tried to pull itself into its shell when in a battle?”
Henry thought for a bit, then nodded. “I think so… I mean, he likes to stay inside of his cloak a lot, and when he’s in battle he sometimes tries to hide again. But when he gets knocked around by his opponent a lot, he ends up coming out.”
“Hmm. That could mean that your Burmy is trying to learn the move, but hasn’t developed its focus enough yet. I’ll tell you what—I’ll teach it to him. Protect’s a really useful move. You’ll thank me later.”
Henry nodded, and went to put Burmy back into the pokéball. Ted examined the rest of the boys’ pokémon, and told them what moves each of them could know. To no one’s surprise, Pachirisu and Caterpie weren’t good for much, but Clefable (which surprised Michael even less) had a wide range of opportunities. Henry finally settled on the combination of Psychic and Calm Mind, which Ted promised would maximize the power of all non-contact moves, including Gravity. Michael decided on Aerial Ace for Ringo, and Psybeam and Peck for Goldeen.
Ted wrote down their requests on a loose sheet of paper and retreated further into the house, where Michael could hear him rummaging, opening and closing doors. He came back about a minute later, clapping his hands together. “All right. Follow me, and I’ll show you to the workroom.” He beckoned, and the boys followed, pulling their remaining pokémon after them. Michael grabbed Goldeen with one arm and extended the other to make a perch for Ringo. Henry was similarly accessorized, with Starly on his shoulder and Burmy wrapped in his arms. Only Clefable was able to walk soberly between the boys, while Starly and Ringo kept shooting threatening glares at each other.
Ted’s workroom was an almost identical backdrop of pale walls, bookshelves, and a wooden floor. The clutter lessened here, however, and more space was made for two long tables at the very center of the room.
Ted came around to the tables and set down his books. “If I may ask why do you want such a narrow move pool? Most trainers who come in here just want whatever powerful moves their pokémon can grasp.”
“We…” Henry began, but in the middle, he trailed off. He looked to Michael for help.
“We just wanted to improve our versatility,” Michael said. “For future Gyms, you know.”
Ted lifted his chin in acknowledgment. “Ah. Are you still in this town’s Gym, or did you finish it already?”
“No, we’re still doing it.”
“And how is it?”
Michael spent a few seconds searching for the right words. “The Gym leader is… difficult.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that,” Ted replied. “A lot of the trainers I see have said the same thing, actually. But I’m sure whatever they’re doing is for your own good. A little challenge now and then is a natural part of life. It makes you a better person, in the end...” Still holding Starly’s tiny feet with his fingers, Ted placed his other hand on the bird’s neck and squeezed gently, rubbing the feathers. The bird quit its fidgeting, and relaxed against his grip. “There. Now, we’ll guide this fellow through the move sequence to familiarize him with it. You pay attention too, because you’ll have to memorize it.”
Looking away from the book, Ted grasped the bird’s limbs and began to move them, as if he were fixing a toy. He held the Starly’s wings over its head, then bent them down, and simultaneously pushed its neck forward, so the bird looked like it was about to dive beak-first from the sky. Ted kept a slow, methodic pace in his work, but even so, Michael could barely follow the motions of his hands and fingers. It was as if Starly was moving by himself.
When Ted finished the sequence, he brought Starly back to the starting position and did it again. “Be sure you do this three times a day, morning, afternoon, and evening,” he said. “You really have to make sure your pokémon remembers everything properly. If you ever need help, just drop by. I’m free for most of the day.”
Henry nodded. “Okay.”
When he finished with Starly, Ted let the bird go, and stroked its neck. He handed him over to Henry, then extended his arm out towards Ringo. “All righty. Time for Chatot.”
Ringo ruffled his feathers and backed away, shaking his head. But Michael brought him forward, sliding him off his shoulder and onto the table. “Stay, Ringo,” he ordered.
Ted placed both hands over Ringo’s wings to steady him. The bird began to shake itself, trying to wrench free of his grip. “Stop it don’t kill me! Ringo doesn’t want to learn! No-no!”
Keeping his grip steady, Ted performed the first round slowly, just as he had done for Starly. But while the small bird had been like a limp puppet in Ted’s hands, Ringo was more like a frightened child being forced to swim. He gave high-pitched screams in response to the most basic actions, such as lifting a wing, and often verbalized his suffering as he tried to evade Ted’s fingers.
Instead of becoming annoyed, Ted began to improvise, often giving the bird a light shake to calm him down. By the time he began the second round, a smile was growing on Ted’s face, and on Ringo’s a grudging submission. When Ted finished with him, he let Ringo stumble from the table on his own and flap back to Michael’s shoulder, angrily clicking his beak. If there was anything that bird wanted right then, Michael guessed, it would have been a large pebble.
Now finished with Flying, Ted closed the book and opened the Psychic one. Interestingly, the exercises for Psybeam and Psychic had a physical basis just like Aerial Ace, and for each of their pokémon, Ted knew exactly what to do. By the end of their session, move tutoring seemed like a craft to Michael, just as much as painting or writing. Ted seemed so absorbed and attentive in his task that he stopped talking to the boys altogether, instead murmuring a bit to the pokémon and himself. ‘That’s it… right there.” Michael became convinced that nothing he or Henry could do on their own would ever match this man’s skill. But he memorized each sequence as best as he could, knowing that trying was better than doing nothing.
By the time Ted was done, almost two hours had gone by. After finishing with Clefable, he breathed a sigh and stacked up the books, placing them back on the shelf. He did not immediately kick them out after finishing, however. In a surprising gesture of hospitality, Ted made tea for the boys, and after they had sent back all their pokémon, the three of them sat together at the kitchen table, plucking crackers from a center bowl.
“So how are you liking the town so far?” said Ted, taking a sip of his tea. “Trainers seem to either love it or hate it, from what I’ve seen.”
“We like it,” Henry said. “It’s just that the Gym sometimes distracts us and gets us overworked.”
Ted chuckled. “You’re too young to be overworked. I know the League’s tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it easy every so often.”
“That’s not what the Gym leader thinks…” Henry mused, glumly looking down at his plate. “She has this strict schedule that everyone has to follow.”
“Well, then follow her schedule. But don’t think too hard on it. This Gym is just one of many, and you can certainly expect to meet far bigger challenges down the road. Think of it as a test. In fact, that’s all it is.”
Michael sat silent for most of the time, teetering from half-relaxed to alert. He wanted to leave before Ted asked them too much, or before Henry accidentally let something slip, but at the same time he did not want to appear rude. But time eventually proved him wrong—Ted seemed only interested in basic questions pertaining to their League journey, and their opinions on previous battles.
After a while, Michael grew comfortable enough to ask a question that had been tugging at the back of his mind. “So, what do you do besides move tutoring?” he said, looking over to Ted. “Do you run a business or something?”
“No, this is all I do,” Ted replied. “It’s all I want to do, really. Why bother with big money and corporations when you can get by on your own?” He chuckled. “I guess if you’re the ambitious type you’ll want to always go the extra mile, climb the highest mountain. That’s good too. But as I got older I realized that I didn’t fit that sort of lifestyle. It’s something that would have shocked the younger me.”
Michael frowned. Ted, on the whole, didn’t look a day over twenty-five. “What made you want to do move tutoring, then?” he asked.
Ted smiled. “I guess my interest just took hold of me. And when I began to follow it, I saw that it was leading me in the right direction. You’ll understand. Especially when you move on in your education.” At this, Ted looked them both in the eye. “Always keep your education in mind. That’s the most important thing. No matter what path you choose, never stop learning.”
Michael had heard this phrase countless times before, though now, it seemed to take on a higher meaning. More so, it seemed like an invitation to continue talking. He thought for a moment, and the question seemed to spring forth of its own accord.
“… have you ever seen a pokémon differently-colored than normal?” he said.
Ted’s expression clouded. “I might have. What of it?” A second later, he seemed to understand. “Ah. Your Turtwig.”
Michael nodded. “He came like that. When I first got him, I mean. No one could tell me anything about it, but from what I’ve heard, I assume it’s rare or something.”
“It is,” Ted said. “Pokémon are usually very uniform in their coloring, unless the species type varies naturally, like Chatots. I haven’t seen every pokémon in the world—and I’m certain it’s impossible to do in one lifetime—but I have seen ones that defied their species’ natural coloring. I saw a light brown Starly when I lived in Floaroma, and by luck, when I moved here I saw a paler-colored Cherrim. The Starly flew away before I could observe its behavior, but I did get a good look at the Cherrim. On the whole it seemed like a normal Cherrim. It didn’t have any special powers that its normally-colored kin didn’t. I think that the coloring is just a recessive trait, something that might have been present at an earlier time but eventually evolved out of the species.”
At this, a tick went off in Michael’s mind. “So... they could be different?”
Ted shrugged. “Maybe. I guess it’s up to science to find out. Pokémon are very interesting creatures, perhaps even more interesting than us humans. What makes them have such unique, powerful abilities that we don’t? How did they develop? Why is it that by simply repeating a sequence of moves we can get them to command the elements with techniques like Blizzard and Solarbeam? We don’t know… and that’s the beauty of it all.” Ted leaned back in his chair with a smile. “All in all, it’s a field that’s full of surprises. That’s the best way I can put it. Why, just recently, they found that space pokémon… Deoxys, was it?”
“Yep,” Michael said.
“Now that simply astounds me. A pokémon completely alien from Earth, with a body structure completely different from that of any pokémon here. Or maybe it’s similar… whatever it is, I hope that those scientists don’t stop what they’re doing. They could have the answer to everything… right there...” Ted looked up, and his gaze trailed over to the wall behind the boys, lingering somewhere in the empty space. Weak afternoon light filled the kitchen around them, casting a glow on the cupboards and counter, and on the tiny framed pictures that hung on the walls. Seashells. Meadows.
Sitting there in the space that enclosed him, his fingers idly looped through the handle of his teacup, Ted seemed suddenly harmless, almost lonely. He hung in silence for a while, then, as if by accident, he looked down at his watch and gave a jolt. “Whoa. Five o’clock already?” He looked over to the boys. “I guess you two should get going. I can’t keep you here forever.”
Leaving the table as it was, Ted led the boys to the front door, holding it open for them while they gathered their things. As Michael and Henry stepped outside, Ted closed the door a little, poking his head out again. “Remember—practice, and when your pokémon can do the sequence on their own, come back.”
“All right,” Michael replied. He gave Ted a sort of wave, to which he responded with a sheepish thumbs-up, and closed the door.
When the boys got back to the hotel, the sun was beginning to set over the horizon, scattering bands of red and orange light across the sky. Upon nearing the elevators, Michael saw Bertha emerge from a door somewhere in the lobby and enter the hallway. She did not appear to notice either of them. She breezed by at an agitated pace, heels clacking on the carpet. “I’ll Miss Herrida you, you little…”
Before Michael could get her attention, Bertha rounded the corner and disappeared. At the same time, the elevator doors slid open, and he decided that whatever had happened, she would get around to telling them when she was ready. Or perhaps it was better not knowing at all.
When he stepped into their room, Michael was stricken by a sudden lethargy. Their beds were freshly made, and a new sack of pokémon food awaited their attention in the corner. He thought of pouring some out to feed his team now instead of later, but he decided that there were other matters to attend to first. After dropping his backpack by his bed, Michael trudged over to the TV set and flipped it on. The screen came to life in a burst of color and sound.
“—and now coming live from the scene we give you Carlo Tassen, the coach of the winning team—”
Michael turned the dial to change the channel. A football stadium that had just come into view immediately vanished, replaced by a TV show host.
“—next on Prime Time we have an all new episode of The Cool Kids, the last episode till the season finale next week—”
He changed the channel again. A swirl of faces appeared on the screen, a sea of dazzling smiles.
“—wonderful, just wonderful! I never imagined that we would win, but now the Beauty Ribbon seems closer to us than ever!”
Click. Another frame appeared over the preceding one. He had reached Channel 5.
“—and after all the aid and kindness that has been shown to them, I am certain that the people of Eterna will see many brighter days in the future. This has been Mackie Rudolph, live with the evening news.”
The newscaster’s image faded. Michael held his breath. Now, surely, would come the program he had waited weeks to see.
“—and now we bring you the show you’ve all been waiting for… Folks, you can only get it from one place, and that is right here, on Jubilife News 5… get ready…
Michael’s head snapped back, and he gawked at screen in surprise. “What the hell?”
Henry came over to his side. “What?”
“They skipped it! The Space Race is supposed to follow the evening news, and Jukebox always comes after!” Michael slapped his hands against his knees. “They completely cut it from the lineup.”
“So, what does that mean?” the boy asked.
Michael turned to him with a scowl. “It means that the Space Race is gone. They’ll probably never update again.” Not bothering to leave the TV on for one more second, Michael pressed the power button and let the screen go blank. “Dammit, I’m such a ditz…” Michael went over to his backpack and began to take out his stuff, plopping it down onto the bed. “Come on,” he said to Henry. “We might as well go over what we’re going to practice after the battles tomorrow.”
Still seated by the TV, Henry nodded. “Yeah. Right.” His eyes lingered on the blank screen for a moment, then slowly, he got up to join Michael.
The streets were wet in Hearthome City. For that entire day, its inhabitants had been visited by chilly winds and spells of misty rain that showered periodically from the skies above. The streets were jammed as always, but what would normally have been a river of striking, moving color was reduced to a dreary mass of tires and horns, the frames of all the cars dulled to the same depressing hue by the weather. Likewise, the pedestrians were bundled up in coats and rain boots, some carrying umbrellas in anticipation.
In a far-flung part of the downtown area, Nancy Bryan sat in a cramped hotel room, her elbows pressed against the surface of a wooden table. She was holding her latest rejection letter from SNN in both hands, and was entirely immersed in reading it. It had arrived by telegram the previous day, but she hadn’t looked at it in detail since she had sent word to Michael.
The curtains were pulled away from the window, letting in what little light the sky had to offer, illuminating the neat, typed lines. Nancy sat with a slight slouch in her shoulders as she read, mouthing the words as she often did when nothing in her mind was making sense.
“News offices… formal declarations… same goddamn thing every time…” After getting through it, she crumpled up the paper and tossed it into a waste bin in the corner. Nancy had so much experience doing this that she no longer missed; the paper ball bounced off the edge and landed inside. She leaned back in her chair, letting out a sigh that she had been holding in for the entire day. “What the hell do these people want, then?”
Her question had been addressed to the ceiling, but nevertheless, Ned took the liberty of answering for her. “Just keep trying,” he said. “The kid wrote a good article, yeah, but I honestly wasn’t surprised that SNN didn’t take it. They’re not the type of people who do academic stories, even if they connect to something else in the world.” He and Bobby were sitting on the couch, watching her read, and going about their own tasks. Bobby was leafing through the TV guide, and Ned was doing a crossword puzzle. Tom, who was reading a book in the separate armchair, also glanced up at his companions.
In response to Ned’s statement, Nancy smiled. “They’re not the type of people who do crime stories, they’re not the type of people who do stories about films, they’re not the people who do stories about pokémon… then what are they?”
“Not people,” Bobby replied curtly.
Nancy began to laugh. But at the same time, her mood remained bleak and overcast, much like the rainy city outside. Taking a breath, Nancy stood up, smoothening her blouse. “Well, we might as well think about what we’ll be having for dinner,” she said. “I’m sick of going out to those streetside cafés and eating God-knows-what every evening. I’m going to buy us some real food.”
“Works for me,” Tom said.
“Go for it,” said Ned. “But hurry back. It looks like it’ll start pouring soon.”
Nodding, Nancy went to grab her purse, pulling her jacket from the coat hanger on her way to the door. She took the elevator downstairs, and upon stepping out of the building, Nancy felt a brief shudder escape her. Tiny, sparse drops were falling on the sidewalk, the promising beginnings of a downpour. The cars were moving slowly, clogging the streets.
Nancy hurried over to the bus stop, shielding her eyes with her hand as she ran. A low, resonating rumble issued from the clouds. Faint, summery music could be heard over the swoosh of shop doors, as people hurried to get home before the rain came.
The benches at the bus stop all had roofs, so naturally, each one was occupied by at least one person. Being in no mood to stand, Nancy took a seat in the first open spot she saw, beside a pair of legs and a head hidden behind a newspaper. She placed her purse in her lap and waited.
Again, thunder rolled across the sky.
The man beside her—so it was a man, after all—turned a page in acknowledgment. Using her peripherals, Nancy did a quick once-over of her temporary companion. He was a fellow like any other, it seemed. Well-dressed, though still somewhat relaxed. Probably a businessman. Satisfied, she went back to looking at the road.
The man cleared his throat, and a gust of wind rattled the pages of the newspaper, making him lower it a little. Nancy looked again. Glasses. Crew-cut. (Why were crew cuts so popular? she wondered. They were so unflattering.) The man began to tap his foot, and Nancy scooted to the side a little, guessing that maybe he wanted more room. For a brief moment, their eyes locked, then he quickly, almost pointedly, looked away. Nancy drew back internally in affront. At least people smiled back in Jubilife. What happened to that friendliness when it crossed the Coronet border?
Nancy put her arm on the cold bar of the bench and fixed her gaze on the buildings across the street. Several nondescript moments later, she heard another crinkle of paper beside her, and this time the man acknowledged her presence with a nod.
“Terrible weather,” he remarked.
Nancy twirled a string on her purse. “Yep.”
The rain intensified for a moment, then quieted down again. Up above, the sky was thick with storm clouds. Suddenly, it struck Nancy that the man was very oddly dressed for such a day. Nearly all the passerby she saw were bundled up for the rain—she herself had worn rubber boots for all the walking she had to do—and yet this guy was sitting there, no umbrella or raincoat, in a suit for crying out loud, like it was nobody’s problem.
The man looked at her again, probably noticing her stare. He folded a corner and closed the newspaper. “It’s a shame what they print these days,” he said.
Nancy bristled. “Oh.”
“Just a bunch of hullabaloo. Or rather, what they don’t print, I should say.”
“… What do you mean?” she ventured.
The man was silent for a moment, his eyes absently scanning the headlines. “I rarely see a paper that prints something worthwhile nowadays, and on the rare chance that I do, it’s ignored in the editorials and is never built upon by anyone else. For example, did you know that moonstones were first discovered on Earth in 1756? That’s ages before Hoenn’s lunar probe was even built.”
“And?” Nancy said, still not following.
“There is an article here that introduces the topic of moonstones rather nicely, but I’m ashamed that it’s the only one of its kind. In the first place, I’m astounded that pokémon evolution would even interest the contemporary news press, since all I see from day to day is the same prattle on politics and conspiracies. But instead of taking a step in the right direction by publishing it in a respectable manner, the newspaper blatantly plays it down as an unimportant issue, both in placing and in format.” The man paused, and flipped through the pages some more. “Of course, I should not be the one to complain. Pokémon evolution is a field that few people care for. The author does a fair job of summarizing the issue, but even so, the introduction is far too late in the coming. The public today shows an ignorance on the matter, and even worse, a matter that concerns them. It’s a sure sign that the media isn’t doing its proper job. Would you agree?” At this point, the man glanced over to Nancy, and his gaze fell on the pocket of her coat. With a tiny jolt, she realized that the press badge was still clipped there, from when she had visited the Hearthome newspaper office earlier that day. She had completely forgotten about it, but now its glaring presence made her feel strangely exposed. Nancy started to reach for it to pull it off, but it was too late. The man already recognized her.
Slouching her shoulders, Nancy leaned back against the bench, folding her arms over her purse. “There’s not much else to print, now, is there?” she said. “The press prints what the people want to read about. And basically, everything’s covered already. We’ve got the Contest season, the Pokémon League, the Space Race…”
At this, the man smiled. “Yes, those are the three biggest things... It’s a shame.”
“People don’t know the truth about them either. And not just about the Space Race—about the League too. I’m not saying that any one person is at fault, but there is no denying that these days, there’s more speculation than certainty.”
Nancy nodded. “Yeah. I can understand.” But what was there to do about it?
“At any rate,” the man continued, “I don’t think there’s any point for the media to be searching for the truth. The truth loves to hide from us, and oftentimes the theories that show up in the news make things seem worse, or better, than they actually are. Take the League for example. It isn’t all fun and games, contrary to what most people believe. No one’s reformed it in ages, and its rules often cause more problems than they solve. In the eyes of the media, however, it can do no wrong. And Team Galactic…”
Nancy’s heart skipped a beat. She was about to turn around and ask the man what he was about to say, but at that moment, he seemed to realize that the conversation had taken a wrong turn. He settled back into silence, letting the former heat of his argument wash away, like the rain.
Finally, Nancy found her voice. “If you don’t think that the media should be searching for the truth… then what should we be doing?”
It was a long time before the man replied. He rolled up the newspaper into a tube and rose from his seat, straightening the edges of his jacket. “Know it when you see it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s right there, out in the open, where you’re least likely to look.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked out at the street. For a moment, his silhouette stood sharply against the bleak backdrop of the city. Then, he stepped away from her and set off down the sidewalk. Nancy watched him go, picking up his pace as he vanished into the flock of moving people, as if he had never been there at all.