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No, Grand Lake is just like a normal hotel. The houses that Michael saw when he was looking down the valley were actual houses. They're owned by rich people who use them as summer homes and boast that they have a lakeside view.
The thing that makes Pastoria different is that its rich are richer than the rich in most other cities, so the rich uptown is more lavish and pompously designed. Maybe it was always like that, or maybe they all just flocked together there over time. I'll leave it up to you to decide.
And yes, hooray for new cities!
Thanks for the review!
I guess it's high time this chapter passed from my scrutinous gaze to yours. xP
(*Is glad that character limit is not a problem here 8D*)
Hope you like it!
By next morning, the sheet of storm clouds that hung over Pastoria City had cleared, bathing the steel-clad urban center in sunlight.
Down below, beneath the towering buildings, the roads were abuzz with chatter and wails of fleeting cars. The usual morning crowds moved like rivers down the sidewalks, filling the streets with flocks of moving color. That day, there was an unusual concentration of people near the center of town, all of whom seemed to be held up in their travels, crowded on walkways or backed-up on slow-moving roads. A major avenue had been closed off from public access, initiating the jam, forcing commuters to reroute along a complicated network of detours. Nevertheless, the crowd of pedestrians seemed unwilling to stir from the vicinity, their motions hushed, their rapid voices exchanging tones of interest and awe. For, just a short while earlier, the city had paid host to some unexpected visitors, word of whom was hot upon the cool morning wind.
A few hours past dawn, a procession of black cars had departed from the airport and began to snake through the main roads of the city, stirring up a tide of curious gazes in its wake. The cars were all sleek and identical, their windows specially darkened so that no one could see who was inside. As if by instinct, the Pastorians parted rank for them, gliding their vehicles to the side of the roadways to let the newcomers pass. Wherever the black line went, the stares of the people followed, some who went as far as to stop and watch as the cars cruised by—all sleek bumpers and stainless frames that shone with a pristine gleam, like spaceships that had descended from an alien planet. Gradually, they were joined by several police cars who flanked them on either end, throwing up a barrier of silent flashing lights.
In this fashion, the cars proceeded through the city, remaining the center of attention for a whole ten minutes. In that time, teams of workers set up signs and traffic cones, clearing all the roadways that the procession would cross. The Pastorians all watched from a distance, hanging in curious silence, before the cars made an abrupt turn and vanished down an obscure road of trees.
By then, the whole city was talking.
Over by the suburbs, which were immersed in relative quiet, the news hadn’t yet broken. With the city-wide networks still stirring themselves awake, the story of the mysterious black cars was still confined to the spoken word. Nevertheless, there was a certain energy in the air, which though some inexplicable means had permeated the entire city, giving the summer day a curious thrill.
Upon waking that morning in his hotel room, Michael was briefly disoriented by his new surroundings. Everything was polished clean, wiped of all traces of previous inhabitants, leaving minimalistic decorations and empty cabinets. Though the layout of the hotels didn’t change much from town to town, the rooms varied slightly to match each town’s individual theme. The Pastoria hotel was dominated by green and wood, with elegantly-carved bookshelves and gently swaying curtains. The light that sifted through the windows was bright and soft, bringing a shine to the walls.
That previous evening, he and Henry had scattered their things without much thought, leaving their half-emptied backpacks slumped together by the beds. The hotel had admitted them without delay, and had even given Bertha the room next to theirs when they found out that she was a fellow Gym leader. After throwing off their unneeded weight, the three of them had proceeded immediately to get dinner, for they were too hungry and too tired to think about anything else.
Unlike its predecessors, the Pastoria Trainer hotel was not cramped in the middle of a busy street. Rather, as their chauffeur from the previous day had promised, it was located on a plot of land all to itself—along with the Gym, a Pokémon Center, and a PokéMart, which together provided all the necessities of a trainer’s existence. The four buildings were spaced apart in a large arc, fenced by lampposts and paved with sidewalks, forming a scenic courtyard that resembled a city square. Trainers strolled about in their colorful attire, in groups with their friends and pokémon, sporting varying degrees of League spirit and gadgetry. Many wild pokémon had made their homes here as well, like the Shinx who scurried between flowering bushes, or the Starlies whose heads poked out of nearby trees. Apart from the four main League buildings, there were other, smaller huts positioned in between, serving various purposes from snack bars to trading houses, and even conventional souvenir shops. Much like on the Valor Lakefront, the buildings all had similar color schemes that matched the surrounding environment—dark, wood-patterned walls, and gray roofs.
When Michael had arrived at the plaza the previous evening, he had made little out of the shadows that stood beyond their little island of light, which in itself had been difficult to absorb at first. But upon stepping outside that morning, he saw that they were surrounded by nature on all sides, which provided a startlingly empty backdrop that was breathtaking in its beauty. Beyond the border of the buildings, the paved square terminated for what looked like miles of grassy land, which rolled out in large, blunt hills towards a horizon of forest. Huts and picnic tables dotted the vicinity, where Michael could see trainers congregating, playing and battling like kids at recess hour. To the west was the main road, which snaked like a lone river all the way to the city, splitting off here and there for a smaller bus route. Even from here, Michael could make out the buildings that stood in the city center, which loomed like pillars in the distant haze.
But what was clearly the plaza’s focal point of interest, and also the most uniquely designed of its neighbors, was the Gym. It consisted of a main office building, behind which stood a large complex of battle rooms, whose roofs were conjoined in a pattern that reminded Michael of choppy waves. There were several other buildings that were fenced within the property, which from bits of conversation the previous day, Michael gathered had survived from the Gym’s days as a public battling house. Now, they had been converted to other purposes, ranging from healing rooms to multifunctional studios, which were often rented out to local clubs or gatherings. As he soon discovered, the Gym was visited even by average city-dwellers, to whom it was an integral part of Pastorian life, and evidently a hotspot for news and activities.
The lobby of the Gym consisted of a reception desk, and a side lounge where trainers sat and socialized. There was a game area, where people played pool and cards, as well as a bookshelf, and a rack for newspapers and magazines on various subjects. A large bulletin board dominated the wall, tacked several times over with clippings of all sorts, many pertaining to local topics and events. Staff members roamed freely about the lobby, occupied by miscellaneous errands, and used the counter only as a home base for stapling papers or making phone calls.
All in all, it resembled more of a community center than a Gym, and looking around, Michael saw none of the ads or commercial gadgetry that cluttered most other League establishments. On the rare occasion that he did see some sort of reference to the League, it somehow blended so well with the background that it was almost nonchalant—seeming just like a part of everyday business.
Bertha’s eyes searched the room for a face that didn’t look busy, and finally she approached a tall, red-haired woman who had stopped by the front desk to grab a box of paper clips. Bertha introduced herself, and after a brief conversation, the staff lady welcomed them all, and led them through the lounge to a back door. She opened it to reveal a small room with typewriters and file cabinets, where she introduced them to the woman who was standing inside, busily removing paper from a mimeograph copying machine.
Marie Wickham looked just as she did in her picture. The same smile was there, along with the smooth, daintily cared-for curls that formed a soft gray halo around her head. She was one of those middle-aged ladies who, rather than spending their time trying to look young, embraced her years with feminine flair, and displayed a classy, snappy character that could only be possessed by someone of her experience. She dressed in calm, simple hues, though she often liked to add something extra to give her outfit an unexpected turn. Today, it took the form of a large jeweled clip, resembling a blue flower, which gleamed like a shock of water against her plain blazer.
Upon their first meeting, Michael immediately caught on to her second peculiarity, for before Bertha could do so much as make a sound, Marie was already shaking her hand.
“No need to explain anything to me!” she said. “I’ve heard it all from Jerry Bradford! Fine fellow, that he is, always knows everything about everyone. I bet he has dossiers on all of us in those cabinets of his, what with all the connections he has… And you! I’ve waited months to meet you! Who would’ve thought, the Gym leader of Eterna Town suddenly rises up and manages to do something that the rest of us have been thinking about doing for years? Well, some of us at least. Can’t say I’ve heard too much from the folks in Canalave or Sunyshore. I know Harvey’s still doing his thing in Canalave, but I don’t know about the new guy they brought over to the electric Gym. Apparently he came in last year—well, who knew?” Marie gave a shrug. “Shame how slowly word spreads. I bet if they put all eight of us in a room together, we wouldn’t even recognize each other. Harvey I know. Mr. Bradford—well, he knows everyone, so naturally we’ve talked! I know Miss Walker, and I’ve met her mother. But beyond that, it’s just names and locations. Why, I didn’t even know the Gym leader of Eterna—and now I see a beautiful young lady standing in front of me! By the way, I’m terribly sorry about what happened. Why if it were my town those Galactics tried to invade, I’d march right in and burn that factory down myself! Forget finding a diplomatic solution; I’d be angry! But did you let that stop you? No—you moved forward! You took the incentive for all of us! I’m proud!” She clapped her hands together. Bertha, who had been poised for a professional discussion only moments ago, was left with a sheepish smile.
Marie quickly stepped away from the mimeograph and handed the attendant a stack of pink fliers that she had just finished printing. “Lace, I need you to hang some of these around the place; just a few around the battle and healing rooms will do. The rest we’ll save for the PokeMart and the hotel.”
The woman nodded and swiftly departed on her assignment. Marie quickly finished up what she had been doing before, taking several folders from a table and clutching them in her arm. Then, she turned back to Bertha. “We’re starting a two-week promotion for the Great Marsh,” she said. “This June is our Gym’s 100th anniversary, and I decided it would be nice to give the kids an incentive to do something educational. Just a little discount, you know, nothing major. But how about that? A hundred years. It just blows your mind, doesn’t it?”
Bertha nodded. “It does.”
Marie gave a chuckle. “Of course, I wasn’t the only leader here for those hundred years, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been here long enough to know what’s going on. I was born and raised right here in the city, and I finished the Sunyshore Biotechnical Academy in 1939. I was an avid trainer back then—I went to those battle houses and conventions at every chance I got—but I never thought about turning it into a serious career until years later. League reformed in, what was it, ‘52? By then, I had become one of the regulars at the Pastoria Battling Club, so when they announced that they were looking for a single leader to head the new Gym, I applied.” She smiled. “If you had seen the state of it in those last years, you would’ve been appalled. Building was practically in ruins. Hardly anyone came anymore, so its leaders saw no need to renovate it. The ones who did come just used the place to their own benefit, not cleaning up or taking care of it. The government saved it, literally, from collapse. They brought in their own people, did their money-magic… and it was like heaven reborn. But at the same time, I won’t deny that they introduced their own, shall we say, diseases.” At this last word, she perked an eyebrow matter-of-factly, and Bertha nodded in understanding. Right then, Marie seemed to notice the boys who were standing behind Bertha’s shoulder, and tilted her head over to look at them. “Ah, I see you’ve brought me some fresh talent for molding. Splendid! I’m afraid I don’t take bribes, but I appreciate the offer. Heh!” She smiled at the joke, and stepped over to the boys. “What are your names?”
Marie beamed. “Splendid! You’ll be my special trainers, then. I’m not going to give you that whole League speech, as I’m sure you’ve had it drilled into your heads hundreds of times before. I’ll just cut to the chase. You want a battle? You’ll get it! But first I want to make sure you prepare. What I do is I have all my trainers battle one of my staff first, then come back whenever they feel they’re ready, and battle me. If you win, you get the badge. If not, you can try again. Deal?”
The boys nodded.
“Great! Now, you’re encouraged to battle on your own as much as possible. We have free battle rooms at the Gym where you can practice with anyone you’d like—excluding me, of course. I don’t know about the battle rooms at those hotels, though. They keep changing their policies. Some of them are for pay, others no; it’s a mess. The League just can’t make up its mind, can it? Why if I were a trainer now, instead of a hundred years ago, I’d love for my Gym to provide me with free battle room. But for some reason, people today think that just because something’s for pay, it’s automatically better than what’s for free. I don’t get it.” She shook her head. “Now. You boys can pop by for your preliminary battles tomorrow. There’s no sign-up involved—just come up to the front desk, give them your trainers cards, and they’ll pair you up with someone. After that, you stay as long as you have to! If it takes you a week to prepare for me, so be it. If it takes you a day, that’s fine too. But by now, I hope you know what works for you and what doesn’t. The Gym before mine should’ve given you plenty of an idea of how the last four leaders do business. We don’t kid around.” She winked. Michael and Henry nodded in response, and Marie turned to look at Bertha.
“Now! You must have come here to get my signature. Consider it yours! I’ll get a letter typed up right away. But just for informational purposes, I’d like to read over your document. That we can do right now, since I see you’ve done a wonderful job of coming prepared. And if there’s ever anything else you need, you can drop by my office whenever’s convenient for you. Nine times out of ten, I’ll be there. I know it isn’t the most comfortable feeling to face a closed door, but don’t worry, I don’t bite! I get lots of people, especially younger trainers, poking their heads in with those giant eyes, like they’re scared to death, and I tell them every time—there’s no need! Barge right on in! The worst thing that’ll happen is that I won’t be in and then you’ll have to come back later.”
Bertha nodded. “That’s wonderful. I have everything we need right here.” She tapped her briefcase.
“Good,” said Marie. “Now if you’ll just wait a bit, I’ll get some tea for us and we can begin…” She stepped through the doorway towards the lounge. Bertha and the boys followed her as she turned into a small snack area, complete with tables and a half-emptied buffet. Marie went to a small kitchen in the back and a minute later, came out with a tray and two hot cups of tea.
“You boys can run along; this may take a while,” Marie said to Michael and Henry. “Unless, of course, you’d rather listen to two Gym leaders exchange League jargon for two hours, in which case you’re more than welcome to stay!” She chuckled.
Before Henry had the chance to respond, Michael took a step towards the door. “Actually, we’ll be going,” he said. “We have lots of practicing to do.”
“All right then. See you soon!” Marie smiled, and walked off. Bertha went after her, and gave the boys a quick glance before she departed.
“I’ll see you two back at the hotel, okay? Stick together!”
Henry nodded. “Right."
With that, Bertha turned away, and the two women disappeared into the lounge. Michael and Henry wandered around the main building for a bit, checking out its various rooms, then gradually their interests spilled out onto the square, where they spent the rest of the morning exploring its various attractions. Michael kept careful tabs on the time throughout, allowing only one thought to dominate his mind: when he would get himself over to the Great Marsh, and how. But the answer was slow in the coming, and every hour that tolled on the plaza’s outdoor clock reminded him of the fast-approaching meeting.
After a quick lunch, they visited the souvenir shop, where Henry busied himself with the section of trainer gear, and Michael, still unsure of where to begin his search, plucked a handful of maps from a rack beside the wall.
He unrolled a full map of Pastoria City, and found—to his dismay—that it was enormous. There was the downtown, which formed the largest part of the city, consisting of an intricate network of roads and subway routes that wound through and about each other like veins. The Great Marsh was a dark green splotch located along the upper border of the town, its tendrils reaching as far as the suburbs. The public entrance was marked a little ways into the downtown, where from a tiny red dot Michael deduced that there was a subway station close by, probably specialized for quick access from the city.
Easy, he thought. All I have to do is get to the nearest subway station and go from there.
His finger traced the rail pathways, which snaked and split in every possible direction, often meeting at large points of activity, such as the station by the city center. Smaller stations were colored white, dotting the map’s face like freckles. Finally, his eyes locked on the ones that appeared closest to the Gym. It was placed at the tip of a branch that extended all the way out from the downtown, like a lone strand that had broken free of the web. The station was located beside a suburban shopping center, which was only a few miles away.
Being a Jubilive native, Michael was fully prepared to walk the distance, but he stopped himself when he realized how strange it would look if he, a lone hitchhiker who was supposed to have everything he needed right here, suddenly set off down the road in a wayward direction. He would have to find a bus.
A sudden voice tore him out of his concentration. Michael turned, and saw Henry approach him with a pokéball belt clipped around his waist.
“Do you think this looks good? I think it’ll make switching pokémon easier.” The boy lifted his arms and turned around in a circle, displaying a series of claw-like latches that protruded like spider’s legs from the metal contraption.
“It looks fine,” Michael said, and returned to his reading. A state of deep thought immediately overcame him, for he realized that he would also have to do everything without Henry noticing. But with Bertha gone, the two of them were essentially left alone for the whole day, which meant that he and Henry would once more have to roam around together, with nothing to rely on but the company of the other. Normally Michael wouldn’t have minded, but now, all of a sudden, the boy’s presence seemed like a cinderblock chained to his ankle. He would need some sort of distraction to keep Henry busy, or at least a cover explanation for his solitary departure.
Michael began to think of excuses, which ranged from simple to bizarre, like stating that it was Bertha’s birthday and going on an impromptu shopping journey to buy her a present. He continued to scan the map in the meantime, and when a moment later his eyes locked on a large marker in the downtown area, and he realized that there could be a much, much simpler way of doing things.
After formulating the outline of his plan, Michael rolled up the map with a smile, and went to find Henry. The boy was standing in front of a full-length mirror and examining the utility belt from various angles. Michael tapped him on the shoulder with the tube of paper.
“If you’re gonna buy it, buy it. I have to go somewhere.”
Henry turned around with a questioning look. “Huh? What do you mean?”
Michael unfurled the map and pointed to the location he had memorized. “See that? That’s the Museum of Pokémon Training. I just found out about it—this city has a whole museum dedicated to the League and Gyms and stuff, and they say it’s the biggest collection in the world.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “Whoa… really? Why didn’t anyone tell us that before? We should go see it!”
Michael nodded. “Yeah, but I’m thinking about Bertha too. I think she needs a day off, honestly. She’s been so busy with her petition lately that she probably forgot how to have fun. I think we should take her to the museum for a day. She’s a Gym leader and everything, so I’m sure she’ll like it. And it would be a lot better for her to go with the both of us than to go alone, right?”
“Right. So, here’s what I’m thinking. We should give her a little surprise. While she’s talking with Marie, I’m gonna take the subway really quick and get us passes to visit tonight.”
Henry frowned. “But what about me?”
“Your job’s important. You’re gonna stay here and cover for me in case she comes back early.”
Henry put his hands on his hips and cast his gaze to the ceiling, as he often did when thinking something over. “I don’t know… Wouldn’t it be better if the both of us went to the museum? What if you get lost?”
Michael let out a laugh. “Cat, you have no idea who you’re talking to. I come from Jubilife. People there take the subway more often than walking. I’ll be fine. Plus, what if Bertha comes back before we do? She’ll get worried, and it’ll take away from the surprise if she’s mad at us. Just hang around here, and when she comes back, tell her that we have a present for her and I’ve gone off to get it. It’ll be two hours, tops.”
Henry let out a slow breath. “Well, if you say so.” He looked down at his belt. “Anyway, I think I’ll buy it. It’ll be a big help later on.”
Michael nodded, already backing away towards the door. “All right, whatever you say. Be back in a bit.” Before Henry could reply, he bolted out of the store.
Michael ran back to the hotel and quickly got himself ready. changing into a more tidy, suitable outfit and emptying his backpack of the clutter it had accumulated during his travels. He kept only his wallet, notebook, and badges. This would be his first rendezvous with a girl in three months, and the fact that he didn’t yet know Shella personally made it all the more important to be presentable. He ran a comb through his hair before leaving, and after taking a single deep breath, stepped out of the hotel room.
With the map in hand, Michael left the Gym plaza and walked down the road till he reached a nearby bus station. He waited there with his backpack resting on his knees, and minutes later, boarded a bus that took him into the throes of downtown.
The city was teeming, enormous. As always, Michael was taken aback by the dynamics of the unfamiliar city, and gazed intently out the window at the buildings that fled by. The bus shook and snorted like a stirring beast, passing from cramped alleyways to sudden, glorious prospects, which seemed to embrace the whole scope of the earth, strewn with people from every possible direction. Every few minutes, they stopped to let new passengers board, who carried shopping bags and books, baskets and briefcases. Every time they made a stop, Michael hastened to grab a seat in front of him, so that he would be as close as possible to the door when he reached his stop.
Finally, the bus screeched to a halt beside a subway station, and Michael stepped out into the bustling crowds. He pushed his way through the doors to the building, and found himself in the midst of the afternoon rush-hour. People carried shopping bags, waving tickets and coins in the air, passing through beeping machines on their way up and down the escalators. Michael purchased several tokens and found his way to his platform, after which he spent the next half hour leaning against the shaky walls of subway trains, staring at lights that flitted through the darkness, working through a seemingly endless web of routes to find his way to the Great Marsh.
After what seemed like hours of coming and going, of passing through one swishing door after another while the intercom blared its voice into his sore ears, Michael’s eyes locked on the sign that he had been looking for—Marshland.
He emerged from the station, and found himself on a relatively empty street, with sparse, low-lying buildings and fewer cars. Beneath the open sky, Michael could see an enormous white structure stand out immediately in front of him, located in a secluded area before a large, grassy courtyard. There was ample space for people to roam, dotted with benches and picnic tables.
Michael crossed the street, feeling his breath quicken as he neared the Marsh complex. Inside, the lobby was tall and spacious. A staircase led to a small observation deck, where people stood before a large window, looking through binoculars to see what was going on on the other side. Michael scanned the lobby several times, and was stricken by a momentary panic, thinking he had been stood up. But no… Searching again, his gaze met with that of a blonde girl’s, who stood by the balcony in a breezy pink dress. Shella’s hair was down again, but this time she had adorned it with a glittering clip that resembled a butterfly. She gave him a smile, then descended down the stairs, turning in his direction.
Michael lifted his hand in return. “Hey.”
Shella looked even more stunning than before. Her dress was frilly and youthful, and toned down their age difference by a slight degree. She wore a white cardigan that complimented her amber eyes, dusted with glitter that shone faintly in the light.
“You look nice,” he complimented.
Shella smiled. “Thanks. You do too.” Her gaze lingered on his for a moment, then trailed over to the counter. “The staff said there was a fee for groups... I can pitch in if you want. Or we could split the cost.”
“I’ll figure it out,” Michael said. He turned to the counter, where he hailed one of the available attendants and leaned over to speak. “Hey. What’s the price for two here?”
The man pointed to a massive chart on the wall behind him. “Thirty per person.”
Michael felt himself pale. “Thirty?”
The man lifted an eyebrow, not without a trace of humor. “We feature an exclusive selection of pokémon that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Their habitat has remained untouched by human hands since the day they were dropped onto the good green Earth. I think thirty is quite a reasonable stopping point.” He gave an apologetic shrug. But right then, he seemed to notice something, and creased his forehead in a frown. “Hang on… Are you a trainer?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah.”
“Oh! My bad. Sorry.” The man shook his head and ducked down behind the counter, coming up moments later with a small laminated card. “We’re currently running a special promotion, in addition to our regular discount for trainers, as a courtesy of Mrs. Wickham for the Gym’s 100th anniversary. So right now our price for you would be ten dollars.”
Michael felt a flood of relief.
“Just give me your trainer card, and I’ll run it through the scanner.”
Elated, Michael began to dig through his backpack. Shella approached as he gave his trainer card to the attendant.
“Is she a trainer too?” the man asked.
Shella smiled. “Nope.”
“Well, all right, then your total for this evening will be forty…” The man swiveled his chair to a table behind him, where a bulky machine stood on a wooden table. He pressed a sequence of buttons, then inserted the trainer card into the slot of the scanner, which began to beep as it processed the input.
Beside him, Michael felt Shella nudge him by the elbow. “Don’t worry, I can pay for myself,” she said.
Michael nodded, still unable to believe his luck. He looked back at the man, who was still working with the scanner, rubbing his chin.
“So… is it done?” Michael asked.
“Hold on a sec,” the attendant replied. The card came back out of the slot he had slid it into, and despite his efforts to repeat the scan, the machine didn’t appear willing to respond. “Hmm… this doesn’t seem to be working.”
Michael stepped forward. “Why not? What’s wrong?”
The man turned around and placed the card onto the counter. “Your I.D. isn’t going through for some reason.”
Michael took the proffered card, feeling his shoulders sink. “But you know it’s a trainer card,” he said. “Isn’t that proof enough?”
The man gave a faint smile. “No. Unfortunately, it’s League policy. Can’t do anything about it. The promotion’s a one-time thing, and the card has to be scanned to they can record your visit and make sure you’re not abusing the privilege. It’s this new system the League’s trying out. It’s the oddest thing—they’ve found a way to use magnets to scan cards. All the new trainer cards have magnetized strips, which the scanner senses, and decodes some sort of pattern that’s unique to yours. So this way, the visit can get associated with your name. And once that happens, you’re given credit towards a trainer card upgrade. I know, it blows my mind too. At the rate we’re going, we’ll probably wake up tomorrow and find out that they’ve found a way to make cars fly.” The man began to chuckle.
Michael stared at him in disbelief. From the onset of those spare few words, he felt the gates of light which had pulled open before him suddenly slam closed, right in his face, trapping him on all sides in the darkness. He was gripped by an irrational panic, which only intensified as he tried to reason his way out.
“But… why wouldn’t my trainer card work?” Michael said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It has a black bar and a code and everything, just like everyone else’s. There can’t be anything wrong.” In desperation, he began to turn it over in his hands, scrutinizing the surface for the slightest crack or scrape.
But the man behind the counter only shrugged. “It might be a problem with the scanner. We just got this thing a month ago. It hasn’t broken down yet, but given that it was only built for a trial run, it could be a little glitchy. Sorry, again, but it’s like I said… I can’t do anything if the card doesn’t go through.”
Fighting the futility of his position, Michael was about to voice another protest, when he felt a cool hand touch his atm. “It’s fine,” Shella cut in, stepping up to the clerk. “I’ll pay.” She unzipped her handbag and took out a clump of bills. Michael hastily pitched in, and they ended up splitting the sum thirty-thirty.
Satisfied, the clerk tore out two tickets from a large roll and handed them over. “All right then. Entrance is over there, down the hallway. There are guides stationed at several points along the trail. Stick to the path and ask them if you need any help or information. Have a good time!”
Ignoring the clerk’s cheery wave, Michael and Shella turned towards the exit and stepped outside. A rush of cool evening air escaped through the doors, enveloping Michael in silent darkness. They were walking down a spacious boardwalk, elevated a short height from the ground, where the crowns of trees clumped like bushes beyond the railing. The sky was dim and clear, hued with the colors of the sunset, providing what Michael would normally have appreciated as a romantic backdrop. But he had gotten off to a clumsy start, and could still feel a twinge of unsettlement as they walked away from the building.
As if reading his thoughts, Shella cast her gaze down at him and smiled. “Don’t worry about the card. I’m sure it’s nothing. I was going to pay for myself anyway.”
After a moment, Michael let out a breath. “It’s all right.”
They continued down the boardwalk, which eventually led them into a dense forest that enveloped them in silence. The sky was partially blocked from view by the trees, and stood out here and there in colorful patches. There were no signs of marshlands yet, and when Michael looked down over the railing, all he could see was soggy underbrush, matted with dark grass and cut through by an occasional stream. He tried to see past the trunks into the depths of the forest, but could discern only vague shapes and colors. Shella’s eyes eagerly swept the landscape, shifting first from the wood of the railing, to the rough bark on the trees, then to the veil of branches that arched overhead.
“This place is beautiful…” she said. “The air is so clean. It’s just what I imagined Sinnoh to be like. Calm and quiet... The cities are nice, but really, they’re not much different from cities in Hoenn. My dad always said that a building’s a building no matter what side of the globe you’re on. But nature always changes, wherever you go.”
Michael gave a chuckle. “Not much I can say about that… I never traveled much.”
“Before you joined the League?”
Shella nodded. “Mmm… So is that why you joined? You wanted to travel?”
“Yeah, something like that.” Michael looked down at his shoes. “But there’s nothing special about it. Your surroundings change, but deep down everything’s still the same. People. The world.”
Shella smiled in agreement. Above them, a Starly took off from its perch, and an Aipom scurried up a branch.
“I understand that. I always thought that going abroad would change everything, but really, it didn’t. You’d think that by leaving home you’d forget everything you left behind, but the more time I spend away, the more I keep being reminded of places I already know. But Sinnoh has a lot of its own things that I like… The pokémon, of course, are adorable.” After a moment, Shella turned to him. “You’re close to them, aren’t you?”
“Your pokémon. I can tell that you are… being a trainer and all. I like that. I like people who are more relaxed when it comes to those things. I think it’s the more natural way to go.” A playful smile crossed Shella’s face. “A lot of people I know hate to go near them. Once, a Zigzagoon tried to crawl up my friend’s shoulder. We were hanging out in the park, and we brought some food to have a picnic. I guess that poor little guy just wanted a bite of something, but the minute my friend saw it, she went crazy. She screamed, then tried to flick it off, and it was a mess.” She giggled.
Michael frowned. “So… what’s it like in Hoenn?” he said. “I’m just curious. If you guys have everything that we do, pretty much, then what makes it so different from this place?”
Shella tilted her head to the side. “It’s hard to explain. I guess we just always put our own Hoenn spin on things. People are more laid-back overall, and the news focuses a lot on things like society and nature, not just cover stories. There’s even this legend that Hoenn formed long ago when two ancient pokémon, of the land and of the sea, were quarreling. Then a third pokémon, the pokémon of the sky, came down and put an end to it. And so, instead of being all land or all sea, Hoenn’s half and half. We’ve got towns like Lavaridge by Mt. Chimney, and Mossdeep City, which is right in the middle of the ocean. From what I’ve seen, cities there are more spread-out than Sinnoh’s… but of course, I can’t say I’m completely right, because I haven’t been to all of them. Come to think of it, it’s impossible unless you’re a real travel bug.”
Michael chuckled. “Well, then tell me about the places you have been to.”
“Well let’s see… I always used to go to Fallarbor Town with my family. That’s way up north, past the mountains. You have to see it to believe how pretty it is. There’s this huge dormant volcano that blows its ashes into the routes surrounding it. The grass, the trees, everything would be covered in soot. Then, the rain comes and washes it all away. Then there’s Sootopolis City. My grandparents live there, so we always used to go at least once every two years to visit them. The city’s in this huge white crater, with a giant lake in the center. There are these really deep underwater routes all around it, and people say that you can go all the way to Mossdeep through an underwater passageway. Trainers like to cross it using this technique called Dive. But personally, I think that’s a fine place to draw the line!”
“Heh. Yeah.” Michael stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Yeah… I’ve been to some pretty neat places too. Like… the Jubilife Amphitheater.”
Shella paused, still smiling. “Really?”
“Yep. And it ain’t fun and games. Once my friends and I went for a concert over the weekend. Nothing big, just some city band that was playing. We didn’t have the front row, but the auditorium is slanted, so you can see the stage from every angle. It was pretty cool. Every two years, they have a music festival where people come from all over the country to play. I’ve been to it once. It’s mostly the same bands that come, so everyone’s heard of them, and the whole crowd sings along to their music.” Michael tilted his gaze upwards. “It would’ve been sweet if some big, popular band came to visit, though. People come all the time to Jubilife, but I’ve never been to one of those really big events.”
“Neither have I,” Shella said. “I don’t know how it is in Sinnoh, but in Hoenn, the concerts are a mess. There’s no seating in a lot of the theaters, and sometimes the crowds are so big that it’s hard to even hear the music. But I think it would be fun just to go… just to be a part of something that could be historical twenty years from now.”
They walked on, and as they did they kept talking. As the daylight began to dim, rows of lampposts that lined the boardwalk suddenly lit up, illuminating the path with an orange glow. By then, Michael had grown accustomed to Shella’s presence by his side. He no longer felt cautious around her like before, having to carefully process his words before saying them in the hopes of impressing her. He simply said whatever was on his mind, and to his surprise, found that she was doing the same.
During the span of time that they were together, they shared miscellaneous stories and information, by which they gleaned hazy pictures of each other’s lives. Michael glossed over the usual, his home and his friends, but occasionally found himself venturing into things he rarely pondered about, like school and hobbies. He told her about his former passion for sports, which had eventually given way to academics due to pressures from his mother. But he found that he had adapted to it quite well, and wouldn’t have wanted to risk it by trying to get through the system relying solely on athletics.
In return, Shella told him more about her own life. She had spent most of her childhood in Mauville City, and had moved only recently to Slateport after her father had switched jobs. The move had been hard on her, since she had left behind everyone she knew in the process, but a short while later she gained a friend who had helped her along, and with whom she was still very close.
Visiting Sinnoh had been a long-time dream of hers, but upon arriving, Shella had been caught off-guard by the country’s complexity. Whereas, in her view, Hoenners were more open and cheery, Sinnoh imposed a stoic presence, majestic yet unknowable, which made it hard to adjust for someone who was used to living simply. For all his help in pointing the way, Shella’s cousin was limited in options, and couldn’t stray far from Jubilife to accompany her in travel. Shella had been so eager to visit Pastoria that she had gone alone, which in retrospect, she humorously regretted. Despite her calm, collected appearance, Michael discovered that she felt just as uncertain as he did sometimes, questioning her actions and wondering whether she was really in the place where she belonged. In that sense, he could identify with her.
In this manner of conversation, they strolled well past dark, sometimes passing through areas so dense with trees that they could distinguish their surroundings only by the flickering glow of the lanterns. Other times, they reached areas of relative emptiness, where flat lands overgrown with grass stretched out to the horizon, strewn with pools of water that mirrored the moonlit sky. They often crossed paths with other people who were strolling along the boardwalk, their faces blurred by the darkness, their voices hushed so as not to disturb the marsh’s serenity. The wild pokémon weren’t as courteous. Wild Croagunk scampered through the bushes, the sounds of their tittering rising above the rustle of leaves. The breeze whistled with the flute-like melody of Kricketune, which Michael often saw taking shelter in the trees. He saw Noctowls hanging upside-down from branches, and Carnivines peering out from the darkness with their reddened eyes.
He and Shella didn’t adhere to any particular trail. Every time they saw a signpost indicating a new area, they followed it, enjoying the surprises it brought. At a certain point, they stopped to rest, leaning over the railing to observe the goings-on down below. The zone they had reached was lit by lanterns from the ground, and was etched with walkways made to accommodate people. The observation deck of the main building was in sight up ahead, its giant windows glowing white.
Faded bits of conversation rose up from below. Michael peered over the railing, and saw three figures separate themselves from the darkness, their forms growing steadily pronounced as they advanced through the underbrush. One of them was a Marsh staff, distinguished by his green-and-black uniform. The other was a light-haired woman, and the third, a young trainer. Michael watched them idly as they stopped before a gate that closed off a section of tall grass, just a short distance from the elevated boardwalk where he and Shella were standing. The trainer’s face emerged into the light of the lanterns, and with a jolt, Michael recognized Henry. He blinked again, and saw that it was indeed the boy—his tote bag was hanging dutifully at his side, and his hat was clutched in one hand. The woman beside him could only be Bertha, who had dressed in a more functional fashion, wearing pants and sneakers.
They stood facing the park attendant, who had evidently been explaining something to them only moments before.
“So what’s the challenge all about?” Henry piped up, glancing towards the bushes behind them.
“We start the timer, and you have ten minutes to catch a night pokémon. If you make it in five, then you get to keep what you caught. If you make it in less than three, then you get a free weekly pass to the park. But be careful—you’re not allowed to use your own pokémon to weaken them. You gotta go by your own instinct. Here are some Safari Balls.”
He brought forth a pouch of pokéballs, proffering them not to Henry, but to Bertha. She nodded in response.
“Hmm. That seems interesting. I’ll give it a shot.”
As she took the drawstring pouch, Michael felt his pulse quicken. What were they doing here? And how had they reacted to his absence? He thought back to what he had told Henry in the gift shop, and it suddenly occurred to him that he must have been gone much longer than he had anticipated. There was no telling what Henry had done in the meantime, or what Bertha had managed to make him tell.
As the three figures began to shift their places, Michael began to look around in search of a place to hide, for he couldn’t begin to imagine the mess he would have to wheedle out of if they saw him. But he remained where he was for Shella’s sake. For now, he would have to hope that neither Bertha nor Henry would be tempted to look up.
Shella seemed not to have noticed Michael’s reaction. She approached the railing, leaned her elbows against the bar, and smiled. “That looks interesting. Let’s watch.”
Michael nodded. He let his wariness pass into the back of his mind, and took the opportunity to stand next to her. They both watched as the park guide unlocked the gate and gestured for Bertha to proceed. Bertha tied the strings of the pouch around her wrist and handed Henry her purse.
“If I see anything interesting, I’ll let you know,” she said.
Beside Henry, the park guide held up a stopwatch. “On your mark!”
Henry began to clap. “Woo! Go Bertha!”
“Get set… go!”
With the speed of a lightning bolt, Bertha rushed into the underbrush and let the darkness swallow her.
Michael tried to follow her path with his gaze, but he couldn’t make out much in the darkened field. Electric lamps were dotted around the perimeter every couple yards, but their light was purposely dimmed, cloaking the tall grass in half-shadow. Occasionally, he caught glimpses of flying hair, and heard a chorus of croaks and hisses as the grass-dwelling pokémon stirred lazily from their dens. Henry began to skip around the fence, jumping on his toes in an attempt to see what was going on. But his efforts appeared to be in vain, for he soon stopped and settled to watch in place, leaning forward as far as the fence would allow.
Meanwhile, Bertha continued to run, seemingly never in the same spot twice. She combed through the entire front section, apparently finding nothing, then proceeded further in, where the grass grew denser. Twice, Michael heard the sound of an activating pokéball, but the park balls appeared to be designed in such a manner that their white glow was negated. Both attempts at capture seemed to have failed, for Bertha kept running, twisting and lunging as the object she was following tried to evade her.
“Six minutes!” called the attendant. “You have six minutes left!”
Berth’s jog grew into a frenzied run, and she drew another Safari Ball from the pouch. She fell into a sprint in the direction of the fence, one hand holding the capsule out in front of her. Finally, she threw. At the same time, Michael saw a tiny body spring from the darkness, just as the light tore into it, blotting it completely from view. The pokéball fell into the grass, and Bertha picked it up, dusting off crumbs of dirt.
“I got something,” she said, weighing the capsule in her hand. “It was small, but it sure was fast.” She met the park guide by the fence and let out a breath. “How long did I take?”
“You spent four minutes, thirty-nine seconds. Good going! That means you can keep whatever you caught.”
“Let’s see what it is then…” Bertha twisted open the capsule, and out came a tiny blue body, bouncing off the ground and landing a few feet away. Instantly, her expression twisted into a surprised sort of smile.
“It’s a Wooper! Heh. I didn’t know you had those here.” She lifted the pokémon into her arms for a closer look. Michael couldn’t see the details, but the creature seemed no bigger than his Turtwig, and had a pair of pink, branch-like antennae growing from the sides of its head.
Henry came over to Bertha’s side. “Whoa! I’ve never seen one of those before. What are they?”
“They’re Water types, if I remember right.”
“Water and Ground, actually,” the guide corrected. “Their highest period of activity is in the nighttime, when it’s coolest, and least dangerous to search for food. During the day, they like to spend time in the mud. That one’s a girl. You can tell because she has one rib branch sprouting from the main body of the antennae, not two.”
Bertha chuckled as the Wooper tried to wriggle away, reaching for her neck and shoulders with its stubby arms. Its skin must have been slimy, for when they brushed near her face, she let out a surprised yell and quickly pulled the Wooper away. Henry began to laugh. Despite the fact that the front of her shirt was now covered in splotches, Bertha managed a strained smile, and held the Wooper out to Henry.
“Do you want her, kiddo? I bet she’d be good for your team… she seems pretty upbeat.”
Henry shook his head. “No, you keep her, Bertha! You caught her. Plus, you could raise her for your Gym.”
“My Gym’s Grass,” Bertha said. “I can’t bend the rules on that one. It would’ve been great if she were half grass, at least, but I guess we can’t do anything about it now.” She frowned for a moment, then passed it off with a shrug. “Ah, but why should it matter? I’m on leave anyway… I can still raise her even if she’s not a part of my battling team. Come to think of it, three pokémon seems kind of lacking, especially since most trainers these days walk around with five or six.”
Henry smiled in satisfaction. “So I guess it’s settled.”
Bertha held the Wooper up to eye level. “I don’t know what to name you yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually. For now, enjoy your new home.” She twisted open the knob on the Safari Ball and watched the Wooper flee inside with the light.
The park attendant clapped his hands. “Well done! Now, how about a challenge for the young trainer?” He leaned over to Henry. “If you can catch a different pokémon in less than five minutes, I’ll let you keep it, plus you can earn up to one week of free visits.”
Bertha shook her head. “Sorry, but I think that’s enough for today. We came on pretty short notice, and I don’t want to be away from the Plaza for too long without having told anyone I was gone. We should be getting back to the hotel.” She looked down at Henry. “Sorry, again. If you want, I can take you boys on another day.”
Henry bit his lip. “Okay. Sure.”
With that, the three of them turned for the main building. As their figures grew smaller down the path, Shella leaned forward in evident interest. “That woman’s a Gym leader?”
“That means you must’ve battled her, right?” Shella turned to him. “Or is she the Gym leader here, in Pastoria?”
“No, she’s the Gym leader in Eterna. I’ve battled her.” Michael paused. “Strange I’d see her here…”
Shella shrugged. “Well, I guess the marsh must be a popular tourist spot.” She smiled, and with a casual turn, stepped away from the railing. “Come on, Michael. We should get going. I don’t think we’ve seen Areas Six and Seven yet, and it’s getting dark.”
Michael responded after a brief pause. “Right.” He picked up his pace to catch up with her, and together they moved on.
They crossed through the remaining two zones in about half an hour, though to Michael it seemed much longer. He and Shella continued to talk throughout, sharing jokes and stories, until finally they reached the end of the trail, which led to a side entrance on the opposite side from where they had begun. They had made a full, clumsy circle around the marsh, and though they had skipped the various adjacent routes which trickled out form the main path, it seemed they had seen enough to last a long while.
They parted outside by the building’s front doors, where they stood facing each other for a couple moments.
“Thanks again for coming here with me,” said Shella. “I had fun.”
Michael nodded. “Me too.” He meant it.
Shella’s face was slightly blurred in the darkness, but he could see her cheeks lift as she smiled. “You’re really quite funny. And nice. I know we probably won’t see each other again after I leave for home, but I’ll always remember this as part of my trip. Good luck with your journey… If you ever do beat the tournament, well, I wouldn’t be surprised!”
Michael smiled in thanks, but her words still left a sad impression on him. After a brief pause, he spoke. “How long are you going to be in the city?”
“Probably another week, if I can find anything else that’s worth seeing. I still haven’t paid a visit to the downtown, which I plan on doing.” Right then, Shella perked an eyebrow. “You don’t happen to be familiar with this place too, do you?”
Michael let out a laugh. “I just got here too, so… not really. But that makes it twice the fun.”
“That’s what I think too.” Shella beamed. “So… maybe we can meet up again sometime? I don’t know… just give me a call when you’re free. We can take the subway to the downtown.”
“Sure.” Michael’s eyes flickered over to the road, where the subway station’s glimmering lights shone just a short while away. He was instantly reminded of Bertha and Henry, and his heart skipped a beat. “I better get going. Sorry. I’ll, uh, give you a call when I can.”
Shella nodded. “Okay. See you soon!’
They exchanged waves, and Michael turned away, setting off briskly for the subway station. It took him another fifteen minutes to retrace his steps through the city network before he finally reached the edge of its farthest-reaching branch. Too distracted by his thoughts to worry about time, he waited for a bus, and was soon speeding out in the direction of the Gym plaza.
Minutes later, he trudged up the steps that lead to his hotel room, and opened the door with the spare key he had brought. To his surprise, Bertha and Henry were inside, sitting around a board game, plates of take-out food laid out beside them. Bertha had the Wooper in her lap, and Henry Clefable, who watched them play while the TV droned quietly in the background.
Upon Michael’s arrival, the both of them turned. Bertha smiled in surprise. “Hey there. What took you so long? Henry told me you left to get something.”
“Yep. Everything’s fine.” Michael looked down at Wooper and hastily switched the subject. “Where did you get that?”
Bertha looked down. “Oh, Wooper? Henry and I went to the Great Marsh while you were away, and I caught her. We would’ve waited for you if we knew where you were, but what’s done is done I guess. We can go together sometime later.” She lifted the Wooper, who seemed to have already warmed up to her and let out a playful squeal. Bertha’s expression softened, and she gently touched her nose to the Wooper’s forehead. “Aw, look at you, you’re so cute…”
“Too bad it’s not a Grass type,” Michael said, echoing her words from before. “You could’ve used it for your Gym.”
Bertha gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Eh, it doesn’t matter to me. Just because she’s not going to be a part of my team doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with her. And besides, if I’m going to take a break from my Gym duties, why not take a break from my type restriction too?”
Michael nodded. He looked to Henry, who met his gaze steadily, eyebrows slightly driven together. Evidently, he still had a good deal of self-explaining left to do. But right then, it didn’t matter.
After setting down his things, Michael joined Bertha and Henry, and the three of them spent the rest of the evening playing and talking. But nearly all Michael could think about was how lucky he had been.
Hundreds of miles away, that very same evening, Nancy Bryan sat in her stuffy hotel room, scanning the newspaper over a cup of tea. Unlike Michael, she didn’t feel lucky at all—more like exhausted, for it had been over three weeks since their arrival in the city, and their progress so far amounted to zilch.
A few days prior, Nancy did some pride-swallowing and got herself to type up the Contest story she had promised the two coordinators a while ago. To her surprise, the local Hearthome newspaper had grabbed it, since apparently the next month would be a deciding period for the preliminary rounds. This forged a temporary alliance between Nancy’s team and the Hearthome Press Office, which granted them temporary reporter privileges in exchange for continued Contest coverage. But in terms of finding a story for SNN, so far they were at a loss.
Beside her, Ned and Bobby occupied the tiny round table by the window, finishing a meager dinner. Only Tom was absent—he had left for the press office nearly four hours ago to search through their archives, and still hadn’t returned.
Television had long ceased to function as a source of entertainment for them, so in its stead, the team passed time by scanning the headlines to see what kinds of things people were writing about. Nancy was currently reading the paper on the armchair and periodically calling out headlines that seemed most interesting.
“Hey, I got another one,” she called out, breaking a lengthy silence.
“Let’s hear it,” said Ned
“A shop’s been closed down on Tenth Street,” Nancy murmured. “Making fake driver’s licenses, right under everyone’s nose…”
Bobby looked over. “What’s that all about?”
Nancy continued to scan through the page. “Some guy was running a small store downtown. He was selling fake IDs and licenses, but he disguised it by selling League merchandise alongside it. It says that after the Game Corner was closed, the cops started to check the other League-related establishments in the area… and I guess they landed right on that place. It wasn’t even a licensed vendor. He just had the pokéball logo on his window.
Bobby began to laugh. “Man…”
“How do they know the difference, anyway?” Ned piped up.
Nancy responded with a shrug. “Apparently to sell League stuff you have to have a special certificate of approval for your store. This guy had nothing—and to top it all off, he tried to sell trainer cards too, which gave him away on the spot. League rules say you’re not supposed to do that, ever. You can only get them by writing to the League itself and having them mail it to you, or by going to a local League office and getting one there. Not even Gyms can sell them.”
Nancy had begun to read the text in more detail, when suddenly, the door burst open, and a frazzled Tom stumbled into the room, his coat askew, still panting as if from a long run. One hand was clutching a folder, thin and rumpled.
“Guys, I have something… take a look…”
Nancy felt a flicker of panic as she rose from her chair. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“The discovery! Deoxys was actually discovered in January—months before they announced it! Look, it says so right here—” Tom slapped the folder onto the table where Ned and Bobby were seated, and began to leaf through its contents at a frantic pace. Nancy came over just in time as his finger landed on a seemingly random point, amid a tall, dense column that seemed packed to the brim with words. The by-line was blank.
“’Team Rocket officials had originally confirmed the detection of an unknown signal by their spacecraft on November 12th, 1962, after which all normal procedures for R-109, the moon mission, were suspended, and investigations of the signal commenced. This date corresponds with an atypical shift in procedure by Team Galactic, who launched a spacecraft shortly after on December 21st, 1962. This mission was not reported to the public of either Hoenn or Sinnoh, who instead continued to receive updates of Team Rocket’s discoveries on the moon, which had been made months prior as well. The year of 1963 began with Team Galactic’s launching of Galaxie, which was supposed to search the moon for possible landing sites. But in fact, as mission logs reveal, the spacecraft had a different purpose entirely—namely that of carrying specialized radio equipment designed to facilitate the communication between two spacecraft in the same field of orbit. Interestingly, Hoenn launched a spacecraft on that very same date, only an hour later. This was thought by the public to be a simple coincidence, but deeper investigation shows that such a feat is in fact nearly impossible to achieve without an extraordinary measure of preparation and planning. Unpublished records reveal a link of communication between the Veilstone headquarters and Team Rocket’s base in Mossdeep City. The two organizations exchanged trajectory plans, equipment status, and as the system reports show, took evident care to ensure that the two spacecraft were constantly aware of each other.
‘In light of these records, it becomes apparent that neither team was aiming for the moon at all, but rather following a specific path in the search of a specific object…’ Don’t you see?” Tom tapped the paper in emphasis. “It’s like they’re working together! First they got hold of that signal, and a few weeks later they deduced it was coming from a moving object! They found that pokémon when it was heading right towards them. Hoenn’s ship got it on camera, so obviously they’d put it in their papers first. But that’s not the point. The point is, they were hiding it all along! There was something about Deoxys that they didn’t want to share with us right off the bat, and now they’re helping each other keep quiet!”
Ned looked up from the paper and frowned. “Where did you get this?”
“I was looking through the archives at the city press office,” Tom said. “I wanted to bring back some things from previous months so we’d have a reference to look off of, but I couldn’t find anything. Then, a minute later, a guy came up to me and asked if I was a journalist. I guess he recognized me by my badge. I told him I was looking for a story to publish, and he looked interested all of a sudden. We talked for a few minutes, and before leaving he handed me this. Said he wrote it himself, but was worried that a big news company would misinterpret it, so he wanted to give it to a smaller one.”
Ned’s puzzled frown gave way for an incredulous stare. Bobby mimicked the expression, lifting an eyebrow.
“I don’t know… it seems like there might be a catch,” Bobby said. “I mean, what are the odds? You go out looking for a story, and by some miracle a guy shows up in a hat and trenchcoat and hands you the key to your success. For all we know, he could be a quack or something.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat, Bobby. And he didn’t give the article to me right away; I told him who I was, that I was from Sinnoh Now, and everything.”
“But he didn’t tell you who he was, did he?” said Ned.
Tom thought for a moment, searching his memory. “He told me his name… Alfonso something… Said that he worked for a hardware production company, but that was pretty much it.”
“So, he might not even have written it.”
“Ned, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this!” Tom lifted the paper in front of him. “Whoever wrote this had access to official telegrams and reports from both Team Galactic and the Rockets! Don’t look at me like I’m five; I know how to analyze reference notes. And his were perfectly valid. I checked, and all the journals he used exist. All the names and dates and missions he cites are facts, and some are stored on classified databases, so I couldn’t access them. He must’ve been someone way up top to get his hands on information like that, which explains why he wouldn’t want a big-name company to publish it, because he doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. And look, it all makes sense! First, we saw pictures of that rocket—”
“Sssh!” said Bobby. “We’re not supposed to talk about that, remember?”
“We have to talk about it, guys! Something’s not right, I can feel it. If Galactic was building another rocket, then that must mean they’re planning another mission. And I’m willing to bet that it has something to do with Deoxys. There’s something about it that they’re not telling us on the news, and if it’s something bad, then soon it might be too late.”
Nancy shook her head. “Tom, stop it! Were you not there in Eterna with us? We can’t get tangled up in these conspiracies again! If we make one bad move, one step in the wrong direction, then it’s over!”
Tom stared quizzically at his companions, who all met his gaze with similar expressions—calm and unyielding. Realizing the futility of his case, he backed away from the table, lowering the article by his side.
“Fine… fine. But you’ll see. I’m telling you, there’s something not right about this.” He turned to leave, but a moment later he stopped himself and spun back around. “And you know, for a change, I think we should stop chasing SNN’s goal for us and think about our own future. We’ve been all over the place these past few months, but if there’s one thing I’ve never been more sure of this whole time, it’s that we hit something really deep in Eterna that while back. Something that goes way beyond what SNN’s capable of digging up. I know it’s not something they’d want us to do, but lately I’ve come to realize that that might be the point. Just forget, for a moment, that we’re on a deadline. Forget what SNN’s promised us, and forget our assignment. We’re reporters, and our duty to the public should take priority over our duty to those corporate heads. We might have a chance right now to change the course of history, and inform the public of something they really need to know about. If we won’t, then no one else will. Not a single radio station is going to talk about what I’ve just read to you until the time’s long past for people to start caring. Think about that.”
And without a second to spare, Tom left the room.
The team members that remained gradually drifted apart, settling in separate corners of the room and immersing themselves in their own thoughts.
Outside, rain pattered against the window.
Yeah and I remember almost nothing of those places in Hoenn xD Only thing I remember are THE ENDLESS WATER ROUTES, OH GOD THE ENDLESS WATER ROUTES!
Well, ID cards and a possible Space Race conspiracy aside, that was a pretty nice date, very cute And boy does time seem to fly when you're having a good time. I hope they're able to meet up again before the crew hits the road again, I guess we'll just see how long it takes for badges to be won and business to be taken care of. At the very least, it doesn't seem like this gym is structured to keep trainers there for an extended period of time - and Marie seems pretty laid back as far as policy. Of course, I've seen before where that carefree personality can lull a trainer into being lax... and then BOOM! She hits them with the toughest battle of their lives. So I hope Michael stays vigilant... both of Marie and the possibility that his secret may not be a secret much longer...
I actually liked the endless water routes in Hoenn. xP Especially those little islands with random stranded trainers. Hoenn was really fun to play overall; the nature was more interesting and varied than in Kanto.
I just assume that the technique Dive includes a mechanism that allows the passenger to survive and leave it at that.
I'm glad you enjoyed Michael's date with Shella. Haha Actually, to the contrary of what her prolonged absence from the story may imply, Shella's a pretty important character and will be sticking around for some time.
And yes, there's nothing like having a dangerous secret... especially when you weren't aware you had it to begin with. We will see the consequences of this little mishap later on. Will Michael escape the League's clutches again, or is he about to get busted for good? Stay tuned...
Thanks for the review!
Hey everyone. Sorry for the unannounced hiatus, but I had to take one... My mind was dancing between a million other things, including other pesky story ideas, and it was a while before I could delve into this again.
But the good news is, I've written a fair bit in advance. I have outlines and scenes for the rest of the Pastoria chapters scrawled in my notebook, which will shorten the time they spend in the purgatory of my computer files before they get posted. xP This chapter is fairly short and low-key, but we are on the verge (finally!) of something big.
The next day, Michael was sitting alone at his desk, light streaming around the room through the windows spaced along the walls. Laid out in front of him was a modest view of open grassland, a slice of the vast lot that bordered the plaza. It was on all accounts a beautiful day, but Michael was so occupied with writing notes that he hardly noticed it. The focus of his attention was Turtwig, who stood beside him on the desk, doing his best to keep still while his trainer worked.
The pokémon was now roughly the size of Michael’s backpack, and outweighed a small stack of textbooks. The tiny branch that once sprouted from his head like an antennae had snapped off, leaving behind a withering stump, bare of its usual growth of leaves. Turtwig’s shell was beginning to creep up his neck to cover the spot, and in a matter of days, would envelop his entire head like a helmet.
Michael had been keeping a casual eye on Turtwig’s growth over the days, noticing the branch grow thinner and darker. But it wasn’t until that morning, when it had snapped off like a dry twig during morning feeding, that Michael finally decided it was time to take note of the pokémon’s evolution. Turtwig’s odd coloring, which differed from that of all other Turtwigs Michael had seen during his journey, remained as strikingly different as before—only now it was, if possible, even more embarrassing. With onset of Turtwig’s latest growth spurt, his skin had changed like the autumn leaves, fading from blue-green to livid yellow, while the cuffs around his paws had adopted the blue. His shell, which was supposed to be a light shade of brown, was hued a deep aquamarine, and gave off a taut, rubbery gleam when it caught the light. Turtwig now looked like he had been hastily repainted by a toddler, who might as well have colored the sun green or the grass purple.
All this, however, was entirely lost upon the pokémon. Oblivious to his laughable condition, Turtwig happily watched as Michael continued to record his observations, complying with his prods and nudges, and turning around in the direction his trainer indicated. The other pokémon, who had also been released in the meantime, were resting at various points of the room, nibbling their leftover breakfasts. Ringo was perched on the vanity mirror that stood by the desk, clicking his beak as he watched Michael work. Beneath the tune of his thoughts, Michael was faintly aware of the sound of music and voices coming from somewhere outside, which had persisted throughout the morning. But his concentration remained unbroken, until, for the third time that day, the silence in the room was broken by a loud, ringing screech.
Michael gave a jolt of surprise, involuntarily tracing a thick line across his paper, and closed his eyes with a groan. “Shut up, Ringo,” he mumbled.
Ringo seemed delighted to reply. “Shut up, shut up!”
Ignoring the bird, Michael bent back over the paper and kept writing. Another minute passed, then the front door slammed closed, and Michael looked up to see Henry enter. The boy had left a while ago to retrieve a schedule for Marie’s Gym, and was now lowering his tote bag beside the wall.
“Hey,” said Henry. “I was just downstairs. Bertha and Marie are doing some sort of event outside by the Gym. Everyone’s talking about it. We should go check it out.” Henry looked over to Michael, who hadn’t shifted an inch from his position since he had left, and knit his eyebrows. “What are you doing?”
“Tracking his growth,” Michael said. “Look at this—he’s completely changed color.” He lifted Turtwig up by the sides and held him out to Henry. The boy, too, had noticed Turtwig’s gradual transformations, but it was only then that the absurdity of the situation seemed to strike him. He was too polite to smile, but even so, he could not hide his surprise at Turtwig’s startlingly-yellow skin, which he was almost certain had been closer to green just a day ago. Henry looked the pokémon over from various angles, tracing his fingers over the bumps on his shell, and the stump where his head-stem had been.
“That’s really weird…” he said. “The color’s still different. I thought Grotles were supposed to be green.”
“I guess it‘s not something you grow out of, then.” Michael sighed, and looked down at Turtwig. “Great. Here I am, about to battle a Gym leader, and you cop out on me.” The pokémon cocked his head. Michael surveyed the grooves that lined the back of his shell, and noticed tips of stems beginning to poke through the outer layer. “He’s going to grow a pair of shrubs here,” he said to Henry. “I guess that’ll solve the Razor Leaf problem…”
“But do you think he’ll have enough by the time you battle Marie?”
“No clue. But considering that this Gym is Water, I hope for his sake that this’ll be over soon.” Michael looked down at Turtwig, who returned his stare with a contented blink, and set the pokémon down on the floor. Right then, an afterthought flickered though his mind, compelling him to smile. “If anything... I’ll just use some fertilizer.”
Henry looked up from the tips of his shoes. “Huh?”
“Nothing.” Michael shook his head, still chuckling at the memory, and rose from the chair. “Now let’s go. If there’s a party like you said, I’m sure as hell not gonna miss it.”
With that, they straightened out the room as best they could, cleaning up the leftovers of their pokémon’s food and putting away their belongings for the room service staff. They sent back all their pokémon except for Ringo, who fluttered down from the vanity mirror as the boys headed for the door. “Let’s go!” he clucked.
The boys decided to go unburdened, leaving everything behind save for their keys and wallets. Michael waited for Ringo to get situated on his shoulder, then followed Henry down to the lobby.
That day, a large crowd had gathered on the lawn of the Gym, in an outdoor party that attracted people from all ends of the plaza. The event resembled a large summer barbecue, complete with food, games, and music, which wafted into the surrounding vicinity in bright, jovial tunes. The Gym was surrounded by what seemed like a sea of tables, all draped with patterned tablecloth that rippled with the wind, like tiny islands among the moving currents of people. Somewhere among them sat Bertha and Marie, enclosed by a border of tables, surrounded by papers and boxes. Their area was clearly the focal point of interest, and had attracted the largest gathering of people, both young and old alike. Copies of Bertha’s petition were being passed around them like wildfire, populating the scene with pink, orange, and yellow papers. A steady line had formed to the side where Bertha sat, handling a huge roster of contacts, which people stepped up one by one to sign.
Despite the slow, casual atmosphere around them, the two Gym leaders were busy at work, rising from their chairs to distribute pencils and shake proffered hands. They both wore matching floral headbands, which were wrapped around their heads in colorful knots, with long strands of ribbon left to sway with them as they moved. Bertha had grown used to the ribbons after a while, letting them tangle with the rest of her hair, but Marie never seemed to be at ease with them; she often paused in her rhythmic pace to adjust her headband, first tightening the knot, then pushing it aside to wipe her forehead.
She tired more quickly than the younger Bertha, who seemed to handle their multitude of tasks with ease, and so after what seemed like an eternity of standing and turning, Marie finally sat down for a moment’s break. With a decisive sigh, she tilted her face upwards and squinted at the clouds. “Whew! Only an hour in this sun and already I’m drying up like a prune…” She looked over to a stack of flyers at her side and busied herself with an unruly staple, which had snagged itself in one of the paper packets, ruining the corners she loved to keep smooth. When Marie finally pulled it free with her nails, she gave a pleased smile, and stapled it anew.
Bertha looked over her shoulder at her, and smiled. “Well it sure beats the office.”
“Aha, that’s true.” Marie held up the mended copy and flipped through the pages. The packet contained the full text of Bertha’s petition, along with a summary, which was accompanied by a call to action for the greater community. The previous day, the two women had produced well over five-hundred of them, with the help of Marie’s typewriters and mimeograph machine. The text on the paper was straight and legible, not smudged in the slightest, and now Marie looked over her handiwork with sunny pride.
“I can’t tell you enough how easier things have gotten since I got that old copier,” she said to Bertha. “It used to take me three days to make just two-hundred flyers—and that’s for small stuff like weekly Pokémart promotions and whatnot. My poor staff had to work with me in shifts if I couldn’t do it all by myself. But now look at me—I can whip up fifty of those little buggers, send June to copy them, while I make fifty more. It’s a breeze! Harvey likes to brag that he has one of those new high-tech photocopiers. They came out a few months ago, and they cost a fortune. He just loves it.” Marie rolled her eyes, and the gesture was so comical that Bertha chuckled. “He sends me those perfectly-made certificates and notices… copies of documents that I don’t have anymore… It’s like he knows that I can’t make myself.” She shook her head. “Well, I’m fine with what I have, at any rate!”
With finality, she put the flyer down. She stood up again and turned to Bertha, holding up a finger in instruction.
“Now, always remember—advertising is key,” she said. “It’s like I always say—if nobody knows, nobody cares. Right now, we’ll focus on spreading the word to Pastorians, and with any luck, they’ll be interested enough to tell their friends, so that when you leave, your message will stay alive. Of course, you have me to look after things here, but when you move on, you’ll have to go to bigger and better places. I’m talking markets, downtowns, public buildings, all of that. Don’t be afraid to ask around and give others information. The worst that can happen is that they’re not interested. And the best thing that can happen is that they’re moved enough to tell someone else.”
“That seems sound,” Bertha said. “But are you sure you’ll be all right with taking such a big part of the work? I know you’re pretty busy, even for a Gym leader.”
Marie dismissed Bertha’s concern with a flick of the hand. “Ah, it’s always been like that for me. Truth is, the reason I’m swamped with paperwork all the time is because I keep records for the city and team up on projects with the mayor. I haven’t told you this yet, but this Gym also doubles as the headquarters for all League business in Pastoria. If the city wants to do anything League-related, or if the League wants our help for something or other, the deal goes through me. This way my Gym’s not chained to a subdivision in the city government; it’s an entity all in its own. Back when I was just starting out as the leader, this Gym was a tiny fish in a huge pond. Other Gyms were being taken over by their own cities and hardly got a say in policies that concerned them. I knew I couldn’t go in that direction, because otherwise I’d never get this place back on its feet. I had to give it a purpose that was more than just a single stop on a long journey for trainers. And I did that by making people see that a Gym doesn’t have to be just for trainers. It can be for regular folk too.” At this, she lifted an eyebrow. “But of course, that means that a Gym leader has to be responsible for more than just battling. I’m sure you’ll agree.”
“Oh, definitely,” Bertha said. “Oddly enough, I never thought about that side of it as a kid. I thought it would be all battling, all excitement. That’s what the entire League was to me, really. I don’t shy away from the business stuff, don’t get me wrong, but in all honesty I think I liked the League better the way I knew it from stories: The pokémon, the battling, the adventures… all the stuff trainers did in the past. That was the reason I wanted to become a Gym leader in the first place; I wanted to battle and see others do it. I don’t think that part of me will ever change, even if the League has turned into an industry.”
“And that’s all very well,” Marie assured. “I saw that spark in you from day one. You’ve got the right amount of passion for your job, which is important for a Gym leader, especially if you’re young. People who only treat the League as business don’t last too long in it. And that goes for everyone—leaders, trainers, officials…”
Bertha gave a laugh. “I might have started treating it as business a little too late. If I’d been keen on making connections early on, I don’t think I’d have gotten into that whole mess with the factory. That’s the only thing I regret.”
“Well, there’s no use in dwelling on that now,” said Marie. “Look forward! At the very least, we’ll make Galactic clean up the mess they made in Eterna. And at the most, we’ll go for the gold. We’ll get the government to hear us, and when they do, we’ll set the League right again. No more scams, no more corporate nonsense sticking its nose in things where it doesn’t belong. Just trainers, Gyms, and battling. Don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see it, but it’s new blood like you who’ll be there bring the change about. No pressure.”
Marie winked, and turned to a stack of empty boxes which had been piled up over the hours. They had been filled with copies of the packets, but they were being emptied so fast that there was hardly enough time to dispose of them.
“Bertha, do me a favor and cover for me while I run to the Gym to get these thrown out. And I want to check with Lace about the buffets to make sure there’s still enough food to go around. You know, the worst thing a host can do to their guests is run out of refreshments before the party’s over.”
“I already talked with her,” said Bertha. “Sorry I didn’t tell you. She had another truck come in half an hour ago. They’re giving out meat dumplings.” Bertha gave a silly sort of laugh and turned her palms out in a confession. “I heard somewhere that it was a Pastoria specialty!”
Marie stopped to survey Bertha, knitting her brows. “Planned in advance, did you? I must say, I like that. You’ve got energy. Why, you might go farther than me one day!”
Bertha shook her head jokingly. Marie left the table with the boxes in hand, humming along to the music that was playing, and Bertha turned back to the line of people, greeting them as they waited to sign the roster.
By the time Michael and Henry arrived at the Gym, the event was in full swing. It turned out to be a mix between a carnival and an information fair, providing entertainment for children and activities for older trainers. The boys plowed through the crowds at the front lawn, stopping by tables that hosted crafts and games, and food lines with colorful dishes. But the theme of the party was immediately clear. All around, Michael saw colorful flyers taped to lampposts and doors that advertised Bertha’s petition, and indicated areas within the Gym’s grounds where the signing was taking place. In addition, many of Marie’s staff were stationed behind tables with large rosters, where potential signers were given informative packets in exchange for their contact information.
“I guess Bertha’s finally getting the word around,” said Henry, looking around at the crowd. “She must be getting a lot of signatures.”
“Yep,” Michael replied.
They continued walking, when the boy spotted a table and pointed. “Hey Michael, look! They’ve got a marble jar!”
Michael turned, and saw over a sea of heads a large glass container filled to the brim with tiny marbles. Several children were gathered around it, surveying the container with curious eyes, some trying to count the marbles with their fingers. He let out a laugh. “You want to try?”
“Yeah, it’s just math, right? You find the volume of the jar and divide by the volume of a marble.”
“They don’t let you measure anything, smart one. You have to be lucky.”
“Well I still want to do it,” Henry said.
Michael shrugged. “Fine, go ahead.” He turned away and let his eyes skim the crowd, when out of the blue, his gaze locked on one face among dozens of others—a girl’s. Her light hair hung in two long braids over her shoulders, and the long skirt she wore stirred elegantly around her as she walked. It was Shella.
Taking a quick look back at Henry, Michael began to distance himself, inching away towards the table in the distance. But midway into his escape, the boy noticed, and turned.
“Michael, what is it?”
Michael jerked his thumb in a general that-way direction and quickened his pace. “Nothing — I just want to check something out… uh, over there. Be right back!” Without another word, he went off, turning so abruptly that Ringo lost his balance and fell from his shoulder. Henry started to chase after him, but stopped when Michael plunged into the crowd and vanished from view. “Wait!” he called out. “Where are you going?”
Ringo, who had been left alone in midair, flapped over to Henry’s arm and began to chirp to a tune. “All you need is love… love…”
Henry gave the bird a puzzled look and rolled his eyes.
As time passed, the line in front of Bertha’s roster continued to move forward, attracting people from all over the party. Marie had left once more on an errand of her own, leaving Bertha alone to deal with the crowd of potential clients. She managed it well, nevertheless, and was currently immersed in a conversation with a lady from the downtown. The lady soon left, and Bertha’s next guest approached, a man dressed in a crisp collared shirt and pants. Bertha smiled and slid forward the roster.
“Hello. Will you be signing today?”
The man lifted one of the flyers from the stack and read it over, eyes narrowing behind his spectacles. “A campaign to return funds to the League, at the expense of Team Galactic… That’s certainly… astute.” He looked away from the paper to study Bertha more intently. “Are you a League official?”
“Somewhat. My name is Bertha Herrida, and I’m the Gym Leader of Eterna Town. You might have heard in the news what happened to it, but to tell you the truth, I was bent on starting the petition long before that.”
“Ah, so this is your work?”
“Yes,” said Bertha. “I put together the main proposal, but I’ve had lots of help and input from my colleagues, which have inspired a few revisions. But now, the document is in its final stage and ready to go.”
The man nodded. He read the list of terms in more detail, then folded it up and placed it in his pocket. “Well, it’s an interesting endeavor, to say the least,” he said. “I’m afraid I didn’t come prepared to commit myself to something as serious as this, but I’m definitely interested in learning more.” With a respectful tip of the head, he stepped away to make room for others who were thronging behind him, waiting to approach the table. But he did not leave, and stood in an insignificant spot to the side as he continued to read the flyer.
Not so far away, Michael was pushing his way through the crowd, dodging trainers and townsfolk while trying to keep Shella in view. She was standing near the makeshift stage, where a band was playing, her eyes skimming over the myriad of signs and decorative tables around them. When Michael’s path was finally unobstructed, he slowed his pace to a calm walk, came up behind her and cleared his throat. “Hey.”
Shella gave a slight jump as she turned, and upon seeing him, her face lit up. “Michael! I should have expected to see you here. If I had known that this Gym was such a hotspot for city life, then I’d have come ages ago!”
She seemed utterly enthralled by the event, which after the haughty serenity of Hotel Grand Lake, Michael understood completely. Shella already seemed to know her way around the plaza, and had already participated in several activities at the numerous stations. She had gotten a temporary tattoo of a star painted on her wrist, which matched her colorful skirt.
“So how did you end up here?” Michael asked her. “Was there a news bulletin at your place or something?”
Shella nodded. “I went for a walk on the lakefront and saw a bunch of pink and yellow flyers up on the billboard. I was surprised that they made it as far as that; this city must be really well connected. Is it true someone that started a petition?”
“I want to find out more,” she said in earnest. “If it’s something to do with the Pokémon League, then it must be important.” She looked around. “Do you know where the Gym leader is?”
Michael scanned the area around them, though from the myriad of signs he couldn’t tell where the main table would be situated. “Right this way.” He gestured for her to come along and led her up to Bertha’s table.
Bertha looked up at Shella and smiled out of reflex. But in the same moment, her gaze fell on Michael, and she narrowed her eyes by the slightest degree. “Well hello there.”
“Hi,” Shella said. “Are you… the Gym leader of Eterna? My friend Michael is a trainer, and he told me he battled you before.”
Bertha looked over to Michael. He saw her mouth curl into the slightest of smiles, though this escaped Shella’s notice. “Yes, that would be me—Bertha Herrida. And your name?”
“Shella. I’m from Hoenn, but I’m here on a vacation.”
“Ah, that’s interesting. Do you follow the League back at home?”
“To be honest, not always,” Shella said. “Pokémon were never a big part of my life, but a few of my friends were trainers. I knew one girl who was so bent on joining the League that she got her school to recognize training as an extracurricular activity. I can tell that pokémon training means a lot to people, and in a way, I think it’s helped shape what Hoenn’s become today… and Sinnoh too, probably.” Shella frowned. “This whole space business feels like it’s going to be the next big thing. But I’d be upset if the League went under because of it. I’m not a Sinnoh citizen so I don’t think I can sign, but I’d love to help out while I’m here. I’ll spread the word where I can.”
Bertha smiled. “I really appreciate that. Thanks.”
Shella took a business card from a side pile and slipped it into her purse.
“So what have you been up to, Michael?” said Bertha, now turning to him. “Hope you’re getting ready for your battle. Trust me, it won’t be as easy as it might seem.”
Michael paused. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve been practicing. My pokémon are… uh… growing.” He nodded for emphasis.
Shella nudged him with her elbow. “Oh Michael, I almost forgot to ask. You never showed me your other pokémon besides Ringo. What others do you have?”
“Oh. Well, I have a Machop that I caught in Oreburgh. He’s pretty swell. My friend and I cornered him ourselves; we didn’t have help or anything. And I have a Goldeen. I taught her this trick where she carries water with her into her pokéball and makes it move around when she comes out. Then I have a Turtwig. He was my starter. But his color’s different from all the others. You know how normal ones have green skin and brown shells? Mine had this mix of green and blue for his skin, and his shell’s this weird brownish-yellow.”
“Wow, that’s unusual.”
Michael nodded. “He’s becoming more of a Grotle now, actually, but the color’s still different. Some of the shades have changed, but he still doesn’t look like other Grotles.” At this point, he felt a rush of cynical humor. “Maybe when he becomes a Torterra he’ll be blue with green polka dots.”
Shella giggled. “Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Come battle time, it won’t matter, right? Strength always wins.”
“Yeah, I s’pose.” Michael hooked his thumbs through his pockets. “But actually… now that you mention it, I don’t think it’s all about strength anymore,” he said. “I mean look—if a Fire type goes against a Water type with the same strength and speed, the Fire type’s still gonna lose if it gets blasted with Water moves. Just like a Water type will lose if it goes against Grass. Because, you know, water by itself can only help plants.”
Shella nodded. “True.”
“And no matter how hard you train your pokémon, you still don’t know how much of a power advantage the other trainer’s pokémon will have. So the first thing you try to find out is their type. If you know their type, then you can guess their weakness… and already you’ll have a leg up.”
Shella smiled. “I didn’t know you were such an analyst. But it definitely sounds better than going in blind. Come to think of it, there’s an entire field of biology dedicated to these relationships between pokémon. I guess it’s only a matter of time before trainers start using it to their advantage. Maybe then pokémon training will become even more popular, since it’s tied in with science.”
Michael met Shella’s gaze, and saw that she was eyeing him with a strange twinkle in her eye. She seemed both humored, and impressed.
A silence stretched between them for a short while after, which Michael broke by clearing his throat. “Well, uh, I guess now we can go walk around. I’m sure they have a bunch of cool stuff at the other tables.”
“I’m all for it,” Shella said. “Let’s go!” She gave Bertha a parting wave, which the Gym leader acknowledged with a bow of her head, and turned to leave with Michael.
The pair plunged shoulder-to-shoulder into the crowd and soon vanished down the dirt path. When they were long out of sight, Bertha shook her head. “Kids will be kids,” she murmured to herself. “That Michael is quite a character.”
She heard a sudden rustling of paper from behind, and remembered the bespectacled man, who had been standing nearby during their conversation. Now he approached, looking off into the direction where Michael and Shella had departed. “For a trainer, he seems quite technical,” he said.
Bertha responded with a nod. “That he is… I’ve known him longer than most other trainers, so I’ve seen his quirks. He’s definitely one of the smart ones, I’ll tell you that, but he has his moments where he doesn’t think things through.”
“Don’t we all?” The man smiled. “Still, it’s good to see that pokémon biology isn’t underappreciated by everyone… especially by the young. Contrary to what many people think, it’s actually a very profound field, with its own nuances and rules. Currently, there are more than 390 confirmed species, but researchers are finding more every year, and discovering intricate relationships between them.”
Bertha looked askance at the man, one eyebrow lifted. “You seem like you really know your stuff. What did you say you do again?”
“I’m a pokémon researcher by profession,” he replied. “But my work encompasses slightly more than that. Sometimes I take up projects in broader biology, like a recent study that dealt with pokémon habitats and why certain species settle where they do. Is it the way things always were? Or did humans play a role in introducing them?”
“That’s interesting,” Bertha said. “So which do you think is the reason?”
The man gave a slight shrug. “It’s a bit of both, really. Though by how much, we still don’t know…. The most light on this issue has been shed only in the past thirty years, and research is still continuing today. The group that’s doing the most to investigate it right now is based in Sinnoh, actually. Their department isn’t the largest of its kind, but it’s very active, and it’s helped the field make some important recent advancements.”
“Ah.” Bertha nodded, absently twirling the pen in her hand. “Who is it?”
The man cast away his gaze as he folded up the flyer. “Team Galactic.”
On their way back from Bertha’s table, Michael and Shella took a long-winded stroll around the Gym complex, keeping a steady pace with each other. Everywhere, it seemed, the event was in full swing. There were other roster tables scattered about the grounds, manned by Marie’s staff, mixed with food tables and games. They stopped by to admire the bouquets of colorful balloons that bobbed in the wind, tied down with curly strings, and the souvenirs that were on display at countless booths. It surprised Michael how an event like this could be planned in such short notice, but with
Conversation flowed freely between him and Shella as they walked, and much like it had been on their first evening alone, he never had to forcefully change the subject or think too long about a response. Somehow their thoughts ended up trailing over to the Space Race, and they discussed its history, the discoveries, and the current stalemate between Team Rocket and Team Galactic. Michael, who hadn’t broached the topic in weeks, felt a strange feeling of hollowness where his passion used to be. It seemed like he had more or less forgotten about the Space Race during his travels with Henry, for his interest in it had been overridden by a matter more pressing — his battling the Gyms.
He did not broach on his opinions, but was content to listen to Shella speak, replying only when he thought was necessary.
“I never really thought about it as a race, personally,” Shella was saying. “I mean, the fact that they’ve made all these discoveries about space just underlines the fact that we’re all a part of the same planet, surrounded by a world we don’t know anything about yet. Just because one country or another got to the moon first doesn’t mean that the moon belongs to them. And it definitely doesn’t mean that they should treat it like it’s their property.” Right then, she paused in her argument and smiled. “When Allan Knight announced the pictures that Team Rocket’s ship took of the moon, he said ‘Now we can go ahead and copyright them for the textbooks.’“ She giggled. “He’s the head of Team Rocket. He’s really funny. He says all sorts of things when he goes on the news… ”
Michael smiled. The image of a man swam before his eyes—stout, with thick-rimmed glasses, and a tweed suit. But though he tried, he couldn’t conjure up an image of the Galactic commander—whoever he was, he remained shrouded in darkness.
He had his thumb hooked in his pocket as he walked, and alternated his gaze from the sky to the ground below, where his gaze trailed after the partygoers who flocked around the buildings of the Gym complex. No longer under the spell of the chilly, fire-lit evening of their first date, Michael no longer felt like he was walking in a daze. Shella’s presence was oddly relaxing, and being with her felt comfortable and natural—almost like reuniting with a long-lost friend. And to his surprise, Michael was perfectly content to have it that way.
A span of time passed, and their conversation moved on to other casual topics, and soon enough Michael and Shella returned to the spot by the entrance, where he had initially left Henry. Michael looked around, but the boy was nowhere in sight.
Then, above the general chatter, he heard a sudden voice: “Michael!”
He turned in the direction of the sound, and with a jolt, glimpsed the side of a beige tote bag, and a head of short brown hair scanning the crowd. He turned back to Shella, his heart hammering.
“I have to go. My friend’s looking for me. Can we meet sometime later?”
“Of course,” Shella said. “We still haven’t been to the downtown together yet. I’d love to take a walk by the main prospect. So when you’re free, just give me a call.”
Michael nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll see you later, then.”
Shella waved. “Bye!”
Michael turned back to the place where he had spotted Henry. He wove a complicated path though the mayhem, hoping that his initial location couldn’t be traced, and stopped when he found the boy. Henry was standing beside an empty table, leaning back against it with his hands resting on the surface. Upon seeing Michael he turned to meet him, expression clouded.
Michael held up a hand in apology. “Sorry,” he said quickly. “Sorry. I just had to get something. If you want, we can go back to the room now. Or train.”
Henry’s eyes never left the booths on the other side of the path. “Who was that? That girl you were with?”
Michael felt a brief chill. There was no smile on Henry’s face, but it was hard to tell what the boy was thinking. Seeing no other way out of his predicament, he exhaled. “That’s… Shella.”
Henry’s eyelids drooped slightly, forming an incredulous expression. He crossed his arms.
“I met her a while ago,” Michael explained. “Back when I was in Jubilife, actually. And she happened to be in town today, so, you know. I saw her and I wanted to stop by and talk.”
“Uh-huh... And did she happen to be in town last night too?”
After a long pause, Michael frowned. “You have some crazy ideas, man. Let’s go. We have a battle to train for.”
Henry was silent for a moment, then let out a slow breath. “Whatever you say...”
The boys turned back towards the plaza. Ringo flapped over to them and perched himself on Michael’s head, merrily clucking his tongue as the boys left the Gym.
But the league does need to get involved in crime investigations - after all, Lisa needs some reason to drive around the various Pokemon regions in a large Buick station wagon, foot on the accelerator and guns blazing, lol
You also bring up a good point here. As I recently mentioned in my blog, the typical single-type Gym makes little sense from a strategy perspective. But perhaps that idea is a carryover from the old days when people weren't nearly as aware of type advantages and such, and it just never changed even as trainers became more knowledgeable.
Marie is certainly quite the marketing pro - I don't recall ever seeing a carnival-type event being held to promote a petition. She definitely comes across as a skilled old(er) veteran of the Pokemon training world - she has quite a few good words of wisdom and it's clear Bertha listens to and trusts that advice. I'm looking forward to seeing what her demeanor is like in battle - she seems nice and carefree enough outside of battle, but Bertha's already warned that Marie is going to be a challenge in the battle arena, and I'd like to see that
Now I'm also curious about that mystery man who keeps showing up (well, I always have been, but now even more so). Is he investigating Team Galactic? Or is he doing some investigating for Team Galactic? How is it that he always shows up wherever Michael and co. are? Is he trailing them because he caught wind of Bertha's petition and/or Michael's article?
Oh, and @Henry: Jealous much? xD
And yes, Marie is very savvy when it comes to marketing and League business. Remember, she's not just any Gym leader, but the Gym leader of Pastoria, which is a center of communication nearly as big as Jubilife. And her years on the job have taught her well. Her battle with Michael and Henry is fast approaching, and it'll definitely be a unique one.
And yes... little by little we are piecing together the facts about Team Galactic. I won't answer your speculations, since that's what the story's for, but I will tell you that you're asking the right things. And all your questions will be answered eventually. The Galactics have a complicated image, and a complicated past, which will make them important to this story beyond their role in the Space Race. (You didn't really think I'd leave them as some off-to-the-side space company, did you now? xP)
As for the mystery man... ... ... you will soon find out. Hehe.
But for the time being, I'll have to keep you on your toes for a little longer while I get to work on the next chapter. Thanks for the review, and thanks for reading!
After leaving the party, Michael and Henry returned to the peace and quiet of their room, where they set down their belongings and trailed off in separate directions—Henry to the armchair, and Michael to the desk, where he opened his notebook and began to leaf through the pages.
“Okay, so Marie’s Gym is Water.” Michael traced his finger along the type chart to find the corresponding row. “Strengths, obviously, are against Fire and Rock. Weaknesses are Grass and Electric. That’s not too bad. I have Turtwig. You have Burmy and Pachirisu. Then I have Machop and Ringo, who’re neutral, and Goldeen, who’s Water too. Caterpie… she might come in handy again, so I’ll keep her in my team to be safe. You have Clefable and Starly, neutral too.” He looked up at Henry. “Seeing as I don’t have anything Electric-typed, I’ll have to either catch one or teach my pokémon some Electric moves. But other than that, I think we’ve got it covered.”
Henry, who was resting his chin in his hand, gave a shrug. “Well then there’s not much to train for, is there?”
“I guess not.”
Michael watched as the boy’s gaze dropped to his knees again. He let out a sigh. “All right, what’s with you? Are you upset?”
“No,” Henry mumbled.
“Yes you are. I’ve known you and your little facial expressions long enough. Just tell me what the deal is.”
Henry remained silent, keeping his gaze fixed on the legs of Michael’s chair rather than meeting his eyes. Suddenly, Michael had an idea. “Is it Shella?”
Henry looked up for a split second, then almost self-consciously trailed his gaze away again. Smiling, Michael got up and nudged Henry’s shoulder. “Come on, spit it out. You like her, don’t you? Think she’s pretty?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Henry said. “She wouldn’t have anything to do with me anyway.”
“Pshaw!” Michael let out a laugh.
Henry sprang up out of the armchair, his face pink. “Oh come on, it’s true! You’ve had girlfriends, and I… well, I’ve never had any and I probably never will. While you’re off on your little dates, I’m just sitting here, being the good little kid I’ve always been. That hasn’t changed in years, and I know it’s never going to. I’m hopeless!” He let his arms fall to his sides in resignation.
Michael held down his chuckles with a feigned-serious expression. “Hold up. Who said anything about dates? All I did was talk to her today.”
“Yeah, and that Great Marsh ticket I found on the floor yesterday just fell out of the sky.”
Feeling another wave of laughter overtake him, Michael stumbled back onto the bed, collapsing into a half-seated, half doubled-over position. Doing his best to stifle the quakes, he drew himself upright, shaking his head. “Cat… first of all, you can’t look at a girl and automatically think ‘potential girlfriend’. It doesn’t work that way, and chances are, you’ll only creep them out and they won’t talk to you anymore. And second of all, no one said you were hopeless. You said that, and you’re only what you say you are.”
Henry knit his brows as if for a retort, but his willpower seemed to drain away at the last minute, and he sat back down again. Michael watched him for a moment, pondering over what to say.
“If you want…” he said with a growing smile, “I can take you to meet her.”
Henry narrowed his eyes in disbelief. “How?”
“We made plans to meet each other for a walk downtown. I don’t think she’ll mind if I took you along.”
Henry let out a sigh. “Thanks, but… if it’s your date, then I guess I don’t want to ruin it. Just go. You don’t have to feel guilty for me, I’m not upset.”
“It’s not really a date, to be honest,” Michael said. He was looking up at the ceiling now, studying the swirly strokes of white paint. “I don’t think I even like her that way. It’s hard to explain. She’s like a friend to me.” He looked down at Henry. “Being friends is good too, you know.”
“I know, I know,” said Henry. “I’m not expecting anything. I just want to have some fun for once.”
“And you will.” Michael beckoned him towards the door. “Come on.”
Henry jerked from the chair, eyes bulging. “We’re going now?”
“No.” Michael chuckled. “We’ll go in the evening. Right now, we gotta get ready. You in particular. If you want to make a good impression, you have to work on it.”
“But what about being myself?”
“It’s not about acting like someone else. It’s about being presentable the way you are. Take me for example—sure I dress up when I have to, but I don’t go overboard and wear stuff that I’m not comfortable in. Some guys show up to dates in freaking formal vests, and I think it puts girls off, to be honest, because they don’t want to see an image. They want to see you as you really are. And being yourself is all about being relaxed, which means dressing the way you feel is right for wherever you’re going. That in mind, you still gotta look good, and that means ditching the scaredy-cat too. You could work yourself up into a nervous mess when all a girl wants is to talk, and that kills her impression of you. So keep your cool. If you don’t have anything to say about something, then don’t. Keeping quiet is better than saying something stupid just to impress someone.” As Michael talked, he packed his backpack, placing in his pokéballs and notebook. Henry watched him in curiosity, eyes narrowed.
“So then where are we going now?”
“To town. We need to research move techniques, for one thing. And for another, we can get you something less dorky than that granny purse.” He pointed to the knapsack that hung over the back of the chair. Normally, Henry was proud of his unique, convenient solution to pokéball storage, but right then, his friend’s words seemed to pierce through his gloom, and coaxed from him a smile.
“Fine then. Let’s go.”
Without having been in the room for more than twenty minutes, the boys departed once more on another journey.
They brought all their trainerly possessions with them to the bus stop, and when they got off inside the downtown, Michael used his map to find the nearest library. Despite the building’s quiet, high-ceilinged grandeur, it hosted a casual public consisting of all ages—from elderly enthusiasts to children in reading groups. To neither boy’s surprise, the facility featured a Pokémon Training section that stood separate from all the others. There they spent the rest of the afternoon, pulling books on Electric moves and finding which pokémon could learn them.
Michael decided on Thunderpunch for Machop, and was pleased to see that the book he selected had diagrams similar to Ted’s, along with detailed text explaining what should be done. From another book he found the technique for Energy Ball, a Grass move, which he would teach to Caterpie as soon as she emerged from her cocoon. Henry gathered a list of more advanced moves for Pachirisu and Clefable, and studied the diagrams with great interest. The books gave varying prognoses on the length of the training period, all of which were within a week, give or take a few days. Michael and Henry chose not to risk it and decided to schedule their battles with Marie for next week. They would do their preliminary battles on Sunday, three days later, and hopefully glean a preview of what Marie had in store. In the meantime, they would dedicate their days entirely to training, practicing the move techniques till their pokémon could recite them backwards.
With their move-tutoring books tucked under their arms, the boys descended the stone steps of the library and emerged onto the noisy street.
“We should find a safe place to do these move routines,” Henry spoke up. “I’m thinking we should go really far away from the buildings, like way towards the marshes.” He made a slow motion with his arm as if to throw something across the street.
“Why? Last time we used the hotel courtyard and we were fine.”
“But that was when Ted was helping us. He said we should only try basic moves on our own, or we could get hurt. And Thunderbolt isn’t really basic.“ Henry bit his lip.
“Calm down,” Michael said. “He only meant that for really powerful stuff, not basic moves that even a Pichu could use. And given that we don’t have much else to work with, we ought to stick with this. Unless you want to spend another week looking for the resident Move Tutor of Pastoria, in which case, be my guest.”
“I know, I know. I’m just saying we should be careful. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to set the hotel on fire.”
Michael snickered. “I think it would be cool if we could just start shooting bolts of lightning into the sky. I can think of five good pranks we can pull…”
Henry shook his head and looked away. “Not listening.”
Michael rolled his eyes. As they neared the subway station, he stopped to look at the stone clock tower that stood in the middle of the walkway. “Shit, it’s almost five. I said I’d meet Shella at six. We have to get to Gracidea Park; it’s a few blocks from the Great Marsh.”
Henry adjusted his grip on the books. “What should I bring?”
“Just yourself. Maybe a wallet just in case we stop by somewhere for a snack. I know I can stand to ditch the bag for a couple hours.”
They took the subway back to the plaza and arrived at their hotel room minutes later. Michael changed his shirt for the tye-dye one he was particularly fond of, and ran a comb through his hair, settling it into its usual messy-orderly style. Henry hobbled towards the bed and let his books fall into a heap, then began to fumble for his wallet, clearly debating whether he should take it alone or bring the entire tote bag with him. When he found it he held it in his hand, and the straps of the bag in the other, weighing them against each other in indecision.
When Michael saw what he was doing, he shook his head.
“Just leave it. We’re going one a walk for Pete’s sake; you’re not gonna be battling anyone. Quit being a trainer for once and just be you.”
Henry sighed. “Fine.” He let the tote bag sink onto the bed and pocketed the wallet.
As Michael laced his sneakers, Henry walked over to the vanity mirror and lifted his own comb, running its teeth through his short brown hair. He didn’t have much to comb, but though his appearance was left more or less unchanged, the task seemed to relax him.
Michael, now fully ready, marched on towards the door and waited for the boy to join him. “Come on. You done?”
Henry looked at himself a second longer, straightening the edges of his shirt, and took a breath. “Yeah. Coming.”
He turned, and without a word, followed Michael out of the room.
The boys left the plaza for the towering city, taking the sidewalk that ran alongside the road, which teemed with cars and buses traveling to and from the downtown. Michael led Henry along the same route he had taken on his first evening in the city, waiting at the bus stop for a ride, then getting off to plow through the teeming crowds in search of the subway station. Henry followed each point of their journey in silence, eyes sweeping over the sparkling cityscape, expression shifting from wonder to deep thought as he shifted his gaze from one sight to another. Though Henry was making no conscious effort to hide his feelings, Michael found it hard to guess what the boy was thinking. He had withdrawn somewhere into his own mind, where he seemed to be working something out, taking only a surface interest in the flurry of colors and sounds that surrounded them. If Henry were nervous, then he didn’t say it, and for once, Michael didn’t try to reassure him. He had an odd feeling that, one way or another, the boy would find his footing, and in the moment when he would least expect it, finally stumble upon his goal.
They entered the subway station and began to work their way along the network of routes, getting off at the stop called Marshland, which was located across the street from the Great Marsh complex. But instead of crossing to the other side like Michael had done before, he led Henry further along the boulevard until they reached a park of smaller scale, enclosed by a wrought-iron fence and decorated with trees and flowering bushes.
Michael swept his gaze over the people that gathered in the vicinity, but Shella was nowhere in sight. “We’re early,” he remarked. “That’s weird. The clock in the subway said it was six.”
“No we’re not,” said Henry suddenly. “Look.”
He pointed to a bench that had been hidden from view by a tree, which now emerged into view as they came closer. A girl was sitting at the edge, her hands folded in her lap, watching other people pass by. Perchance, her gaze locked on Michael’s, and he gave a smile.
“Yep. That’s Shella.”
Shella stood to greet them, clasping Michael’s hand in hers.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Wonderful,” Shella replied. Her eyes found Henry a second later. Michael looked askance.
“Oh, this is my friend—”
“Henry.” The boy cleared his throat before Michael could finish, extending a hand. “I’m a trainer too. Michael and I met all the way back in Oreburgh, and we’ve been battling Gyms together ever since.”
Shella shook his hand, and looked at Michael with a sly smile. “You had a friend and you never introduced us?”
Michael’s face became grave. “Never got a chance. Henry’s a lot more dedicated to the League than me, so he doesn’t have much time for other stuff. He spends almost all his time training and making sure his pokémon are pumped up to the max. No joke. I keep trying to get him to do something else, like go outside, but the kid just keeps on trucking. You know, he beat the Hearthome Gym three to two.”
Henry lowered his chin a little, smiling.
“That’s pretty impressive!” Shella looked at Henry. “You seem a little young for a trainer, though.”
Henry gave a pause. “Actually, uh, I’m older than most of them,” he said. “I’m eleven. I started the League this summer. Most kids start it when they’re nine, but they do it for fun and don’t usually stick with it for long. I’m not like that. I didn’t want to do it when I was nine because I didn’t feel I was ready… and well, because my mom wanted me to focus on school. But now I’m ready for it.” He squared his shoulders, as if to transmit his certainty, and gave a smile.
“So you’re serious about the League?”
Henry nodded. “Yep! I already made up my mind. Mike and I are gonna aim for the top together. We might even enter the tournament together.”
“But that means we’ll have to battle each other,” Michael said.
Henry paused, giving a frown. “Well, then I guess one of us will have to win.”
“And we all know it’s going to be me…”
Michael responded with a shrug. “That or we make it a tie and force them to give us both the title.”
“You really think they’ll let us do that?”
“Sure, why not? It’s not like they can force one of us to win.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense…” said Henry. “But you have to promise. Deal?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Fine. Deal.”
When the boys had made their compromise, Shella smiled. “I think it’s great that you two are in this together,” she said. “That’s what I always liked about pokémon training. Challenging the League sounds twice as fun when you do it with your friends. And not to mention easier.”
Michael glanced over to Henry, and responded with a chuckle. “True that.”
They set off down the path together and made more small-talk, pausing every so often to comment on a piece of scenery. At first, the comfort that Michael had started to feel in Shella’s presence seemed to diminish with Henry’s presence, though the tension he felt within himself eased when he saw that she had taken a fair liking to him. She asked him some more questions, pertaining to his life and hobbies, and seemed to delight in the fact that he knew a lot about the Sinnoh League, particularly more detailed topics which she hadn't been able to broach with Michael before. Henry, in turn, gradually loosened up in her presence and became his usual self, though Michael noticed that he was holding something back, keeping some of his usual mannerisms restrained behind a more grown-up composure. But at the same time, he never came across as rushed or pretentious, and apart from that brief moment of uncertainty when he first spoke to Shella, he never lost himself in front of her.
Michael gave him a hand when he could, filling the gaps of Henry's stories where he couldn't remember something, and giving his own spin on a tale. Together, the boys narrated all the colorful moments of their journey for Shella, like their first battle with Byron, their adventures in Hearthome, and their plight in Solaceon. When Michael told the story of how he had first used Goldeen’s water technique in his battle with Jerry, Shella hadn’t been able to handle it, and burst into laughter.
“I have to say, that’s really creative!” she said. “I never knew pokéballs could work like that. I imagine that blew the Gym leader’s mind when he saw it!”
Michael smiled. “You should’ve seen the look on his face. He practically dropped his pokéball. And Bertha, too. She was right there watching, and she nearly got soaked!”
Shella continued to giggle, covering her face with her palm. When she had calmed, she turned to the boys again, a new spark of interest kindling behind her eyes. “You guys never told me how you met her. I know she’s traveling to get signatures for her petition, but why did she decide to travel with you two?”
Michael gave a slight grimace. “Well, she sort of didn’t have a choice. There was this factory that got put up in her hometown that belonged to Team Galactic, and it was dumping a whole bunch of waste into the town, so she tried to get it to change its policy. She said that Team Galactic’s been getting too powerful for its own good, and that it was about time that some of the government’s money went back to the League. It’s because the government’s been cutting funding from the League to give it to Team Galactic, which is why the League can’t do a lot of things it used to.”
Henry, meanwhile, had cast his gaze down to his shoes, expression dark. “She didn’t have a Gym or anything,” he put in, after a moment. “She did all her battles in her house, and she had to give trainers a place to live and eat too, because there wasn’t a League hotel. That’s all because the League couldn’t work with the town to build her a Gym.”
“And she got into this huge argument with the factory’s management while we were there,” Michael continued. “I think she wanted something from them, maybe to get help with the petition, but before she could get anything done, the factory exploded.”
Shella balked at the sudden twist. “It exploded?”
“Yep. Right in the middle of Henry’s battle, too.” Michael exchanged a glance with the boy. “The whole town had to evacuate. Trains started coming in like crazy and people were boarding them and getting rides to all over the place. Bertha decided to go with us to Hearthome, because she had to meet with the next Gym leader to her his signature, and we needed to see him for our battles. And from then on, I guess, she tagged along wherever we went.”
Shella processed their story with a frown. “I think I remember seeing something on the news about an explosion… I can’t imagine what that must be like. Losing your entire home, all because some people were careless with their experiments. But I guess it’s a good thing she decided to move on. Taking action is much better than staying in one place.”
It seemed that she might have wanted to say more, but right then, she decided to remain silent.
Their conversation ended on a low note, but as they left the park to wander about the neighboring streets, Shella regained her spirits, and the trio strolled with renewed energy among the shops and kiosks. Here, in the northernmost limits of Pastoria City, life was comparably quiet. With the greatest attention reserved for the Great Marsh, the rest of the vicinity was devoted to small enterprises like cafés and souvenir shops, whose windows they skimmed by, peering in to glimpse racks of items. They visited a record store, where they searched for various groups among boxes of tracks, and played their favorite tunes.
Next, they located a candy store, which Michael entered in earnest, feeling a beast within him stir at the smell of chocolate. He browsed the aisles with the utmost attention, though for a long while he hung in indecision, for he had tried nearly every brand of candy on the shelf, many to the point where he could almost replicate their taste in his mind. He stood there for a while, until Shella beckoned him to the International section, which stood on a side wall. Michael lifted his eyebrows, as did Henry, as he glimpsed the rows of foreign titles, written in varying styles, often coming in odd shapes. By chance, Michael’s eyes landed on the Johto section, where he found one package out of many and took it from the wall.
“Rage Candy Bar?” He turned the package over in his hands. “That’s a weird name.”
“Oh, those are really good!” said Shella. “I’ve only had them a couple times. It’s really lucky that they have them here — even in Slateport they’re not always in stock.”
But Henry was eyeing the wrapper in shock. “I’ve heard of those! They’re made in this really exclusive place in Johto called the Lake of Rage. They use fat from Gyarados to make the flavor better!” He looked up at Shella. “Don’t they?”
Shella attempted a smile. “I heard a rumor… but I don’t think it’s true. At least I hope it’s not true.”
They both looked at Michael, who was still holding the candy bar. He lifted the flap of the wrapper to read the ingredients, eyes narrowed. “It just says chocolate.”
“Yeah, but it matters how they make the chocolate,” Henry said. “I don’t think we should get it.”
Michael frowned. He sought out the cashier, who was counting bills by the register, and pushed the candy bar over to him. “S’cuse me, is it true they make these things with Gyarados fat?”
The man looked up, and at the sight of the candy’s name, gave it an approving squint and nodded. “That’s some quality chocolate right there,” he said. “It’s not often we have them. They’re handmade by a man in Johto. He has a secret recipe that he won’t reveal to anyone, so he’s the only one in the world who can make them. As for the Gyarados fat, I highly doubt it. It’s just a rumor. And Gyarados are pretty hard to catch, mind you, so I doubt some lone fisherman is going to want to prop a whole business on Gyarados fat.”
Henry let out a sigh of relief.
“But I’ll tell you one thing.” The clerk held up a finger. “They’re called Rage Candy Bars for a reason. It’s said that there’s a certain species of berry tree that grows right around the Lake of Rage, and the juice that comes out of it makes a flavor that complements the chocolate perfectly, which is why the guy uses it. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but whatever that chocolate is, it can’t be beat.”
Michael eyed his companions. “Well that sounds good for starters. I’m buying it.”
He grabbed two more bars and paid for them, handing them each to Henry and Shella. Upon taking his first bite, Michael was astonished at the taste. It was chocolate of a surprisingly deep and rich quality, complemented by the subtle crunch of a wafer filling. It was easily better than anything he had had back in Jubilife. But when they returned to the cashier to ask if they had any more in stock, he responded with a shake of the head.
“We’re all out, I’m afraid. Sorry.”
Michael’s face fell into a frown, a crease forming between his eyebrows.
He pocketed the wrapper, promising himself that the next time he saw a candy store, he would look for them.
Shella offered Michael an apologetic smile, and out of guilt that she had led them into a dead end, she bought a bag of small chocolates, which they shared as they exited the shop and continued down the street. The sun was already dipping low to the horizon, dimming the sky, and they were beginning to search for a bus stop where Michael and Henry would be leaving. As they proceeded in the direction of the Great Marsh, the street gradually grew busier, and the crowds noisier. The area around the Marsh complex, which had been sparsely populated just hours ago, was now teeming with people who seemed to have assembled from all directions. There were several points in particular where the commotion was concentrated, among them a nearby news store, which stood just a few doors down from the Marsh. Michael’s gaze stuck to it as he passed by. The store was bursting with activity from within, where the shadows of customers could be seen pacing the room, gesturing angrily. Their rapid chatter wafted through the closed doors, reaching Michael’s ears even above the sound of traffic. People dotted the vicinity outside in a likewise state, talking at a frantic pace, their conversations garbled by the sheer quantity of voices.
“I wonder what that’s about,” Shella murmured.
Michael looked at the people who were gathered around the news store, registering the looks of evident anger and shock on their faces. “Better not wait to find out. Let’s go.”
He quickened his pace, and his companions followed suit, cutting across the next few blocks. They ran into no further obstructions, and soon found a bus stop, where Shella waited to see them off. They stopped together by the benches, facing each other.
“It was great seeing you again, Michael. And you too, Henry.” Shella gave the boy a smile. “I can tell you’re a really dedicated person. You’ll go places.”
Henry blushed slightly, but maintained eye contact.
“Maybe we can meet up again another day,” Michael offered.
“Definitely,” Shella said. “I was actually looking at an art museum downtown. It has a great modern collection with stuff from all over the country. I know it’s not as much of a thrill ride as a concert, but paintings are nice too, right?”
Michael nodded. “Cool. You up for it, Henry?”
“Great!” Shella beamed.
Moments later, there came a loud grunt as the bus came to a stop by the curb, sliding open its screechy doors. Michael and Henry boarded, paid the fare, and took a window seat to wave Shella goodbye. She lingered by the benches to see them off, the colors of her hair and clothing standing in contrast with the dull sidewalk, then the bus whisked them away, pushing her image aside as the rest of the block began to roll by.
Henry’s gaze lingered on the spot for a moment, then he looked down at his lap with a sigh. “Thanks for that, Michael.”
Michael gave a professional nod. Though he couldn’t keep from smiling.
Inside the bus, the boys were surrounded by relative calm. They rode without speaking, for with the close of their evening, they had each reached a point of contentment where words were no longer needed to express their thoughts. Everything had already been said between them.
The two boys spent their ride in silence, looking in different directions, glad to let their minds wander. Michael soon took to watching the window, hoping to eventually get some shut-eye before they arrived at the subway. But as he continued to peer out into the distance, he became aware of a growing disquiet outside, which, instead of fluctuating across points of varying activity like it should have, seemed to increase in magnitude the longer he studied the fleeting streets. People flocked together in groups of unusually large concentration, filling alleyways, dawdling in the middle of sidewalks, their faces all marked with the same dazed, puzzled expressions he had seen earlier by the Great Marsh. It was as if the commotion in that little part of town had taken hold of the city at large, stirring up a general intrigue whose tides were fast rising, soon to envelop everything within the city limits. But though he tried, Michael couldn’t pinpoint its source. There seemed to be nothing unusual going on in the streets or in the sky, nor were there any clear signs of a crisis, like traffic cones or flashing lights. He caught sight of a few TVs stacked in a store window, but they flicked past too quickly for him to see what they were showing.
As time passed, the other people in the bus seemed to stir awake, as they caught on to the same things Michael was noticing. He heard fragments of conversations all around him as the passengers pointed to various things in the distance, turning their heads, rustling purses and shopping bags. At one point, he thought he heard someone whisper: “Oh my God!”
Just as he was about to turn to Henry, he felt the boy tap his shoulder.
“Michael, I think I just saw some people standing with signs!” Henry pointed to the window across from them, which most of the passengers were now looking at, blocking the image with their silhouettes. Michael lifted himself from his seat to for a closer look, though he had acted a moment too late, and the image was obscured by rushing buildings.
He tried to push himself further forward, squinting to glimpse the walkway on the other side of the road, but saw nothing. “Signs? What did they say?”
“I don’t know. But it feels like it’s everywhere.” Henry gulped. “Something’s happening.”
When they arrived at the trainer plaza, the hotel appeared to be in its usual state, active and orderly. There were a few trainers lingering in the sitting room, playing games, while staff members pursued business of their own. Whatever was happening in the city, it had not yet reached the plaza’s ears.
Michael and Henry ascended the stair steps to their room without comment, but before they could go any farther, a door down the hallway swung open, and Bertha stepped outside, beginning a hurried walk towards the lobby. But upon seeing the boys, she stopped, eyes perking in surprise.
“Hello boys. Where were you?”
“We were just downtown,” Michael said. “Why?”
“I went to check up on you a while ago, but you weren’t in your room. Anyways, it doesn’t matter. You’re here now, that’s good.”
“What do you mean?” said Henry. “Did something happen?”
The look of worry that had lingered on Bertha’s face a moment prior vanished for a smile. “No, not at all. I was just wondering what you two were up to.” She pushed back a strand of hair that had fallen from behind her ear. “Today’s just been a strange day for me. Marie and I have been working to assemble all the contacts we got during the party, but the phone lines are all busy for some reason, and we couldn’t get in touch with half the people we wanted to. We were in her office all day trying to sort it out with the city hall, but in the end they just left us hanging, and we had to hang up. Then, just now, I got a phone call from Anita.”
Michael was taken aback at the mention of Bertha’s secluded friend, whom they had met only briefly in Hearthome. “Anita? Why would she call you all of a sudden?”
“I don’t know. She seemed worried, though. She said that my petition might have to be put on hold for some reason.”
Both boys balked.
“Why?” Henry asked.
“Beats me. She said she couldn’t explain it to me over the phone, but she said to check the news… and there’s nothing on the news.” Bertha gave a one-shoulder shrug and crossed her arms.
Michael exchanged a glance with Henry, but could find no means of shedding light on her words. When it was clear that they knew as little about the conundrum as she, Bertha let out a sigh. “Well, I’ll keep you guys posted, at any rate. Stay out of trouble.”
She gave them a final smile, and brushed past them on her way towards the lobby.
At that same moment, in Hearthome City, Nancy Bryan was sitting on the phone in her hotel room, waiting to be connected to the city press office. Her notebook lay open on the table before her, and she was tapping her pen against its surface, waiting to take notes from the person she was about to speak with. But the operator wasn’t responding.
“Hello?” she called into the silence. “Are you still there?”
Moments later, there came a huff as the lady sat back down. “I’m sorry, Miss Bryan, but he’s not available.”
“What?” Nancy slapped the pen down in frustration. She had been promised at least ten minutes of the man’s time, and now they were turning her away. “Please, at least leave a message for him,” she said. The operator responded with something else, her voice breathless, as if from a long run. “But he said this was his break. What do you mean, the line’s flooded?” Nancy pressed. “Where is he? Hello?”
She was cut off by a loud beep from her receiver as a call came in from the other line. Feeling the futility of her situation, she sighed. “Fine,” she told the lady. “I’ll call back later. Goodbye.”
She hung up the phone and switched to her new call, immersed in thoughts of irritation and hopelessness. She paused before answering, wiping her exhausted eyes, then leaned the receiver against the side of her face. “Hello?”
An answer came seconds later, sounding vaguely like Ned, but his voice was drowned out by the sound of cars and people. From what Nancy could gather, he had the others were caught dead in the city center, but the pay phone was either too old or too cheap to keep a good connection. Tom and Bobby tried to say something else, but they too were lost in the static.
Nancy narrowed her eyes as if to peer through a haze. “I can’t hear you guys! There’s too much noise!”
There came another rush of static, louder than ever, then suddenly it cleared. Ned had likely managed to adjust the wiring, and pressed the receiver to his ear anew. For a moment, all Nancy could hear was the sound of distant voices around them. Then came Ned’s, loud and clear, transcending the void between them.
“Turn the TV on. Now.”
Ah, so the gym battle isn't for another week, huh? Well, I guess there are worse places to be holed up for a week (or so I thought before I got toward the end of the chapter lol). But why, after Henry's warning, do I have the sinking feeling that something could go horribly wrong with their training exercises? Is it just me?
Anyway, nice conversation between the three of them. It felt natural and casual, like any conversation between acquaintances/friends. And I did get the impression that some (but not all) of Henry's anxiety began to fade as he talked and got to know Shella a bit better.
But holy cow, that chaos in town at the end of the chapter. And if this...
Also, is Bertha hiding something from the boys? This...
Hey, LeSabre! Glad you liked the chapter.
Nothing will go horribly wrong with Michael's and Henry's move-tutoring, but it will be interesting. I won't spend too much time on it, because there's nothing more to their process that I haven't already shown, but I'll explain a bit of what happens.
I also see you're getting speculative... hehe. That's good. I can tell you that the petition, the mystery man, and the public commotion are all linked by a loose thread, which you will learn about soon enough.
As for your question, I wouldn't say that Bertha is blatantly hiding something from them. In that scene, she just wanted to find out if the boys knew anything about why the city was in such a state of disarray, since they had just come from the downtown. That being said, they have been seeing a lot less of her than before, so they can't know everything that she's been up to. She could know a few things that they don't...
But that's all for now. Hopefully the bulk of your curiosity will be sated in the next few chapters. Stay tuned for more!
… …… …. …. …
”… T-minus ten…
…we’re on the air!”
“Good evening, this is Freddie Horner with Sinnoh News Net bringing you the latest updates from the top of the hour. It is currently 4:00 P.M., Jubilife Central Time, and I’m here live with breaking news.
“… It has been scarcely a month after the discovery of the space-pokémon Deoxys was announced, and now SNN has received word of a groundbreaking development... Team Rocket’s press release was made public in Hoenn just last night, and now, Sinnoh has received word that the two space organizations — Team Rocket and Team Galactic — have decided to unite, forming a coalition entitled GASP — the Global Allied Space Program. The terms of the alliance were negotiated during a special meeting between the governments of both countries and representatives from both companies, which took place in Ever Grande City and concluded on June 28th. While the space programs of both countries will continue to exist as independent entities, the bulk of their activities will be pooled into the common effort of GASP, which includes partnership in equipment building, collaborative endeavors, and the sharing of information pertaining to missions. In addition, both companies will now be able to share their federal funds for the purpose of financing missions that were previously unfeasible. Such an alliance will forge an informational and economic partnership between Hoenn and Sinnoh, the likes of which modern history has never seen.
“But if that wasn’t enough to stir the tides, this story comes with a second twist. During their first press meeting, the officials of GASP announced a project that, as we have been told, has been in the works for over four months since the space teams’ fateful encounter with Deoxys. This project is allegedly what originally inspired the alliance, due to its complex nature and goal. That is to continue the study of the pokémon Deoxys in greater detail than any pokémon has ever been studied before… and in an environment that will be more hospitable to research conditions, which will be far removed from the environment of the spacecraft, and much closer to home than what was earlier thought…
… ….. …… …… ….. …….. …..
June 30th, 1963.
THE SPACE RACE IS OVER!
ROCKETS AND GALACTICS JOIN TO UNVEIL SHOCKING OPERATION
Bringing an end to their mysterious silence, Team Rocket and Team Galactic have emerged to announce a momentous agreement: to unite under one international company that will represent the coalition of both countries in matters of space exploration. The union has been named the Global Allied Space Program, and with its creation, both companies have expressed their desire to end past differences and forge a stronger partnership between Sinnoh and Hoenn. The decision, which required several months of deliberation between the governments of both countries, has been called by a Sinnoh official as “the most important consensus that has been reached within these walls since the international treaty that unified the Pokémon League.”
It has been confirmed that Team Rocket and Team Galactic will retain their identities as individual companies, and the respective leadership of Dr. Allan Knight and Thealus Blue. However, their projects—which workers of both companies have claimed to be similar in their goals—will now be jointly funded, and the construction of spacecraft and equipment will be evenly shared, as these organizations strive to unlock the mysteries of the first extraterrestrial life form discovered in the history of humanity.
The preliminary studies of Deoxys are being conducted at the Mossdeep Space Center, using data obtained from previous months by the Hoenn spacecraft. Researchers claim to be learning more and more about Deoxys each day.
“It’s truly the most unique thing we have ever seen,” says Dr. Marrion, a spokesperson for the Space Center. “Its structure seems to be entirely inorganic, and yet it pulses with an energy that I can only liken to how a machine is powered by electricity. It seems capable of quite advanced thinking and emotions, though its language seems to be something entirely unknown to us. It communicates by sending various radio frequencies that it can change at will.”
GASP’s ulterior motive was revealed in nearly the same breath as the rest of Marion’s words, and was later confirmed by the upper-division deputies of Team Rocket and Team Galactic.
“We will bring it to Earth,” said the doctor. “That’s what I’m thinking.”
This statement has been supported by officials from various levels who have expressed that they had been considering this for quite a while since the pokémon’s discovery. Team Galactic has also reluctantly confirmed that plans have long been underway for the construction of a spacecraft that will facilitate the transport. The operation was temporarily delayed due to unforeseen events at a certain factory, but the project has since then been moved to a different location, and is currently proceeding on schedule. On the matter of the spacecraft’s exact nature and components, the team was silent.
GASP has confirmed that the building of the shuttle is incorporating the labor of Sinnoh factories as well as Hoenn’s assemblies, which will divide the labor and profits equally between them. But as for how the feat of the pokémon’s transport will be achieved, and what ramifications it will bring on the people of Sinnoh, only time will tell.
The joint partners of GASP hope that their alliance will serve not only as a sign of their peace, but also as an invitation to all other cosmically-active countries across the world, so that at the end of the day, there will be one umbrella that covers the whole of humanity’s efforts to understand the environment of space, and reaffirm, yet again, that we are part of a single world.
Written by Christopher Sands, Sinnoh Post.
June 31st, 1963.
DEOXYS CAMPAIGN MET WITH OUTRAGE
GASP’s plan to conduct on-Earth studies of Deoxys is not going as well as was originally hoped.
Following the shocking statement released by GASP officials, an unprecedented wave of dissent has swept across the cities of Sinnoh and Hoenn, igniting the airwaves with hundreds of voices, young and old alike, rejecting the international company’s aims and demanding their own say in the matter.
On June 16th, Team Rocket and Team Galactic officially announced their cooperation, forming a third-party union: the Global Allied Space Program. But the news of GASP was followed by a second development: The newly-formed team plans on bringing Deoxys to Earth in order to conduct more intensive study on the pokémon’s biological structure.
This decision was reached in light of recent insight into the nature of Deoxys, the space creature they had discovered in the previous month. The information that GASP’s laboratories have gathered reveals Deoxys’ biological structure as nothing short of a wonder, and further study holds the potential to change our current understanding of pokémon, and perhaps the study of life itself. All the more reason, assured GASP, to bring the pokémon home. However, in some newly-released interviews, officials have admitted that this may not be as easy—or safe—as they might have originally implied.
“The space probes have gotten in-depth pictures and samples from its body,” says one of Team Rocket’s scientists. “Deoxys may look like a giant piece of metal at first, but this is only its outer shell, and a very thin one at that. What lies inside is actually a fine network of nerves making up its entire body that send and receive the signals from the command center in the brain. Like the nerves in our bodies, they carry vital information to and fro across it. If we do succeed in ferrying it safely back to Earth, there’s no telling what might happen. It has grown and thrived in a vacuum environment, and my guess is that under Earth’s atmospheric pressure and overabundance of gases, it will either be crushed or injured. I will bet my payroll on it.”
Others from GASP emphasize the opposite, saying that if Deoxys was built for such harsh, oxygen-lacking environments, all they needed was to recreate such an environment on Earth, in a controlled laboratory. Still, the majority of people in Sinnoh side against GASP’s claims.
“For one thing, they don’t even know what it eats!” remarked a pokémon biology professor, who works in Hearthome City. “How are they supposed to provide for an organism if they don’t know where, if at all, it gets nourishment?”
Similar statements were made by townsfolk, among them a woman, who was seen standing on a street with a small group of protesters. “And what about us?” she remarked to Sinnoh Post. “If they want to bring some alien pokémon here, they should at least figure out what sorts of powers it has! For all we know, it could call its robot friends and launch an attack!”
Written by Ellie Beckett, Sinnoh Post.
“… As the recent tide of events has shown, GASP’s announcement seems to have taken the world by storm. And so far, the announcement of their mission has not been sitting well with a large number of people. SNN has already received a staggering amount of phone calls from citizens eager to express their views, or just wishing to clarify what’s going on. Hopefully we’ll be able to answer some of your questions today. Sitting beside me here is Steve Wilkes, a correspondent of ours, who teaches biology at the Jubilife University and has a particularly strong background in pokémon studies. Hi Steve, thanks for being with us today.”
“The pleasure’s mine, Mr. Horner.”
“Can you tell us anything about how this mission has been sitting with the academic community? Do the rumors of Deoxys’ weakness, or strength, against us have any credible basis?”
“Right now it’s hard to tell. So far, GASP’s scientists have kept their research secret, but I expect they’ll be forced to reveal more sometime soon, what with two whole countries hanging on to their every word. To their credit, Deoxys is the first extraterrestrial life form in history to be discovered by humans, so there can’t be a one-hundred-percent certainty in what I’m about to tell you. What we do know, we know, of course, from having studied pokémon species on this planet only. And in general, pokémon are highly adaptable to their environment. I’m sure anyone who’s ever had a Rattata infestation can attest to that… heh. But ah, more on the serious side, many species throughout history have spread from their initial habitats and can now be found in pretty much any place on the globe. Tentacool, for example, dwell in almost every world ocean, whether cool or moderate, and Zubat and Pidgeys, which originated in Kanto, have long been introduced to every continent, and are thriving as well as the native species. This doesn’t go for all pokémon by any means, but most species are surprisingly durable. Now, Deoxys has enabled itself to survive in what is essentially a void—no water, no nutrients, not even air. When it comes to Earth, it won’t need any of those things from us, and so it could very well be able to adapt to any environment it winds up inhabiting. That is, if the scientists’ assumptions of its durability are sound, and my guess is that they are.”
“Very interesting, Steve. But there’s also another side to the issue that I think is important, namely the relationship between the two companies, Team Rocket and Team Galactic. Two years ago, by all accounts, they were corporate rivals. They had completely different agendas—Team Rocket wanted to study the effects of space’s vacuum on biological processes, and last we heard from Team Galactic, they were interested in gathering metals and rock samples from the moon. In binding themselves together like this, they’ve put each other in an interesting and unprecedented economic position. Why would two companies, who had such different goals in the past, decide to take such a drastic step for a cause that neither of them shared before?”
“I’ll answer your question, Mr. Horner, but what I’d like to point out first is that the reason Teams Rocket and Galactic seem so different on the outside is because, on a functional level, they’re structured very differently. In reality, their mission is one and the same: To study space. But the way in which they go about it, and the things they consider important in their agendas, are influenced by the way each of the two companies is organized, which in turn was influenced by each company’s unique history. Team Rocket began in 1939 as one of the first space-oriented companies in Hoenn, and the majority of its staff came from some of the top universities in the country, from departments of biology and physics. At the time, aviation technology was becoming more advanced, and people were starting to experiment with more powerful propulsion systems, which held the potential to reach new heights—namely, space. The company was very interested in this new frontier, since it was without doubt far different from any place on Earth. One of the first questions about space that captivated people’s minds was whether or not anyone—or anything—could live in such a barren environment. The quest for life among the stars was one of Team Rocket’s most important early goals, and while they may have switched their attention to other things along the way, it’s very likely that after all this time, they’re still proceeding with that goal in mind.
“The history of Team Galactic, on the other hand, isn’t as well-documented. It was founded in 1951, but its predecessor, The Galaxy Corps, dates back to 1946, a time when jet propulsion technology was booming, and the environment of space finally seemed to be within man’s reach. TGC was one of the first companies in Sinnoh that centered its projects on matters of reaching space. It carried the torch for a while, before it dissolved, as many of us still remember, in 1948. But its activities were much more publicized than those of its successor, and I think that in order to understand the Team Galactic that exists today, we need to first understand TGC. Unlike Team Rocket, which, broadly speaking, views the environment of space as an opportunity to investigate biological and physiological questions, TGC’s projects were more focused on the technological aspect of space travel—how we could utilize our environmental resources to produce better and more sustainable propulsion systems, and in turn, how the secrets of outer space could be applied to life back on Earth. In short, TGC was interested in how the worlds of space and Earth could be tied together. That might have been a mighty goal if the company had indeed survived, and I think that when Thealus Blue picked up the pieces of TGC, he meant to continue that mission.”
“And, in discovering Deoxys, I think both the Rockets and the Galactics realized a point of common interest. And from that, they slowly began to see how they might be able to work together. Team Rocket has vast funds, along with the support of a highly capable intellectual community. Galactic’s got organization, infrastructure, and brainpower. And from some of the legislation that’s already been passed, you can tell that each side is utilizing the other’s strengths: GASP’s headquarters will be established in the Mossdeep City Space Center, from which the Deoxys operation will be conducted, when the time comes. At the same time, Team Galactic will likely take on much of the responsibilities pertaining to design and construction of spacecraft.”
“You’ve brought up a lot of interesting points, Steve, and thank you for the insight. What I can’t help but notice is that you used the word ‘when’. I don’t mean to grab your tongue, but do you think it’s an ‘if’ question on whether or not they’ll follow through with this plan, or a ‘when’?”
“I have a feeling it’s the latter. This decision to unite was a momentous thing to do, and I think they knew that once they made it, there’d be no going back. And now there sure isn’t. I think they definitely want to get something done. They’ve been wanting to do it for a while, and now they’re going to follow through with it.”
“So, in your opinion, the plan is finalized? Did I get that correctly?”
“You heard me correctly, Mr. Horner, that’s right. GASP’s operation has been unanimously confirmed by all top officials. They want to bring Deoxys here. To Earth. And one day that’s gonna be as real as a door slammed in our faces…”
The sound of the two men’s voices blared from the flashing screen, which cast its glow over the dim sitting room of the Pastoria Gym, spilling over dozens of faces who were staring into the TV, blank and unblinking. The guests had arranged themselves as best as they could around the few chairs and couches that were available, many substituting comfort for closeness and sitting on armrests, or the edge of tables.
Michael was one of many among the crowd, sitting on the floor beside Henry and a group of other trainers. His mind was racing.
Deoxys. To Earth.
It was almost too wild to believe. But with the anchorman’s every word, it seemed, the news which had at first struck them all like a dizzying illusion became more and more solidified into reality.
The room of listeners remained dead silent as Freddie Horner and Steve Wilkes continued to converse, their voices droning on in a monotonous duet of starts and pauses, gradually assembling a complete picture of the event. Horner kept his calm, professional demeanor as he posed questions to Wilkes, who responded in an equally steady manner, nodding along whenever Horner voiced his speculations. The anchorman’s deep voice, which usually came across to viewers as reassuring, now took on the daunting air of the words he was speaking. Every pause seemed like a plunge into the darkness, every word a wary step into the unknown, whose dawn they all feared but wanted to face.
“… As the news broke through the region of Hoenn last night, there was an almost immediate torrent of response in the public, and now we’re seeing a similar pattern here in Sinnoh… People are coming out onto the streets, they’re calling news companies, and they’re rising up in entire communities, all over this one piece of news, which at the rate it’s going, is sure to become a topic of global debate. Of course, different people think different things, but what in your opinion is the most predominant reaction you’ve seen?”
Steve Wilkes pondered for a moment before replying.
“Right now, it seems that the reaction has mostly been negative among the general public, whereas the Sinnoh academia as a whole is taking a more moderate stance on the matter. Most of them are least willing to wait it out and see what other messages GASP has for us before jumping out in protest. This is interesting to note, because in Hoenn, there’s more of a mix. More of the general public there is approving of the Deoxys operation than the public here. There’s definitely dissent, but for every wave of protest in Hoenn, there’s another one happening at the same time in support.”
Freddie Horner nodded. “And what in your opinion would be the more sensible reaction?”
Wilkes leaned back in his chair. “Well, being, like you said, one of the academics, I certainly think it’s best to give GASP a chance to provide biological justification for its claim that Deoxys can survive. But at the same time, I won’t deny that the general public reaction has some truth to it. It’s my world too… and frankly, whatever things a study of Deoxys might have in store for mankind, GASP should first think about whether or not mankind is ready to take such a leap. That’s my opinion, at any rate.”
Freddie Horner pursed his lips, as he often did when he was in deep thought. Moments later, he looked up at the camera, his gaze boring into the eyes of everyone in the room, and those of millions of other viewers across the country, as he flashed the suave, trademark smile with which he closed all of his broadcasts.
“Well, you heard it first here folks. The GASP unveiling, the Deoxys operation… it seems almost too much to take in at once. But SNN will be gathering updates as soon as they come, so stay tuned for more. Until then, good night.”
The broadcast concluded, and the televisions placed around the Gym were gradually shut off. People began to stir from their seats, rising and stretching, moving slowly as if waking from a trance. Michael’s heart was still pounding. In a matter of minutes, all the mental buffers he had built around his passion for the Space Race had been demolished. Once more, he felt the familiar burning rage at the Rockets—only this time, they had pulled the most unforgivable stunt of all. They had entered an alliance, making all of Team Galactic’s work null and void. And now, the Sinnoh scientists would be nothing more than partners in what would inevitably be Team Rocket’s greatest triumph.
Henry was sitting on the carpet beside him, staring at the TV, his lips parted. When the boy turned to face Michael, his face was drained of color. “Michael, this means that they’re taking over! GASP can do anything it wants now!”
Michael shook his head. “You don’t get it,” he said slowly. Even his voice sounded strange, distorted. “This means that everything is ruined. Everything that Team Galactic is, everything it’s done, is going over to them. To Hoenn. That guy said it right to Horner’s face—GASP’s headquarters are in Mossdeep City. All the production is gonna be pumped out of us in Sinnoh so it can go over to them for finalization. It means we’re not getting any of the credit anymore. It means we quit!” Michael slapped his knee.
In a rage, he rose to his feet and looked around at the other people in the room. Many of them had been stirred into a similar state of agitation. They huddled together in groups, talking quietly, their gazes darting across various points in the dark sitting room. Even Marie, who was usually all smiles, had furrowed her brow in deep thought and remained put in her spot on the couch. Bertha seemed lifeless.
“Well... there goes the petition,” she mumbled. She rubbed her drooping eyes, and pushed her elbow off of the armrest, which she had been leaning on for the entire duration of the announcement. “If the government’s giving everything to GASP, there’s no way they’ll take funds from the Space Program. At least not for another good decade.” Her eyes found the blank TV again, and she shook her head, smiling in tired disbelief. “All for the sake of bringing some alien pokémon to Earth. Beautiful.”
Beside her, Marie gave a nod. “Yes, it’s quite a development.”
Bertha breathed a sigh. “But honestly… it doesn’t surprise me. Now, at least, I know why Galactic was so pushy when I tried to investigate their factory. Hell, they were probably making parts for Deoxys’ ship all along. If only I’d known!”
“Don’t be put out just yet,” said Marie. “I’ve seen my fair share of these sorts of things, and my instincts tell me that this won’t be their final word. We’ll have to see what Sinnoh and Hoenn think of this first, and mark my words, it won’t be pretty. What Freddie Horner said about the rising dissent is only the beginning.”
Bertha met her gaze, and despite the gloomy atmosphere, Marie gave a smile.
Rising from her seat, the Gym leader clapped her hands together and turned to address her guests. “All right, well I think that’s a fine note to end things on,” she said. “I’d love to stay open all night for you, but unfortunately, business has to keep moving. I’ll keep tabs on what’s going on, and if there are any more important broadcasts, I’ll open my doors for you again. But for now, I think it’s best to go home. Get some sleep, and maybe tomorrow we’ll get to hear more about this.”
The crowd began to disperse, trickling away into the lobby, taking the tide of low conversation with it. Bertha searched for Michael and Henry, and found them on the floor with a group of other trainers. She beckoned to them, and they stood to follow her.
The three of them were silent as they made their way to the exit. From somewhere behind them, there came a hurried rush of footsteps, and a female voice.
“Excuse me, Miss Herrida?”
Bertha turned. The boys followed suit, and Michael blinked in surprise when he recognized the girl who had approached. It was Shella. She looked slightly disheveled, though like everyone else, she seemed to have forgotten her exhaustion. She appeared troubled, but nevertheless satisfied, as if the news had been to her exact expectation.
“Hello,” said Bertha. “Shella, right?”
Shella nodded. “I was on my way to Grand Lake when I heard that there was some sort of an announcement on the news. I didn’t want to waste any time getting back to my suite, so I immediately came here. I had to follow your bus.” She looked at Michael and Henry with a smile. “Marie really knows how to get a crowd together. And for something as big as this, it’s no wonder so many people came.”
“Well, we might as well get used to it. This sure isn’t going to blow over anytime soon,” Bertha said. “There we were, following those space teams’ every move for five straight years, wondering who’d outwit who. And now, it turns out that they were playing the trick on us the whole time.”
Shella frowned. “I think it was only a matter of time before they joined forces. They might have been enemies in the past, but honestly, I think that out of all the things that happened in the Space Race so far, this is their smartest move.”
In response to Bertha’s raised eyebrow, and the boys’ quizzical expressions, Shella elaborated. “Think about it—this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Team Rocket and Team Galactic are finally working together, which means there won’t be any more of this silly competition stuff, so people won’t get hot about keeping score and will actually start paying attention to what these astronauts are discovering. They’ve put their differences aside, and now they’re doing what everyone else in Hoenn and Sinnoh should be doing—collaborating, instead of fighting.” But at this, Shella’s determined expression gave way for a wince, and her shoulders drooped. “The only bad part is what they’re collaborating on…”
“It’s completely unfair!” Henry blurted. “How can they just make a decision like that without asking anyone? Maybe the rest of us don’t want Deoxys to be brought here!”
Bertha put a hand on Henry’s shoulder. “Trust me, kid, you’re not alone. However strong GASP’s conviction is, it won’t go unchallenged. You can count on that. But for now, all we can do is wait until they give us more information. It might not be that bad.” She offered him a smile, though it faded quickly, signaling that she had trouble believing it herself.
With a sigh, she turned towards the door where other people were leaving, and nudged Michael and Henry along by the shoulders. “Come on, we better get going. You should get some sleep. You have battles to train for.”
Shella accompanied them out of the Gym, falling into step beside Bertha. “Just so you know, my offer still stands,” she said. “I’ll spread the world about your petition in any way I can. I don’t think you should stop what you’re doing just because of GASP.”
They stopped for a moment at the center of the square, where Shella took a backward step in the direction of the exit, and Bertha turned with the boys towards the hotel. Her gaze flickered over to the distant street, where headlights of cars rushed past in the dim twilight, and she lowered her head with a smile. “Oh, I don’t plan on quitting. Those astro-heads haven’t seen the last of me yet.”
She gave Shella a nod, and with that, they parted ways.
For much of that evening and for the whole of the next morning, the TV sets in the Pastoria Trainer Hotel remained lit, displaying the continuation of the announcement which was taking the city—and the rest of Sinnoh—by storm. News of GASP, the seemingly impossible alliance between two previously feuding space organizations, hit the country like a bolt from the blue.
Now that everybody in Pastoria knew what all the built-up tension of the previous days had been about, it suddenly exploded like a water balloon, its repercussions washing over the whole city until the entire population was swept up in a tide of jittery chatter. Reporters from local news companies rushed out onto the streets, panning their cameras across various points in the downtown and suburban areas, gathering footage of reactions from people of all ages. News channels filled their daytime slots with footage of people thronging around news vans, leaning against plastic barricades in the middle of streets, shouting and waving at the camera, hoping to get at least a moment of screen time. Reporters walked around, proffering their microphones to all sorts of passersby, from shoppers to street workers, anyone who looked like they had something good to say.
Towards midday, the camera stopped to focus on a young boy, who was standing in a group of protesters, who held up signs voicing slogans of disapproval.
“That’s bullshit!” he said, in response to the reporter’s question. “Now Team Rocket’s gonna get the upper hand on us! No way the Galactics’ll take that sitting down!”
The crowd surrounding him cheered, waving their makeshift signs, which expressed their dissent with various pictures and statements. Many people had simply copied their designs from someone else, which resulted in the same slogans being seen at countless points across the city, from banners tied to wire fences, to bumper stickers fashioned out of paper.
But still others voiced their unbending support for GASP, and established a presence in the city that was just as dominating as that of their opponents.
“This is the chance of a lifetime!” one woman proclaimed, standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk with a stroller and shopping bags. “I don’t see why Deoxys shouldn’t be brought to Earth! If you had the opportunity to study something that no human being’s ever studied before, wouldn’t you take the chance and do it?”
The Pastoria networks couldn’t have assembled a coherent program out of the interviews even if they wanted to, for the people’s reactions were as varied as the faces that represented them. But eventually, one thing became clear: the more time that passed, the more people seemed to be getting sucked into the debate, polarized between yes and no, for and against. The temptation to speak out, to be heard, for which the upbeat downtown was always known, now washed over even to the city’s outskirts—to the suburbs, the Valor Lakefront, and the Trainer Plaza.
Many trainers, like Michael himself, had also been fervent watchers of the Space Race, and with the latest news update, rekindled a spirit of competition that transcended their League rivalries, bursting the plaza into a storm of hushed, excited chatter. It was as if the sheen of blue sky above them had pulled back to expose the depthless void of space, making their trainlerly cares seem small and insignificant, like the Earth must have seemed in its place among the stars. Even those who hadn’t been caught up in keeping score for Hoenn and Sinnoh began to speculate on the circumstances of GASP’s alliance, and for a time, the trainers in the plaza discussed Deoxys and Team Galactic with as much fervor as they did their battles and the Championship.
But whether Michael liked it or not, as the week wore on, the buzzing shock of GASP shifted to the back of his mind to make room for a more pressing matter—his battle with Marie. He had already resolved to continue with the League challenge no matter what, even if the whole world ended (and though this was pretty darn close to it), he knew he couldn’t afford to lose his focus now. He and Henry stuck to the schedule they had laid out for themselves, practicing the Electric moves with their pokémon in the vast meadow beyond the plaza, relying on the simple routine of their training sessions to keep themselves going strong. With time, they got their pokémon to produce their first tentative sparks, which rapidly progressed to noisy bolts of electricity, which flickered out sporadically in various directions, crashing to the ground to leave burnt holes in the soil.
The light and noise of their displays gradually attracted a crowd of faithful viewers, who gathered around every time Michael and Henry practiced, laughing when their pokémon made a blunder, ‘oohing’ in awe whenever they achieved a perfect execution. Michael remained secretive about their methods, however, and when he was approached by curious trainers who wanted to imitate them, he simply directed them to the library.
Once their pokémon had mastered the moves and could more or less use the techniques, however shakily, Michael and Henry felt confident enough to schedule their preliminary staff battles. So far, everything was proceeding smoothly and surely.
But there was an energy in the air of a different sort than the sparks of Thunderbolt they were producing. With the break of GASP’s announcement, it seemed as if something new and unusual had dawned upon the world, plunging everything into an atmosphere of uncertainty and excitement. To Michael’s surprise, he saw that his pokémon seemed aware of it, and like many other trainers around them, seemed easily distracted by people’s passing conversations. It was as if by some invisible thread of communication between them and the world, his pokémon had received the message that something momentous had happened, and were now searching their surroundings in earnest for its signs. Ringo was more observant than usual, and kept a vigilant watch on Michael’s shoulder, turning in place to watch people go by, picking up details of their conversations. The bird squawked and fluttered his wings whenever Michael passed by a television screen, peering into the flat image, listening to the voices of the reporters and interviewers. Turtwig (who was almost a fully-formed Grotle, though for some reason Michael couldn’t get himself to call him anything else) enjoyed walking about the plaza at Michael’s side, sweeping his pale amber eyes around the landscape. He served as a ferry for Caterpie, who was in the late stages of her transformation, but was still stuck in the cocoon, which over the days had grown to the size of a football. The membrane that enveloped her had thickened, becoming a shiny, silvery material which would later form Butterfree’s wings. But for the time being, she took shade beneath the bushels that sprouted from the grooves in Turtwig’s shell, and seemed on the whole to be hibernating, peacefully oblivious to the moving world around her. Goldeen, likewise, could escape her pokéball only on rare occasions, when the boys battled or visited a pond to give her a place to exercise. Being a Water-friendly facility, the hotel provided complimentary tanks for aquatic pokémon, which Michael took advantage of, figuring that Goldeen would be happier in a pool of water blowing bubbles, than in a cramped space being condensed like a white dwarf star.
The only member of his team that gave Michael trouble was Machop.
The boys had spent many a long afternoon in their hotel room with the TV on, seated at the round snack table, eating their dinner while watching the news. On occasion, they would let out their pokémon to give them a chance to relax, and Michael had made the mistake of sending out Machop. After his first few evenings of dinner theater, the pokémon had clearly found the flashing box to his liking, and now whenever Michael would let him out in the hotel room, he would plant himself on the carpet and sit still for hours, legs folded up against his chest, staring at the picture with wide, unblinking eyes. It soon grew common for the boys to leave him in the room while they went to get food, and come back to find that Machop hadn’t moved a single inch. If Michael tried to pry him from his place, Machop would fidget and squeal in complaint.
On the morning of July 8th, the day Michael and Henry were supposed to leave for their staff battles, Machop had wandered over to the TV set on his own and turned it on, and was watching it while the boys prepared to go. Michael was tying his sneakers by the door, and when he looked up to see what Machop was up to, he let out a groan.
In situations like these, he felt like the parent of an unruly child, and despite the contradiction his actions posed to his own principles, Michael nevertheless gave a smirk of satisfaction when he turned off the TV set and saw Machop’s lips part in confusion.
When the pokémon realized what had happened, he curled his fists and rose to his feet, narrowing his eyes as if to fight back tears.
Michael rolled his eyes. “You’re a big baby, you know that?”
Machop crossed his arms. Despite the fact that he could likely lift the whole TV set and hurl it out the window, he seemed incapable of fathoming his strength, and looked at Michael with an expression of grumbling submission.
“We gotta keep the pokémon away from the TVs,” Michael said to Henry. “Or they’ll stop concentrating.”
“I’m with you there,” Henry replied.
“Then again, we could just keep them in their pokéballs.” Michael twisted the silver ball in his hands, and when he saw Machop watching him, he waved it around in the air. “Yeah, you heard me. Maybe it was a mistake I let you out. Maybe I should send you back in. You want that?”
Machop shook his head.
Machop lowered his head. He remained silent and followed Michael dutifully as they left the room, falling into step with Turtwig and Clefable. Lately, the boys had been spending so much time walking to and fro from their hotel room to the destination of the day, that it had become impractical to recall their pokémon into their pokéballs every single time. So they fell into the routine most trainers had already caught on to, which was to keep at least a few of their team members out with them.
Despite it being only nine in the morning, a fairly large group of trainers had already arrived at the Gym. They were gathered around the TV set in the sitting room, which was playing the Pastoria local news, the same program Michael had turned off just minutes ago. Children and pokémon alike watched it with identical expressions of interest, all cares and duties discarded. It was only when Marge, one of the staff members, entered the room and shut off the TV that the crowd of kids snapped awake, eliciting a chorus of groans.
“That’s enough, break it up!” Marge called, and began to shoo the kids out of the room, ignoring their voices of complaint. “This is getting out of hand. You guys are here for battles, not news updates. Go on, get to your battle rooms! Chop-chop.”
Gradually, the kids dispersed, and the sitting room was left empty. Shaking her head, Marge walked up to the front counter, where Lace, the desk attendant, sat reading a newspaper.
“I might have to talk to Mrs. Wickham about shutting off the TVs in the hotel,” said Marge, leaning one arm against the counter. “This has got to be the biggest hype I’ve ever seen about anything. Two space organizations unite, and now the whole country’s gone to a standstill! Soon the kids might stop training for battles.”
Lace lowered the paper. “Well, you gotta admit, if there ever was a news story worth making such a big hype over, it’s this one. Stuff like this doesn’t happen every day.”
She herself was reading the Pastoria Local Gazette, a weekly newspaper which had begun to churn out daily issues dedicated solely to events in the city and the country. Sinnoh’s main national newspaper, Sinnoh Post, didn’t have the resources to keep up with the pace of events that were occurring on such a massive scale, since it was impossible to circulate such a mass publication more often than once a week. And so, cities had to rely on local newspapers, which could only inform them of goings-on in their vicinity, and even so, only at least two days after they happened. The most current and desired coverage was given by television, where networks like SNN and Lakefront National crammed as much information as they could into a six-hour block, saving the rest of the time for reruns. But in a city like Pastoria, which cherished news in all its forms, newspapers gave detailed coverage and information that, oftentimes, TV networks didn’t. Upon seeing the latest issue of the Gazette in Lace’s hands, Marge knit her brows in interest.
“Where did you get that?”
“A newsstand by the bus stop where I live. It’s the latest one, from this morning.”
“Can I see?”
Lace handed the paper to Marge, who began to skim the articles. But a few minutes later, she put it down with a shake of the head. “’GASP Heads Plan Mission Sabotage?’ That’s complete muckraking! They’re just writing down a bunch of theories without any solid evidence to back them up. That’s just asking to be criticized.” She squinted at the by-line. “Looks like they’re changing authors, too. They always used to have Shelley and Brant cover the pokémon-related stuff. But now they’ve got a new guy called Marvin Whitman.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Well, that explains it,” said Marge. “He must be one of those weird theorizers who’s taking advantage of the hype to voice his opinion.”
Lace shrugged. With a roll of her eyes, Marge placed the newspaper back onto the counter.
Right then, the glass doors to the Gym swooshed open, and Michael and Henry stepped through, their pokémon following along behind.
“Hi, we’re here for our staff battles,” Henry said.
Lace leaned forward. “All righty. Got your trainer cards?”
The boys nodded. They slid their trainer cards over to Lace, who checked a roster of available spaces and gave them each a number. They left the office building through a side door, emerging outside to the Gym’s back lot, where the battle rooms were lined up together in rows, their roofs conjoined by a pattern of waves. Each door was labeled with its own number, and had a tiny series of steps leading up to it, which reminded Michael of the administration buildings at his school.
Inside, the battle rooms were designed similarly to the ones in Solaceon, padded with tumble mats, their walls painted a light, simple blue. But they were also equipped with an added feature, a shallow depression that lined the perimeter of the room, carved out of the floor like the groundwork for some sort of pipe. Taking a closer look, Michael saw that it contained water, which flowed in a thin strip, making the battle floor seem like an island.
The staff pokémon called upon it when using techniques like Water Pulse, which brought the water out in graceful waves to surround its user, then rushed back into the pool when the attack was finished. The pokémon used Water techniques sparingly, however, as one would use any other sort of special move, the rest being a battle of physical stamina and strength. The staff pokémon themselves were either partially aquatic, or simply land-based with a knowledge of Water moves. With each new battle, his staff partner sent out pokémon that were swifter and tougher, and often further evolved than their predecessors. In his fist battle, Michael encountered a Marill, a Buizel, and a Goldeen, and in his second, an Azumarill, a Shellos, and a Wooper.
To his satisfaction, Michael found that his pokémon had grown used to battling, and was surprised at how easier it had become to relay his thoughts to them. They had been the ones he had pulled through Lona’s Gym with, and neither he, nor they, had forgotten it. Michael had lost and won so many times in Solaceon that the very process of battling had become like a boring chore to him, no longer infused with his raging desire for victory, but more like a mechanical skill that he had to perfect through sheer drilling. He found himself feeling calmer than ever before during his matches, concentrating not on the high stakes, but on the condition of his pokémon as the battle progressed. He couldn’t help but notice that they had seemed to learn something too. Whereas before, each member of his party had danced to their own tune, now, after countless move-tutoring sessions in grassy fields and hours walking about together, they all seemed more united as a collective, in-tune both with each other, and with him. And because of that, Michael found it easier to train them.
That day, he went through three battles of three pokémon, each with a break in between, when he would leave for the healing room, a small hut that stood separately from the battle rooms. There he would place his pokéballs into the heating machine and peruse the rack of snacks and sodas, then get a table to the side with the other trainers. The specialty drink was, of course, water—sparking and plain, flavored with lemons, strawberries, or raspberries. The breaks lasted fifteen minutes, after which he’d scurry back to the same room and battle again.
Both he and his staff partner rotated their pokémon for each battle, till they had tried out every member of their teams. Michael ended up winning his first two battles, then losing the third, after Machop fainted and Turtwig fell flat mid-run. Nevertheless, his work paid off, and at the end of the day Michael received a note of approval from his partner to challenge Marie.
Reentering the lobby of the Gym, Michael greeted Henry with his fully-healed team in tow, prepared for yet another day of move-training. Ringo was on his shoulder, Caterpie hitching a ride on Turtwig’s shell. Likewise, Henry had Starly on his shoulder, and Burmy in his arms. Clefable walked at his side.
Michael and Henry presented their slips to Lace at the front counter, and she gave them a smile. “Great job, boys! I’ll take your names down on the roster, so you’ll be free to come back whenever you like to book your battle. Mrs. Wickham’s procedure is somewhat different from what other Gyms do, but you won’t have to worry about anything specific, because you’ve received all the necessary preparation already. The only thing you should keep in mind is that you’ll only be allowed to bring three pokémon with you into the battle room. So choose wisely.” She winked.
The boys left the Gym, and once they were relatively out of earshot, Henry turned to Michael. “So what do you think of the battles?” he asked. “Easy, right?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah. Now that you mention it, they weren’t much different from partner battles in Solaceon.”
Henry bit his lip. “I don’t like it. I have a feeling that Marie’s going to be much harder.”
Michael took a moment to think. “I think she’s trying to test us. No way she’s going to stick with baby moves like Aqua Ring and use a couple of buckets to generate Surf. I think the reason she’s giving us so much leeway with the staff battles is so that we’ll have too much time to think about what she’s gonna do. Especially with the whole deal about us only being allowed to use three pokémon. That’s gotta mean she has something up her sleeve.”
Henry raised an eyebrow. “Then should we be worried?”
“I wouldn’t be,” Michael said. “In the end, it’s still, gonna be the type combination that wins. That’s the beauty of strategy.”
“You said the same thing about Lona,” Henry pointed out.
Michael grumbled. “I didn’t say I was finished, did I? That was Part One of the strategy. Part Two is now physical preparation. Happy?”
“Yes,” said Henry. He folded up his signed permission slip and put it in his pocket. “So when are we gonna schedule our battles?”
“I want to wait until Caterpie evolves,” Michael replied. “She’s almost there. Look, you can even see those little veins on her wings. “ He pushed aside one of the bushels on Turtwig’s back to reveal Caterpie’s cocoon beneath it.
But Henry gave an expression of uncertainty, wrinkling his nose. “I don’t know… What if she doesn’t evolve? It looks like it could take another few days.”
“So? I need her to be a Buttefree if I want to teach her Energy Ball. It’s the only Grass move I can get on my team. Without that, I’ll only have Machop and Turtwig as counters.”
“Still —it took us a whole week to get those Electric moves right, and our pokémon are still making mistakes. Do you really want to spend another eight days in Pastoria while you wait for Butterfree to catch up?”
Michael gave a disbelieving scowl, and Henry sighed. “Come on, think about it. You’ve got Machop, Turtwig, and Ringo all ready to go. You don’t need a Grass move. Look at me: For counters, all I have are Burmy and Pachirisu.” He paused. “Oh, and I guess Clefable… she knows Thunderpunch.”
Michael snorted. “Yeah. Exactly.”
Henry shook his head. “I still think you should do it. You’ve been practicing for a whole week with them, and if you ask me, I think they’re ready.”
Michael cast a glare at Caterpie’s cocoon, which was lying as still as ever on Turtwig’s back, then swept his gaze across his party as a whole. Neither Turtwig, nor Machop, nor Ringo looked particularly ready at the moment; once the tension of the battle session had lifted, they had all returned to their happy-go-lucky selves. Machop had gone from stabbing punches to swinging his arms at his sides like a toddler, and Turtwig was kicking at pebbles, gazing around in lax contentment, bearing no trace of the hard, focused demeanor that he adopted in battle. Even Ringo seemed eager to be distracted, humming along to some tune he had picked up from the radio, the clicking of his beak sounding loudly in Michael’s ear. Observing his pokémon in a casual setting, Michael suddenly felt like he had lost touch with all the progress they had made over the days, and couldn’t imagine any other way of reassessing it than battling again.
But when he looked again at Henry, he saw that the boy seemed utterly convinced by what he had said. Whatever had spurred him into thinking that his team was prepared, Henry now held onto the belief with an iron certainty. Michael let a brief silence pass between them as he thought it over, then spoke.
“Fine. I guess you have a point. Let’s just train till our pokémon get the Electric moves right, and when they do, we’ll schedule the battle.”
Henry gave a pleased smile, but Michael held up a finger.
“But,” he continued, “if Caterpie evolves before that, then I’m teaching her Energy Ball no matter what, and we’re gonna wait until she learns it. Got that?”
Henry let out a breath. “Fine.”
The boys followed the sidewalk along the plaza till it trailed off into the meadows out back. Usually, they went out all the way till they were in the vicinity of the forest, separating themselves from the other trainers as much as possible, both to get privacy and to avoid unwanted accidents. But presently, Michael found that a large number of trainers had shifted over to the distant fields, congregating in a large circle by the spot where he and Henry usually trained.
Michael quickened his pace, as did Henry, and the boys approached the gathering to see what was going on. The kids appeared to be holding a meeting of some sort, and were talking rapidly amongst each other. At the first glance, it did not appear to be anything interesting, and Michael began to turn back. But before he could walk away, a few trainers looked over their shoulders, and by chance, met his gaze. Their faces lit up with smiles of recognition. With a chorus of shouts, they broke off from the crowd and ran towards Michael and Henry, waving their arms.
“Hey! Wait up!”
Michael stopped. Five trainers approached, and the kid who led the party stopped right in front of him.
“Hey! You guys are the Lightning Boys, right?”
Hearing the unexpected title, Michael’s mouth spread into a broad grin. “Yep, that’s us.”
“You’ve inspired us!” said the trainer. “We’ve found a way to shoot a really high blast into the sky, just like what you did for Thunderbolt. Only we’re gonna use all the elements, and make it ten times bigger. We’re gonna reach all the way into space! We might even hit Deoxys!”
The trainers who accompanied him nodded in excitement.
Henry lifted an eyebrow, looking at the trainers in bewilderment. Michael narrowed his eyes, unconsciously hooking a thumb through his pocket.
“You serious about this?”
The trainer nodded. “We’ve been talking over how to do it for days. This one kid, Carl, got a plan finalized. See, Deoxys is supposed to be orbiting really close to the planet, along with Team Galactic’s satellites and stuff. If we can make a big enough blast, we might be able to get its attention. We should be able to get past the clouds, and if the pokémon hold out long enough, we might even get it to leave the troposphere.”
Michael cast a glance at Henry. The boy’s face was blank, but behind his eyes Michael could see a storm of a hundred shouts of protests, all screaming to be put into words. But it seemed that the boldness of the trainer’s proclamation had rendered him speechless.
Giving what he hoped to be a skeptical shrug, Michael turned to face the trainers again. “Well, I guess it’s worth a try. Let’s check it out.” But a smile threatened to break his straight face throughout.
Grinning, the trainers led Michael into the circle, and Henry followed as if pulled by a magnet, clutching Burmy with an ever-tighter grip against his chest. The circle of kids parted to accommodate Michael as he stepped through. At the center of the group stood a crowd of pokémon, surrounded by their trainers, consisting of four types: Grass, Water, Fire, and Electric. A boy with a Monferno paced around them all, managing the process, grouping all the pokémon together by type. When he saw Michael and Henry, he stopped, and turned to them.
“Hey. You here to help?”
Michael nodded, and looked down at the group of pokémon, whom the boy had gathered into a circle, the different types standing together like slices of a pie graph. “So how’s this thing supposed to work?” Michael asked. “You’re gathering a bunch of types that neutralize each other. How are you going to get them to make a single beam that won’t eat itself up?”
“Well, the theory we came up with is that if we have enough of each element, they’ll take a longer time to do damage to each other,” the boy replied. “We’re keeping Water, Fire, and Grass separated by a few Electric pokémon, just so the beams don’t mix early on. Then, we’re hoping that they’ll all combine together into one superpowered blast. Right now, we have five Fires, twelve Electrics, and five Waters. But we need a lot more than five Grasses, ‘cause we don’t want all the leaves to be burned up too early.”
Michael held up his hand. “Way ahead of you.” He snapped his fingers, and Turtwig scampered forward.
The boy with the Monferno smiled. “Great. Take him over to the others.”
Michael brought Turtwig to stand with the other Grass types, which included a Roselia, some other Grotles, and a few Cherrim. They waited a few more minutes, until several more trainers had approached with their Grass types. Henry remained behind with the rest of the onlookers, lips pursed, not tearing his gaze away from the group of pokémon at the center. Michael took his place with the other Grass trainers, and Carl went with his Monferno to stand with the Fire types. He whistled, and the chattering group of trainers fell silent.
“We’ll do it on the count of three!” he called. “If this works… then GASP is gonna bring Deoxys to Earth!”
“And if it doesn’t,” someone else put in, “then it’ll destroy the whole world as we know it! Robot attack!”
The crowd began to ooooh.
Michael stole a glance up at the sky, where white nimbus clouds trailed along the underbelly of a boundless infinity, and steeled himself. “All right, let’s do this!”
“Start the countdown!” someone said. “Three!”
The trainers gave their commands, and simultaneously, the pokémon gathered in the center of the circle all gave their cries. Beams of water, grass, and lightning blasted upwards with a resounding boom, shooting up into the sky in pillars of dazzling color, which swirled together like wires into a single spear of light that continued to slice through the air.
The beam soared up and up till it seemed like it would strike the clouds, but then it began to lose momentum, slowing down like a jet of water from a fountain that had reached its maximum height. The beam slowed to a stop, then slowly, began to fall.
“It’s coming back!” a kid shouted. “Run!”
The trainers and pokémon all jumped back as the tower of light collapsed on itself, coalescing into a ball that plummeted to the ground with the roar of a rocket’s thrusters. By the time it hit the ground, it had lost nearly all its magnitude, but it still carried enough force to make the ground shake. The collision produced a shockwave that swept through the whole field, rippling past the kids to reach the plaza, toppling trash cans, making windows quiver.
Michael and the other trainers stumbled to regain their balance. Their pokémon had been stirred into a panic, and were bumping against each other, growling. Michael squinted at the plaza, where he saw people emerging from buildings, raising voices of complaint, looking around for the source of the disturbance. But by the looks of it, nothing was broken.
“Whoa! That was awesome!” one kid exclaimed.
“I think it worked!”
“No it didn’t—we didn’t even make a hole in the clouds!”
The trainers began to bicker, though in the end none of them could decide whether or not it had been a success. Finally, the boy with the Monferno let out a breath.
“There must have been a problem with the proportions,” he said. “I guess it’s back to the drawing board…” He turned away in dismay. The crowd of trainers dispersed, with only a few lingering around the point of impact to deduce what had gone wrong.
His interest in the endeavor dwindled, Michael called Turtwig over and went back to Henry. The boy had watched the whole thing from a safe distance, along with a few others, his expression mixed with fear and disapproval. But now, at their failure, he crossed his arms in satisfaction.
“Well, that went well,” Michael said, giving a casual glance at the charred hole they had made in the ground. It looked deeper than it actually was, mainly due to the grass that had been burnt away. The trainers were already trying to cover it up, using moves like Razor Leaf and Bullet Seed to patch up the bare ground.
Henry sighed, but did not respond. He remained silent as they walked away from the scene, then cast a dark glance back at the trainers. “I just hope we get our battle over with so we stop giving these people ideas,” he said.
But Michael, who was thinking of something else entirely, responded right then with an enigmatic smile. “Ideas? Hmm… ideas are good.”
And with that, the two boys went off the find their own space to train.
I still think the chapter separation/numbering scheme is odd, but oh well.
HOLY CRAP HELL IS FREEZING OVER AND THE SKY IS FALLING! This whole Rocket/Galactic thing seems similar to the hypothetical situation that would happen if, say, Ford and GM merged. Or Apple and Microsoft. Widespread chaos. People in confusion. Long-standing company loyalties smashed to pieces. Looking back, this isthe sort of public outcry/turmoil that I perhaps should've included in my last story (it was alluded to in the news reports, though, and by that time I just wanted to wrap things up so the perspective never changed from Lisa's hotel room). Maybe I should release a "Director's Cut" of that story and show people rioting in the streets after the truth behind the 'champion' was exposed.
But enough about me and my old stories. The whole "let's bring Deoxys to Earth to research it" plan already seems like a setup for disaster. I didn't watch much of the Pokemon anime, but I did see the first movie where Mewtwo gets ticked off, breaks out of its containment pod, and kills every one of the scientists in the lab. I can totally picture Deoxys doing the same thing and going postal on a bunch of Galactic and Rocket researchers. And then raising some serious hell all over the planet. Personally, I think they're playing with fire with bringing this unknown specimen to Earth.
I await to see Marie's style of battling, as there have been hints throughout the last few chapters that she's a wily one with a few tricks up her sleeve.
But we are in the world of pokemon, and therefore things might work slightly differently than in the real world. What will be the ramifications of GASP bringing Deoxys to Earth? And will they? You'll have to wait and see...
I'm glad you're interested in Marie; we'll get to see her style of battling really soon. And I'll tell you one thing: it's a battle I've been looking forward to writing.
Stay tuned, and thanks for the review!
Here be thy promised chapter, with a not-promised-but-hopefully-permissible-given-the-circumstances post split. Enjoy!
In the days that followed the unveiling of GASP, Sinnoh was thrown into a mayhem of a magnitude it had never seen. Airwaves were flooded with announcers and commentators, skeptics and speculators, who proffered every sort of explanation from commerce to conspiracy. Their frantic voices drowned out almost every other piece of news for over a week, and entire programs were cancelled to air reruns of the announcement that had aired on SNN that June evening, breaking the word to Sinnoh for the first time. The faces of Freddie Horner and Steve Wilkes filled television screens all across the country, their words blaring the same ominous message, which could soon be felt in the air like an obstructive mist, shrouding all other thoughts from people’s minds.
Much like Marie Wickham had estimated, the public’s response to the event was almost instantaneous. For every person that supported GASP’s decision, there was someone else who didn’t, and the latter struck a domineering presence on talk shows and commercials. Pastoria City became, like many others, a hotspot for news and debates, where people gathered in television studios to watch programs live on set, and circulated newspapers in a frenzy, keeping tabs on every development, whether official or opinionated. But on July 4th, just four days after the initial broadcast, a second announcement was made that turned the eyes of the whole world onto the city for a single day: GASP’s officials gave word that they would be holding their first-ever press conference to elaborate on the terms of their alliance and answer the flood of questions they had received. And it would be held in none other than Pastoria City, in the city hall at the center of town.
In a matter of minutes, the building’s perimeter was closed off by barricades and police cars, which amassed in incredible quantities with their flashing lights, scattered among vans and antennae from various news stations. Ordinary townspeople were left to flock around the boundary, with sunglasses and parasols to shield from the sun. At midday, the procession of sleek black cars, which had captured the Pastorians’ attention some days ago, reappeared on the city streets — only this time there was no question about who was riding inside. Allan Knight himself.
The Rocket leader was the third most-talked-about face in the Hoenn media. During the years of the Space Race, he was an almost constant presence on national television, appearing live behind his podium to announce Team Rocket’s projects, always sitting at the center of the panel during press conferences. Though he rarely went into detail about what went on during the missions, he revealed enough to make his entire country stir with fascination. Team Rocket’s updates were avidly watched by almost every Hoenn citizen, for with each milestone, each innovation, it seemed as if it wasn’t just Team Rocket that triumphed, but the whole of Hoenn as well.
Knight already had some notoriety in Sinnoh, due to all the interviews and press releases that had aired throughout the previous year, when the competition between the two space organizations had been at its highest. The thing that struck people most of all about him was his decisiveness. In response to repeated questions about Team Rocket’s projects, he responded swiftly and succinctly, in words that would seem to become Hoenn’s national slogan: “Get to the moon.”
To Hoenn, he was the miracle worker, the conqueror of the unknown. Up to that point, to Sinnoh, he had been the embodiment of the adversary. But now, he had become an object of instant fascination.
Upon Allan Knight’s arrival at the Pastoria City Hall, the entrance to the building was closed off, the gates reinforced by policemen, who continued to push back the ever-growing crowd. Reporters gathered in a jumbled pool along the fence, aiming their cameras at the building, and spent the next few hours talking about Knight and Team Rocket, filling in their viewers about the team’s history and recent activities, while the entire country waited for the conference’s commencement.
Halfway across town, business at the Trainer Plaza was going on as usual. After days of planning and battling, of polishing move execution and examining scenarios, reaching battle day was like falling onto the finish line of a ten-mile marathon. It still felt unreal in Michael’s mind. Their hotel room was strewn with remnants from a week’s worth of work: his notebook lying open on the desk, a stack of move tutoring books they hadn’t returned to the library yet, and silver pokéballs scattered in various places, him and Henry being too lazy to recall their pokémon after each training session.
Neither of them had been in the mood to get breakfast in the cafeteria, too worn out to deal with the noise, lines, and messy tables that had become routine over the days. Instead, the boys scavenged leftovers of previous take-out meals from the refrigerator, and used their final few hours of free time to settle into passive contemplation. Henry was sitting on the carpet with his back against the TV stand, reading magazines, his free hand resting on the back of Turtwig’s shell. The pokémon occupied various spots in the furniture around him. The window to the far right of the room was open, providing a slight breeze, and giving sunlight to Goldeen, who was was swimming around in her tank. The sound of her splashes just barely broke the silence.
Michael had isolated himself in the armchair, where he sat with his fist propped against his cheek, looking down at the Caterpie-cocoon which was lying on the coffee table. He had cleared the space of its usual clutter for the occasion of her evolution, which by the looks of it, would happen any minute.
But several of them had passed, and nothing changed.
Michael soon grew weary of sitting, and began to tap his foot against the carpet, switching his attention every so often to the magazine on his lap. His gaze jerked up whenever the cocoon seemed to budge, which in his state of impatience seemed to be every other second. But each time, he would find it in the exact same state as before, a football-sized mass of silvery webbing, which had melded together to such a degree that it now resembled a smooth shell. It didn’t have a single tear or crack.
“Michael, it’s been almost two hours,” came Henry’s voice. “Just give yourself a break. She’ll evolve when she’s ready.”
Michael, who had been sinking into a slouch without realizing it, snapped awake at Henry’s voice. After some thought, he dug around in his backpack and took out the moonstone, waggling it in the air in front of Caterpie.
“Come on, Caterpie… see the pretty moonstone? Come and get it. Go!”
But the moonstone was useless. Caterpie’s cocoon remained as still as ever on the table. Feeling a rush of hopelessness, Michael let his arm fall to his side with a grumble. He gave the stone a resentful glance, turning it over in his hands. “You know, I’m starting to feel like this moonstone thing was a one-time deal,” he told Henry. “Aren’t there any other pokémon besides Clefairies that it evolves?”
Henry shrugged. “I don’t know. Remember what that kid in Hearthome said? He said he got his from Mt. Moon in Kanto. So maybe it only affects species that live there. I know Clefairies do.”
“Zubats live in Mt. Moon too, but they don’t evolve by items. It’s just Zubat, Golbat, and Crobat, right?”
Henry paused. “Well, yeah.”
“So obviously the stone doesn’t affect them,” Michael said. But unwilling to broach the subject, he packed the moonstone away and settled back into the armchair. He stole a quick glance at the clock on the wall. There were seven hours left till their evening battle with Marie. Michael knew there was no hope in teaching Caterpie Energy Ball now — he had resigned himself to that fact three days ago — but part of him still wanted to see her come out of the cocoon, even if it was at least to reprimand her for doing it too late, as silly as that sounded.
Neither he nor Henry had any knowledge of what was happening in the city. A few hours later, they packed their bags as usual and left for the Gym to confirm their battle appointments, expecting the facility to be running smoothly and peacefully like it usually was. But to Michael’s surprise, there was a large crowd of people inside, both trainers and regular townsfolk, gathered around stacks of newspapers that had been placed at various points in the front rooms. Ringo tensed as they stepped through the doors, and began to turn around in place on Michael’s shoulder, trying to pick up what people were saying. Turtwig could do little but arch his neck up in the event that someone lowered their arm, but even so, the strange symbols on the pages held no meaning for him. He hung back with Machop, Clefable, and Pachirisu while Michael and Henry started towards the front counter.
But before they could go far, the doors to the Gym swung open, and someone rushed inside, a curtain of long blond hair billowing behind them. Michael turned automatically, and arched his eyebrows in surprise when he recognized Shella.
She was dressed functionally, in a knee-length skirt and sandals, the kind of clothing that was good for long walks. She waded through the crowd without noticing them, her gaze darting around the room in search of something. But when her eyes landed upon the boys, her attention seemed to switch, and she quickened her pace to meet them. “Hi guys. How are you?”
“Pretty good,” Michael replied. “What brings you here?”
“I wanted to talk to Marie about something, but I have to wait until she’s available. She’ll be doing battles all day to make some free time for the evening, but she said she might be able to squeeze me in during her break.” Shella gave him and Henry a quick once-over. “So what have you been up to? Are you still training?”
“Nope. We’re all done. We’re battling her tonight.”
Shella gaped. “Tonight? Already?”
“Yeah. We’ve been practicing all week. It usually takes us around four days to get ready for a Gym, but this time it took longer than usual because we were teaching our pokémon new moves.”
At this, Shella seemed to come to a realization, and smiled. “Oh, so it was you two who were practicing with that lightning, then, wasn’t it? I keep hearing about the ‘two boys who started it all’. Apparently some kids tried to fire a huge beam into the sky a few days ago to imitate them, and now everyone’s talking about it.”
Michael cracked a smile. In response to the trainers’ failed elemental-beam experiment, Marie’s staff had posted stern notices all over the plaza reminding trainers not to act up, and no one was foolish enough to disobey. Though from time to time, he still heard people mutter about the ordeal in passing. Fortunately, he and Henry had mastered the Electric techniques to their satisfaction, and didn’t have to practice them in plain view.
“We stopped a few days ago,” Henry admitted. “We were doing it as practice, but once our pokémon learned everything, we started focusing more on our battle strategies.”
Shella nodded. Her gaze fell on Turtwig, who was sporting his usual sunny colors, and the Caterpie-cocoon beneath one of the bushels in his shell. “Is there any particular reason your pokémon is carrying that Metapod?” she said to Michael.
“Uh… yeah, my Caterpie’s supposed to evolve soon,” Michael replied. “I want to see it when it happens.”
“Ah. That’s nice.” Shella smiled. She stepped aside as more people entered the Gym, till the trio was bunched together in the center of the room, and swept her gaze around everyone else. “Speaking of seeing things when they happen, have you guys heard about the conference?”
“There’s going to be a GASP press conference tonight, right here in the city. I saw it on the news this morning. Allan Knight’s going to be there, and so are people from Team Galactic. Everyone on the Valor Lakefront was talking about it.”
Michael frowned. “A press conference? I thought Galactic didn’t do those.”
“Well, they’re not just Team Galactic anymore — they’re part of GASP,” Shella said. “And if you’re forming a global company, publicity’s bound to come with the package. It’s kind of funny, because I’ve been meeting people who seemed to like the fact that their space program was a secret. It gave things a mysterious edge. But now that Galactic’s being more open, they see it as self-sabotage.” She gave a shrug. “I was actually talking about that with my friend over the phone this morning. He’s in Hoenn, and he says that a lot of people over there think the alliance is a good idea. And he agrees — he says that this way, both companies can share the benefits and no one will end up on the losing side.”
“That’s because you guys weren’t on the losing side to begin with,” Michael pointed out. “It’s easy to act all generous right after you one-upped your opponent.”
Shella pursed her lips. “Well, I think most of GASP’s supporters weren’t gone over the whole race thing to begin with. My friend and I weren’t. Though some of our other friends were, and to be honest, it got boring to hear them talk about it all the time.”
Michael continued to watch the people over by the front counter, and when the crowd had sufficiently cleared, he and Henry rushed over. They were greeted by Lace, its perpetual occupant, who was leaning back in her chair.
“Hello boys,” said the girl. She held a newspaper as well, her red nails standing in contrast to the gray paper. “What can I do for you?”
“We wanted to confirm our battles for tonight,” Michael said.
Lace gave a sly smile. “I don’t know… are you sure you’ll have your minds on battling today?”
“Of course we will,” said Michael. “And what’s everyone reading, anyway? Is it about that conference?”
Lace didn’t have time to answer, for right then a trainer turned to him and thrust a copy of the newspaper into his hands. “Someone totally slammed Knight!” he said. “In the Opinion column. It’s hilarious, check it out!”
Michael opened the paper to the section the kid indicated. There was no mistaking the article of interest, for the heading blared out at him in bold type, the text taking up nearly all of the page’s length:
Since the dawn of the Space Race, Team Rocket and Team Galactic officials have done nothing but hide their true motives and distort the truth by confusing the public of both their countries. They have been lying to you through their broadcasts since the dawn of the Space Race, so why should we believe that they have our best economic interest in mind now with this so-called “alliance”? Let’s call some examples to mind. Allan Knight, head of Team Rocket and now co-director of GASP, has long been notorious in Hoenn for masking the truth behind Team Rocket’s operations. As countless examples have shown, he prefers to give reporters just enough information to maintain public interest in Team Rocket’s missions, while withholding things that might lead the public to start questioning his actions.
Usually when people think of ‘secretive’, they imagine the tall fences surrounding Team Galactic’s factories, or the enigmatic persona of Thealus Blue, who could have colonized the moon by now without the public press knowing. But you’ll be surprised to learn that Dr. Knight isn’t so far behind him. Months have passed since the discovery of Deoxys, and still hardly anything is known about what happened behind the scenes. But details are slowly beginning to trickle in: Top sources confirm that it was indeed Team Rocket that sighted the pokémon first, but for some reason, put off announcing the discovery for several months. In fact, it has been confirmed by independent media sources that the actual discovery happened in early January. Yet, Knight and the Rockets happily announced to the Hoenn press that the discovery had taken place in June, and up to this point, it appears they have seen no need to correct their mistake. This may seem like a small issue at first, but upon closer investigation, it raises a host of critical questions. For one thing, what, exactly, could have led Allan Knight to put his own personal matters before the needs of his people, who have the right to be informed of their space program’s actions? One likely explanation is that Knight needed time — evidently, once he saw the political and social changes such a revelation would bring about, he prompted a change in policy, and began to work on forming an alliance with his corporate rival. Instead of trying to gain fame by surpassing Team Galactic’s capabilities, which Knight has been forced to concede defeat to on many occasions, he got the idea to push the notion of a global space program. This alliance would cloud people’s eyes with visions of a unified world, while it in fact existed to give Knight even more power than he has already, even if it meant being Thealus Blue’s equal.
Consider for a moment what some of this power might be. On the one hand, it would give Allan Knight world prestige, letting him bask in the attention of a global audience, thus satisfying the greedy thirst for appraisal that has been apparent in his behavior since the day he founded the company. And it would also put him in a position of unique authority, with the right to reveal or withhold any information he likes, with no regulations imposed upon him by outside sources. He would thus be free to do whatever he wants with Team Rocket’s funding, much of which might not even go towards space projects at all, but for projects having more to do with his lavish residence in Mossdeep City.
The fact that Knight was willing to go as far as to give Hoenn and Sinnoh outdated news reports about Team Rocket’s discoveries on the moon, while he was likely already collaborating with Team Galactic on the matter of the GASP alliance, points to the disturbing prediction that Knight has already lied this way to us several times in the past, and what more, that he will continue doing so in the future. And now he wants to come to Sinnoh to spin a sympathetic tale, while the whole conference had likely been scripted beforehand (as many of Team Rocket’s interviews are), and Deoxys long moved into its transportation pod, before a single protesting citizen had time to have their say.
Are you going to let someone like Allan Knight into your city?
Are you going to sit complacently as Team Rocket leeches your money and resources for their own personal gain?
As a Pastoria native, I have always been proud of the fact that my city, despite being a popular center of information, is nevertheless dedicated to seeking out truth and authenticity in all forms of media, something that’s incredibly rare to come by nowadays. Now, it saddens me to see Pastorians succumb to the lure of mass publicity and play host to a person who most definitely does not have the best interest of Sinnoh in mind. Pastorians, I call for you to take your city back. Let Dr. Knight know that if he wants to extend his corporate reach, let it be somewhere else.
- Written by Marvin Whitman.
Henry, who had been following along beside him, looked up in confusion. “So, they’re attacking Knight now?”
“I guess so,” said Michael. “Weird, ‘cause they used to love being jealous of him before. They used to say all the time how productive the Rockets were compared to Team Galactic. But I guess now they’ve changed their minds.”
Right then, Shella seemed to catch wind of their conversation and approached the counter. “Wait a minute, what?” She looked over Michael’s shoulder, and he gave the newspaper for her to read. When she finished, her eyes bulged. “Secretive? What are they talking about? Allan Knight’s always told Hoenn everything the Rockets were doing! He never hid anything, and he’s certainly never scripted his interviews!” She lowered the paper, fuming. “Whoever wrote this is a blockhead.”
Despite her serious tone, Michael couldn’t help but chuckle. “Who was it that said we shouldn’t get hot about things that don’t matter?”
“That was different!” Shella said. “I was talking about things that aren’t worth getting mad over, like the actual alliance. But the person who wrote this is downright lying! They clearly haven’t taken a look into a single Hoenn newspaper, because if they had, they’d have been proven wrong hundreds of times over! This writer ‘s just going off about things he doesn’t have a clue about, and it’s obvious he’s only doing it to stir a hype because he hasn’t given a single concrete example to back up anything he claimed about Knight. I sure hope not all Sinnoh news is like this.”
“Nah, it’s not,” Michael said. “The people who lie are probably just more profitable, so that’s why the news companies print them.” He cast his gaze to the dwindled stack of newspapers on a nearby table, and inadvertently thought of Nancy Bryan. Considering her crew’s pitiable position, there might have been some truth to his words.
Right then, another one of Marie’s staff entered the lobby, a lady with short, curly black hair. Looking around at all the newspapers, she smiled wryly. “So. Marvin Whitman strikes again?”
Lace smiled. “Yep. And unfortunately, this time it looks like he’s struck a nerve.”
Shella, who was standing with her arms crossed, gave a nod.
“You’re not the only one, honey,” said the woman. “If it makes you feel any better, he’s thrown mud at Galactic and GASP in general loads of times. And regardless of what you think of them, it’s still annoying to read. People assume that that’s all papers print around here and they stop taking them seriously.”
“There’s not much you can do about it, honestly,” Lace added. “The conference is tonight, so there has to be something controversial in the news. It’s practically a law of nature.”
The other woman looked at Lace. “I don’t know, I think this writer’s starting to break free of his reins. He’s getting a bit too passionate with his ideas — I saw a bunch of his articles in three different papers this week. In one of them he basically repeated what he mentioned in that first article, the one about mission sabotage. And in another he started ranting about how it’s only a matter of time before Galactic stoops to Team Rocket’s level and starts launching Skitties and Minuns into space.”
Lace began to laugh, covering her gaping mouth. “Ha! Wow.”
“Actually, launching pokémon into space was one of the most important things the Rockets ever did,” Shella said. “If it wasn’t for that, they wouldn’t have been able to study how space would affect terrestrial life forms, and there might not have been a manned space program at all.”
The black-haired woman held up her hands. “Hey, I’m not denying it. All I’m saying is that there’s no reason to get upset. People usually know who to take seriously. If Marvin Whitman thinks he can start a boycott of GASP’s first press conference in history, then he obviously hasn’t seen the downtown. If he took one look at it, he’d know right away that that’s not happening anytime soon!” She let out a laugh.
Michael turned back to Lace. “So you’re gonna be showing the conference from the Gym?”
“What about our battles? They’re not cancelled, are they?”
Lace flicked her hand. “Nah, I was just kidding about that. Of course Marie’s still going to be battling — the conference is at eight and she’s usually done by seven. It’s all a matter of whether you’ll be able to keep your blood cool till then. Heh.”
Michael looked at Henry. “Then we’re battling today,” he said. “Right?”
Henry nodded. “Of course.”
“Okay, then you’re all set,” said Lace. “Come by at five-thirty, and we’ll tell you which building to go to. Marie will meet you right inside.”
“All right,” Michael said.
Lace wrote their appointment on a notecard and gave it to him. Michael pocketed it, and he and Henry turned to go. Shella joined their side.
“Anyways, I guess I’ll hang around here until the conference starts,” she continued. “I don’t think going downtown is an option. The roads are probably all blocked.”
“Hey, since you’re here, maybe you can watch our battles!” Henry suggested.
“I’d love to, but I don’t think Mrs. Wickham allows it. Some Hoenn Gym leaders are like that too. I guess they don’t want their secrets spilled.” Shella gave a smile. “Anyways, I hope you two do well! Come see me after, and tell me how it went.”
Michael smiled. “No problem. We’ll show you what a Sinnoh badge looks like.”
“And we’ll show you the other ones we have, too!” Henry piped up. “You know, Michael, I heard if you put all eight of them in a circle together, you can make the outline of the three starters!”
“That’s probably a lie,” Michael said. “But I guess when we get all eight we’ll be able to test it ourselves.”
Shella gave a smile. “Well, I have to get going. I’ll be cheering for you! Figuratively, at least.” She waved, then left through the front doors, starting down the sidewalk and disappearing into the heart of the Plaza.
The lobby was quiet for a few moments, then all of a sudden, a loud bang made Michael turn.
“Will someone get that bird out of here?”
Several people spun around as a woman came running out of a side door with a hand covering her face. Papers were falling everywhere around her, and she was shooing at the air with a binder, deflecting a black bullet that came whizzing out after her. Ringo squawked and pecked at the binder, filling the room with the sound of his humanlike voice: “I’d like to be! Under the sea! In a Gyarados’s Garden — in the shaaaaaaaade—”
The woman grabbed her hair. “He keeps singing ‘Octopus’ Garden!' I feel like I’m going crazy!”
Indeed, Ringo was piping the melody of the song at full volume, which soon captured the attention of everyone in the room, some who laughed, others who backed a safe distance away. The woman continued to spin around in place, switching from waving the binder to tucking it against her chest. Finally, Ringo managed to latch onto it with his claws and began to pull it out of her grasp, but when he saw Michael, he immediately changed course and flew over to him. In response. Michael ran forward and pulled Ringo out of the air by one leg, trying to stifle the bird’s flapping wings.
“Ringo, shut up! What’s your freaking bag?”
Ringo screeched in his ear. “I”D ASK MY FRIEEEEENDS TO COME AND SEEE-EEEE—A GYARADOS’S GARDEN WITH MEEEE—”
The man-bird struggle continued for nearly a minute, till Michael managed to tuck Ringo beneath his arm like a football and clamp his beak closed with one hand. Everyone else was watching uneasily. The woman sighed with relief, and sank to the ground to collect her fallen papers.
“You need to put a leash on that bird or somethin’,” she huffed. “He just flew into my office and I didn’t even see. First I thought it was a boom box.”
“Well he didn’t wreck anything, did he?”
“I’m not so sure. I might have to retype some papers...” With the messy stack in hand, she turned back into the hallway. Ignoring the other trainers’ murmurs, Michael stomped out of the building and found a bench outside, where he sat Ringo on an arm rail and gave him a glare.
“I’m gonna stop sending you out if you keep doing this,” he said. “The whole point of messing with people is not to get caught. Now they know you’re mine! So if you do anything else, they’ll take it out on me!”
Henry came running out of the building moments later, followed by Clefable, Pachirisu, Machop, and Turtwig. “That was crazy!” he said. “I didn’t even see how Ringo got away!”
“Neither did I.” Michael crossed his arms. “It would’ve been fine if it wasn’t the day of my battle. Now what if that lady reports me?”
He looked down at Ringo, who continued to hum the tune of the song, peering up at the boys.
“He doesn’t seem like he’s listening,” Henry said.
Michael narrowed his eyes. “I’ll make him in a moment!”
Ringo growled and ruffled his feathers. “I’d like to be, under the sea, in a Gyarados’s garden, with Marieeee!”
Michael turned to Turtwig and pulled the pokémon forward by a bushel. “Razor Leaf Ringo, please.”
Turtwig obeyed, sending a few leaves that smacked Ringo’s face, doing no damage, but managing to break the bird’s rhythm. In response, Ringo messed up Michael’s hair with his talons, before diving into the pokéball that he held open for him. Smiling in satisfaction, Michael locked the capsule. “Remind me to keep him away from the chocolate,” he said to Henry.
The boy chuckled. “He must have been stealing people’s Rage Candybars.”
“And not sharing them with us? That’s third-degree offense, right there.” Michael balanced the pokéball on his forefinger, then caught it back in his palm. “So, what are we gonna do today? Want to have another battle? Last one for good luck.”
Henry crinkled his nose. “I don’t know… we’ve done it four times already. I feel like if we do any more we’ll get bored of it and not have enough energy left for Marie. Let’s just call it a day and relax.” He looked down at Turtwig, and brightened. “Hey, I have an idea. How about we take Caterpie out for a walk? Give her a nice place to evolve. I think it would be nice if she came out of her cocoon and saw something really pretty, like the marsh or a field of flowers, or… something.”
Henry blinked. The passivity in Michael’s expression quickly deflated his enthusiasm, and he fell silent. Michael simply shrugged.
“I say we just put her back in the hotel room. Turtwig’s been carrying her around for days and it’s making him all motherly now. Look at him.”
He budged his arm in Turtwig’s direction, as the pokémon turned in place to make sure the Caterpie-cocoon got enough sunlight.
“He can’t be like that in battle,” Michael said. “He needs to toughen up.”
“Well, what if she evolves today?” said Henry.
“There’d be no point. I can’t add her to my team. So to lighten the load, I say we put all the pokémon we’re not using back in our room, and take the rest with us.”
“But they’ll get bored.”
Michael turned his head till the tall clock at the center of the square was in view. “Six hours left. How are we going to entertain them for six hours?”
“I don’t know,” said Henry.
“I don’t know either.”
That turned out to be their final word on the matter. Returning to their room, the boys settled into to the same places they had occupied before, Henry in front of the TV and Michael in his armchair, where he opened up a magazine and put his feet up on the table where Caterpie’s cocoon had been. He allowed Turtwig and Machop to settle close by, Ringo to snooze on the back of the chair — while Caterpie herself was banished to the windowsill, where no one looked at her except Goldeen, through her blurry world of waves and bubbles.
When the hour of their battle came, they went to the Gym and were directed all the way to the back of the complex, where Michael saw the largest battling house by far — a tall brick building that had been painted brown, with double doors and no windows. The strange glass dome he had seen when looking at the Gym from a far distance was actually its roof.
The boys pushed through the doors and entered a hallway, dim and smelling of chlorine. Henry had his new pokéball belt strapped around his waist, while Michael made do with a brown pouch. At the end of the path was a wooden bench and hooks for their personal belongings, after which they emerged into an enormous, sunlit battle room. The floor, which was lined with rough tiles, terminated after several yards for an Olympic-sized pool, which stretched all the way to the side walls, mirroring paintings of coral and sea grass, and the vast, domed ceiling overhead. The water was broken every so often by flat stone surfaces of various sizes, which looked like pools of dark tar, but appeared to provide sturdy ground for walking and jumping. Nevertheless, the battlefield was overwhelmingly dominated by water, making land travel a complicated maneuver.
It’s probably her defense against Water’s weaknesses, Michael thought. He knew that the Water type was one of the more vulnerable ones, and so he didn’t consider such a tactic to be above Marie’s capabilities. His battle with Lona had taught him well — he’d never rush into a battle blindly now. Every little thing, he knew, had to have a purpose.
Marie herself awaited them at the opposite end of the pool, standing with her arms crossed, idly checking her watch. A row of fountains played behind her for show, filling the room with sounds of rushing water. Upon hearing their approach, she looked up and smiled.
“Welcome! Right on time, too. Splendid!”
Marie clapped her hands, and opened the flap of her cross-body purse, which held her pokéballs.
“Um, Mrs. Wickham?” Henry said. “Which one of us will be battling first?”
Marie smiled. “Both of you. You’ll be battling me together.”
The boys drew back in surprise, and Marie gave a cackle. “Ah, I get that reaction all the time. Priceless. But yes — together. I find it gives trainers a whole different perspective on the thing, something they don’t normally get in Gyms. It’s twice the fun when your partner is someone you don’t know, of course, but I figured that since you two are already a traveling group, why not send the both of you off together? That is, if you win.” She winked. “As the river flows and is flexible, so must you be! Send out your first pokémon, each of you. I’ll send two of mine, and the games begin!” She took out two pokéballs, one in each hand, and held them open. “Go!”
Two bolts of light fled from the mouths of the opened capsules and crashed down into the water, shattering its glassy serenity with foamy splashes. Moments later, two heads appeared from beneath the water: a Quagsire and a Floatzel.
Michael and Henry immediately turned to face each other.
“Quagsire,” Michael whispered. “That’s what Wooper grows into.”
“And Bertha caught a Wooper,” Henry said. “The guy at the Great Marsh said it was Ground.”
“And Quagsire has to be Water for Marie to be using it, so it must be a dual-type with Ground. Which means… it’s extra weak to Grass!” Michael snapped his fingers. “Use Burmy. I’ll take Floaty with Turtwig.”
Henry gave an affirmative nod. They took several steps away from each other and sent out their battlers, holding their pokeballs high aloft to make sure they landed onto dry land. Burmy plopped down on a circular slab in his cloak of leaves, face tucked away to leave two blinking eyes peering out from it. Turtwig landed on a large patch of sand, where he shook himself awake, and began to survey the vicinity. The abundance of water seemed to intrigue him, and after a moment he seemed to grasp the limitations of the tiny field he had been cast upon. Turtwig turned his head back towards the shore, and when his eyes locked on his trainer’s, Michael gave his command: “Turwtig, you get the Floatzel! Use Razor Leaf!”
Henry joined in a moment later. “Burmy, use Leaf Storm at Quagsire!”
There was a loud rush that sounded like flapping pages as the two Grass-types whipped up a storm of leaves. Burmy’s spun around his body like a storm cloud, and Turtwig’s flew out from his bushels in tiny bunches. They drifted in the air for a moment, then Turtwig stomped his front feet against the ground, which made them launch forward like daggers. The Floatzel dove underwater before they could strike it, but the Quagsire wasn’t so lucky. Burmy’s cloud of leaves engulfed its head before it could go under, making the pokémon flinch back. It dove underwater seconds later, though its formation with the Floatzel was broken.
“Use Water Gun!” said Marie.
The Floatzel’s open mouth reappeared in front of Burmy, blasting him off his feet with a jet of water. Michael knew the attack would do little damage on its own, but seconds later he saw Marie’s motive. Burmy landed in the pool and began to flail about helplessly, his limbs too tiny to keep him afloat. The Floatzel grabbed Burmy with its paws and threw him up into the air, while it flipped over onto its back and prepared to give a kick.
But fortunately, Henry had come prepared. “Burmy, use Protect!” he said.
Burmy withdrew his arms and legs into his cloak of leaves, which solidified around him into a smooth green shell. When he fell within range, the Floatzel kicked, and the shell elicited a metallic clang which made the Floatzl withdraw its foot in pain. Burmy splashed into the water, where he bobbed like an empty egg, washing up onto another patch of land.
“Great job! Burmy, come out and use Razor Leaf!”
Burmy loosened the top layer of leaves and whisked them at the Floatzel, just as the pokemon lunged forward. The Floatzel fell back into the water, but just as its body disappeared beneath the surface, the waves around it began to swell, collecting into a swift tide that swept Burmy away in a powerful rush.
“Burmy!” Henry ran to the edge of the pool, trying to follow the still-encased pokémon with his eyes, but Burmy was soon lost in the torrent of water.
Meanwhile, Michael was standing a short distance away, egging on Turtwig, who was caught in a landlocked battle with Marie’s Quagsire. Both pokémon were roughly the same size, and were butting heads — one round, scaly and slimy, the other a chiseled, golden helmet. Despite its plump, flabby build, the Quagsire clearly had muscle, and managed to give Turtwig a hard enough time to push him just a few feet away from the water’s edge. Nonetheless, Turtwig held his ground, stirring up clouds of leaves and shooting them at the Quagsire at every chance he got. The super-effective Grass attack made a striking difference — the leaves hit the Quagsire full in the face, each time breaking its grip on Turtwig’s shoulders and making it stumble back. Turtwig would take advantage of the opening and lunge forward, butting his head into his opponent’s chest. At first, the Quagsire was able to gather its wits in time to push back, but gradually, its reactions grew slower, and its resistance to Turtwig’s advances began to falter.
All throughout, Michael watched with narrowed eyes, fist clenched at his side. “That’s it, nice and easy…”
He was so focused on the struggle that he didn’t notice Marie watching, until without warning, she broke her silence: “Hydro Pump!”
With a swift heave, the Quagsire pushed itself away from Turtwig and staggered back, shooting a blast of water from its large mouth. The jet hit Turtwig with such force that he was forced to turn away, succumbing to his own momentum and backing away towards the edge of the stone slab. Michael gritted his teeth. If Turtwig fell into the water, he would sink like a rock.
The Quagsire kept shooting water blasts at Turtwig every few seconds, drawing from some inner reserve in its body. Though they were weaker than the first, they kept Turtwig from advancing so much as a single foot from his place. Head ducked and eyes closed, the only thing he could do was step back even further, till he was standing just a few feet away from the ledge.
“Stay on the ground!” Michael shouted. “You can still cut through the water with your leaves!”
Turtwig cracked open an eye, just as the Quagsire had thrown its head back to prepare another blast, and sent a spurt of leaves whipping through the air. They struck the Quagsire’s belly right as the creature released another Hydro Pump, which Turtwig met head-on, leaping forward with his head ducked. For a moment, his entire body was swallowed by the torrent, then the tip of his glittering helmet sliced through. He landed before the teetering Quagsire and rammed into it with all his might, throwing the pokémon into a heap in the dirt.
Michael clapped his hands. “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!”
But his elation lasted for hardly a moment before a shout came from his left: “Michael!”
Michael turned, and saw Henry pointing to the other side of the pool, where Floatzel was knocking Burmy against the walls, using Aqua Jets and Surfs to do the pushing for him. The tiny Grass pokémon was still inside his self-made shell, unharmed, but likely losing more nerve every time he struck the hard stone.
“He can’t get out!” Henry cried. “I kept going over the move with him but I think he’s too scared to drop his shield in the water! Do something!”
“Hang on.” Michael pressed his finger to his chin, working out a possible logistics for escape, when suddenly a flash of light burst forth from Marie’s pokéball and made him turn.
“Not so fast!” said the Gym leader. Michael caught a final glimpse of the Quagsire before it was sucked away by a beam of white light, and a second, larger body was deposited into the water. It was a Gastrodon.
The pokémon landed with a heavy splash, its flippers smacking the water and coasting over the choppy waves. Its body was almost the same shade of blue as that of the water, which from a distance made it look like a huge floating shell. Its face looked impassive, but dangerous. Immediately after gaining its balance, the Gastrodon launched a jet of water at Turtwig, propelling itself towards the island where the turtle was marooned.
Turtwig continued to retaliate with Razor Leaf, his leaves spinning in a frenzy over the sprays of water, but whenever he stopped to aim at a certain spot, he found that the Gastrodon had already sailed past it. The pokémon circled the island with surprising speed, shooting white jets at Turtwig from every possible direction, scattering soil and wet leaves all over the pool. Turtwig soon stopped retaliating and began to scamper around the shore, bogged down by the sheer force of water, closing his eyes as the waves surged and hissed around him. Michael watched in shock as Turtwig’s strength wavered, his motions growing clumsy and feeble.
Without preamble, the Gastrodon delivered a final blast, which struck like a spray from a fire hose and knocked Turtwig off his feet. He sailed past the ledge and landed belly-first into the pool, first freezing out of sheer surprise, then hastily tried to keep himself afloat with his bulky legs. Nevertheless, his body began to dip down, sinking tail-first beneath the water.
“Hurry up there!” Marie called. “You don’t want him to drown!”
Belatedly, Michael became aware of himself again, and took Turtwig’s pokéball from his pouch. He held the capsule aloft, and a beam of light rushed to snatch the pokémon out of the water. Once he had closed the capsule, Michael looked back at Marie. “So… do I send him out again?”
Marie shook her head. “Nope. League rules, kiddo. Once you send back a battler, you can’t bring them out again.”
Michael gave an inward groan, feeling both cheated and humiliated. His only Grass pokémon had been beaten by its own type matchup — not a good way to start.
He looked over to Henry, but the boy didn’t seem to be doing much better. Burmy was currently being thwacked like a ball against a coral painting, his Protect-coat thinned to produce a rubbery bounce. The Floatzel was using its paws now, lying on its back as if it were in a country club pool. With a sink of the shoulders, Michael realized that Goldeen would have come in handy. He studied the Floatzel for another split second, then looked back at Marie, who was tapping a finger against her wristwatch. Finally, he realized what he needed. He needed speed.
Reaching into his pouch, Michael grabbed another pokéball, one labeled with a musical note in permanent marker. He held it aloft. “Go, Ringo!”
The Chatot dove out of the capsule, wings unfurling as he glided upwards, till he was gliding among the tops of the painted sea-grass. Ringo flew a single loop around the pool, scanning the field beneath him with his large narrowed eyes, ones Michael knew could glimpse the smallest splash produced by the cresting waves. Turning around to keep the bird in view, Michael cupped his hands around his mouth. “Ringo, get Burmy!”
Ringo’s gaze locked on the green shell, and he swooped down, wings tucked against his body to form a torpedo. He dodged an Aqua Jet from the Floatzel, and when he got close enough to the water’s surface, spread his wings again and plucked Burmy right out of the pool with his talons. The Floatzel snarled in fury, launching blast after blast of water at the bird, but they fell through empty air as Ringo looped gracefully out of their way.
Elated, Henry jumped and pointed at the Floatzel. “Burmy, Razor Leaf!”
Burmy’s arms and legs emerged from his shell, and he sent spirals of leaves down at the Floatzel, slashing its belly and arms. Ringo changed his trajectory, swerving to the side to pass over the Gastrodon, where Burmy sent another wave of leaves, sprinkling cuts across the sea creature’s skin. The Gastrodon howled and swayed, turning its head to glimpse its attacker, but was cut short as more leaves struck its face and neck. Michael felt a rush of satisfaction as the Gastrodon was reduced to the same state that Turtwig had been in moments before, shooting jets of water sporadically at the air while trying to avoid the spinning leaves. He smiled. How do you like me now, ugly?
Beside him, Henry was smiling as well, watching the contest with his hands on his knees. All of a sudden, he seemed to get an idea, and began to hop on his toes again. “Oh, Michael, I know what we can do! Put Burmy on his back!”
Michael hailed Ringo with a snap of his fingers. “Hey Ringo! Drop him!”
He indicated the spot on the Gastrodon’s shell, and Ringo set Burmy down, then immediately turned his attention to Floatzel. The otter pokémon had been trying to get to its teammate, but the storm of flying leaves had clearly forced it to rethink its tactics. The Floatzel was still swimming from side to side, trying to find the safest angle to blast Burmy away, when Ringo landed on the back of its neck and began to peck. The Floatzel grabbed at the air with its paws, but for a lack of speed, couldn’t counter with anything besides a smack or scratch. In the meantime, Ringo switched to more sophisticated pestering, blasting the Floatzel with sharp gusts of air from his wings, performing high-dives to strike it with Aerial Ace. After one of his talon-swipes, the Floatzel’s strength finally gave, and it sank limp beneath the waves. Its body rose belly-up moments later, eyes closed.
From her end of the pool, Marie shook her head, and returned her fainted battler. But she didn’t look as disappointed as Michael would have hoped. As she took out her next pokéball, the ever-present smile returned to her face, and she tossed the capsule into the air.
The beam of white light shot into the air, molding into a bulky blob which became a Mantyke. Seconds after the pokémon fell into the water, another storm of Aqua Jets shot through air in rapid sequence, only this time the beams were slender and agile, like liquid daggers. They caught up to Ringo in a matter of seconds, one managing to strike him in the side, which broke him briefly from his flight path. The Mantyke skimmed along the tops of the waves for a few moments, eyes following Ringo as he regained his balance, then it thumped its large flippers against the water and lifted itself into the air.
Michael’s face fell into a scowl as the Mantyke began to glide over the water, moving its two antennae to psychically roughen the waves beneath it. Though it flapped its flippers from time to time, the Mantyke’s trajectory remained eerily level, which made it look like an alien hovercraft. It continued attacking Ringo from below, while the bird circled over its head in agitation, trying to figure out what to do. He began to beat his wings faster, stirring up a gust of wind to sweep the Mantyke away, but Michael shook his head.
“It won’t work — the thing’s too heavy! Just slice at it!”
Ringo clicked his beak, and switched from his previous tactic to perform an Aerial Ace. His claws sliced the Mantyke across the back, causing the pokémon to swerve aside with a cry. Gaining some measure of resolve, Michael turned his head to glimpse the other half of the struggle — Henry’s Burmy was still clinging to the Gastrodon’s back, amid a shower of slicing leaves, crawling to every slip of bare skin he could find to Bug Bite it. The Gastrodon’s frustration had driven it insane, and it was now rocking from side to side, coming inches away from tipping itself over just to get Burmy off.
The beast’s howling grew so enraged that the Mantyke turned its attention from Ringo, firing a desperate blast of water to strike Burmy. The spear missed by inches, but gave Burmy enough of a shock to make him let go. Without an anchor, he began to slip, rolling around the Gastrodon’s shell as the pokémon flailed about.
Henry grabbed both sides of his head. “Michael, pick Burmy up again!” he said. “He’s slipping!”
“Not now, I’m busy! Aerial Ace!” Michael grinned, his eyes following Ringo as he delivered another slice across the Mantyke’s back.
When Michael didn’t answer, Henry let out a huff. “Unless you want our only Grass counter to faint—”
Michael waved him down. “Fine, fine! But I have a better idea.” He pressed his thumb and forefinger to his mouth and whistled. “Hey, Ringo! Change course! Get to Gastrodon!”
Ringo chirped in affirmation, swerving over to the Gastrodon with the Mantyke’s Aqua Jets still following him . He swiped his claws against the Gastrodon’s face, and flew out of the way just as Mantyke gave another blast, which hit the Gastrodon in the same place and caused the pokémon to flinch away. Its rocking stopped, and Burmy continued to bite, till his venom kicked in and the Gastrodon’s neck drooped. At that point, Ringo swooped down and grabbed Burmy, who sent a cloud of leaves in Mantyke’s direction, striking it dead-on with their pointed edges. Michael gave a smile. Their pokémon knew how to work.
But moments later, in the corner of his eye, he saw the Gastrodon stir. The pokémon lifted its head, gathering its final ounces of strength, and produced a Hydro Pump that engulfed the flying duo, knocking them down with the force of a raging waterfall. Ringo managed to regain his altitude, taking off for a far-flung corner of the room, but Burmy kept falling, and without the shield of Protect, fell on a patch of soil and fainted.
“No!” Henry lunged forward, but Michael held him back.
“It’s fine. You still have Pachirisu. All we need to do is take out one more pokémon after this, then we’re done.”
After a moment, Henry bit his lip. “Right.” He fumbled for a slot in his pokéball belt, and returned Burmy to his pokéball. He switched him out for Pachirisu, who emerged onto the floor beside the boys, then sprang onto the nearest patch of land. White static crackled around his cheeks, which were lifted in his perpetual, eager smile.
The Gastrodon had rolled over onto its side in the meantime, and after five seconds had passed, Marie sent it back. She brought out a Starmie, from which Michael glimpsed a gleaming red gem before it cut into the water and disappeared.
Seconds later, out of nowhere, a spinning blue disc whizzed out of the water and struck Ringo, knocking the bird out of the air. Mantyke shot a Water Gun before Ringo had time to recuperate, and he landed into the water.
Henry smiled. “Not so fast! Pachi, use Thunderbolt!”
“Ssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” Pachirisu’s tail began to quiver, and the static that was jumping around his cheeks began to rise up from every hair on his fine fur coat. The sparks combined and thickened into a yellow aura, then suddenly, a lightning bolt flashed out from the haze, tearing through the air and striking the floating Mantyke. The pokémon seized up and began to twitch, its antennae bending at random. Seconds later Pachirisu launched another bolt at the Starmie, who fled underwater for cover.
By then, Ringo had regained enough energy to fly, and ascended towards the Mantyke, preparing to lunge. But right then, the Starmie lashed out of the water and struck him from behind, making him fall back down.
Michael spat. “Dammit!”
“You’re going to have to be a lot quicker than that!” said Marie, as Ringo floundered amid the choppy waves.
Meanwhile, the glow from Pachirisu’s body was intensifying every second, to the point where the sphere of electricity around him had doubled in size, and he shot horizontal lightning bolts into the air with hardly a second’s pause. The majority of his attacks rained down on the Mantyke, who began to fly around erratically in an attempt to escape them, before finally being struck down into the waves. Marie called the pokémon back, shaking her head with the same expression of humored disappointment.
Her Starmie continued to roam free, a dark-blue dot zipping to and fro beneath the water. No matter how carefully Michael tried to follow it, the Starmie would always slip from his gaze, getting lost somewhere among the medley of rocks. Then whenever it seemed like Ringo was about to fly up, the Starmie would spring out from a spot just a few feet away, its pointed arms spinning a solid blur, and strike him right back down. Once Ringo had exhausted himself, and was drifting listlessly like a duck, the Starmie began to shoot Psybeams from beneath the water. They pulsed towards Ringo in circular ripples, adding the effect of drooping eyes and thick, unintelligible grumbles.
For complete lack of a plan, Michael could do nothing but watch the pathetic scene, eyes following the Starmie as if he could make it faint with sheer loathing. Now that its opponent was confined to sea level, the Starmie refused to leave the water, and continued to dart about in constant vigilance of an attack.
He considered calling Ringo back just to avoid a fainting, when suddenly Henry grabbed him by the shoulder. “Wait, hold on Michael, I’ve got it!” He snapped his fingers and turned to Pachirisu. “Use Thunderbolt at the water!”
Michael’s brain snapped awake a moment too late. “No!”
He lunged at Henry to stop the command, but the boy’s words had already left his mouth. Pachirisu happily obeyed, and the aura around him pulsed as he drew even more energy from his inner reserves. The cloud began to drain away from his sides and condense into a tiny ball above his head, which in the blink of an eye produced a massive beam of lightning that shot up into the air. It climbed several yards overhead then came crashing into the water, dissipating into shockwaves that pulsed across the pool with painful brilliance. They struck the Starmie near the water’s surface and knocked it out instantly, then coursed into Ringo through his underbelly. The bird gave a screech, wings snapping open and closed at odd angles, his tongue lolling out from his beak. He fell fainted seconds later.
Pachirisu’s growl deepened and began to vibrate, as the beam of light connecting him and the water continued to flash, transferring a constant stream of energy into the water. It grew from yellow to white, singeing the air with the smell of burnt fur, but the squirrel’s back remained bent, eyes closed in concentration. He stayed that way for another solid minute, till at last his strength gave out and he collapsed from exhaustion. The beam of light shattered apart and dissipated in the air, and the sparky haze cleared around Pachirisu’s body to reveal a vacant, toothy smile. Henry had taken out three pokémon in a single move.
Michael slapped his palm against his forehead. “Henry, you ditz! I told you not to!”
Henry stared at Pachirisu in horror, lips forming soundless words. A moment later, the Starmie’s body gave a shudder, and the pokémon stirred back to life. Leftover static crackled around its body as it recovered from the paralysis, and began to swim around the pool once more.
Marie crossed her arms. “Your move, boys!”
With a grumble, Michael returned Ringo and took out his final pokéball. Henry followed suit, and together they brought out their last two battlers onto the field — Machop and Clefable. The duo landed on separate patches of land just a couple yards away from each other, and exchanged a few glances as they took in their surroundings.
The Starmie rose up to the surface and launched an Aqua Jet without preamble, striking Machop in the chest and causing him to stumble. Machop turned around just as Starmie came up behind him, and cartwheeled out of the way of another oncoming blast. The water rushed on towards Clefable, but lost most of its momentum by the time it reached her, enabling her to burst straight through without stumbling. She turned, and before the Starmie could pin her down, broke into a run and hopped onto another ledge.
Machop followed her example, hastily jumping from his own starting pad onto a smaller, less-even surface. He turned around in place for a moment, trying to decide where to jump to next, when he was jarred by a sudden blast of water that shot right over his shoulder, missing him by inches.
“Look out, will you?” Michael shouted. “Go faster!”
Machop gritted his teeth and sprang onto the next nearest surface, launching into a panicky sprint as the Starmie shot more Aqua Jets after him. At last, the Starmie seemed to tire of the game, and dipped back beneath the water. Machop landed on another surface and turned around, searching the water with puzzled eyes.
Michael groaned. “Stop staring! Move out of the way! It’s—”
But before he could finish, the Starmie sprang out of the water and flew towards Machop, its blade-arms spinning a frenzy. Michael winced in preparation for a shriek and a limp green projectile, but just as the Starmie was about to make contact with its target, he heard a loud boom. Smoke and static erupted from between the two battlers, and the Starmie ricocheted back, its red gem caved in and sparking.
It fell into the water with a heavy splash, exposing Machop, who was standing with one foot forward, his fist curled resolutely at his side. Michael let out a breath of relief, and smiled.
Machop shifted his stance. His eyes were now fixed on the surface of the pool, expecting the Starmie to reappear at any moment. But the dark blue dot had begun to dart uncertainly beneath the water, snaking around in a complicated path between Machop and Clefable. At last, the Starmie sprang out, this time launching itself at Clefable, though its spin wasn’t as rapid. Clefable backed away a couple of steps and caught it by two of its legs. She spun around in with it and threw it into the air like a Frisbee, sending it back in Machop’s direction. Machop Thunderpunched again, sending another boom rolling across the battlefield, and the Starmie flying back in an arc towards Clefable. Clefable drew back her arm, curling her tiny fingers, and punched the Starmie square in the belly. Lightning exploded around her fist, enveloping the Starmie as it fell into the water. It landed on its back and was overturned by a passing wave, which washed it up onto a nearby ledge, exposing its motionless body.
With a sigh, Marie took out her pokéball and returned the Starmie, whisking it away from the battlefield. Beaming, the boys exchanged a high-five. “Yes!”
They started to unscrew their capsules, but the Gym leader held up her hand. “Hold on there!”
The boys looked up, and she showed them another silver orb. “There’s still one more to go.”
Michael narrowed his eyes. “But Gym leaders have five!”
“Not all of them — I have six. That’s why my staff told you each to bring three pokémon, to make it fair from a doubles-match standpoint. It’ll be two against one for you fellas, but I’ll assure you I don’t go down easy!” Marie flashed a smile. “Go!”
She threw the pokéball into the air, where it reached its maximum height and froze for a moment, unlocking to release a torrent of light. Michael stepped back, holding up his arm to shield from the light, and through his fingers saw a giant serpentine body emerge into the pool. Moments after the light faded, he heard a low, rumbling growl, and lowered his arm to glimpse a giant opened mouth, and a chiseled, grimacing face. It was a Gyarados.
Older members of the species could have easily wrapped their bodies around the pool with length to spare. Thankfully, this one appeared to be young — its head loomed at the same height as Ringo had flown, and its belly was submerged in the water, leaving a small part of its tail to whip slowly from side to side. It dwarfed both Machop and Clefable in its shadow, and the pokémon had to back away to see its face in full.
“Let’s see what you little ones are made of!” said Marie to them. “Use Hyper Beam!”
A ball of light gathered between the Gyarados’s open jaws, and blasted outwards in a brilliant white beam, which crashed into the space between them and threw both pokémon back. Machop soared through the air and landed in the water, and Clefable plopped feet-first onto the edge of a rock, tipped over, and fell in as well.
The Gyarados began to swim around the pool, closing in on the two pokémon and trapping them in a cage with its body. The water began to cave inwards as it gained speed, exposing the pillars of rock that supported the patches of land, turning them into deadly river rapids. Machop and Clefable scrambled against the current to avoid them, though often they were pulled under and smacked against the rocks.
When they were sufficiently dazed, and the water had gathered enough rotational momentum, the Gyarados broke free of its formation and launched another Hyper Beam attack. The jet of light crashed into the middle of the vortex, throwing the battlers up with a large swell of water, which flung them into the air and dropped them back into the pool. Clefable came to first, shaking her head, and grabbed Machop by the arm before he could sink. Together, the pokemon paddled over to a patch of dry land and heaved themselves over.
The Gyarados slithered across the surface of the water and rose up before them again, another Hyper Beam gathering in its mouth.
“Look out!” Henry called.
Clefable and Machop jumped aside, and the Hyper Beam crashed into empty space, throwing up an angry tide of water against the wall. The pokémon landed together on another patch of land, and just as they turned around, the Gyarados lunged. Clefable leaped forward and struck its snout with a Thunderpunch, which threw back the beast’s head, causing it to flinch away. At the same time, Machop hopped over to a nearby ledge and grabbed hold of its tail.
“Yes!” said Michael. “Get on its back! Climb on!”
Machop jumped into the water and pulled on the Gyarados’s tail like a tug-of-war player, inching his way onto the pokémon’s back. Clefable followed suit, latching onto its body with her claws. Realizing what was happening, the Gyarados began to thrash its tail against the water, throwing up a flurry of splashes. It dove underwater and snaked through the rocks, rolling on its side and bumping itself against the rocks. But each time it resurfaced, Machop and Clefable were still there, now latched on to the blue fins that ran down its back. The Gyarados continued till it had exhausted itself, and swam to the middle of the pool with its head turning, unsure of what to do.
Michael looked over to Henry, who in turn looked at him, eyes slightly narrowed.
“Time for the lightning show?”
Henry smiled back. “Let’s do this!”
And they shouted in unison: “THUNDERPUNCH!”
Clefable and Machop raised their arms together, producing two balls of electricity that surrounded their fists, and jabbed them into the Gyarados’s back. They punched and punched with rhythmic synchrony, sparks erupting at every contact, eliciting feral screeches from the Gyarados, which began to flail about in renewed rage. Michael squinted against the light’s yellow glare, watching Machop as he fought to keep his hold. The fighter had inched his way up the Gyarados’s neck, allowing Clefable room on its torso, and was now hanging on with all four limbs, which barely wrapped halfway around it. The faster the Gyarados thrashed, the more desperately Machop clung to it, until even Clefable was thrown off-balance and had to grab hold of the Gyarados’s fin to keep from falling into the water.
The Gyarados began to swim around the battlefield, bumping its body against the rocks, contorting itself into seemingly every position it could think of. Finally, it turned its head all the way around to glimpse its back, which was covered in burns, and at the very top saw one half of Machop’s body, along with one nervous red eye gazing back at it.
With a snarl, the Gyarados lunged at Machop, its jaws opening to display rows of teeth in a mouth that could have swallowed him whole. Right then, Clefable delivered another Thunderpunch, which caused the Gyarados to snap its head forward again, and allowed Machop to begin inching his way down.
But before he could, the Gyarados swiveled its head around again, its gargoyle’s grimace flashing into view, along with one blue whisker that swayed ever so slightly forward as it growled. Without a second’s pause, Machop leaped headfirst off the beast’s neck and fell into a deadly plunge towards the rocks. For a moment, Michael thought he would land and shatter himself, but then he heard a wild cry, saw the Gyarados snake its head upwards in pain, and saw both of its whiskers float upward, held together by a tiny, wriggling body. Machop kicked the Gyarados in the snout with both legs, then before he could fall again, let go of its whiskers and climbed onto the pokémon’s head. He teetered there for a moment, then sank to his knees for balance, and began to punch.
His Thunderpunches joined in with Clefable’s, who soon picked up her pace as well, and the two pokémon began to jab at the Gyarados with stunning rapidity. The combination of their attacks plunged the whole room into a yellow haze, drowning out the Gyarados’s shrieks with the sound of crackling electricity. Finally, the Gyarados sagged into the waves, and the sparks around it cleared to expose Marie, who was fanning herself with her hands. Her gray curls were sticking out at odd ends.
“Well, I must say, that was... electrifying!” She twisted open the pokéball, and once Machop and Clefable had found their way onto a patch of dry land, called the Gyarados back inside. “You boys certainly don’t disappoint! Of course, I get a lot of trainers using Grass and Electric moves, so you weren’t terribly creative in that regard, but when you’ve battled as much as I have you naturally get a taste for the really unusual victories, the ones that make you snap back and think — what?! Like a couple years ago, I had two kids who managed to beat Gyarados with a pair of Geodudes. They sort of linked arms and flung each other at him one by one, and somehow made it so that they always landed on the same ledges… and before I knew it, my friend was lying limp like a noodle. I never saw anything like it! I still tell the story every time I go to a leader convention and I always get someone who doesn’t believe me.” She cackled. “But ah, anyways, it’s perfectly fine, don’t think I’m criticizing you for your tactics. A win’s a win, though I think it’s fair to say I held my own. Didn’t come across as a batty old lady who’s behind the times, right?”
Michael and Henry nodded.
“Good, good! And I’ll tell you why—” She held up a finger. “I know it’s not hard to deduce an element’s weakness after you’ve seen it in action a few times. Say, Water, for example, is weak to Grass and Electric. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. If it were, my pokémon would’ve gone down in a matter of seconds. I won’t tell you everything about how I train, of course, in case you two run off and form an underground Beat-Marie Coalition, but I will tell you that the key is to train your pokémon to have endurance. Both mental and physical. Getting your pokémon to trust you, and getting them to break their boundaries and reach their full potential, is where a trainer’s craft really shines. There are as many styles of training as there are pokémon, so the trick is to determine what’s best for each one. You can tell by just looking at a trainer and their team if they’re started to form that bond.” Marie looked down at Machop and Clefable, who were looking up at her like dutiful students. She smiled. “And you two made the grade! It helps of course that you’re both adorable, but that’s just an aside.” She flicked her hand, and zipped up her purse. “Now here’s how it’ll work,” she said to the boys. “I’ll go freshen up, and tell Lace you’ve won. Then when you get to the lobby, she’ll give you your badges. Sound like a deal?”
“Yeah,” said Michael and Henry together.
“Great! And congratulations! It’s not every day you get to battle a Gyarados, eh?” Marie winked, and turned to leave through a door behind her.
Machop and Clefable paddled their way to the shore, coming up to the boys scarred and soaking wet. Henry kneeled down and met Clefable in a bear hug.
“You were awesome! One minute I thought you’d both let go, but you hung on!” He pulled away to glimpse her face, and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I remember when you were this tall.” He indicated a spot below her waist, which had been her height as a Clefairy. “And you were battling those Shinxes and Glameows by Oreburgh. Now look, we beat the fifth Gym!”
Clefable smiled, covering her mouth as she giggled.
Michael looked down at Machop, who had approached him meekly, arms hanging at his sides. But when he stopped, he held them out and began to look them over, as if awed by what they could do. Michael took the pokémon by the wrists and held them apart. “See that? That’s what you get from hard-core practice. It’s fine to watch TV and hang around, but if you do that too much, people might start thinking you’re a slack. So you gotta prove them wrong.”
Machop fixed his large eyes on Michael’s own. He spoke an incoherent sequence of phrases that all sounded the same — Ma-chop, chop-chop — and though they carried no meaning for Michael, they still somehow transmitted a faint, tightening resolve.
“You could’ve spent less time running, though,” Michael said, and narrowed an eye matter-of-factly. “Lucky you had Clefable with you. If she hadn’t pulled you out of those rough spots, you would’ve gone under. Not that that’s a bad thing—she’s a good friend to have. And sometimes, you’re gonna face opponents that you can’t take down by yourself, so you’ll need your friends to help you. Even if they’re stronger, or a bit weaker, you have to work with them, ‘cause they’re all you’ve got.”
Machop stared back at him mutely, though when Michael let go, he gave a tiny nod. He and Michael looked askance as Henry was packing away his belt with Clefable. The two pokémon caught each other’s eyes, and Clefable gave a wink.
Smiling, Henry hoisted his tote bag over his shoulder. “Come on, Michael, let’s go!”
Michael went to get his backpack and zipped the pokéball pouch inside. He left the battle room with Henry, and emerged into the warm evening, where the sound of chirping Kricketune pervaded the air. The boys veered onto the lamplit path between the rows of battle houses, and started on the way towards the main building, Machop and Clefable ambling along between them. The sky above them glittered with stars.
“Sorry I made Ringo faint,” said Henry after a minute. “I guess I got so caught up with teaching Pachi how to use Thunderbolt that I didn’t think I'd have to teach him how to stop."
Michael gave a chuckle. “I guess you made up for it in the end. Though if we lost, I would’ve shunned you for a week.”
Henry scratched the back of his neck. “Heh… I bet you would have!”
“Relax, I’m kidding.” A moment later, Michael narrowed his eyes. “And speaking of Ringo…”
He slowed to a stop and scanned the vicinity for a nearby bench. When he found one, he dropped his backpack onto the seat and took out Ringo’s pokéball, twisting open the cap to release him. Ringo plopped down in a seated position, and after a moment began to stir. His body was covered in burns from the electric attacks, but nevertheless he remained conscious, and peered out at the boys with a steady gaze.
Michael snapped his fingers. “That’s what you were trying to tell me! Marie had a Gyarados!”
Ringo clicked his beak. “I asked my friends to come and see!”
Henry clamped his hand over his mouth. “So… Ringo flew into one of the staff people’s office, looked at her papers, and saw Marie’s team members?”
“I guess so.” Michael looked back at Ringo and tapped the bird’s head with his finger. “That was some good thinking, man. Spot on.” He turned to Henry, meeting the boy’s horrified stare with a grin. “That’s my kind of pokémon.”
Henry crossed his arms. He didn’t say another word as they entered the Gym, though he kept casting Michael stern glances throughout. Once Lace saw the boys, she waved them over to the front counter. “Hey fellas. Mrs. Wickham just called me and told me about the battle. Great job!” She slid two shiny badges over to them. Then she leaned under the counter and placed two Rage Candybars beside them, showing their pristine silver wrappers. She winked. “They’re Mrs. Wickham’s favorite. I’m sure you can guess why.”
Michael’s lips spread into a tired, wordless smile. After putting away the badge, he unwrapped a candy bar and broke off a piece, savoring the flavor of chocolate that washed over him. “Sweet.”
Henry gave in a moment later, and they left the Gym in contented silence, sharing only the crinkle of wrappers. They both finished by the time they reached the hotel, stopped to throw out the trash, then kept going towards the Pokémon Center. But midway, Henry stopped.
The boy turned, and at the sight of his panicked eyes, Michael frowned. “What?”
“Caterpie! You left her by a window!”
“Butterfrees have to practice using their wings before they can fly! We forgot to close the window, and we’re on the eighth floor! If she falls, she’ll hit the concrete!”
So, 'ol Marvin: Crazy conspiracy theorist, or could his rants be frighteningly accurate? Both space groups - before and after the merger - have largely been able to keep secret whatever they want and only release the information they want to, so what happens behind closed doors remains a mystery. While there's no way to prove Marvin's claims are correct, there's no way to prove them wrong either, secretive as both organizations have been. But it seems, at least from my perspective, that Deoxys is the key to this whole situation, and is the reason for this sudden alliance. That is, if this alliance is actually something new, and not another thing that had been kept under wraps...
Ringo: Good at running reconnaissance/spy missions, bad about keeping quiet about them
One thing I would have liked to have seen, and might have helped with that little topic we discussed via PM, is the happenings during those hours between practice and battle time in the room. I know I've done a number of "chill-out" hotel room scenes, and they can be interesting ways to show trainer/Pokemon interaction outside of a battle or training setting.
As for the battle, it actually reminded me a lot of my Water gym battle in my story, with the whole pool setting and the leader trying to incapacitate the opponent by knocking them into the pool. As Turtwig vs Gastrodon demonstrated, type advantage doesn't mean much if the opposition can force you into the water and render you unable to do anything. Good planning on Marie's part - she took advantage of the fact that most Pokemon that could seriously damage hers also can't swim very well. In retrospect, Goldeen might not have been a bad choice; at the very least it would be mobile in the water and it could use its horn to attack.
Interesting too about the use of electric attacks and how it knocked out EVERYONE. In mine, I had the leader equip the gym with lightning rods in the pool to avoid such a situation - but in your case everyone learned a shocking lesson on electricity and water lol
OMG IS CATERPIE/BUTTERFREE SAFE?
The GASP alliance is definitely new, meaning that it didn't happen months prior and was only announced right this moment. I'll avoid commenting on the subject just a little longer, because the next chapter will have a lot of information about GASP, and about Marvin, and I want to see what you think of that first.
And Goldeen is a girl, by the way. I used to have the bad habit of referring to Michael's and Henry's pokemon as 'it' early on in the story, then I realized that that probably wasn't the best way to go, as readers were getting confused. Now I use "he" or "she" when Michael knows the gender of a pokemon, and "it" when he doesn't, or when it doesn't matter to him.
But yes -- new badges and space conspiracies aside, Caterpie's evolution is the topic of interest for the moment. Rest assured that the answers will come as quickly as this chapter ended.
As for Chapter 39, the rough draft is almost done, after which I'll begin the arduous journey of touching it up to its final form. It shouldn't be as long as this chapter, which will hopefully allow me to post it in a couple of weeks.
As always, thanks for the review!
Hey everyone. Sorry for the delay; this chapter's been done for a while, but there were some final changes I had to mull over before I posted. Hope you enjoy it!
In a matter of seconds, Michael was torn from his former calm and pushed into a crazed run after Henry, who took off for the hotel as fast as his legs would allow. Michael managed to lock a hand around the strap of Henry’s tote bag and tried to get him to slow, all the while complying with the boy’s frantic turns and leaps, which caused many passersby to stare.
“Cool it, man!” Michael called. “Stop running!”
But Henry didn’t respond, nor did he make the slightest attempt to mask his alarm. Behind them, Clefable and Machop hustled to catch up, dodging other people’s legs. At last, Machop gained enough speed to latch onto Michael’s free hand, and Clefable followed soon after, grabbing his backpack. The four-member train burst through the hotel doors, and Henry broke free to approach the elevators, mashing his thumb against the nearest ‘up’ button.
As soon as a pair of doors slid open, Henry went inside, and Michael trudged after him with the two pokémon, head spinning from agitation.
“You don’t even know if she’s going to evolve!” he said. “Why are you flipping out?”
“Because it’s dangerous!” Henry replied. “You think she knows we’re on the eighth floor? She could be trying to get off the windowsill and make a wrong move, and end up tipping over the wrong edge!
Michael rolled his eyes. “Look — I’m her trainer, I’ll do the worrying. And right now, I don’t see a point in worrying at all. I’m sure Caterpie has a brain. If she comes out of her cocoon, her first thought won’t be to turn and fly out the window. She’ll obviously notice that we’re gone, so she’ll wait for us.”
Henry crossed his arms. “She was my Caterpie before she was yours, you know. And she’s not the type who sits around all day. She likes to explore things.”
To Michael, this seemed completely absurd, but realizing the futility of arguing, he kept silent. Beside him, Machop and Clefable exchanged uncertain glances.
The elevator came to a stop moments later, and the doors slid open to reveal the hallway. Henry approached their room at the same quickened pace, and unlocked the door.
Inside, it was dark and quiet. Michael flipped the light switch and swept his gaze across the area, but when he looked to the window, he drew back in surprise. The windowsill and the carpet around it were littered with shreds of torn webbing, which were strewn with magazines and paper flowers that had fallen from the coffee table. The spot beside Goldeen’s tank was completely clear.
Henry grabbed the sides of his head. “She fell! She fell!”
He ran to the window and slid the glass up as far as it would go, sticking his head out to peer over the edge. “I can’t see anything — it’s too dark… oh God, I’m so stupid, why didn’t I just close it… Wait, hang on, I think there’s a tree somewhere down there! Maybe the branches caught her! Or maybe someone saw her down below! Michael, we’ve gotta go back down there!”
Henry turned around, shaking his finger at the window in earnest. But Michael shook his head.
“You’re overreacting. Look.” He pointed down to the thickest strip of webbing, which lay on the floor like an unfurled ribbon, rolling away from the wall and out to coffee table. “The webbing fell this way. That means she must have landed on the floor. She’s probably around here somewhere.”
Michael lowered his backpack and began to pace around the room, looking in various gaps between the furniture. He ducked behind the TV box and combed his hand through the jungle of wires, but found nothing on the tiny slip of floor. Next, he lowered himself beside his bed and checked underneath it, squinting to make out its contents in the darkness. After a moment, he began to see the outline of a hazy shape.
“Hang on, I think I see something…”
He started to ease himself under the bed, but right then, a small green head peered down from the other side. “Machop? Chop-chop?”
Michael looked up. “Hey, great — you’re tiny. Can you try to crawl in and see what’s lying against that wall?”
Machop got down to his belly and slid himself under the bed, inching his way forward with his arms. Michael crawled back to give him more room, and when Machop got out, he saw the pokémon hold up the object at arm’s length. It was someone’s sneaker.
Michael frowned. “Well that’s not it.”
Machop turned the shoe over in his hands, then tossed it back under.
Meanwhile, Henry got up from beneath the other bed, his shirt covered in dust. “She’s not here either.”
Michael crossed his arms. “Well then we better start from scratch. Let’s just comb through this whole place, and once we’re absolutely positive that Caterpie’s not here, we’ll go downstairs and ask around. For now, don’t touch any of the webbing. It could give us clues.”
He stepped closer to the coffee table, being careful not to disturb any of the fallen objects, and tried to glean some sort of pattern from the paper-like shreds of webbing. But a moment later, he stopped in his tracks. “Hold it! We might not even need to do all this. We’ve got a prime witness right here.” Michael swept an upturned palm in Goldeen’s direction, and went over to her tank. “You probably saw everything that happened!”
He brought his face close to the wall of the tank, and Goldeen swam over to him, moving her lips.
“Where’s Caterpie?” Michael asked. “Did she fall?”
Goldeen blew a few bubbles, but no sound came out.
“Okay, I’ll try again. Is Caterpie still here? Swim up and down for yes, swim to the side for no.”
Goldeen began to shake herself from side to side, then suddenly switched and began to jab her horn in Michael’s direction. But just as he was about to speak, he felt a light breeze, and a pair of tiny feet landed on his head.
Slowly, he reached up, and his fingers brushed against what felt like a heavy, silken leaf. Michael jerked back in surprise, and the weight lifted with the sound of gently-flapping wings. Moments later, a dark purple body swam into his field of vision, silhouetted by silver, and landed on the windowsill beside Goldeen. A pair of red, bulbous eyes met his gaze. Michael stared at them for a split second, then the realization hit him like a punch.
“Butterfree!” Henry approached with his hands clamped over his mouth.
“In the flesh,” Michael replied, and his mouth spread into a smile.
Henry approached the pokémon and took her into his arms. “You had us so worried!” he said. “I swear we shouldn’t have left the window open like that. I was so afraid you’d fall! But I’m guessing this means you got out of that cocoon okay? You didn’t get hurt?” He began to look her over, checking her skin for any cuts or bruises. But she appeared to be in perfect condition. Satisfied, Henry held her out at arm’s length. “Well, I should’ve left you on the chair, at least! Being on the floor probably wasn’t the best welcome for you.”
He gave a chuckle, to which Butterfree responded with a smile, then he passed her on to Michael. Butterfree was now slightly heavier than Ringo, and up close, Michael saw that her simple-looking wings were thick and heavy, and backed by strong muscles. But most importantly, with her enlarged size, he was finally able to see the subtle beauty that had been hidden in her features all along — the delicate fuzz on her skin, the pattern of her compound eyes, and the symmetrical black veins that laced her wings. Michael couldn’t help but be amazed that this pokémon had once been a tiny green sausage.
He looked at Butterfree’s eyes again, not knowing what to say. What did you say to a pokémon when it evolved? Congratulations? Thanks for all the times you didn’t crack your shell when I sent you out against the Fighting types? Idly, he wondered if he looked any different to her, now that she was peering at him through eyes the size of tennis balls. He thought of reminding her, just for the sake of saying something, but thankfully, moments later, he saw her expression flash with recognition.
Michael turned her around some more, then gave her a light toss, and Butterfree rose into the air. Her wings fluttered soundlessly as she drifted over to his shoulder. She couldn’t fold them like Ringo could, however, so he would constantly feel one of them brush against the back of his head.
“Let’s take her outside!” Henry suggested. “She’ll love a nice, open space.”
“Sure thing,” Michael said. “Now that she’s out, at least.”
“Come on!” Henry beckoned and rushed towards the door.
The boys went out into the courtyard, Machop and Clefable following behind, where Michael lifted Butterfree into the air and let her go in front of a flowering tree. He watched her flutter in circles around the leaves, drawing her snout close to the blooms, then slip into the crown and vanish from view. A few passing trainers were drawn in by the sight, and stopped to watch as she flew around, beaming whenever a silver wing flitted into view from between the branches. Butterfree emerged from the tree’s crown and drifted over to the next, her eyes and wings glowing like bicycle reflectors in the moonlight. She explored the neighboring trees in the same fashion, and returned to the boys with two fistfuls of flowers.
Michael caught her with both hands and helped her crawl up to a comfortable position on his shoulder. The other trainers drew closer, stroking her wings and lowering their heads to catch her eye. But Butterfree seemed impartial to the attention she was getting, busying herself instead with the blooms, chewing off the petals and discarding the stems.
The trainers lingered for a while as she ate, then gradually began to leave. Michael swept his gaze over them one last time, then turned to Henry, his arm upheld. “Well, I guess that’s it.”
Butterfree returned his glance with a smile. But her large eyes were glittering and unblinking, making her look like an alien creature. Henry followed Michael to a bench, and continued to look at Butterfree from various angles.
“They have poison dust on their wings,” Henry said. “It comes from somewhere in the scales, I think. Once she learns how to dislodge it, it could come in handy during your battles!”
“And they’re rain-repellant too,” Michael said. He looked askance at Butterfree, lowering his chin till his gaze was level with hers. “You know, you would’ve really helped me if you evolved before the Gym battle!”
Butterfree replied with a flick of her wings that almost resembled a shrug. Michael chuckled.
“Well at least we won’t have to worry about someone stepping on you. Can you still do String Shot?”
Butterfree spit out a tiny silvery string and let it hang from her mouth like dental floss. She sucked it back up.
“Cool. Now what about Bug Bite?”
Butterfree flashed her pointed fangs, and Michael turned his face away. “Never mind. Obviously.”
He set her down onto the bench. “Well, what else? Any new moves? You should be able to learn a lot of special attacks now.”
Butterfree lifted her stubby arms and began to shuffle her feet around in a funny dance. Michael shook his head. “That’s not exactly what I meant, but whatever.” He crossed his arms. “Anyways, now that you’re a flier, we’ll have to change up our strategy. Maybe you can double up with Ringo and make a boss flying duo. Or I could teach you Psychic and you could do a tag-team with Goldeen. You have wings, and she has her water, so you’ll be able to keep up with each other. It would be awesome if you both could just Confuse every opponent before they launch a single move. I could even make you two my opening in double battles. We’ll hypnotize everybody’s pokémon and watch their teams knock themselves out! How great would that be?” He smiled as he contemplated the picture, then put on a serious expression. “But I’m telling you, it’s gonna be a lot of work. Starting now, you’re officially a full-time member of the team, and that means no slacking off. All right?”
Butterfree flicked her wings in a gesture of agreement. She paced about the bench, turning to Machop and Clefable as they approached her. The three pokémon met near a handlebar and began an exchange of sounds and gestures, each one saying something in its own special language, yet somehow understanding its companions. Machop touched the edge of Butterfree’s wing with his index finger, and the Bug pokémon looked up at him. At first, Machop tensed with apprehension, but gradually relaxed the longer he and Butterfree faced each other. A series of thoughts seemed to swirl behind the latter’s eyes, and she smiled. Though Henry probably didn’t notice, Michael saw Machop move his thumb ever so slightly behind his back. He snickered.
“So are you still gonna teach her Energy Ball?” asked Henry after a moment.
Michael shrugged. “Maybe. But that’ll be in Sunyshore. Unless Bertha has some crazy reason to stay in Pastoria longer.”
Henry smiled faintly, gazing out at the distant city. “I don’t know… I think everywhere’s gonna be the same now.”
Michael was about to ask him what he meant, when all of a sudden he heard a rush of footsteps and the shouts of approaching trainers. He looked up to see a group of kids run past them, then one boy stopped in his tracks and pointed ahead to the Gym.
“Hey you two, get to the Gym! GASP’s on TV! They’re here, they’re live!”
In a snap, Michael lowered his arms to his sides and spun around towards the bench. He lifted Butterfree from the seat and beckoned to Machop, while Henry heaved his tote bag over his shoulder. Once the five of them were ready to go, the boys broke into a run, chasing after the rivers of people who were coming from all points on the plaza, collecting in front of the Gym’s entrance.
Inside, the Pastoria Gym was submerged in darkness. The lamps in the lobby were dimmed, and the hallways were filled with shadowy figures. People moved about the rooms in hushed agitation, shifting chairs and laying blankets onto the wooden floor. Michael and Henry attached themselves to the next incoming group, and were directed by Lace to the main sitting room. Nearly all the furniture was pushed against the walls and burdened with TV sets, which had been brought in from various locations, and plugged into every power outlet in sight. The room was filled to bursting with the greatest variety people imaginable: Trainers sat beside townies, Gym staff among store clerks and librarians. Michael and Henry settled down in at a spot in front of the couch, their pokémon squeezing in between them, and shifted every so often as more people stepped through the aisles. Michael set Butterfree in his lap and stilled her wings with his hands.
“Keep those as quiet as you can,” he said. “This is history in the making, right here.”
Butterfree lifted her head to glimpse the screen, which was currently showing an outer view of the Pastoria City Hall, illuminated by white spotlights. Crowds were thronging about the fence on all sides, their cheers just barely audible in the distance.
Noticing her attention, Michael pointed up to the image. “See all those people? They’re here because there’s gonna be a conference tonight. It’ll be the first time Team Galactic’s ever stepped out into the public, and they’re gonna do it right from this city. You’ll get to see all the other people from GASP, too — that’s the name of the alliance between Galactic and the Rockets. It’s weird, I know. I never thought it would happen either, but I guess the times call for desperate measures. Remember Deoxys? That’s the reason they got together. They’re planning this huge operation to bring it to Earth, and now both countries are losing their minds.” He looked down at Butterfree, who in turn tilted her head up to look at him, and shook his head in pity. “You missed out on a lot.”
The pokémon clicked her jaws, and to his left, Machop gave a hmm.
Suddenly, the televisions flickered. The chatter in the room died down, and everybody stilled. The image of the outer building lingered for a second longer, then the screens switched to show the interior of a large conference hall, headed by a panel of GASP officials, raised on a platform above a sea of reporters.
At the center of the long table sat Dr. Allan Knight, identified by the silver plaque in front of him. As it turned out, Michael’s initial imagination of him hadn’t been far off — Knight was a portly, dark-haired man, with a straight face that nevertheless looked like it could break into a mischievous smile at any moment.
Once the initial introductions and formalities were over, Knight cleared his throat and looked down at the papers in front of him.
“Ladies, gentlemen. It is my immense pleasure and honor to announce to the people of Hoenn and Sinnoh the alliance that has been forged between our two organizations. Where in the past, Team Rocket and Team Galactic may have had some discrepancies and misunderstandings, now they’ve been set aside for the greater good of pooling our efforts. Mr. Blue and I hope this will help both of our organizations reach their proper potential, and will allow us to treat the situation at hand with the care and seriousness it deserves. I have spoken at length with the director following the discovery of Deoxys, and we have agreed to cooperate in light of our findings so that further study can be approached from a politically-neutral standpoint. It is neither Mr. Blue’s intention, nor mine, that this alliance should be viewed as anything but what it is. So long as GASP exists, Teams Rocket and Galactic agree to retain their individual enterprise and autonomy, but cooperate when needed in the field of missions and discovery. As of now, the two members of GASP have one policy only — to study Deoxys. This GASP’s official mission as it stands at this moment, and both agreeing sides are working equally, and solely, to achieve it.”
There was a chorus of shouts and stamps as reporters rose with their cameras, proffering recording devices to the air.
Michael took the moment to observe the other men on the panel. Some of them were Team Galactic members, marked as such by the ‘G’ logo on their name plaques. They appeared to be sitting in order of rank, like the Rockets, with the highest official sharing the center with Dr. Knight. It wasn’t Thealus Blue, however, but a man by the name of Stephen Adams. He had short red hair and a steady, narrow-eyed gaze.
“How do you plan on responding to the concerns about Deoxys’s safety?” a reporter asked.
Stephen Adams proceeded to answer. “We have investigated the matter extensively and are continuing to investigate it. We have no intention of ignoring public scrutiny on the matter, and when we have drawn up a reasonable mission plan, we will release it to the public.”
There was another chorus of voices as reporters rose from their chairs.
“What will be the nature of Team Galactic’s activity in Sinnoh now that you have decided to split the financial burdens?”
“On behalf of our director, I can assure you that our intentions will be fixed on engineering and production of equipment vital to the project,” Adams replied. “Development of the rocket is underway, and while I can’t provide any estimates yet as to when it will be completed, we are hoping to have a final prototype by the end of the year.”
“And for the record—” Allan Knight cut in, leaning forward, “—Team Rocket will be doing the other half of the job. We will concern ourselves with assembly of the launchpad, and when the time comes, facilitate the launch. But as soon as we have liftoff, as soon as we pass through that atmosphere, we become workers of GASP, with no political or corporate boundaries.” He folded his hands. “Of course, it’s much too early to be thinking about that. For now, we’re focusing our efforts on planning the missions and designing the spacecraft to accommodate Deoxys’ needs — which, I assure you all again, we are examining.”
After another interim of chatter, a third reporter’s voice rose above the din: “How will your new policy of financial cooperation affect the respective financial policies of Sinnoh and Hoenn?”
One of the Team Rocket members answered. “The project is still in its infancy, so as of now, we’re not able to answer that question. We can only assure you that all federal funding received by each company will be treated as common property of GASP for the duration of this mission.”
The next question came moments later: “What is Deoxys’s current status?”
“Deoxys is still in its former orbit around the Earth, closely followed by a Hoenn spacecraft that transmits signals to Team Galactic’s satellites, and to the Mossdeep Space Center. The pokémon knows of our presence, but does not appear to be attacking or fleeing.”
“What have you discovered about Deoxys so far that would warrant reasonable belief that it can survive on Earth?”
Dr. Knight smiled. “Ah, the one we’ve all been waiting for.” He clasped his hands together and looked straight ahead at the crowd. “Let this be known by everyone — Deoxys is not like any creature that lives on Earth, so all our biological preconceptions about what life is have to be modified in order for us to study it. The first thing I’d like to point out is that Deoxys is a creature of energy, not of flesh and blood. It doesn’t feed, but rather fuels itself by absorbing background cosmic radiation, which keeps its body alive almost like electricity runs a machine. The amount of radiation Deoxys experiences can vary, of course, depending on whether or not there are any stars or planets nearby, and if Deoxys is a traveling creature, which we have no doubt it is, then it would’ve had to have found a way to get the necessary dosages no matter its location. On Earth, the amount of cosmic background radiation we experience is much lower due to our atmosphere, but nonetheless there are lots of terrestrial sources of radiation that could serve as a substitute. Radiation can be found concentrated in certain strains of rock and soil, for example, which is produced by radioactive isotopes left behind from the planet’s formation. It’s also produced by the naturally-occurring processes within the Earth’s crust, and, perhaps most importantly, by that big bright star that’s only about ninety-three million miles away from us.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and some people in the crowd chuckled. “Now, obviously we’ll have to construct machinery that will contain this energy for Deoxys, but given the wealth of our resources, we believe we have all the necessary tools to provide Deoxys the dosages it needs, once we find out what those dosages are.”
“The second dimension to this issue is the factor of Earth’s climate,” said Stephen Adams. “It is, as of now, the more pressing problem. After we find Deoxys’ required intake for radiation, we must examine the effects that atmospheric pressure will have on its bodily structure. We’re looking at a creature that has lived its entire life in a pressureless void. The fact that Deoxys can alternate between extreme heat and cold, such as when passing in close proximity to the Sun or to the far side of the Earth, is a sign that it may have similar adaptations to changes in gravitational fields. But of course, we have no way of knowing whether or not Deoxys has landed on planets before, or simply drifts through space. Our transport and containment chambers will mimic the environment of space as closely as possible, with airlock, antigravity, and temperature control features.”
“As Deoxys’ transport is with no doubt a global issue, will other countries be involved in this process?”
“Yes,” said Adams. “They have been notified of the development, and it’s been agreed that once all the scientific work has been finalized, a global summit will be held to make a final decision. As of now, the project concerns Hoenn and Sinnoh only, since we are the countries responsible for conducting the research and planning the mission.”
Another reporter rose. “Apart from the way in which it obtains energy, how does Deoxys differ in biological structure from terrestrial pokémon?”
“As of now, our knowledge is limited only to pictures, and a limited number of samples that we managed to collect,” replied a Galactic official. “Deoxys appears to be made of a material similar in durability to that of spacecraft. Whether this is its body's natural form, or a provisional form that it adopts when in flight, we have no way of knowing right now. We can’t collect more detailed samples because both we and Team Rocket lack the necessary equipment aboard our ships. From what we have seen of its outer behavior, we know that Deoxys propels itself by generating psychic blasts, which may classify it as a Psychic type. Due to the tremendous variety of pokémon species even on our own planet, it could very well be that Deoxys originated on Earth, yet somehow managed to adapt itself to space. But even if this were the case, it would still have been a tremendous feat to accomplish, and therefore certainly worth studying.”
“Have you decided on a location for Deoxys to land, and if not, what factors will influence your eventual decision?”
The officials on the panel whispered amongst themselves. After looking to them for a moment, Dr. Knight answered. “We haven’t finalized anything yet, but we’re certainly considering several options, according to their altitude and relative isolation from the main continents. We certainly don’t want to land Deoxys in the middle of an urban area. But at the same time, if we choose an isolated location, it will have to have a decent source of natural radiation, something to the effect of the Coronet Mountains or Meteor Falls. Another option would be to conduct the study from places that are part of a larger landmass, but would enable us to draw radiation from a nearby source, such as the Three Lakes of Sinnoh…”
There was some muttering at this. But rather than continuing, Knight shook his head. “At any rate,” he said, “I don’t want to give you the impression that anything’s been decided, because nothing’s been decided yet. Rest assured that when we do reach a decision, we’ll announce it immediately, and won’t take action until we’ve made arrangements with any countries that might be affected.”
This did not seem to entirely satisfy the reporters, but nevertheless they sat down again.
From that point on, Michael tuned in and out of the dialogue, gazing idly at the faces on the panel while he dwelled on various things that they mentioned. The officials went into more intricate details of Deoxys’s bodily structure, and the status of the astronauts and equipment that were current in orbit. When the conference ended, all twelve officials on the panel stood, and the entire crowd of reporters rose from their chairs to see them off. Cameras flashed as Dr. Knight and Stephen Adams turned to leave the room, the rest of the Rockets and Galactics swarming around them.
Moments after the panel members left, the picture froze, switching to a shot of the Pastoria City Hall, where a female reporter stood against the fence that bordered the building. Behind her, the group of black cars was leaving through the gates, followed by massive crowds who were cheering and waving.
“And there goes Dr. Allan Knight with Stephen Adams, along with the rest of the GASP management, who’ve stepped out before the world for the very first time. People all over the city have come to watch them leave, and you can literally feel their excitement as they finally catch a glimpse of the people they’ve been waiting to see since morning. GASP has certainly been welcomed with open arms in Pastoria, though undeniably the debates about Deoxys are still ongoing, and now that the company has laid out a plan of action, it’ll definitely have to execute it and be mindful of a watchful public. As we speak, the officials are making their way to the airport where they will leave the city, some heading off to Mossdeep, others to the Galactic headquarters in Veilstone. Dr. Knight has released a statement of thanks to Pastorian government, stating that the time he spent in Sinnoh has opened his eyes to the high morale of Hoenn’s new partner, and he feels honored to have gotten to know a city that, in his opinion, captures the Sinnoh soul like no other.”
The woman smiled in farewell, and moments later, an anchorman appeared on the screen. “Thank you, Debbie. GASP has certainly given Hoenn and Sinnoh a lot to think about, particularly about Deoxys and the ever-looming possibility of an Earth landing. But as it turns out, that’s not all the news we have for you today. SNN has just received word that the Sinnoh Pokémon Rights Activist Group convened for an official meeting just a few days after GASP’s unveiling at the beginning of the month. And now, they’ve come forward to make an announcement of their own. Let’s tune in to their live broadcast from Sunyshore City.”
The image switched to a man standing behind a podium, reading a speech to an auditorium full of people.
“… we will not sit back and let the people’s complaints go unanswered. It’s time that the proponents of science learn that they can’t do whatever they want with the universe we all share. On behalf of the Pokémon Rights Group, I call the people of Sinnoh and Hoenn and all other nations to join us in protest, so that for one day, all the airwaves and TV networks of the country will be focused on us — on the pokémon, and on the sanctity of life.”
The anchorman’s voice sounded over the picture, drowning out the rest of the audio. “The Pokémon Rights Activist Group of Sinnoh has planned a protest rally in Sunyshore City that will take place on July 23nd, intended for all opponents of GASP and of the Deoxys operation. Preparations have been slowly progressing since the space companies’ unification, and now the Activist Group has confirmed that the protest will take place in the Grand Assembly Square, a ten-acre field located at the center of Sunyshore. Normally, this space is reserved for concerts and fairs, but now, it will be the host of the most significant gathering of the decade, and the promised beginning of a nationwide movement.”
When the broadcast concluded, Michael snorted. “Great. The PRAG again.”
Beside him, Henry frowned. “Why, what’s the problem?”
“Come on, when was the last time they did something remotely useful? All they do is get together and talk about how pokémon are ‘disadvantaged’. And they start scandals about the stupidest things — like the time they flipped out at the Crown City Fire Department for using Floatzel and Gravelers to put out fires.”
Henry laughed. “Hey, yeah, I remember that.” But he looked up at the TV again, and pursed his lips. “Still, you gotta admit, they could be onto something. Bringing Deoxys to Earth isn’t exactly risk-free. The GASP people said it themselves.”
“They said that they’re working on it, smart one. All they need to do is build a chamber that counteracts gravitational pressure, and Deoxys’ll be fine. It’s just the panicky reporters that blow everything out of proportion.” Michael fell into a brief silence, watching Butterfree wiggle her feet in contentment. “You’d think with all this crap people are shooting that GASP wants to tear down the Space-Time Tower or something. I bet that’s why Team Galactic kept all its work a secret. Thealus Blue probably knew there was no point in trying to explain himself to people, so he just didn’t bother. And after all this, I think I’d do the same.”
He cast his gaze over the rest of the room and rose to his feet. All around, people were collecting into chattering groups, and though their voices all blended together, it was clear that they had the same things on their minds. Others were headed for the exit, forming slow-trickling lines in the open aisles. Henry got up moments later, and together the boys and their pokémon made their way into the lobby. Topics from the conference hung in the air like a heavy cloud, but the news of the protest had stirred up an equal, if not greater, excitement.
They searched around the rooms for Shella and Bertha, but found neither of them, and as the Gym began to empty, they were forced to call it quits. They went back to their hotel room and got as much sleep as they could, though every now and then Michael was stirred awake by hushed voices in the hallway, and the sounds of people who were still wandering about the plaza.
The excitement continued well into the next morning. The cafeteria downstairs was packed with staff and trainers, and buzzed with the added noise of televisions that had been placed around the room’s perimeter. Michael cast frequent glances to the screens as he and Henry proceeded through the food line, then they found seats at the edge of a table and watched the broadcast close-up. The anchorman did a recap of the previous evening’s press conference, but devoted much of his time to elaborate on the Sunyshore protest, which Michael looked down from only occasionally to eat his breakfast.
“I wonder how they’re going to set that whole thing up,” a trainer remarked across from them. “I’ve been to Sunyshore, and that assembly square is huge.”
“Are they really going to get other countries involved?” asked another.
“If they do, it’ll be one heck of a crowd.”
Indeed, the estimates were staggering. A reporter appeared to broadcast live from Sunyshore, and confirmed that the whole city would be closed for the event, and that it was expected that a crowd of more than a hundred-fifty thousand people would be gathered in and around the protest’s location. The images it brought to Michael’s mind made his thoughts race in a confused storm. He himself had never been in an auditorium of more than twenty-thousand people. When he imagined an entire city halting its business to host a protest, it felt like the whole world had stopped moving.
They left the cafeteria a short while later. As they passed through the hotel lobby, Michael saw the front doors open, revealing Bertha, who was carrying her briefcase.. Seeing them, she smiled and quickened her pace to meet them.
“Marie told me you finished your battles,” she said. “Congrats! Now we have to get a move on. I want to get to Sunyshore early to make it in time for the protest preparations.”
Michael balked. “Wait — we’re going?”
“Of course!” Bertha blinked in surprise. “The biggest crowd of Team Galactic opposers in history is coming together in our own backyard, and you expect me to sit here answering phone calls? No way. I could get almost a hundred thousand signatures right then and there. Not to mention publicity... oh, sweet publicity.” A smile spread over her face, and with a sink of the heart Michael realized she had the point that couldn’t be beat.
Bertha placed her hands on their shoulders and gave them a gentle nudge. “Go on and pack your bags, boys. I’ll meet you down here in a few minutes.”
Having no choice but to comply, Michael and Henry turned for the elevators. Meanwhile, Bertha disappeared behind the door to the stairway. Once the boys had reached the solitude of their hotel room, they began to pack, too lost in thought to say anything to each other. It was only when they had cleared the room of their possessions, and isolated themselves by a tree near the hotel’s entrance that Henry finally turned to Michael.
“Well, what now?”
Michael shrugged. “We’re going to Sunyshore, that’s what.”
“No, I mean the Gym. How are we going to prepare if the whole city’s going to be closed for the protest? How do we know if the Gym’s even going to be working?”
“I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Henry’s gaze dropped to the sidewalk. “As long as we don’t end up being stuck there for weeks again…”
“Well, we won’t exactly be bored out of our minds,” Michael said. “We have to start planning ahead for the next two Gyms. If they’re anything like this one was, we’ll need at least five days of training before each battle. We can’t risk winging it. That’s why I think we should get the rest of our research done in Sunyshore.” He unzipped his backpack and took out his notebook, flipping to the chart to check its bank spaces. “I want to know what types the last three Gyms are, and what pokémon the leaders have, so that we can spend more time getting our teams ready and less time running around libraries. And Bertha will be busy with the protest stuff, so we’ll have loads of time on our hands to work on our strategies.”
Henry nodded in agreement.
“And you know,” Michael continued, “I’ve been thinking. What’s the point of us doing all this work for the chart if it’s just going to die with us when we finish the League? We should really spread the word to others. That way, no matter if we win or lose, other trainers will be able to benefit from what we did. It’ll be like making our mark, almost.”
Henry lifted an eyebrow. “You mean you want to publish your chart?”
“Well, not publish, but at least get the information out. It would be too risky to spread around an exact copy, so maybe I could stick with writing articles, and let the information out slowly. We have a whole bunch of stuff on type combinations, and some of it most average trainers might not even know. Think about how easier it would make their lives if they had it all down before they started the Gyms. They’d never catch a pokémon blind — they’d know exactly what each battler can do, and how to maximize each of their potentials. They wouldn’t have to waste time with battle items or training classes. They’d be able to make their teams flexible, so that they’ll be able to counter any Gym under the sun.” He fixed his gaze on Henry. “Don’t you see what we could do? We could completely change the way trainers do the League. It won’t be some kiddie competition anymore; it’ll be a real challenge, for people with real brains. And we’re pretty much the ones who started this, so it’s our job do to pass down our method to the next generation.”
“Mm. Maybe.” Henry’s tone was neutral, though Michael detected a smile of temptation breaking through his attempted calm.
“Not maybe — definitely.” He smiled. “It’s not like it’s illegal. We used our own minds to come up with it, so it’ll just be publishing what people could technically have figured out for themselves. That’s not cheating, right?”
Henry shrugged, suppressing a giggle. Michael jostled him with his elbow. “Right?”
A mellow, singsong voice issued from behind. Michael turned around, as did Henry, realizing what was happening a second before he was confirmed, with an almost audible drop of his heart, by the lean figure of Bertha Herrida. She stood before them like an apparition, hands on hips, a sly smile twisting her lips.
Michael scrambled to shield his notebook behind his back, but Bertha stopped him with a shake of the head. “Save it, Michael. I’ve already seen it.”
Michael balked. “What? You—?”
“Uh-huh.” Bertha gave a nod. “Every word. I know you two have been gathering information about the Gyms. I know you’re making a type chart, and I know you’re using it to win your battles.”
Henry’s voice had receded to a whisper. “How?”
Bertha crossed her arms. “Come on. Do I look that clueless to you? We’ve been traveling together for weeks. I see how you two battle, how your teams’ moves almost always end up perfect counters against your opponents, and how before every important battle you have at least one new pokémon or move that carries the day with the leader’s team. You don’t have to be a genius to know that can’t be an accident. Just this morning, I asked Marie to tell me how you guys battled, and you know what she said to me? She said that she was impressed at how the majority of your pokémon were good with electric attacks, and that it was rather lucky that you found yourselves in a battle with a Water-type trainer. And on my part, I thought it was rather strange that two boys should suddenly start training with electric moves, when they’d gone fine without them in the past.”
“But that could mean anything,” Michael said. “What if we just wanted to teach our pokémon new moves, and didn’t get a chance until now? That’s pretty ambiguous evidence, if you ask me.”
“Why would you suddenly want your pokémon to learn Electric moves now, though? And only Electric moves?” Bertha gave a solemn smile. “You can’t fool me, Michael. I’ve seen everything — all those little conversations, all those books you rent, all those moves you teach. We don’t spend a single day in a city before you two run off and start investigating, and while I admit I haven’t heard everything you guys have ever talked about, what I did was more than enough to convince me that you were up to something. Like just now.”
Michael narrowed his eyes. “So you knew before?”
“I had my suspicions since Hearthome, but I didn’t put two-and-two together till Solaceon,” Bertha said. “At first, I thought you were only adapting to difficult circumstances with Jerry. I realized that after my Gym, being in such a big city could have been daunting, which would make you want to bolster your teams as much as possible to prepare for an opponent you weren’t familiar with. When we got to Solaceon, I figured you’d adapt the same way to the style of Lona’s Gym. But when I checked up with the staff to see how you were doing, they only ever told me one thing — that you were two of the only trainers who seemed to have a strategy of their own. They said right from the get-go that you were unusually restrained and focused, and perhaps too often lucky with type combinations.” She paused. “Not to mention, that one day when I walked by, you practically shouted your theories about Lona’s team to the whole room. I appreciated the effort of you hiding your notebook, Michael, but that, I think, was when I knew for sure that something was up. So later that day, I asked the hotel staff to let me into your room, and I did a quick look-around. Nothing major, I just wanted to see what you had on your desk, on the shelves, stuff like that. And there it was, lying on the table, opened up to a page with notes for your battle with Lona.”
Michael managed to snap out of his stupor enough to make an incredulous expression. “Then why didn’t you say anything to us when we left Solaceon? Maybe we just didn’t know any better, and you let us keep on with it!”
“Hold on there, tiger. I didn’t come to my conclusion right away. It was gradual. And I know that what you two were doing wasn’t an accident. It was too well thought-out for that. But you should have been more careful, especially since you have a League official on your shoulders.”
By now, Henry was white in the face. “What are you going to do to us?”
Bertha remained silent for a suspenseful moment, then smiled. “Fortunately for you, I’m not going to turn you in… yet. You guys are bending the rules a little too far, and just because there’s nothing in them that explicitly prohibits what you’re doing, doesn’t mean that the League won’t ever have the grounds to penalize you. That’s why I’m going to give you boys the chance to correct yourselves. I’ll pretend I forgot everything that happened before, and you’ll both start fresh. From now on, I don’t want you two collaborating. At all. That means no more charts. No more exchanging tips before battles, or gathering counters for the next Gym type. In fact, I’m going to enforce this by making sure each of you has somewhere to be every day without the inclusion of the other. The most I’ll allow is for you to have practice battles, and during your Gym challenges, I’ll let you cheer each other on. But after that, it’ll be back to solitary confinement, so to speak.” In response to the boys’ perplexed expressions, Bertha gave a shrug. “If you think this is harsh, you haven’t seen anything yet. The League can pass a fine faster than you can count the zeroes. I’m doing this for your own good, because I feel I’ve known you long enough to believe that you generally meant well, and in my eyes a couple of teenagers don’t exactly deserve to have their record marred for life. So I’ve decided to help you learn from your mistakes. From now on, you play by my rules. And don’t think I’m not being serious. If I hadn’t caught you now, then at the rate you’re going, you two might have ended up facing charges for League felony.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “Felony?”
“Hey, it’s happened. You could do a lot worse than make a type chart, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. I want you boys to understand the serious side of League business. If you keep walking boldly in unknown territory, you’ll end up springing a trap. So think of me as strike two. I want you on your best, rule-abiding behavior from now on, or I will report you.”
Michael and Henry exchanged a glance, then nodded submissively.
Bertha beamed. “Great. I’ll call a cab.”
The taxi arrived in a matter of minutes, whisking them away from the Trainer Plaza and back to Valor Lakefront. Michael and Henry trailed behind Bertha in silence as she navigated through the crowds at the rail terminal, not even willing to meet each other’s gazes. After she purchased their tickets, they proceeded to the sitting room, where half an hour later their train was called. They were just about to make their way to the gate when suddenly, a voice sounded from behind.
Michael turned to see who had spoken, and with a flood of shock he recognized Shella. She was running towards them with a luggage bag in tow, a train ticket flapping from her free hand. Seeing the girl, Bertha smiled in greeting.
“Ah, hi Shella. Nice to see you.”
“Are you leaving for Sunyshore?”
Bertha nodded. “Afraid so. I gotta get these two rabble-rousers to their next Gym. And I have some petition-related business at the protest, so the sooner we get there, the better.”
Shella took a breath, and placed both hands on the handle of her luggage bag. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to join you.”
The boys balked. Bertha seemed equally surprised, and lifted her eyebrows. “Join us, as in, help with my petition?”
Shella nodded. “I know it might seem counterintuitive, because on the one hand, I really want GASP to have a chance to prove itself. But at the same time I think your petition will help everyone in the long run. The more time I spend in all these cities, the more I see that Sinnoh’s having trouble finding a balance between two cultures—science and pokémon training. Most people nowadays see one of them as the new and the other as the old, so they’re favoring one over the other. I think the same is happening in Hoenn, too. But honestly, I think that if the governments could give the League a fair chance to save itself, everyone would be better off.” She shrugged. “I’ve talked with Marie about what you’re doing. She said you could always use a helper, so I figured…”
Bertha considered her for a moment, and seemed ready to smile, before she remembered something and paused. “Wait a minute. Aren’t you on vacation?”
Shella waved a hand. “I already checked out of Grand Lake. I technically have another month and a half before I should go back to Hoenn, but I think it’s much more interesting to travel this country than to stay cooped up in a penthouse. I spent enough time doing that in the past, unfortunately, but now with all this GASP stuff going on, I really want to be in the thick of things, for once. To see them happen myself.”
At this proclamation, a smile curled the corners of Bertha’s mouth. “I like your thinking, girl. Welcome aboard!”
Shella’s elated gaze fell to the boys, who gave halfhearted smiles in response. With her team of three in tow, Bertha passed through the gate to the platform and led the way into the sleek, silver train. The grin lingered on her face throughout, growing ever wider as they settled into their own compartment with a view of the horizon outside. A minute passed as the last few passengers boarded, then the train doors swooshed closed.
Meanwhile, near the outskirts of town, a silver Cadillac DeVille sped down a two-lane road, cutting through a neighborhood of long, low-roofed houses. It traveled for a few minutes before slowing, and pulled into a small, bare driveway. The engine stopped, the driver’s door opened, and out stepped the man in the business suit and glasses. Moments later, the two back doors opened as well, and a pair of men in plain city clothes joined his either side.
The man took a moment to survey the house, then proceeded to the door. One of his companions withdrew a spare key from his pocket and opened it, and the trio filed into a spacious, minimally-furnished entrance room. The sound of their footsteps was soon joined by a subtle clicking, which grew louder and louder as the men neared one of the inner rooms.
The bespectacled man stopped before a half-open door and pushed it, exposing a small office with a desk, a lamp, and some file cabinets. The occupant sat with his back to the new arrivals, head bent over a typewriter. His fingers were strumming the keys with hardly a moment’s pause, ironing out what seemed to be a long, dense article.
The newcomer waited several moments, till his companions had closed the door behind them, then approached the desk, hands on his hips.
“Well, well. Marvin Whitman.”
The writer jerked, nearly pushing the typewriter aside in surprise. He turned around, just as the newcomer stepped forward, where light from the window spilled over his face and brought him into full view. Seeing him, the writer seemed to freeze, and his eyes darted across the men’s faces in bewilderment, as if they had been ghostly apparitions. The two bodyguards stepped away from the door and closed in on the desk, their faces impassive. The bespectacled man folded his hands behind his back.
“Let me guess… Helfer sent you here, didn’t he?”
The writer was silent.
“Gave you some papers, some records… and a rather nice cover story back at the Headquarters, I must say. Unfortunately, he miscalculated the power of the public press, which is all the more ironic since he believes he can use it for his own purposes. Next time you might want to try diluting your publications, lest you lay the very paper trail that leads the authorities straight to you. Mr. Blue is already less than pleased with him, and I’m sure that when this reaches his ears, he’ll have even more reason to take action against his little collective — you included. Spreading false information about the company you work for is both dangerous and highly foolish, especially since said company is more important to Sinnoh at this moment than any other. Is a lawsuit what you really want?”
The writer cast his gaze aside with a grumble. “No…”
“Then I suggest you decide which operation you support: The one that will bring decades of work to ruin, or the one with the potential to change the world.”
The two bodyguards that flanked the man stepped forward. One took the typewriter, along with the stacks of unfinished articles, and the other lifted the writer from his chair, handcuffing his hands behind his back. The bespectacled man led the way out into the driveway, stopping beside the car, where the writer tugged and squirmed from the guard’s tight grip.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To Veilstone City, to have a little chat with the director,” the man replied. “I’m sure you can provide him with information on Alfonso’s whereabouts, along with his other followers. And with the Sunyshore protest on the way, I’m sure you’ll understand our need to tread with the utmost care.”
The writer grumbled in spiteful compliance. The bodyguards opened the doors of the silver Cadillac and sat him down, taking their places on either side of him. The bespectacled man himself got into the driver’s seat.
Once all the doors were closed and the engine had hummed to life, the man took a glimpse at the writer in the rearview mirror, and smiled. His glasses winked in the sunlight.
“I say it’s time to tell the world the truth. Won’t you agree?”
Yay, Butterfree (aka the Pokemon formerly known as Metapod/Caterpie) is safe! On a somewhat more serious note, the first part of the chapter with Butterfree is a good step toward giving the Pokemon a bigger role in the story (that you mentioned wanting to work on.) Of course, my goal has been to give Pokemon smaller roles in my stories, but that's probably just me lol
Well, what a surprise... Thealus doesn't appear himself but instead sends his right hand man Steve to represent Galactic. And maybe it's just me, but I'm finding their answers at the press conference to be a little vague and evasive, i.e., "we don't know exactly what Deoxys is, or how it survives, or what it's capable of, yet we're developing all these fancy containment devices and energy sources that we *think* will contain and sustain it. Man, this is all too reminiscent of a (600-pound gorilla, bizarre) church in my city, where the head honcho pastor (ironically the boss here is named Steve as opposed to the underling) won't answer questions from the media and sends his second-in-command to do that, and the church's answers to some concerns also seem pretty evasive.
Holy crap, that's a big protest meeting. Then again, considering the stakes involving Deoxys, and the unknowns which *still* weren't fully explained by GASP top brass, it's perfectly understandable that so many would be against it. Heck, if I was there in that place and time, I wouldn't be fully backing the "bring Deoxys to Earth" plan either. Just seems like there's too much risk involved. And of course Bertha's getting that glint in her eye - she sees an opportunity for her petition to hit the big time
And of course stuff starts to get real toward the end of the chapter
Personally, I don't get what the League would have against creating a type chart or tailoring training regimens to focus on specific, super effective attacks. Seems more like smart strategy rather than cheating to me. Then again, it's probably because of the culture of the times, created by the power and influence of the League (after all, they gotta protect their secrets to remain the big, powerful organization that they are ), so I'll give it a pass. Thank heavens policy has changed since then and the type matchups are widely known information nowadays.
I had a notion that Henry and Michael should just part ways with Bertha and conduct business as usual, but then Bertha *would* report them, no questions asked. So they're kinda stuck now lol.
Shella joining the crew could add an interesting new dynamic to the situation, especially with Bertha laying down the law. Perhaps the boys will end up using her as a "runner" to relay information between the two or maybe have her collect information herself and report it to them covertly. I just don't think that Michale is going to give up on all his research at this point in the game - he's much too determined and stubborn for that
And to close this out, there's the whole issue of how they'll even get to challenge the gym with Sunyshore being closed down for the protst rally and stuff
So yeah, quite a few tantalizing new facts, situations, and dilemmas have come to light in this chapter. and the ways they may or may not be resolved should make for some interesting reading in the chapters to come
Butterfree definitely represents a step in the right direction for Michael, especially since now, we know that he won't always have Henry to keep him company anymore. He might have to send out his pokemon a little more often when he gets to Sunyshore.
You're right in a sense about the culture of the times. Trainers in 1960s Sinnoh don't care about type matchups as much as trainers do "today", even though they have some basic knowledge of Fire being weak against Water, Water being weak against Electric, etc. (Interestingly, this wasn't how I originally envisioned Roots. Originally, I intended for type combinations to be a complete mystery, with Michael being the first trainer ever to take advantage of them. Then as the story progressed, I started seeing the bad logic in that, so now I plan on revising the earlier chapters to cohere with my present mentality, which I've already started to show in recent ones.) Gym leaders don't care for type matchups for similar reasons that trainers don't -- it's just not the way they train. So as a whole, the League's attitude towards type combinations is pretty lax, and they're fine with trainers trying to make their teams as versatile as possible, as long as they're not doing what Michael is doing, which is creating a guide that will help other trainers beat the actual League. They're not trying to cover up the information or anything. (At any rate, that would be impossible, since some type matchups are pretty much common knowledge. Unless the League employs some mass-brainwashing to the effect of what you had going on in your story. But that's not Roots anymore. xP)
And yeah, Michael and Henry are pretty much stuck with Bertha now. They might have been able to act like she didn't exist before, but now they can't. xP
That doesn't mean Michael will give up, of course. He'll employ some new schemes to evade Bertha. Having Shella on board will prove tremendously important for him, but the reason won't be immediately clear.
Anyways, thanks for the review! I'm glad you liked the chapter, and I'll be working away on the next one...
UPDATE: HARUKA OF HOENN LIVE WITH BREAKING NEWS
"Chapter 40 is practically done save for one more scene to write, a few bits of dialogue to finish, and some description to tidy up. It won't be a long chapter, but it'll be important. I've also finished editing Chapter 2, so I'll have that post updated soon as well. More will be on the way, right after this commercial break..."
Over in the Jubilife suburbs, the morning of July 13th had dawned in a rapid flash. For the first time in a while, the Rowan house was bustling — alive with the sounds of voices and movement from a crowd of guests downstairs. They consisted of Patricia’s friends and neighbors, many of whom had been involved with the neighborhood search for Michael, others who had tagged along to the community gathering. They coalesced in the living room, where the TV was playing a news report, its audio mixing in with sounds of conversation. The tables were covered with an assortment of snacks and drinks, some of which Patricia had prepared, others that her guests had brought in.
For a few hours she had switched from mingling with the crowd to scurrying to the kitchen to replenish empty bowls, before she finally took a break to do the dishes. She was now scrubbing the remnants of fried potatoes from a skillet, while trying to keep tabs on what the people on TV were saying.
Unfortunately, she had been asleep when the GASP unveiling had aired, and so she had missed much of the initial craze that followed the next day. She had calmly gone about her routine, and had even planned to get some shopping done in the city, when Betty Arlington called to ask her opinion on the news. Patricia had turned on the TV in confusion, and in a matter of seconds, fell dumbstruck onto the couch, losing all desire to get up from it.
The GASP alliance was truly shocking — not so much from the fact that two corporate rivals had joined forces, but more because of the pokémon that represented their common goal. Patricia’s skin crawled at the thought of an alien creature being brought to Earth, both because their safety could be put into jeopardy, and also Deoxys’s. She had always held a firm opinion that the less people meddled with the extraterrestrial world, the better. God knew what was out there, first of all, and second, she couldn’t imagine any real need for exploring it. But she supposed that the scientific community craved space travel for its novelty, and as long as their ventures stayed within the realm of controlled observation, she was fine with them. But landing Deoxys on Earth was pushing the envelope.
Nevertheless, Patricia hung on to the reporters’ every word from that day forward. She dutifully tuned in every morning to watch the story develop, and like many other people in her suburban community, found herself staying in the house for hours on end. It wasn’t until the GASP press conference was announced that she recalled her resolution to get life going again, and organized a few get-togethers at her house, both to catch up with the news, and to apologize to her friends for withdrawing herself.
Although this morning’s program was mainly dedicated to repeating previous coverage, it also revealed more about the Sunyshore protest, which Patricia already knew would outshine the conference in the public media. The supply of chips was rapidly being depleted by her most boisterous guests — Cory and Brendan — who occupied the armchairs directly in front of the television. Being the more dutiful followers, they hadn’t missed a wink of coverage, and were now having a heated debate over the sound of the reporter’s words. The adults lingered in their own circles, sipping juice and chatting, while some younger children played on the floor, their attention divided between television and toys.
Patricia finished cleaning the skillet and was about to take some dirty plates, when over the hiss of the faucet she heard the doorbell ring. Patricia dried her hands and went to open the door, and saw Barbara Maxwell on the front steps, holding a basket stuffed with wrapping.
Patricia smiled. “Hi, Barbara.”
The two women embraced, and Mrs. Maxwell proffered the basket. “I brought some fruit and chocolate for you, if that’s okay.”
Patricia nodded. “You didn’t have to, but if you insist…” She gestured for Mrs. Maxwell to enter, and the woman placed the basket onto the dining table. From the living room, Cory and Brendan looked to see who had arrived, and upon seeing their teacher, they quickly turned away. Mrs. Maxwell chuckled.
“Part of me is glad this happened in the summer,” she said. “I think I would have gone crazy if it happened during the school year. Even my kids can’t tear themselves away.”
Patricia gave a small smile. “By the sound of it, everyone’s either having their hopes and dreams crushed, or their wildest fantasies turned true.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“And those news companies must be having a ball,” Patricia continued. “They hardly show anything that’s not about GASP. Every time I turn on SNN, it’s always either a debate between the anchormen, or a talk show with a crazy conspiracy theorist.”
Mrs. Maxwell shrugged. “You can’t expect much else, though. Nothing this big has happened in a long time, so they’re bound to make a hype over it.”
“Oh, of course,” Patricia replied. “But my only problem is when they put more energy into the commentaries than the actual reporting. It’s almost like these networks are competing for attention — who can air the craziest stories, generate the most gossip, and make the most money.”
A humored twinkle appeared in Mrs. Maxwell’s eyes. “If you think it’s bad now, then just imagine what would happen if they really did bring Deoxys home.”
“I don’t think I even want to go there.” Patricia chuckled. “But I know if Michael were here, he’d have run through every case scenario by now. He’d be talking about it nonstop.”
A moment after she said this, her face fell somewhat, and Mrs. Maxwell placed a hand on her arm. “You’ll find him. Don’t worry.” She gave a moment’s pause, her gaze steady on Patricia. “How long has it been since you’ve heard from the police?”
“More than a week… I’m starting to think they dropped the case. They’ve been searching and searching around Jubilife, but they still haven’t found anything after all this time. I just know he’s not there anymore, but they keep insisting on finishing their investigation in the city.”
“What makes you think he’s not there?”
Patricia gave a somber smile. “Why would he stay in a city that’s only ten minutes away from his house?”
“Maybe in case he thought of coming back.”
“I don’t think he was meaning to come back,” Patricia said. “Michael’s the type who follows through with his decisions.”
“Was he angry at you when he ran away?”
“Do you think he still is?”
“I’m not sure. But I should’ve seen it coming… it’s something that’s been going on for a while now, though we could gloss over it for such a long time that it fooled me into thinking we put it behind us.” She sighed. “I guess this must be Michael’s way of dealing with it.”
“Then I think everything will be fine,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “No matter how angry he was, he’s not going to forget you’re his mother.”
Patricia made no response to this, and the two of them settled into silence, listening to the hum of the television from the other room. Moments later, the doorbell rang, and Patricia gave a little jump.
“That’s strange. I wasn’t expecting anyone else.”
She went to the door, and opened it to reveal a tall, dark-haired man standing on the steps. He was wearing a hat, which he took off immediately upon seeing her. “Mrs. Rowan?”
“My name is Sylvester Bode. I’m a private investigator with Jubilife PD.”
Patricia’s heart fluttered. “Is it about Michael? Do you have any leads?”
“We do,” said the man. “But I have to speak with you alone.”
“Of course. Come inside.”
Patricia led him into the kitchen. Catching her gaze, Mrs. Maxwell nodded in understanding and left the room. Patricia motioned the man to the dining table, and sat down in the chair across from him.
Bode placed his briefcase on his lap and took out a folder. “We have sources to confirm that Michael was indeed in Jubilife City,” he said. “We asked a certain Fran Harris in a bookshop, who identified him by a school picture, and said that he passed through her store carrying a caged Stunky. Does that sound familiar to you?”
Patricia nodded. “Yes… yes he did have a Stunky with him. But I assumed he’d have gotten rid of it...”
Mr. Bode opened the folder to reveal a small stack of papers. “In any case, we’ve searched the city multiple times and found nothing. So it’s likely that your son has moved on to someplace else.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Patricia said. “But why did it take you this long to come to the conclusion, when I phoned the Police Department about it a dozen times?”
“Because up to this point, we had no leads,” Bode answered. “We weren’t sure what your son planned to do, so we had to examine every possibility. Now we’re not only certain that Michael isn’t in Jubilife City, but we also have a good theory on where he might be.”
“And what is that?”
Bode paused. “You gave us information a while ago that you took Michael to get a starter pokémon. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is.”
“By our estimates, it’s likely that Michael may be disguising himself as a pokémon trainer. What, with the Gym season underway, and it being a Tournament year… I understand you were reluctant to consider the possibility, but it’s a highly convenient and logical disguise for a teenager traveling alone. Trainers can roam by themselves without any trouble from the authorities, and can be found in virtually any location — caves, forests, city streets… It’s all considered normal for them, and no one would consider them to be runaways.”
Patricia tapped her fingers against her cheek. “Do you have any evidence to conform this, or is it just a theory?”
“Not so much a theory anymore,” said Bode. “I took the liberty of traveling to Oreburgh, the first Gym town. And I found from the leader that there was in fact a Michael Rowan in the record book. Your son battled Byron and won on May 31st.”
The investigator slid forward a paper, and Patricia looked down to read it. It was a photocopy of a Gym roster, and in one of the numerous lines, she saw Michael’s name and battle date written in the Gym leader’s hand. She looked up, startled.
“This gives us a much clearer idea of Michael’s trajectory,” Bode continued. “There are only eight Gym cities in Sinnoh, and the standard progression is Oreburgh, Eterna, Hearthome, Solaceon, Pastoria, Sunyshore, Canalave, and Snowpoint. All I would have to do is check the Gym rosters in each city, and if they say that Michael already battled there, I’ll move on and search the next one. By the time I hit the city where Michael isn’t in the records, there will be a high probability that he’s either in the city preparing, or is in the process of getting to it. In which case I would immediately give a warning to the local police, and work with them to find him.”
It took a while for Patricia to process the information. Michael, a pokémon trainer? The same boy who had never shown the slightest interest for raising pokémon, suddenly battled a Gym leader and won? She didn’t know whether to be amazed or horrified. But the more she thought about it, the more sense it made. He did have a Stunky with him. Maybe he’d seen a couple of trainers in Jubilife and decided to take up their disguise. Whether he liked pokémon or not, Michael would surely have found a way to adapt.
Patricia sat in silence for a moment, twirling a lock of her hair. “Now that you mention it… I went through Michael’s room the other day, and I didn’t see his starter’s pokéball anywhere. First I thought that he’d hidden it somewhere, but maybe he took it with him.”
“What was his starter?”
“A Turtwig.” Right then, Patricia remembered something, and added: “Only, it was colored differently. From a regular Turtwig, I mean. It wasn’t green; it was more bluish, and it had a yellow shell.” She paused, and chuckled. “He thought it was defective.”
Mr. Bode took a pen from his shirt pocket and jotted down the information. “Thank you, Mrs. Rowan. I don’t know much about pokémon coloring, but since it tends to be uniform, there’s a chance that Michael’s will stand out. This information will be of tremendous help.” He put the folder back into the briefcase and rose from the table. “Now, with your consent, I will leave to begin the investigation. I plan on leaving for Hearthome City immediately, and depending on what I find there, I will either stay or move on. ”
Patricia looked up. “But what about Eterna? You said that Eterna is supposed to be the city that comes after Oreburgh. I know it’s been… destroyed… but you don’t think that that could have affected anything, do you?”
She fixed her gaze on him, and for a moment, Bode looked back at her without speaking.
“I understand your concern. But at this point, the best thing to do would be to check Hearthome. If Michael has battled the Gym there, then we can be certain that he moved on to Solaceon. If he hasn’t, then I will search the city, and as a last resort, inquire into the whereabouts of the evacuated Eterna residents. In that case, I am certain we will be able to find Michael among them.”
Patricia began to twist her gold necklace uncertainly, but finally nodded.
Bode placed a business card onto the table, containing his name and title. “From now on, the case rests in my hands, and if you should ever have a question or concern, you can call the Police Department and they will connect you directly to me. Each time I stay somewhere, I will give them my location and telephone number, so that if anything comes up, you can let me know.”
“Thank you,” said Patricia.
Bode inclined his head. “I will, of course, call you periodically to let you know of my progress. For now, good day.” He placed his hat back onto his head, and left the house.
Moments later, his car pulled out of the driveway, and with a loud vroom, sped off down the road.
Back in Hearthome City, at that very same moment, Nancy Bryan stood at the door of her hotel room, switching her gaze from the handle of her luggage bag to the sunny, busy streets in view outside the window. The room was abuzz with sounds of scuffling and slamming doors, as her teammates finished their final stages of packing.
“Guys, hurry up! We board in half an hour!” she called.
Moments later, Ned and Tom hustled into the front room with their duffel bags and luggage cases, giving the area a final sweep for missing possessions. They adjusted chairs and closed cabinets, and when they reaffirmed that nothing was lost, they joined Nancy by the door. The only one that remained was Bobby, who was fixing his hair in the bathroom.
“Come on, Bobby, hurry up!” said Ned.
The lights in the bathroom went out, and Bobby rushed to grab his things from the hallway. Once all four of them had assembled, Nancy led the way downstairs, where they checked out of the hotel and turned in their keys. In a matter of minutes, the crew was back on the open street, cutting through the crowds on their way to the Hearthome City Rail Terminal.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to go to Sunyshore now?” asked Tom. “If you think we can make a story out of it, Nancy, we’ll get trampled like ants—”
“I told you, it’s not about the story,” Nancy replied. “Consider that gone. Heck, consider it gone since GASP united. The networks won’t talk about anything else for months.”
“And of course, they have to have it all to themselves,” said Bobby. “It just goes to show that they’re using us. They tell us to give them stories, but at the same time, the minute something big happens, they snatch it up.”
Nancy shrugged. “No point in being sore about it now. If anything, this might force SNN to give us an extension, because they know we can’t do much to help ourselves. Once the hype dies down, we’ll just ask them for another few months. It’ll only be fair.”
“So what are we going to do in Sunyshore, then?” asked Ned. “I know it’s the protest and all, but do you have an actual plan?”
Nancy sighed. “Whatever SNN is painting it as, the protest is going down in history, and I think we should be there to see it happen. And plus, Sunyshore’s pretty much the place to be right now. People are going to be coming in from all over the country, just for the chance of advertising themselves to a global audience. They’ll be renting booths, they’ll be spreading ads, even after the protest is over. So, when all the big networks leave, we’ll have dibs on all those little things that happen after. The kinds of stories the big guys won’t focus on.”
Bobby smiled. “Sounds cool to me.”
Ned and Tom followed with nods.
“All right.” Nancy looked up and saw the rail terminal growing bigger in the distance. She checked her watch. “We’re right on time. Let’s go!”
They stepped through the doors of the building and made their way to the ticket booth, joining the end of a line that snaked through a maze of red velvet ropes. Sunyshore was Sinnoh’s easternmost city, located at the very edge of the coastline, and due to distance, there were no direct train rides from Hearthome. Instead, they would have to take a connect ride through another city. After weighing their options, the team finally settled on the least-crowded route — Solaceon.
Once they had booked their rides, they sat down in the waiting room. Tom took a newspaper from a nearby table, and Bobby turned to the TVs, which were showing coverage and commentary on the GASP press conference. “So. The beast finally has a face,” he said.
“And there I was, thinking that Team Galactic workers had green skin and four arms,” Ned replied. “Turns out they were human all along.”
“Yeah. But Allan Knight stole the show,” Bobby said. “Had all those reporters laughing their badges off. And I don’t know if you guys noticed, but he’s been wearing the same tie to his press conferences for months. It’s the one he wore in honor of the Mossdeep University’s seventy-fifth anniversary. That’s spirit right there.”
Tom flipped a page of the newspaper. “You should see the stuff they’re writing about him, though. ’Allan Knight uses revenue to purchase tenth automobile.’” He held up the article, showing a picture of a car standing in a driveway framed by palm trees.
Bobby squinted. “Yeah, and since when does Mossdeep have palm trees? That’s right, never.”
Ned nodded in agreement. “I wouldn’t pay attention to those things if I were you.”
“Yeah, but still, it’s interesting to see sometimes what they’re writing,” Tom said. “I’m trying to… you know. Compare.” He reached discreetly into his duffel bag, and pulled out a corner of a transparent folder, where he kept the article he had received from the stranger.
Nancy slapped him on the arm. “Put that away!” she hissed ”Are you out of your mind?”
“Nancy, calm down. No one knows we have it. Everybody’s printing crazy stuff, it’ll blend right in—”
“No it won’t! You don’t get it, Tom, if that thing gets into the wrong hands, we’re done for!”
“Because it’s the truth, you mean?”
“Because… because we don’t know yet! We don’t know if it’s the truth, and if it is, we should guard it even more, because—” Nancy trailed off, lost for words, and after sweeping her gaze around the room, fell pointedly into silence.
Tom continued to look at her. “What?”
“I’m not answering.”
He nudged her elbow. “Come on, I’m waiting. Tell me — what?”
“Tom, we are not having this conversation now. If you haven’t noticed, there are people here.”
Tom rolled his eyes. He zipped up his duffel bag crossed his arms, and the team sat in silence for the next few minutes. When their race was called, they filed through the gate with the other passengers, and locked themselves in a compartment near the very back of the train.
“All right, Nancy, tell me,” Tom continued. He sat down across from her and put the article onto table between them. “Why shouldn’t we circulate this? If Team Galactic were on the hunt for naysayers, they’d have arrested a fourth of Sinnoh.”
“They don’t arrest people just for the heck of it,” Nancy said. “What they would do, I think, is arrest people who pass around information that directly interferes with their projects!”
“And if it’s true information? That would mean that Galactic’s got a whole operation planned that no one knows about. If you ask me, I think there’s more reason to be afraid of that than the slim chance of them discovering that we were the ones who uncovered it. Not to mention, we’d be doing people a hell of a favor, because so far they’ve all been led to believe that Galactic is doing everything for their sake!”
Nancy shook her head. “Tom, stop playing hero! Even if the article were true, there’s no way the public would believe us if we just suddenly came forward with it. But Galactic would notice, and they’d shut us down before we could make another peep. If you really want to spread it that badly, then we should at least pass it on to more experienced hands and let some bigger news company deal with it.” She looked down at the document, arms crossed. “And for another thing… honestly, I don’t believe it.”
Tom frowned. “Why not? What’s there to doubt?”
Nancy sighed. “We went over this already. You can’t just accept articles from people on the street and assume they’re true.”
“Yeah, we don’t even know who the guy is,” Bobby put in. “What was his name again?”
“Alfonso something. I keep forgetting.” Tom rubbed his temples, then suddenly brightened. “Helfer! Alfonso Helfer!”
“And who did he work for?”
Tom thought for another moment. “Briney Hardware Ltd.”
“And how would a hardware guy magically have top-secret information about Team Galactic?”
“I don’t know. I just have a feeling he’s right.”
Nancy pursed her lips. “Feelings won’t get you much here, unfortunately.”
Tom opened his mouth to reply, but didn’t appear to know what to say, and was left looking at his companions in silent stubbornness. In response, Nancy leaned her head against her hand. “Look. If it’s bothering you that much, let’s do a background check on this guy. We’ll find out who he is, for starters, and then we’ll decide if he’s a reliable source or not.”
Ned raised an eyebrow. “And how are we going to do that?”
“Well, to start with, we should find out more about this Briney corporation. Who knows, maybe it’s a secret subsidiary to Team Galactic.”
Tom nodded. “All right. I’m up for that.”
“Then, we’ll check some news databases,” Nancy continued. “See if Alfonso’s written anything else, or if he’s a one-hit wonder.”
Bobby snapped his fingers. “Hey, why don’t we check the press office in Solaceon? The train to Sunyshore won’t leave till evening, so we might as well spend our time doing something productive. The public records are bound to have stuff that was written over the past two years, at least. We might even be able to search by name, if he publishes independently.”
“But we don’t know how much information they have,” Ned said. “What if we won’t have time to finish looking? Would you guys rather delay our ride to Sunyshore?”
“We won’t be delaying it by much,” Nancy replied. “I don’t think it’ll take us more than a day to find out if Solaceon has anything. And besides, the protest’s still a week away. I’m sure we’ll be able to find a place to stay.”
“Well, okay.” Ned shrugged. “So it’s settled? Team agreement?”
Tom nodded, and Bobby snapped his fingers. “Right-o.”
With that, the members of the news crew settled back, prepared to wait out the rest of the ride. But moments later, the silence was broken by Bobby, who reached into his flap bag and pulled out a deck of cards.
“Hey guys, look what I brought.” He dangled the bag in the air, spilling the cards out into his palm and laying them out on the table. The other three fixed their gazes on him, just as he began to stack the cards into a tower, and as one the team made sounds of humored annoyance.
“Great. Not that again,” said Nancy.
“You’ll cover the whole table and we won’t have room to do anything else,” said Tom.
Bobby shrugged. “Or you guys could stop being strangers and we could all play a game. Come on.”
Nancy rolled her eyes, but eventually they all agreed.
Their four hours passed uneventfully, before the train finally stopped beside an outdoor platform, bordered by stone archways and covered by a canopy roof. From her seat, Nancy could see sparse buildings crop up from the distant hills, the beginnings of a town that had emerged from the vast, grassy landscape.
Once they got off at the terminal, they immediately went to the concierge booth to find a place to stay. They decided on a small inn that was near the city center — or whatever could have substituted for a city center in the current surroundings. Unlike the wellsprings of activity that Nancy was used to, Solaceon was sprawling and diluted, like an overstretched garment whose threads had thinned in some places and bunched together in others. Instead of there being specialized food stores every two blocks, there was one market square that sold everything, and instead of squares, fountains, or art displays, the bulk of the empty space was reserved for pokémon pastures.
On the upside, the city roads were simple and efficient, and the team found the News Press in a matter of minutes. To Nancy’s relief, they did have a storage database, but after hours of leafing through boxes and feeding data cards into a massive computer, the team became certain that there were no other publications made by Alfonso Helfer.
Nancy looked at the mounds of papers they had piled onto the desk, and crossed her arms. “Just as I thought. The guy’s a mystery.”
“He could be a pseudonym, though,” said Bobby. “Maybe he wrote all his other stuff under a different alias.”
Nancy cringed. “Yuck. I hate it when that happens.”
She and Bobby cleaned up the table, and stepped out of the archive to wait on Ned and Tom, who were checking the other half of the room. The two emerged to join them minutes later, but with similar results.
“Nothing.” Ned curled his fingers into a zero.
Bobby narrowed his eyes in disbelief. “So in that entire room, there’s not one other article written by the same guy?”
Ned shook his head. “Nope.”
“What about Team Galactic?” Nancy asked. “Did you find anything that had to do with them? All Bobby and I could find were newspaper articles.”
Ned shrugged, indicating that their situation was the same. He turned to Tom, who was standing with his hands in his pockets, and seemed to be thinking something over.
“Well, this means that Alfonso’s either using an alias, or never wrote anything else at all,” Tom said, and looked up at his companions. “We could go through all the news articles and editorials about Team Galactic and see if we can detect similarities in style…”
Nancy shook her head. “But what would that tell us?”
“If he wrote anything else that supplements what we already have?”
“Guys, I think we’re getting off-course,” Ned cut in. “We came here to find out who Alfonso is, not how much stuff he’s written. Even if he has hundreds of articles, as long as he’s just a name in a by-line, we won’t be able to tell anything about his credibility. I think we should look into that Briney corporation.”
Nancy checked her watch. “We won’t have time to get all that in before the train ride.” She sighed. “We’ll have to stay another day, then.”
Tom looked at her, Ned, and Bobby in turn. “I think we should see this to the end. What about you guys?”
Nancy shrugged. “We might as well.”
“I’m fine with staying,” said Ned.
“Me too,” said Bobby.
Tom gave a nod. “All right.”
The four of them left the building and stepped back into the outside air. It was already past noon, and the full heat of day had set in over the town. All around them were the noises of passing townsfolk, and slow-cruising cars with wagons attached to the back. In the distance, herds of Miltank were grazing in a field, tails swishing in contentment.
Bobby surveyed the surroundings, and whistled. “So. Who’s up for some big city fun?”
Hundreds of miles away, Sylvester Bode’s car was speeding down the highway, which snaked like a lone gray strip through a sea of green nature. As he moved eastward from Jubilife, the grasses of Route 203 thinned to reveal bare, rocky terrain, which gradually rose up on either side of the road to form a landscape of jagged hills. Occasionally, hikers could be seen roaming the higher peaks, hacking into the walls with pickaxes. Pokémon flitted between the trees, and trainers appeared not so far behind, carrying sunscreen, shuffling through their item bags.
Oreburgh itself was nestled in a crater-like space, surrounded on all sides by rocky cliffs, which grew taller and denser the further one looked. Bode passed through the city without stopping, letting the rustic buildings and mine-pulleys rush past him in a blur, before he turned onto Route 207 and headed straight for the mountains.
Trains weren’t the only way to cross the Coronet border. There was a network of tunnels that had been dug through the mountains long ago, which curved with the natural structure of the caverns, and had since been modernized with pavement and reinforcements. The routes went on for hours of nothing but rock walls and ceiling, illuminated by electric lamps, which even for an experienced driver was a nerve-wracking sight.
After passing through the tunnel, Bode emerged into Route 208, which was attached to one of the lesser peaks and looked out over a river far below. To his left, a waterfall cascaded from a cliffside, audible even through the rush of passing cars. As he continued, the road slowly sloped down to ground level, leading to a section of flat land and trees, which thinned in turn as the big city drew closer.
Bode veered onto the first exit leading into Hearthome City and entered the main flow of traffic, spending the next few minutes navigating to the Gym. When he found the facility, he pulled immediately into the parking lot, and entered with his briefcase in hand.
Upon stepping into the room, Bode was greeted by the gazes of several trainers, who sat on benches that lined the walls. The front room itself was a puzzling sight — it was dark and featureless, save for two pokémon statues that stood on either side of the doorway. Yet the trainers seemed to have no doubts about what they should be doing, and sat patiently as if awaiting a call.
Bode thought of asking the them where the receptionist was, or if there even was a receptionist, but in the end decided to figure things out for himself. He proceeded into the building and reached a hallway, which was lined with closed doors on either side. Sounds of battling echoed through the empty space, but there wasn’t a single person in sight. Bode paced around the corner, and his eyes found a short staircase, which he immediately climbed to reach a second floor. This one looked promising — it had a table. A lady sat behind it, making notes in a clipboard. When Bode approached her, she looked up, and he immediately took out his badge.
“Sylvester Bode, Jubilife PD.”
The attendant perked her eyebrows. “You’ve come a long way. How can I help you?”
“I’m here investigating the whereabouts of a missing child. Has Michael Rowan passed through this Gym recently?” Bode took out a card with the boy’s photograph.
The attendant frowned. “He looks familiar… but I can’t tell you much. So many kids pass through here that we hardly remember anything about them. But I can give you his battle dates. By law, we have to keep the history of all registrations till the season ends.”
Bode nodded. “Please.”
The woman stood and entered a side room, coming back moments later with three clipboards. “Here are the records for last week, and two weeks before that.”
Bode thanked her, and went to sit on one of the long wooden benches, using his knee to elevate the papers. He spent a few minutes flipping through columns of hand-scrawled names, till he finally saw one that mattered --- Michael Rowan, 13th June.
He returned to the attendant and gave back the clipboards. “Thank you. I’ve found what I needed.”
The lady smiled. “Not a problem!”
“Michael Rowan battled this Gym on Monday, June 13th. Can I ask you, how long do trainers usually take to travel from one Gym to the next?”
The lady shrugged. “It’s different for everyone. Some kids breeze through the Gyms in a single season, and others spread their League challenge across several years. And a kid’s pace can vary in a single run, too —he might find one Gym harder than another, and stay to train longer.”
Bode took this in, and nodded. “And in what kinds of places do the children train? Does each Gym town have designated places, or do the trainers just roam about the city like everyone else?”
“No, Gym towns usually have special accommodations, like the Trainer Hotels. Those have battle rooms, courtyards, and lots of League services, so kids prefer them to regular hotels. And if I were you, I’d check all the League-sponsored establishments in an area too, like souvenir shops, arcades, things like that. Most trainers gather there at least at some point during the day.”
“All right. Thank you.”
But as Bode was about to step away, he became aware that the woman had fallen into deep thought, her gaze shifting from the hat in his hand to the wall behind him. “Hold on… could you please show me the picture of the boy one more time?”
“Of course.” Bode gave her the photograph, and the woman looked it over. Her eyes flashed with recognition.
“That’s it, I remember him now! No wonder he looked familiar — he and his friend were the ones who came with Bertha Herrida.”
Bode drew his notebook in a flash, uncapping his pen. “Bertha Herrida? Who is she? And you said Michael was traveling with a friend?”
The woman nodded. “Yes! Bertha Herrida is the Gym leader of Eterna Town, and she’s escorting Michael and his friend to all the Gyms. I’d tell you why if I knew, but that’s not in my sphere of duties, and I had nothing to do with it. All I know is that she came to watch their battles, because they battled on the same day, and left with them for Solaceon.”
Bode wrote all of this down. “And what was this friend’s name?”
“Hold on.” The woman began to flip through the clipboard, and ran her finger down the list of names. “I know that boy battled Mr. Bradford on the same day… and his was one of the first battles that morning, too…” She thought for a little while, then made her decision with a nod. “It has to be Henry. Henry McPherson.”
Bode jotted down the name. “This will be of tremendous help. Thank you, again.”
The woman inclined her head. “Good luck, Mr. Bode.”
After leaving the Gym, Bode drove around the city some more, seeking out all the League-related buildings just in case before he departed. Despite the city’s size, there were few of them — just the hotel, a battling center with rental rooms, and a boarded-up Game Corner. Finding nothing in any of them, Bode refilled his gas tank, and left immediately for Solaceon.
The second drive was more pleasant than the first one, for the highway was straighter, and the nature tame and scenic. But Bode was quickly losing daylight, as he saw by the reddening sky, where the sun was beginning to dip low towards the horizon. His watch seemed to speed through its cycles, showing four o’clock at one moment, then five, then six…
In the end, he arrived at Solaceon at seven o’clock, when the last afternoon hues were fading to evening blue, and the lamps on the streets were beginning to flicker on.
After parking his car in a public lot, Bode stepped out with a map and tracked down the Pokémon Gym. His destination was a long, cream-colored building, with a main area and two long wings on either side. Bode quickened his pace, but on his way to the door felt his shoulder bump sharply against someone else’s. He looked askance to see a man, who appeared to be in his late twenties, and had curly brown hair.
“Sorry,” Bode said. “Were you about to go in?”
The man looked stricken. “Me? Oh, no, I was just about to go, uh… over there. Heh.” He jerked his thumb awkwardly to the side, and ambled off.
Bode watched as the man started down the sidewalk, then he shook his head and proceeded to the door.
Inside, the Gym was a chaotic pit of noise and movement. Trainers scurried about like ants from all directions, paying no mind to the darkly-dressed character who had stepped into their midst. A television set stood on a table to the side, playing the news, which several kids were watching from the ever-present waiting benches. Bode's eyes alighted upon the front counter, where three attendants were hard at work, writing documents and making phone calls. He approached, and caught the eye of the woman who seemed the least busy. She was standing to the side, quietly sorting through a stack of papers.
Bode inclined his head to her. "Hello. Is it possible for me to speak with the director of this facility?"
The woman's gaze was steady, yet guarded. "That would be me. How can I help you?”
"My name is Sylvester Bode. I’m a private investigator from the Jubilife City PD. I’m currently searching for a boy named Michael Rowan, age thirteen. My sources inform me that he passed through here sometime after June 13th. Was there recently a boy in your Gym who looked like this?" He held out Michael's photograph.
The woman looked down at it for a few seconds without speaking. “Yes. Yes there was.”
“In that case, may we speak in private? I need to ask you some questions.”
The woman nodded. She stepped out from behind the counter and led Bode down a long hallway, where she gestured him inside an office, dominated by a desk and bookshelves. Closing the door, she stepped before her chair, but did not sit down.
"Now we have complete privacy,” she said. “Now please tell me, what sort of investigation are you conducting and what does it have to do with him?”
Bode cleared his throat. "As I said, I am a private investigator from Jubiife City. I was sent on behalf of Michael’s mother. Michael ran away from home on May 28th, carrying a Turtwig and a caged Stunky. I have evidence that he is now traveling Sinnoh under the guise of a pokémon trainer. I’ve visited the Gyms in Oreburgh and Hearthome, both of which have Michael Rowan in their records, along with a boy named Henry McPherson. A staff member at the Hearthome Gym recalls the boys traveling together. Did they come to your Gym together as well?”
The woman was silent for a moment. "Yes, they did.”
Bode continued. "How long ago was this, precisely?”
“About a week. They both battled me on the same day.” The woman took out a notebook from a desk drawer and flipped through the pages. “June 28th.”
“And what pokémon did Michael have with him?”
“A Turtwig, a Machop, a Metapod, a Goldeen, and a Chatot.”
Bode perked his eyebrows in surprise. That many?
But he made no comment about it, and simply wrote the information down. “Now, how would you say he battled? Did you feel that he took the League challenge seriously, or did he give off the impression that he was scattered, perhaps overwhelmed from his journey, and didn’t know what to do?”
“Not at all. He was just like any other trainer. As a matter of fact, he and his friend were one of the few who did take the League seriously.”
Bode nodded. “And his pokémon — were they well-trained? Did they seem to have a genuine bond with him, or could he perhaps have stolen them from the streets, or borrowed them from someone else?”
The woman continued to look at Bode, then suddenly her focused demeanor broke and she began to chuckle. “Oh no… with a bunch like that, there’s no way... He definitely had an influence on them. Maybe them on him too.” As her laughter faded, her gaze trailed off to the side, as if glimpsing a memory.
“Mhm.” Bode kept writing. “And what about his friend? What pokémon did he have?”
The woman looked at him again. “Is he a runaway too?”
“No, but I want to impress upon you the seriousness of this matter. It could very well be that Henry is fully aware of Michael’s status and is helping him evade the authorities.”
“Something I could hardly deduce from battling them.”
“Perhaps.” Bode took a moment to read over his notes, then continued. “I also have another question. Did these boys have anybody else traveling with them? A Gym leader, perhaps? I was told in Hearthome that the boys were traveling with the Gym leader of Eterna Town.”
The woman gave another pause. “Yes, they were.”
“Could you perhaps tell me how this might have happened? Why would Michael Rowan, from what you know of him, decide to travel with another trainer and a Gym leader? Why would this Gym leader have felt a need to escort them to every Gym city?”
The woman frowned. “These questions are starting to stray from your point. As I understand, you’re here to know about the whereabouts of Michael Rowan. And I told you: Yes, he was here at my Gym. Yes, he battled me, and won, and typically when trainers beat Gyms, they move on to the next town, which in this case would be Pastoria City. So I think you’d best go there.”
“With all due respect, I need to work as quickly as possible,” said Bode. “Given that Michael has traveled with Henry and the Gym leader of Eterna Town through at least two cities, it is likely that he will continue doing so in the future. Since I doubt that a Gym leader would knowingly assist a runaway, my guess is that she either does not know of Michael’s status, or has guessed it and is perhaps planning on turning him in. From what I know of the League, Gym leaders don’t travel with two trainers for no apparent reason. That is why I must know — did you ever encounter this Gym leader in Solaceon, and if so, what appeared to be her purpose for being with the boys?”
“With all due respect to you,” the woman replied, “the reason why the Gym leader is traveling around the country is between her and the people she confides it to. Me being one of them, I cannot disclose it. All I can tell you is that she doesn’t know that Michael is a runaway, because if she did she would have confronted him about it, and would have either turned him in or refused to travel with him further. I’m not so sure about his friend, but if they are friends, then I doubt you can count on him informing the police. Now if you have nothing else to ask me that pertains to this, then please leave while I’m asking nicely.”
Realizing the futility of pressing her further, Bode excused himself, and left the Gym. He placed his hat back onto his head and set off down the street. It was too late to get anything else done in Solaceon, so he decided to search for an inn and settle down for the evening. He’d continue searching the League-related buildings in town the next day, though if they proved as perplexing and impenetrable as the previous two Gyms, he’d have his work cut out for him.
After the investigator left, Lona went back to the front desk and resumed her work with the papers. Over in the hallways, her staff were closing up the battle rooms, shooing out wandering pokémon to bring them back to their owners. Many of the trainers who had been in the lobby before had left, leaving a handful who were waiting on friends, or just getting out of supplementary battling lessons.
With the dawn of a new week, the previous cycle of faces had renewed itself, and now her Gym was filled with a new inflow of kids who had come in from pervious towns. This group was smaller, as it always was when the summer neared its end, and as a result many battle rooms stood vacant throughout the day, giving the staff more time to catch up with office work. Lona, too, found herself with fewer battles to supervise, but instead of lurking about the offices or going out into town as she had done in previous years, she immersed herself even more in the daily proceedings of the facility. As always, the kids’ reactions varied — but there was something in their Gym leader’s presence in the lobby and occasional visits to battle rooms that shattered the illusion of formality, and made them oddly easygoing. They seemed to find peace in the routine of partner and staff battles, even through the current days of mania, when conversations about GASP and Deoxys pervaded the air.
For the few that had been left over from earlier, Lona’s new habits were both relieving and puzzling. It was common knowledge that there had been a recent drama that had impressed an effect on her, though it seemed she had decided to forget it for the time being and get on with her routine. To her trainers, she became more like a distant mother, who held them up to the same strict standards, but showed her benevolence up close.
Lona continued her work for a few minutes, only partially paying attention to what was going on around her. Suddenly the front doors swung open, and she noticed a large figure step in, significantly taller than the trainers. At first, she thought it was Bode again, but when she looked up, she saw it was someone else — it was a man in a collared shirt and jeans, with a cap of unruly hair that he had tried to tame with gel. A second passed, and she finally recognized him. It was the man she had been seeing frequently around town over the weeks, in the most inconspicuous places. But he rarely lingered long after she entered them, and if he did look at her, he always did so from afar.
Now, his sudden proximity to her made her feel oddly disjointed. She had never talked to him before, and had never even come close to an interaction, if she didn’t count the time when she had returned his book from the Daycare Center. That day, she had come to talk some things over with the manager, since their facilities shared funding, when she had passed by the front room and saw that same man enter with a box of books. He had set them down, started to talk to the attendant about them, when Lona had stopped before the doorway. She didn’t remember the details, only that he had left rather quickly, leaving behind his donations to the daycare — which coincidentally had some important notes mixed in by mistake. Lona had offered to return them, which she did that same day, slipping them into his mailbox. She had assumed she would never see him again after that. But here he was, for once looking directly at her, an with no doubt in her mind that they recognized each other, Lona felt, for once, that she didn’t know what to do.
She lowered her gaze slowly and pretended to busy herself, while the man finally detached himself from the doorway and approached the counter. He nodded up to her. “Hello.”
“Hello,” Lona returned. She lowered the papers she was holding, for she had started to fumble with them. Before the silence could stretch too far, she spoke up. “Is the League your calling?”
The man smiled sheepishly. “Hah. No, I actually… got a note from you.” He took a note from his pocket and showed it to her. It had been written in pen, with letters that bore an odd resemblance to her own.
Lona lifted her eyebrows. A question rose in her mind, but after a brief mental battle, she felt something sweep it aside, like a breeze. She fixed her gaze on him again. “Well… I’m glad you came.”
The man seemed to relax a little, and took a look around. “So, you work here?”
“I’m the Gym leader.”
The man’s eyes widened. “The Gym leader? The notorious Gym leader of Solaceon, who’s got every trainer in town dead-set on beating her?”
A small smile worked its way up Lona’s face, and she shrugged. “More or less.”
The man tapped his fingers against the counter. “Well, I don’t know how you’ll react to this, but I’m the one who helps them. I’m a move tutor. Kids come to me every now and then and ask me to help make their pokémon stronger, and I teach them new moves. I guess that means I’m in enemy territory right now.”
“Really?” Lona gave a small smile. “And do a lot of kids come to you?”
“I see a few new faces every week. But I don’t advertise. Word always spreads by mouth.”
Lona nodded. “So that’s why you had all those pokémon books... Felina at the Daycare told me she loved them, by the way. They’ve helped her with feeding and keeping the pokémon active, and they’re even interesting to trainers who come in sometimes. So, I guess I should thank you on her behalf.”
“Then tell her she’s welcome, on my behalf.” The man chuckled. “I had a lot of books left over from years ago. I went through a bunch of phases before I decided to focus on move mechanics, and I guess I’m too much of a bookworm to throw anything away. At one point I was interested in pokémon diversity, so I read up about that, and later I got it in my head that I wanted to study breeding. I was never much of a battler, though.”
“And I’m not much of an academic,” Lona admitted. “But you know, I’ve always been interested in that sort of stuff. I think it’s great that some people study pokémon professionally. It makes you wonder if someday they’ll find out what trainers don’t know, or if pokémon training will help them take their science to a completely different level. ”
The man listened attentively, and Lona was about to say more, but right then she became aware that she had zoned out for a full minute, and that some trainers were already watching her curiously. Lowering her head a little, she sighed.
“If you want to talk, then let’s go outside.”
The man nodded. “Right.”
They left the Gym together and went to stand in front of the left wing, out of the way of passersby. They hung in silence for a while, looking out at the trees that were framed by the dimming sky. Then the man turned to her.
“I didn’t get your name, by the way.”
He extended a hand. “I’m Ted.”
They shook hands, and another pause fell over them. Ted’s gaze trailed down to the jacket tied around Lona’s waist, which had been hidden behind the tall counter. “That’s a nice jacket,” he said, after a while. “Is it a fashion statement?”
Lona smiled faintly. “No. My mother made it for me. It’s something I keep to remember her by. She was serious about the League too, in her own time, and I guess I always wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
“Ah. So you wear it at work to keep yourself focused? An eye-on-the-ball kind of thing?”
Something in the way he said this made her chuckle. “Yes, something like that.” But then she cast her gaze off to the side. “I don’t always know how well I do it, though.”
“Well, by the looks of it, you have your trainers really working hard. The kids who come to me are really motivated to make themselves stronger, and some of them even say that if it hadn’t been for this place, they wouldn’t have ever gotten interested in the mechanics of battling.”
Lona lifted her eyebrows. “If that’s true, then I’m glad.”
Ted smiled. He looked out at the street for another minute, then turned back to her. “Are you from Solaceon? I noticed you don’t have the accent.”
“Born and raised,” Lona replied. “But I left for a long time. I went to challenge the League when I was sixteen, and by then I already knew I wanted to make a career out of it, so I thought that to have a better chance I should get to someplace like Snowpoint or Sunyshore. And, I guess, I wanted to shake off the stigma of being a farm girl, so I started learning to speak differently. But when the Gym opened up here, I had a sort of epiphany, and decided to apply to become the leader.”
Ted took this in with a nod. “I’m not from here, originally. I was born in Emeragrove, then I moved to Floaroma. I settled down here once I decided to make it my business to help trainers. And, well, because I got a job offer at a school. I teach there a couple times a week.”
“So what’s your specialty? Just moves?”
“Move and physiology, yeah.”
“You must be following the news about Deoxys, then.”
“I am. At every chance I can get, too.” Ted looked up at the sky, and his expression was touched with contemplation as his eyes scanned the vastness. “The first extraterrestrial pokémon known to mankind… it’s unbelievable.”
Lona nodded. “It is.” She crossed her arms and looked up at the sky too. “But I do hope those scientists know what they’re doing. I have a feeling that if they bring that thing to Earth, there’ll be no going back.” She paused, and felt another smile work its way up her face. “The kids can’t get enough of it. They like to talk about a zombie apocalypse, or how Deoxys will come down and transfer its powers to all of Earth’s pokémon. But they really do care about it… They’re always concerned about what’s going on in the news. They know it’s not a good idea to make any sort of decision on the blind.”
Ted lowered his head, and their gazes met again. “In that case, we better hope that GASP cares about pokémon as much as trainers do.”
As she surveyed their darkening surroundings, Lona looked down at her watch. “I better go. We’ll be closing up soon, and I have to get home.”
“We should meet again sometime.”
“Definitely,” Lona said. “If you want… we could go get lunch tomorrow. I’d love to hear about what other books you have. And of course, get you to confess your secret Gym-beating plans.”
Ted chuckled. “All right, then.”
Lona returned it with a smile. She stood in place for a while, though she felt less awkward than before, and turned to go back to the Gym.
Gonna have to keep this one short - I've got an anime convention in less than two weeks that I'm fervently preparing for (getting cosplays ready, getting money set aside, organizing photo shoot sessions, etc.)
Looks like we finally get a glimpse of what's going on back at the Rowan household. And if having Bertha monitor the boys and basically watch them like a hawk wasn't enough, now there's a new wrench thrown into their plans. And this one, they're totally unaware of at this point. Still it seems a bit odd that the investigator took this long to put two and two together and examine those Gym records... it would seem like that would be one of the first things he would've done. Especially so since Michael had the Stunky with him, and it would have been a good cover story regardless of whether he had actually become interested in Pokemon or not.
One disadvantage of having shiny Pokemon: You stand out like a sore thumb in the event of someone trying to track you down.
First rule of secret Galactic documents: You do NOT reveal secret Galactic documents in public.
Props to Lona to standing up to that guy and not entertaining his questions that don't directly pertain to the issue at hand (i.e., Michael's location)
Aww, that was a cute little reunion between Lona and Ted Sounds like something more could develop from that. That should make for an interesting little side story.
So, it looks like Sunyshore's gonna be where everyone's coming together - our main group, Nancy and her band of freelance reporters, and that hard-nosed investigator. And who knows who else (Patricia sounds pretty dead-set against the plan to bring Deoxys to Earth; she might decide to make the trip even if she didn't say anything to that effect in the chapter. And I'd also imagine GASP will be sending people - how high up the chain of command remains to be seen - to do damage control/debate the protests.) Should be a grand 'ol time up there by the sea
Hey! Sorry it took so long to reply. Now that I'm free for the summer, though, I'll be able to get this thread running smoothly again.
The reason the police department took so long to get back to Patricia was that they were doing a really thorough investigation of Jubilife, putting Michael's photo on the back of milk cartons, and questioning townsfolk. They didn't expect Michael to be a trainer because, if you remember, Patricia told them that he isn't a trainer and doesn't have any pokemon with him, and they believed her, going off on the assumption that he's just a regular city boy. (I'm working on revising the earlier chapters to elaborate my current, more-detailed vision of 1960s Sinnoh. Basically, by far not every kid is a trainer, so it wouldn't have been an unusual choice if Michael hadn't bothered to get involved with the League and stayed a 'plain' kid. Though obviously, it might not have been the smartest one to make.) When the police talked to Fran, they constructed the trainer-in-disguise theory, and Bode was assigned to be the private investigator (as opposed to having the whole police team look for Michael). He went to Oreburgh, then a couple days later, came back to Patricia and introduced himself. I did mean for the investigation to seem pretty drawn-out, partially a result of ineffective management, but hopefully it's not illogical. At any rate, Bode definitely knows what he's doing and won't stop until he has Michael in custody!
And yes... little did Michael know, that shiny Turtwig would later be his downfall.
The side plot with Lona and Ted is definitely important, and you'll see why in the chapter after the next one. Keep and eye on Nancy Bryan and her company, too. Sunyshore is, like you've guessed, the place where everyone and everything will come together, and not just for the protest. (By the way, Patricia won't be attending, but that doesn't mean she won't be watching it on TV )
Next chapter will be somewhat short, but a lot will happen -- we've got a leader to meet, and a city to see. Stay tuned!
Hey everyone! This chapter's short, which is a breather (at least for me). I tried to loosen up a bit and let the writing flow for this one, because lately I think I've been focusing so much on padding things up that I'd lose my handle on the pacing. Or maybe it's an illusion. In any case, I consider this chapter ready as it is, since I didn't intend for any other events to take place in it. Nevertheless, it's an important one (even though I always say that).
Hope you like it!
“Good afternoon, Sinnoh. This is Teddy Ray live with SNN, bringing you the top news of the hour. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the hot topic of the moment is the GASP press conference, which aired last night on televisions all across Hoenn and Sinnoh, providing the world a first-ever glimpse into the space organization’s future plans. But now, it appears that those plans could be facing their first serious challenge, one that has come from an unlikely source— the Pokémon Rights Activist Group of Sinnoh. Founded in 1943, the PRAG has grown from a humble, underfunded organization to a self-sustaining entity with thousands of members nationwide, one that makes itself known on a yearly basis through fundraisers, charities, and legal campaigns. It was through their efforts that in 1952, the Pokémon League introduced an ethical code for pokémon trainers, and in 1955, the federal government passed laws to regulate the use of performance-enhancing substances like Rare Candies. The PRAG’s voice is one that never quite goes out of a Sinnohan’s ears, and perhaps in some cases, for the better. But never before has an activist group achieved notoriety on such a level. As of this moment, the PRAG might be getting even more attention than GASP itself. Now, we take you live to the site of their anticipated protest, where the events of next week will unfold.”
Right then, the scene switches, and a skyline of large, pillar-like buildings appears from a watery horizon.
“Sunyshore has famously been called the most modern city on the planet. In 1953, it became the first to implement the large-scale use of solar energy, installing solar panels on the roofs of official buildings to help power them in the summertime. The design of these panels derives from technology developed by Team Galactic, whose spacecraft draw a portion of their power from the sun’s rays. The technology was gradually perfected through a close correspondence between Galactic and city officials, and now, entire residential communities feature solar roofs, which partially provide for many utilities like hot water.”
Crowds. Cheers. The camera zooms in on a group of civilians, where a man stands up close, speaking into a microphone. “I find it ironic that a city that uses technology created by the space program is hosting a protest against the space program.”
“Sunyshore also features the most versatile and efficient subway system in Sinnoh, with over a hundred different stops that make it possible to travel to nearly any point in the city. Needless to say, the Pokémon Rights Group had no reservations in choosing their location. It’s a city built to keep itself moving.”
The camera gives an aerial view of a large, open square, surrounded by acres of green grass, staring out like an eye from the sea of surrounding buildings.
On July 23rd, the entire world will have its eyes set on a single place — the Grand Assembly Square, located in the heart of the city. Previously known as the site of music festivals and world fairs, it has now been given yet another role to play, this time as the center stage of a global movement. It has all the equipment for the job — a ten-acre field, movable stages and stands, and access to all major modes of transportation. In a matter of a few days, this blank canvas will be transformed into the epicenter of city life.
“… Of course, the protest isn’t everyone’s top priority. The city continues to enjoy a prospering market season, when importers from all over the world show their collection of novelties, popular among trainers and townsfolk alike. Plans are underway to update the design of skyscrapers, using new innovations in architecture to increase height, as well as durability during summer storms. I think it goes without saying that, whether it’s before or after the protest, Sunyshore will remain the golden beacon of Sinnoh’s eastern coast, its beauty shining forever on.”
Thump, thump… thump, thump…
Michael’s shoulder was pressed against the shuddering wall of a high-speed train. After a long period of dozing, he slowly opened his eyes, straightening his posture as he tuned back into his surroundings. The darkness outside the window had given way for a line of flickering lights, indicating that the station was fast approaching.
Moments later, there came the sound of crackling static from the loudspeaker.
“Attention. We are arriving at the Golden Bay Rail Terminal in Sunyshore City. Please remove all valuables from your compartment as you leave the train.”
From the seat across from him, Shella clasped her hands together. “I can’t wait to see it. I heard Sunyshore is beautiful!”
“And big,” Bertha replied. She had a map open on her lap, and was looking through a visitor’s guide she had gotten from a stewardess. “It’s got lots of attractions for trainers. Museums, workshops, community centers…” She looked over to the boys and smiled. Michael didn’t respond. Beside him, Henry cast his gaze off to the ceiling.
“You guys are awfully quiet,” Shella remarked. “How were your battles with Marie? Was she tough?”
Henry shrugged. “Yeah. Pretty tough.”
“I wonder who the leader for this one will be,” Shella continued. “Do you know them, Bertha?”
Bertha shook her head. “Nope, and neither does Marie. She said he was new, and for some reason he came to replace the old one. The weird part is, I think I might’ve met the old Leader once. I can’t remember his name, though.” She folded up the brochure and put it back into her folder. “At any rate, we’ll meet the new guy today. I already have the Gym’s address, so after we book our rooms, it’ll only take a few minutes to get there. After that, you can I can get started on petition business.” Bertha took out another sheet of paper and showed it to Shella. “See this? It’s a permit to set up our own business space at the protest. Marie helped me get it from the League Office. We’ll have our own tent and table, so the guests can come up and sign.”
Shella beamed. “Wow, that’s wonderful!”
Michael grumbled. Hardly a day had passed, and already Shella and Bertha were the best of friends. That whole ride, they had been talking nonstop – first about Bertha’s work, then Shella’s own job back in Hoenn, and other random things encompassing clothes, music, and cities. Maybe it was a girl thing.
After a few minutes, the train slid to a steady stop, and compartment doors began to slide open all along the hallway. Shella led the way out, and Bertha followed behind the boys as they entered the main flow of the crowd. The four of them stepped out of the train, sticking together in a tight clump as the rest of the passengers spilled out onto the platform. They took an escalator up to the main level of the station, which was a bustling conglomeration of signs, ticket booths, and fast food restaurants. Bertha seemed to have a good idea of where she was going, so they managed to bypass the customer service lines and step immediately out onto the open street.
Sunyshore was a mix of styles and colors, embracing them on either side with bulky concrete buildings and an endless array of windows and signs. Shops were lined up with hardly a foot of wall space in between, some standing open to welcome customers from the streets, others boarded shut and taped over with construction company logos. The roadways were clogged with cars of every type imaginable, from sleek, classy models to freight trucks, which together created a fog of noise that permeated the air like no pollutant could have ever done. A taxi would have only hindered their progress.
As Michael walked, he noticed that the sidewalks proffered benches at every opportunity, from bus stops to casual resting places, and that they were always covered overhead by strange flat roofs on metal stilts. When he passed them, they were suddenly struck by the glare of the sun, revealing rectangular grid patterns that glowed against the black surface. Solar panels.
The more he looked around, the more of them he saw. They were hidden in the most inconspicuous places, like window shades, and the tops of traffic lights. He would have marveled aloud at them, but he doubted whether his companions would have even heard him speak. Over the sounds of cars and people, everyone’s head seemed to be buzzing with that frantic rush that takes hold in a big city, when one can’t help but hurry because everyone else is.
Bertha led him, Henry, and Shella through a winding path of streets and intersections, till at one moment she stopped suddenly and pointed ahead. “There it is!”
The Pokémon Trainer Hotel jutted out unimpressively from a gap between the regular buildings, its property enclosed by brick walls. It was fatter than the previous hotels, and took up a greater slice of the street, which was apparently due to the fact that Sunyshore was a popular departure point for the Elite Four Island. Rumor had it that Ricky Sheldon had slept in one of the rooms on the day he challenged the Elite Four, and had made a carving somewhere that read: Ricky Sheldon — Champion. Now, trainers everywhere were trying to find that room, hoping that old Ricky’s luck would rub off on them.
The group of four hastened inside, and entered a bustling lobby with two counters and a medley of doors. Michael and Henry hung back in silence while Bertha booked their rooms, one for her and Shella, and the other for them. To Michael’s dismay, they turned out to be right next to each other.
Bertha gave them all a few minutes to unpack and gather their necessities, then she rounded them up and set off to find the Gym.
They took the subway this time, traveling all the way to the eastern outskirts of the city. After several minutes in darkness, the train suddenly emerged into full daylight, where from Michael’s side, the image of a low, rocky shoreline spilled into the windows. The city center was a far cry away now, and they were riding through a calm suburban area, where buildings were lower and sparser.
When they got off, they passed through the station and set off after Bertha down a quiet street. Here, the businesses consisted mostly of cheap restaurants and convenience stores. Somewhere in the distance, Michael could see a collection of houses, the start of a residential district. They were also startlingly close to the shoreline, for in the gaps between the buildings to his left, he could see nothing but open sky, and occasionally heard the rush of waves over the sound of passing cars.
“Well, this is it. The last strip of civilization before the open sea.” Bertha smiled, and stopped to study her map. “If we keep going east, it’ll be nothing but water, all the way till we reach Kanto.”
“Whoa.” Henry blinked as he looked over the distant houses, whose roofs were individually silhouetted against the clear, yellowing sky.
“It seems like an odd place to have a Gym,” Shella remarked. “Especially since it’s so far away from the hotel.”
“That’s how it is in a lot of big cities,” Bertha said. “But really, it’s no problem for trainers. Most of them even prefer bigger Gym towns, since they have more resources they can use to help themselves.” Her eyes swept their surroundings a final time, then she kept going.
The Sunyshore Gym turned up at the end of that block, standing on a side of the road all to itself. It was a long yellow building with round windows, accented by a few trees and neatly-trimmed grass.
A yellow submarine, Michael thought grimly.
For some reason, there was a child’s playground close by, where lots of little kids were running about and shouting. The sounds were jarring to Michael’s ears, and he avoided making eye contact with them as he followed Bertha to the doors.
Inside, the Gym resembled a school science lab, with white, tiled floors and flat ceiling lights. The walls were covered with posters about electricity, detailing safety rules and applications, while a door hung open on the far left side, revealing a room full of craft tables and display equipment.
Without a word, Bertha approached the front counter. The table was built into the wall, and closed off a large opening that revealed bits of an office room. One woman sat inside. She was dressed like a clinic receptionist, with a prim white coat over her regular clothes. Seeing Bertha, she scooted her chair over to her, and the two of them talked. Finally, the attendant turned out of the room, and her head reappeared moments later from the right hallway. “Okay, Miss Herrida, follow me!”
She beckoned, and led them down a long series of doorways. She turned into one of the open rooms, which was furnished with some bookshelves, tables and chairs.
Inside was a young man who stood with his back to them, consisting of a head of light hair, a shirt collar, and a long white lab coat that hid most of his frame. He was standing on a stool before a blackboard, adjusting a banner that read: ‘Welcome Parents of Sunyshore Elementary!’ The attendant rapped her knuckles on the doorframe, and the man jumped, accidentally losing his grip on one of the pins. It plunked to the floor, and the banner sagged over the man’s head as he stooped to pick it up. Michael was reminded of Professor Emerson, and felt a pang of pity.
The man muttered as he tried to locate the pin, twisting and turning in an attempt to keep a hand on the board. “Just a second, just a second, hold on!” He found the pin and tacked the poster back into place. He rubbed his face, as if that had taken a significant amount of effort, and stepped down from the stool. “Graduated from the best academy in Rustboro and they have me putting up posters…” With a sigh, he approached his guests. Up close, Michael saw he was in his mid-twenties, though from afar, the man’s exhaustion had seemed to age him. “Yes? What can I do for you?”
“Sir, this is Bertha Herrida from the Eterna City Gym. And these two trainers are here to schedule battles.”
“Bertha Herrida?” The man rubbed his chin. “Bertha Herrida… ah, with that petition? Yes, I remember now. You don’t have to tell me anything, Mr. Bradford from Hearthome already explained it to me. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can help you.”
Bertha blinked. “What? What do you mean?”
The man waved her down, as if trying to quell a rising flame of protest. “It’s nothing to do with me, now, don’t think I’m saying this out of resentment, because I mean it in the nicest possible way. I can’t support your petition because, first of all, I’m not a citizen of this country, and second of all, I’m technically not the leader of this Gym — I’m only filling in — so getting involved with a petition would create a big legal mess and lots of paperwork that I think neither of us have the time to sit through. So, with all due respect, I think you’d best move on.”
Bertha shook her head. “If you’re not a Sinnoh citizen and you’re not the Gym leader, then who is?”
The man winced. “I am, I am the Gym leader, just not the Gym leader. I’m filling in for him, I already told you. I can hold battles and give out badges, but not sign petitions. I’m doing a sort of foreign exchange program with the person that’s supposed to be here. The way it works is that I stay here as leader for a couple years, and in the meantime he goes to my Gym. In Mauville City.”
At this, a smile broke across Shella’s face. “You’re from Hoenn? So am I!”
The man gave a comical bow. “Yes, yes, that’s me, I’m the foreigner. Visitors always take care to remind me of that whenever Team Galactic strikes a victory of some sort… then they wonder why I don’t give them or their child a Gym badge. Haha!” The man chuckled, then dispelled it with a shake of the head. “But no, that was a joke, don’t worry, I obviously give badges to people who earn them. Then I kindly remind them that if it wasn’t for Team Rocket’s early work, we wouldn’t have even gotten into space! Hah!” He let out another guffaw, arm folding over his stomach. When he calmed down, he turned to Bertha anew. “So if you’re looking for all eight Sinnoh Gym leaders to sign your document, you’ll have to contact my colleague in Mauville. I’m sure he’d be happy to help you.”
Bertha nodded. “All right, I guess that would be fine. Is there any way you can get me in touch with him?”
“Of course. I have the number. We just gotta get the codes right and fiddle around with the operators. Long distance calling was never my favorite thing in the world, but fortunately in Hoenn I got enough practice with it.” His gaze focused away from their faces and he grimaced at a memory. “I’m telling you, being a Gym leader in Hoenn is nothing like being a leader in Sinnoh. The Gyms here are all like little islands; I could go a whole year without letting the League Office know I exist. But if I telegrammed my quarterly Gym report one day late in Hoenn, they’d fine me.” He shrugged. “I guess there are some perks to being isolated, though. You don’t have to comply with silly regulations on decorations, or deal with people coming in every year to measure the exact dimensions of your battle rooms. I’m telling you, there’s a fine line between central planning and obsessiveness.”
Bertha smiled, then checked her watch. “Do you think we can we make the call right now? I’m not sure what time it is in Mauville…”
“Four hours behind, so the battle day is just getting started,” the man replied. “But I don’t think he’ll mind. He’s usually pretty free in the mornings. And the call will only take a minute or two to set up.”
“Perfect,” said Bertha. “I’m just in a semi-hurry right now, because I need to be certain I have his backing before the Gym season is over.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, you will. Now, what else was it you wanted? Ah, trainers, right?” The man looked at Michael and Henry. “Here to battle? Good. We can’t do it today, though. I have an information session I’m supposed to give to some school parents, about how the Gym can help supplement their kids’ science classes and whatnot. So we’ll do it tomorrow.”
Michael’s eyes flew open in alarm. “But we haven’t even trained yet!”
The man responded with an equally bemused expression. “Then why did you come now? Bah, I can’t fathom this whole ‘booking’ nonsense. If you’re ready, you come to the Gym and battle. If you’re not, you wait until you are. Why should you assume that in ninety-six or however many hours you’ll suddenly be ready to battle me, just because you booked it?” He shook his head again.
“I’ve just come to introduce myself,” Bertha said. “These boys are with me. My schedule has nothing to do with theirs, the only exception being that we prefer to leave the city together. From my experience, it takes them about a week to prepare for their battles. Do you think we could have all the paperwork with your colleague done by then?”
The man nodded. “Of course. I don’t see why not. We’re all pretty busy at this time of year, but he has staff too, and they’ll work something out. Worst comes to worst, if you’re out of the city, he’ll just mail all his signatures to me, then I’ll give them to the League Office and they’ll transfer them to you. And as for your battles—” he turned to the boys “—just train however you feel like it and come battle me when you’re ready. If you want to do it next week, though, make sure it’s not on the day of that protest. I’d appreciate your rebellious spirit, but I probably won’t be in that day. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably stay home with the curtains drawn, because the noise will probably be so colossal, I’ll think there’s an earthquake.”
Michael and Henry chuckled. Bertha smiled. “It’s all right. We’ll be at the protest.”
After a moment, the man nodded again in understanding. “Of course. Publicity. Get it any way you can…” He pressed his finger to his chin and began to turned around in place like a Psyduck. “What am I forgetting… no, I don’t think there’s anything. Is that all?”
Bertha inclined her head. “Yep, that’s all. Should I go to make the call now?”
“Yes. Run with Julia and she’ll set up a phone for you. My name’s Wattson, by the way. Pleased to meet you.” He extended a hand, and Bertha shook it.
“Thank you.” She gave him a nod, and turned aside. “Shella, you can come with me. Boys, you can either both tag along, or I take one of you and the other waits here.”
Michael shrugged. “I’ll pass.”
“Okay then. Henry?”
Henry paused. “Um, I’ll go.” He cast Michael a glance, then went off with Bertha, Shella, and the attendant.
Wattson didn’t seem to attach any significance to their exchange. He went back to the blackboard and smoothed the banner to his satisfaction, then proceeded to his next task. He bent down to a box beside the wall and began to shuffle through the items, taking out some wavy paper borders and a stapler.
In the meantime, Michael sat down at one of the chairs and draped his arms over its back. He watched Wattson for a few moments, as he stapled the borders together and attached them to the blackboard. His motions were careful and exact, like those of an experienced arts-and-crafts teacher, and periodically he stepped back to make sure everything was aligned. Once the silence had started to stretch, Michael spoke up. “So, who’s the leader that’s normally here?”
Wattson looked askance. “Oh, he’s a right swell guy. Name’s Kirk. Grew up right here in the city, and he’s been interested in electricity all his life, just like me. We still write every month to let each other know how it’s faring on the other side. He likes calling me Watt-son. I counter back by calling him Kirk-hoff.” He began to chuckle, evidently expecting Michael to follow suit. When he didn’t, Wattson frowned. “What, you don’t know Kirchhoff? Laws of electric circuits?”
Michael cracked a smile. “Enough to get an A in science.”
Wattson shook his head, half-closing his eyes. He took out another handful of paper frames and began to staple them together.
“So why did Kirk leave?” Michael continued.
“Well, first I thought it was because he wanted to see Mauville,” said Wattson. “That was me flattering myself. It’s a good city. A lot like Sunyshore, too, though it’s a bit cleaner. Nice shore, clear sky... Of course, then I got here, and found the real reason.” He slammed the stapler closed over the seam of two segments. “This place is a circus. Construction — nonstop! That primary school — right down the street!” He pointed out the window with his thumb. “I’ve got kids coming to that playground every day, all afternoon, screaming their heads off and pushing each other off swings. Some of them wander around here, naturally, so to keep things going when it’s not Gym season, we double up as a sort of learning center. You probably saw that we have a little science exhibit in the front. Well that’s not all of it; there are more rooms, and other rooms that are battle rooms in the summer and lab rooms in the fall… well, and what do you think? If you’re educating the kids, you’ll get parents from the school calling you up about day camps, teachers asking about field trips, and all that stuff. That’s for the older kids, obviously, the ones that are almost old enough to be trainers, so there’s the added benefit of getting them interested in the League. But the young ones?” Wattson flicked his hand. “They can’t tell a pokéball from a baseball. And it doesn’t matter to them. It’s their age; they can’t help it.”
He attached the frames to the board while he talked, and when he finished covering the whole perimeter, he tossed everything back into the box and lifted it off the ground. “If you don’t mind, kid, could you open the door?”
“Sure.” Michael got up and held the door while Wattson took out the box. He disappeared into another room, then returned. “If you want, you can go outside,” he said. “You don’t have to sit staring at the wall the whole day. Not like me.”
After a moment, Michael nodded. “Yeah, I guess I’ll wait for Bertha to finish.” He lifted a hand. “Later.”
Wattson gave a wave, and Michael left the room.
He drifted over to the lobby, where he case a fleeting glance to the craft room, then continued through the front doors. He set off down the sidewalk and began to pace around the lawn of the Gym, hands in his pockets. The noise of rushing cars was quieter here, and the street was wide and empty. Wanting some company, he slipped his backpack down his arm and took out a pokéball. It was Butterfree’s. The pokémon dove out of the capsule, and he held out his arm for her to settle down.
He watched her flutter her wings for a moment, getting a feel for the outside air. Her vivid colors stood out against the dim-green crowns of the surrounding trees.
“So,” he said. “You like Sunyshore?”
Butterfree clicked her jaws.
“Can’t like it if you haven’t seen it, brainy.”
Michael walked over to the playground, which had thankfully emptied, and was now clear save for a small group of kids. They were holding a conversation over by the sandbox. Michael walked around the playscape with Butterfree at his side, taking care to steer clear of them. He never knew what to say to children. He appreciated mothers’ efforts at liking every child in sight and acting interested in what they were up to, but he knew he could never do it himself.
He sat down on a swing and let Butterfree go, where she went to skim over some flowering bushes. She came back moments later and settled on his lap, her fangs dripping with honey. Michael smiled.
“You like flying, don’t you?” he said. “Must feel good, not having to crawl around everywhere anymore. And knowing that no one’s ever gonna step on you in battle, either. All those guys who looked down on your before are regretting it now.”
Butterfree fixed her gaze on him, and he nodded for emphasis. Then, after a pause, he frowned. “I would’ve used you for my battle with Marie, you know, if you evolved sooner. Now I don’t think I can use you for this one. You’re part Flying. That makes you weak to Electric.”
Butterfree tilted her head to the side, and Michael snorted. “You don’t even know what that means, do you? And come to think of it, I guess it wouldn’t matter to you. You’re on top of your own world now. You have everything those Caterpies could ever dream of.” He gave another pause, then an odd thought occurred to him. “I wonder if you even knew you’d evolve. I guess not; Caterpies live with Caterpies. Butterfrees lay the eggs, but then they just leave them. They gotta grow up and fend for themselves.” Here, he smiled wryly. “I guess we’re not so different then, are we?”
Butterfree murmured something in reply, though he couldn’t make sense of her deep-throated buzzing. He bent his head back and looked at the dimming sky, pretending she had said something deep and profound.
At that point, Butterfree fluttered off his lap and settled into the grass nearby, lying on her stomach with her wings spread out at her sides. After a few uneventful moments, Michael looked back at the kids again. They were now squatted in a tight circle, keeping perfectly still. They could have been five, or six.
They stayed in their places for a while without moving, and Michael was beginning to wonder if something was wrong with them, or if they were sharing some illicit secret. But right then, without warning, the kids jumped apart and began to run across the playground, like free-flying particles after a nuclear explosion. One boy lagged behind the rest, and from the way he turned on his toes and lunged after the others, Michael deduced it was a game of tag. The boy tried chasing down two girls, who led him to the slide then split off in separate directions, leaving him torn between two paths. He turned around and began chasing down another boy, who cleverly dove into a jungle of monkeybars and somehow managed to crawl out from the top. He continued to run away, coming close to Michael’s vicinity without realizing it. The boy looked over his shoulder, and when he saw the chaser in pursuit, he quickly turned away, and looked down just in time to notice Butterfree lying on the ground. He gave a gasp and swerved to the side, coming inches from stepping on her wing.
Michael stood up. “Watch it!”
The kid looked at him, then ran away without saying a word. Butterfree lifted herself from the grass, dusting the blades from her body, and floated onto Michael’s shoulder.
The boy, meanwhile, had attached himself to a group of three, running for the merry-go-round. As the chaser closed in on them, they jumped on the ride and began to spin it. The chaser stood still for a few moments, evidently calculating the right moment to climb on, but just as he began to approach, all four kids jumped into the air. Three landed on their feet, but the brown-haired boy from earlier wasn’t so lucky — he landed on his hands and knees on the concrete, then rolled onto his side with a pained cry. His friends all skid to a stop, their excitement freezing as his sobs filled the yard.
Before any of the others could move towards him, the door to the Gym burst open, and Wattson came running out with the receptionist.
“Blast it! How many times do I have to tell you kids to be careful?”
Two of the boy’s friends helped him to his feet, and Wattson’s receptionist bent down to examine him. After muttering something to him in a soothing voice, she whisked the boy off to the Gym, and Wattson beckoned for the rest of the group to approach. He cast a glance at Michael, and shook his head in exasperation, as if this proved a point. Then he sighed. “Did you see what happened, by any chance?”
“They just started playing tag,” Michael said. “Then a bunch of them got on that thing and one of them fell off. It was an accident; no one pushed him or anything.”
The children looked from Wattson’s face to Michael’s, not saying a word.
Wattson appeared too scattered to doubt him. “All right. You kids, be careful. If I see any of you acting up again, I’ll call… well, I’ll make sure your parents know about it. Now get!”
He pointed to the street, and the kids dispersed, running off to wherever their homes were. Wattson turned back to the Gym, and Michael followed, Butterfree hanging on to her perch. When they returned to the lobby, he sat down in a chair, while Wattson disappeared into the hallway. Meanwhile, the boy with the scraped knee was being led into the office, now with some gauze bandaged over the wound. The attendant took him behind the counter and lifted a phone to her ear.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Wake,” the boy mumbled.
The lady asked him for a telephone number, and twirled the rotary to dial it. When the person on the other end picked up, she recounted what had happened, then gave the phone to Wake. When the boy had finished talking, he emerged from the hallway and sat down along the wall opposite Michael. After a moment of tapping his toes together, the kid looked up.
“Sorry I ‘most stepped on your Butterfree,” he said.
Michael shrugged. “It’s fine, I guess. She’s not hurt.”
The boy did not respond, but sat with his arms crossed till his mother arrived. She pushed through the doors and took him down the hallway, where they met Wattson. Michael heard bits of their conversation:
“… I know, I know, it’s just that we live hardly a minute away and this is his favorite place to go. Yes, I understand. He really likes pokémon, too…”
“… but I have to emphasize that this isn’t a daycare center. We’re in the middle of the Gym season, so my staff and I won’t always be around to watch over your son. He’s perfectly welcome to spend time at the Gym, but he has to be careful around other trainers.”
The last thing Michael saw was the mother whisking the boy away by the hand, and the doors of the Gym closing behind them.
Minutes later, Bertha emerged from the hallway, looking delighted. Shella and Henry followed her, stopping as she turned to Wattson.
“Perfect! I just got off the phone with Kirk. He’s willing to back my petition. All I have to do is mail him a copy, and he’ll write the letter.”
Wattson inclined his head. ”Good, good.”
He and Bertha shook hands, and Michael got up to leave as they neared the exit. Seeing Butterfree, Bertha gave a surprised smile. “Hey, you didn’t tell me Caterpie evolved. She looks beautiful!”
Michael shrugged. “Yeah.” He took out Butterfree’s pokéball, and somewhat grudgingly sent her back.
In the meantime, Bertha waved Wattson goodbye. “Well, we better get going. Thanks for everything!” She led the way out of the Gym, and Michael followed after.
Once they were all outside, Bertha stopped them in the middle of the sidewalk and let the three teens assemble around her. “All right. You boys have two options now. One, we can all go somewhere and spend the rest of the evening in town. Two, you can go back to your hotel room and stay there, not going anywhere else. Your pick.”
Michael exchanged a glance with Henry. “Uh… hotel room?”
Henry nodded his agreement.
Bertha’s shoulders drooped. “Aw, you’re no fun at all. I was hoping you’d pick the city. I had such a neat museum in mind... But I guess there’s always tomorrow.”
Shella frowned. “And we won’t be able to leave the hotel for the rest of the day? Why is that?”
“Oh, that doesn’t apply to you. Don’t worry. You can go anywhere you want. These two just need to learn a lesson.”
Shella looked at the boys, and attempted a smile. “Well, okay.”
With that, they set off for the subway station. Michael trailed a few steps behind Bertha and Shella, but though Henry was at his side, for the first time he found himself at a loss for what to say. He cast the boy a glance, and found a similar trapped expression on his face. Michael gave an inward grumble as he looked back at the street. It was going to be a long week.