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Stunky has a proper home now... good for him (her?) and the boys will certainly look a lot less suspicious without the cage now. Then again, it's spent a good amount of time inside that cage, so it will be interesting to see how quickly it adapts to life inside a Pokeball. I figure Stunky made it back by day's end, as there wasn't any big scene about it disappearing
Probably the most interesting part was seeing how Move Tutors perform their craft. It's actually quite a long and involved process with vast knowledge - and effort on the part of the trainer - needed to complete the process of teaching new moves. And to think that these skilled tradesmen would eventually see their role diminished by TMs... but I guess it makes things simpler (and no doubt the TMs were created using research and with input from the Move Tutors of the past).
Fortunately (though I kinda wanted to see sparks fly and/or Henry buckle under the pressure) both boys dodged Hurricane Lona this time, although...
Interesting talk from the mystery man at the bus stop... irony is, what he said could equally apply to the news media today, if not more so. Of course, the Big Three of media today seems to be Politics, Sports, and Celebrities xD
The Stunky is male, but sometimes I refer to him as 'it' (as in 'the pokemon', 'the Stunky', etc.) for stylistic reasons. And don't worry, he hasn't disappeared. He's just wandering around Solaceon for now, but he'll come back at a very important moment.
And yes, not everyone can escape the wrath of Lona Walker. I don't think I'll be able to show Henry in a battle with her anytime soon, though. It was pure (bad) luck that Michael got her on his first day, since there are dozens of referees for one wing of the Gym alone. But they still have their exclusive battle with her to look forward to... or not, depending on how you look at it. xP
Thanks for the review!
Hey everyone. With the posting of this chapter, I have an announcement to make: I will be gone from June 22nd to around the 17th of July. That means Roots will have to be put on a brief hiatus (though this chapter took longer than that to get here :x) and likewise, my internet activity will be zero. I figured it would be a bit of a low blow if I didn't post till I came back, because you waited long enough for this one. I'll be here to respond to any reviews up to the 22nd, but after that, I can't guarantee I'll be able to make it online too often, if at all. So if I don't respond to you around then, don't think I'm ignoring you. xP
Goodbye for now, and I'll bring back lots of new chapters and plot developments!
“Chimchar, use Flamethrower!”
A small, monkey-like pokémon let out a screech as it hopped from one foot to another. Clutching its belly with its hands, it shot a jet of flames from its mouth into the air, where Ringo was flapping madly, trying to evade the attacks.
"Fire! Help! Fire!" the bird was screeching. With every inferno blast he dodged, Ringo grew more and more agitated, till he forgot his plan of attack completely and started flying aimlessly in circles.
Michael stood at the far edge of the battlefield, clenching his fist while he watched the relay. His opponent that day was putting up a good fight—he had lost his Caterpie to the boy’s Staravia, and then had his Goldeen faint right after bringing it down. The boy had sent out his Chimchar to open the second round, and Michael had retaliated with Ringo, but even so he was beginning to feel the strain.
“Ringo, use Peck! Dodge the fire and go!” he shouted.
Ringo continued to circle over the Chimchar’s head, eyes closed reflexively against the blinding fire-flashes. Hearing him, the bird risked a low plunge, baring his claws, and grabbed hold of the tuft of hair on the monkey’s head.
"Ember this!" Ringo began to peck at the Chimchar, making it squeal like a baby. Its reedy arms reached up in an attempt to block the attacks, but Ringo was relentless. Finally, the Chimchar collapsed, letting out a sigh of exhaustion.
“Ver’y good!” came a female voice. Betty, their referee, stepped out of the sidelines, dimples creasing her face as she smiled. “Dan still has one point, and if Michael can catch up th’s last time, then it’ll be a tie! Go!” The lady snapped her fingers, and Michael’s opponent sent back the fainted Chimchar, swapping its pokéball for another.
“I choose you—ENIGMA!”
The pokéball opened to release a flood of white light, and a tiny body took form in the air. At first, Michael thought it would be a Bronzor, but when the light faded, he saw that it was something else entirely— a tiny black thing with a huge white eye, staring ahead with blank passivity like a cartoon drawing. The rest of the creature’s body seemed to be made of wire, and twisted into a circular letter ‘O’ around it.
The pokémon made no sound as it hovered in the air, blinking periodically. Their referee began to giggle.
“Aww, how cute! You ‘ave an Unown!”
Dan smiled. “I went to the Solaceon Ruins in my spare time,” he said, glancing over to Michael. “They’re all over the place there. And they’ve got a cool power too. Watch!” He pointed up at Ringo. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
A blue flare lit up the Unown’s eye from within, and a glowing aura spread around its entire body. There was a brief flash—Michael caught a split second’s glimpse of a band of light whipping out from around the pokémon—and then Ringo was tumbling back through the air like a windblown leaf. Ringo flapped his wings for balance, and settled onto Michael’s head for support, his sharp claws entangling themselves in his hair.
"Yowp! Yow! Ow!"
Michael narrowed his eyes, groaning as Ringo’s wings thumped against the sides of his face. He swatted the bird aside, and Ringo rose back into the air, though it was clear that his ego had taken a blow. As Ringo circled his end of the battlefield, he began to mutter something under his breath which Michael couldn’t fully hear, and was glad that no one else could either. As he looked up at the Unown, a sense of firm conviction arose inside of him. That thing had to fall.
“Ringo, use Peck!” Michael said to the bird. “And claw its eye!”
Ringo flew forward, relishing the prospect of revenge, but just as he was about to grip the Unown with his claws, another light-whip smacked him back, making him fall. Michael gritted his teeth as he watched the bird flutter weakly, slumping into a heap on the ground.
“Get up, Ringo!” he called.
The bird croaked weakly in response. “Ringo in the sky with diamonds…” With that, his head lolled over to the side, tongue drooping. Betty looked at the bird with an expression of pity. “Michael, I think he’s—”
“Yeah, I know,” Michael said. He didn’t want to hear her say ‘fainted’. He returned Ringo to his capsule and went over to his backpack by the side wall. He sat there for a moment, pondering.
The only way I can get that thing is through special attacks. I have to find a way to knock it out of the air so I can stomp it. Seeing no other way to go about it, he placed Ringo’s pokéball back and quickly swept his gaze over the ones that remained. He had marked each capsule with the letter of its pokémon’s name in permanent marker, not wanting to spend $2.95 on a pack of stickers. Now, at least he didn’t have to worry about which pokémon he had placed where. After thinking for a brief period, Michael made his choice — Turtwig.
He came back to the battlefield and released the pokémon without preamble. Once Turtwig had emerged, Michael gave his command — “Turtwig, use Razor Leaf!”
Turtwig, who had long grown accustomed to being sent out into the nick of battle, raised his head to look at the Unown. He spent some time gauging distance and angle, then began to flick his head from side to side, dislodging tiny leaves that whipped like razors through the air. But it was as if an invisible shield blocked the Unown from contact — just before they reached their target, the leaves hit a block in midair and fell against it, like rain against a windshield. They drifted towards the floor, harmless. Michael ordered Turtwig to attack again, but to no avail. The Unown was untouchable.
A state of deep thought overcame him, mixed with a twinge of irritation. Michael stared up at the floating pokemon, rocking on the balls of his feet. Dan, who must have taken it as a gesture of futility, crossed his arms and smiled. “Well? Want to try again?”
Michael pursed his lips. “Why don’t you go? I’m open.” He spread out his arms, indicating the defenseless Turtwig. He knew he wasn’t in the best position to push his luck, but he would rather risk Turtwig taking a couple hits if only to catch a glimpse of what attacks the Unown knew.
Betty looked over to Dan in agreement, tapping her manicured fingernails against the clipboard. “Yeah, why don’t you go ‘head an’ give it a try? Your Un’own hasn’t atack’d yet.”
Dan’s expression clouded. “Fine, but you’re gonna regret it! Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
The black pupil vanished in a neon-blue glow, and Michael heard the clap of expanding air as the band of light lashed out at the Unown’s surroundings. Turtwig was pushed back, though the force that hit him was noticeably weaker, no more than a gust of strong wind at a park. Turtwig righted himself and shook his head, making the leaves on his head wobble.
Michael blinked. That must be all it can do! he realized. It must be good at non-contact moves, and be really bad at physical ones.
As he thought this, a smile crept over his face. The beginnings of a battle plan sketched themselves in his mind. Opening the Turtwig’s pokéball, he called the pokémon back and went to swap him for another.
“Go!” Michael unlocked the new capsule, which released his Machop. After several days of practicing Ted’s meditating exercises, the pokémon had grown calmer and more energetic. He no longer stalled as much in battle, and had a more even temper throughout the day, which Michael considered an improvement in and of itself. As he was released from the capsule, the pokémon landed on all fours on the tumble mats, then straightened to look up at the Unown, whose glittering silhouette hung right about the windows.
“Hey, over here.” Michael snapped his fingers, and Machop turned. “Come here. I need a big favor from you.”
The wide eyes blinked, and Machop put on a childlike expression of interest. He approached Michael, who knelt down so that his face and the pokémon’s were level.
“I need you to be brave for me,” he said. “Can you do that?”
Machop gave an affirmative nod, and Michael smiled. “Good.” He leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper so that no one else could hear him. “Now. You see the Unown up there? That’s your opponent. It’s really tough when it’s up there in the air, so we have to pull it down. All you need to do is jump really high to reach it. It’ll be tough, but you’re the only one who’s got the speed and power to make it work. Just keep going at it and don’t stop no matter how many of those shockwaves it shoots at you. Once you bring it down, it’s yours for playing. Sound like a deal?”
Machop nodded again, putting on a can-do frown of determination. Michael got to his feet and spun the pokémon around to face his opponent. “Go!”
Machop stood still for a couple of seconds, shifting his weight from one leg to another as he pondered over his approach. Then, he broke into a sprint, dashing across the mats and taking a leap into the air. The tip of his outstretched hand came a foot away from reaching the Unown, then Machop fell back down, tumbling towards the wall.
Michael sighed. “Try again!”
Dan grinned. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
Machop prepared to make a second jump. This time he ran to the farthest corner of the room and settled into a runner’s lunge. He rocketed forward, becoming a blue-green blur of motion, and sprang upwards when he reached the middle of the battlefield. The Unown’s shockwave caught him while he was still in the air, and smacked him back as if he had hit a wall. Machop let out a yelp, and crashed down onto the mats. Meanwhile, the Unown retreated higher into the air, till it was almost grazing the ceiling. With a jolt, Michael realized it was afraid.
It has no physical capabilities! That’s why it stays on the defensive. No doubt, the pokémon's body would shatter the minute Machop set his foot down on it. The prospect renewed Michael’s hope. He looked down at the Machop, who was still sitting on the floor, his expression torn somewhere between an angry snarl and a whimper. Exaggerating another sigh, Michael snapped his fingers like a football coach. “Come on, get up. You’re not gonna get anywhere if you sit around. That thing has the strength of a floating cracker. It’s trying to scare you away, but you gotta be tougher than that. I want you to get up, pull it down, and stomp on it like there’s no tomorrow! Hear me?”
Spurred by goading of his trainer, Machop got to his feet, brushing off his knees. Feeling unusually energetic, Michael clapped his hands. “Now get him!”
From across the room, Dan’s frown lines deepened. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
Letting out a strange screeching sound, the Unown reluctantly lowered itself, till it was back to its former height. Machop lunged forward without a moment’s hesitation, but this time he did not stop midway for a jump—he kept going until he reached the wall, then he made a jump, pushing off the vertical surface to propel himself into the air. Machop’s outstretched hands grabbed the Unown’s outer ring like a steering wheel, carrying it down to the floor.
“Now stomp!” Michael said.
Teeth bared in an angry snarl, Machop raised his foot and smashed it against the Unown’s frame. The pokémon let out a metallic screech as its wiring snapped like a twig, its single black pupil spinning frantically in its socket. The eye immediately drifted closed.
Dan’s mouth dropped open. “What?! That’s impossible!” He looked over to Michael with utter disbelief, who responded with a wink.
“Never begin a battle with a special attack.” A sneer spread over Michael’s face, but it froze when he realized whose words he was echoing. A chill crept down his spine.
Machop gathered the fragmented remains of the Unown and handed them over to Dan with a smug smile. The trainer looked crestfallen.
“Wow, that was quite a finish!” said their referee. “Michael and Dan are now tied with one point each. Great work, fellas!”
“But what about my Unown? What am I supposed to do with it?” said Dan, looking down at the splintered mess in his arms.
Betty tilted her head to the side. “Oh, don’t wor’y. It doesn’t hurt them when their bodies break like that. As a matter of fact, they can be pieced back togeth’r. Just visit the Pokémon Center and they’ll show you what to do.” She marked down the battle’s results, then looked up at Dan again. “Though I would advise against using them in battle. They’r mighty cute, but they don’t fare well against Fighting moves, as you’ve seen.”
Dan grumbled. He and Michael packed their things and left the battle room. Even as he reached the lobby, Michael was unable to shake away his stupor at what had happened. Unconsciously, he had used Lona’s advice. And it had worked.
He exchanged a parting nod with Dan, then watched the boy scurry out of the building in the direction of the Pokémon Center. Looking around, Michael didn’t see Henry anywhere among the crowd, so he found a place to stand over to the side and dropped his backpack.
A minute later, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a voice rose out from behind him. “Hey.”
Michael turned. Rick had approached from the hallway door, the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Michael smiled. “Hey. How goes it?”
“Pretty good.” Rick shrugged. “I saw you walk out and I decided to catch up with you. You didn’t have Lona again, did you?”
Michael snorted. “Thankfully not.”
“Oh. ‘Cause I saw her go into one of the rooms in our hallway earlier th’s morning. She must be refereeing for the left wing of the Gym this week.”
“But there must be only a one-in-fifty chance of getting her,” Michael said. “With all those rooms to choose from.”
Rick shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I’ve had her five times, once on two consecut’ve days. I’m pretty sure she gets to pick who she wants. And we both know that I’m the one she likes to yell at.”
Michael chuckled. “Can’t argue with that. So how did your battle go?”
“Pretty good,” Rick replied. “My partner used all dual-types, so we actually had a normal battle, for once. You know, with special moves.”
“It was all right,” Michael said. “I won.”
With nothing else to say between them, the boys sank into silence, tuning back into the noise of the lobby. Rick lowered his duffel bag beside Michael’s and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. At that moment, the door to the left hallway swung open, and Lona Walker emerged, her feet gliding gracefully over the wooden floor. Michael followed her with his gaze as she approached the front desk and leaned over to exchange a word with one of her attendants. While her back was turned, he took a moment to study her—annoyingly perfect posture, skirt below the knees, prim shoes… and jacket. It was the color of wilting roses, of Contest ribbons, of faded pastel sketches. Michael hated the hue from the bottom of his heart, but he couldn’t stop looking at it, and stood helpless as it burned into his skull. Only when Lona turned around did he finally snap out of his trance, dropping his gaze to the floor to pretend that he had not noticed her.
The Gym leader stalked back over to the door, and cast a brief, sharp glance in their direction before she disappeared. Michael heard a grumble beside him.
“She thinks she’s so cool…” said Rick. He had also lowered his head when Lona had passed, and now looked up with a shadow cast over his face. “Walks around like she’s queen of the world. I wish someone would put her in her place, for once.”
Michael made a hmh of agreement, but did not respond.
“…and if that someone’s gotta be me, then I’ll do it.” Rick straightened, smoothing the edges of his shirt. “I’ll talk to you later, Michael. I gotta make a run to the PokéMart ‘cause I ordered some pokéball seals.”
“All right,” Michael said, and lifted his hand. “Easy, man.”
“Yeah. You too.” Rick waved his hand in return, and went off.
Before Michael could drift back into his thoughts, he heard the door slam again and turned to see Henry approach him, looking tired, but upbeat. Henry stepped over to him, smiling. “Hey Michael.” His gaze trailed over to the double doors, where Rick had left moments ago. “Who was that?”
“Just a kid I met,” Michael said.
Henry tapped his chin. “I think I’ve seen him before… he was one of the kids who went into my hallway the other day.”
“Yeah, he’s been here for a while,” Michael said. “Lona’s been holding him back. He’s been here for four whole weeks and he still hasn’t been moved up to the staff rank.”
Henry’s face fell. “Oh. That’s too bad… but I guess Lona has a reason for it. She has to, doesn’t she?”
Michael let out a laugh. “Yeah, you’re saying that now. But what if the same thing happens to us?”
“I don’t think it will,” Henry said, with an odd, quiet certainty in his voice. “I mean, I’ve never had Lona as my referee before, but she doesn’t sound like she wants to keep us down. She probably wants us to learn something. And I have. You know, my referees have shown me a lot of cool stuff that I never knew about battling before. So…” He finished with a shrug.
Michael rolled his eyes jokingly, but let the subject drop. They left the Gym together, and as they stepped outside, Michael instinctively turned left away from the direction of the hotel. Henry stopped him midway. “Wait, where are you going?”
“We have to see Ted, don’t we? It’s been three days. We’ve been practicing just like he said, and I don’t know about you, but my pokémon have learned the move sequences front and back.”
Henry giggled. “Yeah. Mine too.”
“So let’s go then.”
With that, they set off for the town’s suburban area.
After their first meeting with the Move Tutor, both of them had diligently gone about learning the prescribed techniques with their pokémon. Their stay in Solaceon soon grew to resemble a session of boot camp, as each morning, they went to the Gym for their battles, then returned immediately to the hotel’s patio area to practice the move sequences. Michael and Henry isolated a shady patch of grass as their favorite spot, where Golden, Machop, Ringo, Starly, Burmy, and Clefable would follow along with their trainers’ instructions like a yoga group.
Michael had jotted down the steps on a piece of paper, and whenever one of his pokémon forgot something, he would step in to remind them, often resorting to doing a bad imitation of the move himself. (Thankfully for him, few were around to see.) In the span of those days, Michael spent more time with his pokémon than in all the years of his life put together. And, unsuspectingly, he was enjoying it.
The only member of their collective party that did not accompany them in their day-to-day excursions was the Stunky. After Henry had released it, Michael had seen it only a spare few times around town. He always recognized it, for it was one of the few Stunkies in their part of Solaceon, and always lurked around the same areas—the Gym, the streets around the hotel, and the diner that had likely become its favorite source of food. On occasion, Michael would look up from whatever he was doing and see a pair of yellow eyes blink out at him from behind a fence, or a purple tail frisk back and forth beside a bush. A part of him didn’t understand why the Stunky didn’t just cut and run for the hills; clearly, captivity had never been to its liking, and here it had all the freedom its little Stunky heart could ever want. But for whatever reason, it chose to stay. He didn’t concern himself overmuch with it, and let the Stunky-sightings become a simply part of a routine day.
They arrived at the Move Tutor’s house in a matter of minutes. Ted opened the door for them at the right moment this time, pushing it out slowly before peeking out from behind it. “Ah, welcome,” he said, smiling when he saw the boys. “Come on in. You’ll be happy to see that I’ve done a lot of cleaning since you two were here.”
Michael stepped inside the house, and saw that it was indeed in a better state than before. A large portion of the mess in Ted’s library had been cleared. Many of the boxes that had littered the floor were gone, and the books they contained had now found a home on the shelves. The curtains were pulled open behind the TV, letting dusty sunlight sift into the room.
Ted had cleaned himself up as well, and looked more vibrant than usual. His hair was combed, and he had substituted his jeans for nicer-looking pants. His glasses were perched squarely on his nose, the frames twinkling in the light. He closed the door behind the boys and led them towards the workroom. “Come on back and send out your pokémon. I want to see how you’ve been practicing.”
Michael and Henry sent out their pokémon and made their way to the back room, where they all gathered around the table. Ted brought out the same move manuals as before to look off of for reference. The first pokémon to go was Clefable. Henry lifted her onto the table and rubbed the tuft of fur at the top of her head. “Let’s show them what you learned,” he said. “Use Psychic!”
Clefable closed her eyes, as she had a habit of doing to focus her thoughts. Her move sequence was more of a strength exercise, in which she would be given a pebble or small object, and would have to lift it using only her mental energy. Ted had given her a series of stretches to help relax her body, similar to Machop’s meditation. Over the days the boys had been practicing, she had graduated from pebbles to pencils, and other medium-size objects. But for a rather challenging touch, Ted placed the Psychic manual in front of her and smiled. “Let’s see how she does with this one.”
Clefable closed her eyes, wrinkling her tiny nose, creases forming along her brow line. The book wobbled from its place, and rose a few inches into the air.
“Wonderful,” said Ted. “I’d say a few more days of practice, and she’ll be able to penetrate another pokémon’s mind.”
“How will I know for sure?” asked Henry.
“You’ll have to test her out in battle. But I think when she’s able to hold a book in the air for at least thirty seconds, she’ll be ready.”
Ted looked back at Clefable, who was struggling to keep the manual aloft. The book began to spin as her concentration wavered, and plopped down onto the table. Clefable let out a breath of exhaustion, and shook her head to clear it. Henry lifted her from the table and brought up Burmy, who quickly fled into his pink-coated shell. Ted tapped the shell with a pencil, and to Michael’s surprise, it produced a light metallic sound.
“Hear that? That means he’s hardening it. And by a fair amount, actually, considering the short time span you had. Good work.” He handed the pokémon back to Henry.
Next came Starly and Ringo. Both birds had made advancements, thanks to an insatiable urge to test out their new skills on each other. Whenever they were sent out, Michael and Henry’s practice sessions in the courtyard would be filled with bickering and squabbling, as each bird would try to one-up the other by displaying a fragmented series of air-slices or wing maneuvers. This time, the boys sent them out separately, so each bird could demonstrate its skill without the temptation of its nemesis. (Though Ringo still turned around in place, scanning the room with a suspicious gaze.)
Last to go was Machop. His technique was by far the simplest. When Michael set him down on the table, the pokémon settled into the same meditative pose he had assumed on the battlefield. He closed his eyes and placed his hands on his knees, becoming as still as a statue. Ted nodded, visibly impressed.
“This fella’s really making progress.”
Michael gave a half-smile. “You should’ve seen him when we battled the Gym in Oreburgh. He was insane.”
“How is he in battle now?” asked Ted. “Is he more focused?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
Henry, who stood beside Michael with his arms crossed, cracked a smile. “Heh. I guess that’s why they call it pokémon training. It’s like we help them do things they can’t do on their own.”
Ted’s eyes lit up. “Exactly. That’s exactly what pokémon training is. We help our pokémon achieve a higher state of being by getting them to realize the full potential of their powers. And they help us too, in a different way.”
Michael turned up the corners of his mouth in amusement. He reached out towards Machop and snapped his fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
I wonder where they’d all be without me, he thought. If he hadn’t left home, then he would have never gotten any of his current team members, save for Turtwig. Machop would likely still be frolicking in the meadow by Oreburgh City, Ringo would be dropping nuts on passerby trainers’ heads, and Goldeen and Caterpie would still be with their former owners. But by some stroke of fate, he had come along and assembled them into a single unit. And for better or worse, they were here to stay.
There was no tea this time, but after they finished, Ted led the boys back into the living room and let them hang around while he continued to sort through the books. As their conversation wore on, he eventually began to hand the boys books and they automatically phased into helping him. And thus, Michael spent his afternoon shelving books in a home library, of all places.
The box Ted gave him was full of encyclopedias—or rather, volumes of an encyclopedia that he was trying to sort into chronological order. As his hand traveled from the box to the shelf, Michael would frequently pause to look through the books. They were about pokémon anatomy, a subject that both grossed him out and fascinated him. Each volume was roughly two inches thick, and was filled with pictures of skeletal cross-sections and organ structures. The text was set in an old-style font that was smudged in some places, where Ted had scribbled notes in pen.
Michael looked aside from time to time to see what Henry was doing. The boy had emptied a small box of books, and had proceeded to a second one that lay beside him. He pulled it open, and from where he was standing, Michael saw that it was filled with thin folders. Each one was bound with brass rings, and had a lengthy title of dates and numbers.
“What are those?” he asked.
“Those would be my journals,” came Ted’s voice from across the room. “I collect articles on all sorts of topics. Most of them are pokémon-related, anyhow.”
As he said this, Henry’s reached into the box and pulled one out. He frowned as he read the title. “Storage System Two.”
Ted came over to where Henry was standing. “Ah. That’s one of my most prized journals. It’s about a new design for the pokéball, actually the latest one that you’re using right now. It was published in 1947.”
“Whoa. How’d you get it?” Henry said.
Ted chuckled. “I got lucky. I lived in Floaroma for a while, and a family in my neighborhood was getting ready to move out, so they had a yard sale. They brought down a bunch of stuff they had up in their attic, and I found this issue, along with a bunch of other ones, in a box they said they never opened. I guess whoever lived in that house before was an avid researcher, or collector. And it must have been a stroke of fate that those journals ended up in the hands of another avid researcher and collector.”
Michael went to stand by Henry’s side as he flipped through the journal, page after page displaying perfectly even columns of tiny, printed text. “Wow…"
“You can read it if you want,” Ted replied. “Just be careful with it."
Michael looked over at the paper’s heading.
Storage System 2 — A proposal for improved capsule design
Michael Borman, Alfonso Helfer, Stephen Adams, et al.
“Hey, that’s it!” said Henry suddenly, jabbing his finger at the list of names. “That’s the guy who invented the modern pokéball! Or, I guess, it was him and his team. Look, Michael. He has the same name as you.”
Michael’s mouth spread into a half-smile. “Yeah, maybe there’s a Henry in there too somewhere. Let’s keep reading.”
Henry turned the cover. The article was nearly ten pages long, and detailed what seemed to be an experiment, followed by a critical analysis and conclusion. As far as Michael could gather, the scientists were testing new capsule designs that were based upon advanced physical concepts, something that clearly had never been done before. A diagram took up nearly an entire page, comparing the designs of the new and old pokéball. The old one was larger and had a snap lock at the center in place of a knob, and on the inside, was an almost unrecognizable mess of tiny valves and widgets. In contrast, the new one had a sleek metal interior, with soldered wires stemming out from the center point like the sun’s rays. Michael tried to read through the article to find out how the two differed in terms of technology, but found so many unintelligible acronyms and jargon that his mind was twisted in circles. Henry seemed equally befuddled.
“Whoever these guys were, they were smart,” said the boy, letting out a breath.
“That’s right,” said Ted. “They use a lot of technical terminology that the layman wouldn’t understand, but this journal wasn’t written for the layman. In a nutshell, what they did was apply the properties of white dwarfs to improve the storing of pokémon.”
“White dwarfs?” Henry looked up at Ted in confusion, and Michael mimicked the motion.
Ted bowed his head. “I’m no astronomy whiz, but I do happen to know that a white dwarf is a type of star. They’re one of the most dense objects in the universe—they have all the mass of a regular star concentrated into a sphere that’s about the size of Earth. If you had one teaspoon of the stuff that a white dwarf is made of, it would weigh tons. Basically, through one method or another, those scientists managed to find a way to make living creatures condense into a small space just like the white dwarfs do, without harming themselves, and without adding unnecessary weight to the capsule.” He spread his arms out wide, chuckling. “I have no idea how they did it. But I’m glad they did. All of the old pokéball models were based on the properties of the ancient ones. They did their job well enough, but they got very heavy after you put the pokémon inside, and you couldn’t reuse them if, say the pokémon broke out.”
“Then how’d the trainers get by?” Michael asked, unable to suppress a laugh.
“Well, there were fewer trainers back then. And those who were trainers were very… ah, dedicated.” Ted smiled.
Henry flipped through the article some more, then slid it into its proper place on the shelf. He shelved the rest of the journals in a matter of minutes, then looked down at the empty box at his feet. “Ted, I’m all done,” he said, lifting it with one hand. “Where should I put this?”
Ted, who was dusting a bookshelf of his own, responded with a grunt. “Just put it up top. I want to clear as much floor space as possible because I have to clean that too… but make sure there’s room first.”
Henry nodded. “Okay.” He pulled over a tall stool and stepped up towards the bookcase with the box in hand. Even on his tiptoes, the boy’s head barely grazed the topmost shelf. He lifted the box with both hands and tried to find a place to put it, but the top of the shelf was so cluttered that every push elicited a chorus of clangs and rustles. After a minute of fruitless probing, Henry lowered the box with a sigh, shaking his head. “My arms hurt,” he said. “I can’t do it.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Here. Give it to me.” He took the box and stepped up onto the stool. Being the taller of the two, Michael could see exactly what was taking up so much space—even here, there was an endless supply of folders, papers, and miscellaneous knickknacks. His eyes swept over the mess in bewilderment. “Ted, you’ve got a lot of stuff up here. Mind if I move some of it?” He lifted a stack of paperclipped documents and started to hand them down to Henry.
“Wait, hold on,” came Ted’s voice from behind. “I’ve got a lot of papers up there, but the ones I don’t need are mixed in with important ones. Do you mind reading out what you get?”
“Sure.” Michael flipped through the stack, peering at the headings one by one. “One’s a subscription form for Science Editor’s Monthly. Then you have a letter from the Chairman of the Pokémon Fan Club…”
“Keep the letter, throw out the subscription form,” Ted said. “That magazine was no good anyway.”
Michael handed down the subscription form to Henry and kept reading. “Then you have a note… hang on.” He paused to look at a small slip of notebook paper that had appeared beneath the letter. The handwriting was tiny and straight, nothing like the slanted scribble that had been in the encyclopedia margins. The note was short and unsigned.
You left this in the Daycare Center the other day. I couldn’t catch up with you in time, but the clerk gave me your address so I could return it. I hope all your papers and bookmarks are still in there; I kept them from falling out as best as I could.
I must say, you have a good taste in books.
Michael looked up at Ted, frowning. “What’s this?”
Ted lowered the washcloth and looked over his shoulder. “What?”
Michael held the paper up, and Ted lifted his glasses to get a better look. When he saw the paper, his face turned the slightest shade of pink. “Oh. That… Yeah, keep it.” He pushed his glasses back on and turned back to the shelf.
“What is it? Who’s it from?” Michael asked.
Ted did not immediately respond, but began to dust at a slightly faster pace than before. “Well… uh, a few days ago, I went to a pokémon daycare center to drop off some books as a donation. Stuff like species diversity, basic training techniques, things I didn’t really need anymore. But I accidentally put an important book into the pile—one I really needed for my projects. I had notes and everything in there, but I had no idea that I put it in the wrong box. And, well, one of the people at the center must have noticed and was nice enough to return it.”
“So if you got the book back, then why are you keeping the note?” Michael said.
Ted shrugged, and the gesture was so sheepish and innocent that, for a moment, it made him seem childlike. He shifted his gaze from Michael to Henry, who were both staring at him in silence, their expressions betraying a growing interest. After a minute, something seemed to give inside of him, and Ted let out a sigh. “Okay, fine. I know who it’s from. But she’s not my—I mean, I don’t know her or anything. She’s just a lady I see around town sometimes.”
A smile tugged at Michael’s lips. “What’s her name?”
“I don’t know… We’ve never talked.”
“What does she look like?” Henry piped up.
Ted shrugged again. “She always has her hair up, so I can’t see much of it... last time I saw her she was wearing a hat, a skirt, a white cardigan, and red heels.” He paused, for a moment appearing shocked that he had remembered so much. Ted scratched his head. “They could have been red. I‘m not sure.” Flustered, he turned back to the bookshelf.
Michael looked down at the note and gave a businesslike nod. “Well, whoever she is, she definitely likes your subject preference. Maybe she’s a resident-move tutor too.” He locked eyes with Henry and perked his eyebrows. The boy suppressed a giggle.
Ted continued to clean as he did before, though he appeared lost in thoughts of his own, only partially aware of the boys’ presence. As he swept the cloth across the spines of his books, he gave a small smile. “Maybe… But no, I don’t think she’s from here. At least, not as far as I can tell. She doesn’t dress like most people in Solaceon. Not that it’s a bad thing…” He fell silent again, this time looking over to the boys almost reluctantly, as if to see whether they had anything else to ask him. When he saw that they were both standing quietly, he smiled. “Ah, don’t worry about me. You’re too young to have to worry about a fool’s life problems. Enjoy youth. Enjoy the chance to be free.”
With that, he stepped down from the stool and turned his attention to a photograph that was framed beside the window. Biting his lip, he began to clean it, wiping off a layer of dust from the glass.
Michael could feel him slipping away again, but felt compelled to speak. “Well, maybe you’ll see her again one day and find out,” he finally said.
But Ted didn’t say anything else. He kept right on polishing, smiling as he did it, that odd lover’s look cast over his face, making it appear vibrant and childlike. When he was done, he swiped his fingers across the surface of the photograph and leaned back to admire it. It was a vase of pink tulips, their petals glimmering with water droplets as if from a spell of summer rain. None of his pictures had people.
When he finished cleaning, Ted stepped down from the stool and tossed the washcloth around his shoulder, whistling in a familiar way. There was a confident flair to his manner, but at the same time a fragility, which hadn’t been so apparent before. To Michael, who had never pondered greatly on such things, the sudden clarity with which he saw this was startling. It was somehow centered around the note he held in his hands. There was something special in that note, something in the way Ted’s gaze trailed off at times, following the free reign of his thoughts.
He was a man at peace with himself, but at the same time he longed for something more, something that he might have been on the cusp of at one point, but never attained. Or perhaps he had lost it a long time ago, like a seashell buried in depths of sand, forever awaiting the return of something that in the end would never come.
Just like Andrew Rowan.
It was only her first week in Solaceon, and already, Bertha Herrida had a schedule.
Morning: Breakfast. Take her pokémon out for a walk, possibly go downtown and visit the pastures. See the herds of grazing pokémon, possibly stop to watch young children scurry about with buckets or piles of hay.
Two o’clock. Check the hotel’s mail room, navigate through hundreds of tiny compartments in search of the one reserved in her name. Answer telegrams, collect support letters (there were few), and immerse herself in the goings-on of the outside world. Have lunch.
Eight o’clock, evening. Conference with Lona Walker.
As Bertha had learned over the days, time was one of the few things Lona hated to lose. She could lose a pen, or an important piece of paper, and quickly retrace her steps to find it. She could lose her temper, close her eyes for a moment, and regain her former calm. But there was no taking back time, and as much as she might have disliked it, she had to play by life’s rules too.
Each Monday and Wednesday evening was set aside especially for petition business, no earlier and no later than the designated time. Each woman knew her role, and by unspoken agreement, set out to follow it. Every meeting, Bertha would arrive right on time, her purse slung over her shoulder, the briefcase clutched in her other hand. She would proceed to Lona’s office in the right hallway, open the door, and find the Gym leader sitting behind her desk, the office glowing with orange light from a lamp that stood in the corner. Sometimes Lona would be drinking tea, and a cup would be set aside on Bertha’s end of the table—an empty formality. Other times, she would just be sitting there, arms resting on the table, eyes fixed squarely ahead as Bertha took her seat.
Their conversations would begin one of two ways. Either Bertha would open her briefcase and take out her files, embarking on a different avenue of argument, or Lona would begin with a question of her own. The latter was usually a prelude to a tedious, angered debate, something that Bertha could only describe as a bull-session.
Today was looking to be like one of those days.
Closing the door to the office, Bertha approached Lona’s desk and sat down. The stale, orange light that pervaded the room was something she could never get used to. One half of the room seemed to blaze, and the other was plunged in thin, slanted shadows. Lona was writing again, as she always seemed to be. Her chair was caught midway between light and darkness, and her arm was moving quickly and methodically over the memo pad that kept her constant companionship. She did not look up as Bertha entered, and allowed the woman to take her seat with silent acknowledgment. Only when Lona had finished her notes and stowed the memo pad away in the drawer did she lift her head and fold her hands in her lap. A smile lifted the corners of her face, and without preamble, she began.
“Tell me, Miss Walker, how is it you are planning to restore the League?”
After many days of such back-and-forth banter, the questions no longer caught Bertha off-guard. She didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not planning on restoring it,” she said. “At least, not yet. My goal is to enable it to restore itself.”
For some reason, Lona seemed to find this funny. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tilted her head to the side. “And what makes you so sure that the other League officials will want to do the same? You have an entire different concept of ‘restoration’ than they do.”
“Oh? And in what way?”
“That is what I plan on examining today. Your petition is attempting to give the League more money. And yes, it’s true that the League wants more money. But it’s for an entirely different reason.”
Bertha lifted her eyebrows. “And that would be?”
“I think you’ve already seen it for yourself,” Lona said. “You’ve been to Hearthome. You’ve seen how everywhere you turn, there’s the pokéball logo, or some other League-sponsored item?”
“You mean the advertising? Sorry to say, but that’s to be expected. The League needs to make money. I won’t deny that some of its methods are questionable—those Game Corners are nothing but scams—but they are the direct result of the League’ s decline.”
Lona shook her head, still keeping a quiet, measured tone. “No. They are the direct cause of it.”
Bertha paused out of surprise, which mixed itself with puzzlement. This seemed to be what Lona was aiming for. The woman smiled, and continued. “The League has an enormous sphere of influence. The Space Program is like a flea in comparison. The League can get anything it wants, even right now, though it may seem like the tables are turned against us.”
“They are,” Bertha said. “You just haven’t realized it. The League is global, yes, but so is the Space Program. It’s growing at a rapid pace, faster than the League has ever grown in history. It might not be as prominent as the League is right now, but it soon will be. You think I don’t know where you’re coming from? I do. I had the exact same frame of mind as you do right now.”
The smile faded from Lona’s face, replaced by a twitch of frustration. “And then? You saw a factory get put up in your backyard and you decided that the whole world had turned upside-down?”
“If you don’t believe me, then why don’t you take a look at these?” Bertha pulled out a stack of papers from her briefcase and slapped them on the table. “I prepared these just for you, Miss Walker. They’re charts that detail the respective incomes of the Sinnoh and Hoenn space programs, compared to those of the League divisions in both countries. If you’ll notice, while one item increases, the other plummets. Granted, I don’t know how the Hoenn League is handling it, but they sure seem to be in a similar situation, don’t you think? The government and the public are paying more attention to the Space Program, and as a result, less money gets to us. You can twist that all you want, but the fact remains the same—less attention means less opportunity for change.”
“And? You want the government to pay one-hundred percent of its attention to us again? It’s impossible!”
“I’m not asking for a hundred,” Bertha said. “I’m asking for at least fifty, even forty for the time being. Like I said before—by all means, I think that the League and the Space Program should coexist. But someone has to put in the effort to make it happen. The government hasn’t. The Space Program hasn’t. So it’s up to us. And if we don’t do anything, then for the next few years, we’ll be sitting in our little Gym offices, counting pennies, watching the buildings crumble around us. For those who have offices, that is.”
“There’s still a flaw in your plan, Miss Herrida! You have the start planned, but you’ve completely ignored the finish!”
Feeling an exhilarated rush, Bertha rose from her seat. “Finish? I’ll tell you what the finish is!” She held out her palms in midair and mimicked an explosion. “Picture for a moment, Miss Walker, that you’re walking in the meadow. Solaceon has lots of pretty meadows. All those hills and trees and grazing pokémon… Now, imagine it cut off by a metal fence, the trees cut down, and a big tall factory be put in its place. That factory pollutes the air. It keeps the whole half of your neighborhood on edge with its constant noise, which lasts through day and night. It turns your town into a pit stop for hundreds of Galactic workers who swarm around their territory, driving their trucks through your streets, and what more—relying on a share of your town’s money to fund security and maintenance. And they call it a partnership. Meanwhile, less money gets to you, the Gym leader, and little by little, you see your funding from the town dwindle. You soon have to rely on the League’s federal funds or pay out of your own pocket. The League might not be a big help, though, because the same exact thing is happening to it, only on a larger scale. And it’s happening because the government allows it to. My goal is to make that stop.”
Lona was silent, and for the entire duration of Bertha’s tirade, sat with one elbow rested on the table’s surface, supporting her chin. Her face was clouded, and she seemed lost in thought.
“Galactic will never come to Solaceon…” she said, almost whispering.
Bertha tilted her head to the side, softening her face into an imitation of her interlocutor. “And if it does?”
“It won’t!” With a sudden burst of anger that seemed to come from nowhere, Lona rose from her seat to look Bertha in the eye. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing? Trying to convince me by drawing a parallel with Eterna? You are wrong! Galactic will never put up a factory here because I won’t allow it, because I know how to wield my power as a Gym leader to ensure the best for my facility and my trainers!”
Bertha’s eyes flashed. “You’re saying I don’t?”
“I’m saying that you have no idea what you’re doing!”
The shout seemed to drain some of Lona’s energy. She clenched her fists in visible frustration, and a second later opened her mouth to say more. But Bertha didn’t need to hear it.
Without a word, she snapped her briefcase shut and turned for the door, leaving Lona by the desk, leaning forward in anticipation of proving a point. But whatever she was about to say was drowned out by the pounding of Bertha’s heels, and her anger soon turned to desperation as she fumbled helplessly for words.
The door to the office swung open, and Lona beckoned for it to stop, flinging out a cry: “Money is dangerous in the League’s hands!”
But it was too late. Bertha had slammed the door.
Hey, sorry for the short review, but at least I got it done before you left!
Ah Ringo... you can even make a mundane practice battle fun
is fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
Holy cow, Pokeball technology is advanced... perhaps an early version of the Space Program helped contribute to this development, because it does have its basis in astronomy, after all.
How cute, Ted's got a crush
Oh man, these Bertha/Lona discussions are turning into shouting matches... and I don't think either side is going to budge. But something tells me that Lona has more knowledge of the League's inner workings than she's revealing...
I am starting to feel that things are dragging a bit because we're still stuck in Solaceon, but all of a sudden some of Lona's statements have been real eye-openers. Perhaps the crew should stay in town just a bit longer, just to see what's going on with Lona and her distrust of the League...
Hey LeSabre! Glad you could make it.
You left me hanging here... was there a typo somewhere? I didn't notice anything.
And here I was worrying that these chapters would seem rushed. But don't worry, every second spent in Solaceon counts. I'm not a fan of filler, so you can rest assured that everything's done on purpose.
Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the chapter. I promise the ones after this will be more than worth the wait. You might even find out who the mystery woman is... and what Lona really thinks about the League.
See you next time!
Wow, I just read 9 chapters and will read some more later. Really interesting how the story goes. Does Rown ever get to the league ? I always n my old ruined and binned fanfics had Oak or Rowan as champion until someone usuallycalled Chaos beats him. LOL. few typos but wow I usually go mental at them but I didnt. Shows the quality. Dunnowhy but always thought of Michael Rowan as Luke Skywalker. LO. IKR mental arent I. Looking forwards to the rest.
Proud owner of *Splash* the Magikarp and Gyarados fan club! Proud writer of Grey's Journey, The Hoenn Dragons and Pokemon Diamond Dead fan fictions. Life, don't talk to me aout life.
Days passed quickly in the countryside, and before Michael knew it, he was well into his second week in Solaceon.
The Gym became his second home of sorts, and he was soon able to memorize the names and faces of most of the staff. He never got Lona as his referee again, though as she had seemed to promise from the start, he never got it off easy. His losses soon balanced out with his wins, and the very sidewalk seemed to grow worn from all the times he ran back and forth from the Pokémon Center. He healed after battle sessions, and after practicing with Henry, so much that healing soon became a tiring ordeal.
Nevertheless, the experience came to his benefit. His chart continued to grow as he amassed data from his battles and Henry’s. Michael began to think ahead of time, and compiled a separate sheet of strategies for each of Lona’s pokémon. In addition, he was able to glean some things about the Gym from listening in on trainers’ conversations. From what he gathered, the staff battles were on an entirely different level than the regular ones. Not only did victories count, but the way they were achieved would also be taken into consideration. Henry often relayed to Michael stories he had heard, though it was hard to separate the bogus from the plausible. Too often the boy would come running to him with his fists gripping his hair, breathlessly sputtering that a rule had been enacted saying that each time your pokémon faints, you lose points. Or, that the staff use pokémon specially bred by the Daycare to possess super strength. Those rumors Michael discarded without much thought, but there were plenty of others that sounded perfectly logical, and caused him more than a slight worry. Was it true that they would only be allowed to switch pokémon three times? Did the staff really keep records of their battling style and pass them on to the next one in line, to see if they could poke holes in the trainer’s strategy?
Such questions bounced around in Michael’s mind for the whole second week. His concentration on the Gym was broken only by the routine practice-sessions with his pokémon, who after their sixth day, finally mastered the moves Ted had taught them. The Move Tutor inspected them one last time, and congratulated the boys on a job well done.
“Well, there’s not much else I can say,” Ted told them. “You boys are good to go.”
After exchanging some brief pleasantries, he went with them to the front door to see them off. As they started to leave, Henry turned back.
“Wait,” he said. “What if we need to teach more moves in the future? Who will we go to?”
Ted shrugged. “I’m sure there are other move tutors out there. You’ll just have to ask around. If you want to do the teaching yourself, I guess there’s no harm in it, since you’ve already seen the basics of what I do. There are plenty of do-it-yourself books out there. Just make sure you get a really detailed one. But keep in mind, I’m only talking stuff like Whirlpool, or Razor Leaf. Don’t bother with the complicated techniques, because you’re likely to get it wrong, and God forbid, get your pokémon to hurt itself or you in the process. If you’re going to try with the books, at least get advice from someone who knows the field.”
Henry nodded. “Gotcha.”
Ted looked over to Michael and inclined his head. “Take care.” His eyes lingered on Michael’s a second longer, then he closed the door.
Michael stood on the doorstep for a few moments, staring at the wood’s glossy finish. Ted’s parting expression had been kind… but also the tiniest bit nervous, as if he still remembered their conversation from all those days ago. Clearly, Ted felt that he had told them too much, and wanted to take back his words. Michael found it amusing, but also felt a slight pity.
As the days of battling continued, Michael put the Move Tutor out of his mind, and devoted his full attention to attaining an advancement. Finally, on June 24th, his efforts paid off.
After concluding yet another battle day and meeting Henry in the lobby, the boys went over to the counter to sign out. The attendant looked over their files and lowered the folders with a smile. “Congratulations,” she said. “You both have been promoted to the staff battles. Miss Walker and her colleagues have assessed your p’rformance and deemed you worthy of moving on.”
The boys exchanged a glance and smiled.
“This means that you have a new schedule to abide by,” the lady continued, handing them each a piece of paper. “Starting t'morrow, you’ll arrive here at 2:00 in the afternoon. During a three-day per'yd, you will face two staff members per day, with a short healing break in between sessions. Your opponents f’r each day will evaluate your p'rformance. Be advised that demotion is possible, so make sure you do as best as you can.” At the end of her recitation, she offered them a wink. “Congrats, boys.”
When they left the building, Michael breathed a sigh of relief. “Finally! No more waking up God-knows-when in the dark and having breakfast at noon… this just made my freaking day.” As he stepped down the stairs, he kissed the paper like an A+ essay and waved it around in the air. (At his school, legend had it that if you did this with the very first test of the year, you would get As on all the others.) Henry giggled and waved his copy as well. Once they had left the Gym’s premises, they folded up the papers and set off down the street.
“Now at least we know we’re doing something right,” said Henry, patting his pocket. “We don’t have to worry about changing our strategy. All we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll be set!
“Man, forget about that stuff—what counts is that it’s almost over! Three more days, then it’s battle with Lona, and then we’re free!” Michael spread out his arms, feeling the breeze, expressing with his every step the relief he felt. The feeling soon caught on to Henry as well, and the boy began to laugh, clutching his stomach.
For the first time in a long while, they had a free day. After healing their pokémon, they stalled in getting back to their room, instead letting their curiosity tug them on an excursion through town. They passed shop windows and open booths, which sold a variety of things from flowers to ice cream. Grocery stores were in abundance, overwhelming almost everything else with a flavorful assortment of fruits and vegetables. The dominant products were milk-derived, to which there seemed to be no shortage.
As they walked down the street, Michael’s eye landed on a small newsstand that stood by the road. It consisted of a large wooden desk with a clerk standing behind it, and on either side of him, racks displaying newspapers on various topics. Many of them were specialized, devoted to subsets of the population who farmed, knitted, or were just looking for a local news source. Most of the big-name papers were also present, among them The Lakefront Eye, and of course, Sinnoh Post. After a bit of searching, Michael’s eye finally landed upon a thin stack of The Hearthome Times. He grabbed the topmost issue and unfurled it, almost unthinkingly, to the Arts and Recreation section. And there it was, printed plain for all to see: “Item Evolution, by Michael Rowan.”
He read through the article a couple times, his smile growing ever wider. The words he had written almost two weeks before now seemed strange and imperfect to him, but for precisely that reason, he had no trouble mistaking them for his own. Some parts even stood out to him as ingenious, and he replayed the words in his mind, enjoying the melody in his former thoughts. Jumping towards the end of the article, he read over the brief paragraph Nancy had written as coverage, introducing him and his subject.
“Michael Rowan, a boy of thirteen, is one of many trainers challenging the Pokémon Gym circuit this year. In his travels, he has remained highly observant — taking note of pokémon and strategies that catch his eye. These and many other experiences have given rise to a new, academic interpretation of pokémon training, which noticeably contrasts with the hotheaded, passionate methods of trainers in the past. By coolly thinking through their moves, and doing their homework before challenging the Gyms, Michael and others of his kind may well play a deciding role in the future of the Pokémon League.”
At the last sentence, Michael felt a chuckle escaped him. Michael Rowan, he thought to himself. The trainer of the future. The title was strangely fitting.
Rolling up the paper, he turned to the salesman, who was waiting for him patiently, and handed over some coins. The man bowed his head in return.
“I am going to keep this until the day I die,” Michael said to Henry as they left the newsstand. “It’s going up on my wall, right over the huge desk I’ll have in my future mansion.”
Henry rolled his eyes jokingly, and Michael waggled his finger in the air. “You’ll see.”
They took the long way back to the hotel, pausing by stores to window-shop. When they arrived at their destination, it was well into lunchtime, which meant that the cafeteria was buzzing with activity—trainers moving about with metal trays, chairs scraping against the floor, and sounds of clattering tools from the kitchen. The boys immediately joined the food line and sat down to eat. While Michael ate peaceably, Henry kept lowering his fork every so often to look around the room, in search of something.
“Where’s Bertha?” he said at last. “She usually comes by here.”
“Probably busy somewhere else. I gotta hand it to her—she really has drive. If I were in her position, I’d just forge Lona’s signature and call it a day.”
Henry searched some more, then went back to eating, clearly unsatisfied. Some minutes later, Michael heard the clang of a tray beside them, followed by a familiar voice: “Hey!”
Michael turned to see that Leroy had come by. He was wearing plain clothes, and his backpack was dutifully handing from his shoulder. Michael nodded at him. “Hey. How’s it going?”
“Pretty good,” Leroy said. “They pushed my shift back into the evening today, so I have time off.”
“What does the Gym do in the evening?”
“Keep records, mostly. Clean up—that sort of stuff. It’s actually pretty cool. With the crowd gone, it’s really calm and quiet. A few kids come in who make appointments, and they get additional battling lessons from the staff.”
At this, Henry looked up. “Hey, that’s cool! I didn’t know the Gym did that.”
Leroy chuckled. “Well, yeah. A lot of people say it’s a pain, but it does do stuff that other Gyms don’t. I’m glad there’s at least one that gives you a little help, ‘cause the League’s not easy. People drop out all the time, I’ve heard, especially in the higher Gyms. I’ve met people who’re on their way back from Pastoria and Sunyshore. It’s not the Gyms themselves that are hard, I think—it’s because of what comes next that most people realize they don’t want to go through it.” With that, he turned down to his tray and began to eat, letting his words trail off into silence.
But Michael had forgotten his hunger for the time being. He kept looking at Leroy, his elbows resting on the table. “And what comes next?”
Leroy paused to meet his gaze. “You don’t know?”
Henry turned to Michael with a similar curious look, though he did more to hide it, since he knew the reason. The boy cleared his throat. “Well, we know the basics of it, right?” he said to Leroy. “When you beat all the Gyms you’re officially qualified for the League Tournament. They do them once every two years, and once you’re qualified, all you have to do is register two months before the next one. There’s a tournament this year, one in 1965… and yeah.”
“Okay but how does this tournament actually work?” Michael asked. “Do you just battle the Elite Four to see if you win?”
Leroy began to laugh. “I’d start reading up on that if I were you,” he said. “Nearly all the trainers I’ve met know it front and back, and they say that it’s nothing like the Gym circuit. For one thing, the Elite Four tournament is when you battle trainers. It’s the League’s way of filtering out the bad competition. Basically, when the tournament rolls around, Sinnoh gets divided into districts, with each Gym being responsible for its own section of the country. So wherever you live, the Gym nearest you is the one you’d go to for the event. They set up a huge arena, and you battle the trainers in your district in a double-knockout tournament. There are five finalists per district, so that makes forty from all over Sinnoh. Once the preliminary rounds are over in all the cities, the finalists go to this special island off the Eastern coast and have another tournament. This time, there’s only one winner. One winner for all of Sinnoh—that’s the one who gets to challenge the Elite Four.”
“What happens if they lose?” Michael asked.
“Then their name just gets put down in the records as ‘Tournament Winner.’ The privilege doesn’t trickle over to the runner-up, if that’s what you mean.” Seeing Michael’s look of puzzlement, Leroy smiled. “Yep. That’s how it is. The good part is that if you lose the tournament, you still have your badges. So you can train up and register again next time. Most people in the finals are typically older, like seventeen or eighteen. They usually spend a few years after the Gyms to prepare for the Elite Four. Come to think of it, I don’t get why they let people as young as nine get badges. A lot of the young kids don’t really know what they’re doing, and they always end up stalling at some point or another because they lose interest or aren’t able to train their teams well enough. I’d put the mark at eleven, at least.”
Henry breathed a sigh of relief.
“They probably do it to push people into getting a new hobby…” Michael murmured.
“It wasn’t like that all the time, though,” Leroy said. “Before Ricky Sheldon, all the Champions before were in their 30s. Some were even older.”
Henry began to count off the tips of his fingers. “It’s true!” he said. “There was Bob Gordon, thirty-three. Then Alexia Chambers, thirty-one, Barry Thornburg thirty-four, Lydia Hodnett, thirty… they were all adults. This nine-years-old rule must be pretty new, then.”
Leroy nodded. “It is. Lona’s staff say it got put into effect around ten years ago. They say that that was when everything changed.”
Michael’s eyes found Leroy again. “Changed?”
“Yeah. The staff know a lot about it, actually. Some of them have been into the League for a long time, and they say that twenty years ago, it was way different. The League wasn’t as widespread as it is now, but it was way harder. The Gyms were like battling clubs that served as training grounds for the tournament; you didn’t have to beat the leader or anything to advance. Badges were more like medals that you’d earn for demonstrating your skills. You could enter competitions without them, but the more you had, the more recognition it gave you. The one that people wanted most of all, of course, was the badge you’d get for beating the Elite Four.” Leroy paused, then as if remembering something, added, “Oh, and back then, the League was its own identity. The government didn’t need to pay for any of its events because it organized them all on its own. But I guess somewhere along the way, the League decided to let the government step in and take charge.” He shrugged.
There was a brief lapse in conversation as Michael absorbed these last few words. They didn’t carry any special meaning to him, but even so, he wondered offhand what they would have meant to Bertha.
After the boys were done eating, they emptied their trays and left the cafeteria. Leroy stuck around as they ventured down the hall, and they stopped by the lobby to form a triangle.
“So what are you guys gonna do today?” Leroy asked. “I don’t have to go to work anytime soon, so we could hang out.”
“How about we practice?” Henry offered.
Michael responded with a scowl. “Pshaw. Practice?” He began to snicker. Leroy joined in with a restrained smile, and Henry’s flushed with irritation.
“I mean it, guys!” he said. “We start staff battles tomorrow, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be held back another week because I lost my first time. Or were you missing the way that Lona yelled at you, Michael?” Henry crossed his arms with a smirk.
Michael’s laughter subsided, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Yeah, I guess you have a point. But let’s make it quick, okay? No four-hour sessions like last week.”
With Henry leading the way, the boys went out to the backyard. Much like in the other hotels, there was ample space for trainers to roam and socialize. Grass and trees dominated the area, with little islands of pavement set aside for picnic tables. Henry stopped at their usual spot by an oak tree, and the three of them set down their stuff. Once his arms were free, Michael swung them around and clapped his hands together.
“So what do you want to do?” he asked Henry. “Practice the moves again? Check counters? Squirt people with Water Gun?”
Henry giggled. “No. I was thinking we could have a battle.”
“A battle?” Michael perked an eyebrow.
“Yes, a battle. Come on, we’ve never battled before. And now that our pokémon are more powerful, we should test them out.”
“I’m cool with that,” said Leroy. “If you guys want, I could be like your referee. I know the staff are pretty big on rules, so I could tell you what you’re allowed to do and whatnot.”
“Sounds good,” Michael said.
Pulling their backpacks along, he and Henry stepped a distance of several feet away from each other. Leroy knelt down in the shade of a nearby tree.
As he took out his first pokéball, Michael looked over to Henry and gave the boy a smirk. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes,” Henry replied, with a returning smile.
“You know I’ll win.”
“Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? Plus we have to check how well our pokémon learned those moves.”
Michael let out a laugh. “Whatever you say…” He twisted open the capsule and sent out his first pokémon. “Go, Turtwig!”
Turwtig emerged from a flash of light, fully healed and without a single cut or bruise on his body. When he saw Henry, the pokémon clicked his jaws.
Henry was kneeling beside his tote bag, one hand grasping the pokéball he had chosen. But upon seeing Turtwig, he dropped the capsule and switched for another one. “Go, Starly!”
The jet of light from the pokéball shot out into the air and materialized into the screeching black bird. Michael pursed his lips, watching Starly flap in circles above them. He looked down at Turtwig and called him back, fetching another capsule. “Go, Ringo!”
The Chatot emerged, his colored wings flashing, and climbed to Starly’s height in the air. Ringo began to hum as he followed the other bird, sensing the chance to attack. Henry’s smile fell into a determined pout. “Starly, return!” The black bird was plucked out of the air, and moments later another capsule burst to release its replacement.
The white squirrel landed in the grass, static crackling around its cheeks, and began to scamper towards its opponent. Michael jumped forward with two pokéballs, releasing two beams of light—one going upward, recalling Ringo, and the other carrying a tiny body into the grass. “Go, Caterpie!”
The Bug pokémon had barely emerged from the capsule before the air was split by the sound of two more: “Go, Clefable!”
Pachirisu vanished like a mirage, swallowed by a burning torrent of light. When it cleared away, Clefable landed in his place, right in front of Caterpie. Michael gritted his teeth. “Go, Machop!”
He thrust forth his last, unopened capsule and was about to unlock it before Leroy’s voice rang above the din: “Guys, stop!”
Michael and Henry turned in unison to their companion. Leroy ran over to them with his arms outstretched. “Guys, you can’t battle like this!”
“Who says I can’t?” Michael said. “He counters, I counter back.”
Leroy sighed, letting his arms plop against his sides. “Yeah, but then you’ll never get to the actual battle. And that’s kind of important too, you know.” He swept his gaze over the mess of pokéballs that littered the battlefield. “Send them back.”
The boys complied, and their pokémon vanished. Leroy put his hands on his hips. “Now give all of them to me. I’ll pick out the ones you’ll use.”
Michael and Henry gathered all the capsules into their arms and dropped them into the shady grass. Leroy mixed them around and picked two at random: “Caterpie and Starly.”
Michael drew back out of reflex. “No!”
“Yes.” Leroy handed Michael the silver pokéball, and Henry his. “Look at it this way—chances are, not all of the staff’s pokémon will be type-weak to yours. You might have to face one that has the advantage. They take note of every time you switch battlers, and if they see you do it too much, it gets counted against you.” Leroy leaned back against the trunk of the tree and crossed his arms with a smirk. “I’m waaiiting.”
Neither Michael nor Henry could dispute Leroy’s point, so without a word, they took their places on the field and sent out their pokémon. Caterpie landed in the grass, displacing the blades with a whisper, and vanished into the green carpet. Starly dove into the air, fanning out his wings as he tested the air currents, and settled into a circular flight around the two boys. His sharp black eyes scanned the field, searching for his would-be prey. But Caterpie’s coloring blended so well with the grass that even from where he stood, Michael could only discern her by her red pincers, which clicked periodically as she adjusted her position. This gave him an idea.
Michael tore his gaze briefly to the Starly. “Caterpie, come up!” he said.
Caterpie emerged slowly into the light, latching onto a blade of grass for support. Starly’s eyes found her immediately, and he dove forward, kicking up a gust of wind in his descent.
“Peck, Starly!” came Henry’s shout.
Starly folded his wings against his body and plunged into a deadly free-fall, his orange beak gleaming like a spear. Caterpie vanished in an instant, popping back into the shade and scurrying away as fast as her legs would allow. A second too late, Starly realized that his prey was gone. Unable to stop in time, he tumbled into the empty patch, and rolled several times before sweeping his belly off the ground again. He gained height, dirt sprinkling from his flapping wings.
“Again!” Michael called to the grass, eagerly sweeping his gaze across the unmoving lawn. He had no idea where Caterpie was, and as it seemed, neither did Starly. The bird pokémon flicked back and forth across the battlefield, keeping as low as possible to the ground while it scanned the underlayer. By luck, Caterpie’s head poked out just a few feet away, clicking her pincers tauntingly. Starly pounced, but Caterpie ducked out of the way just in time, and his beak plunged into empty ground. Michael smiled.
Across from him, Henry watched with frustration, his fingers curling and uncurling around the silver pokéball. For a while he said nothing. A look of thoughtful determination came over Henry’s face as his gaze trailed over to Michael. Michael responded with a playful wave. He was determined to let the game continue until Starly wore out, then finish with String Shot to bind him in place. But rather than smirking back, Henry’s frown only deepened. The boy looked down at Starly, then all of a sudden he seemed to reach a conclusion. His eyes flashed.
“Starly, use Wing Attack!” he said. “Sweep it over the ground!”
The strange command caught Michael unawares at first, but a second later the logic of Henry’s plan fell into place. Starly began to beat his wings, generating a gust of wind that flattened the grass beneath him. The blades twisted and tangled, and from within, Caterpie reappeared, sailing over their tops like a windblown leaf. The wind tossed her up into the air, and Starly dove, opening his beak to catch her.
Michael took a step forward, forgetting the rules in his excitement. Caterpie tumbled down into Starly’s waiting mouth, leaving behind a trail of silvery webbing that she had just begun to spin in a frenzy. The string wrapped around Starly’s wings just as he caught her with his beak, and they both fell into the grass.
Leroy began to clap. “Woo! Now that’s how you battle. And you thought you’d lose!” he said to Michael. “I’m telling you, that Caterpie’s a fighter. Great work, both of you.”
Michael and Henry untangled the pokémon and called them back. Leroy rummaged through his pile and held out two more. “Machop and Pachirisu!”
He tossed them two new pokéballs, and the battle continued.
From the start, it became clear that the long days of partner battles hadn’t been a waste on Henry. The boy had picked up some tricks, and his pokémon were both nimbler and more confident than they had been before. More than once, Michael found himself on the losing end of the rally: Machop would aim a Focus Punch right at Pachirisu’s nose, only to find that the tiny squirrel had slipped away and was now scampering over his back and shoulders, zapping at the exposed skin. Occasionally Machop dealt a good blow, but his reflexes couldn’t match the squirrel’s speed, and his struggles soon deteriorated into a mindless chase after Pachirisu’s tail. Michael’s good-humored outlook soon vanished, replacing Henry’s face with the face of the nameless enemy. Henry changed likewise, and soon the boys stopped making eye contact, following the pokémon with their unwavering gazes. Pachirisu’s teasing continued until Machop became sufficiently irritated, then Henry dealt the final blow: “Use Spark!”
That static that was cracking around Pachirisu’s cheeks suddenly intensified, and the squirrel’s body was consumed by a yellow glow. The shockwave transferred by contact, and Machop let out a yowl as the electricity seared through him. He collapsed, fingers twitching.
Michael gritted his teeth. “This isn’t over!”
From the side, Leroy held up the next pair. “Burmy and Turtwig!”
Michael hastily switched pokéballs, too caught up in the battle to care that Leroy had given them a Grass-Grass combination. Turtwig emerged, the not-quite-green colors of his body standing out against the rest of the field. Over the weeks, the pokémon had visibly grown in size. Where before, he had been no bigger than a playground ball, the tip of his stem now skimmed just above Michael’s knee. The pads of Turtwig’s feet were rounder and bigger, which made him sturdier.
Burmy landed in front of him a few seconds later, his pink skin immediately vanishing as he pulled over a cloak of leaves. Two yellow eyes peeked out of the pile, blinking at Turtwig with blank wonder. Michael knew that at any moment, Burmy could use Protect, and flee into an impenetrable shell of leaves that could last for whole minutes. He immediately tossed out Razor Leaf as an option, and decided to stick with physical moves.
Turtwig advanced towards Burmy slowly, crouching like a Glameow about to pounce. Burmy remained still, his limbs inching ever so slightly in to the folds of his cloak. Michael could sense the command on the tip of Henry’s tongue, and knew that Burmy could swiftly follow. Michael let Turtwig advance some more, until the two pokémon were only a foot away from each other.
Finally, Henry broke the silence: “Burmy, use Bug Bite!”
The pokémon collided and began to wrestle, growling and scratching. Their struggle traced a slow, laborious path across the field, resembling a game of tug-o-war. Turtwig had ducked his head and was pushing at Burmy with all his might, and Burmy pushed back with his stubby arms, trying to grasp his opponent’s head. Suddenly the formation broke, and the pokémon collapsed onto each other, Turtwig kicking and butting with his head, and Burmy hopping around the blows, stealing occasional nips at Turtwig’s skin. With Burmy on the offensive, Turtwig had the chance to attack as much as possible without fearing Protect, though with Bug Bite on Henry’s side, Michael knew they didn’t have much time. He sensed an impending loss, but he pushed forward without knowing why, trying to uphold Turtwig’s stamina as much as possible. He avoided long pauses between commands, which had been his downfall many times before, and instead kept an active mental involvement. He shuffled around his side of the field, moving whenever his view of Turtwig was obstructed, commanding with his hands as well as his voice.
“Knock him down!” he called, slapping his hand through the air. Turtwig, whose head was turned to the side in defense, suddenly lashed out at Burmy and knocked him back.
“Don’t take that!” Henry replied, hands on his knees. Like Michael, his cheeks were pink and he had shouted himself hoarse. “You got this! Use Bug Bite!”
Michael’s command came a second too late—Burmy pushed himself at Turtwig, making them both fall, and began to bite with greater rapidity than ever. Turtwig withdrew into his shell for safety, flinching aside whenever he felt a jolt from Burmy. Michael let out a groan.
“Don’t quit, dammit! Get up! Kick him, get him off you!”
Burmy began to pound the shell like a nut, though he wasn’t strong enough to move it, and tried to scare Turtwig into coming out again. Michael began to tap his foot in exaggeration.
Right then, Michael saw the tip of Turtwig’s head poke out from its hole. It was followed by the rest of his four limbs, and his tiny tail. The pokémon’s eyes were narrowed, though Michael could tell that Turtwig was nearing the end of his string.
“Now end it!” he growled.
It turned out, that was all he needed to say.
As Burmy made a final lunge from behind, Turtwig swiveled around and met him with his head, butting Burmy back towards the ground. Turtwig hopped after him and began to knock him around. The pokémon had gone through nearly ten minutes of nonstop battling, and were both equally exhausted. The winning blow, it seemed, could be struck by either one.
Finally, Henry’s focus seemed to snap. He stood up straight and moved to the side, so that he could keep Burmy in full view. “Use Protect!”
Burmy eagerly withdrew, just as Turtwig had done, into his cloak. The leaves hardened, flattening against each other and molding into a smooth, egg-shaped shell. Turtwig stopped kicking and stood still, sitting back on his hind legs. Henry’s face was lifted by a hopeful smile. “Burmy, come out!”
At first, nothing happened. Then the green shell began to totter, as if pushed by a brief gust of wind, and fell softly to the side. It did not move again. Henry’s arms fell against his sides in dismay. Michael was unable to fathom what had happened. He beamed, then began to laugh, clapping his hands.
“Woo! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Ha!”
Henry’s face fell into a pout. Before he could say anything, Leroy held up the final two pokéballs. “This is gonna be a good one,” he said. “Ringo and Clefable!”
The boys’ eyes widened in unison. They returned their pokémon and switched for the new set, holding the pokéballs out at arm’s length.
“Ready when you are,” Henry said.
Michael grinned in return. “Go!”
Ringo dove out of the capsule, soaring into the sky as the last traces of light faded from his body. At the same time, Clefable emerged onto solid ground, one arm touching the ground for balance, and straightened to look up at the sky.
“Clefable, use Gravity!”
Michael countered: “Ringo, distract her!”
As Clefable closed her eyes, Ringo flew forward, talons bared. The rest was a blur of feathers and claws, arms and wings grappling to gain the upper hand. Michael soon felt the familiar weight from Gravity set in, pressing down on his shoulders. Ringo’s flight became sluggish and labored, but the bird managed to stay aloft, his head craned down, eyelids half-lowered in irritation. But due to the battlers’ close proximity, the force affected Clefable as well, slowing down her motions. The more she tried to increase the downward pull, the closer Ringo came to her, until his pestering caused her to lose concentration. Clefable altered between releasing her hold on Gravity entirely, or making the weight so strong that she could barely move.
Seeing Gravity’s futility, Henry sacrificed it to take the offense. Clefable used a string of Psybeams, which plunged Ringo into an alternate reality. He began to flap in circles, chasing his own tail feathers, murmuring unintelligible suspicions. Michael tried to calm him, resorting to the strategy he had learned from Rick.
“Ringo!” he called, looking up at the bird. “Do you hear me? Listen! I’m Michael. I’m your friend. We help our friends. I want you to use Aerial Ace. Fight back and use Aerial Ace!”
After a minute of goading, during which Gravity had pulled the bird down a great deal, Ringo finally came to. He locked his eyes on Clefable, recognizing her a the source of his torment, and lashed out with a raged screech. He shot forward like a bullet, wings flat against his sides, and made a sharp swoop overhead slashed at her with his claws. He made a loop in the air and slashed again, making Clefable totter.
Henry curled a fist. “No, Clefable! Use Psychic!”
Clefable steadied herself and closed her eyes. Over the days, Michael had learned to recognize her when she was in deep focus. He knew he had the chance to attack again, but part of him wanted to see what she had made of Jerry’s technique.
After a few silent seconds, Clefable opened her eyes. They were a blazing pink. A wind kicked up around her feet, stirring the grass, rippling the comma of hair on her head.
Ringo was circling madly through the air, sensing an impending danger, but not knowing where it would strike. All of a sudden, the grass beneath him began to stir, crumbs of dirt and leaves kicked up by the twister. Ringo’s outline began to glow with pink light, and the bird’s motions halted. He began to bob freely through the air, not flying, but held aloft by Clefable’s psychic energy. If Michael had come to his senses right then to give a command, it would have been in vain. A sharp pulse ripped across the invisible connection between the two pokémon, and reached Ringo’s body. The bird let out a yelp, then suddenly the connection was severed, and he fell to the ground like a dropped toy. He plopped into the grass and did not move.
The color faded from Clefable’s eyes, and she wobbled on her feet, dizzy from the sudden loss of energy. Michael did not make a move to return Ringo. He simply stood, watching the bird, a part of him still believing that something else would happen. Henry, who must have felt the same, waited as well.
Then, slowly, the lump of feathers let out a growl. Ringo rose to his feet, ruffling his plumage, feathers sticking out at odd ends.
Like a bolt of lightning, too quick for the eye to see, Ringo lunged at Clefable and began to peck and scratch with vicious speed, thwacking her from side to side. After a brief lapse in concentration, Clefable realized what was happening and began to fight back, though her exhausted blows soon fell out of rhythm with her foe’s. When the bird had pestered her past her breaking point, she collapsed, her back rising with rapid breaths.
Still frazzled, Ringo flew back to Michael and perched on his shoulder, digging his claws into his trainer’s skin.
“Fine, I’m sorry." Michael laughed. “It won’t happen again.” Ringo snorted in response, sounding strangely like Michael himself.
There was clear relief on Henry’s face as he and Michael sent back their pokémon. With the battle no longer weighing on his mind, the boy’s face lost that curious look of deep thought it had previously assumed, and was one more bright and Henry-like.
“Wow, I didn’t think it would get that intense!” he said. “Ringo did really well—no, all of your team did!”
“Thanks,” Michael said. “You did pretty good too.”
Off to the side, Leroy stood up and wiped his forehead. “Man, that was some battle! Really impressive, both of you.” He handed the pokéballs back, and the boys put them away.
“I guess it’s true what they say about battling your friends,” said Leroy, crossing his arms.
Michael turned to him. “And what’s that?”
“They bring out the best in each other.”
After leaving the field, Michael and Henry healed their teams and went with Leroy on a walk through town. They wandered well into the afternoon, until the time came for Leroy’s next shift, and he ran off to the hotel to get changed. Michael and Henry were left alone, pacing down a busy street, not following any clear-cut plan of direction. The sun was beginning to set, bathing the town in orange light. To their left was an area of flat, empty land bordered by a low fence. To their right, the street rolled out all the way to the horizon, ferrying cars and wagons on its back.
Henry was eating an ice cream cone that he had purchased at one of the roadside shops, holding napkins in both hands to keep the melting cream from dripping. Michael had purchased a bag of sweets, and the two of them strolled amiably along, enjoying their snacks.
“I’m really glad we did this today,” said Henry, breaking the stretched silence.
“Did what?” Michael replied.
“The battle. Walking around and stuff. It was a lot of fun.”
“Yep.” Michael nodded in agreement. “Think you’re ready for the staff battles?”
Henry shrugged. “I don’t know. I hope so.” He looked up at Michael. “You?”
“Same.” Spilling the last few chocolates into his palm, Michael crumpled the empty bag and dropped it into a waste bin. “Listen, don’t let all the stuff people say get to your head. I bet the staff battles are just like the regular ones, only against more tactical people. And judging by our battle earlier, I’d say we’re good to go.”
“Me too.” Henry smiled. “I’m really glad we met Ted,” he said. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have done nearly as well in my battles. Protect came in handy loads of times. So did Psychic.”
“Yeah…” Michael looked up at the trees that dotted the pastures. “Still kinda feel sorry for the guy, though.”
“Come on, look at the facts—he sits in his house all day dusting his encyclopedias. The guy needs a new hobby; something that’ll get him into town, actually talking with people.” Suddenly, an idea came to him. Michael snapped his fingers and turned to Henry with a grin. “You know what we should do? We should find that lady he was talking about and hook them up for a date.”
Henry’s eyebrows climbed to the tip of his forehead. “A date?” He pronounced the word slowly, like it was something foreign and strange to him. Michael nodded.
“Yes. A date. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice anything in the way he talked that other day. He obviously saw a girl he liked—and not for the first time, either—and now he wants to see her again. But he’s trying to be sly about it, partly because he wants to save face in front of us, but also because he either hasn’t felt this way about a girl in a long time, or at all. That’s why he keeps her letters at the top of his shelf like that. He doesn’t want to throw them away, because they’re from her, for Pete’s sake, but it still feels strange to read them; it’s like every time he thinks about it, he goes down the same train of thought a thousand times, and it leaves him feeling even worse than when he started out. So he finally decides that it’s all a waste of time, that a girl like that would never look at him anyway, and shoves the letter aside. He lets it sit on the shelf for a few days, then when he’s got nothing to do and feels lonely, he goes back through his papers and ‘accidentally’ comes across the letter again. Then he goes through the same cycle as before. Meanwhile, that girl’s out there somewhere, living her life, happily forgetting all about the guy who met her some weeks ago. She might even like him back, but she’s confused as to why she never sees him, and why he always takes off like a bullet the minute that she does. There’s no progress at all. We can’t just sit and do nothing about it.” Michael turned to Henry with a steely, resolute expression. What he found was that the boy was staring at him in utter amazement.
“How do you know so much?” the boy asked. His eyes looked like they could swallow him whole.
Michael patted his chest. “I’m an expert.”
Henry was silent for a moment, watching the ground. Then he looked up. “Have you had a girlfriend before?”
Michael began to laugh. “That’s like asking a fish if it’s ever seen water. Of course.” Then the smile faded, and he let out a sigh. “Well, technically speaking, I’ve only had two. Two that I’d call ‘official’, like going out and being alone and stuff. Before that, everyone’s a kid, and you know, you never really take it outside of school.” He paused. Henry was silent, but he appeared to be listening. “I had one last year,” Michael continued. “Her name was Rebecca.”
Henry smiled. “Was she pretty?”
"Hell yes. It didn't go too well in the end, though. She ended up moving to a different city.”
Michael scowled. "Her dad got transferred, and her parents wanted her to go to a different school. She said it was to get a better education. Apparently the people at our school were too much of a ‘bad influence’. Hmph. She said she'd keep in touch, but I haven't talked to her since." He turned away, casting his gaze over to the neatly-cobbled border that lined the road.
Henry was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said.
"S'okay I guess." Michael shrugged. “At any rate, it’s not the first time I’ve been called a hooligan. I know she probably wasn’t thinking of me when she said that, but her parents sure as hell were. That’s all adults can think of me. They see me hanging out with my friends and they think we’re getting wasted or something, when we’re not. They see us run out of a store and they assume we stole something, when we didn’t. I skip class once in three weeks, and I get half that time’s worth of punishment. When I get a bad grade they want me to get a good one, and when I do get a good one they assume I cheated. They think a freaking closed door means it’s the end of the world.”
“Well, that can’t be true. I close my door sometimes and my mom allows it… as long as I don’t lock it.”
Michael smiled darkly. “Yeah, you get it off easy. But where I come from, you can be one of two things—a perfect little angel, or an unfixable mess. And for some reason, I’m always on the bad end. Always have been, always will be.”
“So make them see you as something else,” Henry offered.
“You don’t get it. There’s no point. To them, I’ll never be anything but a lump in a chair, that kid who’s letting his life pass by right under his nose. They try to help me, but what they don’t get is that I don’t need their help. And I don’t want it.” Feeling an urge to stretch his spine, Michael straightened, looking squarely ahead. “I know exactly where I’m going. And if I ever forget, I’ll find my way again. I don’t need anyone to do anything for me.”
“Yeah…” came Henry’s sigh. His voice was quiet. “I wish I could be like you.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Stop it with the ‘me’ stuff. Just be Henry. He’s not that bad a cat… when he doesn’t complain.”
Henry giggled. “I bet that’s true.”
They continued walking, falling silent just as they passed by the marketplace. The plaza was teeming with people, some who rushed between the indoor shops, and others who floated around the tables and baskets that stood in the open air. The boys stopped for a moment, and suddenly, Michael felt Henry grab his arm.
“Michael, wait!” Henry said, pulling him back with a gasp.
“What? What is it?” Michael began to jerk his head around, looking for the source of the boy’s panic. Then his eyes landed on Henry, who was standing with one hand loosely curled into a fist, as if on the threshold of a monumental revelation.
“Didn’t Ted say that he kept seeing that lady in the marketplace?”
Henry glanced over to the crowd. “What did she look like?”
Michael bent his head back as he tried to remember. “Uh… what was it… red heels, cardigan, hat, and skirt.” He looked over to Henry, who was tapping his chin, still not tearing his eyes away from the outdoor tents. “Why, what is it?”
“I think I just saw her,” Henry said. “The hat and heels, I mean. No one else is wearing them.”
Michael opened his eyes all the way, bringing himself to full attention. “Where is she?”
“Hang on… I just lost her.” Henry’s eyes swept across the scene, following a random path of movement, as if trying to locate a fly. Then, his face lit up, and he pointed. “There! Over by the fountain!”
Michael’s eyes landed on a column of gushing water that spurted from a stone bowl in the center of the plaza. A fleeting pair of red heels flew across the pavement, though the body attached to them was constantly flitting in and out of view from behind people and objects. The boys immediately ran in pursuit, keeping the shoes in view as they zipped through the sea of moving bodies, cutting a beeline through the outdoor stands. As Michael neared the figure, he began to discern the details—the brim of a skirt that skimmed past the knees, a blouse of some sort, and a white denim cardigan, where at once an arm came into view, balancing a small purse.
The woman came to a stop beside a basket of apples. She leaned over to examine them, but the sunhat kept much of her shoulder area hidden from view. Nevertheless, Michael became certain at that moment that they had found the right person. He and Henry scampered over to a slim tree and hid behind it, peering out from separate sides of the trunk.
“Can you see who it is?” Henry said.
Michael squinted. “I can’t tell. She still won’t turn around.” He craned his neck left and right, but no matter how he repositioned himself, he still couldn’t see any part of the lady’s face. From afar, the plain, classy style of her clothing stood out from the dressy frills of the other women, exactly like a city person would stand out in the country. “It’s definitely her, though,” Michael said. “Man, we must have some serious luck…”
“I wonder where she’s from,” Henry said. “If she doesn’t live in Solaceon like Ted said, then what if she’s on a business trip or something? She's probably really busy during the day, so she leaves her pokémon at the Daycare Center, which would explain why he saw her there."
Michael thought for a moment, then suddenly he snapped his fingers. “Bertha!”
“What?” Henry turned. He caught on a second later, and his eyes grew wide. “You don’t think… you don’t think it’s her, do you?”
“What if it is?” said Michael. “Come on, it makes perfect sense! Look—Ted said himself that he doesn’t think she’s from here. And Bertha isn’t. Ted said that she dresses differently from how other people dress in Solaceon. And Bertha does! She wears heels and hats, doesn’t she? I never saw the other stuff before, but I bet she just bought them in her spare time!” Michael let out a laugh, slapping the trunk of the tree. The utter perfection of the moment astounded him. The pieces had fallen together in the best possible way, and now all that was left was to somehow get the two of them together.
“This is amazing,” Michael said, unable to contain a smile. “We gotta talk to her. Let’s go.”
He came out from behind the tree, but just as he was about to approach her, the lady stepped away from the baskets and turned around. The breeze caught her midway as she did, making her skirt ripple, and the sunhat tilt away from her head, revealing a pretty, smiling face. And right then Michael understood that the reason he couldn’t see the woman’s hair was because it wasn’t long enough to dip past the brim of her hat, that the reason Ted mistook her for a foreigner was because she had spent the bulk of her time studying and training somewhere else, and that the reason her figure looked so familiar to him from behind was because he had spent the last two weeks spotting it from every angle and distance, hearing it described with anger and awe by a thousand different voices, to the point where the sound of her name stirred dread within his very heart.
It was Lona Walker.
In that instant, an electric shock seemed to course through Michael's body. He stumbled back in breathless shock, eyes bulging, unaware that he was keeping an iron grip on Henry’s shoulder and pulling the boy back by the shirtsleeve. Henry mirrored his reaction, mouth agape, and the boys grabbed at each other’s arms in an attempt to regain their balance. Once they were on their feet, they turned tail and ran away as fast as they could, before the Gym leader could notice them.
Michael ran like the wind, sailing past a blur of shops and signs, their colors winking past him with lightning speed. He continued up the block as far as his legs would allow, till he found a tree that stood alone by the sidewalk and skid to a stop beside it. He leaned one arm against the trunk, gasping for air. Henry appeared beside him moments later, his momentum so great that he fell with his knees onto the pavement. For a minute, both boys were too out of breath to speak. Still shaking, Michael and Henry turned to exchange mute, horrified glances.
A moment later, they burst into laughter.
Yay, staff battles! It means they're one step closer to leaving this town xD And it's always nice seeing your name in print for an article you wrote... I've known that since I worked for my middle school's student newspaper.
Michael's getting softer... the old Michael Rowan would never had played matchmaker lol But that's definitely a shocker for them, finding out that this hardheaded gym leader might be a different person outside the Gym, especially if Ted's become smitten with her. I wonder how this whole thing's gonna play out...
Does Michael ever get to the League tournament? You'll see... It's not an easy path to take. I'm glad you're enjoying the story! Hopefully I'll have many more new chapters posted by the time you catch up.
I'm not alluding specifically to competitive battling here, since I can't imagine a way to give a real-life explanation for IVs and EVs. (Unless in the future I write a fic that takes place in the year 3450, where biotechnology is so advanced that trainers can analyze a pokemon's DNA with the press of a button... that would be the real Trainer of the Future.)
I liked the 'switch after switch after switch' part too. Hehe. It reminds me of what I do when I battle.
And don't worry... there are only three chapters left in Solaceon Town. You'll get to see how everything plays out with Lona, Michael, Henry, Bertha, Ted... and everyone else in due time.
The next chapter will be short (because I need a break too from these 20-pagers!), so hopefully it won't take me as long to complete as this one.
I know I say that every time.
See you next chapter!
At two o’clock the next day, the Solaceon Gym was empty. The crowd from the morning rush-hour had cleared, and the facility entered its second phase of operation. Staff members emerged from various doorways and roamed the halls with their pokéball pouches, chatting as they cleaned up and locked vacant battle rooms.
Gradually, a small amount of trainers sifted in to replace the old crowd. These were the newly-promoted trainers, some starting their very first day of staff battles, and others setting out to complete their third. Their footsteps were slow and hushed on the hallway carpet as they sought out their assigned rooms, each trainer lost in their own focused thoughts, acting out whatever mindset they had set for themselves. Some walked with their eyes fixed firmly ahead, avoiding contact with others, mulling over the taxing few hours they were about to face. Others expressed evident relief at their achievement, striding with confidence, rearranging the pokéballs clipped to their belts in anticipation of battle.
Michael and Henry were among a handful that had arrived early, and sat at the lobby benches waiting for their names to be called. Admissions would be staggered—first the trainers awaiting their final battle day would be called, then those awaiting their second, and finally the first. The trainers filled the neighboring lobby benches, sitting in their own tightly-knit groups and whispering. Michael and Henry had isolated themselves in a corner as far from the front desk as possible, their heads bent over Michael’s notebook.
“… okay, so remember—Flying moves against Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee, because those have to reach us to be able to hurt us. I don’t want to risk it with Croagunk, because they’re supposed to be poisonous, so we’ll use Psychic moves for that one. All non-contact stuff.”
As Michael traced his finger down the compiled list, Henry followed along, nodding. “Okay, but what about Machoke?”
“I doubt the staff will have a Machoke,” Michael replied. “You heard what Leroy said—you can only battle with them if you have a special license. Plus, I think that Lona would want to keep him to herself, like a secret weapon she’d pull out to catch people off-guard.”
Henry nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense… but that leaves us with only Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee, and Croagunk. That can’t be the only pokémon that the staff use. Or do they all have the same teams or something?”
“No, that would make it too easy. They probably have other pokémon too, for the sake of contrast. All of them should be at least partially a Fighting type, though, so in any case, we should be fine with the counters we have.”
Absorbing this, Henry nodded.
There being nothing else to review, both boys eventually settled back and let their gazes trail off into space. Henry, who seemed to be in deep thought, broke the silence with a whisper.
“You know what I don’t get?” he asked, turning to Michael. “Why is it that she looked so different that other day? I know she wasn’t in uniform, but still… it’s like it wasn’t her.”
Michael did not respond to Henry’s inquiry, but they both knew that they were thinking about the exact same thing.
Michael had not immediately comprehended what he had seen when he had locked eyes with Lona the previous day. Neither, it seemed, had Henry, and only now did the full meaning of their encounter come to Michael’s awareness. Ted was in love, unknowingly, with the Gym leader from hell. But even stranger was the fact that the lady in the marketplace looked almost nothing like Lona—in dress or demeanor. The placid, impenetrable expression she often wore was gone, replaced by a liberated calm—almost a cheerfulness. Without the jacket’s accompanying weight, she walked swiftly, as if carried by the wind, seeming like just another lady off on her own business.
She was normal.
And it was wrong.
Wrong like seeing his least-favorite teacher shopping for groceries, or catching the prim-and-tidy school nurse munching on a box of French Fries. But whatever alarm Michael might have felt in such situations of the past, it was nothing compared to now. At first, he had been ready to accept any possibility—that it had been Lona’s less-evil twin; that it was just a trick of the light that he had seen her face—anything but the fact that it was Lona herself. But as time passed, he realized that it was the only plausible option. The more he thought about it, the more inevitable it seemed, until finally Michael was washed over with morbid acceptance.
But beneath that, he was also the tiniest bit curious.
The feeling had permeated his mind ever since the encounter, even in the times when he wasn’t thinking about it. Michael couldn’t give it a name, but the feeling was that of incompleteness, akin to what a scientist would feel when discovering that a whole chunk of the iceberg was underwater. Its mysteries were hidden away in the depths, just out of reach, but at the same time he had to find them. And for a reason he couldn’t fathom, he felt that the truth would impact everything.
These and other thoughts swirled in Michael’s mind as he looked first around the lobby, then down at his notebook, rereading the penciled text. A minute passed, and the reflective state of mind began to fade, replaced once again by the anxious buzz of battle day.
“So what if they do decide to use dual-types?” said Henry, turning to the chart anew. “They might want to test our skills with special moves, after all.”
“But then it’ll be just like partner battles again,” Michael replied. “The staff should be different; I think they’d want to stick more to their theme, especially since they’re closer to Lona.”
“And if they don’t?”
Michael shrugged. “Well, we have counter moves for Fighting, Fire, Water, Grass, Psychic, Ground, Rock… I think that as far as pokémon types go, we’ve got them all covered. What we have to worry about is the physical aspect... Like, if those Hitmonchans are on drugs to make them super powerful.”
Henry burst into laughter, which he fought to restrain, covering his mouth with his hand. “Yeah, and if Hitmonlee decides to run rampage and kick down the walls.”
“He’ll use Burmy as a football.”
“And Machop as a doormat.”
“And everyone will run screaming from the Gym shouting ‘Help! Hitmonlees on the loose!’”
The laughter eventually won over them both, and the boys began to crack up, heads ducked to hide their shudders. It was right then, without warning, that a third voice sounded above them:
The boys jumped. Michael looked up to see Bertha standing before them, leaning slightly on one hip, arms crossed. Blood drained from his face. He hadn’t noticed her approach, and had no way of telling how long she had been standing there. Michael fumbled for words, quickly skating over the mistake. “I—uh… nothing. We were just… talking about a battle Henry had a few days ago. The trainer used a Hitmonlee, and it was really… powerful.”
Henry nodded in agreement. “I lost two to nothing.”
Bertha lifted an eyebrow. The story was a flop and Michael knew it, but he did his best to keep a straight face, knowing that he had no choice but to stick with it. For a while, Bertha’s expression did not change. She looked at them, eyes slightly narrowed, shifting her gaze from one boy’s face to the next.
“Well, that must have been some trainer,” she said, crossing her arms. “It’s not too often I see a kid with a Hitmonlee… I hope none of your pokémon got hurt too bad, Henry.”
“Oh, they’re fine! They’re all fine,” Henry replied.
Before Bertha could say anything else, Michael cut in. “So what are you doing here? How come we never see you anymore?”
This seemed to pull Bertha out of whatever she had been thinking before. Her eyes drifted closed for a moment, and she shook her head. “I’m here to meet with Lona again. I can only see her on certain days and times; the rest I spend at the hotel, or just walking around. And Lona… well, I don’t know what she does, but she always seems to be busy. Schedules, schedules—that’s all she can live by.” Bertha let her arms fall to her sides, and her stance relaxed somewhat. “I was surprised to see you two here, actually. Did your morning battles go all right?”
“We didn’t have them today.” Henry said. “We got moved up to the staff rank.”
“Huh. Well that’s good to hear. I knew you boys could do it.” Bertha returned a tired smile. “But don’t relax just yet; you still have a Leader battle to prepare for. I want you two to make me proud.”
“We will,” said Michael, desperately wishing for the conversation to end. And it did—Bertha did not ask them any more questions after that. She settled into a comfortable pose against the wall, looking out at the rest of the lobby. Michael relaxed somewhat, though in his mind he still scolded himself for letting down his guard. Looking down, he saw his notebook, which was lying closed in his lap, his arms covering it protectively. Had it been like that when Bertha saw them? Or had he snapped it shut out of reflex when she approached?
The possibilities were endless. As his brain scrambled to replay the sequence of events, Michael stole frequent glances at his backpack, wanting to quickly slip the notebook away. But he dared not make a move with Bertha so close by, for if she had seen it, then hiding it would only amplify his guilt. So Michael waited, his back leaned against the wall, tapping his foot against the floor. Henry was silent beside him, staring ahead with blank eyes.
After a length of time had passed, the attendant at the front desk stood up from her chair. “Michael Rowan, Henry McPherson!” she called.
The boys sprang up, and with a slightly hurried pace, went over to the desk.
“Wristbands, please,” the lady said.
They held out their arms, and one by one, the lady marked them down.
“If you need to heal y’r pokémon, go to Room 14 in the right wing. If not, then you can immediately go to y’r battle rooms—Michael, Room 22; Henry, Room 36.”
Nodding in thanks, the boys turned towards the right hallway. As he passed by the benches, Michael stole a glance at Bertha. The Gym leader met his gaze and gave them a thumbs-up.
Maybe I just imagined it. Maybe she didn’t hear anything at all. No—of course she didn’t. All she heard was us talking about Hitmonlee. It could be anyone’s.
Feeling the return of his resolve, Michael squared his shoulders and put the encounter out of his mind. He had a battle to win.
Moments later, they arrived at the healing room, where there were eight heating chambers lined up against the walls like soda machines. The boys had practiced lightly that day, practicing commands and acting out scenarios, but nevertheless saw fit to freshen up their teams.
One by one, Michael and Henry released their pokémon after they finished with the heating chamber to check up on them. All of them were looking good, and reasonably prepared. Caterpie’s pokéball was the last to leave the tray. After putting away the others into his backpack, Michael grabbed the remaining capsule and twisted it open. Something hard and green clattered onto the floor. Michael looked down at his feet, and did a double-take — first blind with shock, then filled with rushing dread when he realized what it was.
Henry, who was already waiting by the door, came over. “What? What happened?” The boy looked down at the cocoon and balked. “Oh, Michael, it’s okay! She’s only—”
“I know what it is!” Michael said. “But dammit… Now, of all times…”
“It only lasts for a week,” said Henry, trying to calm him down. “I’ve seen them evolve before.”
“You don’t get it—what am I going to do now?”
“Caterpie doesn’t know any Flying or Psychic moves. You won’t need her anyway.”
“Yeah, but what if all my counters faint and it’s down to just her? I’ll be done for!”
Henry shook his head. “No you won’t. Look, it’ll be fine. Just… don’t panic, and… it’ll be fine.” The boy nodded in affirmation, though words had failed him, still hoping to transmit his confidence.
Michael returned the Caterpie-cocoon to its pokéball, feeling a nagging uneasiness settle in. Caterpie was small, but her sudden absence left a gaping hole in his team’s formation.
Packing away the pokéball, Michael left the healing room and parted ways with Henry. He found Room 27 and stepped inside. His opponent for the day was a guy—fairly tall, with a neutral countenance. When the man saw Michael walk in, he smiled.
“Hey there.” He lifted his clipboard and read off the paper. “Michael Rowan?”
“Great. Let’s g’t started. Name’s Paul.” Paul began to flip through Michael’s past records. “So you were promoted yesterday, and this is y’r first staff battle. Right. You’ve had some good reviews in partner battles so far, but also some bad ones. The staff have taken note that you’re a pretty tactical thinker, which is good, but early on, you had a tendency to rush. You didn’t think your moves all the way through, and as a result, you passed by many opportunities to strengthen your position. Battling is all about grabbing opportunities, because if you don’t then you can bet that your opponent will. Today we’ll see how well you’ve learned.” He placed the clipboard aside and pulled out a pokéball. “Go, Meditite!”
The capsule burst open to reveal a small, thin-bodied creature vaguely resembling a human form. Its head was capped by a mound of white hair, which partially hid its unblinking eyes.
Psychic and Fighting, Michael thought at once. So they did use double-types after all. Taking no chances, he sent out Ringo.
The Meditite turned out to be a pokémon of average strength. Michael had battled a couple of them in partner rounds, and as far as he could tell, this one showed no sign of being stronger in any way. The pokémon attempted a few Focus Punches and a Confusion, but was easily knocked down by Ringo and Aerial Ace. The Chatot’s swift, precise speed allowed him to evade the Meditite, whose attacks were slow and extravagant, making for a short battle. In a matter of minutes, the Meditite collapsed on its belly, and Ringo swooped over his prey, jostling it to make sure it was fainted.
Smiling in amusement, Paul lifted the pokéball to return Meditite, and Ringo flew away satisfied. Michael’s heart began to pound. So far so good.
The next pokémon to emerge was a Riolu—a small, floppy-eared pup that stood on its hind legs. Its eyes were narrowed beneath a cunning smile.
Fighting and… what else? Steel? Michael hesitated in mental debate, noticing the tiny metal spikes protruding from each of the pokémon’s wrists. Finally, he looked up at Ringo, who was flapping overhead.
“Ringo, use Aerial Ace!”
Paul countered back: “Riolu, Jump Kick!”
The Riolu was tiny but fast—as Ringo swooped down, it sprang up to meet him, delivering a firm kick to the bird’s chest. Ringo was knocked off-course, but in his struggles to regain balance, he managed to grasp the Riolu’s ear and drag the pokémon with him. As Ringo flew, he shook the Riolu around, throwing it up into the air and catching it.
“Riolu, use Revenge!”
Still dangling from Ringo’s beak, the Riolu swung itself upward and kicked the bird in the neck. Ringo gasped, his beak falling open in surprise, and dropped Riolu onto the mats. The blue pup scampered away.
“No, don’t lose him!” Michael shouted. “Peck!”
As Riolu fled across the mats, Ringo hobbled along in pursuit, snapping at its heels. When he gained enough momentum, the bird pounced, pinning Riolu down with his claws, and began to peck. The Riolu squirmed to free itself, but Ringo’s grip held fast, leaving little to do but flinch under the sharp, stabbing beak. But the little Riolu was surprisingly resilient. Long after Ringo became bored of pecking, the pup was still hanging on to its wits. Eventually Ringo stopped, and began to knock the Riolu around with his claws, seeking new ways of dealing damage. Paul had time to give several more commands, attacks which seemed to serve no purpose aside from tiring Ringo out. The Riolu frequently slipped from his grasp, and zipped over behind the bird to deal a kick. When Ringo finally managed to deal the killing blow—a well-aimed Aerial Ace that had caught the Riolu in the middle of a Jump Kick—the bird was so exhausted that he teetered, and had to sit down.
As Paul switched pokémon, Michael tapped his own pokéball, debating on whether or not to send Ringo back. But when he saw Paul release a Machop, he decided against it.
“Come on, Ringo, get up,” he said. “One more and I’ll leave you alone.”
Ringo lifted his head at the Machop and growled in disdain. He ruffled his feathers and took off into the air again. He was able to hit Machop twice with Aerial Ace, but eventually gave in to exhaustion and succumbed to his opponent’s battering. Paul’s Machop wasn’t as fast as Michael’s, but was an ounce more decisive, and was able to knock down the bird with a flying kick. While Ringo scrambled to his feet, Machop aimed a series of rapid punches, which toppled the bird for good.
Michael returned him and sent out Goldeen. The fish emerged in a rush of cascading water, which she immediately pooled into a swirling ball beneath her. Not a single drop sloshed away from the mass—a profound improvement from their first tentative experiments in Hearthome. Michael pointed to the Machop.
“Goldeen, use Psybeam!”
Goldeen flapped her fins, and the water churned faster around her. Her horn began to glow a bright pink, intensifying at the tip, and with a bang, released a beam of psychic energy that hit Machop in the chest. The pokémon stumbled back, hands covering the burned area.
“Now!” Michael called.
Before Machop had time to recover, Goldeen sprang forward, carried by her own wave, and swept the Machop off the ground. Pursing her thick lips, Goldeen began to peck at its skin, leaving tiny indentations. All the while, she carried it across the battlefield, knocking Machop against the walls and floor, till the pokémon was dazed and blubbering. Dropping the Machop onto the mats again, Goldeen finished off with another Psybeam, and the pokémon collapsed.
Paul whistled. “A’right, one more to go… This one should give you a peek at what’s to come.” He switched pokéballs. “Go, Hitmonlee!”
All the jokes and speculation Michael had gone through over the days about Lona’s team made him forget that he had never actually faced a Hitmonlee in real life. It was a tall, leathery-brown creature whose whole body consisted of a torso, supported by two disproportionately long legs. Its arms, in comparison, were reedy and feeble. Instead of a face, two large eyes peered out from the flat plane of its body.
In battle, it demonstrated a calculated combination of stealth and grace, and was both faster and more powerful than any of Paul’s other pokémon. As if recognizing the threat, Goldeen immediately lowered her horn and blasted out a Psybeam, before Michael even had the chance to give the command. The Hitmonlee leaned out of the way, letting the beam hit the opposite wall, and sprang forward. It reached Goldeen in a few swift steps and dealt a kick, tossing the fish into the air like a rubber ball. The water around her began to lose its form, dripping down to the mats.
“Get it back!” Michael shouted. “Use Psybeam!”
“Hitmonlee, Double Kick!”
Goldeen began to fall, but before she had time to gather up the water she had lost, Hitmonlee’s foot knocked her away into the corner. The floating pool collapsed, spilling into a puddle on the floor.
Michael clenched his fist. “Get it back! Get the water back!”
Hitmonlee approached for another kick, its arms spreading out at its sides in preparation to shift its weight. Goldeen made a final exertion, and the water rose into the air, sweeping past Hitmonlee’s ankles and pooling into a sphere around her. Michael immediately unscrewed the pokéball and sent her back inside.
I have to immobilize that thing somehow… he thought. Going back to his backpack, Michael looked over the capsules that remained and mulled over what to do. Going by what the PokéDex had told him, the only way he could damage Hitmonlee was if he bound its legs together first. As he stared at the pile of pokéballs, a gradual feeling of inevitability sank over him. He had only one option.
Taking Caterpie’s pokéball, Michael held his breath and sent her out. The cocoon fell onto the mats like a tube of dead leaves. The Hitmonlee turned away from the corner and looked down at its new opponent. It suddenly struck Michael that he didn’t even know if Metapods could see.
“Use String Shot,” he mumbled.
The cocoon did not move. But right then, Michael heard a faint swirling noise, and knew that somewhere inside, Caterpie was spinning her thread. Seconds later, the silvery strand emerged—but instead of shooting out at Hitmonlee, it lay flat on the floor, piling into a sticky glob as it unfurled. Michael’s shoulders sank.
But the sight of the motionless Metapod clouded Paul’s face. He pondered briefly, then addressed his pokémon: “Hitmonlee, use Vacuum Wave!”
The Hitmonlee bent over the cocoon and began to whirl its fists in a rapid circle, churning up a gust of air. The cocoon rolled over onto its side, but due to the strings weighing it down, remained put. Hitmonlee approached from a different angle, but to no avail—the current generated by Vacuum Wave only tangled the silver webbing further, wrapping it around the cocoon. Seeing no other option, the Hitmonlee gave up hope and kicked back its leg, preparing a kick to sweep the cocoon off the ground. Caterpie went flying, bouncing off the ceiling, the webbing unraveling around her. Hitmonlee continued to kick her around the room, and where Caterpie flew, a trail of white followed, sticking to the walls and the wooden window frames. The cocoon was utterly indifferent to the Hitmonlee’s battering, which only angered the pokémon further, and it continued its rampage across the room, unaware that it was getting itself entangled in the process. The webbing looped around the Himonlee’s ankles and arms, tightening as the pokémon tried to wriggle free. Michael smiled. It was a messy solution, but it worked.
He returned Caterpie and replaced her with Machop. Being the more cautious, Machop quickly skipped over the stray webbing, and engaged Hitmonlee in an impressive rally. With its motions hindered by the string, the Hitmonlee quickly succumbed to Machop’s blows, and fell back. It collapsed in a heap, squirming to free itself from the sticky mess that coated it. Michael immediately switched in Goldeen to deal the final blow. The Psybeam blasted from the fish’s horn and pierced the fallen Hitmonlee between the eyes, after which the pokémon went slack.
Once the standard five seconds had passed, Paul sent back the fainted Hitmonlee and cracked a smile. “Good work,” he said to Michael. “You’ve learned to turn the tides to your advantage. But you could still use some tightn’ing up—you’ll want to make your decisions a bit faster in the future.”
Michael nodded. He could still feel the frantic beat of his heart, and scarcely believed what he had done.
“You can now head out to the healing r’m for a fifteen-minute break,” Paul continued. “Don’t worry ‘bout the walls—we have stuff to clean that up. Just come right back here when you’re done, and y’r second opponent for the day will be waiting for you. Good luck!”
Michel left the battle room and found a healing corner nearby, where he started up a vacant machine and healed his team. There were four other trainers in the room with him. One was still using the machine; the others were seated by the tables against the wall, eating chips, stealing glances at the clock.
Not wanting to spend his time with such somber company, Michael emerged into the hallway and began to pace around. He went all the way to the back of the wing and happened upon a dead end, where a single battle room door stood on the opposite wall. A boy stepped out of it moments later, his back to Michael, a duffel bag hanging from his shoulder. It was Rick.
Seeing Michael, the boy stopped in his tracks. “Oh. Hey.” Suddenly, Rick frowned, lifting his chin. “What are you doing here so late?”
“Staff battles,” said Michael, unable to hide a smirk.
Rick winced. “Oh. Well I’m still in partner battles. Week five and counting. My referee made me stay late to do another round.”
Michael let out a snort. “They rejected you again? Did they at least tell you why?”
“They say I lose too much,” Rick said. “Either that or I don’t win the right way. Same stuff they say every time, really.”
“Well, why did you lose?”
Rick shrugged. “How should I know?”
Michael was about to reply, when a sudden thought occurred to him. He paused. “Let me see your team.”
“Just do it. Come on, let’s go in there.” Michael pointed to the door behind Rick.
The boy hesitated for a moment, then pulled it open. Michael followed him into the empty battle room and made sure they were alone before continuing.
“Okay. Now show me your team."
Rick dropped his duffel bag and began to remove pokéballs, eying Michael incredulously throughout. He sent out the members of his party one by one: Shieldon, Luxio, Bonsly, Glameow, Piplup, and Beautifly. The pokémon were all sluggish from exhaustion, some fainted.
Michael paced around the team, arms crossed like a specialist’s. When he was done looking, he shook his head slowly. “No wonder you’re losing, man. You gotta learn your types.”
Rick tilted his head. “Huh?”
“Well, look—” Michael pointed. “—you have three pokémon that are weak to Fighting. Shieldon is Rock and Steel, Bonsly is Rock, and you’ve got Glameow, which is Normal. All those types are weak to Fighting moves. Luxio, Piplup, and Beautifly are your only safe defenses, but even with that, they’re not good counters. You have to catch a Flying or Psychic type, ‘cause those are the only good moves against Fighting types. It’s obvious why they don’t let you move on—they see you doing well against pokémon of different types, but when you go up against Fighting, you lose.”
Rick shook his head. “No, you don’t get it… cat, you don’t get it at all. That stuff’s not gonna help me. Don’t you see? She’s rigged the game against me! I’ve seen loads of people with Rock or Normal types and they do just fine!”
“Then you use too many special moves,” Michael said. “The staff have told me that before, so all I did was use them less. Just give them what they want; it’s not that hard.”
“Yeah, right. Except they don’t always want what you think they do. Just when you think you’ve got it right—bam, they prove you wrong. You think I don’t know? Trust me, I do. When Lona locks ‘er eyes on you, it’s over. Nothing’s gonna change her mind. If she wants you gone, she’ll get it done.” Suddenly, Rick brightened. “You know what? I’ve been thinking of getting back at her. Lona’s had her way for far too long. She needs to know what it’s like to have all her hard work be shoved back in ‘er face. I’ve talked to a bunch of people and they agree with me. She keeps us here for way too long, and on top of that, she forces us to battle in a non-League-standard way. Technically, as a Gym leader, she has to cooperate with League policy. And she doesn’t. I checked.” He paused, looking at Michael more intently than ever. “Think about this, Mike. Tons of trainers who’re still starting out haven’t made it to this Gym yet. They’re in Hearthome and Oreburgh, battling all-out, spending their time and money to get to the top. But when they get here, what’ya think is gonna happen? They’ll be stomped flat! Those Gym leaders don’t get how it feels, ‘cause they already went through all that. They’ve already won all the battles they needed to win. But we haven’t. Lots of us won’t get to see the gates of the Elite Four Island. Hell, some of us pro’lly won’t even get to hold all eight badges in our hands. And it’s all because of people like her. People who think that they can promise us one thing, then flip it around and make it something else. These Gym leaders think we’re stupid. They think that we have nothing better to than chase their lies. It’s time that changed. The League should be for trainers, not freaking tyrants who think that just because they have the authority, they can do whatever they want with our efforts and the pokémon we caught with our own hands.”
At that point, Rick’s face took on a steely expression, burdened with duty.
"I want to start a petition,” he said. “I’ll get as many signatures as I can — a thousand, maybe two or three— and send it to the League Office to get Lona fired. Someone needs to do something about this. And if I don’t then there’ll be lots of more people like me. People who’re stuck, can’t get anywhere, and feel like life’s run them into a sinkhole.” He paused. “So how about it? Would you help?”
For the duration of Rick’s tirade, Michael had been looking at the window, shifting his gaze from one side of the boy’s head to the other, never meeting his gaze. But now, their eyes locked. Rick extended his hand towards him, fingers slightly curled, waiting to grasp his.
Michael looked at it, and paused.
The fact that he paused unsettled him.
A month ago, he would have accepted no doubt. He would have jumped at the first opportunity to be a part of a grand scheme, to put a deserving adult in their place. He imagined it now—taking Rick’s hand, clasping it like a brother’s, and for the next few days, sneaking around the Gym in between battle sessions, collecting signatures in secret… possibly even stalling his battle with Lona as an act of protest. And then, imagining the look of frustrated loss on Lona’s face when she received her letter of replacement, telling her to get lost, to find a job opening at the nearest fast-food restaurant. Feeling his chest swell with pride when he realized he had made a difference.
These thoughts brought Michael an inward smile. But enjoyed them only insofar as one would enjoy a movie—something that carried no meaning to a person’s life, but served only as a pastime, something to enjoy and forget about. The reel of images quickly faded, as did their pleasure for him, and once again Michael saw the waiting face of the boy in front of him—standing against a room of light, yet still with a perpetual gloom that lurked deep within. It bore no expression, but even so, he could feel Rick teetering between hope and letdown, just as ready to name Michael his enemy as his friend. The burden to decide which had fallen on his shoulders.
Michael searched Rick’s face for a while, but the thing he had seen in it some weeks before was gone. The kid he had identified with during his first battle day had vanished, leaving behind someone who was alien and strange to him.
Michael felt a twinge of annoyance.
He stepped away, silently swinging his backpack behind him. Rick followed him with an unwavering gaze, jaw clenching.
But right before he reached the door, Michael stopped, and turned back with a smile.
“I’ll do it.”
The boy visibly relaxed. “Great. I’ll, uh… keep you posted, then.” He lowered his hand and rubbed together his palms, like a nervous doctor before an operation.
Michael did not reply. He nodded, smiling slightly, and left to return to his battle room.
Late that evening, Lona’s office was dim and quiet. The curtains were pulled down over the windows, bathed in orange light from the floor lamp. The Gym leader sat with her back against the chair, holding a small coffee tray in her lap. She was turned to the far left corner of the room, where the small television set was turned on, blaring a muffled broadcast. Over the years, her use of the TV had drastically declined due to work she took upon herself, and so the box eventually acquired a worn-out look, as well as the insignificant placing it occupied today.
The program she was watching was a rerun of news clips from previous weeks, recaps of announcements she had missed on live broadcast. Lona kept her eyes locked on the screen, her face placid as she listened to the anchorman’s words.
“… and due to the high-security nature of the establishment, little information could, at first, be gleaned from the management of the Eterna Factory. On the thirteenth of June, a statement was released from a factory spokesperson, confirming that the explosion had indeed been an accident, quelling widespread rumors about criminal activity. But the question of what, exactly, the factory had been producing remains a mystery…
… In the weeks following the accident, clean-up efforts have been on the rise, as surrounding towns and even ones far away make donations to support the cause. Chemical reports are gradually being made public, helping us paint a more comprehensive image of the town’s status. While the smoke from the event cleared in a matter of days, it has been confirmed that over 40,000 gallons of liquid chemicals have been spilled as a result of the explosion. While much of this amount has already been removed, surveyors still fear that the chemicals may contaminate nearby water sources. Travel through Cycling Road and Route 211 has been prohibited while cleanup continues. The Eterna government remains optimistic that much of the toxic waste will be cleared by the end of November, however it is uncertain how soon, if at all, the locality will be made habitable again. Significant damage to wildlife has been reported. Rescue efforts are underway to save as many pokémon from the area as possible…”
Lona’s musing was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. She quickly sprang from her chair, shut off the TV, and placed the tray aside.
The door opened, and Bertha stepped in, carrying her usual articles. Without uttering a word, she pulled out the empty chair and sat down, placing her hands in her lap.
The second unspoken rule of their meetings was that no matter how bad things got, there would always be a second day.
Bertha did not open her briefcase this time, or make any move to take the fresh mug of coffee that Lona placed before her. Bertha lifted her gaze and looked directly ahead at the other woman.
“I don’t understand why you insist on remaining blind to the facts. The only way to make any sort of change in League policy is to have money at our disposal. Without that, there’s nothing to build off of.”
Sitting down, Lona shook her head. “You don’t understand. The change that I want—the change that needs to be made—is something completely different from money.” She paused, flipped through a page in her memo pad, and switched the subject. “The boys. Michael and Henry. They will be battling me soon. But I assume that after they leave you will be staying?”
“No,” said Bertha. “I’ll be leaving with them regardless. I have a schedule. And they have a schedule.”
Lona chuckled to herself. “Schedules… that’s all I ever hear from trainers these days. They’re all so eager, so confident… but they have no—no idea what the world is really like…”
Bertha frowned. “Then you really must have no idea how times have changed. Kids do know what’s going on. And they often understand it better than we do.”
Right then, something within Lona seemed to snap. She jerked forward in her seat and slapped the table with her palm. “Better?!”
Bertha jumped, and the coffee sloshed in the mug. A drop spilled out and landed on the surface of the table, but Lona didn’t seem to care. She was livid. “You told me a story last time, Miss Herrida. Now let me tell you something!”
She pushed herself back into her chair, and all of a sudden, her face clouded over, till it seemed that she was looking not at Bertha, but at something in the distant past. “My mother was a pokémon trainer,” she said. “When she was young, the Pokémon League was an organic competition. A goal to strive for. If you weren’t cut out for it, you were either sent home or didn’t try in the first place. Gym leaders didn’t just give badges. They gave lessons. Trainers had to work for their rewards, and if they didn’t, then they’d get beaten to a pulp by the ones who did. My mother raised our family with the same morale she learned as a child. She told us that we had to be ready for the day when we would leave her house and face the world, and that the only person responsible for our success is ourselves. She didn’t expect us all to become trainers, but she expected us to learn from their example, because back then, trainers weren’t just admired—they were respected. They carried themselves with the rightful dignity that they earned through years of discipline and self-teaching. They were a symbol of honor and dedication, and wherever they went, their message followed. They were the pride of their hometowns. The glory of their country. They inspired thousands to follow in their footsteps, if not in career, then in character. And what do I see now? What do I see, in this golden age of technology and supposed progress? I see what was once a symbol of honor to the Sinnoh people be crushed and degraded into an industry! A happy generator of logos and merchandise, clinging to its oh-so-sacred national uniformity, as if without it, the whole country will be torn apart!”
As Lona spoke, she leaned farther forward, till her hands were gripping the edge of the table, and Bertha was leaning back, her eyes frozen in a deadpan stare that was locked on the other woman’s face.
“I had to work for everything in my life!” Lona said. “It was either that or be stuck with nothing! And now I have to watch nine-and ten-year-old children breeze through my Gym, carrying more pocket money than I saw in a month, passing by opportunities as if they grew on trees! They have no discipline. They have no culture, no manners, no sense of guilt when they insult their elders—no sense of the world around them! They put on a hat and backpack and suddenly they’re on top of the world—they can romp around wherever they please; they’ve got Pokémon Centers and hotels bowing to their every whim; the League Heads constantly thinking of new ways of improving their experience… Meanwhile, they have no desire to return anything to the community that raised them up! They don’t understand that those badges they earn mean nothing if they can’t be backed up by skill!”
At this, Lona stood and opened a drawer in her desk. “Let me show you a real badge, Miss Herrida.” And she opened her palm to show Bertha a tiny gold medal attached to a piece of ribbon. Bertha recognized it immediately. It bore the old insignia of the Pokémon League, a Charizard with its wings outstretched and hands clasping pieces of scroll. “This was the badge my mother earned when she defeated the Elite Four in 1941. Her name was Lydia Hodnett. It was the only medal she ever earned in her life, but she didn’t hang it up on her wall like a trophy to boast about. After she beat the League she went right back to training, and later took the next step in raising a family. We all knew that she had been the Champion, but when I found out about the medal and asked her why she never displayed it as proof, she told me that the proof was already all around me. It was in her pokémon, who withstood trial and hardship with her and now had the strength of character to show it. And it was in us—myself and my sisters—from whom she expected no less.” Lona closed her palm with a smirk. “I have yet to see a single trainer who expressed the desire to give rather than take; to be, rather than have.”
She tossed the medal back into the drawer and closed it.
“Do you think it was an accident that after the League became federal property in 1952, it began to exhibit the pattern you noticed today?” Lona continued. “I’m sure you’ve done that research as well—you tell me why the Sinnoh Pokémon League, which used to be the most prominent entity in the 30s and 40s, suddenly decided of its own free will to merge itself with the government.” She put her hands on her hips and gestured for Bertha to speak.
“The League merged with the government because its funds were low,” Bertha said. “People stopped participating and donating, and so to survive, the League had to ask the government to take it under its wing.”
“And do you know what happened?” Lona said.
“The government gave it funding!”
“Oh yes. It gave funding all right. So much funding, in fact, that we drowned in it.” Lona dug around in another desk drawer and pulled out a handful of Cobal badges. She let them spill from her hand like a shower of coins, all identical, clanging against the wood of the table.
“This is what I have to do,” she whispered, sweeping her gaze over the gleaming puddle. “I have to give out these badges to people who beat me in a battle—and I’m not allowed to be too hard on them because it wouldn’t be fair—so that they can move on to the next luxury suite in the next Gym town and do the same. And the next one, and the next one. There’s no challenge anymore, just another pastime like Contests. The League doesn’t mean anything now—not to its proprietors in Snowpoint, or to its trainers. They all see it as some sort of game… a hobby of sorts to demonstrate to the world how special they are, how many trophies they can earn. To them, there’s no meaning behind the battles they win. The other people around them serve no purpose aside from being rungs on a ladder. The pokémon, too. The trainers think that the key to winning is to have the most powerful moves, the best assembled teams, and completely forget the other half which lies in a pokémon’s heart—and their own. They’re a shadow of their predecessors. They think that they’re bigger than everything, that nothing can tear them down. But they’re wrong.” A shadow crept over Lona’s brow. “I’ll show them what a real Gym is like. I’ll show them what the real League should be like. What it would be like if it didn’t spend all its money on useless decorations and pampering!” Flaring up again, she turned her eye on Bertha. “You say that the lack of money is causing our decline? I say it’s too much money! Money that makes those League heads think it’s okay to gorge themselves and their trainers with luxuries. If that’s now they like to express their wealth, then maybe it’s a good thing that Galactic is sucking us dry! Maybe it’s a good thing that the League is finally realizing that its days are numbered! Let the kids all become scientists, engineers. Let them have a model to look up to that says you can only achieve great things if you build them yourself. Pokémon training doesn’t stand for that anymore.”
With that, Lona turned her chair away from Bertha, swiveling towards the side wall. She lowered her head in resignation and closed her eyes. “I know you need my signature, Miss Herrida. But I will not give it to you unless you can prove to me that your petition will put my Gym in a better state than it is right now.”
Bertha sat without speaking. For a while, neither of them moved. Bertha thought of countering back, but the more time that passed, the more she noticed Lona drifting away from her and from the world. She sat with her shoulders down, staring at her bookshelves with an angered, sorrowful expression. One hand kept picking idly at the hem of her jacket.
Lona was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the other woman leave. Bertha stood, gently sliding the empty chair back into its place, and turned for the door. Simultaneously, Lona swiveled towards the back window, covering her face with her hands.
For once, they ended in silence.
Petitions, petitions, everywhere I'm sure Rick can get a ton for his just by hanging out right outside the Gym or at the League-sponsored lodging facilities.
Which brings me to the meat of what I noticed about the chapter...
I think I can now safely say that while I don't necessarily agree with Lona's methods, I do agree with her reasoning about it. 1960's Sinnoh League does appear to be a big machine that shamelessly wastes money left and right. Trainers need places to stay and heal Pokemon, but they don't need four-star, Hilton-style highrise hotels for that purpose. (I know I had Lisa stay in hotels too, but she paid for them out of pocket and they weren't League-operated.) I've had this notion for awhile, and finally it looks like I'm not the only one. Personally, I think that instead of giving the League more money, an external auditor needs to be brought in to research where the League could cut finding for unnecessary programming, instead of throwing more money their way.
Now Galactic may or may not be doing anything to positively contribute to the League, but I do believe giving trainers a few too many luxuries and conveniences, and that could turn out to be detrimental. But somehow, I like reading about these "big brother" like government entities that might be getting drunk on power. Sinnoh might not be out and out corrupt like the League in my story, but I think it will be interesting to find out if the entire system will be reformed because of what's going on here.
And I think that external audit may be what Bertha needs in order to get Lona's approval and signature. Now, the question is whether she'll secure it before the group moves on...
Ah yes, can't have a good fic without petitions. If you like that, then wait till you see what'll come later. Hehe.
And no, I wouldn't say either that my Sinnoh is like your Kanto. (If it was, then Bertha would have to get a career change and become a Special Agent. xP) But you've noticed an important thing -- the League is flawed in some sense. Right now, Bertha and Lona have approached it from different ends. Lona has grasped the problem, Bertha has grasped the solution. Let's see what Bertha makes of it...
Thanks for the review!
Very excellent high quality writing I must say. One of the things that I like about your writing is the 'flow'. I'm reading chapters and I'm not finding myself re-reading sentences or paragraphs. You writing is clear and discriptive so far. The creativity behind it all is also excellent; you are really creative!
I must confess, I've been cheating a bit. Well, I got up to chapter five and then...I found myself reading the new posts. I have to say you did a very good job, no! Good job doesn't really feel like the word I should use to describe your work. It is magnificent! This fiction is unargubly the best damn pokemon fan fiction I've ever read and the best fiction that's floating around these forums as of now.
I don't know what makes me able to easily accept your version of Professor. Rowan. I've read other canon-based works and I can't really picture the character in that particular setting or sitiuation. I find that canon-based fan fictions are one of the hardest things to read and write.
It's hard (for me) because I sometimes or always disagree on how the author used the (canon) character.
When this happens, it ruins the entire story for me and it's back button to the rescue. (Some of my infamous dry-humor.) It's also really hard to write for the exact same reason: people find the version distasteful or out of character. It's hard to place a well-loved or beloved character in one's own words or setting. Not many might agree.
Yet, you have captured this perfectly. Not only do I enjoy your verson of professor Rowan, I accept it. This is what canon-based fanfiction is all about! This is a prime example. I absoultely love this fiction & I love your name as well. ;D
Good Luck finishing up this incredible story. I'm waiting to see what you have in store, so don't disappoint. I hope you continue writing canon-based fanfiction; I am eager to see what character you use next. Also if you have other canon-based works, please direct me to them. I would very much love to read some of those as well.
*Well, I killed it a bit, don't blame me. :(
Hey there! I'm happy you're reading and enjoying my story. I haven't read any other fics featuring Professor Rowan exclusively, but I'm honored that you agree with how I portray him. Writing canon-based stories is interesting for me, because I like to balance the facts with the 'imaginary', so to speak. I put quite a bit of thought into my 1960s Sinnoh, so I'm sure you'll like what I have in store!
And it's perfectly fine that you skipped ahead. Up until now, things have been moving pretty slowly, but they'll start picking up very soon. All the chapters so far have been building up towards something, and they contain quite a bit of information that'll be relevant for when the plot quickens. Keep that in mind if/when you do look back at them.
So with that, welcome aboard! I'm glad you're interested, and hopefully each new chapter will continue to meet your expectations. (I set them for myself, but my readers raise the bar even further. xP)
If you'd like to take a look at my other works, I feature some canon characters in my one-shots. They're old, though, so you might see a slight difference in writing quality. (Save for this story, I've been neglecting all other areas of fic writing lately, but I plan on starting up with one-shots again soon.)
http://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?t=230373 (Maids of the East Wing)
Thanks for the review!
Hey everyone. Thanks for your patience. Fortunately, I've been hard at work during these past few weeks, and as a result, I've finished Chapters 30 and 31 (apart from some minor editing), and have gotten 32 well on its way. I'm anticipating that those will be posted on schedule, with no more than a two-week lapse.
And yes, I did split this chapter for the sake of one tiny scene... Since it's so short (and since I didn't anticipate the chapter being this long), I didn't split the links into two parts. It looks cleaner, at any rate.
Bertha didn’t make her routine visit to Lona the next day. She spent her time walking with her pokémon, observing the town, thinking over what the woman had said. At first, her ideas had seemed radical, but the more Bertha thought about them, the more she could identify with Lona’s mindset.
For some reason, the pile of badges on her desk had stricken a chord in Bertha’s heart, and for the rest of that day, they stood out more clearly in her memory than any other part of their conversation. The badges were, of course, part of her job too. She had to order them by calling the League Office whenever she ran out, and they would arrive in a neatly-packaged box a few days later, pristine and identical.
Bertha had battled many trainers in her years as a Gym leader, and though she couldn’t remember every badge she ever bestowed, some occasions still lingered in her mind. She would always remember the first trainers she ever battled, back in 1959. The five kids had come all the way from Majolica, a town near Hearthome, and were planning on sticking together till the very end. They been a fun group, always laughing, and had left her a card before they moved on.
Speeding through the subsequent years was like watching a reel of film. The setting of her battle room remained the same, but so many trainers had passed through it that she had lost track of them. She only recalled a few—a trainer who shared her name, someone that had a team consisting of only one type, and another who had been tied to his parents for his whole life, and had only just taken his first steps into the outside world. They all had different personalities, different backgrounds, and different goals. But one thing had united them all.
Towards the early months of 1962, Bertha’s memories blurred. That was when the factory had begun to dominate her thoughts, casting a shadow over her like a storm cloud. The trainers came with the same frequency as before, but she no longer retained as much about them, being busy with making her first investigations into the factory’s inner workings. When she had uncovered the truth about the zero-sum game between Team Galactic and the Sinnoh Pokémon League, she began to devote her full energy into crafting her petition. Her duties as a Gym leader took second place, which in hindsight, Bertha realized had changed her attitude as well. She stopped devoting so much attention to her trainers, seeing them as relics of a lost world, one that she no longer belonged to. Their voices and footsteps were reduced to noises that animated the empty house, their head count merely contributing to the number of mouths to feed at the dinner table. She did little more than shake their hands after their battle ended, gently reminding them to make their guest rooms nice for the next person. She had become colder.
Then, Michael and Henry had arrived. Two boys who, at first, seemed worlds apart in character, but had teamed up for the same cause. Henry, always bright and beaming with enthusiasm, had surprised her with his genuine passion—for it was the very kind that Bertha had once had, before she lost it all in the corporate labyrinth. Michael, in comparison, seemed to be the mischievous one, unafraid to test the waters before he entered them. In that respect, he was no different from the multitudes of others, who exploited their advantages, calculating their every move with the skill of a chessmaster. But Bertha had seen something else in him: an iron conviction. No matter what, she knew, if that kid set his mind to something, he wouldn’t stop anywhere along the way until he got it.
The two seemed to have come at the worst possible time, for those had been the days when Bertha was being pressured both by the town council, and the factory management. But even so, they left an impression on her.
And then, unexpectedly, she had been swept away with them on a journey—this time not just her own, but theirs. The whirlwind of the League consumed her anew, and during those long weeks of travel, Bertha had been reminded of her own adventures as a child: of pining, battling, and exploring. And strangely, those years didn’t seem so far away anymore. The League she had loved before was still there, hidden away in the folds, waiting for her to rediscover it. And she did. All it had taken was for her to watch the two trainers by her side, who seemed to grow every day, their spirit bringing light to her darkness.
Bertha mulled over what to do for a while. She read over her petition several times, analyzing every paragraph she had typed. And what she found, to her surprise, was that her writing was strangely lacking—she caught many repeated phrases, inaccuracies, and typos that she didn’t remember seeing before. Beyond the stylistic level, she could still see the overarching concept—but it was imperfect, like a diamond encrusted in a shell of dirt. The Bertha who had written those words had been afraid, upset—and hadn’t yet perceived the modern League from a trainer’s point of view. Back when she had first drafted her petition, getting rid of Team Galactic’s chokehold had seemed like the most important thing. But now, she realized, it was only half the journey.
An idea came to her.
A day later, on June 27th, Bertha stopped by the Gym at its opening hour, just as the first rays of dawn began to peek over the eastern hills. She hadn’t bothered to announce her arrival, but reasoned that either way, she would be able to say her two cents.
She found Lona in her office, as expected, sipping a cup of tea before starting the day. A wooden tray was laid out on her desk, holding a breakfast plate. When Bertha stepped in, Lona looked up in surprise, and the two women looked at each other in silence.
Bertha did not sit down; she hovered in the doorway, then approached the desk, revealing the folder she was holding.
“I thought about what you said the other day,” she began. “While I don’t agree with some of it, I understand now what you mean about the League not being good with money.”
Lona kept a steady gaze, but did not reply.
“I admit, I never considered it that deeply before. To me, the League was always a sign of progress, something that had the potential to unite the country, instead of dividing it. I could never really judge when too much was too much, since I came from Eterna, a town that knew nothing of that. I looked at all those fancy designs, and I felt that that was what Gym should be—a building that a city can be proud of, instead of a run-down facility… or someone’s house.” Bertha pursed her lips. “Ultimately, I think that that was the League’s mistake. They put more money into appearances, rather than function.”
Sliding off the rubber band, she set the folder down in front of Lona. “I might not be able to change other people’s opinions, but I can ask the League to change its ways. I revised my petition a little to clarify my intentions. I still want the League to get the money it deserves, but this time I made sure it’ll get used for the right thing: to restore the Gyms, reform the Game Corners, and benefit trainers by giving them the League experience they deserve—not a money-raffle, but a fair chance. For everyone. You helped me see that, in a way, so I guess I should be thanking you.”
Lona lifted the folder and opened it. She was silent for a few minutes as she flipped through the pages, then when she finished, set it back down.
“You mean to save the League…” she said quietly. “And perhaps, you could… But times are changing. And so, I’m afraid, are we.” She looked up at Bertha. “You know, they’re thinking of introducing a new system for trainer cards. Kids who frequently buy from PokéMarts or use League-operated facilities like Game Corners will be able to upgrade their I.D.s. The ones with the higher ranks will be able to unlock this new computerized system that’ll tell them everything—a walkthrough of all the Gyms, how many Game Corner tokens they still need to buy a certain healing item… even a database to tell them which collector’s items can be found where. A while ago, all a trainer needed was the companionship of his pokémon. Now they’re being forced to pay for all these things they don’t need, as if somehow, the League’s structural reforms changed the meaning of training as well. And I think, in a way, they have… The world’s slowly turning to technology. It’s the future everyone’s waiting for, and sooner or later, we’ll have to do what the government tells us—modernize or die.”
“That’s what happened to Eterna, isn’t it? The town hung on to its culture and values as long as it could… but it didn’t realize how slow it was moving compared to the majority of Sinnoh. And then the worst of that outside world dawned upon it.”
Bertha nodded slowly. “And the same thing happened to the old League too...”
“Yes…” Lona said. “Only, I suppose, it’s still happening. With every year that goes by, I see it’s getting worse. It’s like this long downward spiral we’ve been sucked into and I still can’t see the end of it… What does the government want? Can it really be money? Do they favor one thing over another simply because they think it’ll be more profitable to them in the long run? I don’t know... I don’t know what they want to do with us.” She pressed her fingers to her temples and gave a shrug.
They both fell silent.
“I’ve thought about that too,” said Bertha, after a while. “I wondered why it was Galactic, of all things, that rose to power. And I guess I don’t know either. We can’t know.” She crossed her arms and turned towards the window. “But you know what I realized?”
Lona lifted her head.
“I realized that it doesn’t matter. You’re right—the League’s changing, and it might not be for the better. But we have a chance to make it stop. We can put an end to this before Galactic comes out on top again. And it’s not just them—it’s the whole country. Hell, it’s the whole world. It can change all it wants, but our job is to keep our place in it. We owe it to the trainers to keep the League’s traditions alive. And maybe, in some cases, accept change as well.”
Feeling a silence from Lona, Bertha turned to her and took a step forward.
“Look… I’m not denying that the League of the 30s and 40s was great. It was. But we can’t bring it back, and frankly, there’s no point in trying. Yes, it had a lot of good things that we don’t have today. But there was also a drawback—it was too restrictive, too adamant to change, and because of that it failed to realize when events were turning against its favor. It didn’t stand up for itself in time, and as a result, it let the government take complete control of its fate. But in a way, merging with the feds helped it too, because right now we have the one thing that the old Sinnoh League didn’t—worldwide recognition. That’s already something. It may seem like there’s no way out for us, but there is. Now is the time to act and take back what we lost. And we don’t have to forgo the old to accept the new—rather, we should work with all that we have today rather than against it. By doing that, we can make the League even better than it was before. And who knows…” Bertha took a breath. “Maybe if Eterna had done that, it would still be here.”
As she said this, Lona’s gaze trailed over to hers, and the two women locked eyes. Bertha kept hers fixed on the darker pair, and all of a sudden, she saw something familiar in their stare. Something lifted within her, and unexpectedly, she felt a stray smile tug at her lips. Bertha smiled, and all of a sudden her former frustration dissolved. She was no longer thinking of comebacks or of new ways to prove her point. She was thinking about the League—just the League—and what it meant to her and the woman sitting in front of her.
“We can get it back on track,” she said. “We may not be at our golden age right now, but I believe — and I know you believe it too, Miss Walker — that there’s still something in there worth saving. Think of your trainers. You told me a while ago that you knew how to distinguish the motivated ones. Think of them. There are tons of kids out there who had nothing to be proud of in their lives, and then regained their confidence through doing what their hearts pined for. I know it happens. I’ve seen it.”
Lona lowered her hands and leaned back into her chair. Her face bore a pondering expression, but she also seemed tired.
She didn’t appear capable of saying more.
At that point, Bertha’s gaze flicked over to a small stool near the window, where she noticed a brown pokéball pouch. Apparently, Lona was battling today.
Feeling no urge to stay longer, she backed away, crossing her arms. “Anyway, it’s up to you. Read it. Or not.”
Lona inclined her head. “I’ll get to it… for now, go. Just go.”
Bertha did not immediately move. She remained where she was for a while, silently watching the woman who didn’t look back. And finally she understood.
Turning to leave, Bertha gave the room a final glance, and let the door swing shut behind her. At that moment, the clock on Lona’s wall struck six. A new battle day began.
Eight hours into the day shift, Michael arrived at the Gym for his final two staff battles. The previous days had ended more or less in his favor—he had closed his first with a win and a tie, then the second with two wins. The staff had varying personalities and battling styles, but the pattern he had noticed with Paul, his first opponent, continued with the others.
Each staff member’s team consisted of three regular Fighting types, which varied from Meditites to Mankeys, and occasionally a dual-type. Then, at the end, they would send out their fourth pokémon, which would always be either a Hitmonchan or a Hitmonlee. This was evidently their way of preparing trainers for Lona’s team, though Michael noticed that those pokémon were confined to using only the most basic moves, and possessed no extraordinary capabilities over their teammates aside from better endurance. This, and the fact that Croagunk was excluded from the staff lineup, gave him the unsettling feeling that Lona had something up her sleeve.
But whatever thoughts occupied him during the day, it all vanished when he stepped through the battle room door. During the match, Michael became a blank slate—thinking of nothing but strategy, responding only to the rhythm of conflict. Winning became easier as he learned to guess in advance what his opponent could do, and oftentimes he found himself several steps ahead of them. What impressed him most was his team’s growing unity. Over the long weeks, he had developed a mutual understanding with his pokémon; he no longer had to give them as explicit instructions as before, for they always seemed to know what they had to do. Goldeen had mastered her water technique, and could now perform complex maneuvers across the floor, twisting in circles around her opponent, and even jumping. Machop learned to minimize distractions, and maximize his speed. Ringo became swifter, and apart from picking up catchphrases, learned new tricks to perform in the air. Turtwig became bulkier and sturdier, no longer the clunking creature he had been some weeks ago.
These changes had come about gradually, so Michael had not always noticed them, but in the staff battles, the true extent of their progress shone through. And with his pokémon’s stamina on the rise, his began to improve as well.
That day, Michael was in more of a battling mood than ever. He won his first battle four fainted pokémon to one, and in the next, achieved three defeats with all of his team still standing. His referee’s fourth and final pokémon was a Machop, to which he had countered with his own.
The battle began cordially, with both trainers giving commands at an even pace, but eventually escalated into a wrestling match. The Machops formed a twisting blur, constantly shifting their stances and jabbing with speedy fists. It soon became hard to tell which pokémon belonged to whom, and Michael and his opponent constantly moved around the battlers, trying to keep their eyes locked on one of them. Occasionally, Michael blurted out a command, hoping to gain some sort of response, but neither of the Machops seemed affected. They continued to fight, dealing and blocking blows, until finally one of them lifted a hand and brought it down on the other’s neck, striking a pressure point. The injured Machop collapsed, and did not move.
The still-standing Machop dusted off its hands, and turned to Michael with a smile. He felt a flood of relief.
From the other side of the field, his referee, Rachael, sent back her fainted pokémon. Shooting Michael a wink, she took out a new pokéball and held it out at arm’s length. “Just one more to go, and then it’s the leader battle for you! Go, Garchomp!”
“Relax! I was just kidding.” Rachael made a silly face. “But you still might wanna keep your head on—go, Chansey!”
A burst of light escaped from the capsule, fading as a round, pink pokémon landed on the mats. The Chansey’s face consisted of two beady eyes placed low over a smiling mouth. Its arms, disproportionately tiny and delicate, were folded over its belly, where a large egg rested in a pouch.
“But that’s not a Fighting type,” Michael blurted, before he could stop himself. Noticing Rachael, he backpedaled. “I mean… what I meant was, isn’t that what all the staff are supposed to have?”
“This is just our way of sending you guys off,” Rachael replied. “Historically, Chansies were symbols of luck and patience. We have all our trainers battle one at the very end as our way of wishing them luck… and testing their patience.” She winked. “I can tell you for sure that you won’t see Chansey in your battle with Lona, but even so, it’ a good experience.”
Michael looked down at the chubby pokémon, who blinked and smiled right back. Normal type, he thought. Easy.
He turned to Machop, who had made himself comfortable sitting down, and snapped his fingers for the pokémon to get up. “Machop, use Double Kick!”
The Chansey did not react as Machop broke into a run, aiming a kick at her side. The fighter’s foot struck her torso, and Chansey went flying—but instead of suffering a jarring collision with the floor, she bounced off with her head and landed on her feet, unharmed. The Chansey began to dance, tapping and twirling, as if inviting Machop to continue.
Frustrated, Machop kicked again—this time putting so much force behind the blow that Chansey sailed towards the wall. The impact seemed strong enough to bruise, but Chansey simply bounced off like a rubber ball, sailing over Machop’s head. She let herself fall to the floor, rolling and laughing.
Rachael did not give any commands, but kept a faint smile as Machop ran himself ragged. He tried all sorts of attacks, moving from kicks to jabs, from jabs to throws. But it was as if Chansey’s body was made of sponge. She absorbed every impact, rebounded from every fall, and each time she got up, she would begin to dance. Machop, lured into an inescapable rage by the taunt, kept right on going, ignoring even Michael’s commands to stop.
In his frustration, Michael grabbed the sides of his head and groaned. “What the hell?” Then, remembering Rachael, he looked up. “Uh—I mean, uh… why is she so…?”
Rachael giggled. “Remember, this isn’t just a battle,” she said. “It’s life! Not all of your opponents will fall down after the first punch. I’ll give you a hint, though: Chansey gets her strength from somewhere. Find the source.”
Michael turned to Machop. The fighter was currently jabbing at Chansey’s side, and the pink pokémon was flinching away, giggling. Throughout, she was keeping her arms folded in front of her, the tips of her stubby hands just barely covering the pouch on her belly.
Finally, it clicked. “Machop!” he shouted. “The egg! Get the egg!”
Machop tore his raged gaze away from Chansey, his chest expanding with rapid, exhausted breaths. A brief look of puzzlement crossed his face. Chansey straightened herself and beckoned, tapping her feet. But Machop had broken free of Taunt’s hold—in a flash, he grabbed the egg and pulled it out of the pouch, jumping back. At once, a great weight seemed to press down on Chansey’s body. She lost her former grace, shoulders drooping, and began to teeter. After a brief struggle, she fell, landing in a seated position. Machop continued to step back, hugging the egg ever tighter, as if afraid that it would be taken away.
Rachael clapped. “Spot on! You guessed it!”
Chansey, who was still fumbling to regain her balance, finally managed to stand. She hobbled over to Machop and lifted her arms, trying to reach the egg, but he held it high over her head. After a minute of enduring her protests, Machop finally softened and handed it back to her. Chansey dusted off the egg, testing for dents. Then, she hobbled over to Michael and held it out to him. Somewhat hesitantly, he reached to take it. The egg was hard, but strangely light.
“What’s this for?” he said.
“It’s a Lucky Egg,” Rachael replied. “Open it.”
Michael turned the egg over in his hands, and found that there was a thin line that ran across the middle. He lifted his knee and cracked it open. A puff of green sparks escaped, dissipating in the air around him. He looked up in puzzlement. “That’s it?”
Chansey frowned and crossed her arms. Rachael let out a laugh. “They’re not easy for her to make, you know.”
Michael blinked. “Oh. Well, uh… sorry.”
After the both of them sent back their pokémon, Rachael picked up her clipboard and put a big check beside his name. “All right Michael, you are officially done with this Gym! All you have to do now is go meet with Lona to schedule your battle. I believe she’s in her office now.” Then, remembering something, she added, “Oh, and your friend Henry was also promoted earlier today. He agreed to wait till you finished so you two could go together.”
Michael nodded. “Great.”
Rachael pushed open the door, and together, they went to the lobby. Henry’s face appeared amongst a sea of others — he was sitting at a bench, tapping the floor with his toes. Upon seeing Michael, a smile lit up his face, and the boy sprang up to meet them.
“Did you get it? Did you make it?”
“I made it!” Michael said. “Come on, let’s go book our battles. I don’t want to wait a second longer than I have to.”
They followed Rachael down the left hallway, tripping over their own feet to keep up. She stopped by a door labeled ‘Office’, and indicated for the boys to wait. Slowly, Rachael turned the doorknob and took a peek inside. An answer came, and she nodded once to the person inside.
“All right, you’re set!” Looking back to the boys, Rachael smiled, motioning for them to enter.
Michael stepped forward, crossing the threshold into a big, sunny space. Light from the window spilled across the room, over glistening books, colorful figurines, and shelves made of polished wood. Everything was clean and exact, not a pin out of place.
Lona herself was seated behind a big desk in the center, the corners of which seemed to stretch to infinity, piled high with papers and binders. As usual, she was bent over a paper of some sort, though by the pace of her writing, Michael could tell she was weighing her words, clumsily scrawling a line before crossing it out. She did not look up at them.
The door closed behind them with a thump as Rachael departed, shrouding the boys in silence. At last, Lona lowered her pen and set it aside.
“Well done,” she said. “You have both demonstrated the required skills demanded of an aspiring trainer. Now you will take the next step and see what you have made of your knowledge.” She handed them each a slip of paper. “Your battles will both be tomorrow afternoon. Henry McPherson, yours will begin at 1:30, and Michael Rowan, 2:30.”
The boys took the leaflets, and Lona went back to what she had been writing before. Henry looked at the time chart, then, biting his tongue, lifted his head. “Ma’am, how’s the petition coming along?”
“You may leave now,” Lona said, not looking up. “Good day.”
Michael grabbed Henry’s arm and pulled him out of the office. When they were out in the hallway, he stopped the boy beside the wall.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
Henry began to stammer. ”I—I don’t know, I just…”
“Did you see the way she talked?” Michael said. “She’s pissed, and if you push her, she’ll get pissed even more and take it out on us. Whatever they’re doing is Bertha’s business.”
“But what if Bertha doesn’t make it in time? We’ll have to stay and wait for her!”
“You think I don’t want to get out of here too? Just focus on winning the battle. Bertha will get everything done in time. Don’t worry.”
Michael wasn’t sure where his sudden resoluteness had come from. Part of him wanted to hope that Bertha’s negotiations were going well, but every day that she remained quiet, the more he wondered what was holding them up. And now, for the first time, he saw the strain on Lona’s face as well. Even in the comfort of her own office, she suddenly seemed uneasy, like a dam ready to burst. She was on the verge of something, though he didn’t quite know what.
Henry, who seemed to catch on to this invisible thought, bit his lip and nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. Let’s go.”
They left for the lobby together, pocketing the slips of paper. Simultaneously, from across the room, a group of kids filed out of the other hallway, forming a clump around the doorway. Michael saw them as he entered. The trainers were holding bright orange flyers, whose contents seemed to be the topic of a hushed debate. They trailed across the room, gathering followers, as the kids who didn’t have papers of their own looked off of their neighbors’ shoulders. He caught bits of their conversation as they passed by:
“What is it? Where’d you get it?”
“I found it in my room this morning.”
“… petition to fire the Gym leader?”
“It’s not even spelled correctly!”
Michael felt a brief shock pass over him. He watched as the trainers came to a gradual stop in the middle of the lobby, and eased his way over to them, trying to get a glimpse of the flyers. But the kids were so occupied by their discussion that they kept twisting and turning, and each time his eyes locked on one, it was quickly turned away.
Meanwhile, the staff at the front desk paused what they were doing and looked up at the crowd. One of them rose from her seat, and Michael recognized Betty, his referee from the week prior. Behind her was Leroy, who was stapling a stack of papers. As the staff around him stilled, he looked askance to see what the hush was about.
Betty leaned over the counter and reached out. “Hey, hold on ther’!”
The group of trainers froze. As one, they turned towards the front desk, and Betty motioned for them to approach. “Come over here. Show me what y’all are reading.”
At first, no one moved. Then, a boy with glasses approached and handed her a copy of the flyer. Only now did Michael become aware of the bone-dry silence that had fallen over the room. Betty scanned over the paper, face clouded with puzzlement, while the trainers watched with widened eyes.
When she finished reading, she looked up, blinking as if to clear a haze. “Who started this?”
“We don’t know, miss,” the boy replied.
“Yeah, someone slipped them under our hotel doors last night.”
Betty frowned. “Well whoev’r it is, I want to know. This here is not what a trainer should be sayin’. Especially to someone who goes out of th’r way every day to help them. I know Lona p’rsonally, and let me tell you—she is as sweet and honest as they come. I hope this isn’t the attitude y’all have towards your teachers and y’r parents too, because if it is, then you better kick it fast. Now I want all of you to turn in those papers to me here, and don’t let me hear any more about them. If I catch anyone collecting those signatur’s, then I’ll have them kicked from this Gym.” She looked around at the trainers. “You kids bett’r speak up now. Who knew about this?”
No one replied.
Betty did not appear surprised. “Fine then. But I’m warning you—I will find out. I’m going to tell the rest of the staff about this, and we’re going to start lookin’ for this person. Whoever it is, they have their due punishment in store. Now all of you give your papers to me.”
As a group, the trainers approached and presented their flyers to Betty. She set them off to the side face-down.
“Now go off wherever you were headed before. We’ll deal with this.”
The murmuring crowd dissipated, some leaving through the exit, others trailing off towards the hallways. Michael remained where he was, still unable to shake his disbelief. But beneath that, he found it amusing that Rick’s plan ended up a flop. Anyone who resorted to such sloppy methods was only asking to be caught.
A few trainers stuck around as Betty conversed with the other attendants, and watched as all three staff members left through a side door. Leroy was the only one who remained. When all the attendants had gone, he stepped out from behind the counter and grabbed a flyer from the stack. Henry approached from beside the benches, and the three boys found each other by the front desk.
Leroy held up the paper and began to read it. “So what’s all this about?”
Michael shrugged. “Don’t know. We didn’t get one.”
“Me neither.” Leroy frowned. “The person must’ve only done their section of the hotel.”
Henry bit his lip as he scanned the typed lines. “This is really terrible... I wonder who started it.”
“Someone obviously too lazy to think things through,” Michael said in a humored tone. “We could’ve done a better job.”
Henry and Leroy gave him an odd look, to which he responded by lifting his palms. “What? I’m just saying.”
Henry lowered his gaze. “But it’s still rude.”
From the far-flung corners of the lobby, the trainers that remained gradually drifted together. Michael, Henry, and Leroy followed along, lingering on the fringes of the crowd. The trainers’ faces bore varying degrees of shock and suspicion, but at first, the talking was confined to whispers. Then, a bespectacled boy stepped away from the others, planting himself at the center where everyone could see him. He looked around at the others, who met his gaze in silence, hands stuffed in his pockets.
“So… who did it?” he asked. “Any of you know?”
The trainers shook their heads.
“I think I saw a kid with that color paper yesterday,” someone offered. “He was in the hotel. But I don’t remember his face.”
At this, a young boy let out a sigh. “Well it sure wasn’t anyone on the top floors. I’m all the way up on the sixth and I didn’t get one. I always miss out on everything…”
“My friends are all on the fifth floor and they didn’t get any either,” a girl chimed in. “But I’m on the fourth and everyone else I’ve talked to there got them.” She took out a folded copy she had hidden away in her pocket.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean their room’s on the lower floors,” said another. “Wouldn’t they start from the bottom up either way?”
“I think I know who it might be…” came a voice. All heads turned to find a short boy in trousers, who stood with his arms crossed. Upon meeting the others’ gazes, his face became grave. “I saw a kid in the mail room two nights ago. I went there ‘cause I wanted to send a letter home — and you know how there are all those typewriters there? I saw a kid with a whole stack of orange paper. He must’ve gotten it from one of the shelves. I walked in and he was just sittin’ there and typing. I didn’t see what he was working on, but he seemed busy as hell. So I got a table by myself and started typing my letter, just minding my own business. Then a few minutes later, I finished, but then I realized I didn’t know where the envelopes were, so I went up to ‘im and asked. He looked at me kind of funny, like ‘where the hell did you come from’—and he seemed scared, kinda, probably because he didn’t notice me there before. He tried to make me go away, and I tried to explain that all I wanted was to ask a freaking question, but he started making a big deal out of it. I think he thought I was spyin’ on him or something. By the time I found the envelopes, the kid just packed up all his things and left. I remember him ‘cause of his bag—he carries this weird sports thing.”
The trainers began to mutter.
“Two nights ago?” someone echoed. “That would’ve only given him enough time to make a hundred copies or so. He probably wanted to make more after giving out the first batch today.”
“Yeah, but at this rate, he’s a goner. With the staff on his back, he’ll get busted no doubt…”
A plump boy with a baseball cap made a face. “That sucks, man. It was about time someone stood up to that skag Walker. Too bad the kid didn’t tell us how to contact him—all he said was to send our signatures to some post box.”
The bespectacled boy who had spoken earlier puffed out his cheeks. “Well, that’s as good as gone now. Staff’ll be on top of that in no time. What I want to know is maybe there’s still some way we can do this. Even if the kid does get caught, we can’t just let this whole thing go dead. It’d be a waste. The petition’s obviously a call to action — and I think we ought to answer it.”
“But how?” said a girl. “They’re gonna start looking, aren’t they? The staff will make sure nothing’s going on under their noses. And I bet they’ll find a way to watch what’s goin’ on in the hotel, too.”
“That’s why we gotta be smart,” the boy replied. “I think that whoever started this petition knew the stakes. I mean, duh, it’s Lona Walker we’re talking about here. She and her staff can grill anyone who gets in their way. But that’s the point. You can’t live life without risks.”
The trainers began to murmur anew. Henry, who had grown noticeably tense by Michael’s side, suddenly seemed to snap. Without warning, he pushed himself forward. “But didn’t you hear what that lady said?” he blurted. “You’ll get in trouble! And you’ll get us all in trouble too!”
The girl made a face. “So? I think it’s worth it! There’s no way I’m gonna go through another week of this hell—and there’s still staff battles to worry about. If it weren’t for this Gym, I’d already be in Sunyshore!”
“I don’t know… I think that kid is right,” someone else said. “It’s not worth it. For one thing, you’ll get caught, which’ll mean that the blame might get put on us too—the ones who didn’t do anything. I’d rather spend two weeks getting my badge than be kicked out and have to wait another year.”
This was followed by sparse murmurs of agreement.
“Well I wouldn’t!” the girl replied. “It’s freaking summer, and I want to travel and get badges. I don’t need another teacher to make me work.”
“But that’s what you’re supposed to do!” said Henry. “You’re supposed to battle to get the badge.”
At this, the boy with the glasses shook his head. “Wait, wait, wait. Cat, what’s your problem? Do you get what we’re talking about here? This is Lona Walker’s Gym. How can you be defending it?”
“But that’s easy!” the girl cut in. “How long has he been here?”
“Two weeks,” said Henry promptly. “And I’m done with staff battles!”
The girl shrugged. “Well, then it’s obvious why you don’t care. You got it off easy, but not all of us were so lucky. Don’t you think it’s a little bit unfair for you to be moving on so quickly, while some of us have to stay?”
“But you’ll have to stay even longer if you decide to do the petition, wouldn’t you?”
“Not if everyone does their part,” replied the boy. “It doesn’t even have to be a single document. Think of it this way—if we all just send in our letters to the League Office separately, and keep passing down the information to each new group of trainers that comes in here, we could get over a hundred signatures in a month. We just need everyone to cooperate.”
“Well I’m not doing it!” Henry turned away, crossing his arms with finality.
The boy sneered. “What are you, a baby?”
“Lay off!” said Leroy. He stepped between them. “Henry’s got more guts than you! And I’m with him—I’m not gonna be a part of this either. You guys are the ones acting like babies right now, starting some stupid petition instead of beating the Gym like you’re supposed to.”
“Well obviously you’d think that. You’re one of them, aren’t you?” The boy nodded up at Leroy’s staff shirt. “All you do is run office errands. You’re not the one battling. You’re not the one going through this bullshit every day.”
Leroy narrowed his eyes. “You’re saying you know this place better than me?”
“Yeah I do, ‘cause I’m an actual trainer, not some data-freak who hides behind the staff’s backs!”
Some kids began to chuckle.
“A trainer who can’t even be bothered to train?” Leroy countered. “Is that why they rejected you, Derek? I wouldn’t be surprised—I see how some of you battle. You guys treat all this like it’s a joke, and the staff are telling you the same things over and over again, but you don’t listen. You tune them out and at the same time say that they’re not helping you. I know this Gym isn’t easy like the ones before, but there’s this little thing called respect, which I suggest you all start learning, ‘cause you’re gonna be in big trouble later on if you don’t. Everyone knows that it’ll only get harder from here on out. But if you shy away from the first challenge you get, then what are you gonna do when you get to the next four Gyms? Are you gonna try and petition your way out of those too? I thought the whole point of your little League was to win it!”
“The point of the League is to finish it!” Derek said. “We were going through just fine before we got to this place! And now look—we have to spend two whole weeks here, while any other Gym would take me four days! It’s not fair to us!”
The trainers all turned as a blonde girl with braids rose from a side bench. “I’ll tell you what’s not fair,” she said. “It’s when you come from a place like Twinleaf that has no connections with the League at all, not knowing anythin’ about how to train pokémon, and having to learn everything on the fly while others are laughing at you for losing! This place was the first one that taught me how to battle. Before that I had to repeat practically all my Gym battles twice. My pokémon never listened to me, and no matter how hard I tried to train them, they could never hold out for more than a couple minutes in battle. But when I got here, the staff helped me. They told me how to make my pokémon listen to me, and how I should listen to them. They taught me that it isn’t about how strong your team is, but how flexible it can be. And I started improving. I think that Leroy’s right—if y’all would just listen to what the staff are trying to tell you, then maybe you might get through here faster and actually learn something. Because if it wasn’t for Lona and her staff, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d probably have dropped out already… and I felt so much like a failure sometimes that I almost did. But look now—” She took a gleaming coin from her pocket. “I got the badge! I got it just today!”
This was received with a mixture of gasps and applause. Henry, who had fallen silent behind Leroy, looked up, eyes widening. As the noise died down, a flicker of light passed over his face, bringing a smile.
“It’s true!” he said suddenly. His words were directed at no one in particular, but right then, they seemed to sail above the noise, and the kids around him turned. “I’ve gotten loads better here than I was before. Before I had any badges, I thought I was the worst trainer in the world. And I kind of was… I didn’t really know where I was going or what I would do when I got to the next Gym. Back then I thought badges were everything… I thought that if I could get all eight, then people would treat me better, and I’d never feel like I wasn’t good enough. But this Gym made me realize that there’s so much more to pokémon training than that. In the other towns, it was always me practicing to win a single battle. But here, I can battle with all these other people without worrying about who wins or loses, and I can get advice from people who know more about training than I do. I used to think my team was weak because we always lost. But now I know that my pokémon are strong, because no matter what, they’ll always keep trying. This Gym was the first time I stopped thinking about the badge, and started thinking about my pokémon. It’s like what my friend Michael told me when we first met. He said… he said that if you need a piece of metal to feel cool, then you’ll always be a wimp. But now I don’t need a badge to feel cool. I’m battling here and I’m having fun and I’m learning. And that’s kind of what I think Lona is trying to tell us. It’s not about the badge—it’s about what you did to get it.”
At this, the trainers grew thoughtfully silent. Henry looked askance at Michael and caught his eye. Michael shrugged sheepishly in response.
Henry turned back to the crowd, and lowered his chin a little when he saw that they were all looking at him. But a beat later, he regained his composure, and stood up straight.
“So I think… we should show her that we can do it,” he continued. “Whoever started that petition, I bet they just didn’t want to practice. I bet they thought the League would be a one-way ticket to fame. And when they met the first person who told them it wasn’t, they got upset and tried to fight back. But I’m not upset. I’m going to beat the Gyms fair and square, and when I’m done, I’ll have more than just badges to show it.”
“Me too,” the pigtailed girl agreed.
Michael watched with unblinking eyes as one trainer after another piped up their agreement. It was like witnessing a world phenomenon—the crowd split before his very eyes, some moving over to Henry’s side, and others to Derek’s, who held his ground firmly by the front desk. Michael was jostled somewhere in the middle, arms crossed amid the sea of moving elbows. Many who had renounced their involvement with the petition left through the front doors, among them the blonde-haired girl. The rest trailed off into the hallways, or various points along the perimeter of the lobby.
Derek and his friends were the last to leave. Still whispering, they left through the front exit, keeping several paces behind the others. As the glass doors swooshed closed, Leroy let out a sigh.
He placed the flyer back with the rest of the pile, then went over to Michael and Henry. “Well, it’s the staff’s business now,” he said. “I hope that Derek kid doesn’t start anything. But then again, I don’t think any of them will. They know it’s not worth it—like you said, Henry.”
The boy nodded. His cheeks were still slightly pink; clearly, he wasn’t used to being the center of attention.
“Come to think of it, I think I get now why Lona’s so crabby. It can’t be fun to take all that smack from people every day.”
“I wonder what she’s gonna do when she finds out about this,” Henry said.
Michael snorted. “Pin our heads to the wall, most likely.”
The boy smiled. For a minute, he seemed lost in a trail of thought, then he came to and looked at his companions. “You know… I think we should do something nice.”
“Nice?” Michael tapped his chin. “Sorry… I don’t think that word’s in my vocabulary.”
Henry gave an exasperated sigh. “I mean it. If Lona’s upset now, it’ll only get worse when she finds out that a bunch of people want her fired. And then it’ll be bad for us, because if she’s mad, she’ll be even more strict. We should try to cheer her up.”
Though he recognized the boy’s point, Michael couldn’t help but grin. “We should get rid of all her books and replace them with Bidoof dolls.”
This elicited a chuckle from Leroy. Henry rolled his eyes in annoyance.
“What?” said Michael. “It’ll be cool! Imagine she walks into her office and sees that it’s filled with—”
“I was thinking of something else,” said Henry, cutting him off. He gave a second’s pause, then smiled. “We should get her to meet up with Ted.”
Michael lifted an eyebrow.
At the same time, Leroy frowned. “Ted, you mean…”
“Ted the move tutor! Remember, the guy you told us about? We went to visit him a while ago. He helped us out a lot with our pokémon, but we also found out that he has a crush on someone.” Henry leaned in to whisper. “And that someone is Lona!”
Leroy’s eyes bulged. “You’re kidding. Seriously?”
“Yup. It’s the real deal! Only he doesn’t know it’s Lona, and Lona doesn’t know it’s Ted. They just know each other by what they look like.”
“Huh. And… you want to get them to meet up?”
Henry nodded. “Think about it—Ted’s sort of got no one, right? And it’s the same with Lona. So if they make friends, then they’ll both end up happier.”
Michael gave a shrug. “Eh… I don’t know. “
“It kind of makes sense, though,” Leroy said. “Ted always struck me as kind of a loner... But how do you plan on getting them to meet, exactly?”
Henry froze. “Well… I was thinking we could get him to write a letter. Right?” He looked at Michael. “Or... something.”
“I don’t know… something tells me that Lona’s not love letter type.” Michael cast his gaze towards the ceiling reflectively. “Dear Ted… Love Lona.”
Henry began to crack up. But all of a sudden, Leroy snapped his fingers. “Guys! I’ve got just the thing.” He slipped behind the front desk and came back with a business card. “Look. It’s got Lona’s name, phone number, everything. Bam.” He gave it a tap.
“But how would Ted know what to do with it?” Michael said. “For all he knows, it could just be a random person.”
“Not if we write something,” Henry offered. “Remember the note Lona wrote when she gave him back his book? We should do something like that.”
“But how are you going to forge her writing?” asked Leroy. “If he already has a note from her like you said, then wouldn’t he be able to tell the difference between them?”
Henry pursed his lips in thought, and fell silent. A moment later, his gaze trailed over to Michael, who drew back.
“Please?” asked Henry. “If there’s anyone of us who can forge a note… well, it has to be you.”
Michael’s shoulders drooped. Realizing he was bound to the inevitable, he held up his hands. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
Henry breathed a sigh of relief.
“Just give me a clean sheet.”
Leroy went behind the counter and brought back a small leaflet. Michael sat down at a bench and began to dig through his backpack, sorting through the clutter to fish out the note Lona had given to him on his first day. Then he took out the newer one and laid them out side-by-side. Finally, he grabbed a pencil, and smoothed the clean paper against the surface of the bench.
“Okay. So what are we gonna make this thing say? Gimme some ideas.”
Henry looked over his shoulder. “Umm… oh! How about ‘Meet me in front of the Gym?’”
“But how’s Lona supposed to know that she has a date?
“Oh. Right.” Henry began to think anew. “Let’s see…”
Leroy cut in: “How about we just invite him to drop by during the week? I know Lona has a break from two till three, right after the partner battles end. We could tell Ted to come by in a few days, just to give him time to prepare. But it can’t be on a Friday. She takes those off.”
“That works,” Michael said. He thought for a moment, then began to write, sketching his letters carefully to accommodate a new style. He even held his pen like Lona did—slanted slightly, so that the letters were bent to the right. When he was done, he dusted the paper off and handed it to Leroy.
“‘Come by from 1:00 to 3:00. I think it’s time we introduced ourselves.’” Leroy nodded. Yeah, that sounds sorta like what Lona would say.” He passed the paper to Henry. “What do you think? Does it look like her writing?”
Henry held the paper out at arm’s length. “Wow, it does! How do you do it, Michael?”
Michael bowed his head. “Years of experience.”
“Heh. That’s pretty cool.” Leroy chuckled. “Now we gotta deliver it to Ted.” He started for the door, but stopped when he noticed Henry’s questioning look.
“But wait,” Henry said. “What about your shift?”
Leroy looked back at the deserted counter, and after a second of debate, flicked his hand. “I’ll say I was in the bathroom.”
Michael grinned. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
Leroy paperclipped the business card and the note together, and pointed gallantly towards the front doors. “Let’s go!”
The boys ran laughing into the fading afternoon.
By the time they reached Ted’s house, the heat of the day had settled, and the trees were rustling in a light breeze. People strolled about the neighborhood, some with pokémon on leashes, others flitting by on bicycles, voices and laughter permeating the air.
As always, the Move Tutor’s house stood still and quiet, secluded by a tiny border of shrubs. Michael stood looking at it for a while, then approached the old mailbox beside the road and slipped the note inside.
“Well, that’s it.” He looked back at the other boys, who were standing side-by-side behind him. Henry, who had been resolute in the moments prior, seemed struck by a brief hesitancy.
“That’s it? Do you think Ted’ll notice?”
Michael shrugged. “Sure. The next time he goes to check his mail, he’ll see it.”
“No, I meant, are you sure that’s all we have to do? Maybe a note’s not enough... Or maybe he’ll read it wrong or something.”
Now it was Michael’s turn to give Henry an odd look. “Who’s the expert here?”
The boy giggled. “Fine. I’ll stop talking.”
With that, the trio turned to leave. Michael gave the house a final glance back, then let it slip away behind him, vanishing into its pocket of silence in the distance. He thought of Ted again, who had once seemed so strange, then turned out to be just a regular guy like everyone else. Whatever came out of their little plan, he reasoned, would not be up to them. But even so, the thought of it gave him a strange contentment. Maybe Ted deserved it.
The boys passed out of the neighborhood in silence, walking in a straight line across the breadth of the sidewalk. Henry was caught in between the two taller boys, his back perfectly straight, taking tiny steps to keep up. Leroy veered to the left every so often to accommodate him. Michael, who walked alongside the road, kept a loosened stance, one thumb unconsciously hanging from the edge of his pocket. As he walked, he looked up at the sky, which seemed vast and tired, drooping near the half-closed sun on the horizon.
“Well, that’s it for this place,” he mumbled.
“Yeah…” came Henry’s echo. “One more day, and we’re done. I still can’t believe it.”
Leroy looked askance. “You guys are battling her tomorrow?”
They both nodded.
“Mm. Well, good luck. I know you’ll both win of course, so it’s not like you’ll need it.” He sighed. “As for me, I’ll probably be getting a move on too, soon. I’ll stay for another two weeks or so, but then I’ll head out. New places, new pokémon. That sort of stuff.”
Henry lowered his chin. “It stinks that we probably won’t ever see each other again after this.”
This thought had occurred to Michael before, though now, its return brought him a slight unsettlement. He nodded his agreement.
“Well, maybe we’ll meet up again somewhere,” Leroy said. “I doubt I’ll go as far as Pastoria, though. I’ll probably go north to Celestic then swing back over to Hearthome. I have to be back in Sandgem by July 12th to report my results to the professor. There’s gonna be this huge gathering of all the camp members, and once they review everyone’s entries, they’ll announce the winner.”
“Why did you do that camp anyway?” Henry asked. “Are you into research or something?”
Leroy shrugged. “I guess it’s just what I got into first. I was never that competitive, so the League didn’t seem all that interesting to me. And at any rate, the lab is like five feet from my neighborhood. It was pretty much the first place my parents thought of when signing me up for a summer activity.”
Michael smiled at the odd twist of fate. “That’s not so far from my pad,” he said. “I live in Jubilife.”
Henry feigned a sigh. “I feel all alone. I live in Floaroma!”
The boys shared a laugh.
They talked intermittently for the next several minutes, sharing stories of their hometowns, and travels around the country. Though Leroy’s and Henry’s lives seemed worlds apart from his, Michael appreciated for the first time how similar the three of them were.
Soon, above the line of trees that bordered the road, the gleaming roof of the hotel popped into view against the skyline.
“Well, at any rate, I guess it’s good to leave on a good note,” Leroy continued. He looked at the other two, and a slight jest crept into his voice. “Who knows—maybe meeting Ted will magically turn Lona nice. That’ll make it easier for a lot of people after we’re gone.”
Henry smiled. “Yeah, that’s for sure…”
But Michael had long since zoned out of the conversation. His friends’ words were lost in the fleeting landscape, scattered by the faint rush of wind, the hum of passing cars. Colors and sounds which had once been so distinct to him now swam before his eyes in a muddled blur, and he looked upon the town with a parting satisfaction, ready to forget it all and move on.
Well, it might be my birthday, but I'll still present you a gift in the form of this review!
My, my, so many petitions floating around. Though clearly the lobby of the gym was not the best venue to discuss the anti-Lona one... LOL at that bit of poor planning...
The whole debate after the confiscation of the petitions raises a good question, though... how much is too much? Clearly it would be unethical to let an unprepared trainer pass, as leaders down the road would cream them and - more importantly - they wouldn't LEARN anything from the experience. But nor should they be expected to stick around for, say, 53 years... the big question is, how long do you keep a trainer at the gym if they simply aren't making any progress or are refusing to put in the effort? I would imagine it would be reasonable to keep trainers there for a month, maybe 5-6 weeks unless they're good enough to make it past judging before that. I'd imagine at some point they'd just tell trainers to just go home.
But man, some kids sure are impatient... which I admit to being a bit impatient myself regarding wanting to move on to a new location in the story. Fortunately, that might be happening next chapter... unless Michael's signing of Rick's petition from last chapter comes back to bite him. Time will tell (but hopefully not too much time xD)
(I have nothing against the new games and I actually might be getting one soon, but this is still an important point.)
Michael didn't exactly 'sign' Rick's petition. What Rick had planned by sending out the flyers was to notify all his fellow trainers of Lona's unfairness and call them to action. He didn't circulate a single document to collect everyone's signatures, because he understood that that would be too risky. Instead, by means of the flyers, he told the kids to basically bombard the League Office with letters expressing their desire to fire Lona. As of now, nobody has written anything, because as you've seen, the flyers have all been taken away. But that doesn't mean that Rick is through with his business... and it doesn't mean that Michael is guaranteed not to be associated with him.
The debate is certainly an important one, and everything that Lona and others have said about the League and pokemon training up to this point won't die when she leaves the spotlight. You should be able to notice a certain development pertaining to that as we move along.
And yes, I understand that the Solaceon chapters have been quite many in number... but it's a 100% guarantee that Chapter 30 will be the last Solaceon chapter for Michael and Company. That's where everything will be revealed, including all the secrets to life, the world, and humanity. (notreallyahaha) But we'll be moving on to the next city.
T'will happen soon... t'will all happen very soon. >:]
Thanks for reviewing!
Hey everyone. I have a big chapter for you today... both in length and in content. The battle scene you will read is going to be the last one for a while, so I spared the length cutbacks. I think it deserves its own few pages. xP
Other than that, this chapter speaks for itself. There is be a slightly higher-than-usual concentration of swearing in the second post, but not to a great degree.
The next day, at 1:30, Michael was sitting at a bench in the Gym lobby, his back bent, elbows resting on his knees. It was battle day, but he wasn’t thinking about battling. In fact, he was hardly thinking at all—just staring down at the floor, stealing glances at the clock periodically to see if his hour was up yet.
In another room somewhere, Henry was battling Lona. Was he winning? Did he open with Clefable like they discussed, or was her team so powerful that it warranted a change of strategy? And perhaps most importantly of all, what would the boy say when he turned up?
Michael watched inattentively as the other trainers moved past him, going about their daily duties. Their voices were distant to him, as if separated by a pane of glass. All he wanted to think about was strategy—and indeed, in the past hour, he had gone over so many scenarios that his head had begun to ache. For some reason, all of them involved Lona whipping out a powerhouse of some sort and giving his team a clean sweep—or, even worse, all of her pokémon being so powerful that he wouldn’t even be able to faint one.
Distracting himself, he glanced up at the clock again. The minute hand had jumped—this time by a whole five-minute increment. (He had much experience with doing this in school, especially during classes that seemed to drag on for ages. The trick was to memorize the minute hand’s position, zone out for a while, then look back at the clock and see how much it had moved.) But this time, he was going for the opposite effect. Rather than speeding through time, he wanted to slow it down, to make each minute linger as long as possible. Through it all, he looked periodically at the left doorway, where Henry had disappeared earlier, and for better or worse, would soon emerge.
At last, a familiar pair of sneakers appeared amongst the others. Henry stepped warily into the lobby, glanced around the room, and when his eyes locked on Michael, he hurried over. One hand was still holding his last pokéball. The other hung stiff at his side, clenched tightly.
Michael stood from the bench as the boy approached. “Well?” he said. “What happened?”
For a moment, Henry was silent. Then, he lifted his free hand and opened it to reveal the Cobal badge.
“I won,” he said. “But she’s tough. Be careful.”
Michael didn’t know what to make of these words. He and Henry swapped places—the boy sitting down, Michael hoisting his backpack over his shoulder and turning for the front desk. Despite his victory, Henry’s face retained a detached, pondering look, as if there was still something that he couldn’t figure out.
After signing him in, the attendant pointed Michael to the same hallway, and he went off. He followed the numbers on the doors to the very last one in the lineup—Room 99.
He stopped before the closed door, and after a brief pause, pushed it open.
The Gym leader’s battle room was larger than the others, nearly three times as big as a regular one. Wooden shades were draped over the windows, providing light in lined segments along the floor.
Lona herself stood on the far end of the room, in between two back doors. She held a brown pokéball pouch, but other than that, had no other items on hand. She nodded once as Michael entered, stepping off the hard floor and onto the shifty surface of the mats. Involuntarily, his gaze began to wander — he noticed that the cushions which had appeared clean before were scarred and dented in many places, and if he squinted, he could even make out what he thought to be a footprint in the center of the field, belonging to a big, heavy creature.
“Welcome,” Lona said. Despite the distance between them, her voice carried over as if she had been standing only a foot away. “Today you will prove to me your worth of the Cobal Badge. Be advised that the rules of partner and staff battles do not apply here. You may switch pokémon as many times as you wish, or keep the same battler, or do anything else provided that it’s within the boundaries of the League rules. That being said, I give out the badge on a discretionary basis. Winning does not guarantee that you’ll earn it, nor does a loss have to be the end for you if you fought skillfully.” She removed a pokéball from her pouch and held it out in front of her. “When you are ready, you may begin.”
She twisted open the capsule, and out came a burst of light, materializing into a Hitmonchan that landed on its feet in front of her. The pokémon’s body was lean and chiseled with muscle, though by far the most striking detail was its fists—big and heavy, hanging past its knees, covered with red fabric like boxer’s gloves. The creature lifted them with ease, though each one was comparable to the size of its own head, and held them in a defensive position at its chest.
Michael sent out Goldeen, who slid onto the field atop a stream of water. Once she had pulled all the liquid into a ball beneath her, he gave his command: “Use Psybeam!”
Goldeen lowered her horn like a lance, and the sound of crackling static filled the room. Seconds later, a thick, pink beam blasted out from the tip, shooting across the field at her opponent. But before it could make contact, the Hitmonchan raised its gloves over its face, and the ray of energy broke against the barrier, dissipating into a thousand tiny wisps in the air. In the same breath, the pokémon’s body swayed forward, like a spear of grass pushed by the wind, and fell into a sprint. Its feet sailed soundlessly over the mats, crossing the distance between them in a matter of seconds. Upon reaching Goldeen, the Hitmonchan leaned back, curling its fist to aim a punch.
“Dodge!” Michael called.
Goldeen swerved aside just in time, the stream trailing around her like an elongated tail, and the Hitmonchan’s fist plunged through empty water. She twisted around to strike from behind, but the Hitmonchan proved just as quick—it spun around to face her again, and began to punch at the tail of water, its fists striking so rapidly that they formed a blur of splashes. The punches edged with increasing proximity to Goldeen’s tail, who tried in vain to outrun them, till finally one of them hit true. Hitmonchan’s fist struck Goldeen squarely in the side, knocking her to the floor like a missing tooth.
The spiral of water collapsed, but the Hitmonchan paid it no mind, letting it slosh over the mats while it caught Goldeen with its foot. Before the fish could wiggle away, the Hitmonchan tossed her aloft, and punched her back against the mats, making her bounce.
“Get the water back! Get it back!” Michael said.
But Goldeen’s flails amounted to little. Each time she hit the floor, the Hitmonlee scooped her back up with its foot and tossed her up again, giving no time for an escape. After the umpteenth toss, the Hitmonchan pulled back its fist and punched harder than ever, throwing her like a shimmering ball halfway across the room.
Lona hadn’t said a single word.
Goldeen landed with a thump onto the mats and rolled a while before stopping. A second later she flipped over—and a pink Psybeam blasted from her horn, striking Hitmonchan square in the chest. The pokémon stumbled back, ousting a cry.
Michael grinned. “Again! Do it again!”
Goldeen shuffled to the side to make a fresh aim, but before she could launch the attack, the Hitmonchan was on top of her, kicking at her side in an attempt to lift her. But this time Goldeen was able to ground herself, retaliating with Pecks whenever the Hitmonchan’s foot came too close. The fighter’s face contorted with pain at onslaught of Flying moves, and his kicks abated, becoming more like struggles for balance as he hopped from one foot to another, trying to evade Goldeen’s beak. But with his tiny feet no longer the center of balance, the Hitmonchan began to teeter, pulled down by the weight of his oversized fists.
For a split second, it seemed that the pokémon would fall. The Hitmonchan had leaned back on one foot at a sharp angle, its arms groping at the air. But at the last minute, he managed to place a sturdy foot behind him, and lunged forward. In a swift motion, he kicked Goldeen up into the air and prepared to punch. But the fish was faster—still aloft, she spun around, and before the Himonchan could reach for her, a burst of pink light exploded from her horn. The force of the Psybeam blasted the Hitmonchan back, knocking it to the floor. Goldeen landed on her belly just a few feet away.
“Get the water!” Michael said, slapping his knees with impatience. “Get it back! Hurry!”
Goldeen spun around to where the puddle of water lay, slowly seeping into the cracks between the cushions. While the Hitmonchan got to his feet, she jumped over to it and pulled what was left of it beneath her. Michael’s shoulders drooped with relief as she rose into the air once more, supported by a stable column of water.
A short distance away, the Hitmonchan drew itself upright, eyes locking on its target. With a cry, he bolted forward.
“Water Pulse!” Michael commanded.
Goldeen sailed over to meet the Hitmonchan, riding atop a rolling wave. Just as she reached him, she jumped, letting the water crash over his head. She sailed over the pokémon’s stooping frame, skillfully pulling the water back beneath her, and performed the maneuver from behind—not giving the Hitmonchan even a second to recuperate. The wave of Water Pulse struck it a second time from behind, and the Hitmonchan fell to its knees, fists dangling at its sides like wrecking balls.
“Not finish it off! Psybeam!”
Goldeen rose on a billowing wave, her horn blazing. She launched the Psybeam at the Hitmonchan, who fell without protest, collapsing on his belly with an exhausted oomph.
Lona lifted a hand and snapped her fingers twice. The Hitmonchan did not move. Pulling open the pokéball pouch, she called it back inside, swapping it for her second pokémon. Michael’s bewildered joy faded into puzzlement as he once more became aware of the Gym leader’s pervading silence. She hadn’t given a single command, and yet her pokémon had moved with steadfast resolution, as if it had been given a script of actions to follow. But at the same time, all of Hitmonchan’s decisions had been its own, as if it wasn’t reacting to the will of its trainer, but to the battle itself.
Guide them, not command them… All of a sudden, those words seemed to take on a whole new meaning. They lingered in Michael’s mind as Lona sent out her second pokémon—a Hitmonlee. Right off the bat, he knew what he had to do.
“Goldeen, return.” He called the fish back inside and sent out Caterpie. He unlocked the pokéball and held it out as far as he could, dropping the Bug pokémon onto the center of the field. It was her third day in metamorphosis, and the cocoon had hardened and darkened around her.
Michael didn’t give the command for String Shot right away. He waited, like Lona waited, and gradually the Hitmonlee began to move away from its trainer, scanning the territory for danger. When it came close enough to Caterpie, Michael smiled. “Now!”
At once, the cocoon began to shoot out mounds of silvery string, which wrapped and tangled around her opponent’s feet. Once the Hitmonlee realized what was happening, it jumped back in shock—but found that its ankles were already bound by a sticky white band. The Hitmonlee tried in vain to pull its feet apart, jerking its torso from side to side while Caterpie tightened the binds. When she hopped off, the Hitmonlee was left standing like a statue, its arms swiping in a vain attempt to capture her. Unlike the Hitmonchan, however, the Hitmonlee’s stance was completely sturdy. Michael knew that it would take much more to make this one fall.
Nodding in acknowledgment to Caterpie, he sent her back, and swapped her for his next battler.
A white bullet burst forth from the pokéball, shooting a brilliant arc through the air like a comet. It morphed into a pair of wings, and upon escaping the cloak of light, Ringo’s black head emerged, claws bared with relish as he out a ringing screech. “LONA LONA DRY AS BONE-A — SLEEPING, STANDING, LIKE A DRONE-A —”
As Ringo sang, he began to circle around the Hitmonlee, and gleefully planted himself on its head. The Hitmonlee’s arms shot upward in an attempt to capture him, but Ringo slipped away, fluttering instead to the pokémon’s shoulder, pecking and clawing the whole while at its bare skin. Upon Michael’s command, Ringo used Aerial Ace twice, two rapid slashes to the back that caused the Hitmonlee to teeter, but still not topple.
Frustrated, Ringo pestered more, perching on Hitmonlee’s head and beating his wings. The Hitmonlee swayed to and fro like a reed, eyes wrinkled under the blows, trying to shake off its bothersome new hat. Meanwhile, Michael noticed that the binds around its feet had begun to loosen. Ringo seemed to sense this as well, and the more wiggle room Hitmonlee gained, the more desperate the bird became. Leaning forward, Ringo pulled his feet over the Hitmonlee’s eyes to shut them, and right then, Michael heard a loud snap. Something small and brown knocked Ringo out of his perch, and the bird fell like an autumn leaf, slumping to the floor.
Michael blinked, unable to fathom what had just happened. The silver rope had snapped, and Himtonlee’s leg had shot upward like a boneless appendage, bending all the way over its head to hit Ringo. It was now lying flat against its face like a spaghetti noodle, bending with the curve of its head.
With hair-raising fluidity, the leg straightened and lowered itself to the ground. Ringo, meanwhile, was rolling over onto his feet, head spinning in an attempt to discern up from down. He managed to take off again, but with his opponent on the loose, he could not go far. In a couple of swift strides, the Hitmonlee had gained on him—and the tip of its foot shot up towards the ceiling, striking Ringo in the underbelly. Ringo flapped harder, managing to propel himself higher, but the Hitmonlee kicked again, and the bird was knocked in a downward ‘C’ towards the floor. No matter which direction Ringo tried to escape, the Hitmonlee always adapted, its legs stretching like rubber to accommodate any angle. Ringo quickly tired from the repeated blows. His flight grew labored, and his head began to droop towards the ground. Not wanting to risk a fainting, Michael sent him back.
He rushed over to his backpack, and after a brief impasse, brought out Turtwig. His starter was dropped with a clunk onto the field, shaking himself awake from a light slumber. He turned around, looking up at his trainer’s face, and Michael pointed down. “Shell! Now!”
Grunting in understanding, Turtwig withdrew, leaving the round, limbless shell glinting temptingly in the light. Hitmonlee approached and gave it a kick, and Turtwig skidded towards the wall.
“Stay in, stay in!” Michael called.
Turtwig managed to hold his own for several minutes, curled up in safety while Hitmonlee kicked his shell about, trying to make him emerge. The kicks increased in frequency, and at times, the speed with which the shell skidded across the mats and clashed with the walls made Michael afraid that it would shatter into a million pieces. But miraculously, it didn’t. He was waiting for a specific moment, when Hitmonlee kicked at a specific angle, too blinded by its preoccupation to calculate its moves.
At last, it happened. The shell was lying in the center of the room, and Hitmonlee lunged for it with a running start, kicking it in a broad arc towards the wall.
But just before the shell made contact, a pair of stubby legs emerged and pushed off against the wall, with a momentum so great that the shell smacked Hitmonlee back in the face. The pokémon staggered back, eyes puckering.
“Now, Razor Leaf!”
Turtwig’s head and limbs popped out of the shell, and a second later, a storm of leaves whipped through the air, hitting the Himtonlee’s flat face like a windshield. They left behind bloody gashes. Landing on his feet, Turtwig attacked again and again, then when the Hitmonlee was sufficiently distracted, ran forward and gave the teetering pokémon an extra push. Hitmonlee fell without resistance, collapsing on its belly.
Lona waited several seconds, but the Hitmonlee lay still. Silent as ever, she called it back, and sent out her third battler. The light from her pokéball had barely faded before its inhabitant—a small, blue-bodied creature—fled its place of deposit. A dark bullet zipped around the perimeter of the room, too fast for the eye to see, its dash stirring up a light wind. It circled the room twice, then broke free of the walls, rolling itself over into the center point of the battlefield. It was Croagunk.
The blue frog amounted to little more than the height of Michael’s knee. It stood on its hind legs with its back slightly hunched, its lips spread out into a perpetual, clown-like grin. Seeing Michael, the Croagunk tittered softly, a nasty sound that reminded him of human laughter.
Michael swapped Turtwig for Goldeen. The fish emerged atop a crashing wave, stopping right in front of her opponent. “Use Psybeam!” he said.
Goldeen lowered her in preparation to launch the blast. But Croagunk was already gone—the frog had fled for the walls, and was now making a circle across the room, running to take Goldeen from behind.
“Watch out!” Michael called.
Goldeen looked askance just in time to dodge a stubby arm, which had appeared at her side only moments prior. She made a clumsy forward jump, pulling all the water with her, and Croagunk landed on its knees from its failed attack. Michael noticed that the fingers of one hand were oozing a thick, purple fluid.
Poison Jab… shit.
He knew that there was no hope in using Caterpie, for the Croagunk would be impossible to pin down with String Shot. He would have to win with sheer persistence.
“Goldeen, confuse it! Peck it, Psybeam it!” Michael paused. “Don’t worry if it hits you!”
Goldeen did as she was told, though a part of him sensed that she knew her own fate. The Croagunk evaded direct combat, dancing around the pink rays of Psybeam and jets of water she shot at him. He never attacked until he could reach her from behind, and got her with a few Poison Jabs which she was too slow to counter. After hardly two minutes of being out in the field, Goldeen’s body was almost entirely covered by splotches of toxic slime, which trickled into her source of water and mixed around with the current. Already, Michael could see its effects setting in—the fish became less coordinated than before, and had to exert more force than before to keep the water together around her body. But the more time she spent submerged, the more the Croagunk’s venom could circulate around her open cuts, poisoning her further. Michael felt a brief pity, but knew that they had to act soon, or else she would faint.
Meanwhile, Croagunk was preparing for a new offensive. He had slunk off to a safe spot to the side where he watched Goldeen’s demise, tittering softly behind his palms. It began to tap its feet in a circle across the mats, doing the slow, familiar dance of Taunt.
Goldeen began to flap her fins in anger, churning the water faster beneath her. Despite her weakness, she managed to rise a little from the ground, and lowered her horn in preparation to attack.
With a gleeful shriek, the Croagunk lunged, the claws of both hands bared and gleaming.
“Psybeam!” Michael shouted.
The tip of Goldeen’s horn blazed with a hot, pink light—and just as the Croagunk sprang for the final blow, a searing blast escaped from it. The frog was swallowed whole by a torrent of light, and dropped fainted on the floor, its spark extinguished by the super-effective combination. Michael smiled in relief, feeling a macabre satisfaction that the Croagunk’s Taunt had come back to bite it.
He was about to turn to Goldeen, when he noticed to his surprise that she had fallen slack, was letting the water rock her away towards the floor.
“No!” he said. “Goldeen, get up!”
But it was no use. The fish continued to sink, and out of necessity to save the water, he sent her back. Returning to his backpack, Michael dropped pokéball in with the others.
Lona, meanwhile, returned her Croagunk, and brought out her final pokémon. Michael noticed her step back, casting her gaze briefly to the ceiling, and twist open the capsule. The pokéball released a screen of searing light that blocked her entirely from view, expanding into a shapeless mass that towered almost halfway to the ceiling. Gradually, the light assumed a human shape, fading to reveal the Machoke.
This pokémon was neither big-fisted like Hitmonchan, nor long-legged like Hitmonlee. It had a body that surpassed the musculature of any human being, and stood nearly four heads above its trainer. Its skin was blue, rippling with red veins, packed with muscle from head to toe. The belt it wore shone with a metal gleam from the center of its waist, loaded with all sorts of buttons and grooves. The device was thick and heavy-looking, and seemed to press into the pokémon’s very flesh. Michael sincerely hoped it wasn’t broken.
As he held out his pokéball, he couldn’t help but glance up and meet the Machoke’s gaze. Its eyes were tiny, but fierce.
Tightening his resolve, Michael opened the capsule and sent out Machop. The fighter tumbled out onto the floor and sprang to his feet, standing up straight like a gymnast. Upon locking eyes with the Machoke, Machop’s eyes widened, lips parting in curiosity. At the same time, something in Machoke’s face softened, possibly humored at the sight of its lower evolution.
Slowly, the giant lumbered over, swinging forward its arms, and lifted the smaller pokémon by the waist. Its hands were so big that they wrapped completely around Machop’s torso. Machop remained obediently slack, peering up at his captor. Michael cracked a smile.
The Machoke remained still at first, as if in thought. Then, it lifted its hands over its head and threw Machop across the room. The small pokémon went flying like a broken toy, hitting the wall behind Michael and sliding headfirst to the floor. When Machop got to his feet, all traces of brotherly awe had vanished from his face. His eyes had narrowed into slits, and he began to curl his fists, jaw clenched.
Michael clapped his hands. “Go get him!”
With a cry, Machop lunged forward, dashing across the mats and aimed a flying kick at Machoke’s belly. The larger pokémon hunched its back, shielding itself with its forearms, and Machop bounced off as if he had hit a block of lead. Still unfazed, Machop got up and tried again, this time seeking a weak spot from behind. But he might as well have been trying to dent a boulder—no matter where he kicked, the Machoke would not budge, or otherwise indicate that it had even felt the blow to begin with. Physical overpowering, Michael realized, would be impossible. But with Goldeen gone, he would no longer be able to strike from a distance. His only hope lay in speed, and on the slim possibility that the Machoke would somehow tire out.
But it didn’t.
Machop raced around his opponent for a whole minute, jabbing and kicking with hardly a second’s pause in between. But the Machoke stood its ground. It soon woke from its idleness, and began to seek Machop with its gaze, turning as if in preparation to catch him. Sensing that his efforts were in vain, Machop scurried away, and began to race around the room in panic.
Machoke set about in pursuit, patiently trudging along as a parent would after child. Despite the smaller pokémon’s speed, the Machoke was able to catch up in only a few strides, and every so often helped Machop reach his destination more quickly — whether it was the floor, or the top of the window frame. The Machoke began to knock its prey around the room, much like Hitmonlee had, hitting him against any flat surface its eyes alighted upon.
The more time Michael spent thinking, the worse Machop’s situation became. Soon, the fighter began to spend more time flying than running, touching the walls more frequently than the floor. At one point, the Machoke stepped away to let Machop get to his feet—Michael saw that the smaller pokémon was stumbling around in confusion, eyes blinking rapidly. At one point, Machop seemed to steady himself, and rose awkwardly to his feet. He lifted a foot to take a step, but midway he paused, swiveling to the side like an old signpost. And without a moment’s resistance, he collapsed. Fainted.
Dammit. Michael curled his fist around the pokéball and sent Machop back. He watched his pokémon fade away into the light, and silently cursed his ineptness. The Machoke had managed to faint his first counter in a matter of a few throws. And Michael, being too slow to make sense of things, had let it.
Think faster… think faster… He repeated the mantra in his mind as he searched his backpack for a replacement. Finally, he selected Turtwig. He knew that it wasn’t a particularly good match, but figured that he should do as much damage as he could. Coming back to his place on the battlefield, Michael unscrewed the pokéball, and released his starter onto the mats.
“Razor Leaf! Quickly!”
Turtwig obeyed, flicking his head from side to side, and launched a flurry of sharp leaves speeding towards the Machoke. The giant stepped through them as if they were pieces of paper—the majority of them bounced right off its skin, with only a few leaving behind red marks, the same color of the veins that bulged from its neck and arms. Nevertheless, Turtwig kept firing, even as the Machoke kept advancing, till it had dwarfed the turtle in the center of its huge shadow.
“Run!” Michael shouted. “Move! Don’t stand there!”
Leaning down, the Machoke clapped his hands over the spot where Turtwig was standing. But the turtle had managed to slip away, escaping through the gap in between Machoke’s legs. Turtwig ran without looking forward, firing leaves in a frenzy behind him, no longer concerned with taking proper aim. The leaves scraped past the Machoke’s body, and the pokémon swerved around, seething with rage. Michael saw that its back was covered with cuts, many of which were now oozing. The Machoke heaved itself at Turtwig, who slipped away yet again, shooting leaves in defense at every chance he got. The giant’s breathing soon grew ragged from exhaustion.
“Keep doing it!” Michael shouted. But his giddiness was short-lived. Machoke had gained on Turtwig again, and before he could escape, the giant grasped him by the shell with a single beefy hand. Bending back its arm, the Machoke hurled the shell across the room, sending it skittering like a hockey puck towards the wall. Once the shell came to a stop, it moved no more.
Michael swapped pokéballs almost mechanically. He sent Turtwig back, dropped the capsule into his backpack with the others, and sent out Caterpie.
The pokéball deposited her in the dead middle of the battlefield, like an offering to the raged, growling beast who flexed his fists nearby. But the Machoke was no longer as ferocious as it had been before—its energy seemed drained, clearly the work of the power belt, which buzzed and blinked as its mysterious function kicked in. The Machoke now stood with its shoulders slouched, its chest rising with rapid breaths. But its warrior’s spirit was unquenched. It looked at the Caterpie with a twisted grimace, and approached in eagerness of playing with its new toy.
Michael cupped his hands around his mouth. “Use String Shot!” he said. “Make as much as you can!”
At once, the cocoon began to shudder. A faint, rapid whirring arose from inside, and moments later, it began spitting out globs of white string from its front end. Caterpie no longer cared to dispense it neatly—she seemed to sense the danger too, and by the time Machoke got to her, she had spun out a sizable mound that lay like a lump of spaghetti in front of her. But before she could sever the string with her pincers, the Machoke lifted her and hurled her across the room. A segment of string broke off and followed her trail, wrapping around her as she fell. The cocoon touched the wall and slid down, clattering dryly on the floor. Five seconds passed, and it appeared that Caterpie had been scared into silence.
Michael was beginning to feel a bitter taste as he returned Caterpie. Dropping the pokéball into his backpack, he took out his last—Ringo. A brief panic gripped him as he held the capsule in his hands. What if he lost? No doubt, Lona would banish him to the lowest trough of partner battles, immersing him in the murky gloom, forcing him to crawl his way to the light all over again. By the time he’d get to staff battles, half the summer would be gone.
Michael steeled himself. It would not end like this.
He sent out the bird, upon seeing Ringo aloft once more, he pointed straight at Machoke’s face: “Get him, Ringo! Make that flake sorry he ever crossed us! Use Aerial Ace!”
Ringo dove forward with a screech, swiping his claws across the Machoke’s cheek. The pokémon’s beefy hands flew after him, but Ringo was far too fast—he swiped again from behind, this time coming back and perching on Machoke’s head.
“Bang—bang—Ma-choke silver hammer!”
He began to peck in rhythm, piping loudly the fragments of a song, all the while clawing at Machoke’s head and shoulders. Whenever the pokémon tried to snatch him, he quickly jumped to the other side, and began to sing even louder. The Flying attacks took their toll quickly—Machoke’s gestures became slow, its footsteps heavy and swaying. The giant seemed to have finally reached the end of its string, no longer holding itself in form, wanting only to shut off the bird-boombox.
Right then, Michael tore his eyes away from the struggle and noticed the pile of webbing sprawled on the mats. His heart skipped a beat.
“Ringo, the string! Get the string!”
Tearing his attention away from his captive, Ringo flew off Machoke’s shoulder and followed the direction of Michael’s finger. He grasped the edge of the string with his beak and flew off towards Machoke, letting the webbing trail behind him. He flew in a tight spiral around the Machoke’s legs, winding the string around them, suppressing the pokémon’s attempts at escape. Ringo worked his way upwards, dodging Machoke’s flying fists, binding the pokémon’s torso, and one of its enormous arms against its side. When the string was all gone, Machoke resembled a standing mummy, and could do little but swing at the air with his remaining arm in an attempt to regain balance. Swooping in for the kill, Ringo pushed the Machoke with his claws, and the pokémon toppled like a boulder.
It writhed and rolled around on the floor, snarling with rage, but Caterpie’s binds held strong. Ringo perched himself atop Machoke’s shoulder and pecked twice at the string. “Stay!” he growled.
By some invisible trigger, the Machoke obeyed. The pokémon slackened, breathing rapidly from exhaustion, its eyes drifting half-closed.
The room fell silent.
From across the battlefield, Lona closed her eyes and inclined her head. “Very good. You have grasped the meaning of listening.”
She lifted her pokéball, and the Machoke vanished like a bad dream, fleeing in a beam of white light to the opened capsule. The string collapsed onto thin air where its body had been, and Ringo took off, piping fragmented phrases of “Walker!” and “Boss!” in jubilation. He flew a circle over the field, then came back and fluttered over to Michael’s shoulder.
Noticing the boy’s utter bewilderment, Lona closed the pokéball pouch, and almost slyly, lifted an eyebrow. “I never expect anyone to faint Machoke. Usually it’s enough to keep him out for a couple minutes so I can see someone’s strategy take form. You lasted eight. I’m impressed.”
Michael gave a weak nod. He looked askance at Ringo, whose gaze was as stern and piercing as ever, and gave a laugh of relief. He let the bird nibble his finger, then sent him back, zipping him up with the rest of his team in his backpack. As Michael turned back around, he saw Lona step forward, and unconsciously, he mirrored her motions. The two met at the center of the room.
Lona looked down at him, and the corners of her mouth lifted slightly. “My staff have reported your improvements. I’m glad to see you have learned.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small coin. White, slender hands placed the badge into his. “Be mindful of your tactics…” she said, “and also remember your purpose for challenging the League. Whatever it is, make sure it’s strong enough to guide you till the very end. That’s the only advice I have left to give.”
Her eyes lingered on him a moment longer, and he saw them flash with a brief cheer he hadn’t noticed before. Then she backed away, arms falling of their own accord into their folded position in front of her. “You may collect your monetary reward at the front desk,” she added. “Goodbye.”
Michael looked down at the badge in his hands, sinking his gaze into the pattern of lines etched across its surface. Wasting no time, he hoisted his backpack on his shoulders and hurried out of the room.
The hallway outside was empty, quiet save for the scattered sounds of battling from distant rooms. With much of the early crowd gone, the Gym was like a vast, hollow shell, even the subtlest motion stirring soft echoes within its walls. Michael walked at a fast tempo, his steps falling in rhythm with the pounding of his heart. He was clutching the badge ever tighter in his hand, feeling the joy of the metal digging into his palm, the relief of its subtle weight as he swung it by his side.
Towards the end of the hallway, a boy was leaning against the wall, arms crossed. As Michael approached, the kid turned his head, and upon seeing Michael, his face lit up. It took him a few seconds to realize it was Rick.
“Hey Mike. What’s up?”
Michael slowed to a stop, and Rick rushed forward to meet him.
“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” he said. “Some idiots went and ratted on me, and now they’ve got all the staff looking for the guy who started the petition. Some of the trainers, too. I swear… it’s like everyone became a Lona spy overnight. We’ll have to be more careful.” Rick paused, and after making sure no one else was around, he lowered his voice. “Listen, I need you to meet me in the mail room tonight. It’ll have to be when no one’s awake, like three or so. I want to type up the next batch of letters. I figured we’d get a lot more people on our side if we told them the truth about Lona—who she is, and what she’s really like when no one’s looking. We’ll get it done much faster if it’s the two of us.”
After a brief delay, Michael nodded.
“I’ve already got down the main points, but you can add to the list if you want,” Rick continued. “One of the things I’m gonna put are the hours. Did you know that this Gym has the longest workday out of all of them? It goes from six in the morning to eight in the evening.” He shook his head in exasperation. “Oh, speaking of that… what are you doing here so late? I asked the people at the front desk if you were still here, and they said that you were. Staff battles don’t go this long unless you do really badly.”
In response to Rick’s questioning look, Michael held up the badge. “I got it.” He grinned. “Swellest feeling in the world, man.”
Rick’s eyebrows climbed, to the point where they vanished behind his tangled bangs, and his face adopted the look of a betrayed puppy. “You got the badge? No freaking way!”
Michael nodded. “Yep.” But his smile quickly faded when he realized that Rick wasn’t joking. The boy took a step back, grabbing both sides of his head and took long, rapid breaths.
“I knew it… my God… this shit just keeps happening over and over again… Everyone—every-freaking-one has gotten the badge but me! I’m still here after four freaking weeks! What the fuck is wrong with me?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a wimp. There’s nothing wrong with you. Did you do the counter thing I told you about?”
In a snap, Rick tore his hands away from his face and dropped them against his sides. His face was beet red. “Yeah, like that’s gonna help me. Just because something works for you doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Don’t you get it? That skag Lona hates me! You think that’ll change just because I show up with a pretty team? I’ve tried everything already! Trading, items… everything but petitioning the League Office, that is, and reporting the bitch like she deserves. So if you don’t mind, that’s what I’m gonna do now. Bye, Michael.” Rick lifted his sports bag and turned for the lobby.
Without knowing why, Michael reached for the boy’s shoulder and pulled him back.
“Just listen to me!” he said. “I can show you how to beat her!”
“No you can’t!” Rick pulled against Michael’s grip. “And get off me! I was in this alone from the start, and that’s how it’s gonna be till the end. Why would you want to help me? You have the badge already, now leave!”
The sound of clacking heels advanced over the carpet, just barely audible over the struggle. Michael was too caught up in a rage to notice. He gritted his teeth and looked at Rick, jerking him by the shoulders as if to snap him out of a stupor. “Did you hear a word I just said? I know how to beat her! Lona is a complete joke! Whatever else she says is just a scare tactic to make you feel helpless. Look—” He dropped his backpack onto the carpet and took out his notebook, holding it out between them. “I have everything right here. I’ve been taking notes on her Gym this whole time. I know Lona’s team, and I’ve found out how she battles. All that stuff about being motivated is a lie—all you have to do is match your pokémon’s types against hers and make sure yours are better counters! Don’t listen to the shit she tells you, dammit!”
All of a sudden, a hand reached into his field of vision and snatched Rick by the collar. Before Michael could understand what was happening, claw-like nails gripped him by the shoulder and spun him around, and he found himself face-to-face with Lona. Her eyes were blazing.
In a single stroke, she pulled the boys apart, standing them helpless on either side of her, and turned to cast the full beam of her glare at Rick.
“So,” she said. “This is how you’ve been preparing. This is how you strive to succeed. By stomping around and demanding that others hinder their own progress to help you. It would be nice if that was really how it worked in life, wouldn’t it? But unfortunately, it’s not. You were a decent trainer for the first week, but now I see that rather than improving yourself, your main goal seems to be trying to change everything else around you to suit your needs. Now I see that you have no understanding of the meaning of effort, of how to act towards your peers, or what help is when it’s given to you!”
She shoved Rick away so abruptly that he would have stumbled, had he not stopped himself with his heel and advanced back towards her.
“But you never help!” Rick shouted. “All you do is scream at me and kick me around like I’m your fucking toy! All your other staff at least know what constructive criticism is, and they know battling better than you! Anybody knows battling better than you! And, they know how to recognize it when someone improves! I’m winning in partner battles, but all you’re doing is keeping me in one place!”
Lona lifted her eyebrows. “Oh? And has it ever occurred to you that maybe I don’t care whether someone wins or not? Have you ever bothered to think that maybe the reason I don’t promote a trainer is because I see, week after week, that he lacks the character his peers possess?”
“Character?” Rick scoffed. “Look in a mirror! I have more character than you ever will, Miss Walker. Because I, unlike you, don’t try to shove my opinions down other people’s throats! It would help if we actually learned something useful here, but we don’t. All you care about are your stupid papers, your stupid point records, which have nothing to do with the real League we’re supposed to be preparing for. You don’t even train—you just hide in that stupid office all day and act like you’re better than us. What the hell do you know?”
Lona narrowed her eyes. “Quite a lot, actually. For one thing, I know it’s not an accident that the people who don’t appreciate the opportunities they’re given here are the same ones I see complaining. I also know that there are some people in this Gym who, for the life of me I don’t know why, think that the proper way to beat a Gym is to beg for its leader to be fired. And thirdly, I know that the boy standing in front of me has been lying to me in every word since he came here!”
Rick froze with a questioning glare.
“Yes, I found out about the petition,” Lona said. “A group of trainers came to me yesterday and told me their suspicions. I was skeptical at first, but now I see that their facts are confirmed.” She smiled dryly. “Let me guess… you decided that you had finally had enough. You decided that this Gym only exists to make you miserable, that you were the only one who ever got held back in it, and, what more, that I was doing it because I had some special grudge against you. So you, deprived of your last wits, decide that there’s nothing left to do but rebel and exact revenge on the people you don’t like. I must say, that is an interesting concept of success and failure. Spreading lies about myself and my staff, who have done nothing but devote their attention to you and help you correct your mistakes, while putting up with your cheek and disrespect—which you display even towards your fellow trainers when they call you out on it. And then you take it a step further and type a document that, in a nutshell, undermines the efforts of all the people here who ever helped you, both staff and trainers alike. That shows me that you care nothing for those around you, and seek only to manipulate them into getting what you want. You have quite some nerve.”
At that point, her gaze flickered over to Michael.
“As for you… I expected better,” she said. “Especially after all you and Henry were doing to prepare. I don’t think he would be particularly pleased with you right now, if he saw this. Or was he a part of your grand scheme too? Funny… because for a moment, it seemed that you two were working hard, that you were really putting forth the effort to improve your battling. But it appears that I was wrong. Turns out you really can’t be sure who’s who until you catch them red-handed.” Lona’s eyes locked on the notebook in his hands, and a shadow fell over her brow. “And to think… for a moment, I almost believed what Miss Herrida had told me.”
She looked away, and Michael felt a stinging heat bloom inside of him. For once, he had seen something in Lona’s face that he hated even more than anger—her disappointment. He looked down at the red carpet, trying to lose himself in the pattern of gold lines, but nothing he did could erase her expression from his mind.
“They are in on the scheme!” Rick piped up. “Everyone is! Just wait—when I tell them the truth about you, I’ll get all the trainers on my side! And you know it, because you have nothing to back yourself up!”
“Stop talking!” Lona shouted. Rick flinched back. “Don’t you dare try to justify yourself in front of me! If I had a wisp less of pity than I do now, then I’d have sent the both of you packing home! As a matter of fact, I should have sent you home the moment you turned up your nose and showed me who you really were—a grumbling, lazy child who rages at problems in life instead of solving them. But I was foolish; I decided to wait, to see if you would change your attitude. Now I see that that’s impossible. Do you think that, honestly, if I were gone, the Gym leader who replaced me wouldn’t eventually notice the same things I did? Do you really think that this is the attitude that will lead you to success in the Elite Four tournament? In anything?”
Rick clenched his jaw. “You don’t get it!” he blurted. “You don’t get anything! All you want is to be a fucking dictator! You don’t care about anything but your stupid selfish goals, and I was the only one who saw it from the start! I bet it just bothers you that I’m not scared of you—that I unlike everyone else here, realize that you’re a lie! You think that just because Mommy was Champion, that makes you the greatest Gym leader in the world, but it doesn’t. You’re just a bloodsucking freak who’s stuck in the past and wants to turn us all into the trainers you want us to be. But that League’s gone now—Mommy’s gone, and nothing you try to do is ever gonna bring it back. Because no one wants it back. No one wants to make pokémon the whole focus of their life. No one cares about catching all the ones that there are, or traveling the world with them, or going to trainer conventions, holding community tournaments, or anything. You know why all that stuff’s gone? Because no one needs it anymore. And no one needs you! If you dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, we’d all be happy. But you just can’t accept that. You gotta be the boss. You gotta be the queen of the world—always so mannered, so proper—but all you’re doing is showing everyone how fake you are.”
At this, something flitted behind Lona’s eyes, though her face remained as placid as ever. The hand that was still holding Michael’s sleeve had slackened. He might as well have turned invisible—Rick and Lona were now standing face-to-face, both of them wearing such similar expressions of fury that it was hard, for a second, to tell them apart.
“Beneath that shell of yours, you’re just a lonely freak,” Rick chided. “You don’t have a life, you don’t have a family, and you don’t have any friends. And you never will. Know why? ‘Cause you act like a damn princess! You’re always up on your high horse and demand respect from people, but you don’t give it back. You treat everyone like dirt. And you treat me like dirt. You always shout, you always push me around, and you act like I’m a freaking baby!”
Lona leaned forward. “Then maybe you should stop whining like one, start listening to the shit I tell you, and work on your skills! And if you don’t want to, then leave!“
“Fine, I will!” Rick grabbed the plastic wristband that was wrapped around his left arm and pulled it off, smacking it against the ground. He grabbed his sports bag and turned for the exit, dragging his feet so they wrinkled the carpet. “I quit the League!”
Michael stared in dumb shock as Rick stormed down the hallway. Before he could come to his senses, he felt a sudden weight lift from his right shoulder. He turned, looking just in time to see Lona turn her back to him, arms stiffening at her sides.
“If you have nothing else to add, then you may proceed to the lobby and sign out,” she said. “Congratulations...”
And just like that, she was gone.
Lona fled down the hallway till she reached her office, slamming the door so loudly that it trembled on its hinges. From the other direction, Rick’s footsteps faded away into the distance, followed by a loud bang as the front doors closed behind him. Silence rushed back in, leaving Michael alone in the corridor, standing like a pillar and unable to move. Only now did he become aware that his hands had gone cold from shock, and that he was clutching the notebook ever tighter under his arm, as if in fear that it would be taken away. But Lona hadn’t even touched it.
Unconsciously, Michael’s eyes found the wristband that lay on the floor, and he reached to pick it up, examining its smooth surface. His face was reflected in it as a smudge, colored and distorted by the plastic.
Rick's words were still buzzing around in his ears, like remnants from a jarring explosion. As he pictured his face, Michael felt a returning spite kindle within him. In a heartbeat, the boy had ruined his own work, had turned away from the door that would have led him to his goal. And it was all because he had been careless, too blindly obsessed with getting revenge on a single person, to see a way out when it was staring him in the face.
Stupid… Michael thought. His forehead creased in a frown. That’s what you get for hanging out with dweebs… now everything’s ruined. He could’ve listened to me, but no, he just had to run his stupid mouth.
He closed his palm around the band, and looked back in the direction of Lona’s office. She had vanished there like a mirage, throwing their end of the hallway into a deathly stillness. She could be reporting him this very minute, jotting notes on his Gym record, perhaps declaring his badge null and void. His curiosity began to gnaw at his judgment.
Stifling his breath, Michael crept up to the office door and pressed his ear against it.
From behind, he heard a rustle of papers, and the creak of a chair.
“… yes, Ann, this is Lona. Do me a favor and take Rick Emaldo off the roster for next week… he’s decided not… not to continue… No, I don’t want to hear about that petition! I don’t care who started it! Let them march right up to the League Office if they please. If that’s how they like to solve their problems, then so be it. Tell everyone to stop searching... It’s not fair to the ones who weren’t at fault. And if there’s anyone else left who hates it here that badly, then tell them that they can just go ahead and leave! What do I c-care?”
A telephone was slammed back into its holder. More papers shuffled. Michael stood facing the closed door, torn between running and staying. His heart was hammering. Any minute, Lona could open the door and catch him—and perhaps he would never lay eyes on the outside world again. But as he listened further, he heard little else. A strange quiet had settled over the room.
Michael started to turn the doorknob, and to his surprise found it was open. He gave it a light push, and the door swung back to reveal the interior of Lona’s office, quaint and sunny. He stepped inside, still keeping to the door in case he had to run. But Lona didn’t seem to notice. She was sitting behind the desk, her face buried in her arms, the sounds of her sobbing rising from within. The pink jacket was balled up on a table behind her, as if she had tossed it off in a rage, finally tired of its presence.
Michael didn’t know what he felt as he approached the desk. Shock faded into silence, blotting out everything from his awareness but the single figure in front of him, no longer terrible or imposing, but strangely small against the surroundings. Lona was crying, he realized—really crying—and the sound of it was both sad and frightening, filling his head with such a mess of thoughts that, for an instant, he could barely think. He knew there was a part of him that would have been happy, and not so long ago, would have even strived to bring that moment about — to tear down a deserving foe, like he had done to so many others before.
But suddenly, that part of him was gone. The Lona Walker who had haunted his mind before had vanished — fallen away like the fragments of a shell, leaving behind the shattered remains of its keeper. And right then, everything clicked. The glares. The whispers. Everything they said had been hidden away inside of her, piling over memories from years past, fueling the storm that was consuming her from within. The timidity had been there the whole time, but it was crushed under layers of scorn, till no one—perhaps not even Lona herself—could sense it. It had emerged in a single moment when Ted had been there, blossoming almost to its former state, but then it slipped from her grasp again, like a tiny light lost amid the raging darkness.
Rick had been one of many to sustain her downward spiral. He had been a mirror of the person she had turned into—retaliating with the same tactics, toying with her gloom, like so many others who had spoken those same words before. Each encounter only pulled her down further, driving her closer and closer to her own destruction.
But in the end, it was Michael who had broken her. And oddly enough, he did it without uttering a single word in her direction. It was because she had counted on him, because he had been one of the few to give her hope—catching on to things she herself had lost touch with long ago. But then he took it away. In a matter of seconds, he had wrecked yet another person’s care for him, had ruined yet another thing that he could have done right. And the more Michael thought about it, the more he realized it was all he had ever been good at.
He stood in place for what felt like hours, numb with indecision, wanting to run but unable to leave. In a sudden, feeble burst, he remembered that he was still holding Rick’s wristband—and felt its slight firmness as he tightened his grip around it. Desperate for something to do, he opened his hand and began to fiddle around with the plastic button, deciding for God-knows-what reason to snap it closed. At last, he did, and a sharp click pierced the air.
As if sensing that someone was in the room with her, she grew quiet, and after a hanging pause, she lifted her head. A pair of red, puffy eyes emerged from the tips of her arms and locked on Michael’s own—then almost immediately, she hid them away.
Michael’s blood chilled.
Lona didn’t let out another peep, but he could feel it as she tensed, and even more so, could feel his own heart pounding, reaffirming his presence with every jarring beat. He had done it. He had fallen into the death-grip of her stare, had plunged past the point of no return, where he would lose everything—his work, his hopes, his sanity.
His mind began to scramble. The watchful eyes were gone, but Lona was still there, waiting, teetering on the verge of another outburst. Numbly, Michael approached the desk and placed the wristband down in front of her.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, and stepped back.
After a minute more of silence, he became assured that she hadn’t heard him, and turned to leave. But right then, he heard a sniff, and a faint rustle as Lona lifted her head from the table.
Michael stopped. He turned around, just as Lona grabbed a tissue to blow her nose, opening her reddened eyes. She rummaged about her desk and lifted a brown folder, to which a white envelope was clipped.
“Give this to Bertha,” she said. “It’s my letter of support. Tell her—” She was cut short by a loud sneeze. Covering her nose with the tissue, Lona proffered the folder with her free hand. “Tell her… good luck…”
After a brief pause, Michael took the parcel. Lona brushed her hair away from her face, and their gazes met for an instant. All traces of the former coldness had washed away from her eyes, leaving them soft and patient. They could have been anyone’s.
For a minute, he thought of saying something else, but found himself at a loss for words. As he backed away, Lona exhaled slowly and lowered her forehead into her hands. But for the time being, she seemed to have calmed.
Michael left the office in a daze, unable to fathom what had just happened.
His mind was still spinning as he walked down the hallway, his footsteps resounding in the silence. Muffled noises of battle fled past his ears, alternating in trance-like synchrony with the silence of empty rooms. He walked at a solemn, deadbeat pace, when a sudden yip-yip tore him out of his thoughts. He stopped in his tracks and looked down—just as a Stunky poked out its nose from one of the empty battle rooms, following a trail of scent.
The pokémon’s dark fur stood up in tidy bristles, brushing against the edge of the half-door, pushing it out slightly as it emerged. Upon seeing him, the Stunky looked up, its ears flicking.
Michael stared dumbly at it for a few seconds, till in a half-hearted burst, he recognized it as his own. He might have made a snide remark at it, but right then, he wasn’t in the mood. He continued on his way, not noticing the Stunky patter along in diligent pursuit. Michael passed through the lobby without a wayward glance, forgetting all about the prize money and his wristband, proceeding right by the front desk to the exit.
A warm, humid wind rushed over him as he pushed open the door, with such force that he had to narrow his eyes. The sun had retreated behind a thick sheet of clouds, casting a gray gloom over the entire town. To the south, a rainstorm was gathering.
Bertha and Henry stood on the Gym’s front lawn, observing the changing weather. The wind stirred the grass around them, rippling the edges of their clothing. As Michael approached, they turned, and Henry ran forward with a smile.
“Hey! How’d it go? Did you—”
The boy stopped short when he noticed the look of blank shock on Michael’s face. His gaze fell to the Stunky, who was running to catch up, and his lips parted. “Michael! You didn’t… you didn’t lose, did you?”
Michael shook his head. “No.” He held up the badge, and Henry relaxed somewhat.
“Oh. But then what—”
Whatever he was about to say was cut off as Bertha came over. “Hey kid. What happened?” Her gaze fell to the folder in Michael’s hands, and she frowned in puzzlement. “What’ve you got there?”
“It’s Lona’s letter. She signed your petition.” Michael held it out to her.
Bertha blinked in surprise. “Just now? You mean she told you during the battle?”
“No, it was after… she just gave me the envelope. She must’ve had it earlier.”
Bertha looked at him for a few seconds without replying. Then she took the folder and unclipped the envelope, gently peeling off the seal. She removed a typed letter and scanned through it without comment, though her eyebrows lifted.
She was about to put it back when she noticed a second piece of paper still folded inside the envelope. Michael and Henry came to look as she opened it. It was a written note.
I’m glad we were able to come to an understanding. I hope that in the future you will continue to look out for the League’s well-being, and perhaps encourage others to do the same. You have encouraged me.
Bertha lowered the letter. “Huh. I guess I did change her mind, then…” She placed both papers back, and after a brief paused, looked up at the boys and sighed. “Well, that’s about it for this place. I guess it’s time to head over to Pastoria for the next Gym. I don’t know about you two, but I’ve got all my things. Are you ready to leave today?”
Henry nodded. “Yep! We don’t have much to pack.”
Bertha looked at Michael. “How about you?” Noticing his strange silence, she frowned. “What’s the matter? Did something happen back there?”
Michael shook his head. ”No. Why?”
“You look like you just saw your ghost.” Bertha smiled at her own joke. Somewhat belatedly, Michael returned the gesture.
But in a way, he had.
The boys finished packing in less than an hour, and after turning their keys in to the front desk, they left with Bertha to the rail station. The clouds continued to thicken overhead.
At the reception counter, Bertha purchased their tickets, while the boys waited in the seating area, amid the shifting, chattering crowds. Since Pastoria City was nearly three hours away, they would be taking an over-ground train, whose tracks would traverse the bogs between the Great Marsh and Lake Valor. All in all, the journey would amount to 500 miles, and would take them to the very edge of Sinnoh’s southeastern shore.
A short while later, Michael found himself sitting at the window seat of a thin train, looking out at the darkening plains. For the first time, the excitement of leaving was lost upon him. It had numbed, much like the world he saw through the glass, its sounds reduced to a blurry thrum in the pervading silence of his mind. He didn’t feel anything now—not relief, or joy, or sadness.
Rather, as he stared at the dreary town, part of him wanted nothing more than to go home, shut the door to his room, and forget everything that had happened to him.
Little did he know, someone far away was thinking the exact same thing.
So finally we have the big battle! In it, Michael clearly tried to use carefully planned strategy as much as he could, but there were obvious times where he was caught off guard and had to resort to brute force (which is something you asked me about in the drafts IIRC). I like that bit, because everybody knows that even the best laid plans can get a wrench thrown in and you have to adapt. And it might not have been pretty all the time, but Michael was able to adapt. But damn that is one fast little Croagunk xD
Oh, Rick, Rick, Rick... you have much to learn. The whole thing about listening to feedback aside, it should be obvious to anyone that you don't talk smack about a person IN THE PLACE WHERE THEY WORK unless you intend to say it to their face. The odds of said person hearing it are pretty high. Anyway, some pretty harsh words there, but in reality, I've said worse to my own parents (though nothing about their mama because that would be my grandma and she was awesome).
Still, one wonders, if the attitudes and goals hadn't changed over the years, if trainers were still about the effort instead of about results and battle records, then perhaps Lona wouldn't have adopted the cold exterior that she has. She might have been able to be herself - or rather, the person who she was and still is under all those layers.
And Bertha finally got that signature she needed. Looks like she also needed Lona to remind her of what the focus of her petition should be, so maybe the League can actually improve instead of just getting more money to throw around at whatever.
But yes! Onward to the next town!
Hey LeSabre. Thanks for stopping by! *fixes typos*
I'm glad you liked the battle. Your advice helped me a lot, and I'm glad I was able to convey the emotional mayhem of the battle effectively.
And yes, Rick didn't make the smartest move by talking about his petition plan in a hallway, then continuing his rant when Lona got there. But when you get down to it, taking out his anger at Lona was really all Rick wanted to do. Even if his petition had succeeded, he still would have wanted Lona to find out that he had started it so that she would get a feeling of bad karma coming back to bite her. (But you have to admit, a big confrontation scene is much more entertaining then a million secret-undercover scenes where Rick carefully plots Lona's demise. And due to Rick's lack of organization, that was what ended up happening. Hehe.)
And Michael? Call home? xPP Are you sure you're reading the same story I'm writing?
But yes, you interpreted the last line of the chapter correctly... We will be checking back with Patricia very soon, since from here on out, her perspective on things becomes very important. I can't say that the answer to the question about their relationship will be too soon in the coming, but in the subsequent chapters the development towards it will at least will be more visible.
More on that and everything else... next chapter!
(And goodness, I almost forgot it was that time of year again. :P I like the new signature.)
They say what goes around comes around.
No one knew it better than Patricia Rowan.
In the days that followed her son’s departure, the once cozy, enviable home of the Rowans had declined into a disorderly den, cluttered with the fragments of something that her hands hadn’t been quick enough to mend.
She did not know what exactly had happened the night that Michael left. She had been in her room, doing something or other, when a sudden loud banging in the kitchen had roused her from her comatose state. She had gone downstairs, and found the traces of what looked like a struggle—a broken vase on the floor, papers scattered all over the rug, and a front door that stood slightly ajar, as if it had been slammed only moments before. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together — Michael had done this. He was somewhere outside now, probably off to a friend’s house, or anywhere that she wasn’t.
Fine, Patricia remembered thinking, caught in a brewing storm of anger. Let him go. We’ll see how he likes it with those precious hooligans of his.
And then, without a backward glance, she had gone up to her room, thinking that when he had blown off enough steam, Michael would come to his senses and return.
But he didn’t.
The next morning, Patricia woke up to find the house in the exact same state as before—broken vase, rumpled pillows, scattered papers. She went outside, but Michael wasn’t sprawled out on the porch with a sleeping bag, or crouched behind a bush. She remembered phoning his friends’ parents, but they only returned her queries with surprise. No, Michael hadn’t showed up at their doorstep the previous night. No, he wasn’t having breakfast with them that very moment, not wanting to speak to her. Neither Cory nor Brendan had heard from their friend since he had visited them the previous Saturday.
Patricia tried to ask others. She phoned her next-door neighbors, neighbors across the street, neighbors five doors down. By the end of the hour, she had telephoned the entire community, it seemed, but each voice that answered her only told her the same thing: “I’m sorry, miss, but we haven’t seen him.”
Patricia sat home for the entire day, not knowing what to do. Betty Arlington, an old family friend, stopped by at noon and offered to start a neighborhood investigation. Patricia accepted. She was slumped on the old leather couch, her head tilted down, her hands resting uselessly in the lap of her skirt. She remembered looking at her hands.
What have I done? Patricia had mulled, picking her cuticles. What could I have done?
Those two questions swirled around and around in her mind, pestering her constantly, giving her no rest. She couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had set Michael off that night, and as the shock of his absence escalated into a panic, the memory became all the more muddled in her mind. Eventually, Patricia decided that it didn’t matter what had caused her son to leave. She wanted him back. Promptly.
The neighborhood search team assembled in her driveway the following day, consisting of over thirty people—both friends and friends of friends, some of whom Patricia barely knew. The hunt wore on for three days that seemed like weeks. They checked houses, the neighborhood park, and other remote areas, but found nothing. There was no sign of Michael Rowan’s presence or departure, almost as if he had never been among them at all.
Patricia’s patience quickly wore thin. As a last resort, on the morning of June 1st, she got into her car and drove to Jubilife City. She stopped by the police station and filed a request for a city-wide search, giving the officer a recent school picture of Michael’s to identify him by.
“Name?” asked the officer, taking a clipboard from his desk.
“Michael Rowan,” Patricia replied. As soon as those words left her, her heart seemed to sink.
“Where do you live in the city?”
“In the suburbs,” she said. “My address is 984, Old Bay Road.”
“When did he run away?”
Patricia paused briefly, without meaning to. “He left on May 28th in the evening. I didn’t know what he was up to at first, and it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized he was gone.”
“Do you know if he took anything with him that could reveal his identity? A credit card? Pokémon?”
Patricia froze, then flushed with shame. She had been so immersed in her worries that she hadn’t even bothered to check Michael’s room to see what he had taken. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “He couldn’t have taken a wallet… I have all my things right here.” She touched the purse that hung from her shoulder.
The officer nodded. “And pokémon? Is your son a trainer?”
Patricia was silent in her mulling for a while. Finally, she let out a breath. “No. He’s not a trainer. I don’t think he has any pokémon with him.”
The officer finished writing the last bits of what she had told him. When he clipped his pen back to the edge of the board, he looked up at her. “Okay. Thank you, Miss Rowan. I’ll dispatch a search party and we’ll begin a city-wide investigation. I’ll let you know if we get any leads.”
“And if not?” she asked.
The officer’s gaze hung on her hers for a moment, placid and grave. “We’ll let you know.”
After leaving her address and telephone number with the office, Patricia went home. She pulled the car into the driveway and rushed inside, slamming the door behind her. A part of her still hoped that Michael would reappear somewhere, like a lost shoe, from behind the lamp or inside a closet. Patricia spent a whole ten minutes pacing the house, but it was empty. And not for the first time.
Days passed. The Jubilife Police posted notices around the city, even resorting to the old milk carton headline that, up until that point, Patricia had thought to be an effort in vain. No one ever looked at the milk cartons. They just took out the milk when they needed it, let it rest on the table for the duration of a meal, then put it back, ignoring all the advertisements that tried to wheedle into the serenity of their day. But now that she was on the losing side of the game, Patricia was gripped by a desperate sort of anger. It couldn’t be her son in that picture. Maybe someone else’s, but not hers. (Soon, she stopped drinking milk entirely, since she couldn’t bear to see the face that stared back at her, gray and lifeless.)
The investigation office updated her twice a week, but so far, nothing had come up. In the meantime, Patricia’s previous attachment to order and cleanliness had utterly dissolved. Wherein the days before Michael’s departure, the only mar to the otherwise clean home had been a few empty take-out boxes scattered over the counter, now the house was a disaster. Dirty laundry and half-washed dishes accumulated in the areas that Patricia frequented, while dust settled over the barren wood furnishings. Meals had lost all ceremony and significance to her. In the first few days, Patricia had been content to cook something new every evening, but as time wore on, she stopped doing even that. Her leftovers remained for over four days, which she spooned out gradually till the pot or skillet was completely clean. Then she would set it aside and cook on a fresh one, repeating the process.
Days grew into weeks, and eventually, Patricia had severed all ties with the woman she once was. She no longer bothered to put on makeup in the mornings, and often strolled around in her nightgown well into the afternoon. Phone calls and visitors became less frequent, as her friends probably realized that she didn’t want or need their comforting words. The only people she was interested in talking to were those from the police office, though over time she grew to suspect that they were just as inept as everyone else.
On the morning of June 17th, more than two weeks after Michael’s disappearance, Patricia reached her all-time low. Stepping into her home, a former friend would have been appalled at its appearance, even more so at the ghost of a woman who skulked inside.
Patricia was curled up on an armchair in the living room, where she had fallen asleep the previous evening without bothering to turn off the TV. The muted set was still playing, flashing bright pictures and colors into her sore eyes. A cup of coffee stood on the table beside her, cold and forgotten. With a grunt, Patricia leaned forward, pushing herself out of the chair to kneel beside the quacking box. She turned it off with the jamb of a thumb, and the flashing lights vanished, as did the false-white smiles, and the stupid-happy commercials. The picture dissipated into a screen of black, and Patricia was able to see her face in the reflection, against the backdrop of the room.
She looked no better than the house did. Her eyes had narrowed into slits, and were weighed down with heavy bags from lack of sleep. The corner of her mouth were drooped into a permanent downward ‘C’, and her hair was a frazzled brown mop.
Is this what I’ve become? she wondered. But there was no question about it.
Slowly, Patricia rose to her feet, grimacing at the pain that flared in her legs and back, from all the slouching and sitting. She lumbered over to the kitchen, which after days of incremental dishwashing, looked as if it had hosted a dinner party for twelve. The table and counter were littered with empty tea cups, crumbs, and utensils of all sorts. Every pot and pan she owned was in use, resting at various points on the counter and table, containing meals from previous days. Patricia grabbed a clean plate from the sink and began to snoop around the buffet, looking for a source of breakfast. She paced the whole kitchen twice, lifting lid after lid, but to her surprise, all the pots were empty. She checked the fridge, but was met with a similar situation—the eggs were all gone, as were the vegetables and dairy. It was as if a hungry monster had ransacked her food supply, scraping out all the containers, clearing the shelves and drawers.
As Patricia’s frenzied eyes swept over the inside of the fridge, they alighted upon a crumpled candy wrapper that lay on the third shelf, right under her nose. A Hershey bar. No doubt, it had been someone’s midnight snack, and that someone had been so careless and ravenous that they hadn’t even bothered with proper disposal, just taking out the chocolate and leaving the package to rot in 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Feeling her heart sink, Patricia pressed a hand to her belly. The other hand was leaning against the cold wall of the refrigerator, supporting her slack weight.
She had finally run out of food.
After keeping her gaze locked on the candy wrapper for a good minute, Patricia’s face darkened. She backed away from the fridge and let the door swing shut as she turned away. Hands on hips, she began to pace the kitchen again, her hunger at odds with the laziness that wrapped her like a too-warm blanket.
Gazing up at the wall, Patricia let out a frustrated sigh. I guess I just won’t eat today, then.
She sighed again, with finality, and went back to the living room to turn on the TV. But she stopped midway. Was she really going to spend the next five hours watching the same reruns of Jukebox? There was nothing good on the news, and there were only so many times that one could watch the same commercials over and over again before their brains fried. She already had one foot in the couch potato camp, and if she broke down and placed in the other, there would be no turning back.
A fresh, passing anger clouded Patricia’s face again. She wouldn’t watch TV either. But then what would she do?
Walking around the house with that question in her mind, Patricia visited her room and skimmed the bookshelf, perhaps to occupy herself with reading. But none of the books she had at that moment interested her. Avoiding the mirror on her vanity, she steered herself out. She went into Brian’s old room, which had remained untouched, and therefore protected from degradation. Michael, obviously, had never had any use for it, and in the years after Brian’s departure to boarding school, neither had she. Patricia only visited it to clean at least twice a month, but she left the furniture and decorations mainly as they were. Brian’s bed was smooth and dormant, patiently awaiting his return, and the swivel chair at his desk was turned slightly to the side, as if he had stood up to leave only moments ago.
His books and albums were still in place, as were the photos framed on the wall. Patricia looked at them. There was Brian, side-by-side with her. Brian and Richard. Brian and Michael. Brian, Michael, Andrew, and Richard.
Richard had left too. The burning she felt in her stomach only intensified at the memory. He was her son. He had no right. Was he happy, now that he had torn apart their family, and her heart along with it? She could answer that question too — of course he was. After Andrew’s death, Richard’s life in the household had been nothing short of miserable. She could have helped him, but he didn’t let her. He had grown distant in the last few weeks, more so than usual. And then?
What had he said that night at dinner?
She wracked her brain for almost a minute, then suddenly, the curt, placid face of her middle son appeared before her.
"And when was the last time you were happy for either of us?"
Patricia smiled, more at the fact that she had remembered than at the words that had pierced her like a knife. And they were still hurting to this very day. How could she, the mother of three boys, not care equally for every one of them? How could she have succumbed to such a sick form of favoritism, treating her sons like trophies when they were all that anchored her to sanity? Andrew had been the love of her life. They hadn’t always gotten along, but they were happy together for a long while. When Brian and Richard were added to the picture, however, their differences were made all the more striking.
She and Andrew had always been good at keeping their arguments hidden from the boys, and at the time it seemed like the proper thing to do. Why spoil a child’s fun at the park or day home from school with angry glares and reprimands? It seemed like a much better solution to keep apart for the time being, instead devoting their energies solely to the young boys. But as Patricia was only starting to realize now, that had been a grave mistake. While she and Andrew gave each other the cold shoulder, whichever boy happened to be at Patricia’s side would be the one she would see for most of the day, and talk to, and play with. That boy was Brian. He was surprisingly similar to her, and they enjoyed many of the same things. Likewise, Richard grew to be more like Andrew, both in character and in attitude. Relationships across this boundary were amiable, but not wholly loving, even when everything was all right between the parents. By the time Patricia realized what was happening, it was too late. Instead of their children patching up the tensions between her and her husband, she and Andrew had used them to pull themselves further apart.
Michael had been her last child. At the time of his birth and early childhood, it seemed that Patricia and Andrew had survived enough time together to put their problems behind them. For once, they tried to balance their work schedules so that both of them could have equal time with the kids, but the damage had already been done. Richard and Brian viewed their mother and father in two different lights, and Michael soon caught on to the pattern. Patricia loathed to see her young, innocent boy be degraded by something so frivolous as parental competition, and in her blind anger, she had associated his habits with his father. She tried to pull Michael away from him, but he, of course, saw this as an attack, and distanced himself even more.
By the time Andrew fell ill, he and Patricia were barely speaking. Richard and Michael, who loved him more than they loved her, were especially attentive to their father’s needs, and treated Patricia as if she had been at fault. Brian was the only one who tried to comfort her, and for that, she probably loved him more at that point too.
All stupid… so stupid. Patricia bit her lip. He face began to heat up, her vision clouding.
Maybe Michael was right to leave, she thought. I’m a monster. I could’ve changed things early on, but I didn’t. I just had to hang on to that stupid hate, those stupid fights… Whatever came over me… I’m sorry.
Patricia swallowed. Pretty soon, the tears began to stream down her cheeks with a force that she was powerless to stop. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed against the bed, burying her face in her arms. The sound of her wails echoed through the silent house. It was all over. All the people she cared about had left her, and for good measure, too. There was no going back. She had made a mess of her life, and now the only thing left to do was die, to plunge into the bottomless depths of darkness and wait for her misery to come to an end. She would never see any of their faces again, never get the chance to see her family all around the table, happy, talking. Life had given her countless opportunities to change her ways — but she had thrown them all aside, clinging to the conviction that she was right, and as a result, her family had split before her very eyes. First Andrew had gone, then Richard, now Michael. Slipped through her fingers like sand, and she had done nothing to stop it. All those times she had seen the faces of her three sons, she had not once tried to get them together, to mutually comfort them after the death of their father. No, she had adhered to the old boundaries… she had kept up the old game, and she had paid for it. She had paid dearly.
A few hours later, Patricia stumbled out of the room, her cheeks wet, her eyes red and puffy. She took a look around the house, at the sunlight that was subtly streaming from the blinds in the living room, and felt the silence return—oh, it was dreadful, that silence. It was the silence of solitude, the kind that pervaded everything, pressing down upon her with an almost tangible weight.
But for the first time in a while, her head was clear.
Setting her hands on her hips, Patricia walked down the rest of the hallway and turned into Michael’s room. She hadn’t set foot in it since he had left, and was briefly disoriented by its reappearance, for it didn’t look quite the same as she remembered it. The bed was smooth like a slab of stone, clear of all objects save for a single pillow. The writing desk with its lamp askew stood in its usual spot by the door, containing what appeared to be the same assortment of objects that had lain there for months. Michael had never been a desk-worker. He always preferred to see things for himself, writing down only what he thought was important, regardless of what an assignment demanded. And so the desk became just another flat surface, on which he would throw old papers, pencils, coins, and records that weren’t in use. It always drove her crazy.
Now, however, Patricia looked upon the mess with an odd wonder, as if seeing it for the first time. The assortment of items seemed to be the same as it always was, but for some reason it still looked different, just like everything else in the room, changed on some level deeper than appearance. The bookshelves, although dusty, seemed emptier, as if their contents had been hastily rearranged. Opening the doors to the closet, Patricia saw that it had been sorted through as well, though (as always) the person who did it had forgotten to straighten the shirts that hung in the middle. Patricia let out an exasperated sort of sigh, and fixed a sleeve that had slipped off the edge of a hanger, then proceeded to turn all the hooks in the same direction.
Once she was done, she stepped back and allowed herself a faint smile. There. At least that’s done.
As her gaze swept over the closet, she alighted upon the inner shelves, where other articles of clothing were balled up in Michael fashion. Patricia swiped her finger across the bottom surface of one, and found to her surprise that it was covered in dust. She was stricken by a momentary appall.
When was the last time I cleaned here?
She stood still for a moment, eyes scanning the room, then made a firm turn for the door and went down to the kitchen. A few moments later, she came back up with a rag, and began to clean the room, skimming over all the surfaces and wiping off anything that looked dusty. It was more of a memory ritual than an attempt at cleaning—she left all the items where they were, and did not venture anywhere she couldn’t immediately reach, so in the end, the room remained in the same state as before. But it was a start.
Over the course of the next few days, Patricia worked her way through the rest of the bedrooms, overcoming her stagnancy to snoop around. This time, she devoted her energies to a full overhaul: she vacuumed the carpet, cleaned the blinds, and wiped every surface she could reach. Patricia emptied entire closets, throwing nothing away, but setting aside anything that needed to be cleaned and putting the rest back where it belonged. Soon, she amassed a heap of dirty laundry from all four rooms, which afterwards she washed in segments, leaving the washer and dryer machines rumbling for the whole day. When she was done she moved on to the living room, straightening the decorations and cleaning the furniture, then proceeded to the kitchen, where she scrubbed off the grime from her dishes, washing away the remnants of her decline under the powerful faucet stream.
Within a week, the house had risen back to its former state of order—and this time, along with it, so had Patricia. During the time she spent sorting through the house, digging layer by layer through years of history, something had reawakened within her. It was a change that had come about with the suddenness of a lightning strike, something that she hadn’t felt for what seemed like an eternity. She felt better.
The shadows of her past would always be with her, she knew, but it was up to her to learn from them and make the best of what she had. It wouldn’t honor her husband’s memory to keep alive the old torment, and let it seep into their children’s lives. Rather, Patricia took the hardest step of all—to overcome it for their sake, and hope that one day they’d be free of it too.
And though she knew that Brian and Richard had moved on in their lives without her, she still had one more son to watch over and support. And from now on, she would.
“So why’s she calling us now?”
“I ain’t got a clue, man, stop asking me!”
The hushed whispers of two boys rose out from the empty streets of the neighborhood, a tiny stir of life beneath the vast canopy of trees. Cory and Brendan were walking down the sidewalk together, keeping a slightly quickened pace, passing rows of houses on their way to Michael’s.
As usual, their clothing was loose and plain, the ‘badass’ trademark that they were known for at school. There was no strict uniform, but students were nevertheless expected to show up prim and tidy, which the two boys almost never did. While the obedient kids wore pretty shirts and shiny belts, Cory and Brendan dressed functionally, avoiding collars so that their teachers had nothing to yank them by, and wearing shorts with lots of pockets to hold notes, coins, and homework answers.
Today, the edges of their shoes were coated with a layer of mud, for they had been exploring the area beyond the neighborhood, near Route 202. They had left that morning without a single comment from their parents, but when they returned, they had found Brendan’s mother waiting for them by her porch, who told them that Patricia Rowan wanted to see the both of them immediately. The boys had exchanged surprised glances, though there was really little to be surprised about. Ever since Michael had disappeared, all they would hear about from their parents and friends of their parents was the investigation in Jubilife, the one that wasn’t turning up jack, as Cory liked to say.
Their friend’s leave had affected the boys perhaps the most out of anyone else, but in a way that the adults in their lives didn’t understand. While the parents scurried about, exchanging apologies and offers to help, Cory was consumed by a philosophical sort of silence, which Brendan imitated of his own accord. They rarely shared more than a few words about Michael, though he remained in their minds at all times, like a guardian angel who watched over them from some place up in the sky.
Over the days, the boys watched as the people from their neighborhood and even their school were visited by the police, and asked for anything that they knew about Michael Rowan and his whereabouts. Cory and Brendan had escaped much of the scrutiny that plagued others. After an initial few questions from their parents, and a brief routine visit from the police, they were left to their own devices, as the investigators probably realized that they had no useful information. That was the way it always was, and Cory and Brendan were used to it. They were the black sheep, the spare parts, the ones who were always overlooked by the rosier members of society. But over the years, that had become their strength. They answered to no one, and followed the path they thought was right, rather than the one prescribed to them by others. Michael had been a kindred spirit, and often displayed such an embodiment of that goal that Cory and Brendan found themselves learning from him. When it was just the three of them, no one else mattered.
And then, coming out of the blue, Patricia’s call to them had caught them unawares—both by the fact that no one during the search had ever called them anywhere, and from the fact that she wanted to do it privately, rather than going through the police. Michael’s mother had never gone to great lengths to mask her dislike for Cory and Brendan, and the boys had never gone to great lengths to care. Even when Michael had been there, Patricia liked to act as if the two boys didn’t exist, letting her son settle his own arrangements. She never said anything to them outright, but they knew at the back of their minds that she didn’t think highly of them, much less believe that they had anything worthwhile to say to anyone.
Normally, this didn’t bother the boys, and they were perfectly happy to hang out with their friend without the parental cling that weighed down other aspects of their lives. But now Patricia had as good as invited them over. Which, if their experience with her enigmatic nature had taught them anything, wasn’t necessarily a gesture of friendship.
As they made their way over to the house, Brendan was eager to voice his speculations, but Cory preferred to just go with the flow and wait to see what would happen.
“But don’t you think it’s kinda weird, all of a sudden like that?” Brendan was continuing. “I thought we already said everything we knew.”
“So why’s she asking us? It’s like she suspects us or something. Maybe she wants us to frame ourselves for the police.”
“Look, I don’t know! Just shut up and we’ll find out a few feet from now.”
To the left, the familiar roof of the Rowan house emerged from behind the trees. Cory and Brendan stepped up to the front porch and rang the doorbell, and waited side-by-side for Michael’s mother to open it.
A minute later, Patricia Rowan appeared. She stepped out in a dress, as usual, and had pulled back her hair away from her face and shoulders. Her face was completely smooth, devoid of emotion, but when she laid eyes on the boys she smiled softly. Cory didn’t like the look it brought to her face. It made her look knowing, and slightly dangerous. He stared back at her silently, letting his face reflect the utter calm he felt on the inside. Brendan did the same.
“Hello boys,” Patricia said. “Just come right in here.” She stepped back to allow them in, leading them straight to the kitchen. The house looked as if it had been put through a speedy cleanup. The dining table was clear, save for a cup of tea and a spoon. Patricia sat down at the spot, and motion for Cory and Brendan to the empty chairs.
Patricia waited for them to get settled. She took a few sips of her tea, keeping her gaze fixed on the window behind them, as if searching for something beyond the hedges along the road. Then, she leaned back and finally turned her gaze to the boys that sat side-by-side in front of her, their slouched shoulders nearly touching.
“Okay, fellas. Here’s the deal.” Patricia let go of the cup and folded her hands on the table. “Michael’s gone. I want you to tell me, honestly, if you know where he is. The police have been searching Jubilife for weeks, and from what they’ve told me, it seems that he’s no longer there. He must’ve moved on to someplace else.” She paused, shifting her gaze from one boy’s face to the next. “I know you two are his closest friends. And I know that there’s a whole bunch of things that Michael told you that he wouldn’t tell me or anyone else. All I’m asking for is the truth. Tell me anything and everything that you know about all this.”
After a short silence, Cory was the first to respond. “We don’t know where he is. Honest. I mean, he’d tell us if he was planning on going somewhere, but neither of us heard anything about it from him. Right?” He looked over to Brendan, who nodded in agreement.
Patricia sighed, and began to stir her tea. “Well, suppose that he did tell you that he was about to run away. Where would he go? The three of you spend entire days together running off to all sorts of places—don’t tell me that you’ve never, not even once, made some crazy plan to go somewhere far away.”
“Well…” Brendan cast his gaze up at the ceiling. “There was one time we wanted to sneak aboard a ship to Iron Island.”
Cory began to crack up.
“We heard there were lots of jewels and stuff there, and we wanted to get some to bring home.” A smile tugged at the corners of Brendan’s lips, which he fought to restrain under Patricia’s gaze. She looked somewhat irked at this development, as if part of her was still appalled at the things thirteen-year-olds got themselves into, but she quickly overrode it with a nod.
Brendan shrugged. “Well, we couldn’t get tickets. Plus we had exams that week, so we had to put it on hold so we could, um…”
“Study,” Cory put in.
Patricia ran her fingers through her hair. “Okay… well, I doubt Michael ran away so that he could go treasure hunting. Maybe I should put this to you another way: Did anything Michael say to you, or did any ideas that he share with you, indicate that he was serious about leaving?”
The two boys began to ponder. After a minute of silence, Patricia intervened.
“Maybe this will help. What did the three of you do when you last saw each other?”
At once, Cory and Brendan seemed to jolt awake, and faced each other with wide eyes.
“We… well, we met up at my house,” Cory began. “And we watched the Space Race.”
“Uh-huh…” Patricia narrowed her eyes. “And, is that all you do together?”
“What else do you like to do, then? What kinds of things does Michael show an interest for that he might not say to me?”
The boys shrugged in unison. Their facial expression were so synchronous that it was almost comical. In a flash of rage and disbelief, Patricia slapped the table. “Did you two know him at all?”
Brendan shook his head. “I’m sorry Miss Rowan, but we don’t know. We’re sorry.”
It seemed that Patricia wanted to say more, but at the last minute, she waved her hand. “Okay. You two can go. Thank you.”
Nodding their heads, the boys got up and left.
Stepping down from the Rowans’ front porch, Cory and Brendan set off together down the sidewalk. They walked in silence for a few moments, then stopped when they reached the edge of the block. Brendan turned to his friend, eyes narrowed against the glare of the afternoon sun. “I can’t believe this, man. Michael was always the guy with the big ideas, but I never expected him to do this. Weird that he didn’t tell us, too.”
Cory hooked his thumbs into his pockets and let out a long, slow breath. “Nah, I don’t blame him. What’s the point in telling? If his mind was set, nuthin’ we would’ve said could’ve stopped him anyway. I bet our old pal just got sick of this place and decided to move on.”
“But still,” said Brendan. “We could’ve gone with him. It could’ve been the three of us out there, surviving, exploring... I don’t get why he had to be such a jerk about it and not tell us.”
Cory scowled. “Shut up. Michael ain’t no jerk. Kid’s smarter than the both of us put together, and unlike us, he knows what he’s doing. Maybe he didn’t want us to come with him. Maybe he knew he had to make the trip alone, to find himself or get away from something in his life. It doesn’t matter. Point is, it ain’t our business. And that’s what these parents don’t get. They want to read everything that’s going on in our minds, because the minute they stop getting us, they get scared we’ll tear away from them. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you gotta do.” He looked down at a rock that lay on the side of the road and kicked it with one dirty shoe, watching it skitter into a gutter. “Kid’ll go places. Just wait.”
“And what about us?” Brendan said.
Cory looked at him and shrugged. “Well, we’re still here, aren’t we?”
Brendan’s frown lingered a moment longer, then he lowered his shoulders in resignation. The boys fell into silence. They looked up at the sky, which was a stained sheet of yellow and orange above them.
“Wherever he is, I just hope he’s okay,” said Brendan, finally. “Wish he’d come back soon.”
It was a while before Cory responded. “He’ll come back,” he said, and smiled. “Exactly when he wants to.”
By some magnetic pull, a smile tugged at the corners of Brendan’s lips. The two boys stared at the clouds, not speaking, for — in the space of those brief few words— all the questions had been answered between them.
I'm not really going to quote a lot of specific parts of the chapter (a change, I know!) but I'll start by saying that it definitely gives an interesting new perspective on things.
It would seem that, in stark contrast to Michael not thinking about his mom a whole lot during his trip so far, she's been thinking of him constantly. And, especially given the volatile relationship between mother and son, it's really interesting (and maybe a bit surprising) that she's taking his disappearance as hard as she is. It's not quite the same thing but I know my mom (ironically also named Patricia) and dad threw a huge party when I left for college and the only mess in the house was a result of that, lol
It actually looks to be a bit of post-traumatic stress syndrome that Patricia's going through, and something like the disappearnace of a child could bring that on. But it also seems clear that she was putting on a facade of toughness in front of Michael - evidenced by her complete breakdown and loss of identity for awhile. But I think most parents do that, especially when their kid's stirring up trouble. I know mine did.
I'm all too familiar with people playing favorites. Teachers I've had have done it. The Pokemon franchise does it with my least favorite trainer and least favorite Pokemon. And it might have happened with my own family, though I might have been partly to blame - my brother was always better at playing by the rules and submitting to authority, and just generally more agreeable with my parents, than I was - I've been a bit of a rebel, like Michael, actually. But with us, I don't think we gravitated toward one parent or the other like the Rowan boys did.
Well, that's enough of me comparing my family life to the Rowans' lol. I am glad Patricia took the time to think about the situation regarding her relationship with Michael... definitely something tough to reflect on, but in the end it looked like it helped clear her mind and start her off on the road to putting her fractured life back together.
And because I feel I need to quote something:
But I can understand the need to take off in order to search your soul and find yourself. That's not why Lisa left on her journey, but honestly, I've felt like doing that myself a few times... just hop on a Greyhound bus and go somewhere to clear my mind... then I check my bank account, lol
This was a nice interesting break from the main journey to see that things are not all well (but perhaps improving) back at the Rowan household, and I liked that it added quite a bit to Patricia's personality, instead of making her the mom that gets forgotten about way too often in Pokemon stories.
Hey LeSabre! Thanks for stopping by. I've been waiting to post this chapter for a while. I agree; it's a nice break from the city-to-city monotony. But as we move forward, more important events will unfold, so the focus won't just be Michael and Company moving from one place to another.
And it seems that I've caused you to do a bit of philosophizing. xP Desired effect achieved muahaha It was interesting to see the connections you made. While I didn't base Michael's family situation on anything in particular, I was careful to make it as realistic as possible. It's good to know my planning paid off, especially since I had to reveal everything that went wrong between her and Andrew and the brothers in such a short amount of text.
I'm glad you enjoyed our little check-back with Michael's mom. From here on out, she'll be appearing in the story more often, since she still has an investigation to run. And it appears like the police have caught on to the fact that Michael's no longer in Jubilife, so perhaps that will cause them to spread their search... (Yes, this is where it gets interesting. Very interesting. :P)
See you next chapter!
[…] Skim past the central mountains… glide over miles of forest that cover Sinnoh’s southeastern shore, and you reach a land of water and grass, where the summer humidity brings rain to the bogs below. Long before there were roads, there were marshlands—which grace the fringes of human civilization, their beauty fragile and preserved. Wherever you look, you see water: to the south, the sea; to the east, the blue gem of Lake Valor; and in the surrounding land, endless routes of rivers and mud.
This is the land that gave birth to Pastoria City, a province that still holds a prominent place in Sinnoh culture. It began as a small port town, receiving ships from neighboring parts of the continent, and eventually flourished into a beacon of innovation. Poets and scholars flocked to the natural setting, mesmerized by the rich land that surrounded them, and letting it inspire their work. Schools were built, as well as research centers, where scientists performed their studies in the midst of an untamed environment. Over time, the city became host to a thriving intellectual community for which it is still known today. Here the first advancements in aircraft were made, and later on, in jet-propulsion technology—an era from which many relics remain, both in stories and in objects. Old buildings and production centers dot the modern roadways, some of which have been converted to other purposes, and others which were revived as historical monuments, their stolid forms etched seamlessly into the landscape.
Today, the city has shed all remnants of its humble past—smooth roads and towering buildings gleam against the backdrop of the marshlands, which dominate the surroundings, permeating the metropolis with warm, clean air.
As the city grew throughout the years, it eventually acquired a second claim to fame. During the early 1890s, Pastoria became a hotspot for pokémon trainers, who founded a battling club near the Valor Lakefront. When the League reformed, the facility became an official Gym, which brought the splendor of national recognition to Pastoria’s gates. To minimize trainers’ travel and time expenses, the Gym was given its own special place in the city layout—an isolated plaza exclusive to traveling trainers and League employees—within whose bounds all League proceedings could be carried out. To this day, the plaza remains the unique feature that sets the Pastoria Gym apart from the others.
Sinnoh Travel Guide
Trainers, come one come all! All trainers welcome at Pastoria’s Pokémon Village! Surrounded by miles of beautiful nature, this self-sustaining community is located at a midpoint between thriving city life, and the calm, upscale atmosphere of Valor Lakefront. Enjoy time away from the bustling city crowds and be immersed in a casual, pokémon-friendly environment! The Plaza features the Gym, a Pokémon Center, and a PokéMart—as well as other League buildings and services—all within walking distance! Never again drag your exhausted pokémon halfway across town—in Pastoria, you will be able to experience the full range of our services, right outside of your hotel door!
For your recreational pleasure, picnic huts and tables are stationed at various points in our vast courtyard. You may inquire anytime about our free tours, which take you on a one-of-a-kind journey through our city’s most famous locations. Pastoria’s natural environment features many exotic plants and pokémon that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, so you’re guaranteed to make wonderful memories.
Broaden your knowledge of our world, and of yourself, at the Pastoria Pokémon Village!
Advertisement in the Pokémon League Weekly, February 1963 edition
Without doubt, Pastoria City can be considered to be the birthplace of Sinnoh’s space program, and one of the most important early sites of space research in the world. During the early 30s, it played host to a number of conferences and exhibitions which guided the nation’s early steps towards space exploration, and for a time in the late 40s, the space engineering department at the Marsh University prospered well beyond the that of Lilycove University in Hoenn.
A particularly striking moment in history occurred with the founding of The Galaxy Corps, the now-dissolved company which was known for formally initiating the space program in Sinnoh, as well as applying its developed technologies to society’s daily needs.
The company was responsible for many advancements and inventions, among them the modern capsule-containment system, which is employed in the design of pokéballs.
Sinnoh in Space: A History
[…] The towering building stands desolate and alone, a relic of past times, abandoned for almost twenty years. It was built in the 1930s originally as a laboratory, then in 1948, became the headquarters of TGC, the predecessor to the modern Sinnoh space company, whose research centered upon fuel and propulsion. However, the facility was mysteriously abandoned a short while later, and remains empty to this day, disturbed only by the occasional camera flash from the passing tourist.
The building has since been made property of the city, and plans are underway to convert it to a museum dedicated to the Pastoria Pokémon Gym. And, given the building’s history, this provides an interesting juxtaposition…
Pastorian Landmarks—A Tourist’s Catalogue, 1960 edition
May 26, 1963
- P A S T O R I A . L O C A L . G A Z E T T E -
MUSEUM OPENS DOWNTOWN—CITY CELEBRATES
Just four years after the commencement of the project, the mayor has finally announced the opening of Pastoria’s very own Museum of Pokémon Training, which has been highly anticipated and discussed since early March. In its completion, the grand, three-story building dominates the eastern half of Ashton Blvd, designed in an old-fashioned style with towering pillars and elegant roof trimmings. Inside, the museum hosts nearly 1,000 exhibits pertaining to the past, present, and future of pokémon training—including symbols and artifacts which have been graciously donated from various countries. A special wing on the ground floor is dedicated to history of Sinnoh’s very first Gym town, Pastoria City itself, and how the years have molded it to its wonderful present image.
“It’s really a wonder to behold,” one passerby commented. “I can’t wait to see it!”
The museum was officially inaugurated yesterday morning, in an elaborate red-ribbon ceremony whose cheer echoed throughout the whole of the city center. Aside from a sea of townspeople, who flocked to the streets alongside reporters, the celebration featured dozens of sponsors from around the country, whose investments and support made the museum project possible. But perhaps the largest contribution was made by the Pastoria Pokémon Gym, whose three-year fundraising campaign resulted in a sum of $70,000.
The ceremony brought a curious clash of events for the Gym—for it was also the day that marked the facility’s 100th year in operation, which its leader, Marie Wickham, celebrated in style. She joined the mayor at the head of a large parade, which traveled around the downtown, at the end of which she cut the red ribbon and declared the museum open to the public.
Then, in true Pastoria fashion, the ceremony culminated with a round of speeches from city officials. Last to enter the podium was Mrs. Wickham herself, who accepted the Award of Service on behalf of her Gym, and promised that there will be many great years for the city ahead.
In those summer months, life in Pastoria was as thriving as ever. Following the museum’s opening, which had stirred a wave of activity for a short period of time, the tide of events continued its relentless push forward. Several other stories swept through the news from time to time, such as the opening of a renovated park, or a business scandal. The atmosphere of large societies seemed to be such that no topic would linger in the air for long; it was always replaced by something new, something different. And in such a large city, something always seemed to be happening.
The month of June dawned on Pastoria like any other—humid and vibrant. The city felt little strain from the influx of trainers, or from the greater-than-ever tide of tourists rushing in to see the marshlands. Business went on as usual.
But for the Pastorians, the greatest was yet to come.
On the day of June 29th, a silver Cadillac De Ville pulled up to the parking lot beside a run-down convenience store, somewhere in the outskirts of town. The air outside was warm, and as customary in the afternoons, a clump of storm clouds was fast approaching the city, smudging sun behind a gray cover. Wind was stirring the trees beside the road, bringing the scent of coming rain.
A man in a suit and hat stepped out of the car, and looked up to survey the sky as he closed the door. He was dressed primly, not arrogantly, but possessed a businesslike manner which looked out-of-place in the drab surroundings. The Cadillac was neither new nor old, neither clean nor dusty, the sort that would blend right in with the rest of the road. Aside from two other models, worn-down and dusty, the lot was empty.
The man stood still for a moment, eyes scanning the gathering clouds, then he lowered his head and crossed over to the store. The only other person inside was a cashier, who looked up automatically as the door opened. The man stepped inside and began to pace around the vacant aisles, selecting various items. When he finished, he approached the register, and turned his gaze to the rack of newspapers that stood by the door. A brief smile lifted his face, and he took the topmost issue of The Hearthome Times and added it to the pile.
The cashier perked an eyebrow as he read the headline: League Game Corner Closed Down; Others Under Scrutiny.
“Seems like they’ll have something to answer for,” he muttered.
The man gave a silent nod. He took out his wallet to pay, and by chance, the cashier’s eyes alighted on the keychain that was still clutched in his hands—one of the keys sparkled gold, and was engraved with the emblem ‘GL’. The cashier seemed taken aback, but didn’t say anything.
“It’s all in a day’s work for the press,” the man mused in the meantime. “Scandals, mysteries… so much that it’s hard to separate the true from the false.” Looking up, he noticed the cashier’s lingering stare. He rattled the keys and placed them into his pocket. “You don’t happen to know how far the Grand Lake Hotel is from here, do you?”
The cashier chuckled. “Well, you’re certainly wasting your time here. It’s nowhere near the downtown. Grand Lake’s on the far east, right by the Lakefront. It’s mostly foreigners who stay there, or people who have money. Mighty nice. I’ve only seen it once, but once was enough.”
The man nodded. “Thank you.” He gathered his purchases into a plastic bag, and a minute later, the silver Cadillac sped away down the road.
Around that time, the 5:00 train from Solaceon Town was speeding across Pastoria’s northern marshlands. Michael and Henry were both leaning against the window, trying to see as far as they could past the rows of trees, catching fleeting glimpses of mud, grass, and occasionally buildings. Bertha was in the row across the aisle and had a window of her own to look from, but occasionally craned her head over to see from the boys’ side.
For a good hour, the view remained the same. Once the rolling hills of Solaceon had vanished behind a scrim of thick forest, the passengers of the train saw little more than a running strip of leaves and branches. Then, the forest thinned, exposing soggy, muddy grass that lay in pools around the trees’ roots. Ponds appeared, flat as glass, reflecting the blue of the sky. Then the forest vanished entirely, fleeing off into the distance, revealing an utterly flat landscape—islands of green grass clumping atop a bed of water, like a patterned carpet, stretching without bounds towards the barren horizon. And then, they saw the most marvelous sight of all—the outline of a sprawling city emerging over the bogs, standing like a looming guardian, its buildings gleaming in the waning light.
The Pastoria Rail Terminal was located on the edge of the Valor Lakefront, a sparsely-populated area reserved for lavish gardens and large homes. As the train slowed, its passengers were able to glimpse the main shopping square. It was filled with color and movement, and was designed with an uptight glamour that reminded Michael of a summer resort. The buildings were white and square, adorned with matching blue shades that hung above the windows. Plants stood in pots alongside their walls, or in neat patches of soil beside benches. The sidewalks were paved with multicolored stones, all chiseled to fit every curve and corner, and the people who walked upon them were dressed simply and elegantly.
Once the passengers had emerged onto the terminal, Bertha quickly found the information desk and formulated a plan of action. She would rent a taxi to the hotel, where she and the boys would spend the rest of the evening and make arrangements to visit the Gym. Depending on how far away it was, and on the availability of the leader, Bertha would either accompany the boys the next day, or send them to book their battles alone.
While Bertha talked with the attendant at the desk, Michael’s gaze began to wander, and by chance, he alighted upon a large picture that was framed on a nearby wall. It featured a plump lady in her late fifties, who stood in the foreground hugging a Marill, gazing out at the viewer with a breezy smile. Behind her was a large, brown building surrounded by a lush meadow, though the image was slightly blurred, making it hard to see the details. A strip of text ran across the top: “Pastoria City Gym—A Water Wonderland.”
Beneath the picture was a small table with a stack of brochures. Michael took one and opened it up, scanning through the text. “Her name’s Marie Wickham… She’s been the leader here for twenty years, and she’s done all sorts of things for the League before that. And it looks like her type’s Water.” He glanced back up at the grey-haired lady, and shrugged. “I guess that was easy.”
Beside him, Henry crossed his arms. “Well, she sure looks nicer than Lona.”
Michael let out a laugh. “Yep.” But his heart wasn’t really in it.
After calling their cab, Bertha took the boys out for a walk around the square, which was even more breathtaking up close. It was here that Michael truly realized how far he had strayed from his home in Jubilife. All signs of the city culture and mannerisms he was familiar with were lost. There were no posters, or advertisements, or blaring music that drifted from open doors. Unlike city streets, which were designed for mass accommodation and seemed pasted together solely for convenience, the lakefront was designed with every curve in mind. Smooth roads looped around elegant flowerbeds and sculptures, with ample room left for pedestrians. Groups of ladies strolled around with big hats, hiding in the shade of their parasols. Men wore crisp jackets, and escorted their dates by the arm in the fashion of an earlier era. Aside from Skitties or Glameows on leashes, there were no pokémon.
As the trio wandered further into the square, a wide building with a flat roof emerged into view from across the street, towering several floors above the rest. The building bore the same colors and design as its neighbors, but the shades over the windows were trimmed with gold, and a huge revolving door stood at the entrance. The property was enclosed by a low stone wall, which terminated at the front for a large circular driveway. Coming closer, Michael was able to read the thin cursive that stood out on the face of its sign: “Hotel Grand Lake.” It was clearly a popular place, for the driveway was nearly filled to the brim with expensive cars, forcing others to park beside the road.
“Whoa…” Henry gazed at the building in wonder, mouth agape. “Bertha, can we stay there?”
“Keep dreaming, kid.” Bertha gave a chuckle.
“Hmph.” Henry crossed his arms. “It sure must be nice there… Can we at least take a look inside?”
It seemed that Bertha was about to voice her doubts, but a second later she seemed to rethink them, gaining a touch of humor. “Well, why not? Let’s go.”
They quickly crossed the street, slipping through crowds of prim-and-tidy passersby, and pushed through the revolving wooden doors into an enormous lobby. The interior of the hotel resembled that of an expensive museum—the ceiling arched high overhead, covered with a pattern of soft golden swirls. Three chandeliers were spaced along its length, filling the room with a warm glow that was reflected in wet smudges on the marble floor. Amidst the dominating surroundings, the movements of the guests seemed hushed and peaceful.
Stopping at the doorway, Bertha gave the boys a gentle push forward. “Run along, you two. But don’t go far. I’m going to see if this place has a map.”
“Right.” Henry nodded, then without a backward glance, he rushed off.
After a brief pause, Michael started forward, following the sound of the boy’s fading footsteps. His feet moved of their own accord, though he didn’t know where he was going, or why. He let the lobby flee by him in its brilliance, passing huge paintings framed on the walls, glass-encased information racks, and hotel staff, who were often better dressed than the guests themselves. He didn’t give any of it a second look, but kept walking towards some unknown destination, his mind drowning out everything but that one object of its concentration, which he himself couldn’t pry out of its darkness.
Finally, Michael’s eyes locked on a small door hidden behind a corner, all the way on the opposite side of the room. He turned towards it, not bothering to check if anyone was watching, and in the same continuous motion, he pushed it open. He was met by a cool whistling breeze, and found that he had reached an outdoor veranda, looking out at the hidden half of Valor Lakefront. Beyond the railing, he could see the rest of the land laid out beneath him, a valley of color beneath the stained sky. The ledge of flat land on which the hotel stood terminated suddenly, sloping down at a steep angle to a depth of land some miles below. Houses and swimming pools were wedged along the cliffside, poking out from between the treetops, lying on various levels like steps on a staircase. Even from his position, Michael could make out the patterns of their roofs, and lavish backyards with gardens and walkways.
Beyond the cluster of homes, the land continued, rolling out towards the horizon before ending in a large stripe of water. It was a lake of unimaginable size, stretching as far and wide as the eye could see, its smooth waves reflecting the shimmer of the sun.
It was the sort of picture that could appear only in a painting, or in someone’s dream. As he watched, suddenly, Michael wanted to approach—to lean down over the railing, to throw his gaze out to the farthest point he could see, and lose himself in the color, the sounds, the breeze…
But there was already someone standing there.
Michael stopped his move forward as his vision registered her form. She stood with her back to him a little ways to the side, one hand laid over the bar, the other raised slightly, as if to grasp something in the air. The breeze rippled the skirt of her white dress, and strands of long, blonde hair.
The girl didn’t appear to notice his arrival. She was pacing around the deck, lost in her own thoughts, searching for something in the vicinity. Then, noticing him, she looked up, widening her eyes. There was something familiar in their stare…
She smiled politely. Then, she pursed her lips. “You didn’t happen to see a suite key lying around somewhere, did you? I’ve gone and lost mine again…”
Michael shook his head. The girl kept thinking, tapping her chin.
The face. The eyes.
As he looked at her, suddenly, he remembered where he had seen them before. She had been the girl he had met in Jubilife, the one he had amazingly run into outside a diner and talked with for hardly a minute. But that was nearly a month ago. Why did he still remember? And did she remember him? (Michael’s heart skipped a beat at the prospect.) She had said that he had resembled someone, but never told him who it was…
The girl continued to pace in the meantime, and Michael cleared his throat, trying to think of something to say. “Well uh… where did you see it last?” he offered.
She stopped. “Hmm… I know I had it this morning, but I guess I must’ve dropped it somewhere here, because I didn’t leave the hotel today.”
She shook her head. “I went for a walk on the lakefront for a few hours, but I know I had the key when I came back because I used it to enter the pool deck. I stayed there for a bit, then I went to eat… and when I went back to my room, I realized I didn’t have the key anymore.”
“Let’s check by the pool, then.”
The girl smiled wryly. “If only we could get in. You need the key to open the gate. I’ve asked the staff to look, but they didn’t see it anywhere. I’d borrow one from someone if I could, but people here aren’t that talkative… I guess I was too nervous to ask.”
Michael paused, and unconsciously, his face adopted a look of naïve determination. “We’ll figure something out. Can you show me the way?”
“You want to help?” The girl looked relieved. “Oh, I can’t thank you enough! Follow me.”
Beckoning, she led him down the veranda, and rounded a corner to reach a back door. They entered an inner wing of the hotel, where the girl made a series of twists and turns, then pushed open a door leading to a grassy outdoor space. Much of the pool was obscured by a tall white picket fence, though which Michael could glimpse rows of lounge chairs, and a poolside bar. The entrance to the pool appeared to be from the other side, where guests were coming in and out through the gates. Coming closer, Michael stood on his toes and peered as high as he could over the fence, trying to see what was going on beyond it.
The pool itself was nearly empty; most of the people were roaming about on the deck, strolling about with drinks in hand, or resting on lounge chairs, trying to absorb a last inkling of warmth before the sun went out. But his view was imperfect, and Michael had to reposition himself several times as a large group passed, or when a tall lady stood up in a sunhat.
The girl soon joined him in his search, following along as Michael made his way around the perimeter of the deck. At last, she gave a cry of delight, and pointed towards a row of empty chairs on the other side. “There! I think that’s it!”
Michael’s gaze flicked to the place she indicated, and he saw something tiny and golden sparkle from a deep corner. “Yep, it’s gotta be,” he said.
“But it’s so far away,” said the girl. “How are we going to get it? Should we ask someone?”
Still staring at the keys, Michael felt a smile cross his face. “I have a better idea.”
He let go of the fence and backed away several paces, drawing a pokéball from his backpack. He held open the capsule and unleashed a brilliant burst of light, which materialized seconds later into his Chatot. Ringo dove into the air, circling twice over their heads, then came down to perch on Michael’s arm.
Michael brought the bird over to the fence and pointed forward. “See those, Ringo? The keys behind the chairs?”
Ringo gave a curt nod, eyes narrowed.
“I need you to get them for me. But be quick—if the staff start giving you a hard time, tell them Michael Rowan sent you, and he don’t play no games.”
The girl began to giggle. Ringo shifted his stance, ruffling his feathers, then took off in for the pool, soaring over the people’s heads like a paper glider. The reaction of the resort community was almost immediate. Seconds after the bird’s appearance, the pool deck erupted in a series of gasps and yelps. Through the fence’s tiny slits, Michael saw people duck and cover as Ringo swooped past, his claws gleaming. Several disembodied hands sprang into the air, waving fans and books in an attempt to swat the bird away.
Ringo played along with the taunts, pecking at people’s heads, and plucking objects from their hands. Several times, the bird dipped low out of sight, but from the sharp clinking of glass, and the chorus of angry voices, Michael could tell that he was causing a commotion.
At last, Ringo’s bright colors reappeared over the fence, amid a final tide of shooing hands, a set of golden keys dangling from his beak.
With the bird’s disappearance, the deck sank back to its former calm, though Michael heard bits of rapid chatter from the frazzled crowd. He went back to the fence and saw that Ringo had indeed made his mark. Guests were now scooting their chairs away from the trees, lifting fallen magazines, and muttering to their companions in annoyance. One woman’s hat had fallen into the water, and was drifting there like a lily pad.
Turning back to the girl, Michael saw that she was clutching her belly, her face flushed from laughter.
“People don’t like pokémon here much,” she explained. “We’re not allowed to have them out here, unless they’re small and ‘properly restrained.’ But honestly, I think that takes the fun out of things.”
Michael handed her the keys, and she smiled in gratitude. “I can’t thank you enough. Honestly… if it had been just one more day, I would’ve gone crazy.” She shook her head. After placing the keys back into her purse, she took a look at Ringo and smiled. “Can I pet him?”
“Sure.” Michael held out his arm, and Ringo instinctively backed away a couple steps, sensing a foreign hand draw near. But gradually, he warmed up, and allowed the girl to stroke his feathers. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips.
“He’s so handsome…” she said. She held up her finger to the bird’s beak, and giggled as he nibbled at it. Her eyes found Michael’s again, wide with curiosity. “Are you a trainer?”
The eyes smiled again. But in that instant, they seemed to flash with recognition. “Hang on…” Her lips parted. “I remember you. I think I’ve met you before… back in Jubilife, wasn’t it?” The girl looked at him more intently, and suddenly, her face brightened. “Michael! It’s you, isn’t it?”
Michael smiled. “Yeah. I remember you too.” He paused. “What’s your name?”
“Shella. It’s nice to see you again.”
Michael nodded. “Nice to see you again too.” But his thoughts weren’t nearly as calm as his voice was. Shella. She had given him his name. Shella. From Slateport. He repeated the name several times in his head, and made sure that he would never forget it.
“It’s really funny that we met here,” Shella continued. “This part of Pastoria is pretty specific.”
Michael was able to break away from his thoughts just in time to process what she had said. “What do you mean?”
“I guess the people, the culture… the price range. Heh. But it’s the Sinnoh experience, still.” She gave a shrug. “So what brings you to Hotel Grand Lake?”
“I’m not staying here,” Michael replied. “I’m just… uh, passing through.”
“Oh, I see. Because you’re a trainer, you’re probably doing the League. You guys have your own hotels and stuff, right?”
“We have trainer hotels in Hoenn too. But they’re bigger, and you can find them in pretty much any big city—not just the ones with Gyms. Contest Coordinators stay there too, and so do people who want to do the Battle Frontier.”
“Battle Frontier?” Michael put on a look of puzzlement. He hated to have to hang on to her words, but for lack of a clever statement, he had to make do with what he had.
“It’s this thing that we have. It was funded by our Elite Four, actually. They recognized that not all trainers wanted to challenge the Tournament, or were strong enough for it. So they created this island where people could just battle without having to worry about money or badges.”
Shella gave a laugh. “I’m not a trainer, so I don’t pay much attention to that sort of stuff… But I do admire how motivated some people are.” At this, she turned her gaze to him. “So what about you?”
Michael blinked to clear his haze. “… Me?”
“Yes, you.” She smiled. “What’s it like doing the League? Do you travel a lot?”
“Well, yeah. It’s pretty sweet—you know, seeing all the towns and stuff. But it’s not just battling; there’s a lot of history involved too. Like, you can learn about the Gyms, the culture of the Gym towns… they can even give you free tours.”
Shella nodded slowly. “That’s really nice. I’d love to go on a tour. Especially in Pastoria. I’ve only been here for a week and I’m absolutely lost! I’m on a budget, so I can’t stay here for too long, but I haven’t even seen the Great Marsh yet. I’m too busy trying to figure out how everything works around here. It’s so different.”
Her shoulders drooped slightly, and Michael felt a glimmer of opportunity.
“Well, you know… I could always help you. Like if you need directions or anything.” Almost instinctively, he lifted his hands to show that they were empty—there was no cage dragging him down this time.
Shella responded with a giggle. “That’s so nice of you. I’d really appreciate it.”
Michael felt his breath pause. Was this really happening?
“Maybe… we can meet up tomorrow at the Lakefront,” Shella continued. “Just if you happen to be free. I know you must be busy and all…”
But before she could rethink herself, Michael gave an affirmative nod. “Yeah, I’ll be free.” It didn’t matter what the time was; he would find a way.
Shella smiled. “Okay. That’s great.”
Michael nodded. “So… I’ll see you then, I guess.” Before his mustered calm could begin to falter, he quickly turned and started to walk away. But right then, a shout broke him out of his thoughts.
“Wait!” Shella called. “I didn’t even give you my number yet!”
Michael turned around, unsure if it had been a hallucination. But no… Shella had opened her purse, and was writing something on a torn piece of note paper. But he couldn’t get himself to move. His feet were stuck to the ground, his only anchors to reality. A moment later, Shella approached and handed him the paper. It was a phone number.
“That’s the number of the hotel, and the extension to my room,” she said. “You can call it anytime. If I’m gone, they’ll leave a message.”
Michael nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”
Shella looked befuddled. “I should be thanking you!”
They eyed each other for another split second, then awkwardly exchanged goodbyes. Michael stumbled his way back to the lobby, feeling as if he had emerged from a trance.
When he reached the front doors of the hotel, he found that Bertha and Henry were already waiting for him, stiff and impatient. As soon as they saw Michael, their faces grew visibly relaxed, and Bertha let out a sigh.
“Kid, you sure have a way of running off. We were just about to have the staff go looking for you!”
Michael nodded an apology, though he was too busy stuffing away Shella’s note to answer. In the meantime, Bertha’s eyes found the Chatot, who was looking over Michael’s shoulder, clacking his beak. “Why do you have Ringo out?” she asked.
The bird began to pipe a reply.
“I wanna hold your haaaaaand—I wanna hold your haaaa—”
Before he could finish, Michael hastily aimed the pokéball, and Ringo fled back into the capsule mid-breath. Looking up at Bertha and Henry, he felt a slight sting pass over his face. “Nothing. Just getting some air.”
Bertha lifted an eyebrow. But the explanation seemed to suit her. She waited for him to get his things in order, then led the boys out of the hotel and started briskly towards the rail terminal.
“Our cab will be here soon,” she said to them. “We’ll meet our driver in the station. It won’t be a long ride from here to the hotel, but I want to make sure I have down the locations of other important places. I got a map of the city just now, and I’m telling you, this place is huge. It’s got over two thousand miles of subway tracks, and the downtown is like a city on its own…”
Henry followed Bertha’s words with keen interest, but Michael made no effort to pay attention. An odd sense of slowness had overcome him. He bent his head back to look up at the sky, then let his gaze trail down to the trees, admiring how the candlelight from the street lamps made their branches gleam.
When they returned to the terminal, the trio settled down in a waiting area, choosing seats facing the window. Henry sat on his hands as he watched the moving crowds, and as was his custom, began to tap the toes of his sneakers together.
“Pastoria is a really pretty place,” he said, after a while. “I like it here already.”
Michael nodded in reply, but only when he was struck by the perfection of the moment did he let a chuckle escape him. “Me too...”
Some minutes later, their taxi driver appeared from the rest of the crowd, dressed in casual city attire, and holding up a card with Bertha’s name on it. After greeting them, he helped Bertha with her new luggage bag and led them outside to the car.
The ride from the Valor Lakefront to the trainer hotel would take about half an hour, but fortunately, it would only be a one-time trip. As the man explained, the Gym and hotel would be in walking distance from each other, secluded in their own special area independent from the city. He assured them that they wouldn’t need to have a cab cart them along anywhere, unless they wanted to go sightseeing.
Together, the four of them went to the curb beside the road, where a white taxi was parked. Beyond it, cars were moving about in either direction, forming two stripes of color along the roadway. Stopping beside the car, Bertha and the man began to talk, discussing routes, times, and destinations.
After placing their things in the trunk, Michael and Henry stood by the curb, looking around, listening to the driver’s deep, laid-back voice mix in with Bertha’s.
“Pastoria’s got a lot, though it might seem overwhelming to a tourist at first. The roads are rather complicated, but I know a lot of quick detours that’ll get you there faster…”
The drawl of their voices kept Michael occupied for some time. He continued to casually scan his surroundings, when in the corner of his eye, he saw Henry’s head snap suddenly to another direction.
Instinctively, he turned to the spot the boy was looking at, and saw that a second car had pulled up behind theirs, sleek and silver. The door opened, and out stepped a man in a jacket and tie. He removed a suitcase from the backseat, just as a well-dressed valet appeared from the side to take his keys. Upon stepping up to the curb, the man turned to close the car door, and his face flashed for a single lucid moment in Michael’s vision. And for the second time that day, a shock of recognition hit Michael with full force. It was the man from Hearthome, he realized, the one with the glasses — who had shut down the Game Corner and vanished as mysteriously as he had arrived. In these new surroundings, the man seemed almost foreign, but still he maintained an air of purpose, as if part of his business was still unfinished.
Michael tore his gaze away to look at Henry, whose face was marked with shock. The boy met his gaze, eyes wide. “What’s he doing in Pastoria?” he whispered.
Michael shook his head. They watched in silence as the man turned away from them, and without so much as glancing in a stray direction, proceeded directly towards the Grand Lake Hotel. His form was soon lost in the trickling crowds, whose figures were illuminated by the lamplight.
“Whoever he is, he’s got a fancy agenda,” Michael murmured.
Behind them, Bertha shifted her gaze away from the taxi driver, evidently noticing the boys’ exchange. Her eyes searched the square, then alighted upon the man’s figure as the hotel door swooshed closed behind him.
“You’ll like it,” the driver continued, unaware that all three of his listeners had zoned out and were turned away from him. He tossed Bertha’s things into the trunk and slammed the door closed. “They don’t call it the trainer village for nothing. It’s all you really need—not too loud, not too crowded… Has a shop or two, since it’s right by the suburbs. But there’s one thing unique ‘bout this city, and that’s word spreads fast. Mark my words, you’ll never feel like you’re disconnected there. It’s just how folk around here talk, and move. You could never set a single foot in the downtown, but in a matter of days, you’ll feel like you know everything that’s goin’ on, everywhere. People call it the Marsh City, but I’d place my bet that it’s really the Talk City… heh…”
It would only be a short while till they realized the truth of those words.
Nice, unique start to the chapter... it's a different way to set the stage for the next few chapters, and gives Pastoria a history and character that's not really touched upon in the games.
BTW, is Grand Lake here the same as it is in the games (i.e., each room in its own building) or is it more of a traditional style hotel?
And leave it to Michael and Ringo to stir up chaos, even if their intentions were good this time And could romance be in the air for Michael? I mean, damn, man, you just got a cute girl's phone number, and she gave it to you instead of you asking for it!
Hmmm... and another familiar face shows up... I wonder what sort of fishy, shady operation he's got his sights on this time.
Nice detail about the Valor Lake area of town... it sounds like exactly the type of place a certain rich girl trainer would be right at home in I also like how Pastoria has distinct "districts" each with their own unique style and feel. It's kind of like the whole "expanding out to the suburbs" that was going on at the time, with the wealthy moving out to the outskirts and developing it to their tastes. And it does sound pretty convenient to have all trainer facilities clustered in one area.
And yay, next town! Not a lot of action, but definitely a lot of foreshadowing... something tells me that something big is gonna go down here while Michael and Co. are in town...